Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 9

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 9

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!
Sensitivities, Pushed Buttons, and Watching the Clock
Yesterday evening and into the night was full of various sensitivities and pushed buttons into the wee hours.  I'll take you on a walk through the evening in little snippits.
5-year-old announces that she wants to become an ice-skater and that she'd like Papa to be her skating coach.  Papa is beaming.  I make some angry dog sounds and ask if Papa will coach her using that voice (a reference to Snoopy coaching Peppermint Patty in "She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown).  Child pauses and regretfully explains that she wants a teddy dog to be her coach (a "teddy" dog being a snoopy-like dog who stands upright like a teddy bear).  She's afraid that Papa will be sad about her replacing him as coach with a dog, but also feels that she must stick to the Peanuts reference that she began as accurately as possible.  Papa spends several minutes explaining that he's grateful for whichever choice she wishes to make.  This is all very positive and comforting, but takes up quite a bit of time, but if these conversations aren't had, it's difficult to move forward with the day.

Papa is about to run some errands.  Three-year-old wants a star drawn on her hand.  Papa decides to cut down the number of items on his to-do list and draw the star.  Five-year-old wants to clearly understand the purposes of the shopping trips.  It's getting late.  Stores are closing soon.  Knock one more destination off the list.  

3:00am - 3-year-old is half asleep/half awake screaming that she has an itch between her toes.  Papa is still up putting away his purchases, taking out garbage, and doing a bit of unpacking. I'm half-asleep/half-awake.  He whispers in my ear and asks me to help with the child who is waking up.  I snap at him, frustrated at the prospect of getting up, and instantly regret it.  I paused to think, but two seconds too late.  I've been doing very well over the past couple of weeks at thinking first and not reacting when I feel triggered and I've been feeling so much happier at home.  I easily reverted to a habit though in my sleepy state and my partner is demonstrably hurt.  

3-year-old asks me to scratch the itch between her toes.  I rub it more than scratch.  She scolds me loudly for having rubbed it instead of scratched it.

5-year-old wakes up and desperately wants to go back to sleep, which she is finding difficult with her sister screaming.  

Papa asks 3-year-old if she's hungry.  She says no.  He mentions that she said that all day and hardly at anything.  When offered, she wolfs down a banana and nearly instantly falls back asleep.

5-year-old wants me to cuddle with her.  I do.  She says that I'm squeezing her and notes, "I'm surprised that you squished me since you practice the Alexander Technique".  I am impressed with her sensitivity and interest in feeling open decompressed or as she would say "feeling spready".  I change my cuddling tactic and she's satisfied.  She asks if I'll "practice the Alexander Technique tomorrow" with her.  I say "Of course."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 8

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 8

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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!
Efficiency and Gravity 
Last night my partner stayed up until the wee hours of the night trying to fight gravity with a child-sized bicycle.  (No, he was not riding a kid bike outside in the middle of the night.)  Unlike adult bikes, kids bikes are generally quite heavy relative to their size and he spent several hours affixing the bike to the side of a shelf unit.  I should say "shelf unit".  The shelf unit is a former display from Rite Aid pharmacy across the street that he thought would be a perfect shoe, mail, and bicycle rack.  Rite Aid tossed it out, he brought it in, and we cleaned it up.  It's a pretty clunky thing.  Too clunky in my opinion to really have the sort of "hipster" found-on-the-side-of-the-road appeal that he was going for.  I was amused by the plastic sign at the top though that reads "Don't Forget Batteries" (It was a battery display unit.) and curious to see what he would do with it.  The kids seemed to dig it too.  It sat in the kitchen for awhile doing nothing much other than being something that the kids would occasionally climb on and we'd have to make sure they didn't knock it over.  
A few days ago though, some developments began as he hung a bunch of Ikea cloth pouches from it attached with carabiner clips.  I really started to take form as a sort of Christmas tree.  Last night he spent several hours attaching the bicycle to it with caribiner clips and a variety of hooks and later warned me that if anyone hangs on the bicycle, the whole thing will fall over on top of them.  I suggested that he just keep the bicycle somewhere on the floor.  He said that he'd pick up some canisters of salt to weigh down the other side.  I suggested he put the bike on the floor.  He then considered that it might be a good idea to secure the opposite side to the floor to counterbalance the weight.  He may have been kidding.  This attempt to do something "cool" had just turned into National Lampoons Multipurpose Rite Aid Display.

So what am I getting at here?  Gravity.  It's something we all deal with in terms of the objects that we manipulate and how we interact with gravity in our own bodies.  We naturally have an excellent relationship with gravity, but we tend to get in the way.  Our heads are heavy (about 10-12 lbs.) and most of us are chronically tensing our necks, which pulls on our heads and throws them off balance.  We then respond by tensing and pulling every which way in our bodies below our heads all the way to our feet to deal with that downward pressure.  Then it feels like gravity is dragging us down, but we're actually dragging ourselves down.  We may try a lot of things to try and fix ourselves, but they may not be too successful if we don't deal with the tension in our necks that pulls our heads down into us.  Going around like that is a pretty inefficient way to interact with gravity and we just complicate things by trying to fix it.  We generally don't fall over easily like the display unit  with the bike attached because we have the ability to compensate and then we become accustomed to the problematic ways in which we compensate.  We might be better off if we just fell over once and then realized that it's not so great to tighten our necks.

My partner spent a lot of time attaching that bicycle, but he may just let go of all of that work to create a safe environment and do the simple, efficient thing of putting it on the floor.  Similarly, many people benefit from Alexander Technique lessons because they learn to stop trying to fix themselves and  to instead deal with the root of the problem, which starts up top at the head and neck.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 7

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 7

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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!

Showering Without a Shower Curtain 101 - It's All In the Elbows!

Following up on the success of yesterday's bathroom repair, I thought I'd share my adventures in showering this morning (sorry, no photos included).  Last night I gave the bathroom a good scrubbing to clean up any grime that had been left behind from the repair work and my partner took down the shower curtain, which had become quite moldy along the edges due to the water having been running constantly from the leak in the bathtub.  He intended to make a trip to Target yesterday evening to purchase a new curtain, but after cleaning up, it was of course time to eat and before long, it became clear that he wasn't going to make it to Target before closing time.  I was not surprised.  He prefers to do everything himself - prepare the food, feed the kids, do the laundry, clean, shop, and so on.  "Wow!" you might think.  "I wish my partner/husband/wife did that!"  Trouble is that he routinely bites off more than he can chew and still wants to do it all himself, so things back up.  It takes him a lot of courage to delegate responsibilities for household tasks, but good news is that he's doing it more and more.  In any case, based on his track record, I was not surprised that the shower curtain wasn't purchased.  I had been in this situation before and likely will be again.  I find a lot of things about the way we live as a family frustrating, but this one I don't sweat too much.  It's really all in the elbows.

So, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation in which someone has torn down your shower curtain and neglected to replace it, take note!!!  (Psst . . . what your about to learn also has applications that may be more typical to your life and the things you do).  

First and most obviously if you are in the showering situation, don't turn the water on too high.  Adjust it while you are standing in the shower.  You may be able to turn it up a bit higher at that point as you'll be blocking more of the water from spraying out with your body.  You'll have to stay in front of the spray to maintain this.  Here's where we get to the elbows.  As you wash, keep your elbows close to your body.  I find that about 90% of the water that ends up on the bathroom floor arrived there by traveling down my upper arms to my elbows.  As I was washing this morning, I realized how much my elbows wanted to stick out, but how unnecessary it was to stick them out.  It was like my elbows had minds of their own and wanted to tense as I raised my arms.  I had to release the excess tension in them to get them to stay low.  If you want to go a step further with this, don't just relax your elbows, but aim them backwards away from your wrists.  This is a very useful, but tricky step.  You'll likely end up tensing them as you aim them, but instead of tensing them, just think about them pointing away from your wrists as if there are imaginary arrows going along your forearms in the direction of your elbows.  In terms of the Alexander Technique, this is called "thinking" (rather than "doing").  It's not thinking like thinking of what you'd like for dinner, but more of an energized, embodied thought.  It's not "doing", meaning that it's not "muscling" it or pushing.  Just point or aim your elbows back and make sure that you don't pull your hands away from what they are doing.  If you do this well, you may find that your wrists and hands feel freer.  Give it a try when you're doing the dishes, typing, drinking a cup of tea, pushing a stroller, writing, or drawing.  This way of directing your elbows is a useful tool when you're doing anything with your hands including showering without a curtain if you ever find yourself in that situation!

Try it and let me know what you think! 

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 6

Today is Day 7 of this blog, but I didn't get Day 6 up on Day 6, so here it is now.   Check out Day 7 next.  It follows up on the Day 6 story. 

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 6 

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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!

Day 6 - More Babysitting the Bathroom

In my first "Sleeping on Sandwiches" post, I mentioned "Babysitting the Bathroom" as a possible alternative title for this blog that I considered.  Why?  Well, for the past several months, we've been doing just that.  It started with a small leak when the toilet would flush (of clean water in case you're wondering), which evolved into a bigger leak.  A bucket would do the trick, but from time to time, the toilet would flush and just keep on flushing until someone jiggled the handle.  Solution:  Have it repaired or make sure someone is always home.  Repairing it would be the obvious solution, right?  Who in their right mind would stay home to babysit their toilet?  We would!  Why?  Embarrassment!  Embarrassment of what? Of having two rooms full of unpacked boxes, bags, and stacked up furniture being put away ever so slowly one year after having moved in.  Two rooms of a 4-room apartment.  Some "magic " amount of it just had to be sorted through and put away prior to inviting up our super who could actually probably care less about how our apartment looks.  

Due to all of this fear and anxiety about appearing dysfunctional and disorganized that we managed this "babysitting" thing for a couple of months, during which time the tiny drip coming from the bathtub faucet turned into the water running at full force nonstop.  The sound of running water was driving me batty. I was living with a constant feeling of expectation that I would hear the water turn off and annoyance that all of that clean water was being wasted.  Since my partner and I knew that we were going to wait to get it repaired, I took the opportunity of something really bugging me to see if I could avoid reacting to it and just deal with it.  I would feel the urge to react to the water in a similar way that notice I react to coming home (as I discussed in day 2).  I would stiffen the front of my neck and tongue and hold my belly in.  It's like creating a physical shield, a force field around myself to block out unpleasant things.  I had to decide what was worse, the feeling of the "force field" or the sound of the water and I concluded that the "force field" of tension and compression was actually quite a bit more uncomfortable if I really stayed conscious of it.  The stimulus (the sound of the water) appeared to be the clearest source of discomfort, but my reaction to it actually felt worse.

The tricky thing here is that it's really easy for me to convince myself that that sound of the water is worse and to get myself really tied up in a knot and to not even really feel that I'm tied up in a knot.  Once I started focusing on letting go of the force field of tension and focusing on things other than the water, then the sound of the water started to blend into the background of accepted ambient noise.

Yesterday our super entered our far-from-ideal, but "acceptable" home and had both leaks repaired in under 15 minutes.  I surprised myself though.  I figured that I would breathe a huge sigh of relief at hearing the water turn off.  It was pleasant, but I didn't feel an intense sense of relief because I had so diligently not reacted to it in the first place.

As a family, we're constantly dealing with varying states of disorganization.  I often feel tempted to look the other way in disgust, panic, blame my partner for having OCD, and so on.  Thinking like this can freeze me in my tracks and leave me feeling powerless and hopeless.  It's so much less stressful for me to accept what's going on (maybe even smile) and keep working on making it better.

Click here to read Day 7.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 5

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 5

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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 Weekender - Part 2 - Tug-of-War

This morning as I was about to put up my unposted post from last night, I added that I had been up with one of my children who was having trouble sleeping.  She had an injury in her mouth that hurt and was probably hungry as she hadn't eaten much prior to sleeping because of the pain in her mouth. 

The injurious event occured Saturday afternoon when my partner and I were trying to have a conversation and our five-year old, feeling excluded, began bouncing around on the bed with a sheet over her head and encouraging her 3-year-old sister to engage in equally dangerous feats.  Interruption has become a big issue, whether it's verbal interruption or an action intended to break up a conversation.  It is always our goal to speak in a way that includes our children, but it's become clear that if that's always the case, that's all we'll do, especially with everyone constantly talking on top of one another.  This background activity quickly lept to the foreground as a game of tug-of-war with a sheet ended with the younger child flying face-first into a wall, blood gushing out of her mouth.  Luckily no teeth appeared to be damaged, but it was a painful experience nonetheless. 

Despite the pain, I'm not sure who was more upset, the injured sister, or the uninjured sister.  The older child was inconsolable, as she typically is when something occurs that is different from what she intends.  Whether she's trying to spell her name and doesn't draw a line in the way she wanted or does something that results in something else she wants not happening, she generally screams and bursts into sobs.  She sometimes then goes on to throwing and breaking things.  My partner and I have concluded that this is her way of feeling in control.  If she unintentionally does something undesireable, she feels helpless and out of control, so she can take control by purposely doing undesireable things.  As her younger sister has become more and more of a willful presence, this habit has become more and more problematic.  We can trace it back to her infancy when she would grit her teeth, clench her fists, and shake if something didn't quite go as she intended (ie. a tower of cups topples over before she placed the last cup on top).  This all may sound very dramatic and difficult, but on the other side of things, my daughter is incredibly reasonable and when she's calm can speak very articulately about how she feels when she's upset.

My struggle with my five-year-old is keep my own cool when she's upset.  If I don't allow myself to pause, my instant reaction is generally to scream back at her if she screams, which encourages more screaming.  I am very sensitive to her strong reactions in part because I see my own behavior in hers.  I panic if I think that I've caused a problem and my priority in terms of stopping my panic is clearing myself of blame.  Making sure that I wasn't to blame for a problem can often feel more important to me that actually solving the problem.  It's something that I do that I think I often hide well or deal with better in non-family situations, but it really comes out with the people I'm closest to.  My partner frequently points out that I'm playing the blame game.  I've denied it in the past, but I see the habit more clearly now and I see how it's not useful and a waste of time.

Yesterday, I suggested to my daughter that she learn from the tug-of-war mishap so that she will make different choices in the future.  I could learn to take more of my own advice.  I feel that it takes a lot of courage and groundedness to accept my contribution to a problem, not dwell on it, and move on to actually solving the problem or at least not adding to it.

The more grounded I feel, the easier it is for me to deal with feeling like I've caused a problem, and move on.  The ground is there to support us and the less held we are in our bodies, the more we allow it to support us.  Feeling the ground supporting me is one of the most significant changes that I've experienced since I first discovered The Alexander Technique.  My experience of panic or anger overwhelming me is a sense of loosing my grouding.  Those feelings can still be there, but if I'm grounded, they are feelings that I am experiencing instead of feelings that take over.  As my daughter matures, I hope that I will convey more and more of a sense of groundedness and that she will learn to find her ground.

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 4

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 4

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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 Weekender 1 - Time & Coffee

This is my first weekend entry and it's just past midnigt on June 24, for this intended June 23 entry.  My goal is a daily entry and I will specify now - a daily entry, so long as it doesn't interfere with my abilitiy to be present with my family.  This is my first opportunity to write today.  "The Weekender" is a reference to the New York City weekend subway schedule.   The New York City subway runs 24-hours and doesn't stop for repairs.  Instead it reroutes trains and makes things very complicated and confusing for riders so that work can get done.  Trying to get anything accomplished in a reasonable amount of time with two small children at home can sometimes feel like trying to do repair work on a subway system that never sleeps. 

As I've mentioned, we moved over a year ago a still have quite a bit of unpacking left to do and often find that the most effecient time to do it is at night.  Our children aren't in school yet, and we've never managed any early or any sort of regular sleeping schedule with them, so "at night" usually means relatively late.  I've actually just woken up after 3-hour "nap" and am writting here before I dig into what has been and still is a slow, ongoing process of unpacking and putting things away.

My partner and I both sleep pretty erratically at times, him more than me, but I commonly sleep for a few hours and then stay up for a few hours in the middle of the night before returning to sleep.  Mix that in with a few pretty decent nights of sleep per week and I manage, though I've been making use of coffee more than ever before.

On the topic of coffee, I really have to thank The Alexander Technique for my ability to finally benefit from this substance like much of the world does.  I realize that it may not be the healthiest of beverages and is a very common, legal, addictive drug.  I'm not a terribly frequent drinker and at my worst, don't go beyond one or two servings per day and I do feel better in general when I'm not drinking coffee.  I do admit though that I am somewhat proud and relieved to be able to handle drinking it at all.  My first experiences with coffee were in high school pullin allnighters to write papers.  I tried drinking some instant cappucino a couple of times and I recall feeling so wired from one cup that I could hardly concentrate and I was intensely paranoid that someone was about to break in the back door.  In college, it was worse.  I recall drinking a cup of coffee in a similar situation of having procrastinated on a paper and feeling so jittery, that I may not have even written the paper.  I remember sitting on my bed convicing myself that the feeling would go away and that I'd be ok in the morning. 

I'm still quite sensitive to caffeine, but I'm not the wound up, nervous, neurotic ball of anxiety that I was as a child, teen, and into early adult-hood.  I was so tense that it was like the stimulating effect of coffee had no where to go.  It would get stuck in all of that tension and holding and I'd freak out.  These days I just feel realy awake.  Honestly, it's nice to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee (I do find it quite delicous), but I'm careful to cut back if I feel I'm taking in too much and it's affecting my sleep.

It's now Sunday morning as I'm finishing up this post.  My three year-old woke up last night as I was in the middle of it and was having difficulty getting back to sleep.  So it goes for the "weekender".  I'll be devoting a bunch of extra days in July to spending time at home and helping to get things more organized.  It will be a challenge to keep this daily blog going during all of those days with very little time to myself and I may limit myself to seeing how much I can write in 30 minutes.  It could be a useful exercise in any case!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 3

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 3

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition will have 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! 


As I’ve mentioned, things are a “litte” chaotic in my home, and I think unusually so.  I’ve talked quite a bit about my contributions to the chaos, so let’s take a look at the other three family members, starting with the the only guy of the four of us in this posting.  My partner is a full-time father, as I’ve mentioned.   He’s an extremely devoted parent.  He has “OCD”.  Not like he likes to line up his socks in color order.  I mean, he might enjoy doing that, but the short version is that he has a strong tendancy to obsess over details to the point that the big picture crumbles.  This manifests itself in a variety of ways and has elements of intense creativity and intense disfunctionality all mixed together.  OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a topic that I plan to address in more detail at some point during this daily blogging experience.  OCD-like habits are something that I have struggled with as well and have found that The Alexander Technique is a tool that has helped me make it over many hurdles.  Going back to my partner, one of the clearest ways that his OCD behaviors manifest themselves are in his organizational skills.  He loves to organize things.  It helps him feel in control, but he spends so much time organizing each detail, that our home is either mostly a mess, or a huge portion of it is in a state of waiting-to-be-put-away.  In short, at the moment, about half of our apartment is being used as a holding area – like using rooms as temporary closets.  We moved to our current apartment a little over a year ago and much progress has been made, but much is left to be accomplished.  The amount of space that we are living in in our apartment is the size of the faith in our family.  The un-lived-in space in our apartment feels like the untapped potential of our family.   I feel that the unused space represents our fears, doubts, and uncertainty.  Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I become easily accustomed to, and even I think sometimes take comfort in chaos and lack of change.  When a big change for the better happens, it can feel scary before it feels better.  I can feel ok confining myself to a small space to spend time in and tune out the clutter and confinement.

I was speaking with a friend on the phone last week and talking about difficulties of organization and communication amogst myself, my partner and our children and the degree of anxiety and lack of purpose that my partner has been feeling despite his making great efforts to change things in our home.  My friend noted how much support he could use in  that it can be pretty scary to feel purposeless for a prolonged period of time.  This observation was a great reminder that I can be an agent of support.   It was a reminder to fully be present and to support this person who I have chosen to be with.  What was really almost magical about that moment was that I had a sense of awareness of my whole apartment around me and it was like I could see the closet-rooms emptying out and us filling up and using that space.  Even though the stuff was still there, I felt very three-dimensional and really in the space, accepting it and not rejecting it.  I believe that we can work together so that we’ll be able to more fully live in and enjoy our home and that my contribution and support can make a significant difference.  I think that it is easy for me to fall into a trap that I am a helpless to the power of the challenges that he faces and there’s just no way that I could offer the support that he requires.  Rather than feeling like I have to solve his problems, I can offer kind words, smiles, a listening ear, accepting that’s he’s ok where he is now, and most of all being a present participant supporting his efforts to change things, not reatreating because it seems too hard.  Retreating is giving up and trying to “take charge” can be a way of forcing something that just doesn’t work.  I remind myself that I choose be in this relationship and swimming in a sea of ambiguity about it can be descructive.  Going for it and really being there has so much more potential.

F.M. Alexander talked about the concept of “end-gaining”.  That’s basically trying to get to your goal while skipping through the necessary steps.  Engaining is manifested in all sort of ways.  Passivity and impatience can both be forms of endgaining.  When I’m teaching Alexander Technique lessons, I help my students learn to do simple things in a more efficient, natural, and present way.  When a student moves from sitting in a chair to standing and vice-versa, I asked them to be present during the whole journey in and out of the chair.  Sitting and standing aren’t fixed points of arrival and the inbetween moment getting from one to the other is just as important as getting there.  Most people have to work on being conscious and present during the inbetween moment.  It easily becomes like driving a route that you’re accustomed to driving and once you reach your destination, you don’t recall how you got there.

Can you think of some examples of endgaining in your life?  In yourself or in others?  Can you think of situations in which you or other people you observe do not endgain?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 2

The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22.  This daily edition will have 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!  

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 2 

What I Do Before I Walk in the Door

What's really going on here?  I mean, what am I actually doing in my body when I encounter a stressful situation?  I've been thinking about this a lot.  As an Alexander Technique teacher I am aware that we all do "basically" the same thing when we're stressed, whether it's a stressful conversation with a family member or straining doing computer work, trying to make a deadline.  We pull down and in to ourselves.  We all generally have the same basic human structure and we do the same basic things to compromise it in order to cope with unpleasant situations and demands that we feel put pressure on us.  Within those parameters of what most of us do, there are a lot of interesting nuances and I see it all the time in my students.  How about in me?  How do I respond to stress and how do I deal with it?

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I'm taking account of how different my behavior is with my family compared to how I respond in many other day-to-day situations.  Being with my family is generally stressful for me.  Here's how so, and I'll start with what I observe happening when I walk in the door.  This is something that you can do to.  Notice how you feel right before entering a situation.  If you really pay attention, you might notice little things that you do that you were unaware of.  It might not even feel like you are doing them.  It may feel like they are happening to you, but my guess is that you are doing them.  Right when I'm opening the door, I can feel my tongue tightening.  Not the tip of my tongue, but the back and bottom of my tongue.  The tongue actually goes pretty far back.  I also feel my solar plexus area shrinking back into my ribcage.  

How I trick myself  . . . I can easily trick myself into thinking that none of this is happening.  I feel my feet on the floor.  I'm aware of the top of my head.  I clearly feel that I'm inhabiting my back, not tightening the back of my neck and not squeezing my lower back.  I feel all of the things that I used to be so unaware  - where my back is in space, grounded, that I'm reaching my full height and not squishing down in any big way.  But, wait, my breathing feels shallow and I still feel kind of stiff.  Oh, I'm creating a huge amount of tension in my tongue, the front of my neck, and in that very sensitive solar plexus area that's full of nerve endings.  What am I doing?  I'm pulling back before I've walked in the door.  I'm defending myself against emotional discomfort, but the defense doesn't feel comfortable either.  I'm preparing to protect myself and disengage from the challenges of negotiating with my kids, trying to have longer than a 5-second conversation with my partner without interruption, and the stress of helping my partner navigate his own anxieties.  

The Dilemma . . . How do I interact with these three lovely people who I speak so highly of to other folks, but when we all get together we easily reach gridlock and end up frustrated and unhappy?  I'm not the only one contributing to the gridlock, but how what is my contribution and what can I contribute to unlock it? 

The Attitude . . . I think that the answer starts when I walk in the door.  What I've observed myself doing when I enter my home or meet up with my family anywhere after having spent part of the day apart is a physical response to how I feel about the situation.  I'm taking on an attitude.  I'm reacting to stress before I've even encountered it.  I'm anticipating and then end up bringing that attitude to the situation and feel instantly frustrated, impatient, overwhelmed, and detached.  An attitude is physical (I pull back), emotional (I feel overwhelmed), and intellectual (I'm annoyed).  They're kind of all the same thing, right? 

Change . . . The way to change isn't to flatten my tongue and push out my stomach so that it doesn't pull in.  That just creates more conflict.  Now that I've identified what I'm doing, I observe it and gently tell myself to stay present and to feel myself in the space I'm in on all sides.  So, if my tendency is to pull in my front, I think about filling out the space in front of me, being 3-dimensional, and allow myself to breath.  I tell myself that I don't know what will happen and I make a point to react more positively, in unusual ways that may feel different that how I want to react.  For example, I offer my partner a compliment and tell him how much I appreciate him when I'm feeling annoyed or unsure how to deal with his anxiety.  I jump into an activity with my kids when I feel like retreating and taking a nap.  If decide that I do want to pull away, I choose an activity that will intrigue my kids and invite them to join in or watch me - like making something instead of checking my email (let's hit that refresh button one more time!   I don't find this easy and it can be downright painful, and I don't always succeed, but that comes with the territory of changing habits and successful change is incredibly rewarding as I've learned in changing my attitudes and habitual reactions to other situations.

How do you feel right before you enter a stressful situation and are you able to change your attitude?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 1

It's June 20, the first day of summer and that's no joke!  After a bit of a cool spell, a blast of mid-nineties temperatures and heavy, humid air hit New York City, which smells amazing.   
What better occasion than to roll out the Posture Police summer series that I decided to write a few weeks ago.  The Posture Police Blotter has been on hiatus for awhile and I'm bringing it back with a daily blog that will run from June 20 through September 22.  This daily edition will have 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! 

Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 1 (first day of summer)

Yup, that's the title, "Sleeping on Sandwiches", and yes, it's pretty literal, though I'd love to find some cool metaphors in there as well.  About a week and a half ago my domestic partner/father of my two children/sometimes called "husband", though we're not actually married, was sleeping on a Saturday afternoon.  I was feeding our two daughters peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The two kids (ages 5 and 3) and me took a cue from Papa and drifted off to sleep ourselves after eating most of the sandwiches.  It's important to note that we were eating in our bedroom, a common practice in our home, the "why" of which will become clearer throughout the course of this blog.  So, I as my eyelids were getting heavy, I set the sandwiches down on our king-size family bed and took a snooze.  Upon waking, the plate with the remaining sandwich pieces piled on it appeared to be missing, but was soon revealed to have become lodged between my partner's back and the bed.  He was none too happy, though took it remarkably in stride given his tendency to panic about food getting on stuff or people.  There was a degree of amusement in the situation and it seemed to perfectly encapsulate our lives at this time for better or for worse.  I had been talking about my plan to write this daily blog series and after having been thinking for days about a title, I said, "How about 'Sleeping on Sandwiches"?  My lists of blog title brainstorms ground to a halt as that title stuck like peanut butter to a sweater.

The reason why I am writing this blog series is to fill in a gap of sorts.  It's more personal than my other entries and provides me with a forum to publicly explore gaps in my thinking and and to hold myself more accountable for those gaps.  Having been practicing the Alexander Technique for 13 years and teaching for five, my ability to be present, focus, and learn effectively have improved by a huge margin.  If you've been reading The Posture Police Blotter, you've learned that the Alexander Technique isn't about having "good posture".  It's about redefining your perspective on posture or as F.M. Alexander, founder of the technique put it, the "use" of yourself.  How a person uses themselves as a whole thinking, feeling, moving, reacting person is very different from simply looking at what position they sit in and how they can fix it.  It has to do with how your thinking affects your muscles, how your muscular habits (the way you hold yourself) affect how you feel, and how you feel affects how you think and react to the world.  It's all tied together and there is an optimal way that we can be coordinated for optimal functioning.  People who take Alexander Technique lessons find reduction in strain-related pain as well as a sense of calm, focus, and renewed energy.  What I find most fascinating about all of this is how practicing AT can affect how people learn.  We learn in all sorts of ways.  We're constantly learning and making choices, but our habits (ie. the way we hold ourselves in all respects) affect our ability to learn.  

I started taking Alexander Technique lessons as a drama student in college.  I felt stuck in my habits.  I understood that I was holding myself in ways that were problematic, but in was unconscious and I didn't know how to feel it or change it until I had Alexander Technique lessons.  I used to be spacey, stressed out, lack confidence, get confused and frustrated when learning new things, and in general lacked resilience (I'd get run down and catch a cold if I worked out).  Now I feel focused, much more confident, and quite resilient.  People often describe me as diplomatic,level-headed, and a good listener.  What I find most exciting is that I love to learn new things and I feel that I learn quickly.  Even if my task is difficult or I haven't done it before, I crave the challenge.  Learning new skills has become something I do and want to do more of all the time.

But  . . . I have a constant feeling that I'm failing because when I'm with my family all of these massive improvements seem to disappear.  I easily become spacey/checked out.  My tolerance for stress drops.  I don't feel confident.  I become confused and frustrated and find myself not even really understanding what the heck is going on or how I can respond effectively.  I am triggered easily and react in ways that make difficult situations more difficult.  My partner and kids describe me as reactive, easily angered, lacking in diplomacy, and worst of all "the witch of the west"!  My family life feels like four atoms in an apartment bouncing around with no direction.  All four of us contribute and my partner and I are the supposed captains of the ship and are often metaphorically bouncing around as much as the kids.  It's dizzying.  I actually feel physically dizzy most of the time that I'm with my family.  It's like being carsick.  This may or may not be a common feeling, but I think we've made an art of it and taken it to an extreme.  How can I feel so focused and purposeful outside of my home and so totally lost at home?  I have this urge to learn all of this new stuff with my new confidence and ability, but I'm having do much difficulty becoming unified team with my family - an effective unit who can enjoy time together and solve problems together.  We sometimes do, but we often don't. My partner and I feel that we're falling quite short of our goals as parents.   A term that my five year old likes to use to describe falling short of goals is "flipping, spinning, and jumping".  Example:  "Instead of going to the playground as we'd planned, we stayed home and flipped, and spun, and jumped."  It's sad, but I think quite accurate and I love the visual that it evokes.  Atoms bouncing around.  My goal is to improve my contribution to the whole.  I may not always succeed, but my intention is to only make positive contributions to my family that are supportive and bring us together.  Learning any other skill seems like a piece of cake compared to this one. 

A fun and healing aspect of writing this blog is also that it's a way to bring my family in to what I do outside of home more.  Some Alexander Technique teachers work from home.  I don't and so my work is another world from my family.  My partner is a full-time dad and I'm the "breadwinner", so there's a bit of a divide between them and me.  We're working on making some big changes in terms of how we interrelate, how we organize our home, and how we support one another and I'm diving in and going for it amidst the chaos.  "Sleeping On Sandwiches" is a perfect title for this blog series.  Other similarly ideal titles would be "Babysitting the Bathroom" or "Shoes in the Kitchen Cabinet".  More on all that in future posts and if you feel so moved, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

I hope you are having a lovely, sticky first day of summer and if you are in the Northeast part of the U.S., stay cool, drink plenty of water, and carry your winter coat in your bag to stay warm on the subway.