Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Assembling the Mind/Body Puzzle - Part 1

Hands Holding Jigsaw
The Alexander Technique demonstrates that the way the body optimally supports itself is clear, simple, and elegant. To many new students, the concepts make sense intellectually and sound simple, but can feel kinesthetically overwhelmed or at first. This is a normal beginning to the process of being and feeling more integrated and whole in your body.

A comment that I hear frequently is something like "there are so many things to be aware of and think about." That is usually true, but it is not because good posture and coordination is complicated. People learn and develop habits that cause them to perceive their bodies as pieces, parts, or sections that are disconnected from one another. When they begin studying the Alexander Technique and heighten their physical awareness, they will at first sense the pieces as separate. It might be difficult to focus on more than one area at a time. They may wonder if they will always have to be aware of their head, neck, back, arms, legs, hands, and feet. It may seem overwhelming.

This sense of keeping track of all of the pieces is temporary. With persistence, the pieces start to come together and feel integrate and the whole body feels like one piece.

Try this: Bring your attention to your left foot, right hand and the top of your head all at the same time. Do you find that challenging? Do you feel like you have to concentrate very hard and bounce your attention around from place to place? Can you keep your attention in all three places at once.

When I first began taking Alexander Technique lessons, I felt like I had to concentrate a lot and I had trouble focusing on my whole body and the same time and paying attention to whatever I was doing. My experience evolved and I soon sensed my body more fully without having to consciously concentrate on it and I could still focus on whatever activity I was doing without loosing my sense of my body. I had to go through the phase of identifying putting together the pieces. Think of your body like a big puzzle and you have to account for each piece before you get the whole picture, but once you have the whole picture, it's yours!

Students who have the most success are those who embrace the process, look at it with wonder, and laugh at themselves when they aren't sure which way is up, literally.

The benefits? You'll have more energy, feel more relaxed, have an easier time concentration, deal with stress more constructively, and be less susceptible to straining your muscles.

Read next week's post for some simple suggestions that will help you to fill in the gaps in your mind/body puzzle and to sense your body in a more whole,integrated way.

Image by Petr Kratochvil: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=19960&picture=hands-holding-jigsaw

Monday, December 3, 2012

Put on your thinking cap and "do"!

thinking cap

It's a pretty amazing thing when you think of how many words make up a language and therefore how much common ground there must be to communicate and to comprehend.  I order a small coffee with soy milk and I receive a small coffee with soy milk (most of the time).  Pretty amazing.  Also, pretty simple and not too hard to mess up.  Nonetheless, what we hear passes through a filter of what we already understand, which leaves a lot left up to interpretation.

For example, on Saturday, I visited a local cafe in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I asked for soy milk in my coffee.  They were out of soy milk, which they generally have in stock.  The woman behind the counter asked another employee to go and purchase some soy milk.  I didn't mind waiting.  He came back five minutes later with two quarts of Lactaid and was promptly sent back to the grocery store to return them.  He thought that "soy" was a brand like "Lactaid" is a brand and that they were essentially the same thing.  My initial thought was, "Does this guy actually not know that "soy" is a bean?", and then realized that if someone had never made any effort to limit dairy intake, that they may not even be aware of what the non-dairy options are.  Long story short, I bought the coffee and added my own soy milk at home.

If you've been following this blog, you've noticed that I encourage people to expand or change their concept of what "good posture" means.  In today's blog, I'd like to work on expanding the understanding of the following two words: "thinking" and "doing".

Before reading any further, write down five words that you associate with the action of "thinking" and five words that you associate with the action of "doing".  The words can be verbs, nouns, adjectives . . . any part of speech that you'd like, so long as they are associations that you make with those actions.  Don't think to hard about it.  Write down what pops into mind.  We'll come back to these list in a moment

If you've taken Alexander Technique lessons or read about the technique, you have likely heard ideas like:

"Think, don't do" or to aim for "Non-doing" 

I've said these words myself and stand by them. 

Last week I came across a tweet by Marie Forleo, a business coach who I follow on Twitter.  Here's what she tweeted:

"Clarity comes from engagement, not thought. Take action now, you’ll find your truth."

I equally agree with Marie's statement.  I see the two ideas as similar and complimentary.  The first statement refers to avoiding "doing" too much in your body. Often when I ask a new student to stop tightening their neck, for example, they react by tightening it more.  The reason for this is that people are so accustomed to being asked to do something that they want to do the right thing and find the right position.  Asking someone to "think" instead of "do" is encouraging them to use their thought to release over-tense areas and to consciously bring their bodies out of collapse and into expansion.  

The thinking involved here is different from the thinking involved in making a grocery list or doing a math problem.  It's conscious embodied thought that increases our kinesthetic awareness.  Our minds affect our bodies constantly, but we are often unaware of the connection.  This process makes the connection conscious.  At the beginning of a series of lessons, students sometimes find it challenging to learn to consciously think in a way affects their bodies.  Why?  Because they've separated their idea of mind and body and have limited their understanding of "thinking" to activities like math and grocery lists (ie. strategizing, planning and such).  

Looking at Marie's tweet, I understand that the type of "thinking" that she refers to as the strategizing, planning, and day-dreaming kind.  People can get stuck in their heads in this way and spend all of their time considering how to go about taking action, yet never actually do it.  I agree with Marie's advice to "do" as opposed to "think".  In the context of learning to change habits through the Alexander Technique, I agree with learning to "think" rather than "do".  Same words with different meanings in different contexts.

Here's how these two ideas fit together.  If you can "think" (aka consciously affect) your body in order to free yourself of mind/body habits that are holding you back, you'll be able to get out of your head and gracefully and pointedly spring into action while employing neither too much nor to little effort

Now take a look at the words that you associated with "thinking" and "doing".  Have you now broadened your concept of these two actions? 

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ten Reasons for which I am Grateful for the Alexander Technique

Inspired by the Thanksgiving Holiday last week, I've mused on how I've used the Alexander Technique to change my life.  


Ten Reasons for which I am Grateful for the Alexander Technique

1. I'm not half bad a ping pong.

Last year, I picked up a paddle at a holiday party and to my surprise, I really held my own.  I hadn't practiced in many years and had never considered myself particularly skilled at ping pong or anything that involved hitting or kicking a ball or birdie, but I surprised myself at my adept hand-eye coordination.  My improved overall coordination allow me to calmly focus specifically on the ball and to simultaneously be aware of the space around meI could clearly sense where the ball was going and respond appropriately without over or under reacting and knowing where the ball and paddle were at all times.  It was a cool feeling - like I actually had more time to strategize my next move.

2. I don't fall when the subway jerks forward as I'm sitting.

I feel relaxed, energized and aware of where my whole body is at once.  When I sit, I fold instead of plop and keep my weight over my feet.  This makes it easy to decide halfway down that I'm going to pause or stand back up instead of coming crashing down on the lap of the person in the next seat.

3. Public speaking no longer terrifies me.

This may sound odd because I'm a trained actor, but I have been terrified of public speaking for most of my life.  I've taken on a roll for AmSAT (The American Society of the Alexander Technique)over the past two years, which has required me to speak on a microphone (yikes) in front of an auditorium full of people (gulp).  I've surprised myself and actually found these occasions quite enjoyableI realized that what would help me most would be to be open and receptive to the audience as opposed to fearing them and trying to shut them out.  When I allow fear to set in, I a create a wall of tension in myself, which leaves me short of breath, and then in turn, more anxious and vocally stifled.  As for the microphone, I used to hate to hear my own voice emerging from speakers.  The voice coming out of the speakers now sounds less foreign.  

4. I successfully lifted a bowl of hot chocolate with one hand.

If you've taken lessons with me, it's likely that you've heard this story. Prior to becoming an Alexander Technique teacher, at a time when I was taking regular lessons, I discovered something.  I was doing a lot of the work of my hands, arms, back and legs with my shoulders.  When I'd lift something, I would automatically lift and tighten my shoulder before even using my hand.  As a result of this habit, my hands and wrists were weak.  This issue became especially evident to me when I would lift a bowl of hot chocolate into a microwave on a high shelf.  (I was living in France at the time where the custom is to prepare hot chocolate and cafe au lait in bowls).  I was not able to lift the bowl into the microwave with one hand.  I was lifting with my shoulder and at a certain height in the lifting, the shoulder couldn't do the work anymore.  This realization was discouraging to me, but was an encouragement to keep on with my Alexander Technique lessonsOne day I found myself lifting the bowl one-handed.  What a triumph!   

5. I stopped worrying so much about germs.

I used to be what one might call a hypochondriac.  I may not be totally over it, but the Alexander Technique has helped immensely.  I used to be so afraid of contacting the world for fear that it would infect me, that I would pull into myself to "get away from it".  One thing that I'd do was to walk on the sides of my feet when I was barefoot.  I thought that if less of my feet touched the floor that I was less likely to pick up germs from it.  As I started to feel my body expand when I began taking Alexander Technique lessons, I quite quickly realized that my pulling into myself was likely causing me health problems.  It was restricting my breathing and resulting in a large amount of strain and tension in my body.  Realizing that my response to fearing germs may be making me more succeptible to them, I quickly changed my habits.  The first thing that I changes=d was to let my feet completely contact the floor.

6. I don't crash into door frames (as much)and my jeans don't look strange.

I grew four inches in one year at the age of 13.  I had scoliosis, which worsened significantly during the growth spurt and I found myself wearing a back brace for a good portion of each day for five years.  Moving into adulthood, I realized that I hadn't really grown into my body.  I was 5'8",but used my body as if I were 5'2".  This was always most clear to me when one of my shoulders would crash into a door frame and I knew that I must be much broader than I perceived I was.  I also used to take off my jeans at the end of the day and be totally baffled at how low the indentations were from my knees.  It didn't feel like my knees were actually that low.  I had a false sense of the length of my thighs and the height of my knees - and indication that I was using way to much effort in my thighs to walk instead of efforlessly allowing my knees to bend.  Now that I let my knees bend with less effort, I accurately sense their location.

7. I no longer cringe when I see myself on video.

Like with the microphone example, I'm generally not surprised by what I see and hear when I watch myself on video.  How I sense myself isn't so different from how I view myself from an outside perspective.  This was not always the case!

8.  I feel angry.

Or rather, I allow myself to feel angry.  I used to shut down feelings of anger by tensing my upper body.  I've learned to feel anger and other emotions more completely throughout my whole body as opposed to shutting them down with tension.

9.  It's fun.

Not much more to say than that.  The Alexander Technique helps me sense everything that I'm doing more clearly and to be more present and engaged in the world.  It continues to be a source of exploration and discovery.  A great Alexander lesson almost always involves laughter.

10. Oh, yeah, I stand up straighter. 

And a by-product of all of this is that I don't slump and my scoliosis is hardly visible now.  Sitting and standing up straight is the most comfortable position to be in and doesn't feel stiff or rigid.
Posture is a result of how a person goes about their life, acting and reacting and involves the coordination of the whole body, mind, and how one focuses and interacts in the world.

If you've benefited from the Alexander Technique, please feel free to add what you are grateful for in the comments below!

Image couresy of http://www.squidoo.com/thanksgivingimages

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Alexander Technique for All Ages: Aunt Myrtle's story

Alexander Technique for All Ages:  Aunt Myrtle's story 

Check out this short animated video about The Alexander Technique.  In it, you'll learn of the benefits of AT and the problems that it helps to resolve.  Throughout the video, you'll follow the story of a young adult who just can't figure out how to sit, stand, or move about life comfortably and longs for the natural way that he used his body as a young child.  Thinking that he's doomed to progressively compress and slump his body as he ages, like his dear Aunt Myrtle, he finally realizes that he can get back into the driver's seat of his own body and reclaim the natural good use of his body that he enjoyed as a kid.  

As it turns out, hunching and slumping are habits that tend to worsen as we age, as opposed to an inevitable state that a person get into as they get older.  

Light bulb goes off for our young hero!  He takes Alexander Technique lessons and changes his habits!  He's no longer compressing his body!  He has better posture and simultaneously feels more comfortable!  He can now sit, stand, move, and age gracefully!  Yay for the young hero and yay for The Alexander Technique!

I was heavily involved with getting this video made on behalf of The American Society for the Alexander Technique and have been hearing/reading questions and comments over the past month since its release.  One question that has come up is, "What about Aunt Myrtle?"  We see that that hero escapes her fate of hunching over during old-age, but what about Aunt Myrtle herself?  Is she too old to get back into the driver's seat of her own body?  The Posture Police caught up with Aunt Myrtle, who has been taking Alexander Technique lessons on the advice of her enthusiastic nephew and asked her about her experience.
(Aunt Myrtle is a fictional character.)

Posture Police:  Posture Police here.  Aunt Myrtle, may I ask you a few questions?

Aunt Myrtle:  Was I driving too fast?

Posture Police:  No, not at all.  I just have a few questions regarding how you've improved your posture.

Aunt Myrtle:  I've been taking Alexander Technique lessons for several months now.

Posture Police:  How did you find out about The Alexander Technique?

Aunt Myrtle:  From my nephew.  He's been raving about it for a couple of years now and suggested I take lessons since I'm always complaining about being hunched over.  At first I laughed and said that there was no way I could learn a new way to hold my body at the age of eighty.  He insisted that he thought I could if I stuck with lessons for awhile and remembered to practice on my own.  

Posture Police:  So did you take lessons then?

Aunt Myrtle:  Well, no.  When he said I'd have to practice, I got discouraged.  I don't like doing exercises.

Posture Police:  So, how did you change your mind?

Aunt Myrtle:  Well, he brought it up again a few months later and I told him that I doubted that I'd keep up with the exercises.  Apparently I had misunderstood what he'd meant by "practice".  He then went on to say that there aren't any exercises.  

Posture Police:  Aha!  

Aunt Myrtle:  He said that the only "homework" I'd have would be to lie down for 15-minutes each day and I could certainly manage that.  Otherwise, I'm to remember to apply what I'd learned as I go about my day.  I don't have to stop what I'm doing to practice.

Posture Police:  How convenient!

Aunt Myrtle:  Oh, it is.  It takes some focus to remember at first, but the more I do it, the more it's like second-nature and I don't have to remind myself so much.  It's fun and helps keep my mind sharp and I'm less tired.  I feel like I'm floating when I leave my weekly lessons.  I used to feel like a ton of bricks.

Posture Police:  Can you maintain that floating feeling?

Aunt Myrtle:  Not at first, but after a few lessons, I started to be able to.  All of my friends have noticed the difference in my posture and want to know what my secret is.  They all say that I look younger.  I'm still a bit hunched, but my teacher says that even if I don't come up fully straight, that I can still feel more relaxed and expansive, as she says, even being a little bent over.  The technique is more about allowing your body to take up all of its space than to make yourself have perfect posture.

Posture Police:  So, "perfect posture" might be a result of Alexander lessons, but not necessarily for everyone and that's okay?

Aunt Myrtle:  Yes, that's right.  I'm happy that I look better, but even happier that I feel better and I'd rather keep feeling better than standing up straighter.  I used to think that standing up straight was something that I had to strain to do, but now I realize that I stand up straightest when I don't try so hard.  It's really more of a matter of using your thinking to affect your body than to maneuver yourself into a position.

Posture Police:  Well, thank you Aunt Myrtle!  There you have it folks.  Aunt Myrtle, back in the driver's seat of her body at age eighty!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kinesthetic Confusion in Brooklyn

You're trudging your way up the subway stairs after a long day, thinking about what you're going to pick up on the way home for dinner as you . . . oops, trip on one of the steps. You regain your footing and continue up the stairs to the sidewalk without thinking twice. Has this ever been you? Hold that thought.

A few weeks ago, I was discussing the concept of proprioception in a small group class that I teach. "Proprioception" is essentially akin to "kinesthesia" and is a sense. We're all familiar with sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, all relating to how we take in sensory input from outside of ourselves. Proprioception is how the body senses itself.
Here are two examples of proprioception that you can try right now.

Put your left hand behind your back. Do you know that it's still there? That's your proprioception at work.

Close your eyes. Can you touch your nose without looking? Again, your proprioception.

Proprioceptive nerves reside in your muscles and send signals to your brain explaining where you are in space, where the parts of your body are relative to one another, and how much effort you need to do things.

Write the words "heavy" on a big box and ask friend to lift it. If they swing the box up high very quickly and loose their balance, you will have tricked their proprioception.

The thing is though, is that most of us are constantly tricking our proprioception without really knowing it. We compress ourselves, tense, and strain and we may or may not be aware that something is awry. We may experience pain, but not know exactly why. We become helpless in the face our own habits because by habitually holding our bodies and moving in inefficient, straining ways, we've become kinesthetically "blind" to them. Studying the Alexander Technique is like putting glasses on your proprioceptive sense, but even better because the clarity that is gained is through awareness and change.

In my group class, we were looking at ways in which our proprioception might be "off", like a compass that isn't pointing north. For example, if you were to guess what part of your face the bottom of the back of your head (where your head meets your neck in the back) lines up with, what would you guess? Most people guess their chin. The bottom of the back of the head is actually much higher and lines up with the cheekbones, just below the eyes. F.M. Alexander called this phenomenon "debauched kinesthesia" at the turn of the 20th Century. I like to call it "kinesthetic confusion". 

What does it mean if you think that your head (meaning your skull) reaches all the way down to chin-level in the back? It means that you are likely tightening your neck. The area of the back of the neck that goes from your cheekbones to your chin is being "labeled" by your brain as part of your head. Because of this kinesthetic "mislabeling", you are probably locking your head and neck together, which starts a downward chain reaction of compression through the whole body all the way to your feet.

A funny example of my own kinesthetic confusion is that I used to tense and narrow my shoulders so much that I had no idea how broad they were and was constantly colliding into door frames. Ouch!

As we were going through a variety of examples of kinesthetic confusion in my class, one of my students mentioned a news report on a particular subway station in Brooklyn that has gain attention for its stairs and the tendency for people to trip on them. Check out the video above and see how many trips were captured over the period of one hour. According to the article accompanying the video, "one of the stairs leading to [the subway station] . . . is a 'fraction of an inch' taller than the others. This causes a great deal of stumbles, trips and falls."

You can probably figure out why someone would be likely to trip on a step that is slightly taller that the steps leading up to it. You'd become used to the height of the steps and without even thinking about it would expect to bend your knee and raise your foot the same amount to reach the next one. This is proprioception at work and a great example of how our proprioceptive/kinesthetic awareness is "on" all the time and goes on auto-pilot - a good thing, since we wouldn't want to have to be thinking about exactly how much to bend each knee and lift each food every time you took a step.

So, how can we avoid trips or at least trip more gracefully and not totally wipe out. If you're walking up the stairs and you are already in a state of kinesthetic confusion just in relation to how you are holding your own body, your ability to adjust gracefully to something unexpected (ie. an unusually high step on a flight of stairs or an unexpected step on what you thought was even ground) is impaired. Not only do people tend to tighten and compress their bodies habitually, but people tend to consciously disconnect from their bodies. This is often referred to as not being "in the moment". You might not be able to be aware of your feet on the ground, the stair in front of you, and your thoughts about what to pick up for dinner in a way that you can react quickly to the unexpectedly high stair. Kinesthetic confusion is a psycho-physical phenomenon (relating to mind and body).

The kinesthetically confusing subway station is 36th Street Station in Brooklyn, a station that I pass through nearly every day to change trains, so I'm not so familiar with the stairs that lead to the street!

Check out the video and feel free to leave comments about your own experiences of kinesthetic confusion.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Physical, Mental, Emotional, & Spiritual - Are they they same? How do they relate to posture?

With Autumn arriving in two days, I'm officially closing my summer series, "Sleeping on Sandwiches" and looking ahead to how this blog will evolve.  I began The Posture Police as an exploration of the concept of posture.  What do people think posture is?  What does it mean to have good posture?  Is it just about how you stand and sit or is it something deeper and relevant to everything we do and how we approach life?  

A common theme among my posts in this recent summer series is the concept of "attitude".  An attitude can be physical, emotional, and mental and these three parts of ourselves are not so much parts, but instead ways that we divide ideas that we have about ourselves that may in fact distance us from understanding ourselves as unified, whole, beings.  People talk about exercised their bodies and minds separately, feeling emotions, and nurturing their spirits.  These terms can be useful, but they are labels that we create to describe perspectives of essentially the same thing.

Here's an example.  Let's take multiple looks at this one activity:

I go for a run every morning.

Here's what the person who runs every day might say about the experience:

It feel energized.
I feel more alert and focused
I  feel calm for the rest of the day and free from anxiety and worry.
I feel connected to the universe.

The four comments above could be described as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual respectively and they are all talking about the same activity.  The common thread is that each comment about the experience of running is just that, an experience, a feeling.  Regardless of how each feeling could be categorized, each one is nonetheless a feeling, a felt, physical experience.  Based on those felt experiences every morning, the person moves through the rest of the day with an attitude that is informed by the feelings that they derive from running.  They'd likely approach the day with a different attitude if they sluggishly crawled out of bed and downed a cup of coffee or spent the morning stuck in traffic.

Here's a different activity that might at first glance be considered less physical than the previous on.  Instead of calling it "more mental" or "less "physical", let's call it "less athletic".

I sit at a desk for eight hours per day looking at a computer screen.

I feel slumped.
I feel in a fog.
I feel stressed and anxious.
I feel disconnected from the world.

Again, the descriptions of this activity area all felt, physical experience that could be categorized as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Though moving much less compared to when running, a person's body is just as present when sitting and just as (or perhaps more) susceptible to injury (like lower back pain).  

These two examples demonstrate that we divide ourselves when we call certain activities "physical" and certain activities "mental".  The same could be said for "emotional" and "spiritual".  Within activities, we then divide our experiences of them into different categories, thus furthering this notion of dividing ourselves.

Circling back around to the word "attitude".  Our attitudes are reflected in our emotions, our reactions, and how we react to perhaps the most constant stimulus around . . . gravity . . . and how we react to gravity is how we hold ourselves, how we sit and how we stand, which is often called posture.  One way to think about posture is your general attitude in life and how you react with that attitude to gravity, a force that pulls down.  The design of our bodies should counteract gravity in a way that leads us to feel springy, but many of us work against ourselves and give into gravity instead of working with it.  

What is your postural attitude?  Does it change?  Are you generally allowing yourself to spring up or are you pulling yourself down?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 23

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 23

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

Helping others, Helping Yourself

Most of us have heard, probably more than once, that the only way to help someone else is to help yourself or to first help yourself.  I believe this, but I think that it's a complex and nuanced philosophy and can work in a way that may at first glance appear to be exactly the opposite.  

I've often felt stuck in terms of how I can help my partner when he's struggling and it's become clearer and clearer to me that there are two key reasons for this.  The first reason is that I take what's going on with him personally.  I immediately reflect it back to myself and feel less secure because he's feeling unstable or I interpret what he's feeling as negative feelings about me, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy because my reactions based on those assumptions tend to lead him to feel frustrated with me because he feels that I'm not genuinely listening and understanding his problem.  I'm making it all about me.  The second factor is that I have a tendency to feel helpless and wonder what the heck I can do for him.  This response reflects a lack of confidence in myself to be a stable support and to be able to offer reassuring or helpful feedback.

I've been working diligently on being aware of and changing as much as possible how I take in and respond to challenges that he is going through.  I sometimes allow myself to get caught up in my old habits, but more and more I am able to break free, to receive him clearly, and to not make it all about me. 

I am finding that what may look from the outside as me helping him, is equally me helping myself and that my focus on being present with him even when it feels uncomfortable and I feel tempted to slip back into habits.  So, it turns out that productively helping him is a great way to, in turn, help myself.  If cabin pressure drops, it's probably a good idea to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs, but if we make this a metaphor for other situations, sometimes the demand of a challenging interaction can force a person to put on their oxygen mask when they wouldn't have in the first place, that in helping someone else put on theirs their own must go on as well.

So then, how do we differentiate between when we are helping someone else at the expense of helping ourselves and when helping someone else helps us to help ourselves.  If you are in a situation like this and you are unsure, think about how you feel.  And by feel, I mean how do you feel in your body.  Do you feel like you are opening up and becoming more receptive, not only to that person, but to yourself and the world around you or do you feel that you are trying to fix the other person based on how you think they should be and you feel frustrated and angry if they don't do what you want or expect?  If it's the later, you are likely stuck in a rigid pattern mentally and physically (and I can certainly relate to this).  I've learned that in opening up my receptive field to others, that I open up my receptive field to myself.  I feel globally more expanded, curious, and forgiving.  If you're not sure how you're reacting and interacting, listen to your body.  If you are truely receptive, you'll feel open.  If you're not, you'll likely feel closed off.  You might find that you are somewhere in-between or that you intellectually want to be receptive, but that your body takes over and does otherwise.  I think that this is to be expected.  I can take time to change habits.  In drama school, part of our speech warm-up was saying the phrase "It takes time to untangle twenty-two tutus."  Give yourself time and focus to untangle your habits and they will likely begin to unravel, even if the process goes slowly.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 22

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 21

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

Back to Blogging - A Chaos Theory

I took a fairly long hiatus from what I was calling a daily blog.  One of my reasons for writing this summer edition of the Posture Police was to give myself a daily public forum in which I would hold myself accountable for my choices and actions in regards to resolving some family difficulties, all the while keeping the content thought-provoking, at times humorous, and of course related to the main topic at hand - The Alexander Technique.

I took a break because I opened myself up to the unknown.  I took my head out of the sand (freed my neck, of course!) and focused fully on challenges that I had been ignoring, putting off, thinking they would resolve themselves or weren't such a big deal.  I didn't exactly have an agenda, but I think that I thought that everything would go more smoothly and become easier once I started really being present and addressing matters head-on.  I was surprised (and not surprised) to find that upon opening myself up to forward motion and change, all sorts of unexpected stuff started to come up - fears from the past that I'd nearly forgotten about, oddly timed hindrances to accomplishing goals in making our home more pleasant and liveable, and generally feeling like the bedrock of my life as I've know it for the past several years was shifting and opening up a sea of uncertainty.  It was all so jarring, that I felt a public forum wasn't really the best place to be sorting things out or even reporting.  

I am grateful that I'm taking the time to face my family and myself head-on, perhaps in a way that I never have before.  I feel that I have a clearer understanding as to what our problems are and who is contributing to them in what ways at what times.  I feel uneasy, but I'm starting to feel more confident feeling uneasy and uncertain and would not trade it back in for feeling stuck.  I keep wanting to kick myself for having not been more receptive and insightful sooner, but if everything does happen at the "right" time, then there is no better time than now and waiting longer would be even worse.  I'm continuing to swim in the sea of uncertainty and my goal is to stay focused on my and my family's priorities, while not "end-gaining" for a particular outcome. 

In June, I attended the yearly American Society for the Alexander Technique annual conference, which was here in NYC this year. My friend, Dawn Shalhoup, ran a workshop there on marketing for Alexander Technique teachers.  She's a PR and Marketing expert and I arranged for her to do the workshop as I thought that her style would particularly resonate with Alexander Technique teachers.  One exercise that she asked us to do was to jot down three positive and negative attributes about ourselves.  I wrote the same three for both categories as I saw the three items that I chose as potential strengths and weaknesses in different situations.  One attribute that I noted for myself was "tolerance of chaos".  

In a positive sense, I seek out challenging situations and projects.  Studying the Alexander Technique successfully involves tolerating a great deal of change and allowing yourself to feel temporarily discombobulated or wrong in order to then rediscover a more natural balance.  I have invited these types of changes again and again, even though they were difficult to handle at times.  I lived abroad for three years, which was very disorienting at first, but I eventually felt very much at home.  I remember at camp sitting on a platform fifty feet up in a tree next to a counselor who told me that it was my turn to zip down the zipline and I went.  Others hemmed and hawed for awhile or cried.  I went for it instantly without saying a word.  I lept to it so quickly that the two campers at the bottom who were making the knot in the zipline that would prevent me from crashing face-first into a tree, were looking off in the other direction and got their act together just in time to barely catch me.  

When I answered that question in the workshop, I was thinking that the negative aspect of this tendency of mine to tolerate chaos is that I sometimes tolerate a chaotic situation that is problematic and do nothing about it.  I was thinking about my situation with my family.  Now reconsidering back on what I was thinking, I disagree with myself.  I wasn't tolerating chaos in the situation with my family.  I was tolerating stagnation and avoiding the chaos, disorientation, and anguish that would arise from dealing with the problems head-on.  It was easy to think chaos because things seemed really disorganized - our stuff, our scheduling . . . but it wasn't chaos.  It was a lack of coherency and a huge, heavy lid on a pot that's turned up to high on the stove.  When the lid came off, that's when the chaos began to bubble over.  I'm learning more about the nature of chaos and how it can be a crucial step in finding a resolution.

I will also add that another sign that things are headed in a healthier direction is that even amidst all of this chaos, my back and shoulders have never felt wider and I clearly feel the support and elasticity of my own back. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 21

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 21

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

The balance between non-action and reaction
Have you ever set aside time for a project?  A lot of time?  And then realized nearing the end of that block of time that it probably wasn't going to get done?  Then what?  

I am in such a dilemma at the moment.  Four weeks with time set aside specifically for getting my apartment in shape so that our living space isn't consumed by unpacked, unsorted, items from having moved over a year ago. 

We've been living with a certain amount of disorganization (hence the title of this blog) for awhile now.  So, when do we figure things out and get ourselves organized in a way that there isn't constant anxiety in regards to what most people would call mundane, usual things?  

How to proceed is not entirely clear to me.  My partner uses the word "trappings" to refer to "stuff" and our kids do the same.  We really have become trapped by our trappings.  Why not just toss them?  We'd probably end up tossing out important documents, beloved stuffed animals, and clothing that still fits our kids.  But would it be worth it to just get rid of it and deal with the consequences of lost documents later?  We live in an apartment, so we don't have a basement or an attic.  Our living room is a sort of holding pen for unaddressed items and our second bedroom a holding pen for clean, sorted through stuff that's waiting to be brought back into the living room.  That's two basically unusable rooms in a four-room apartment.

Part of me says to just take it slow and we'll eventually get there, even if it's frustrating and painful.  Another part of me says that we should take more drastic action, that could be quite inconvenient for us and disorienting and upsetting for our kids, because it's nuts to drag this out any longer.  This is a classic example of not wanting to rush ahead ("end-gain" in Alexander Technique terms), but also not wanting to just stand idly by and draw out a problematic situation.  How do I act, but not react?    

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 20

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 20

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

Kids, Screens, Posture, and Thinking

I mentioned a few posts back that I would be writing about "screen-time" in relation to my kids and here it is.  No, they aren't child stars!  What I'm referring to their time watching screens.  I say "screens" instead of TV because we don't have TV.  Actually that's not entirely true.  We do have a small TV/VCR combo that I bought in 1998.  It's not plugged in.  I'm not even sure exactly where it is.  In any case, I can proudly say that my kids don't watch TV.  Not really though . . . there's a huge variety of programming that they pick and choose from online and watch streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and clips we find on YouTube.  They become more and more proficient at using the computer every day and I think that they both know how to use my new Android smart phone about as well as I do.  There's actually something very appealing to them about watching videos on that tiny screen. 

In terms of the content what they watch, my partners and my criteria are not necessarily based on whether or not something was designed for kids.  There are plenty of non-"kid" programs that interest them.  Most recently, Start Trek:  The Next Generation.  Last year they got into Great Performances on PBS and were watching King Lear every day. 

They've discovered some "kid" or "family" programs as well and our guage as parents as to whether or not we encourage limiting a particular type of program relates to how we feel when it's on and what the kids do, not just when it's on, but when it's turned off.  Certain children's programming (like "Barney and Friends", for example) seems to have a sort of addictive quality and feels like being bombarded by noise and color.  The kids beg to play another one and if it's turned off, the protesting screams are so loud that we wonder if the walls are going to come down.   When these types of shows are on, it feels like the whole room is being consumed by them.  After they've been playing for awhile, I tend to feel a bit sick to my stomach and certainly don't have an appetite to watch them with my kids for long.  Stand up comedian Louis C.K. talked about kids watching TV in on of his routines and basically said that if when you turn it off, they freak out, maybe it's not such a healthy thing.  That makes a lot of sense to me. 

Other programs have more of a calm quality about them.  They don't jump so much from one thing to another, are quieter, and tend to treat children as younger versions of adults, rather than some other species of animal.  I am happy to view these types of shows with my kids and they have a less addictive quality.  My children are more likely to take in an episode and then move on to another activity.  Examples are Peanuts cartoons, Blues Clues, and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. 

Our older child has an interest in intentionally limiting her intake of "videos" (as we call them).  The younger one exercises less self-control and is often criticized by her older sister who tells her that she's "addicted", to which she responds emphatically, "I am not addicted!" and then continues watching a video.

When "addictive" viewing is happening, it's like they are allowing themselves to be sucked into the screen, to live in the 2D world and forget their 3D selves.  My three-year-old who typically sits bolt upright, slowly eases into a slump when she sits and watches videos.  The common way that people misuse their bodies starting with pulling the head back with the neck (chin poking forward), which then results in slouching in the upper chest and shoulders, kicks in.

Television and videos can begin as a form of entertainment that children are drawn to, but it can become an escape and a way of coping with stress.  Plopping down in front of a video is a way of relaxing.  I don't thiking of it so much as relaxing, but rather escaping oneself and the environment and tuning out. 

I admit that when I was a child, I watched a ton of television and my family didn't even have cable TV!  It was a way of winding down after school and then I'd have a list of shows that I planned to watch most evenings.  Incentive to finish my homework was often to finish in time for something that I wanted to see on TV and sometimes I'd do my homework while watching TV.  Through part of Jr. High and most of High School, I wore a back brace, due to scoliosis in my lumbar spine.  My doctor precscribed wearing it 18 hours per day.  I chose the six off-hours to be during school.  Coming home was associated with the discomfort of putting on the brace and I'd often deal with it by lying down and watching TV for several hours.

Once I began college, my relationship with television changed dramatically.  I was busy adjusting to my new life away from home, my course work, making new friends, and living in New York City for the first time.  Watching television moved from high to low priority on my list of things to do and has continued to take that low priority.  Nonetheless, I am aware of how an abundance of television and films as a child shaped my thinking as an adult.  I quickly got over the desire to want to tune out watching TV, but I realized how my repeated exposer to fantasy worlds offered me a warped view in regards to persuing goals.  This is how I interpret it, at least.  I've spoken about the concept of "end-gaining" in previous posts (including the last one) and how we often get ahead of ourselves.  This concept applies both physically and mentally.  And, as I've menteioned, physical and mental experiences can't truely be separated.  My warped view of persuing goals went something like this . . .  I'd think of something I'd like to accomplish and then this idealized montage of images would play in my head - just like the formulaic montage then tends to happen about half-way through a film.  Film editing makes things look so grand and so easy.  Even if a struggle is depicted, it's seemingly resolved so quickly.  Real-time wasn't a part of my thinking.  I couldn't conceptulized getting from point A to point B in actual, real steps.  I would have this disembodied feeling and would visualize the thing happening as if it were edited.  Through life experience and my study of the Alexander Technique, I've been able to change my perspective.  I feel more grounded and like I can visualize real steps that I would take in real time in order to head in the direction of a goal.  Just like the way in which people sit and stand, the strategies that people use to visualize and plan can be bound up in limited habits.  Just like an exercersize at the gym may not be so beneficial if you are pressing down in yourself when doing it, visualizing in order to help reach a goal may or may not be effective if it is not grounded in an sense of real time.

Going back to the topic of my children, it's easy to let videos play to give me a break to get something else done and there are educational benefits to waching videos, especially when we talk about them as a family and watch them together.  We don't have "TV", yet "screentime" has still become a significant feature of my childrens' lives (perhaps too significant) and my partner and are working to change that.  There's so much 3D, unedited world to learn from!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 19

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 19

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

I sailed forth, but left the ship behind, and then found myself adrift.

It's been a few days since my last post.  I've been immersed in home and family.  I've had some wonderful epiphanies and also feel that everything is turned upside-down, topsy-turvy.  In general I feel very uncomfortable and don't know what will happen next (not that I ever really do) or know how what will happen next will happen.  I flip flop between excitement and terror.  I often here that in order to solve a problem, there must first be a crisis.  A can of worms must open up and the worms must be dealt with in order to move forward or to even understand clearly what moving forward entails.

It doesn't seem like we are making as much progress in unpacking and putting our home together as we'd like to be, though we certainly have made some.  My biggest realization spending all of this time at home, when I'm usually working 5 or 6 days per week, often returning home late, is that I have a family.  (Duh!)  We have some critical issues that need to be resolved soon, but wow, I live with three incredible people whom I love.  I feel more together as a unit with them than I have in a long time and like I truly want to connect with them.  I've spent a lot of time focusing on other things and I feel that my motivation has in part been avoidance of truly feeling a part of that unit and the can of worms that would inevitably spill open as a step in getting to that point.  I am humbled.  I feel a spark of a new sense of purpose and motivation forming my still new and changing sense of family and myself. 

 I've done some things professionally over the past few years that I'm really proud of, but it all has a sour taste because I feel that it wasn't coming from a truthful grounded place of being honest with myself and dealing head-on in all aspects of my life.  I sailed forth, but left the ship behind, and then found myself adrift.  F.M. Alexander would have called this end-gaining, just like jutting your chin forward and pushing your chest out in order to "walk quickly" is end-gaining.  Your there before your there, and then you're not really there.  

Do you feel that you've end-gained in any part of your life and left behind an unopened can-of worms?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 18

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 18

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

The past few days have been anxiety-filled for me due to a heaping pile of worries, one of which is my concern over whether or not we will get our apartment unpacked and less like a construction zone during some time I've set aside to stay home and do just that this month.  We've made some progress, but it seems like things are not moving quickly enough.

Fortunately though, the things I've been doing have been scrubbing, lifting, sorting, washing - a lot of work with my hands for long periods of time.  I've found that one of the most effective way to calm the anxiety butterflies is to do something with my hands.  It feels impossible at first.  I feel like I'd rather pace or sit and ruminate, but once I get going, I do feel much better. 

When I feel anxious, I get a butterflies-in-my-stomach sort of feeling, but as I work on a task my energy disperses and the butterflies stop or at least calm down.  I can breath more easily too.  I find butterflies difficult to just sit with.  There's such a temptation to try to shut it down, which just feels stiffled.  There's a very open feeling that goes along with "butterflies".  I wouldn't call it pleasant, in fact it's pretty uncomfortable, or even painful.  Washing dishes, for example, doesn't distract me from the discomfort or make me tighten up and turn it off.  Using my body in a coordinated way to lift and scrub the dishes allows the feeling to spread out away from the belly so that it's not so concetrated in one space. 

I used a similar tactic to work through contractions when I was in labor.  If I didn't recoil into the pain, I could embody each more fully and then let it go.  I did that by standing in what's called in Alexander Technique jargon, "the monkey" position, as I placed my hands on a wall.  Getting the hands involved is key.  If you stay open and don't stiffen, it gets you arms, your whole back and legs engaged.

Have you ever had a similar or different experience dealing with anxiety?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 17

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 17

The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a daily blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!

I notice that I can easily get stuck in a pattern on holding back how I'm feeling at sometimes and reacting strongly at other times.  I engage in this flip-flop pattern almost exclusively with my partner. I have done similarly in past relationships.  I'm sure that it's common that people tend to have the most trouble remaining level-headed in relationships with the highest emotional stakes.

When I moved out of my parents' home and began college in 1997, one thing that I learned about myself is that I could get angry.  Anger and feelings of rage began popping up now and again and I realized that I hadn't had much experience expressing anger growing up.  When I let it out, it seemed out of control.  The anger could relate to social situations or to being cat-called on the street.  I felt insecure and intimidated by life and overwhelmed by my feelings.

Fast-forward seven years to when I began to train as an Alexander Technique teacher.  As long-held tension began to let go, feelings of anger popped up again for awhile and eventually subsided and I started feeling much more grounded.  I didn't feel so upset abou cat calls and actually started getting fewer of them.  I think that groundedness demonstrates confidence and that reads as a person who wouldn't react to being picked on.  I also noticed that I stopped reacting with panic and fear if someone else was getting worked up about something.  I previously tended take strong reactions directed at me very personally.  I learned to take a step back and receive the person without letting myself get whipped up in their frenzy.  Lately people have described me as a good listener, level-headed, and able to manage conflict. 

At home it's a different story and I'm prone to panic, say something sarcastic, or withdraw from an emotionally charged situation.  My partner has also commented that it seems to him like I'm swatting away my unpleasant feelings like shooing a fly.  I agree with this observation.    It's like I'm frantically grasping for things that will stop the "bad" feelings.  It's somewhat comic in the sense that I may as well have a bag of random objects - let's say a bowling pin, a cotton ball, and a bag of flour - that I'm desparately pulling out to ask for help to no avail.  I see my five year-old daughter often in a similar struggle of trying to swat away what's going on instead of dealing with it constructively.  I find it very challenging to witness, yet I understand.

What are feelings?  People ofen talk about feelings as separate from their physical experiences.   Emotions aren't disebodied concepts.  They are our physical experience.  What you feel is what you feel in your body.   Some feelings feel wonderful.  Others feel uncomfortable or painful.  They actually hurt.  The highest concentration of nerve endings in the body is in the solar plexus (in the belly just below the sternum) and where the feeling of having "butterflies in your stomach" comes from.  It's a key area to pay attention to when you experience strong emotion.  How does it feel?  Does it stay open to the feelings or does the area tighten up and close them out? 

Posture is commonly thought of as the physical way one holds oneself - that it's a mechanical process having to do with holding yourself up and not slouching.  How we hold ourselves is a relection of how we react to stimuli around us.  How we hold ourselves up reflects and affects how we feel.  Poor posture may lead to back pain.  Truely improving the poor posture isn't a mechanical endeavor, it's psychophysical and involves changing habits and changing those habits can mean changing reactions to stressful situations and truely feeling and embodying emotions. 

As I work on changing my reactions and feeling my emotions at home, I feel anxious about how vulnerable it feels and the emotions I feel aren't always pleasant, but I'm breathing more deeply, am able to release my neck and shoulders more, and feel more content spending time with my family in a more authentic way.