I was recently reading two books, and coincidentally they both referenced asthmatic attacks—with differing approaches for relief. The first book was “Explaining the Alexander Technique—The writings of F. Mathias Alexander—In conversation with Walter Carrington and Sean Carey. The second book was “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott.
In the Alexander Technique book Walter Carrington states: “Alexander was particularly brilliant at getting someone to stop the reflex spasm by encouraging the neck muscles to release so that the head went forward and up. I saw him do this on a number of occasions when people were in the midst of an attack. It really was rather spectacular.”
Most sports and art forms have an “ideal posture” to practice them. Books and articles on them will describe this ideal posture, and sometimes offer muscular exercises that will help you achieve it.
However, if visually identifying what we need to change and doing muscles exercises to correct deviations from perfect form were enough, we’d all have good posture and no one would have back pain from bad postural habits.
This visual and muscular take on posture presents 3 problems.
On Wednesdays, Kyra teaches the cello to an adorable five year-old, “E.” In her lesson yesterday, E was sitting slumped on her little green stool, hanging backward off her cello. Instead of telling her to “sit up straight,” Kyra asked E to touch her cello bridge with her left hand.
When E reached for her bridge, her back lengthened and she sat up. Funnily enough, she didn’t really notice the change. She just sat poised and alert for the rest of her lesson.
It was a small moment, but a great example of helping a child find poise at their instrument without nagging about posture.
After reading Part 1 you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Alexander Technique is about body mechanics. The way you use yourself certainly includes body mechanics, but you are much more than just your body, there’s a whole mental/emotional component that makes up who you are and how you use yourself. It is common these days to talk of the mind-body connection, but the Alexander Technique likes to take this another step further and even consider that there is no connection, as that would imply a separation of the two requiring a bridge between them. A more holistic view is that the mind and body are one and the same, that you are totally indivisible as a person, what Alexander liked to call psychophysical unity .
So, despite popular conceptions of the Alexander Technique, we teachers really are not the posture police, as what goes on in the mind is equally important, and posture really could be said to be a reflection of the mind. Mindfulness is all the rage these days and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think of this work as being embodied mindfulness.
Michael Rabin, one of the greatest violinists of all time. Died at 35.
I had a rather shocking exchange on Facebook the other day, which was shocking mostly because I hadn’t realized how far I’d come in my thinking, away from what I might call the “old school” of “serious” classically-trained musicians, who are trained to work hard, not to enjoy themselves.
The exchange exemplified for me much of what I think is wrong with the world of classical music these days, and why so few people actually pursue it as a career and succeed, while enjoying happy lives. It is also a key to why such high percentages of musicians suffer from mental illness, as well as physical pain.
It all started with an innocent comment a friend made (who is a fantastic musician who should have an endless supply of excellent students knocking at her door), wondering why people are “scared off” when she suggests that they take lessons in her rather uncommon instrument.
Here is a simple way to think about the Alexander Technique… it’s about learning to move without compressing your spine. Just as you wouldn’t want to drive your car with the parking brake on, you don’t want to shorten and compress yourself because that limits movement and can cause or exacerbate all sorts of health issues. Habitual compression can lead to bulging or herniated discs, neck pain, lower back pain, nerve irritation or impingement, sciatica, shallow or poor breathing, poor posture and more.
Here’s how it works. Your head, depending on your size and structure, weighs approximately 10 – 15 pounds, and sits on top of your spine (the top of the spine is referred to as the Atlas). The spine begins in between the ears and goes all the way down to the tailbone; it is one whole unit. What the head is doing affects the entire spine. When not interfered with, the head naturally balances at the top of the spine, and the spine properly bears the weight of the head so that those 10 – 15 pounds feel weightless.
In this blog I share my top eleven (yes eleven, not ten!) best practices for learning the Alexander Technique. The list comprises all the things I do myself to sustain and move forward with my own Alexander Technique skills. My students who most successfully use the Alexander Technique in their own lives do many of these things too. People who are taking, or have taken, lessons or classes in the Alexander Technique, will find this particularly helpful. Many of the practices, however, will be useful to anyone wanting to learn more about the Technique. Better still, most cost nothing and take up virtually no time, as you practice the Alexander Technique doing things you would be doing anyway!
In your Alexander Technique lessons you are learning to be aware of habits of posture, tension and reaction that you were probably unaware of before. You may also be becoming familiar with some basic anatomy as it relates to how you move and coordinate yourself (e.g. your hip joints, sitting bones, head balance, and so forth). Start cultivating the habit of noticing what you are doing with yourself: notice your feet on the ground, tune in to the balance of your head at the top of your spine, become aware of your breathing, of your back, your sitting bones, your knees, your hip joints. Starting to notice what we are actually doing with ourselves in the moment is the first step toward real change. It is in this pause that we can reevaluate our situation, and choose a different course of action if desired. And of course you can practice this anywhere, doing anything – driving the car, waiting in line, sitting at your desk…
Hmmm. Difficult one. Most of us would struggle even to define what it is, although we know it when we meet it. Is it purely natural talent – something you are either born with or live without?
According to author Stephen Bayley it can be taught. He has a clear idea what the course would look like:-
If we taught charm at school it would involve several different courses. First would be critical perception. How do you analyse your responses to a person or a place? Second would be situational analysis – the critical path through the circumstances you find yourself in.
Third, a masterclass in literacy and articulacy. It’s essential to know how to use words because charm is never mute. Find good words and use them well. Finally, anxiety management. Charmers are many different things, but they are always attractively… relaxed. And this is a quality they confer happily on all in their circle…
Charm is an essential tool for survival in the worlds of business and love. In personal life it makes everything more pleasant. In business life, it makes you more effective. (*)
But, of course, this is an Alexander Technique blog. So try re-reading that extract, and substitute the word ‘charm’ with the words ‘Alexander Technique’(†). Interesting, isn’t it?
Yesterday was the day on which Americans remember the September 11, 2001 attack upon American soil. Four planes commandeered by men filled with hate and zealous pride for their own ideals crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, The Pentagon in the Nation’s capital, and a field in Pennsylvania. People around the world remember where they were when they heard the news. I certainly do; I happened to be at the airport in Norfolk, VA walking down the corridor to board a plane to fly home to California.
America had never known such devastation by a foreign attacker on the homeland. We, as a people, were numbed by the magnitude of lost. Americans, for the most part, are very good at coming together and supporting one another in emergencies. We give money, volunteer help, all those acts of caring and support for our neighbors. These acts of kindess are humanitarian efforts, human being to human being, for which Americans are known in emergency situations.
Take a moment to think about the various spaces that you spend your day in both indoors and outdoors. Are they vast? Confined? Cluttered? Open? Some combination of some or all of these?
The spaces that we frequent have an effect on our well-being and I’m sure quite a bit could be said on this topic from a variety of perspectives. I’m going to look at it from the perspective of posture, specifically relating to how the eyes are affected, and in turn the rest of the body and the mind.
Living in a large city, I encounter a fair number of relatively confined spaces, or at least spaces that are more confined compared to what I became accustomed to as a child growing up in the suburbs. Sitting in Prospect Park in Brooklyn looking out on a vast (for New York!) open lawn and then back at my blank screen, thinking about what to write, feeling a little stumped, this topic came to mind as I gazed back across the lawn. Spending time in a space that is more open than what I’m used to gives me a sense of taking up more space. One thing that I note in particular is the effect that the expanse before me has on my eyes. Being able to gaze far ahead feels like an opportunity to give my eyes a rest. It’s relaxing and has a softening effect on the muscles in my neck, back and shoulders. Softening those muscles helps me to decompress and release up to my full height and width and to breathe more fully. I feel like have more space to think and to think differently, perhaps more creatively.