In my last post, I wrote about simplifying life by becoming aware of our Being, and living from there with Non-Doing.
We can remind ourselves to come back to Being – centering ourselves again and again and again – in so many ways. Here’s my latest simple key. I’m calling it my “spatial litany”. It goes like this:
Feet to the ground.
When you’re thinking these words, don’t think “about” them so much, but let your awareness float gently and with meaning to the spatial areas denoted by the words. Simply “touch” your neck, feet, and sky with the feather-touch of your awareness. When you get to the word “wide”, let your whole body expand-dissolve-evaporate-melt subtly into the space on all sides around you. Don’t try hard – just imagine and wonder for a moment, then move onto the next idea. Don’t stay with any idea for too long – keep it SIMPLE!
Originally published October 11, 2015 by Bill Plake
One of the things I emphasize when I’m coaching a musician is the importance of regularly redirecting thought whenever practicing or performing. It is this “redirecting” process that is an essential element of constructive change.
It is quite easy to fall into an autopilot frame of mind when spending any length of time with your instrument, letting yourself run on unconscious habit. Yet whenever this happens, you’re missing out on opportunities for improvement.
Each time you start a phrase, or even just begin to play a single note, you will have the greatest chance for success if you affirm and clarify two things in your consciousness:
Both of these are things that you wishfor, things that you would like to have as you play.
Let’s start with intention. The way I define it, your intention is simply what you’d like to have happen musically.
Now, to be clear, intention has nothing to do with the mechanical aspects of executing the music, and has everything to do with how you imagine the music.
“Human activity is primarily a process of reacting unceasingly to stimuli received from within or without the self.”
—Frederick Matthias Alexander, The Use of the Self
More than 120 years ago, a very determined Australian actor decided to find out what he was doing to cause himself to lose his voice. The impetus for this project was his love for acting, and his desire to continue unimpeded upon his career. He single-mindedly observed himself for months and then years in front of mirrors, successfully solving his vocal problems, and in the process making discoveries which would become the basis of his lifelong work. As a result of these discoveries, his life changed, and so have hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Now the Alexander Technique is taught by internationally affiliated societies of teachers in 18 countries.
“What’s all this fuss about teaching people how to sit up straight and relax?” some may be thinking. And they would be right. At least they would be right about how ridiculous it would be to form national societies of teachers who teach people to sit up straight and relax. But the underlying assumption that Alexander Technique is about sitting up straight and relaxing would be wrong. “But what about the changes in posture and relaxation I have heard about?” you might say. After all, with Alexander lessons people’s posture changes, often dramatically, and often they report feeling more relaxed. But I don’t think I have ever heard an Alexander teacher tell someone to sit up straight or try to achieve relaxation.
Well, the results of my survey are coming in, and one of the key things that’s showing up so far is how many women in business get overwhelmed in one way or another.
When I realized this, I thought to myself, “That’s great!” Of course I don’t mean it’s great that people are feeling overwhelmed! Rather, that I have a number of things up my sleeve that can help them. Perfect!
I immediately started brainstorming ideas for a workshop and a blog (not this one!) on the topic, and set myself a schedule of when I wanted to have certain things in place to help keep me on track.
One day Mind and Body were having a chat about the challenges of their relationship. Body was annoyed that Mind had wandered while they were walking down the street, causing Body to hit a lamp post.
“If you hadn’t put all you attention on that dog across the street – and, I might add, the dog’s owner! – I wouldn’t have this huge bruise on my forehead.”
“Well Body,” replied Mind, “sometimes I think I spend my whole life looking after you. Last night I just wanted to chill out and watch a little TV, and before the show ended I realized you’d eaten a full quart of ice cream. We’re both still feeling the effects of that.”
“OK Mind, what do you suggest we do about these problems? You’re supposed to be the smart one. I just do stuff.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile Body, and I recently came upon a possible solution.”
I’m not saying stretching isn’t useful. I enjoy some stretching and find it beneficial. In fact, stretching and foam rolling can be excellent complementary exercises.
And what’s more important than either stretching or foam rolling is how you use yourself (and any particular muscles) the other 23 hours 50-odd minutes of the day. That’s what the Alexander Technique is all about! To find out more about the Alexander Technique here or to find a teacher in your area, click here.
However, I have found personally as well as vicariously through my students that foam rolling is generally superior to stretching and here’s why.
Getting onto the trail with baby is a wonderful thing! It’s good for everyone to get outside. Walking, or better yet, hiking, with my littles always raises my spirits and they love being outside. But these benefits quickly evaporate if hiking with baby is uncomfortable or even painful.
As a certified Alexander Technique teacher, I help people learn to use their bodies better. I think of the work as operating instructions for the human organism that help us improve our movement and posture, prevent (or recover from) pain and injury, and manage stress better. People often come to me and want to blame their discomfort on what they do (“I spend all day at the computer, so my shoulders are rounded.” Or “I have a really heavy toddler and lifting him makes my back hurt.”). I always try to impress upon them that it’s not what we do but how we do it that matters. So in this blog I’m going to attempt to address the mechanics of baby wearing and strollering in a way that will help you spend your time enjoying the outdoors with your baby, rather than wishing this parenting thing didn’t hurt.
[Many thanks to my Alexander Technique teacher, Witold Fitz-Simon, and my Alexander Technique Psychologist, Jane Dorlester]
I used to believe that intense focus and concentration were the best way of being. I would spend hours practicing music, hours focusing on just one little thing. The more the world disappeared around me, the better I was supposed to be. In undergrad music school, I would walk up and down the hallways and see people in their practice spaces, for hours upon hours, directing all of their energy and attention onto one single thing. I learned that individual mastery of one instrument was the way to be. I practiced all of the time.
When I tried to look at the larger world around me, I got easily overwhelmed, scared, sad, anxious, lost, hopeless. So to cope, I would simply zoom in and ignore all the background noise, erase any thought that didn’t pertain to this one single thing. This scale. This piece.
I have realized that my coping mechanism was also what led me into deep bouts of depression, narcissism, self-absorption, and intense crying from feeling a disconnection from the world around me. Then, to alleviate my sadness, I would dive back into music in order to escape, continuing the cycle.
Human beings have been talkin’ about dissatisfaction for a long time. The grass is always greener on the other side. And we find ourselves thinking if we can just get to the next level where we make more money, have a bigger house, snag the perfect partner, THEN we’ll be happy and satisfied.
From the somatic viewpoint of the Alexander Technique, this wanting to be in another place and time, or wanting things to be different than how they are, has strong physical correlates. When I’m in the Zone of Dissatisfaction, my chest gets tight, and though it’s still a great song by Duncan Sheik, I’m Barely Breathing . I lose any sense of my contact with the ground or my chair, and I often stare at one point in the distance with a furrowed brow. I feel anxious, and my attention span shortens as I flit from one busy activity to the next.
When I catch myself in these moments, what offers me the greatest relief is when I can accept myself, and my circumstances just as they are in this very moment without having to change or do anything more. Byron Katie talks of Loving What Is. It may sound trite, but stay with me here.
I can’t possibly keep monitoring myself to sit up straight all day long!
I hear this a lot from new students who come in and want help with posture related issues.
If you want to work on your Posture and your Use you have to consciously think about it some of the time. There is no way around it.
But how you approach this can make a big difference.
Attitude may not be everything but it certainly plays a large role.
Recently, a man came in for several months of twice weekly lessons. At our first meeting I asked him the same question I ask every new student: “what do you want help with?”
He wanted to improve his posture. In particular, he was concerned about the rounding in his shoulders and upper back. He didn’t have any pain or discomfort. He was about 60, a consultant, decent marathoner and serious meditator.