Breath and the Alexander Technique

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Singers are often admonished to ‘take’ a breath.  What about this instead?  Enjoy a full exhale, followed by allowing the inhalation to happen, without any doing.  It’s a bit like inhaling the lovely aroma of a rose.  If a big-time sniff is used, the delicate scent is missed. A gentle inhale permits the flower to give to us the gift of its perfume.

Mr. Alexander was known in London, England as “The Breathing Man,” but he didn’t teach breathing techniques. What he did teach was his discovery of the primary place of balance in the body….head poised on spine.  In the business of learning this organizing principle of the human structure, his students found they could breathe so much easier, both on the inhale and exhale.

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Ever gone scuba diving?  I haven’t.  However, I have seen photographs of how these oxygen tanks are worn on the body.  They are positioned up high on the back.  Keep that image in your mind as you engage in mapping the location of your lungs within the thoracic cavity of your torso.  The lungs are quite high.  In fact, the top of each lung is above the clavicle (collarbone).  Yes.  Really.

What does this mean for how we think about breathing?  Mainly, it means we don’t have to go excavating for breath.  We will not find it in our abdomen (that’s where all our viscera/internal organs reside….no air there…well, maybe in the intestines, but I digress…)

Breath is not as much work as we have made it out to be.  This is true for singers and other  wind-instrument-musicians who rely on a well-developed capacity for breath, and also for everyone else running through a regular day.

As Marjorie Barstow used to say about the Technique, “It’s a little bit of nothing.” ‘Breathe easy’ today, and may it be a day of sweet scents.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Sit Bones

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Here’s a research project for you….find your sit bones!  Although we assembled in a Worthington Ohio church and were not seated on a boat dock, singers at Capriccio Summer Camp went in search of their bony protuberances (the ishium) of the pelvic bowl, also called ‘rockers’ (yes, you can rock on them).

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There they are, the two ‘loops’ you can see descending from the pelvis.  Although our thighs rest on a sitting surface, they are not the gravity bearing structure as when standing.  When seated, gravity is traveling through the head, down the spine, along the pelvis and through the sit bones, into the surface on which you find yourself seated.

As I write this description and think through its implications, my legs are now doing less work and there is more ‘give’ at the hips, always a welcome change since I live with osteoarthritis and have a total hip replacement on my left.

Also, when I allow my sit bones to receive the path of gravity, I find my back muscles do less work as well.  This is always a relief.  Back muscles have work to do, yes, however, we often give them way too much to do.

Let the design of your structure, head on spine, spine meeting pelvis,  rockers beneath pelvis….let this support you, and your muscles will provide the tone and effort needed.  Just enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Head on Spine

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Study the first two vertebrae of the spine:  Atlas(C1) and  Axis(C2).  The Atlas is wide and strong and gladly supports your head, just as the Greek god, Atlas, supported the world.  The Axis is so named because it is here the head moves.  Gently move your head left to right; that’s the Axis at work. With these light and lovely movements, you can begin to acquaint yourself with this primary place of balance in the body.

The head-meeting-spine location is between your ears and behind your nose.  You can also find it by running the tip of your tongue along the roof of your mouth, beginning at the backs of your front teeth.  You will feel the ridges of the hard palette, which give way to pliant tissue, the soft palette.  Right above the place where hard palette becomes soft palette is where head and spine meet.

And so we come to an aspect of Alexander Technique study called Body Mapping, created by Alexander Technique teachers Barbara Conable and Bill Conable.  Beginning with the basic premise,”As we think, so we move,” the student of Body Mapping acquires an accurate mental map of the body’s structure, allowing the body to move according to its inherent design and intended function.

Find yourself a good anatomy tome, and just look.  My favorites are:  Albinus on Anatomy, Robert Beverly Hale and Terence Coyle, and Atlas of Human Anatomy, Frank H. Netter, M.D.

Map your head and spine relationship, and soon!  Singers at the Capriccio Summer Camp have been up to the task this week.  Thank you, camp singers, for your curiosity and your willingness to learn something new.  I am in admiration—

 

 

Gingersnaps

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All-night, all-day dark sky rain. Surgeon thinks leg pain is due to over-use and over-zealous exercising.  Femur and new hip prosthesis are still getting acquainted.   At 5 months post-hip-replacement surgery, I can expect healing to continue, with the hip and leg needing a rest as much as a work-out.  Well.

My options are as follows:  until the teaching afternoon begins, I can sit on the couch and surf utube videos of abandoned houses and funny cats…..OR, I can bake something in the kitchen.  Inertia almost won, but I’m so glad it didn’t. Choice.  One of the major tenets of the Alexander Technique is that we have a choice, that is, faced with a stimulus, (i.e.–pain), we can choose how to respond.

Windows were thrown open (yes, Dear Energy-Conservation-Husband, if you are reading this blog entry, I DID turn the thermostat way down), ingredients assembled, pans, bowls, spatulas gathered, AND, most importantly, the entire endeavor was designated an experiment in what I call, “How Little Does It Take??”  It’s a practice inspired by AT matriarch, Marjorie Barstow, who would often say to her students, “It (the Technique) is a little bit of nothing.”

Stirring the thick gingersnap batter, I had a choice.  I could bear down and exert more force than needed to blend the ingredients, or I could give myself what F.M. Alexander called “Directions,” and direct in this way…..”Ease up with the head.  Let gravity travel through your structure.  Feel your feet.  Include the sound of the rain patter in your field of attention as you stir.”

A session in the kitchen undertaken with thoughtful use of Self and goodwill toward myself and others, results in something that tastes and looks so much better than the ‘pulled-down’ alternative.  See what you think:WP_20160411_16_03_49_Pro

 

If you would like to play with the Technique and end up with a fine batch of gingersnaps, here is Marion Cunningham’s recipe from her book, Learning to Cook:

Snappy Gingersnaps  (about 40   1 and 1/2 inch round cookies)

3/4 C. shortening (Crisco),    1 C. sugar,    1 egg,    1/4 C. dark molasses

2 C. all-purpose white flour,   2 tsp. baking soda,   1/2 tsp. salt,   1 T. ground ginger,   1 tsp. cinnamon  (Penzy Spices are THE BEST; freshest ginger ever)

1/3 C. sugar (to roll the cookie dough in)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Put the shortening, 1 C. sugar, the egg, and the molasses in a large mixing bowl.  Using a large spoon, beat the mixture until it is smooth and blended.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon with a fork.

Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture.  Stir vigorously until everything is smooth and blended.Scoop up a rounded teaspoonful of dough and roll it into a ball between the palms of your hands.  Roll the ball in sugar, and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes, then remove to cooling rack.  They freeze very well should you have any left the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome!

 

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Welcome.  It’s the first word spoken at the studio door.  And I can’t think of a better way to greet you in this virtual studio.  You have found a place to be curious and questioning as you explore the Alexander Technique.

To launch our on-line conversation, a review of Amy Cuddy’s new book follows.  Presence:  Bringing Yourself to Your Biggest Challenges has informed my teaching recently, and her Power Pose was integrated into  Alexander Technique workshops at Capital Conservatory and Ohio University.   I look forward to your response—–