Personal Stories of the Alexander Technique
Miriam Ojeda, California
The Use Of The Self – and Myself!
Yes, I’d made changes in the past with various therapies and exercise programs but none of these transformed “me”. Now I’m understanding how I use my whole self–that is my mind and body and etc., sync’d together. Sure, I’d understood that the mind and body work together as a whole but I’m the driven type and I’d force myself to work harder and then end up with some injury or another. Whether it was weights, running, yoga, biking, hiking or even holding a pen, I just pushed too hard. Two years ago I had finally had it. My recurring knee pain caused me to check out this Alexander Technique.
I am still amazed that even at my first session I learned what I needed to do to eliminate the underlying cause of my pain. It wasn’t a change but rather a transformation of how I use my whole body and mind in everyday life.
I am now pain free. Once that knee pain obstacle was removed, I was able to see how other parts of ‘me’ were also in contraction which was limiting my freedom to move and express myself.
What’s extraordinary is that because of this Alexander Technique process, I see how myself and my work in the world has changed. Now I happily enjoy my accomplishments without being relentlessly driven. My yoga practice is pain free and my energy moves where it’s needed. I’ve even taken up painting just to experience being out of control and letting go of perfection, and I don’t force it. I love the freedom that has come from not “end gaining” (before I was just looking to reach the next goal but missing all the fun along the way).
Change is temporary but transformation means finally being free to maximize my potential. Obviously this teaching syncs up body and mind which invites the spirit to soar. Mine has!
Richard Brennen – Ireland
I came to the Technique though back pain. This was primarily caused by poor posture due to my sedentary profession as a driving instructor. My posture was so hunched that someone once said that I looked like someone who had been living in a very small cottage with very low ceilings for a very long time! I often spent over 50 hours a week sitting in a car and after several years at the job I developed lower back pain. At first it was an occasional aching back that was relieved by massage or some gentle exercise, but before long I was suffering with such a very painful condition that I could hardly walk. I did not know it at the time, but my search to try and get relief for my painful and debilitating condition would take me on an incredible journey of self discovery.
The first port of call was my father who was a medical doctor, and although he was obviously very concerned about my condition, he could offer me little help apart from pain-killers and the usual (in those days) medical advice of rest. This brought only temporary relief and as time went by even the powerful pain-killing drugs I was taking became less and less effective. It was not long before I needed to get back to work due to financial pressures, but sitting in the car only made the problem worse.
I then attended several physiotherapists over a number of years, and although some of the treatments helped for a day or two, my condition got steadily worse and worse. Before long I was also suffering with sciatic pains that were shooting down my left leg and I got to a stage where I could not sit, stand or walk without pain shooting through my whole body.
Eventually, after a long wait, I saw a series of back specialists who took X-rays and performed various other tests. Although a prolapsed disc was diagnosed as the cause of my problem, no one could tell me what had caused the disc to move out of position in the first place, or how I could get it back in place. I was only told that I would have to get used to the fact that I would never be able to live a normal life again and that I should avoid bending, lifting and carrying anything at all costs. The surgeon advised me to undergo surgery to remove the three lowest intervertebral discs as this, I was promised, would reduce the level of pain. I initially agreed to this, but then my father persuaded me to cancel the operation because he was treating people who had undergone similar operations, many of whom were in even more pain than before, and very few were actually any better. So as a last desperate attempt to find some relief from the pain I underwent an intensive course of physiotherapy treatment as an inpatient at a large residential physiotherapy hospital near London, UK. One of the treatments at the hospital involved improving posture and I was told to ‘hold myself straight’ and ‘pull my shoulders back’, but this only aggravated my pain instantly, in fact it aggravated the problem of all the other patients in the session too. Although the physiotherapists were obviously doing their best to help, the treatment and exercises they gave were not helping me at all; in fact when I was discharged from the hospital my back pain was worse than ever.
At this stage I started to investigate various forms of alternative medicine. These included the more established therapies such as chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy and acupuncture, and then I tried less orthodox treatments such as reflexology, metamorphic technique, aromatherapy, Reiki and spiritual healing. In fact, I was so desperate I would have tried practically anything and while some of these treatments helped to some extent I could get only short-term relief as the severe pain always returned within days of any treatment. I finally gave up after many years of searching and resigned myself to a life of pain. Up to this point no-one, including myself, had considered why the discs had become prolapsed in the first place.
By chance one day I met an Alexander teacher who explained that the Alexander Technique could be very effective in helping back sufferers like myself who had tried many other remedies without success. Although I had no idea what it was and was understandably very skeptical after all the other treatments I had received, I decided to have a couple of sessions to see what it was all about. At this point I was quite desperate as the pain was present day and night and so I felt that I had nothing to lose. I had no idea what ‘learning the Alexander Technique’ meant. As I had come across the Technique in the context of music and acting, being neither a musician nor an actor, I was not sure how it was going to help me.
During my first lesson, I was asked by my Alexander Teacher whether I always sat the way I was sitting. I replied that I really did not understand what he was talking about, so he put a mirror in front of me and I could see that I was twisting to the right while leaning at least 20 degrees to the left. Yet despite the fact that I was obviously sitting in a very crooked way, I felt perfectly straight. This was quite a revelation to me. I was amazed that I had never noticed it before. The Teacher set about making a few gentle adjustments to the way I was sitting and two things happened; in my new position I felt completely twisted to the left and leaning way off to the right. Yet at the same time my back pain started to ease. He showed me how I was now sitting in the mirror and to my amazement I saw with my own eyes that I was sitting perfectly straight.
After a few lessons the changes I felt less strange and my back pain started to slowly but surely abate. It was at this point I realized that when I had been teaching people to drive, I had developed the habit of leaning to the left while twisting my pelvis to the right; this was so that I could see both the road ahead and check to make sure that the learner driver was looking in his mirrors at the same time. Over the years this had become my habit whenever I sat and it was this very habit that had given me all my problems. As the tensions released more and more during a series of lessons I also noticed that it was not only my back that was improving; I started to sleep better, my self esteem and confidence also grew and to my surprise I was gradually becoming happier as well. Within three months I was leading a normal life again and was lifting and bending without any problem at all.
Extract from the book Change Your Posture – Change your Life by Richard Brennen.
b/w drawing – “artist at AT teacher work exchange.”
I think Lena Horne summed it up nicely. “Its not the the load that breaks you down, its the way you carry it.”
Alexander Technique gives one the opportunity to carry ourselves in a more supported, easeful, and expanded way.
The technique has changed the way I think and move in this world. I feel so fortunate to have found it over 35 years ago.
My life is easier, fuller and more fun because of my study of the technique.
I’m thinking back at what originally attracted me to Alexander Technique. It was 1976. My motivation for learning wasn’t to improve my twisted limp, which had to have been a sad sight in someone who was 23 years old. At the time, I had no idea Alexander Technique could be used for such a purpose.
I wasn’t thinking about my terrible posture at all when I got to know this guy as boyfriend material. He was fascinating to me because I thought his easy posture and challenging mind meant he could naturally experience changes of consciousness. For me, an easy ability to move indicated the capacity for enlightenment. Still now, I often recall how he would reach up to smooth away the worry lines in my forehead that I didn’t realize I was doing to myself. For not having that line in my forehead forty years later, I still quite often feel affectionate gratitude towards him, even though we only spent about four years with each other. What a wonderful gift!
When I met him, he was studying Alexander Technique privately; eventually he was invited to join the teacher training class that he completed, but never set up shop as a teacher. He did not come to study the Alexander Technique because of any physical limitation, but from a professional interest after being Jack Painter’s teaching assistant for Postural Integration, which was a spin-off of Rolfing. He thought training to teach was the only way to really learn Alexander Technique at that time, and he was probably right.
I eventually accompanied him to teacher-training class, which was an interesting experience. Having been trained to see efficiency in motion from being fascinated with easy posture as an expression of consciousness, I had watched Aikido and Oscar Ichazo’s Arica. In the people attending Alexander Technique teacher training class, I thought I recognized a demonstration of higher consciousness, or at least the capacity for it. To me, the trainees all looked as if they were emanating light. Because I knew that people who could move easily do not necessarily know the potential in it for possible enlightenment, I questioned them. I asked if what they were doing had to do with sharpening awareness. The students wouldn’t answer. After some eye-rolling looks, some of them finally replied that what they were re-educating movement ability. From the eye-rolling I wondered if this was some sort of cult to which you had to become initiated. So I questioned them further and found the apparent exclusiveness was more a matter of being inarticulate. I decided at the time that evidently the movements they were learning stupefied their descriptive abilities.
What convinced me to continue to study and train to teach A.T. on my own and what made it fun was the Technique’s indirect effectiveness in being able to change my consciousness. The means of learning were also attractive. Alexander Technique didn’t use the coercion of an Iron Will to affect change. Mysteriously during lessons, this indirect something else made my analytical ego attachments go away and a sense of wholeness would flood my senses. I understood why people were left without words to describe this state. When they talked, I could see they instantly lost what they had gained.
Externally, the teacher trainees experienced me as a limp doll. I would take their “Direction” to move out of my limitations, but as soon as they took their hands off me I’d sag back down. They could not answer me when I asked them, “what is the difference between how they wanted me move and why it was better?”. They told me to look at how I had collapsed. So what? Obviously I knew how to do that, why should I not collapse and move differently? I could not feel any difference. In fact, the lack of explanation frustrated me. I resolved to be the person who would put Alexander Technique into words, without short-changing it.
With a teacher’s hands-on, an all-points-awareness was a signature state of any lesson. The potential in me that lessons could evoke for my mind was very exciting. Often I’d have creative flashes of insight, a shift into a heightened state of awareness that would last for hours in spite of my lack of awareness of my body. It seemed my ability to pay attention was ever so slightly waking up. Sometimes there would be a leap of new awareness and insights that transformed my self image, my past and my potential power to choose my actions that I had not previously known. My motives to keep learning A. T. were now driven by having a means to address a split I noticed between my intentions and how I mostly floundered around to bring about change. It gave me a means to improve my abilities and a new motivation to practice at my talents. Before that time, I seemed to be allergic to sticking with anything.
Later, I realized my whole body was a lot happier too. I wasn’t getting more limited in my ability to move as I got older as medically predicted. Instead I felt easier, freer. My body unwound, as did my worries and my ability to fall asleep whenever I wanted to sleep.
As I continued lessons and applied the Alexander Technique to learning to sing, it gave me a significant insight. I discovered that I kept half my throat was closed. This turned out to be the key to my twisted posture.
My parents had told me that I had been born with a very slight birth defect; an ear gristle grew unattached that would have allowed me to wiggle my ears if it had grown attached correctly. At that time, doctors thought the remedy of tying off the gristle with a rubber band was preferable to holding down a squirming child and snipping. Unfortunately, this rubber banding trained the baby to tense its neck. This was why I had shut off half my voice. Keeping my neck tensed as I learned to walk and talk affected how I grew as a toddler. As I grew up and learned to walk and talk, I accommodated and adapted to the posture this squinting irritation had trained. “What fires together, wires together.”
Everything seemed fine for me as a child. But as my skeletal hips matured and became one piece in my late teens at 16, I began to have a mystery problem with my knee. No doctor could tell me why my knee was becoming damaged when there had been no external injury. I had to seek out a third opinion before I could even find a doctor in the 1970s who would admit nobody knew why!
My parents saved a “funny” picture of me with a squint on my face as a baby. Of course, as a child, my unformed bones were able to accommodate this constant expression of head and neck tension without much affect. But as I grew into an adult, there came a time when the structure must reflect the cause. It was my knee that took the brunt of the three weeks of rubber banding had trained me to do as an infant.
Humans get better at whatever they practice. After 16 years of tension, my matured skeletal system torqued everything I did so fundamentally that it actually stopped the blood flowing to my femur at my knee and caused the bone to crumble. At 16, a year of being in a cast and surgery to fish out the piece that had broken off didn’t help. I still had the limp at 23. If I hadn’t stumbled onto Alexander Technique, I have no doubt that by now I would have had to have my knees replaced before my forties.
All this came clear when I talked to a younger person who had the same rubber-banding done to their ear when they were an infant. They had since been informed by their doctor that this practice was the cause of many back, neck and hip problems for those infants who had experienced that procedure; it only showed up in their late teens.
Although I was attracted to Alexander Technique for spiritual reasons, it had a significant benefit for the longevity and quality of my health that was not, at first, apparent to me. With my sights set on a spiritual path, I did not really realize the significance of what it meant to have an operating manual for my coordination that Alexander Technique provided. From my point of view, I never realized that changing one’s external manner of moving could affect the inside in such a powerful way. But it did. I grew 3/4 of an inch at 26 and another quarter inch two years later.
Sometimes a person doesn’t know what they have to gain from a course of action until they do it and find out for themselves what they are getting from it. Sometimes this finding out takes time, especially when the course of action involves routines you are giving up.
When faced with loss, you know full well what they are. What you may have to gain can feel like only a promise; an uncertain elusive conviction of faith or a whisper of potential. Often, you can’t have both – you must choose either the old comforts you know well or the leap of faith; because you can’t go in two directions at once. There was a stage in learning when I couldn’t quite do what I knew was possible, but what I had been doing was a tragic trap that I struggled against. Once that door was open, I couldn’t close it. Fortunately, persistence, my peers and my teachers helped me though that stage. Leaping into the unknown still feels like a complete willingness to risk everything. As to why anyone would want to take the risk – that’s up to each of us. For me, it was a “noh-brainer.”
Driving a winding road was never my ‘forte’, but I reluctantly do it occasionally as it is better than sitting in a passenger seat as far as motion sickness is concerned. During our Thanksgiving break, my husband and I took our annual trip to Mendocino coast and drove on highway 128. After clearing some curves, I noticed a change in myself.
My arms and back felt quite wide and open, and I felt firmly connected not only to the steering wheel and the system, but to the tires and the road itself!
Instead of slamming on the breaks reactively and nervously, I was calm and confident, knowing exactly how much speed and steering is necessary for a particular curve. It felt as if the road was sharing its intimate secrets with me. My husband, who gave up teaching me to drive properly long time ago, was totally amazed. According to him, I was ‘wearing’ the car.
So, what had happened? The road condition was the same as the year before (if not worse), our car was a year older… The change must have something to do with the way I was using myself. What interests me the most is that my mental/emotional state (=less nervous) had a direct and positive effect on my physical activity(=driving a car) and also provided me with a better perception and judgment.
It makes sense in theory, of course, if one feels happy, one behaves well and sees better. When it happens in a winding road most unexpectedly, it truly is a ‘wao’ experience!
On my way back home to Sacramento, I was a bit overconfident and got a traffic ticket, but I would still say, “God bless California, and long live the Alexander Technique!!”
The First Time
I first used the principles of my Alexander Technique training on the streets in San Francisco. After I dropped my car off at the dealership, I exited the ramp, turned down O’Farrell Street into the bowels of the Tenderloin and headed for the Westfield Shopping Center, south of Market. I started down the block. Fast. Think about walking up, I said to myself, ignoring lower back spasms.
I buttoned my coat flapping against the wind and directed “neck free” as I made my way past one man sitting on the sidewalk with five stuffed black plastic garbage bags and another using a Stingray bicycle as a phone. My head moved forward and up as I grew to 6’ when I passed by a drunk sprawled in a doorway surrounded by empty Thunderbird bottles, and a cluster of men next to a market with a flashing pink neon sign, Get Your Lottery Tickets Here. Two men babbled to themselves while lighting up a pipe and three guys across the street draped in blankets exchanged small plastic bags. My back lengthened and widened while sidestepping an old woman toting a bulky white mesh shopping bag with a pair of chicken feet peering out the top. I glanced at a middle-aged couple in Bermuda shorts studying a map. I ignored the woman wearing a fuchsia skirt, black fishnet stockings and stiletto heels pivoting in doorway.
My cell phone rang.
“Hi. What’s happening with the car?” asked my husband who was in Washington on a business trip.
I filled him in. “Nice neighborhood,” I added.
“Be careful. Hold on to your purse,” he said.
I stuffed the phone in my jeans pocket making a mental inventory of the contents of my handbag and gripped the strap. If someone grabbed me, I’d disregard my lesson on the whispered “Ah” and shriek like I learned ten years before in Tae Kwon Do class. My feet slapped like pancakes on the cement.
I entered Nordstrom, headed towards the designer footwear displays, and was immediately enticed by a black patent sandal. I looked for the salesperson as I turned the shoe over to check the price. “Stop,” I said under my breath, pleased that I had used my Technique training to inhibit a response to $400 stimulus.
After an hour, my back began a silent march in pain headed towards a coup d’etat. Tan short-weaved carpet invited me to lie on the ground. Nonetheless, I kept going while recalling my last retail experience. I had spiraled down to a blue stained carpet in the middle of an athletic store only to be told by the manager, “I wouldn’t lie there if I were you. You don’t want to know what’s been there.”
At least now I was upright.
After perusing the shopping center for another hour, my pain-free window crashed like a free fall elevator. I wished I could have continued my trek, yet my sense of direction ran into a dead end. I shrunk back to my 5’ 3” height and hailed a cab back to the dealership. Instead of negative thinking about my brief excursion, I congratulated myself on the use of primary control. Longer outings would be possible in the future. After all, this was only my first time.
Wendy Coblentz is writing her memoir, IT’S YOUR FAULT: a humorous journey through back pain, motherhood and self-discovery.
I was introduced to the Alexander Technique through my husband. His mother had been doing AT for several years and no longer wore orthodics as a result of the training. I decided to give it a try. The first session was a bit odd since we pretty much sat and stood the whole session with little to no verbal instruction. I had never worked this way. Chiropractic is so drastic and completely passive on my part and physical therapy was about learning and doing exercises. What differentiated the technique was that it addressed the root of my pain. It addressed my usage – how I walked, stood, sat, got out of the car, picked up my child, carried groceries etc. I learned to release in certain area, support other areas, inhibit a habitual movement, lengthen certain parts of my body or create width or space in other parts. These small, small changes accumulated and changed my behavior.
I did Alexander for three years and it truly has changed my life. I do not live with pain and I have regained mobility in both my neck and my back. The technique is not about fast results. But anyone who has tried to change a habit quickly will understand that change for life is not about speed, it is about process. The process of Alexander Technique and the results of that process will stay with you your whole life and change your path along the way.
I wish I had known about the Alexander Technique before I discovered bigboobs.com.
“What are you doing?” I had asked my then-13-year-old son as I walked into his room with his long-lost sweatshirt. In seconds the computer screen jumped from a naked female torso with pink panties sprawled on black rug to Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
“I’m learning about weapons of mass destruction,” Ben said.
I leaned against the doorway for support, my habitual reaction to teenage antics. A boa constrictor squeezed my spine. An eagle’s talons dug into my shoulders. Piranhas nibbled on each vertebrae of my neck like a delectable hors d’hoeuvre. Any thoughts of calm breathing soared out the window.
My voice seemed to project from the top of my collar bone as I choked out the words. “The computer will be so full of viruses it will need to be in an isolation ward.”
“Whatever,” he answered.
I wanted to scream.
A few years later I discovered the Alexander Technique. Little did I realize at the time that my Alexander training would not only help with pain management, but all other aspects of my life. I could make choices with my reactions. That thought was reinforced during a bi-weekly room check of my son’s room.
“Ben’s room reeks like vodka,” I said to my husband, Jim, exposing my limited alcohol knowledge.
“Vodka doesn’t smell,” he said.
Vodka might not smell, but something permeated the room other than ripe athletic socks on the floor, a crumpled In’ N’ Out Burger wrapper stuffed behind the bookshelf, and a moldy piece of string cheese in the bedside drawer. Three days later I returned to the potential crime scene not yet marked off by yellow police tape and followed my nose. I confirmed the source of the mysterious aroma when I excavated a half-filled bottle of Bacardi’s, not Smirnoff’s, from under Ben’s bed.
Pre-Alexander Technique my whole body would have tightened like a dysfunctional Slinky. Now, I paused. “Stop,” I said to myself inhibiting the response to shriek. With a tranquility that surprised me, I dumped the alcohol down the sink, refilled the bottle with water and placed the intact container back in the original spot. As I walked away I laughed with my neck free, the Alexander way.
Wendy Coblentz is writing her memoir, IT’S YOUR FAULT: a humorous journey through back pain, motherhood and self-discovery.
Q: How do you heal a weight bearing joint?
A: You must “use” it just rightly!
Alexander Technique turned the key to correct use for my hip strain, which had aggravated into bursitis.
By the time I came to Alexander Technique in mid-2009, my pain had stopped me from dancing. I had tried just about everything:
1st Prescription Drugs (NSAID’s) and Steroid Injections, but they just masked the pain.
2nd Hatha Yoga, but that immobilized me for a time.
3rd Physical Therapy, but the “strengthening” exercises increased the pain, and
4th Acupuncture, but without results, and
During this period, I learned some things from other treatments which better prepared me for Alexander Technique. For example, I found that:
the onset of pain after over-use was about 24 to 48 hours,
weight bearing should be limited to lifting less than 50# and carrying should be limited to 25#
range of motion was not a problem,
loss of muscle mass was inclining,
back support while driving was necessary for low back and pelvic support,
even such modest repetitive actions as raising my foot off the accelerator pedal caused tension and low-grade pain,
the focal point of my pain had shifted from the strained rear hip joint to the front at the top of the thigh, and
most importantly, the body’s natural response to muscle strain is to protect itself from over-extension by contracting the muscles around the injury to limit the range of motion. This low grade guarded flexion was a compensating mechanism , preventing some injuries but making the body move vulnerable to others and preventing more direct uses from healing the injury.
At first, the technique was experienced, before it was explained:
When lying on a massage-style table, my head was placed up to support my neck and my limbs were extended. By working my muscles, extending and rotating my joints and taking my limbs through their fullest range of motion I could begin to feel, in my passive weight bearing condition, how the teacher was encouraging the natural flow of my bodily energy. I believe I was experiencing the teacher use a certain quiet vitality through touch to convey their unspoken understanding of the energy they had developed in their mind and body through the Technique.
When sitting in a chair, I was positioned in a naturally balanced position by the teacher’s hands on my head and neck, under my shoulders, my feet and my hips. After a few times I could begin to feel that same state of ‘energization’ without tension sustaining my posture. The teacher would also enlist my mind to support what they were doing by asking me to “think” the direction of the body’s latent intentions toward movement as it was poised in a variety of light counter balancing positions. When the counterbalance was perfect, the teacher would effortlessly raise me up and back onto the stool. I learned that movement could be thought, and the thought could be held or released into effortless action.
In other words, I began “unlearn” what I thought I knew about how to move and how to heal myself:
standing straight – caused the pelvis and chin to tuck, stretching out the natural curvature of the spine
walking was being directed from the top of the stretch (torso) and powered from the bottom (hips) – instead of centered.
balance was something set – rather than fluid (and possibly flowing with the breath),
sitting tended to be back-weighted and collapsing forward.
In fact, the kinesthetic sense of using my body correctly had become mislead by preconception, habit and bodily tensions of healing compensations.
In conclusion, I have learned better and better use through Alexander Technique, but it has not healed me. The problem was that I could not overcome was the automatic triggering of contraction at the front of the hip, when I was engaged in the slighted unconscious habit, like lifting my foot off the accelerator pedal. Eventually I decided that nonstressful strengthening was needed to give the body a sense that it was protected without going into contraction.
What I found was an isometric stance called “Three Cirlcles” in Chi Quong. What I could see through Alexander Technique was that in this stance
the torso was vertical,
the pelvis released by a modified “monkey” position (with the knees flexed over the toes),
the chin was dropped forward, but
the head was directed back and up,
there was air space at the arm pits, allowing the back to be directed back
the circle of the arms was directing energy forward from the front of the body
the circle of the hands and fingers, particularly the little finger, was directing energy forward and up from the back of the body.
Due to Alexander Technique I was able to recognize the use needed to heal my hip.
My experience suggests that Alexander Technique could become the foundation for learning correct bodily use in all activities.
I’m at an audition having been called back for the supporting lead. Five minutes ago I was informed by the stage manager that they want to hear me for the lead. In a musical. It’s been 2 years since I’ve done a musical. I’ve never done a rock musical.
Twenty pages of music are gently pressed into my paws and the sweet stage manager smiles, “you have five minutes until you’re on.” And then it happens. Panic ensues. I can feel my heart begin to race…no, I can actually hear the beats pounding in my ears. I look around the room at the other women up for the role. They look incredibly prepared. And then they all turn to look at me. I have become the common enemy in the room. The panic is shutting me down, “This is not good,” I think to myself.
And then I remember. Alexander. I think, “I have 5 minutes. I can use one of those minutes to get free.” I free my neck, allowing for the potential of movement. My head moves forward and up, my back lengthens and widens, and my feet magically find the ground. My heart has stopped racing. I open my eyes to one of the other actresses sitting suddenly next to me.
“You only have a couple minutes, so I’m going to teach you the music,” she says.
Another actress joins us and puts her hand out, “Here is my iPod. Go ahead and listen to the cast recording.”
I was shocked…in awe of their generous spirits, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “was it the Alexander that brought about the change?”
I put the earbuds into my ears and freed my neck. Calmly emptying myself and allowing for the possibility of expansion. Then the strangest thing happened: I had the sensation that the music was laying itself on top of me and through me–as though it were imprinting itself onto my bones in a very soft almost ghost-like way. I habitually wanted to investigate further, and detail what exactly was happening, but luckily for me my name was called to audition.
I walked on stage scared, but strangely confident that the music would just be there when I opened my mouth. The other actresses watched on with pitying looks. The director looked hopeful and doubtful at the same time. The music started, I heard my cue, freed my neck, expanded my mouth, face and jaw to do whispered ‘Ah,’ and a sound came out that I had never before heard. The director perked up, the music director started to pound the keys jovially. I didn’t dare look at the other actresses. The music was there! Not only that, but so was the character!
I walked off the stage, and the woman who had lent me her IPod approached me.
“Who are you and how did you do that in 3 minutes of prep?” she asked.
I answered, “I’m Lena Hart and I study the Alexander Technique.”
This is a very long story – one hour from start to finish:
One of the very first ergonomic chairs. Designed by Goethe for his own use.
The motion detector light on my back porch isn’t working, and I need to see if the light bulb is dead. I get the ladder out but realize that 3-steps to the back door is in the way of putting the ladder down leveled. Oh, this is indeed challenging! The only way I can get to the light bulb is to let the back set of legs on the first step. The ladder looks a bit steep, but it’s relatively stable(I shake it to make sure that it won’t tip over). Before I begin to climb on the ladder, I let the breath come in and tell myself to stop and take a moment to give myself directions. Now I am on the 3rd step of the ladder and ready to reach for the light bulb and hear a voice(actually, my teacher’s) in my head saying, “out and around and on”. So I let my arm to follow that voice in my head to get the light bulb out. Pretty soon, the light bulb is sitting on top of the ladder. As I come down the ladder, I tell myself, “up to go down”. I am down on the landing, checking in with myself; I am okay!…my back feels good and my shoulder feels good! I give myself a big pat on the shoulder and bow to F.M.
Anxious, hmmm, oh yes anxious and it’s so present …. Low grade but very perceptible. Where do I feel it? In the solar plexus, in the neck, ah in the lower back… raging thoughts too. What to do? Well, first pause wait, then direct myself …..wait …. Hmm still anxious…. Oh what is this about? Ah yes I see, what it is.. fear. I remember my teacher saying over and over and over again, “You must face yourself, be scrupulously honest without judgement. You can’t let go and inhibit what you are hiding from yourself”. I look within and see… the issue comes up in front of my mind’s eye. Then, I stop again, pause, wait.. then I let my neck be free. Stop, so that my head can float forward and up and my torso.
Author Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination and of Sky’s the Limit
The Alexander technique has been a godsend during these past few months when I’ve been dealing with my elderly mother’s health situation. Thinking “UP” has been especially helpful. My sister and I were trying to taper mom off benzodiazapines (sedatives) and she would physically shake and have anxiety attacks if she didn’t get them exactly on time. One afternoon I was 15 minutes late, racing in my car to get back to the house. Somehow, I remembered to think “UP” as I leaped up the front stairs…. and to my surprise, I found her calm and peaceful. (I firmly believe that thinking UP is what did it.) The Alexander technique has given me a more calm and strong demeanor in the face of a difficult situation—I’ve been able to deal with doctors, family members and my own emotions in a much more clear, balanced way. My initial motivation for doing the Alexander technique was to clear up ongoing aches and pain from critical injuries I sustained from a head-on collision. I’ve since discovered that it’s a way of life, and one that I hope to follow for the rest of my life.
(The following is taken from Binkley’s journal entry from his first meeting and lesson with Alexander. Binkley had just arrived from the USA to study with Alexander.)
“The lesson …. gave me the sense of timelessness: the sense, paradoxically, of time passing and having passed, yet, at the same time,the sense of something permanent, constant and inviolate throughout this passage; for I had the knowledge that this aged, creative and fully alive man was teaching me, in this Victorian room, a principle of growth and change biologically rooted in man as an organism.
I thought at that moment of my own country with it’s ceaseless quest for novelty, for any kind of change so long as what is brought forth is new, a quest so compulsive and pervasive that family life was becoming fraught with restlessness, dissatisfaction and anxieties.”
Gently Break Habits by Identifying & Noticing
by Jessica S. Santascoy
What’s your stimulus?
Identifying a habit can be a window into beginning to use your body efficiently and getting rid of unnecessary pain or tension. Let’s take the habit of tightening the jaw. Tightening often starts with a stimulus. Maybe you step into a meeting and you feel like the people in the room make you clench your jaw. Tightening your jaw is the beginning of a chain reaction. Seconds after tightening your jaw, your throat closes a bit and your breath becomes more shallow. You start to become impatient and wish the meeting would end, and you start to think you’re wasting your time. Now your jaw feels soldered shut!
What the Alexander Technique can do is help you recognize stimuli that cause you to misuse your body. My laptop is a stimulus – my jaw tends to become tighter as I continue looking at the screen and typing. Simply noticing is enough to loosen it. I don’t have to say to myself, “relax the jaw,” noticing is enough. The trick is to be gentle with yourself, and allow a more useful chain reaction to take over – the jaw loosens, the breathing becomes easy, the throat relaxes, the work flows.
Identifying stimuli, (such as a meeting or the computer), and noticing your reaction can help reverse misuse and begin to create a pattern of more efficient use of your body. Over time, patterns of more efficient use of the body will replace the patterns that causes undue stress.
Jessica S. Santascoy is training to become an Alexander Technique teacher at The Alexander Educational Center in Berkeley. She’s a stargazer, foodie, and climbs volcanoes when the opportunity arises. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jessicasuzette and friend her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jsantascoy.
This is a small tribute to the Alexander Technique (really to those who teach it) on the benefits of spending time “working” on one’s self.
Twas just a few days before Christmas and like a mouse I was scurrying all about the house, frantically trying to get the place ready, all the foods prepared “oi,” what a deal. When I noticed there was not much of a rise nor a width to be found within my leetle skeleton . So much for trying to rhyme. I promptly stopped all activity and placed my body on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the ground, a book under my head. I began to notice how held and tight I had allowed myself to become. I was exhausted, and had much to do. I thought, have no expectations just notice your body, the way you are in relation to the floor, what ever sensations arise just notice, no comments, and then…. Slowly direct yourself. Neck free… so the head can go forward and up, to allow the torso to lengthen and widen… Over and over I repeated this process in a meditative fashion again, I would say not expecting any result. I was pretty tired when I lay down you see. Some small amount of time passed and I had to resume my activities. I thought hmm, my breathing is so relaxed, wow. I’ll get up now and much to my amazement I was revivified, not tired at all anymore and very up and directed….
New Year’s Resolution: That’s the way ’twas done this time!
New year is the time for resolution. Year after year, I resolve to begin something new or change a habit or two. It goes well for January, everything is fresh and hopeful, then somehow the resolution seems to lose its exciting new look and evaporates into thin air…
Being a student of the Alexander Technique, I am resolved again this year, to tackle a habit, or at least to examine it.
“That’s NOT the way!” , my critical mind protests when I see someone close to me, a family member for example, doing something wrong. Well, to be honest, I have to admit that s/he is not doing it wrong, but rather not doing it my way. For a perfectionist who gets a pleasure out of precision, an artwork hung 1/8″ uneven causes a severe mental and sensory pain. In other words, it drives me crazy!
So, how to change the mental habit of saying “That’s NOT the way!”? I cannot stop noticing how things are done around me. Dulling my senses or awareness is not the answer. How about replacing the thought with something more neutral and less judgmental? “That’s the way ’twas done this time.” It is a bit long, but I gave it a try.
I soon became aware that my old thought came to me instantaneously like an arrow of light. And, oh, how so difficult to catch it before it seizes me! It is no joke, it moves awfully fast! In order to replace it with a new sentence, I had to change my strategy.
Instead of remembering and saying the new ‘mantra’, which could never beat the old and powerful one, I began singing it in the tune of ‘ Here we go round the mulberry bush’ 🎶 “That’s the way ’twas done this time, done this time, done this time, that’s the way ’twas done this time on a cold winter morning!…” and so on.
Well, it shifted my critical mind into a more playful one. When I manage to catch it at the entrance and sing it away, I sense a space opens us within and around me.
It has become an ongoing experiment and daily practice of self observation and inhibition. It is so intriguing to the point that I don’t need entertainments, as I can entertain myself.
May your resolution be a happy one!
As we all know getting older presents many more physical challenges. Since we are looking for ways to age gracefully I thought I would add to your list of helpful hints.
Having awareness of your posture and use of your body will help this process of aging gracefully..
The good news is the bodymind is often very responsive. I say bodymind because body and mind work well when you use them together. Learning to think with your whole body helps regenerate the whole being.
The most difficult part is making the time and finding the discipline to make change a reality.
There several techniques, ways of understanding our bodies available to us at this time. My favorite is the Alexander Technique.
So finding a form of movement that you enjoy and will commit to doing is a very important first step. Doing any activity with awareness, not just exercise, will help your posture and alignment. It will also reduce possibilities of injury and pain.
Let’s start with awareness of our head and neck. Place one finger on your nose and one on the occipital ridge of your skull.
Imagine your finger is a pencil and draw circles with it, so you are initiating the movement from your nose. Now do the same with the occipital. You can think of writing your name with your nose, or occipital. Say yes or no. Having the awareness of the back of your head and tip of your nose and moving from there could give you more ease, less tension in your jaw. Once you have a sense of initiating the movement from you nose or occipital you can drop your arms and just move from those two parts as you. As you experiment with this be aware of your whole body, making sure your shoulders are relaxed, you are standing equally on both feet, or if you are stitting you can sense a balance of weigth on both sides of your pelvis. (DON”T CROSS YOUR LEGS) This movement should be small, subtle. AS you are doing this movement (saying yes or no with your head, or writing your name in space) notice the feeling inside your mouth. Relax your jaw, your neck, your teeth, as you do these gentle movements you may feel more room in your mouth, less tension in your neck. And more awareness of your tendency to tighten up when its not necessary. It may also give you a sense of dimension in your body. Remember this is an exploration you are gathering information that could help you relax. As you go about your day see if having this awareness and moving from there lets you feel and sense more ease through out your body.
This exercise can be done lying down, just make sure you have some height under your heard a book or folded towel. You want your head high enough that your ear is in line with your shoulders; have your knees up so you can feel the bottoms of your feet making contact with the floor.
When doing this exercise use very small movements.
This is a good exercise to do at the computer. Taking a break to move is essential to aiding the process of awareness and alignment. If you are using your computer longer than an hour it really is important to take a break and move. Remember that old saying ‘if your don’t move it you lose it’! You don’t want to lose your flexibility. And if you have lost your flexibility the good news is you can regain it.