Thursday, April 18, 2013

Harmony Between the Arms and Ribs. Your Cup of Tea?

Last weekend I enjoyed a meal at Gustorganics in the West Village.  One of the highlights of the meal was the cup of Chai tea that I ordered.  The tea itself was delicious and spicy, but what captured my interested even further was the innovative tea bag and how it gave a lovely example of how the arms and ribcage can work together in harmony.

The arms are easy to forget about when they are hanging by our sides and often become tense and pull up into the shoulders and in turn the upper ribcage or we let the arms hang loosely, which is really no better, as they then drag down on the ribcage.  In either case the ribs are not allowed to move freely as they would otherwise and breathing becomes restricted.  When lifting the arms, it is common to lift the shoulders necessarily and tighten the upper back, also restricting the ribs and breathing. 

Ideally, our arms should be like wings extending like elastic from our backs as if there were a continuous sheet of muscle going from the back, along the back of the arms, all the way to the backs of the hands and the finger tips.  The arms can be lively and consciously engaged, but not stiff, even when they are simply resting at our sides.  

When we use the arms like wing-like extensions of our backs, the ribs can move more freely and expand more during breathing.  The ribs start way up at the collar-bone and most of them wrap around from the spine to the sternum.  I mention this as it is a common misconception that the ribs are only in front.

When the arms and ribcage interact in a unified, connected, elastic way, the result is a springy feeling, rather than a tight or heavy feeling.

The handles on the teabag reminded me of the arms expanding out and allowing the springy fabric of the bag to expand like the ribs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spatial Intent - Know where you are already going and then figure out where to go.

Spatial intent is different from movement.  It's not a position.  It's not posture, but it determines our posture.  Our spatial intent is where we are aiming ourselves and underpins everything we do.  Spatial intent is usually unconscious.

I have a background in acting and I often ask my students what their "super-objective" is at any given moment when they are walking along the sidewalk in NYC.  In acting, a character's super objective is their most basic fundamental intention that colors all other objectives and actions.  When I ask this question, common responses are:

"To get where I'm going."

"To avoid bumping into people."

These examples are objectives, but more fundamentally, a person walking along the street has the intention to stay upright and to breathe.  Many of us can take this for granted and let breathing and uprightness become relegated to background noise.  We manage and get by.  We keep breathing and we don't fall down.  Generally, though people stay upright and breathe inefficiently, with much more effort than they need.


Because even though they are managing to stay standing, sitting, or to maintain whatever position or movement they wish to maintain in the face of gravity provided by planet Earth, they are aiming themselves down.  Aiming down, diminishes our naturally ability to be springy, creates strain in the neck, back, shoulders and legs, and makes breathing more effortful.

People often search for solutions to problems such as an aching back, a sore neck, or tight shoulders and they search for the solutions outside of themselves.  They try a new exercise, they switch jobs, or they do something relaxing.  There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but they likely won't change that the person is chronically aiming themselves down in space.  

Look at the cartoon image above.  The character is eagerly looking for the right way to go, yet finds himself bewildered.  There are many directions to take, but they aren't labeled and the paths they will lead to aren't clear.  He's looking for something outside himself to point him in the right direction, but take a look at how he's standing and his body is compressed down and simple act of looking up to read the signs distorts his back.  

Perhaps if he understood where he was already going (down) and resolved that issue, he would be able to read the signs and understand where they are pointing.

When people first begin Alexander Technique lessons, they are asked to slow down their movements, do do things more deliberately, and to learn to feel through the guidance of the teacher, where their spatial intent is. They then learn to use their own thinking and internal directing to shift that intention.  

Acknowledging a downward intent and reversing it to aim yourself up is a milestone in achieving presence and clarity, feeling more confident, and releasing tension that causes strain-related pain.