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!