Rest

blue-2759824_640Alexander Technique colleague, David Nesmith,  includes the topic of rest in his Denison University AT class. On behalf of my blog readers, I requested his insights into the practice of sleeping well, and he graciously obliged:

I see going to bed as an activity, just as getting up out of a chair, typing on the computer, and chopping vegetables are all activities. We can use ourselves poorly or well in any of them.’ He went on to list the components of rest preparation: kinesthetic awakeness, monitoring primary control, directing varied movements, cooperating with the lengthening and gathering of the spine, and facilitating free exhalations. In combination, these practices, in his words, ‘yield deep rest.‘ He concludes with, ‘It is this deep rest that allows sleep to arrive much more easily.’ His Constructive Rest Sleep Constellations is available on iTunes, and can be found by title or by searching SmartPoise.  Also, check out David’s website.

In the meantime, finding yourself in the day-to-night transition, wiggle your toes. Note where your body is in contact with the bed surface. Give yourself a few prompts:  ‘head resting lightly on pillow,’ ‘long spine,’ ‘arms wide,‘ ‘free breath.’ Revel in your altered relationship to gravity. Following a day of uprightness, being horizontal is restful in and of itself. When sleep eludes me, I remind myself of this fact.

Deep rest to you—

 

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Wren, Again*

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Singers! So much to learn. Start with a wren in song. No better example of full embodiment and whole-body singing exists. The wren serenades were an on-going feature of last week’s visit to the hill. A wren pair were even attempting to build a nest in the front porch rafters, but with little to no overhead space in their chosen spot, project was abandoned.

The cabin is surrounded with young oaks, and their boughs are a favorite song perch for the wrens. Petite creatures that they are, I recommend a pair of binoculars nearby for quick access when the piercingly sweet melody begins. Bring binocs to eyes and follow the sound. With magnification, you will see the wee body lengthen just prior to the tiny beak opening for the first salvo of sound. Take note. That’s precisely what we need to be about in preparation for our singing.

Stay alert, and you will observe the wren’s throat pulse with the trills, its entire body engaged in singing, much like a baby who responds to your voice with arms and legs akimbo and in motion. (3-month-old Vivi visited yesterday with her mother, doing this very thing.)

Life is our teacher each and every moment; availing ourselves of the lessons, our choice.  Let beauty and amazement teach you today—

*Click here for previous Bird Life post.

 

Time Travel

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the very woods

Mike and I, along with my father-in-law Dick, are planting pine seedlings on the hillside. It’s a perfect and sunny day. Dick announces it’s time for a break. We stretch out, the three of us, in the field, Dick’s hands behind his head as he leans back, surveying the countryside.

Time folds in on itself.

I’m walking through pine woods, the ground a soft carpet of pine needles. Rounding the path down the hill to Watercress Gully, a breeze kicks up and ripples the pine boughs to my right, with a sound like gentle ocean waves.

I was there then. The hills were pasture fields. I am here now. It’s a forest. Fully present. Then. Now. Then gives me now. Because of then, there is a now.

Madeleine L’Engle called it A Wrinkle in Time, and as a 10-year-old avid reader, I devoured this fantastical tale. I never imagined experiencing a ‘tesseract in time,’ as L’Engle coined it, but on the beloved hill, time travel did happen, courtesy of two words, ‘fully present.’

On the hill, and nowhere else, planting seedlings. Walking the hill, seedlings towering overhead as full-grown pines, time becomes elastic. Alexander Technique students report this altered sense of time in their lessons, and as a teacher, I have learned to have a timepiece close by because I, too, lose the quotidian sense of time when immersed in the work.

There are many paths through the woods. Find your path to full presence, and be refreshed. The tyranny of time will subside, and aliveness will be yours to savor.

Behold

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Diane Ackerman, in her 2008 book, Dawn Light:  ‘Here only this once and never again, I want to stop ten times a day, stop whatever I’m saying or doing, and behold the human pageant with its uncountable dramas…’

Stop. Behold. And in the pause between, something new can happen, in our bodies and in our minds. That pause, termed Inhibition by Mr. Alexander,  is a primary practice of the Technique. When Ackerman stops, the world expands beyond her words and actions; she includes in her thinking ‘the human pageant.’

Here’s a way to work with The Pause, courtesy of Barbara Conable, from  her book, How to Learn the Alexander Technique:

‘Whenever you notice that you have cut out half your experience by losing awareness either of yourself or of your world, simply open attention to the other half.’ 

Example: Tornado sirens sounded several times around midnight as rain pounded on the roof and lightning lit up the bedroom ceiling.  Our little corner of the world was spared, but nearby, in the Dayton area, tornadoes caused extensive damage in the night. Scrolling for news feeds and watching videos of the aftermath, I finally noted my attention was exclusively on the computer screen and entirely with the anguish of those being interviewed. Hmm. ‘Open attention to the other half,’ Barbara advises. In this example, the ‘other half’ is me. Sit bones contacting chair seat. Right foot crossed over left. Cork floor in contact with sole of left foot. Returned to myself while also taking in the dramatic reports of the storms.

Your turn! It goes both ways. Ackerman opened her attention to the world, and I needed to open mine to myself. Ten times a day is her wish, but I’d be happy for you and me to stop and behold just once or twice today. Be safe, heed those sirens, and practice The Pause–

 

 

 

Articulate

skull-778073_640Sidi Hessel’s 1978 book, The Articulate Body, was a serendipitous find at yesterday’s library book sale. For $1.00, a treasure came home with me, and its first section, ‘Articulations,’ is precisely what was needed to supplement content for this fall’s Alexander Technique class. Where are the joints, how do they work, and how can we restore their full mobility? Questions for me and the students to explore.

And the first stop on that journey? Finding head on spine and moving from this primary joint. The head leads and the body follows, or, as Barbara Conable specified in How to Learn the Alexander Technique, ‘the head leads and the spine follows in sequence.‘ Watch a cat get up from lying down. You will most certainly see a demonstration of head leading, what Mr. Alexander termed Primary Control or primary movement. And with ease at the joints comes vital expression of body and self.

Hessel sought to convey this dual understanding of jointed-ness with her use of the word ‘articulate,’ as ‘having to do with being jointed,’ and also, ‘skillful, fluent self-expression.’ We only move at joints. The articulate body is a physical structure able to move easily and fluently and expressively. Here’s to articulation!

Constructive Use

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UN-constructive use—

Poise and Presence is three years old. With the exception of a hiatus in 2018, weekly posts have been the norm.  Readers appreciate knowing there will be a little something from Poise and Presence on a regular basis, and the routine of getting a post ready each week provides me with an on-going opportunity to practice Constructive Use. Three Alexander Technique principles are required: Awareness, Inhibition, Direction.

First, I cultivate an awareness of my physical self, a kinesthetic sense of what it is like at any given moment to be living in a body. Secondly, having noted I am more than a mind, I practice Inhibition, which requires me to pause, observe a habit of use, and see what might emerge if I just quit doing what I habitually do to write a post, (i.e.—pull legs back and under the chair, applying undue pressure to my toe joints, contract my arms in toward my torso, thereby reducing my width and diminishing breathing capacity.)

Having activated my kinesthetic sense, pausing/stopping to note a habit of use, I can then give my Self what Mr. Alexander termed Directions. His: ‘I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’ Mine: ‘long spine,’ or ‘length and width.’

This is Constructive Use of the Self, a way of thinking in activity which benefits our well-being. And when you find yourself with a few unscheduled minutes, I recommend Constructive Rest. It’s the practice of resting thoughtfully, altering our relationship to gravity by lying down in semi-supine, lengthening and widening.

Constructive Use AND Constructive Rest are essential components of an Alexander Technique practice. Take your pick!

Cold Coffee

 

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Not to be confused with iced coffee. That beverage is on purpose. Cold coffee is not. Looking up from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, I see my cuppa, sitting forlornly on the end table, cold yet again, having been warmed up not once, but twice. ‘Words will do that,’ I say to myself, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s words in particular. Love this quirky memoir. 

Published 14 years ago, it’s one of those titles that came to my attention when first out, and then got lost in the shuffle of too-much-too-many. Books that is. But the book found me, as books often do. I have learned to rely on this mysterious phenomenon,  knowing that an oh-so-special book will appear when needed.

And then this: padding around the studio, returning chairs to their places, picking up anatomy tomes from the floor, tidying up after last evening’s Alexander Technique student, I linger at the poetry shelf, pulling out Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems, opening randomly to:

Like a mad red brain 

the involute rhubarb leaf 

thinks its way up 

through loam.’

A fitting conclusion to an Alexander Technique lesson, yes? Plants are ‘thinking their way up’ all over the place right now, inspiration for us to do the same.

Wishing for you good words in a good book, good enough to cause your coffee to go cold—