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.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Hands

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 This post is primarily for teachers of the Alexander Technique, but will give the curious AT student a look into what it is we teachers are up to prior to your arrival in our studio.

I’m remembering a video of Marjorie Barstow, (it’s probably still on u-tube), in which a workshop participant asked how they could prepare for the use of their hands in teaching a lesson.  Marjorie gently clasped her hands together, and then lightly ran the fingers of one hand across those of the other.

In addition, I am utilizing a wonderful ‘warm-up’ practice which I’ve adapted from an exercise found in Dr. Les Fehmi’s book, The Open-Focus Brain:  Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body.  

Dr. Fehmi is director of the Princeton Biofeedback Centre in Princeton, NJ.  He posits that living in a society which is organized around ‘narrow-focus attention’ results in chronic stress and tension.  This stress affects not only our physical selves, but our psychological health.  Fehmi’s book provides exercises to train the mind for a more diffuse form of attention termed ‘Open Focus.’  The following is an adapted portion of a Fehmi attention- training exercise:

Imagine the volume of your thumbs and each of your fingers.  Let the full dimensionality of your fingers and thumbs be forefront in your field of attention.  

Next, imagine the space between your fingers, and the space around your fingers and hands.  Let your hands move with ease in their element of air.

Hands are of no instructional benefit if not connected to the rest of the body.  So….there is also FM’s maxim….’I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’  And, I would add…. ‘that my hands may be lively.’  May your teaching day be a good one, dear colleagues.

 

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.