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