Learn how to use your internal GPS to give clear direction to your life
Is your personal GPS working? What is it that really gives you good direction in your life? How do you know if you’re on the right track or not? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just flip an internal switch and aim your life in the best possible direction?
Good news – it’s possible! You really do have an internal GPS, an inborn system that gives you excellent direction for all aspects of your life – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. F.M. Alexander called it your “Primary Control”, although most of the time we use his term to mean something very specific: the dynamic relationship between your head, neck, torso, and the rest of your body. I sometimes like to call it the “Organizing Factor”.
What is it inside of you that makes you think? move? feel? choose? act? stop? live?
What is that mysterious Something that causes your life to continue the way it does, day after day after day?
Recently I’ve been having some Alexander Technique lessons for myself with a wonderful teacher, Ariel Weiss, partly as continuing education, and partly to help me deal with a shoulder injury (more about this coming soon!). During a recent lesson we decided to look at how I was using myself while working at the computer. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that this is something to which I have devoted a lot of thought. I had, however, a bit of an “aha” moment—I could actually use the computer to help my posture!
As I mulled this over for myself afterward, I realized that part of my way of interacting with the computer was to very subtly put myself on guard against, or protect myself from, the poor coordination that so often inflicts computer users. As I’ve stated before, I am well aware that working at the computer itself is not typically the cause of neck strain, shoulder tension, headaches, or RSI, for instance. Rather, these are caused by the way we coordinate ourselves—the amount of excess tension we bring to the task—as we work at the computer. And while this is true, being even slightly “on guard” against slumping or straining can, paradoxically, lead to a little unwanted tension.
I am not about to propose a miracle pill to get rid of belly fat or even a particular exercise to do on a daily basis. Many people spend most of their day holding in their belly to hide that it sticks out. Holding in the belly can become so habitual that a lot of folks forget that they are doing it. Yes, diet and exercise (or lack their of) certainly contribute to whether or not a person carries around excess weight, but whether or not your belly sticks out can also depend greatly on your posture.
If you are compressing your body from the top down and from the sides in (what most adults do), this will most likely result in you leaning back when you stand and exaggerating the lumbar curve in your lower back. What’s on the front side of your lumbar curve? Your belly! So if the back is going in, then the front must be sticking out.
The following is an invitation from Alexander Technique teacher Robert Rickover to become a guest blogger on his Body Learning Blog. Please contact Robert if you’d like to contribute to his “Parade of ‘P’s” (see below!).
These are all “P” aspects, or applications, of the Alexander Technique. No doubt you can think of many others.
Here’s your “P” challenge: Write a Guest Blog with the title: Parade of “P”s – (your P word) – or a title of your choosing – send it to me at this contact page. If it meets the high standards :) of the Body Learning Blog, I’ll find an appropriate image to go with it and publish it here.
The “P” challenge is open to anybody.
It could be a great way to take a first dip into the world of blogging. Or a chance to promote your book or video or teaching practice.
Or just achieve worldwide fame.
I’m also hoping it will be a chance for me to outsource some the work of blogging…
Please, pretty please, promise to pick me for the parade!
Hey, we want to participate in the parade too! We have a great peanut joke to share. Just ask.
Q: What has chopping parsnips got to do with the Alexander Technique?
Q: How come?
A: Because the Alexander Technique is about making the best use of what you’ve got.
By which I don’t mean finishing up those wrinkly old potatoes in the bottom of the vegetable basket. I mean making the most of what you have available in you; your arms, legs, head, feet, knees. In fact, your whole body. Taking a little minute to think about what these various bits do when you do things like chopping a parsnip.
Bad Posture is one of those silent evils, like cholesterol or bad breath: you don’t really notice it until it becomes a serious problem (an unsightly hump, a herniated disc, a tension headache, a bout of back pain that leaves you out of business for several days).
Perhaps you only remember your bad posture when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror, when your back aches after a long day at work or minding the children, or when a friend, spouse, mother (or tactless acquaintance) tells you, “Oh darling! You really must do something about that posture of yours. If not, you’re going to end up humped like a camel!”
Then, and only then (and only for a short while I might add), you actually do something to mask the problem: You tighten your back muscles to pull yourself up straight (this lasts you until it you can’t stand the strain any longer… which is not long); You go shopping to get yourself the latest ergonomic chair and gadget on the market (which seems to help, but you soon figure out how to “get comfortably slouchy” in it too); You Google the phrase “quick posture exercises” (which you practice, at most, once or twice and then drop because they make you achy).
There was a short piece in the New York Times recently about balance and how it tends to decline with age. It gave a brief description of the mechanisms of balance, and a very vague, unsatisfying suggestion at the end that there may be exercises one could do to help prevent the decline. And it made me want to sing my common refrain: “It ain’t necessarily so!” (Thanks to the Gershwins.) Yes, there are physiological reasons why balance declines with age. But, equally, there are “use of the self” reasons, habits of poor coordination that diminish our balance, just as habits of slouching compress our spines.
So what can we do to help prevent this decline? First and foremost, I must recommend taking a course of Alexander Technique lessons. Through the lessons, one learns to stop interfering with the natural coordination and relationship of the head, neck and back. This helps, among other things, the vestibular apparatus (inner ear) do its work more effectively, giving us more accurate information about where we are in space. Check out this fascinating video from a pilot study by AT teacher Glenna Batson. A group of elderly adults were given two weeks of intensive Alexander Technique and the resulting improvements in their balance are quite remarkable.
Two of today’s Alexander Technique teachers, Terry Fitzgerald, from Sydney Australia and Pamela Blanc, from Los Angeles, standing behind a sculpture of F. M. Alexander at the Wynyard Historical Society. Wynyard, in Tasmania, is where Alexander was born.
Today, a person in his situation, well-connected in the theater world, might well go to a teacher of the Alexander Technique for help! And it’s quite likely he would have learned how to solve his voice problem in a few weeks or so, perhaps even more quickly.
Alexander Technique teachers today vary enormously in how we teach the Technique. However, we have in common a desire to wake our students up to the power of looking within for solutions to their problems, whether they be performers, or people with chronic pain, or those who want to improve their posture.
Here’s some of what the Alexander Technique isn’t: It isn’t yoga, Pilates, Reiki, or chiropractic. It’s not physical therapy or acupuncture, and it’s not Feldenkrais. It’s not religion, meditation, or a spiritual practice. It’s not football, ballet, bowling, or sewing, though you employ the Alexander Technique while doing those things. It is a mind/body technique, but not a form of analysis, or an exercise program. You use the Alexander Technique while you’re doing anything. Or nothing at all.
It’s hard to define; easy to demonstrate. The Alexander Technique is what it isn’t.
It’s more about becoming less short than making yourself taller, although you become taller.