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Space is the Place: Welcome to My New Blog!

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Welcome to my new blog! My teaching has evolved and changed so much over the last 30 years; I’ve decided to chronicle the progression of new ideas through a blog. Targeted for new and continuing students alike, please look for it on or near the first of each month  and be sure to Like my Facebook page here for the monthly post. Want to win a free lesson? I’m reinstating my monthly drawing to coincide with my new monthly blog. One winner a month will be drawn from anyone that (hasn’t won previously) writes a review on my Facebook (click here) page that month.

I’m hoping this SPACE can be a PLACE for playful exploration for us all together. I will use it to crystalize new ideas,  metaphors and analogies, and I invite you to use it as a springboard for self exploration. Each blog will touch on one aspect of my teaching from that month and will include steps to guide you through a series of experiments  — and so I dedicate this blog to the spirit of my new favorite quote — let the fun begin!

If you see it you might believe it.
If you hear it you might agree.
If you experience it you’ll know it.

So plan to take a little time each month to read this somewhere you can move around a bit – because exploration will lead to discovery! Of course, I always love questions and requests — feel free to reach out with a topic you’d like to see me address in next month’s post.

SPACE IS THE PLACE is inspired by the iconic Sun Ra, who created a fierce musical community   and world of sound  unlike any other. I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of creating learning communities, and how essential that is to the process of revealing our habits and exploring new options. Whether I’m teaching a private lesson, workshop or group class – or writing a blog – I’ve realized more and more the essential component that each of us must be engaged as a willing partner to observe, question, invite and support. Our old habits of judging can be rather strong, so building these new patterns can take time – and plenty of practice! So I invite you to explore and practice as often as you’d like – preferably with a sense of humor :-)

People often come to Alexander teachers to fix their posture – a notion most AT teachers detest. But why? Mostly because we’ve learned that posture is a PLACE, a static, fixed picture. And the physiological truth is that we are dynamic creatures built to move!

Try it: wherever you are, introduce the notion of “fixing your posture”. What happens? Is your idea to try to make some sort of idealized “picture”? Do you experience yourself getting tighter? Do you hold your breath to fix your posture?

Now let’s try something else. First, let yourself soften into a little slump – gently. Next consider the SPACE your wonderfully 3-dimensional Self is occupying. Consider the notion that your skin is like a very large, uniquely shaped water balloon holding the quite squishy contents of you. 

Now ask a few questions:
How much SPACE is your “balloon” occupying? How far away is the top of me (head) from the bottom of me (feet)? How deep is my “balloon” in my torso? How wide is my container under my arms, across my hips and shoulders?

Now send some invitations:
My arms can take up as much SPACE as they’d like — one away from the other. My head can have all the SPACE it desires away from my tail. My whole Self can occupy the SPACE it needs.

Now check back in with yourself. Do you feel tighter or did you stop breathing  – or do you feel a bit lighter and more ready to move? Does aiming for a PLACE have the same result as exploring the SPACE you occupy?

Try this next time you feel the urge to fidget when you’ve been sitting or standing and become uncomfortable. Let the SPACE explorations begin!



Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy TED Talk

This TED talk has ignited my imagination all week!

Cuddy’s research shows that not only does our brain affect our body, but our body affects our brain. Aha! In Alexander Technique we rediscover this dynamic relationship between our thinking and our moving — we begin to notice that fixed thinking leads to fixed, non-effective and unbalanced movement and vice-versa. We then learn to direct our thinking in a cohesive and effective manner in order to yield cohesive and effective movement which supports any activity we engage in. We also enliven our sensitivity to how our stiff, over-efforting coordination interferes with our best functioning — from balancing on one leg, breathing, singing difficult coloratura passages or finding creative solutions to problems or managing stressful situations with poise.

Yet Cuddy’s assertion is that we not only “fake it till we make it” , but rather  that we “fake it till we become it”. This is a powerful distinction to make. Time and time again I see students somewhat bewildered in the process of learning to attend to their own Use — coming up against both  the power of their own habits and the inaccuracy of their own sensory mechanism. My advice is simply “practice”… even if you can’t tell if anything is happening.  This speaks to the efficacy of repetition, the pay-off of stick-to-it-ive-ness and the discipline of mindful daily practice (Constructive Thinking in F.M.’s words). Daring to not comply with our strong habits of Downward Pull is a radical act! When we dare to engage a new, non-habituated and well-coordinated manner we are paving a path to become it!

While Cuddy’s take on posture is decidedly simplistic and lacks an understanding of Primary Control, I think her message and research are compelling. Her “posture poses” lack the sophistication and sensitivity we cultivate as students and teachers of Alexander Technique and may not yield fully-realized Primary Pattern, yet do get at the power of Inhibition. Even if we overdo it it in our earnestness to “get it” and “do it”, even when we push or pull in the name of lengthening, the mere power of our intention to not do the shortening is useful in and of itself. Hence “thinking up” and “doing up” maybe have more in common than we think.

Marj Barstow was a bit of a rebel in her approach to Primary Pattern as a movement we could indeed  “do” — she just insisted that we do it delicately! I think she would have rather liked this TED talk :-)

The Use of the Tongue (!)

Ann Rodiger teaching a workshop for Alexander teachers on the use of the tongue and more at the Wallingford studio.

Many thanks to teacher-extraordinaire Ann Rodiger who came down from NYC for a full day of teaching at my Wallingford studio last weekend. Ann specializes in working with singers and use issues related to vocal production. We learned a tremendous amount together including re-mapping the tongue, finding the “oral seal” and directing air and sound high into “the vault” to create wonderfully free, well-focused sound. We are eager to learn more from Ann on her next visit scheduled for September 23rd — stay tuned for more vocal insights!
Here are some explorations to try on your own:
Place a hand lightly on top of your head and hum. Can you feel the vibration of your skull under your hand as you hum? If not, you are interfering with your capacity for freeing your fullest sound. Check to see if your head has pulled forward in space with a back and down direction in relation to your body. Try again making sure to free your head up and over as you place your hand again to try another hum.

Now let your attention come to your tongue. Let the tip of your tongue feel where it attaches behind and below the inside of your bottom teeth. Use your fingers to find your hyoid bone high in your throat underneath your jaw bone. This is the bottom part of where your tongue attaches. Now imagine your tongue freeing back and up like a cobra, cascading forward and down to let the rounded tip of your tongue rest lightly behind your bottom teeth. Let your tongue be wide and “fat” by your back molars.



The Poise of the Head on the Spine

Here is a way to think of F.M.’s directions of “forward and up”. I have been describing this kind of fountain for many years to describe the buoyant poise of the head on the spine. The “up” comes from our spine (the water) in response to gravity, and the head (or ball) actually rests down onto the spine/water. Notice the forward rotation!

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What the Alexander Technique can do for you

One of the most rewarding things for me as a teacher is to hear from students about their successes! Here’s a note from a long-time student I received today who could not sit comfortably at a restaurant for dinner or ride a bike when he first came for lessons:

“Just a quick note to say I think of you often usually with a smile on my face while riding my bike — a feat that you made possible. Though my back does tighten, it doesn’t hurt which is delightful and new, thanks to you. I don’t even think about usage, it’s just 2nd nature now. When something doesn’t feel right on the bike, I feel myself automatically change in the ways I learned.
So thanks and  keep on doing what you do so well.”

thought for the week

Forward/Back: using our hip joints to move us forward in space

Usually where we get stuck with activities like bike riding is that we move disproportionately forward from our neck — literally “getting ahead” of ourselves and putting lots of strain and stress in our upper back, neck and shoulders and making it virtually impossible to turn our heads. Painful and dangerous both!Here’s an experiment to try — try this sitting in a chair first and then once you get the hang of it try it on your bike or coming forward at your computer or to the keys of a piano or to sip your soup or… you get the idea!Sit upright in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and let the weight of your torso fall easily through your sit-bones into the chair you are sitting on. Now think about the length and volume of your neck from the base of your collarbones and shoulder blades up into your skull — decide to let all those muscles wrapping up, down and around to soften. Now let your cheek bones softly fall towards your lap so that you are allowing a tiny smudge of forward rotation to happen at the same time you let your whole head drift effortlessly back in space so that you are undoing any forward displacement of your cervical spine so it can link up nicely with the rest of your spine. Now you are ready to add in rolling on your sit bones so that you are coming forward from way down at your hip joints (not at your mythical waist!) as you continue to gently allow your head to rotate forward and free your back back in space. The trick here is that the forward movement comes from your hips – NOT your neck.Bodymapping hint: When you can, take a look at a picture or model of the spine and hip joints. Hip joints are where your legs meet your pelvis. The joint is quite large — chunky even — and well suited to bearing lots of weight (like when you come forward to reach bicycle handle bars). The joint is also a ball and socket — well suited for lots of movement in one place. Now look at the joints of the spine — there are discs in-between each two spine bones (vertebrae) and there is a little bit of movement in all directions at each joint. The spine allows for lots of motion cumulatively — it is NOT designed for lots of movement in one spot.Please let us know how you do with this experiment!