Parenting can be a challenge. Do I win “understatement of the year” for that statement? Is the prize chocolate?
I have a little game I have been playing with myself lately when I feel the steam about to pour out of my ears, because of a poop-covered baby writhing on the changing table, refusing to let me change him, or a child waking up yet again in the night, when I was just starting to doze, or a house so jammed with houseguests it’s hard to get from room to room: I tell myself “I can be as frustrated (or anxious or angry or whatever) as I want, but I can’t tighten my neck.” So I free my neck, and I no longer allow my shoulders and ears to kiss (i.e. I let my shoulders release down and my head release up) and I attempt to carry on in this fashion. Of course the trick of the game is that it is impossible to experience that level of frustration, anxiety or anger without tightening the neck. Free the neck and the rest will follow.
Working with David Jernigan in an Alexander Technique session years ago, he first mentioned The Grip which is a characteristic of my right hand. I have noticed The Grip manifest in other activities, but on the guitar this not only impedes my ability to execute but also stresses and strains muscular activity through my elbow and most likely further. This morning I was practicing a section on the high register of the guitar, where my left hand fingers have to move about and land in a confined space. As I breathed out and began to play this part I noticed The Grip had manifested.
Why? How could tightening the hold on my right hand possibly improve the use of my left hand?
Whilst researching keywords to help my website rank well in search engines, I discovered that one of the most searched for phrases is “Alexander Technique exercises”. This must be very frustrating for those who are doing the searching, as any Alexander Teacher will tell you, there’s no such thing as an Alexander Technique exercise! The word exercise implies something you do, and the problem is that you’ll filter any instruction through your current filter of the way you habitually move. To do something new, you effectively have to stop doing! The Alexander Technique applies to any activity, whether it’s sitting, standing, running, doing yoga, playing a musical instrument, you name it and Alexander can be applied to it. It’s more about the way that you do it, the quality you bring to it, rather than the activity itself. That said, if we swap the word “exercise” for “exploration” then we’re on the right path and I can let my professional pedantry remain intact.
So, the most common Alexander “exercise” is known as semi-supine, or constructive rest (I prefer the latter name) and essentially consists of lying down, pretty easy, eh?! The specifics are that you lie on your back with your knees raised pointing upwards (as this takes pressure off the lower back), feet flat on the floor and your head raised/supported by something firm, typically a book. If you were to stand with your back to a wall you’ll notice that your head does not actually touch the wall, and this is normal. That is why your head needs to be supported when lying down on your back as gravity naturally pulls the head back towards the floor and this puts an undue strain on your neck. We’re all different shapes and sizes which is why it’s common to use a book (or several books, but yoga blocks work nicely too) as it’s easier to find the right height of support for you with a little trial and error. If in doubt, it’s better for the support to be a little high than too low. The reason that a cushion isn’t suitable is that it’s harder for your neck muscles to fully release as your head never feels fully supported by a soft base. Another thing to be aware of is that your head is rotated forward in relation to the neck, just as in standing and described in greater detail here.
I’m not against correcting our posture or body on principle. I wish all it took to rid ourselves of chronic pain and tension was figuring the right angle or position, and tapping our body into place. It’s such a seductive offer; that we need only arrange our body and then get on with the rest of our day.
I object to correcting our posture on practical grounds; it doesn’t work. From my perspective as an Alexander Technique teacher and a person dealing with chronic pain for several years, ‘correcting’ posture tends to tie us further into a tense knot, decreasing our ability to actually enjoy our body. In this article, I’ll offer a short but powerful exercise for connecting with a natural posture.
What Correcting Usually Means
The instinctual response to pain is to fix it or push it away. As discomfort crowds our consciousness, our brain reaches for a solution: “good” posture! Or, at least our idea of it. Usually, this means we push our shoulders back and stick our chest up. On a more subtle level, we may tighten our jaw and squeeze our throat against the discomfort and fear that’s bubbling up in relation to feeling pain. When posture carries the promise of not feeling pain or uncomfortable emotions, it’s easy to try too hard and stiffen ourselves.
Most people these days are busy – VERY busy. For women in business we’re not only dealing with the many and various jobs necessary to do our work; more often than not home and family, children and parents are competing for our attention too.
The most prevalent response to this busy-ness is multitasking, which is the perfect subject for the first in a series of posts I have lined up on busy-ness and productivity.
We’ve become a multitasking society. The constant calls for our attention, not least of which come from our devices beeping and alerting us to every email, text, and message notification that comes our way, exacerbate this and further distract us from the task (or tasks!) at hand.
Beginnings are tough for me. I’m all about order, but beginnings tend to be for me all about chaos.
Most of the chaos stems from the fact that I haven’t fully closed the previous actions. I’m dragging the dregs of yesterday into today and tomorrow, and getting them all jumbled up with the new stuff that wants to emerge.
What to do about it?
If I followed my own advice, I would quit doing stuff about it. I would find a bit of space on the floor to lie down on my back, with my head supported on a few books and my knees up. If I did this every day, morning and evening, I’d be making space for change to happen.
The littlest bones of the human body are inside the ear.
But there are a set of small bones that make up a section of our body also referred to as the ‘wrist’.
Carpel Tunnel Syndrome is one of the conditions affecting the wrist area and causes much pain and discomfort.
In the blog I will attempt to clarify some the kinaesthetic language that underlies the explanation of CTS. This may prove useful towards clarifying our mental image of how the wrist functions as part of the rest of our structure. By gaining more clarity, we can then take useful measures to avoid or move towards recovering from CTS and other common conditions of the wrist area.
Firstly, if you are experiencing tingling sensations in your hand or wrist that may be shooting up the rest of your arm, please seek medical advise. As there are many contributing factors aside from overuse. That being said, most musicians who suffer from CTS have found that by investigating their movement habits, they have been able to overcome CTS.
Technically, this pigeon is playing the English horn. [Artist unknown]
When I was training as an Alexander Technique teacher, Vivien Mackie—the well-known Alexander teacher and cellist—came to Urbana to visit the Murray’s training course. While in town, she gave a master class to undergraduate musicians at one of the local universities. I had never seen an Alexander teacher teach a master class, so I decided to sit in and watch.
One of the students was an oboist. The oboe can be richly beautiful. But this young man would puff himself up like a pouter pigeon before he began playing, and the sound that emerged from his instrument was harsh and laser-like—I imagined it peeling the varnish off the floor of the stage.
Vivien Mackie let him play for a bit and then had him stop. “I want you to try something, just as an experiment,” she said. (I’m paraphrasing.) “Just try once to begin playing without taking a breath.”
Originally posted February 18, 2015 by Jennifer Roig-Francoli
Would you be rushing around if…?
Here’s an imagination exercise for you, which you might want to think about in conjunction with the podcast ideas on centering that I wrote about in my last blogpost. (Podcast link: Living with Ease at the Center of Everything – Jennifer interviewed by Robert Rickover.)
If you were the “good king or queen” in a fairy tale, would you be rushing around from here to there to get things done and to fulfill everyone else’s expectations, or would you give yourself the time required to be centered and do things regally, with full consciousness, paying adequate attention to detail, and delegating things that you were not required to do?
What if you were the king or queen about to go onstage in front of your adoring subjects? Would you rush out there, making yourself small with hurry, or would you allow yourself to expand to take up all the space you need, letting yourself be calm and centered – at the center of the universe – letting the world do its rushing around you while you remain unaffected?