Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Connect the Dots! You're a Star!



star 


Happy New Year!  In my last post, I talked about the challenge of being and feeling more integrated in your body, being able to sense your body as whole and unified as opposed to separate parts that are vaguely linked.

Today's post will walk you through a practical experiment that can help you to feel more connected throughout your body.  Changing how the parts of your body work together is just as mental as it is physical.  We use our proprioceptive sense to feel our position in space and the position of our parts relative to one another.  If you close your eyes, can you can likely touch your nose with your index finger or sense your position in space when walking through a dark room.  That's your proprioception at work as messages from nerves in your muscles are sent to your brain to tell you where you are.  We use our proprioception all the time, but it usually goes on auto-pilot and stays in the background of our awareness unless something goes wrong (like you trip, for example.)  We can turn up the volume on our proprioception just by paying attention.  It may seem like it requires a lot of concentration at first, but with practice and Alexander Technique lessons, it can become second-nature. 

Try this:  Bring your attention to your right hand.  Do you suddenly sense your right hand more clearly?  I suspect that the answer is yes. Now that we've established that you can turn your proprioceptive sense off of autopilot by bringing your awareness to a particular area of your body, go ahead and do the following experiment:

1-Stand with your arms stretched out to the sides and imagine that you are a star. (Avoid lifting your shoulders, but don't press them down or back either.)  Your head is the top point of the star, your arms the two side points, and your legs the two bottom points.  Your torso is the center of the star.  The goal here is to allow all of the points to expand away from the center.  Most people pull the points of their star into their center, which often results in back pain and shallow breathing.  

2- Bring your attention first to the center of your back and then, like playing connect the dots, draw a mental line from the center of your back along the backs of your arms to your elbows, to your wrists and out to your fingers.  

3- Bring your attention to the middle of your upper back and mentally connect the dots from your back up your neck to the joint where your head meets your neck (feel where that is with your hand - it may be higher than you think) and then to the top of your head.  

4-Draw two more mental lines from your lower back down along the backs of your legs to your knees, to your ankles, to your heels.

5-Now put your arms down at your sides and repeat the three steps.  You can still imagine that you are a star, but now the side points are folded.

Make sure that you are just thinking about drawing the lines by bringing your attention to each area of your body.  Do not use muscular effort.  Don't hold your breath.  If you start to feel stiff and your breathing becomes shallow, stop and restart.  Make sure that you are really only thinking the directions.  If you are confused, bring your attention back to your right hand and notice how just bringing attention there increases sensation and apply that to the star directions.

Speaking of directions, what you are experimenting with is what F.M. Alexander called directing.  The word in this context has the double meaning of giving yourself mental directions and for the directions to go in a particular direction - from the center of the body out away from the spine.

The aim of this "connect the dots" exploration is to encourage the body to be more open and integrated, to simultaneously encourage the head/neck and limbs to release habitual tensions and pulls and to encourage them to integrate and work together.

During Alexander Technique lessons, students learn how to clearly sense and direct their bodies so that they can sit, stand, walk, and do everything that they do in a more fluid, integrated way.  Benefits are a sense of feeling both calm and energized, freer breathing, and reduced pain related to strain.  People also often feel more confident and engaged with the world.

If you did the exploration above, I encourage you to share how it went in the comments below!