Think BEFORE You Move or Act

I often remind students to build awareness and thought “in front” of an action. It is important to inhibit the normal response to carrying out an activity BEFORE it happens, then think and re-direct into a better balance knowing what the intention is, and THEN do the action from this better situation. As you will see below, the sequence of events is important.

A student in my teacher training class had a major “ah ha” moment during a class discussion. She realized what had happened when she was learning to drive a car. She thought she needed to get the car moving and then figure out where she was going --- in other words she stepped on the gas pedal BEFORE she started steering the car. The result of this sequence of events was 9 accidents. I hope these were just fender benders.


I also like the example of someone trying to make a ball curve once you have thrown it directly straight ahead. It is too late to do anything about it. The curve has to be in the spin of the ball from the very beginning. It has to be in the intention of the toss. Once you have released the ball from your hand it is obviously difficult to redirect it. How many times have you thrown a ball and then tried to steer it through cheering and yelling, as if the ball could make it’s own choice in mid-air. Very funny!

Another example of thinking before acting is one I love to watch and one I often think of: the sport of Curling. Curling involves a large, round, flat stone slid on ice toward a goal. The team members scurry around the stone adjusting the trajectory by sweeping the ice. The sweepers have some control over the direction and distance the stone travels, and  the intention and thought are there from the beginning of the movement.

Obviously, 9 car accidents is a dramatic example of what happens when one waits to be in activity before they direct and it makes a point. Thinking of where we are going and having an intention is really important. This idea applies to EVERYTHING we do.
Things like:

·      starting to sing and then searching for the pitch (like listening to oneself and then deciding if it is the correct note).
·      jumping in the air and then deciding where your feet should land (focusing only on getting into the air).
·      getting out of the chair and then looking for your feet and connection to and being on the ground (needing to stay connected to the whole all of the time).
·      swinging a golf club, hitting the ball, and then thinking of the how far away the hole is.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples. I’d love to hear them.

Please send me your examples via email here: arodiger@balanceartscenter.com

5 Alexander Technique Tips to Help with Your Singing Auditions

 



As recently seen on: http://www.yaptracker.com/posts/5-alexander-technique-tips-to-help-with-your-auditions/

5 Alexander Technique Tips to Help with Your Singing Auditions

Auditions, rehearsals, and even lessons can be a time of heightened experience and awareness.  There are ways to work with the stress and anxiety of those moments that will help you perform optimally.

Following are five tips will help you stay focused and present during these moments so you have access to your best vocal technique and your intentions for communication are realized.  They will help you as you prepare for your audition and during the times you are in front of an audience.

The tips are based on the concepts of the Alexander Technique.  The Alexander Technique helps you become awareness of what you are doing mentally and physically and gives you ideas and experiences of how to cultivate your best posture, balance and breathing. Remember, the Alexander Technique is about finding the optimal tone and direction for your body, not releasing or collapsing into a puddle.

Tip #1.  Singing is a Whole Body Activity

Your whole body supports your singing so make sure you consider your entire being as you prepare and perform. It is easy to become so focused on one part that the whole is forgotten.  The goal is to be free and fluid with your entire body so the air and sound flow through your three-dimensional body and are not blocked at any point.

To find your whole body, sense the ground and your own body weight through the bottom of your feet (let your feet spread out on the floor – no gripping of the toes of arches of the feet) into the ground.  Notice that you can then sense an easy upward motion coming up from the ground through your entire body and out the top of your head.  This buoyancy comes from keeping all of your joints free and easy – from your ankles to the top of your spine (keeping all of the natural curves in your spine so your neck isn’t over straightened).  Allow this movement to happen by letting your body balance easily rather that “fixing” or “reaching” for a position or direction.

Tip #2.  Keep your Head - Neck - Tongue – Jaw Free

Now that you have your whole body in mind and in your awareness, let your head, neck, tongue, and jaw soften and release.  This does not mean to go limp, be passive or let your jaw sag (thus pulling your whole system down).

Instead, keep gently lengthening through your easy neck behind your tongue and jaw out through the top your head (no reaching or pulling on your neck) while your head balances on the top of your spine.  As you do this you will notice that it helps you find the sense of your whole body rebounding from the ground and lengthening as mentioned in Tip #1.  Let your tongue be easy and wide, and your jaw move on your skull from the joint (back by your ears) so it doesn’t disturb the balance of your head on your spine..

Through developing an awareness and conscious perception of the head- neck tongue and jaw independently you will be more aware of the whole.  And you will have a better ability to articulate your vowels and consonants.

Thinking of these directions every time you inhale will help you find your best balance and state of readiness for each phrase.  They will help you get back on track for the next phrase if you notice that something is not the way you want it to be while you are singing.

Tip #3.  Use Your Breath Well - Sing on Your Air

Use you breath to calm your body and your mind.  This is especially useful while you are in a waiting or green room.  This will help you stay with yourself in the midst of a potentially active and tense situation.

Stay long and exhale more air more than you might do normally (out toward the top of your head) and then let your air spring in above your tongue and into your entire body.  Sense the movement of your inhale all the way down to the soles of your feet while you keep your tongue easy.

The inhale will help you define your length, width, and depth and lead you to your best support.  Let the air come in above your tongue and travel all the way down to your sit bones and then into your feet, lengthening your body in two directions at once.

Start each phrase by catching the initial movement of your air as it turns around to an exhale and singing on that air.  Make sure not to blow the air or push it up through your body by squeezing your ribs.

Tip #4.  Use Your Eyes Easily

The head leads the body and the eyes often lead the head.  Allow yourself to see a specific object and see peripherally as well. Staying easy in the eyes helps you maintain your best balance (keeps you from pulling forward off your legs and even subtly leaning on the audience).  It also helps you to present yourself in a confident and assured manner.

Remember that peripheral vision is up and down as well as side to side.
Leaving your eyes easy will help you to stay in your back and find your support, again because it helps you to not lean forward.

Tip #5. Pay Attention – Stay Conscious

Stay tuned in while you are singing.  It is important to “sing” and communicate what you wish to communicate and still stay conscious (no checking out on high notes).  It can be a delicate balance between focusing on the technical things you know you need to attend to, being in character, and giving it your all.

Another way of saying this is to find a balance between the specific aspects of what you are doing and the more global overall full body awareness you need for singing.  The dance between these two things is something every performer grapples with. Everyone needs to find their own balance.

The most important thing is not to “zone out” but to “zone in” and stay conscious. Find how/when you need to focus on what.  This varies with each person. Sometimes “zoning in” feels like “zoning out” if you have been micromanaging your singing.  In any case, stay conscious and notice what happens so you can direct yourself to your best singing.

Most of all it is important to enjoy your singing and let that show to whomever is listening.

 

 

Head and Neck

The Head and Neck – Up the Front

Before we return to a discussion of the tongue let’s look more closely at the head and neck relationship.  I started this discussion in the April 2009 entry entitled “Neck Free” and will expand it here.  This will inform the next discussions of the tongue.

In the Alexander work the head and neck are given a great deal of attention due to the fact that the leads the body into motion when we use ourselves well. Keeping the neck free allows the body to follow the head in lengthening, widening, and deepening  – no matter what “position” you are in.

Often, when we think of the head-neck connection, the focus is drawn to the back of the skull where the head meets the spine at the Atlanto-Occipital joint.  (AO joint)  This is very useful AND there is more to the picture.

When the anterior (front) of the neck and spine, near the tongue and larynx, are included in the discussion of the head and neck, the full neck, head, and full body begin to fill in more clearly.  In the picture below, notice that:

*  the front part of the Atlas is higher than the back part

*  there is a large vault/arch up in the skull forward and ABOVE the AO joint

*  the center of gravity of the head is well above the AO joint (forward and up away from the AO joint)



As you release the front part of your head on the spine this allows you to continue your upward direction up into the vault of the skull toward region of the center of gravity.

This knowledge and awareness allows you to play with the balance of your head on your spine in a very refined way.  Focusing on the area of the center of gravity of your skull when you direct your head gives a higher and clearer sense of what the head is, and were to direct it from.

Activity:  From a seated position, look down at your knees, allowing your head to follow your eyes as you look down.  Keep in mind to keep yourself free in the front of your AO joint and keep the upward direction going up toward the center of gravity of your head.

When you look down lengthen along both the front AND back of your spine.  This is much higher and longer than many people seem to recognize.

 

Big Hint:  (preview for what is to come) You can see already that if you are pulling your tongue down you are compressing the front of the spine and taking away the inner space of your skull – the very space you need to give your speaking and singing have the best vibration and resonance.

 

The Tongue, Part 2



A few months ago I wrote about the tongue and all of the ways it effects the breathing and speaking. The tongue continues to reveal itself to me as a huge influence in the overall use of the body. I hope your experimentation from the previous tongue blog entry has helped you.

The Tongue, Part 2 will address a few more thoughts about the tongue and ways to improve your speaking and singing.

Consciously release any downward pressure you may be putting on your body with your tongue by letting your tongue soften and drift upwards in your mouth (especially in the back of your mouth). Notice again how this frees up your breathing and immediately gives you a sense of lightness throughout your entire body.

Reestablish an easy exhale and inhale without pushing or sucking the air in or out.  Close your lips on the inhale so you can breath in through the nose in the direction up behind the eyes and nose.

As you let the air come naturally in to your body, inflating you from the inside, you will experience the movement from your inhale up into your head, down to your pelvic floor, side to side and front to back in your torso, and in out in to your limbs.  Make sure your ribs are allowed to respond to your breathing process. The air itself and the lungs don’t extend into your pelvis or limbs but you can sense the motion from the intake of the air throughout your entire system.  Imagine the movement of the air giving you an internal massage that tones your organs.

Next, focus on the moment between your inhale and exhale (without anticipating the turn around of air or trying to control it in any way) and you will notice the breath suspends slightly before it turns around to go the other direction. Let that moment of suspension expand just a little bit and notice that your entire body can release into your directions (length, width, and depth) more when you allow the suspension to exist. The moment between your inhale and exhale can be particularly buoyant and grounded simultaneously.

Use that moment of more ease and freedom to begin your sound while speaking and singing.  Make a vowel sound of your choice starting the sound just above your high tongue in the back of your oral cavity.  The moment you are looking for may well be the moment when you feel you can’t make a sound and nothing will happen – go for that moment without squeezing the air out. The sounds will come out.

Let the air move ever so slightly behind the tongue up toward the soft palate and allow the sound to begin. Keep allowing the air to move gently up behind the tongue while you continue with the sound.  Notice that you can sustain the sound for quite awhile in this suspended state.

Some practice phrases might be:

“Hello how are you” as the “h” encourages the air to move.

“Hi”  for the same reason.

Counting to 10 or beyond as you can focus on the process rather than the content of the words.

Note:  It is not necessary to move the air that is in the bottom of the lungs up to the top of the soft palate before you start the sound.  I have found that many of us think we have to move the air that is in the lungs all the say up to the vocal cords in order to make a sound. Actually there is air in the whole tube all the time and you can use the air already in your column to produce the sound.  This is a revelation to many people and helps reduce any squeezing that may be associated with the beginning of speaking or singing.

Next we will pay attention to where your body is vibrating while you make sound.  Stay tuned.

Alexander Technique on NPR

The Alexander Technique made it on to National Public Radio. This is great. San Francisco Alexander Technique Teacher Jo Gray is featured on the program that aired this past Monday. You can hear the interview and read the text through this link.

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/28/134861319/alexander-technique-a-balm-for-back-pain

It is also posted on the AmSAT (American Society of Alexander Technique) website.

http://www.amsatonline.org/

Enjoy the interview!!!

The Tongue


Over the summer I worked with singers at two different summer opera programs in Germany. It was wonderful to see the immediate change in the voice as students became more and more balanced and directed in their bodies. Even small changes in their understanding and use were audible. The work was very exciting and fulfilling.


One component of vocal production is the use of the tongue. It influences the entire body and applies to all of us whether we are singing or not. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. If it is tight, narrow, and pulling down it is not only sitting on the larynx and vocal cords, but it is pulling the head down on your neck, restricting free breathing and actively pulling the entire body in a downward direction.


Allowing the tongue to be soft, wide, and free in the mouth takes enormous pressure off the head and neck, breathing mechanism, and thus the entire body.


To find the best use of your tongue in everyday activities, touch the rounded tip of your tongue to the bottom of your lower teeth as in Alexander’s procedure the “whispered ah”. Then let the back of your tongue drift up to touch the roof of your mouth. It is best if you can let the tongue touch the soft palate behind the back of the hard palate. This way, you can sense the back edge of the hard palate. Make sure the tongue is coming up to your head and not your head coming down to meet the tongue. At the same time let the tongue be wide so the sides of the back of the tongue touch the back of your upper teeth.


Stay easy in your jaw by keeping a small space between the upper and lower back teeth. This will help with the articulation of the tongue and jaw. They can move independently of each other and often it takes practice as to how to do this.


If you are doing this correctly you are closing off your mouth to the air and are now breathing only through your nose.


Now, keeping that seal between your soft palate and the tongue, continue breathing. Let your larynx and throat soften and hang from this point of contact. Monitor yourself so you can breathe in and out without tightening or pulling the tongue down. Your throat can also stay easy while you breathe. Pay special attention to the moments when you change direction of the breath – from the inhale to the exhale and from the exhale to the inhale. In other words there is no sucking in of the air and no pushing it out. (As you play with this you will find a natural suspension during the turn-around of the air.)


As you continue to play with this idea and then speak or sing (releasing your tongue from the contact with the soft palate and not pushing the tongue down), you will have extended the tube or column of air you are using up behind the back of the mouth. It may feel like you are closing your throat or that your tongue is too big for your mouth. That is okay. Stay with it and see what happens.


This will give you an efficient use of your air, bring you up the front of your body, give you support for your sound, and give you a lighter sense in your body while giving you more grounding.


Other good times to notice when you might be pulling your tongue down are when you:




  • go up stairs

  • stand up from sitting

  • start to speak


Tip: If you have trouble finding the back of your hard palate run the tip or your tongue back along the roof of your mouth toward the back of your teeth. The end of the hard palate is the moment your tongue goes up toward the top of your head. Look in a mirror if you need more help locating the hard palate.


This is a big topic so more to come. Stay tuned……..

My new book: How To Sit: Your Body At Work is now out!

It is a guide to sitting at your workstation. Here is the first chapter so you can get an idea of what it covers. Thanks to all who have helped put this together!





The Basics – Overview of Elements


An overview of the elements who, what, where, how, when, why, is useful so you can immediately see how you are working with your whole being. These basics will be given more attention in the following pages.


You will not learn a set of “exercises” or “postures” that you can do and then forget about for the rest of the day. You will learn a balanced way of working and an awareness that you can use for a long time and in many settings.



WHO: You–The Human Factor


The human element is the factor that is most frequently left out of the ergonomic equation. You are an integral factor in the ergonomic setup and its functioning. You could have the best, most expensive setup available and yet still have aches and pains from working at your workstation. By refining how you move and how you think about moving, you can make a difference in the outcome of your workday.



You will discover that you have more choices in how you work than you might have thought. You will find that your active participation in the process will make an enormous difference in your well-being.



WHAT: The Physical Setup


Having a setup that allows you to work optimally is extremely helpful in maintaining good health and a pain-free body.


Each of us has a unique body with our own proportions, so we need to tailor our equipment setup to fit our own needs. You may spend quite a bit of time working, so making the appropriate adjustments to your setup will substantially increase your level of comfort and productivity. The more options you have to adjust your setup, the better. The variables in a work setup include desk and chair heights as well as placement of monitor, key- board, mouse, and other objects you use frequently.


Would you ride a bicycle or drive a car that was misaligned so you had to compensate constantly just to keep the bike or car going straight down the road? Not likely. The same thing should be true at your desk. It doesn’t make sense to work in a situation that requires you to adjust and adapt constantly in ways that pull you off balance and pull your focus off your work.



WHERE: At Your Desk or Workstation


The ideas presented here are specifically related to the activities you perform at your workstation. You will learn to find ways of sitting that will help with typing, handwriting, answering the phone, working with files, and so on.


The principles presented relate to and apply to all the actions you perform throughout the day. Use your work activities and setup as a laboratory for discovering how to improve all of your activities.



HOW: Attention–Change Your Habits


You are going to learn to pay attention in a way that will change your work habits for the better. This process of learning and building awareness requires focusing on yourself. As you become aware of the various activities and stimuli that are in your sitting environment, you will be able to attend to them in a way that gives you more choice in your response. You will learn to recognize the choices you are making currently that may be detrimental and direct yourself to make new choices. Often the current choices are unconscious and need to be brought forward into your awareness. Some- times seemingly small unconscious habits have a very large effect on the outcome of your day.


Learning to pay attention to your habitual movements and patterns will not take your attention or time away from your work. You will see very shortly that even a few new ideas can result in changes in how you feel and work.



WHEN: Often


The more you pay attention to the ideas presented in this book the more quickly you will improve and discover the benefits of this new way of working. You will find that noticing what you do and giving yourself directions will become an integral and integrated part of your work routine. At first it might seem to you that you could drive yourself crazy by constantly paying attention to these ideas. If that is the case, incorporate the process slowly into your work routine. Sticking with the process at whatever pace you choose will be well worth it.



WHY: To Feel Better and Be More Productive


The freer and more balanced you are in your body, the better you think and feel. The better you think and feel the more focused you can be. And the more focused and clear you are, the more productive you will be without accumulating new tensions. As you acquire new habits you will enhance your thinking and productivity. You will find yourself on an upward spiral toward ease and lightness.


You are learning a process that helps prevent stress and injury. This is a process of refined balance and can result in new habitual ways of moving and being. It will lead you to thinking that is creative and movement that is coordinated and easy.

Space Between the Bones


There IS space between all of our bones even if it is minimal space. That space, even when filled with fluid, allows for movement and cushioning between the bones. It means that bones don’t actually sit on bones – they float and balance in relation to each other. The bones are held together by the tension throughout the muscles, tendons, and ligaments – guide wires, if you will. This makes our bodies’ tensegrity systems (a la Buckminster Fuller and the geodesic dome) where the struts don’t touch each other but suspend inside the system.

Considering this model for the structure of the body is a paradigm shift for many of us. Instead of thinking of our body as bones piled up and resting on top of each other (the post and beam or stack of plates system), the body is seen as a fluid and mobile structure capable of free and easy movement.

As we consciously lengthen our bodies and allow for the spaces between our bones, we can maintain the integrity of the tensegrity system.

Entertaining this way of understanding the body can change the way you experience your body.

Try this experiment:

First, as you sit or stand, think of your bones as supporting your body by resting on each other and thus compressing your body weight into the floor – how do you sense yourself?

Now conscious allow for space between your bones. Think of space between every bone, even between the bones of your head.

Add to that the thought of your body lengthen up out through your head, rebounding from gravity, and see how you sense yourself.

This is a good way to see how much our thinking changes how we move. Working with new ideas can reveal what we have been thinking in the past. Even if those previous thoughts have been unconscious we have been functioning from those principles.

At the recent AGM (Annual General Meeting of AmSAT American Society of the Alexander Technique) Carol Boggs gave a presentation where she quoted Dr. Stephen Levin who said that “all bones are sesamoid bones.” We played with this concept during Carol’s workshop and found that it significantly changed our experience of own body and balance.

Wikipedia says that in anatomy, a sesamoid bone is a bone embedded within a tendon. Basically our tissues thin and thicken into tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Fibers from one density flow into fibers with another density or elasticity. Our structure is continuous and fluid.

We suspend, we float, and we balance AND you can experience it!!!!

Freedom to Move

One of the interesting aspects of the Alexander Technique is that it helps one to consider new possibilities for ways of thinking in action. As one consciously works to allow for new concepts and choices, one is led to deeper understandings and more fundamental embodiments of the Alexander Technique. At Freedom to Move, the conference on Dance and the Alexander Technique, we saw the principles of the Technique being applied to various different forms of dance, and it was evident that the principles of the Technique apply to all movement. This is what was shared last month at the conference, which was sponsored by the Balance Arts Center. And everyone, accomplished dancers, non-dancers, teachers, and AT and movement teachers could learn side-by-side in the same movement situation and all come out with new awareness of their movement and themselves.

The most wonderful aspect of the conference was everyone’s willingness to explore and listen with openness, curiosity and utmost respect for each others' ideas and points of view. This created an atmosphere of exploration and support for our various areas of interest.

Most of the presenters have been living and working with the principles of the Alexander Technique for many years and their understanding of the work has permeated their entire beings. We had a lively time playing with how we are using the concepts of the AT in relationship to all the many sides of the field of dance: choreographing, teaching dance, improving our own movement and performance, etc. Everyone, presenters and participants, was generous with their teaching and learning. It was fascinating to see how working with the principles of the work lead each of us to discoveries, new awareness, and ways of thinking about our own movement, and how to communicate that to others. The AT has profoundly shaped the way we approach, see, talk about, and create movement.

The conference was a good reminder that the Alexander Technique is a Technique that is fundamental to all the various forms of movement we do, whether or not we are in the field of dance.

There is so much more to explore and to share. We plan to hold another conference again next year.

Photos of the conference are posted at www.balanceartscenter.com

You can also hear a podcast of the panel discussion “The Alexander Technique and Creativity”. The Conference schedule is still posted on the website as well.

It was extremely inspiring to see how people are utilizing the concepts and how they are creatively applying them to their own areas of interest. It was a good reminder that we all need to make the AT principles our own and that they can be applied to every aspect of our life making, each thing we do a creative act.

The Inhale



The Inhale

It is useful to focus on an aspect of the breathing process that is often unconscious and goes unnoticed: the inhale. A good inhale is triggered after air has been expelled from the body up and out behind the tongue. Most of us don’t breathe out enough.

Spend a few moments each day (even a breathing cycle or two will help build awareness) consciously allowing your body to provide the cues to exhale and inhale. At the top and bottom of the exhale/inhale wait (probably longer than you usually do) until you sense the internal kinesthetic signals to change the direction of the air.

Notice how you use your tongue and jaw while inhaling. Monitoring this will help keep you from sucking of gulping the air in. Make sure there is an easy space between your teeth and that your tongue is high and wide at the back of your mouth by your upper teeth. Let the tip of your tongue touch the back of your lower teeth. Let the air come up into your head, behind your nose and eyes, to come down into your lungs. The air will automatically go down into your lungs. No need to pull or suck the air down into your body.

When you can, keep your lips closed as you inhale. This will clean and warm the air.

Think of your air tube or column as coming all the way up your throat to the top of your tongue as it is high in the back of your mouth.

Cultivating a good inhale will help enhance your upward direction and help you find your three-dimensionality from the inside of your body. There is no need to feel any resistance to the air coming in. When the air is moving freely you will probably “feel” less.

When you breathe in well, you are ready to speak, sing, or exhale without doing anything extra or changing anything.

Clues:

1. If you are hearing sound on your inhale, your throat is tight!

2. There is no need to try to open your throat on the inhale!


go back to the Balance Arts Center website: www.balanceartscenter.com

Inhibition

I missed the opportunity to write about inhibition before the holidays when I could use the obvious example of keeping one’s hands tightly pinned at one’s side when the plate of cookies and chocolate went around the table. Even so, inhibition is also a good topic for the New Year. I have already had several discussions with students about how inhibition plays a big part of their thinking as they “refresh” their goals and make resolutions.

Resolving to be better at something, or to change in some way, comes down to changing a habit of thinking and doing. Most often that all boils down to inhibition, which means not doing one’s familiar pattern. This applies to physical activities like reaching for the cookie jar, and it also applies to thought processes like “This isn’t going to happen” or “I’ll never get it together to do such and such.” Thought and movement patterns go hand in hand. Basically one has to stop the habitual reaction, no matter how strong the impulse, to do whatever it is that one wants to change.

One student is already busily working on his whole body balance by preventing his foot from slapping the floor so his shoe doesn’t wear out on that side. The pattern he wants to change seems to stem from an injury he had many years ago. Over time, his compensations have accumulated into passivity in the leg and foot when his foot meets the floor each time he takes a step. His recent attention and resolve have already paid off in terms of better stability and balance. He is inhibiting the urge to release and go almost limp with his foot. Instead, he is energetically staying with the leg and foot, allowing him to give his leg a conscious direction each time he steps. He has recently been able to walk a mile while paying attention to what he is doing and holding a conversation at the same time. That is progress!

Another student is contemplating how to approach a habit of interrupting people and talking too much when she is anxious. We discussed what to notice with her breath as she prepares to jump in to the conversation. We discovered that she might be stopping her air flow and holding her breath as she prepares to talk. Consciously focusing on the physical act of continuing to breathe, instead of getting drawn in to responding verbally, will help her consciously control her anxious feelings. This might also lead her to participate differently in the conversation by being able to listen more fully and respond at the end of someone else’s thought. In any case, she now has a tool to help her inhibit the urge to insert herself when she feels uncomfortable.

A third student has decided it is time to be more present in her communications, so she must stop shrinking back and trying to disappear. This shrinkage physically manifests for her in the form of pulling her chin back in a retreating fashion, thereby cutting off her neck and throat from the rest of her body. This also restricts her breathing. She agrees that she needs to inhibit the urge to shrink away from situations, to stay with whatever is going on both physically and emotionally and see what happens. Continuing to breathe is important here too. She will notice that the urge to pull back probably coincides with a change in the breathing. With this awareness, she can make a conscious choice as to how to proceed.

In all of these cases it will take attention and inhibition to change the habit. It will take conscious thought to catch the familiar response before it happens and not to fall back into the familiar reaction, or to recognize when one has already started that reaction and then make the decision to change course in the middle of the situation.

As you change patterns and enter new unfamiliar territory you will have different sensations that lead to new understandings. Take the time to respond in new ways to familiar stimuli. Allow yourself to pause and inhibit your old patterns of response and behavior.

When I talk with people about stopping a habit, they often get very concerned about what they are “going to do” instead of their normal response. They often feel they have to actively “do” something else. Often the appropriate thing to “do “ is to wait a moment and “not do” anything and see what happens! See what possibilities open up with the new choices.

When we don’t react in our habitual way, the mind and body are allowed to register what is really happening. Then we often find that choices are available that have never before occurred to us.

The bottom line is that to enact changes, something has to be different. In order for something to be different, one has to inhibit one’s response somewhere along the line. One can then have a different experience. Once you identify what needs to change:

· Start paying attention to the moments before you have the response you want to change.

· Direct yourself to stay with your breath and inhibit your normal response.

· See what happens and what options are available to you.

· Choose an appropriate response.

Once you start to play with inhibition, you will become fascinated by how many choices are available to you.

Let me know what happens!

Happy New Year!

Dance and the Alexander Technique Panel Discussion: a report

The panel discussion Dance and the Alexander Technique: Addressing Longevity in a Dancer’s Career, was co-produced by the Balance Arts Center and Movement Research (a part of Movement Research's Studies Project program). It was held at Dance Theater Workshop in NYC on October 15th from 6-8pm. Panel members included June Ekman, Eva Karzag, Shelley Senter, Jennifer Grove, and Katherine Mitchell. Ann Rodiger moderated the conversation.

This event provided clear evidence of how the Alexander Technique works over the long term and how it can affect people’s lives at a very fundamental level.

In preparation for the panel discussion potential questions were circulated among panel members so we would have ideas to contemplate before the conversation and be able to prepare beginning remarks. A few days before the event I started to get worried that we had collected a group of people who were so totally converted to the Alexander Technique way of thinking and that after about 5 minutes of discussion we would fall silent in a collective “Yes, the Alexander Technique is great” and have no where to go from there!

And there was, in fact, an agreement about how great and useful the Alexander Technique is. However, instead of landing on silence, the conversation evolved into something very inspiring and full. There was a shared sense of the power from the process of thoughtful whole mind/body awareness.

It became evident that the Alexander Technique is and has been the basic process, essence, and central core of each of the panelist’s unique dance experience. And the experience of that process had been guiding and informing the choices the panelists have made with technique, teaching, and choreography for a long time.

What emerged is that each person on the panel, all of whom have had quite different experiences of the Alexander Technique, dance training, performance experience, in various geographical locations, had an understanding and shared experience of the movement/energetic flow that is fundamental and underlies all movement we do. Through that understanding they have been able to dance and explore movement for a long time. And they continue to explore dance and movement in creatively satisfying situations.

One might say that if the Alexander Technique helps the dancer dance better and longer, it must really work for those of us who don’t jump around quite so much. It could even be more effective in helping us stay balanced if we aren’t using our body in such a seemingly extreme manner, challenging our balance, going upside down, and hanging out on one leg for so long, as dancers do. The dancer actually puts the Alexander Technique to the test in many ways as they are constantly learning and inventing new movements, movement sequences, and refining their use.

We are all dancers in our own way even if our range of movement and movement vocabulary may be considerably less extensive than that of a professional dancer. Though we don’t spend a huge portion of our lives focusing on sophisticated movement in the way dancers do, we can definitely benefit from the Technique. Thinking of our daily, work, and play movements as movement that can be played with, explored, and improved (no matter what the range of motion) can lead to longevity in everyone’s movement options and life in general!

What that means is that we can each discover a dance of balance and flow of movement/energy, wherever our lives lead us: painting the living room, playing golf, sitting at the computer, or leading meetings, for example. Study of the Alexander Technique gives us freedom and longevity in our activities, so we can fully explore our pursuits.

I also understood from the panelist is that the principles F. M. articulated are so fundamental that they sustain the interest and curiosity of intelligent and thoughtful people dedicated to movement as a profession for many years.

Movement Research posted a podcast and video of the discussion.
Check out the podcast here
Check out a short video excerpt here
Check out Movement Research's website here

The Balance Arts Center will be sponsoring a conference on Dance and the Alexander Technique in New York City in May. Stay tuned!

University of Oregon Commencement Talk


Ann Rodiger was honored to speak at the University of Oregon commencement ceremony for the School of Music and Dance on June 13, 2009, having received a Distinguished Alumni Award. Several colleagues, students, and friends have requested that we post the talk on the Balance Arts Center blog, so here it is!


Thank you and congratulations to the graduates and your families. I am very honored to be invited to speak with you today. It is wonderful to be back on the U. of O. campus and see all of the growth and expansion that has been going on here.

So, what’s next? I’m sure the question is on the table for many of you. Some of you may be clear about your plan of action and some of you may giving yourself some time before you make definite plans.

I would like to use a short article written by FM Alexander entitled “About Golf” as a jumping off point for some thoughts that may be of help to you no matter where you are at the moment. Alexander, who was a movement educator, talks about how, frequently, golfers are told to “keep their eyes on the ball,” and even though they know how important it is to keep their eyes on the ball, they still seem to loose eye contact with the ball at critical moments during a swing. Although none of you will be receiving a degree in golf today, our task is really the same: to keep our eyes on the ball as much as we can.

Our ball, the ball for us as dancers and musicians, takes many forms and comes in many sizes, from the small ball of developing and refining our skills to the much larger ball of our overall purpose.

A small ball, for instance, might be:
1. feeling the weight of the violin bow and then using the right amount of effort to move it across the string
2. working on the initial movement of the foot in a tendu and following through the metatarsals to pointed foot
3. or finding the suspension of your breath before you sing a phrase

A middle sized ball might be:
1. expanding your field of awareness and
2. understand how to connect with the other players in a string quartet or the other dancers in your piece of choreography.

And a very large ball, which is the most important ball, is to keep our overall global purpose in mind and remember what we have to offer as performing artists.

In looking at this largest ball I think we are all very fortunate to have found a profession that we ourselves are passionate about and enjoy participating in. And, we have found a profession that has the direct potential to be uplifting and life changing for many other people. We are involved in providing opportunities for people to step away from their daily lives to gain a different perspective on whatever is happening in their lives at that moment.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This event was comprised of four evenings of opera, sometimes up to six hours each night, within one week. As we, the audience, were taken on a journey through this long tale, I felt myself and saw others around me being washed again and again by the sounds of the orchestra and voices. Everyone around me was moved and touched very deeply by the experience, at all levels - the physical, emotional, intellectual and the spiritual. That is the potential that each of us in the performing arts has to offer to others.

In order to offer this transforming experience to others we have to be clear and honest with ourselves as to our individual focus and motivation. We have to know what our ball is, so we can keep our eyes on it! We need to find out what is important to us as composers, choreographers, performers, and educators, what motivates and inspires us. Where is the juice? What is essential? What is it about operating in the non-verbal, aural and kinesthetic senses that is attractive to us and is so vital?

I invite you to look underneath your immediate response to that question and to explore what is at the core of your personal ball. There is no doubt that there is something underneath your initial response that is a driving force. Steadfastly pursuing this understanding is what is going to lead you to whatever comes next. It will allow you to take what you have learned and experienced here at the University of Oregon and guide you to something very satisfying.

Let’s return to the golfer. The golfer’s aim is to get the ball onto the green and into the hole, ultimately in one stroke. The strong stimulus of this goal can sometimes become a trap, in that the desire to achieve the goal creates habits that limit the choices the golfer makes. Taking his eyes off the ball happens again and again because the golfer doesn’t recognize that there are other choices he or she can make to accomplish the goal. Perhaps he repeats his habitual actions more forcefully and in a more entrenched way as he thinks that is the only way it is going to work. This is what gets the golfer in to trouble. He doesn’t realize that he has to be available to make new choices as he sets up the shot, addresses the ball and takes the swing, choices that might even feel wrong or unfamiliar or unknown.

This same principle applies to us. We need to allow ourselves to be flexible, creative, and open to new approaches, to our desires and aspirations. Alexander is asking us to suspend for a moment our knee jerk responses to what we want to do. Stop the automatic pilot. In other words, don’t just whack the ball. Pause and take a moment to notice what you are about to do and see your various choices and possibilities.

I didn’t know what the Alexander Technique was, or even that it existed, when I left the University of Oregon, and I had no idea I would be practicing it now in New York City. By following what I love to do and sticking with that, I found my way to a profession that incorporates all the things that I find to be juicy: movement and dance, sound, vibration, the “ah ha” moment of understanding, discovery, and expansion. I now work with dancers, singers, musicians as well as others, including golfers, with their awareness in action. I work with their whole being to refine their thinking and movement coordination so they can best express themselves and accomplish their goals with more ease, balance, and fluidity.

In closing, let’s look again at what we offer as performing artists: our largest ball.

We create the space and time for people to learn, grow and connect with themselves at the deepest levels, to understand at that unspoken essential, vibrational place where we all connect as a whole. As we stay in touch with and hold that field of awareness, we create situations where others can find that flow and experience the field it creates for them. This is the field of possibility and creativity, and the field where one can experience his or her essential being-ness. This awareness is invaluable. You have a wonderful stance from which to start and the skills to make a difference in your own life and the lives of many others.

Keep going. Keep learning, keep practicing and going to class. Keep reflecting, recommitting, and reconnecting with the essence of what you do and what you want to achieve. Keep your eyes on the ball as you take you next swing, and remember your purpose for doing so, as that will sustain you through whatever comes your way.

Anticipation and Preparation


One of my students is recovering from an injury to her big toe that she sustained while dancing nearly 14 years ago. She had surgery and Physical Therapy and is still recovering in that she struggles to use the right and left sides of her body evenly while she moves. She is very aware of her body and senses that when she is working unevenly she has more tension in her body, that she isn’t able to think as clearly as she is otherwise able, and her entire mental/emotional state is affected by the imbalance.

Her big discovery in our lessons together came when she realized that much of the tension she has in her body is created in response to the anticipation of knee pain that sometime occurs. She tenses her body before moving because she is trying to “do something” to prevent the potential experience of pain. In other words, she makes a sudden contraction just before moving that prevents her from her easiest and most balanced movement. If left unresolved, this contraction accumulates into a more permanent state of tension in and throughout the body. Her compensations are now affecting her jaw by creating tension more on one side than the other.

When she was able to stop the moment of contraction she could feel her weight on the floor through the injured foot more clearly and she could direct her whole body, head-neck-back more easily. The knee pain that was caused by avoiding movement in the toe is eliminated.

This act or moment of anticipation and preparation was also clear with another student as he played the piano. His piano teacher has been talking to him for a while about letting his forearm soften and be freer while he plays. It turns out he has the same pattern. Just before he strikes the key he tightens his forearm and hands breaking the flow of energy and movement into the keys. When he stopped the tightening preparation the sound he was making changed immediately. His fingers were more articulate and he could feel his weight on the piano bench.

We often think we need to “do” something extra or use more force to “make” a movement occur. Certainly some movements and activities take more force than other activities. When we don’t anticipate what is needed we allow ourselves to accommodate to the needs of the action rather than decide beforehand what might be needed.

Eiko Kanamoto, who trained in the Alexander Technique here at the Balance Arts Center and now teaches in Tokyo) used to talk about this as going from neutral into an action; “neutral” meaning the state of being when your “motor” is already running with an easy flow of directions. This allows you to move from one action to another, or one gesture to another, speeding up or slowing down without turning off your engine in between (in other words not collapsing or tightening between movements). Starting a movement from an already free and directed flow of movement allows one to continue directing smoothly through to the next activity. This way you can pick up the necessary speed and effort along the way WITHOUT jumping into the next gear before the action happens. You might end up in 4th gear if you are lifting a cement block for instance (we practice this in the training class) and you arrive there “as needed” in responses to the weight of the block.

The moment of tightening before we do an action can go by really quickly if we aren’t paying close attention. It goes by even more quickly if we have jumped ahead to the end of the activity (Alexander calls this end-gaining) in our minds and bypass the process of how we are getting there.

Look at the cement block in the photo with this blog entry.
• Imagine yourself picking it up.
• Notice what your body does even as you imagine the activity.
• Now imagine picking up the block and staying in “neutral” as long as possible.

Notice how little force and preparation you can use when doing the following activities. Notice if you are anticipating the action and see if you can bypass that moment of doing something extra.

• As you strike the computer keys.
• As you begin to get out of a chair.
• As you start to say something to someone.
• As you put your foot on the gas pedal.
• As you lift a bag of groceries.

Habits, Habits, Habits




One student recently described her learning process as having to trust thinking and moving in ways that seem to be “counter intuitive.” In leaving her normal way of doing the task to do it in a new way, she described it as feeling “quite odd” or “just wrong” even though it was so much easier to do. She was working on finding the movement of her air to support her singing voice. It was very obvious to both of us that her sound was much freer and stronger when she vocalized in the less familiar way.

Her statement led to a discussion about how her singing was markedly easier and was clearly better coordinated and “right” when she chose this new way of working. Even so, it was unfamiliar and the pull of the familiar was SO strong that she had to pay very close attention to avoid going down that road again and again- continuing to choose the less coordinated and harder way to sing.

It might seem that once one has had the experience of how easy something can be and how obvious it is that the old way isn’t really working he/she would be able to immediately change course and follow the new pathway. It would be so nice if changing habits was as simple as having a new understanding of how to do something. In fact, it requires both a new understanding and practice in applying this new understanding until we break from the persistence of the habit. In practice we have to keep on top of our actions and monitor what we are doing to bring them in to what F.M. called “conscious control.”

Another student recently said, “I’m not telling it to do that.” in reference to how he was folding (or not) his hip joints as he sat on the chair. Right – he wasn’t consciously telling his hips not to bend but at some point (conscious or not) he adopted this habit. Then, again probably without awareness, he went on to automatic pilot and has done it in a similar manner for years.

The real answer is yes, we ARE “telling it to do that” at some level that is probably deeply buried in our habitual patterning. And if we want to change we need to create a situation where the older, less efficient habit has a chance to change.

Another student remarked that it seemed funny to tell his knees to bend – he felt as if they were remote objects out there somewhere that should already know what to do. Same thing. His habits are running his movement, and, in this case, jamming his legs up into his torso causing some lower back pain. At some point he learned, possibly through imitation, injury recovery, stress or trauma response, or some other reason, to move in this way. And in reality, his knees are not so remote. They are part of him, and he can have conscious control over how they move.

Much of the work in the Alexander Technique is bringing those habits that are often unconscious to the surface of our awareness so that we can consciously direct ourselves to change them and by doing so, maintain a better use of ourselves.

It is not necessarily important to know how we arrived at our own unique constellation of habitual movements. What is important is that we realize we can do something about them and they don’t have as much of a grip on us as we think they do. They don’t have to run the show.

One might ask if it is worth spending the mental energy on directing themselves and changing their habits. Yes of course it is.

In all of the cases above the unconscious habits are directly affecting their movement performance and quality of life. They are subtly and not so subtly determining the freedom of movement and thought.

In the first case of the singer, her vocal performance and thus her career hinges on this information.

In the second case of the new hips, the student has a whole new relationship to the ground and it has given him at least another inch in his back, frees up his neck, and literally gives him a new perspective on things (from that higher view).

In the third case of the remote knees, his whole gait changed and his back immediately started feeling better once he bent is knees. That nagging back pain stopped taking up his mental space so he could be more present with whatever task was at hand.

What a relief!

It is important not to judge ourselves as we uncover some of these habits that have been dragging us around. Students have said things like, “I’m doing THAT?” or “What am I doing that for?” or “Why do I think that (the old habit) is easier?” and so on. It is not necessary to know why we developed a certain habit. What is important is to move forward with a new awareness and willingness to change for the better. The contrast between the new and old patterns will sometimes uncover the cause of the previous pattern if it is important in the context of the new.

Take an activity that you do every day probably many times a day like sitting down. Focus on the following things and see if it becomes easier:

• There is no need to muscularly pull yourself down into the chair.
• Lengthen out your body before you sit down.
• Send your head out over your knees as you sit down, letting your whole torso follow your head.
• Make sure your hips, knees, AND ankles are all bending (all 6 joints) while you sit.

Neck Free


NECK FREE

During my recent trip to teach in Berlin, I realized again while working with a group of singers, that many of us think we need to hold our head on to our body. This is not to say that German singers or those living in Germany have a particular habit unique to themselves. It sounds odd to say this, as the head is obviously attached to the spine and body, but it does seem to be the case that many of us are subtly holding our head on to our body. This literally holds us down by pinching the cranial nerves (to the eyes, ears, face etc.) as well as restricting our breathing and adding weight to and compressing our entire structure. And, in the case of the singers I was working with in Berlin, it compressed their sound as well.

It also seems that when people think of keeping their neck free they mainly think of the back of their neck, the part that can be touched and seen, and they forget to keep the front of the neck and spine free up in front of the ears and behind the nose at the back of the oral cavity. Remembering the three dimensional spine and neck helps keep the natural curve in the spine and neck that are necessary for cushioning, shock absorption, and overall mobility of the body.

The first of the classical Alexander Technique directions is to keep the “neck free” which lets the head go and releases any holding of the head on the spine. It also lets go of any urge to “fix” or “position” or “hold” or “clamp” the head on the neck. Once the neck is free, we can direct the head up and slightly forward off the spine and the whole body can easily follow.

This discussion was particularly critical for the singers I worked with in Berlin. When they understood that keeping the neck free included the front part of the neck up inside the body, their sound instantly changed. It allowed their air stream to come up behind the tongue and gave a sense of the air coming up behind their eyes. Their sound was clearer, more focused, and less forced. Their whole head was vibrating and participating in the sound production.

Keeping the neck free and taking the pressure off the body is critical for all of us, even if we are not singing. It can change our speaking voice and also opens the connection between the head and the rest of the body, allowing for better oxygen and blood flow and less restriction and pressure on the nerves. It allows for more range of movement in the neck and for more possibilities of experiencing the body as a whole organism responding to gravity.

Experiment with the direction of “allowing your neck to be free” and see what happens. Give yourself the direction and then after you have your first response repeat the direction so you let go more and more and more. Notice that when your neck is free you will sense the ground underneath you more clearly. And the ability to give a gentle upward direction of the head comes very easily and is a natural response to letting the neck go.

• What image comes to mind when you think of your neck?
• What have you been considering your neck to be?
• What have you been thinking when you give yourself the direction to allow your neck to be free?
• Are you remembering that your spine and neck come up behind your jaw?
• What happened when you think of keeping your throat free?
• How does your tongue fit in to this thinking?

Where is Your Focus?


Where is Your Focus?

Last week during the floor class we indulged in a long, tangential discussion that is now changing the way we all work during the class. We begin each floor class by establishing a free neck, tongue, jaw, eyes, a lengthened back, and free breathing while lying on our backs. Knees are up with feet flat on the floor, as in a traditional Alexander Technique “lie down.” Our detour came at the beginning of class with one of the first movements of bringing a knee up to the chest. A student’s question led to a wonderful, revealing discussion.

The question was, “what am I supposed think about, what part of the body should I focus on, while I move my knee?”

It became clear that focusing only on the knee coming up to the chest disturbed the rest of the student’s body and disrupted his head-neck freedom along with the length and width of his back that had just been established. His neck tightened, breathing stopped, lower back arched, and his leg was heavy.

When his focus stayed mainly on freeing his head and neck along with maintaining the length and width of his back, his knee came up much more easily. The knee came up in relation to the active direction and alignment of the back and torso and was not the primary focus of movement even though it was the part moving through space. It took practice for him to move his knee while continuing to give attention to the parts of his body that “weren’t moving.” Likewise, it took practice to keep the active direction in the whole body and not do the opposite of what he was doing by pushing his lower back into the floor, which would also lead to tightening his neck and holding his breath.

As the focus of the movement became clearer, the movement became easier, and there was no sudden moment of “umph” or muscle contraction when the movement started. The movement of the knee and leg came from the ongoing flow of energy moving throughout the whole body.

This tangent revealed something we often do while moving:
We become enticed by the body part that is moving through space, and we lose track of what is happening to the rest of our bodies. This happens often and in many situations.

This “tangent” actually came at the perfect moment, because as we talked, the reason we start class on our backs and why we establish the head, neck, and back relationship (Alexander’s Primary Control) before we do anything else became clearer and clearer. And it was clear why we do seemingly simple movements at first: We do them so we can learn how to maintain the Primary Control while moving.

The discussion turned to how easy it can be to focus only on the moving part and how that can throw us off balance in almost any situation, causing us to lose the support for the entire movement. This applies to dancers moving their legs, squash and golf players swinging the racket or club, as well as to simple movements like bringing a fork or spoon to one’s mouth.

Practice:
Try it yourself while you climb the stairs: When you lift your leg up for the next step, keep your neck free, torso long and wide, and let the leg move in relation to the rest of your of your body. Allow the leg to come up to the next step while you keep your main focus on keeping your head over your supporting foot. This will keep you supported while transferring your weight up on to the higher level.

Play with how you use your attention. You have many choices. Notice which choices make the movement easier and effortless.

The Real Instrument

Marie Bessesen

Instrument n. 1 tool or implement, esp. for delicate or scientific work. 2 device for producing musical sounds. 3a thing used in performing an action. b person made use of. ………

Vehicle n. 1 conveyance for transporting people, goods, etc., esp. on land. 2 medium for thought, feeling, or action. 3 liquid, etc., as a medium for suspending pigments, drugs, etc.


While I was working with a student as she played the clarinet her sound kept getting clearer and more resonant. Seemingly small adjustments to her head and neck made a significant difference in how she was playing, which, in turn made a difference in the sound she was producing. Suddenly she stopped playing, pointed a finger at herself and said with certainty, “I am the real instrument.”

“YES” I said, “That is it!”

That is the crux of the Alexander Technique – realizing that how we move and use ourselves, and how we think about how we move, makes all the difference in the outcome of what we are doing. We are the instrument or vehicle for any thought we have and any action we perform.

Sometimes people talk about Alexander’s main discovery as being that of primary control (head, neck, and back relationship and direction), and I agree that it is very important. I think however, the most important discovery he made was prior to that specific discovery when he realized that he was causing his vocal problems by what he was doing and that he could actually change himself by paying attention to how he was moving and reacting to a stimulus. He didn’t say “oh, that is just how I am” or “things can’t change.” He took the time and initiative to figure out how his participating in the process made a difference. He realized he was the true instrument and he set about figuring out how to “play” his own instrument in the best way possible. That realization led him to his discovery the primary control.

Having an external measure, such as the quality of sound while playing a musical instrument, gives immediate feedback about how we are using ourselves. It is a lesson to all of us about how our own use makes a difference in what we do. And although many of us aren’t playing such an obvious external instrument, we ARE in a sense “playing” whatever we do. We are interacting with our environment and there are outcomes and consequences to HOW we do that.

You can use his own voice for example as your musical instrument.

Try an experiment with your own voice to see how this all works. The next time you speak to someone, think about the fact that you are creating those sounds and vibrations with your body. This may seem obvious but many of us haven’t stopped to think how we are producing the sound and how we might do it “play ourselves” better. We do what is familiar and what kinesthetically “feels” like “our voice” and unless we lose our voice or get a sore throat, we generally go on automatic pilot and just talk. Notice what happens when you give a thought to the following:
• Leave your neck easy when you talk. Include your three-dimensional neck and the part of your neck up behind your jaw.
• Make sure the air is moving out while you speak-- This doesn’t mean make a breathy sound. It means make sure your air is vibrating your vocal cords rather than making the sound by muscularly pinching your cords.
• Leave your tongue alone. Obviously it is necessary to use your tongue while forming consonants and vowels. Otherwise make sure it is not pushing down in your mouth or on your jaw. This will allow the air to move more easily up and over your tongue on the way out and you won’t be pressing down on your vocal folds.


The invitation of the Alexander Technique is really then to explore how we go about things and how, when we refine our instrument and thus refine our interactions with our environment, we “play” our entire instrument- the full mind-body. The challenge is to learn how to play yourself in the best, most efficient, most effective, useful manner to serve your chosen actions. (Yes, the AT will help a bank robber be a better bank robber – the choice of what you do with it is up to you; that is another discussion.)

As you start to play your own instrument you will experience how amazingly subtle we can be with our awareness and how amazing it is that what we perceive as such a small change or shift in how we do an activity can make such a large difference in the outcome (like what was happening with the clarinet player). This is totally fascinating and can open up a whole world of awareness and perception that is enormously satisfying and useful.

And then a most fascinating thing often occurs. The act and process of playing, continuing the discovery process and refining the means of doing an activity, becomes the goal. The outcome will occur and improve, but the juice, the rasa (essence), is in the flow of the action and activity rather than just the accomplishment.

Handwriting

Pen and Paper

Surprise, surprise, some people are still writing long hand. The topic of handwriting seems to be in the air as I just heard a piece on writing on NPR today! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100980086. And, a student came in yesterday wanting to work on just that. Her goal is to write long hand for as long as she would like (often many hours) pain-free. (She is in the middle of a dissertation that will become a book – deadlines are looming). She writes everything out on paper before entering it in to the computer (writing at a computer is a topic for another time) and does all her edits long hand too. Although this is probably much more time with pen and paper than most of us are spending, it is still worth considering and discussing.

Writers who still handwrite find that it provides a different sense of time in the writing process that allows for different ways of thinking, perhaps providing more time for contemplation than writing at the computer. I imagine there will always be people who handwrite and that manner of writing will always be around.

Here are a few ideas to consider while handwriting even if you just jot down a few notes to yourself on a napkin or on the back of an envelope.

Most of us operate in a set, habitual comfort zone of force and pressure while we do an activity. We have developed a “feeling” or “sense” of what it is to do something and we routinely carry out tasks in that familiar way. However, because we use that familiar amount of force doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the appropriate amount of force needed to do the task. We often end up (unknowingly) setting ourselves up to use excessive force to accomplish simple tasks, even tasks as simple as handwriting.

The next time you pick up a pen check to see how you are picking it up.
• Are you aware of the weight of the pen?
• Are you using more of your arm/hand more than necessary? For example, is your shoulder involved in picking up a pen? Did your wrist tighten?
• What happened with your elbow? Did it bend?

When you start to write, what amount of force are you using to move the pen across the paper? Make sure you have a pen that has the potential to move easily across the page. (My dad reminded me that while using a fountain pen if you used pressure on the tip the ink would come out too quickly so you had to regulate the amount of force used. This was before the invention of the ballpoint pen that allows for much more pressure).
• Are you pushing down into the paper with pressure to form the words?
• Is your hand tightening while you write across the paper?
• What is happening with your mouth and jaw?

Do an experiment. See what happens when you:
• Use only the amount of force necessary to hold the pen. This is most likely less than you are using now.
• Hold the pen with your fingertips.
• Move the pen with just your fingertips without tightening your shoulder, wrist and elbow.
• Keep space in your palm. Sometimes it helps to put a small ping pong ball inside your palm while you write so you can’t squeeze your palm.


• Continue to be aware of the width across your back to your other arm, elbow, wrist, and hand while you write.

Also stay back from the paper. Make sure you sense the spatial distance from the page back up to your head and eyes. That will help you keep you from leaning in to the paper so that your neck, shoulders, and back can be easy and support your arms while you are writing.

I remember when I first started taking Alexander Technique lessons. I would write something down and I couldn’t remember if I had written it down or not. For me, the memory of writing something down was so associated with the amount of force I was using, and the action didn’t seem to imprint on my brain unless I used that same amount of force. In this instance, the connection between the mind and body was SO clear to me. Once I realized what was going on I could work with it. I could continue to use less and less force with the goal of not having any “set” amount of force needed but to accommodate to the needs of the particular pen and paper I had a the time.

Extra tip: let the light and words from the page come toward your eyes. Leave your eyes easy and remember the understanding of the words takes place in the visual cortex of your brain at the back of your skull rather than with your eyes – they just receive the light.

Going Up Stairs


Last week when I heard on the news that it was the day for the Empire State Building Race I immediately emailed my student Ben Oliner to see if he was participating in the 86 flight race as he did last year. A few minutes later I received an email that he had won the race for amateurs. (Who knew there are professional stair climbers.) Ben is a professional squash player so is in exceptionally good shape physically. In any case, racing up 86 flights of stairs is no small feat. Go Ben!

Ben and I agreed that his work with the Alexander Technique helps him with both squash and the stairs. He literally flew up the stairs taking several stair steps at one time keeping his focus on going up up up – following the lead of his head.

Although most of us go up the stairs one step at a time, the same head leading- body following principle that worked for Ben will work for us non-racers. The head leading and the body following is one of the main principles of the Alexander Technique.
This is the same principle that applies to a fish as it swims or a baby as it crawls. The whole body organizes itself around the eyes and the head.

Try this while you are going up any sort of step; a curb, subway steps, stairs in your house, or 86 floors in the Empire State Building.

The key is to take a moment to notice what you are doing and to think about what you are doing BEFORE you take your step. Notice what you are doing with your head and neck. If you are preparing to take the step by tightening in any way or shrinking in stature, chances are that you are going to feel heavy and you will have to push with your legs to get you up the stairs. (Obviously your legs and whole body are muscularly engaging in some way – but there is a difference between pushing with your legs to go upstairs and letting your legs carry your torso from one step to the next). If you are shortening yourself, you are effectively pushing yourself down into the ground and making yourself heavier. Then you are trying to go up the stairs with a heavier body and are pushing up against a downward pressure that you are creating. It doesn’t really make any logical sense to do such a thing, but that is exactly what most of us do when we go up even one step.

Try using yourself as an experiment and see what happens when you keep yourself free and easy in the neck, gently send your head up, and let your body follow your head up the step. Allow yourself to move in a new way and see what happens. This really works.

You may not fly up the stairs like Ben did but it WILL be easier. Perhaps one of you will give him some competition next year!

One more thought: Make sure your tongue is also easy and free and not pushing down along with your head and neck.