I’m doing it again!The mere thought of writing to you has resulted in my habitual ‘work-mode’ use, that of over-arching the spine as I type. But here’s the good news. A wisp of noticing the habit means the habit stops. I don’t even have to try and fix it. Just noticing is enough.
And what willthe topic be today, now that I have tended to my use? Foremost on my mind are political news stories, which I have been following with the avidity of a reality TV show fan. If I found myself in Washington, D.C., working in the midst of its chaos, could I take good care of myself while participating in the carnival that swirls around our highest-elected official? I’m guessing not. Which brings me to a discussion of the limits of the Alexander Technique. If the Technique is to be an enhancement of health and well-being, its benefits are tied directly to many of our other daily choices.
Rest, nourishment, engagement with others and community, exercise, to name a few, contribute to wellness and health. I can ‘Think Up’ all I want, take AT lessons, lengthen and widen to my heart’s content, but if I am not rested or nourished, all is for nought. Balance of body must be paired with balance in daily life schedules and routines. And with my recent news watching binge, balance is no where to be found.
Of the manyways to spend a summer day, I have convinced myself there will be no further news. It’s a rainy day out there, and I intend to be in the world of here and now, umbrella and all. The storms have passed, and what is left is a light and misty rain, perfect for a stroll through the ravine. Helsinki and its aftermath exist with or without me, which is not to say I have no obligation to respond as a concerned citizen. It does mean I can choose to relinquish my vigilance to the news feed, and take my Self for a walk.
Cicadas saw away on a hot afternoon, the rich scent of cornfields waft over the hill meadow, swallowtails flit, fawns cavort. Cone flowers bloom and honeybees visit. A breeze blows through the open window. An evening with friends, ramekins of lemon custard garnished with mint and fruit, convivial toasts, and returning home to a good book and a quiet night.
Let summer delights take you into length and width. Beauty is a portal into fuller presence, right in the place we find ourselves at any ‘given moment.’ Yes, the moments are gifts and we have only to receive them.
Glenna Batson, faculty member at the 2017 Myrtle Beach Alexander Technique Workshop, encouraged participants to pose questions in place of stating absolutes. As an example, she defined the Technique with the question, ‘How do cognition and the senses become one?’
Questionsshe asks herself in the course of a day: ‘Am I moving towards pleasure or pain?’ ‘What am I doing that’s excessive?’ ‘Who am I blaming for my current condition?’
This asking of questions is a relief from the futile attempt to have all the answers. Asking, instead of stating, allows for ease in my thinking, which then allows for ease in my physical structure as well. We cannot separate the two, mind and body, thought and structure. One of my most-used one-liners when teaching is, ‘As we think, so we move.’ And when we lighten up on our insistence for absolutes, and opt for questioning, mind and body benefit.
Inquiry is at the heart of the Technique, and the asking of questions invites curiosity and playfulness. May your day include a question or two about your Self, that glorious integration of mind and body. And as you inquire, may you be light of heart—
Author John O’Donohue, in his book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, has poetically described downward pull, and I’m guessing he didn’t even know it! Mr. Alexander observed that many of us habitually have our heads down and forward of the spine, which compromises head/spine balance. A feeling of heaviness and increased fatigue are often signs that we are engaged in downward pull. When head and spine are happily in optimal relationship with each other, we experience instead a feeling of lightness, along with a quiet and sustained liveliness.
O’Donohue goes on to offer remedies for weariness (and downward pull): ‘take refuge in your senses, open up to all the small miracles you rushed through.’ Cultivating our kinesthetic sense awareness is one of the principal practices of the Alexander Technique. We notice our feet on the floor, the contact of sit bones with chair; we invite the lengthening of our spine as the morning coffee is sipped.
He offers another antidote for weariness and its partner, downward pull: ‘Learn to linger around someone of ease, who feels they have all the time in the world.’ We find an Alexander Technique teacher who can model for us a different way of responding to the never-ending stimuli of daily life. And we linger. What a lovely word.
O’Donohue ends his blessing with this kind admonition: ‘Be excessively gentle with yourself.’ I shall. Whenever I think to, and wherever I find myself, which this morning, was at a new neighborhood bakery, Flowers&Bread.
(With thanks to Sharon Stohrer, who gave me O’Donohue’s book. It’s a treasure, and so is Sharon!)
Nephew Evan is graduating high school today. And it is also the day the baby wrens took flight on the hill!
The baby wren, its outsized feet clutching the perfect circle of the bird box opening, lengthens out to look up, down, and all around. ‘Wow. Just wow. There’s a world out here.’ And still those talons hang on to his known universe; the fusty nest of his hatching, complete with bright white fecal sacs.
One of his parents is latched onto the side of the bird box, a novel approach. Typically, they fly directly in, a marvel of precision and speed, bringing the next feeding. But now, as Mike and I watch from our perch inside the cabin, the parent seemingly cajoles the baby into emerging just a bit more. There is a tease of a food offering, but no, the parent flies away, making cries of encouragement.
With a call of surprise? celebration? wonder? the baby bursts out of the box in a flash and makes his inaugural flight into a nearby oak. Cheers all around! And there’s another one! This baby is smaller, but bolder, and quickly takes flight, landing in the meadow grasses. The wrens have fledged! So has the nephew. Congratulations, Evan.
The grand world awaits. Stretch those wings and fly—-
True confession time. I am a teacher of the Alexander Technique, and I have poor use of Self at the office computer. Pulling down the longer I type and read and scroll, I catch myself correcting with what I call ‘The Puff’— jutting out the chest, resulting in an over-arch of the spine. It’s an archaic understanding of what it means to be upright, a hold-over from my pre-Alexander days of life in a body.
In addition,my feet invariably will cross at the ankles and my legs draw back under the chair, applying excess pressure to the toes in contact with the floor. Unaware of this for a length of time, and, voila! Toe cramps.
As a long-time Alexander Technique student, and now teacher, I have not been ‘fixed.’ The AT study and teacher-training merely (and profoundly) provided me with the ‘means-whereby’ to coordinate mind and body in service of ease and poise. And this is an essential distinction for anyone interested in the Technique. We do not study to perfect ourselves, we study and practice to give our selves choices and options.
Quick fix?Nope. Useful tools for the business of being in a body? Yes.
‘There is no away.’This statement was in reference to the plastic trash in earth’s oceans, and the capacity of a single plastic water bottle to travel the world on ocean currents. An oceanographer made the comment in the sobering documentary, A Plastic Ocean.
There is no away. There is only here, where bits of plastic lodge in the bellies of water birds and hasten their deaths. Only here, at the grocery store this morning, despairing of finding buttermilk in a non-plastic container. Here, in the Heartland, where my consumer choices affect water health.
Our precious planet is 71% water. Our bodies are up to 60% water; the brain and heart 73% water. There is no away. Only us in our water bodies in a water world. We strive to keep our arteries unclogged for good health; why not extend our self-care to the waterways of lakes, rivers, and oceans? We study the Alexander Technique to take better care of ourselves and improve our quality of life; why not study and act on what will bring well-being to the water world beyond our individual ones encased in skin?
Yesterday, I walked into a menswear store and purchased a set of socks for my husband’s new suit. (The first wedding of the nieces and nephews is in April!) The clerk quickly and efficiently tossed them into a small plastic bag. ‘Thanks, but no bag please.’ It reminded me of Mr. Alexander’s Inhibition Principle. We merely say ‘No thanks‘ to habit and then observe what happens in place of the habit. The socks fit handily into my purse and off I went. One plastic bag lighter. Just like when I inhibit a body-use habit and find that I feel lighter and freer.
Today, may we, pretty-please, say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to habits that no longer serve us or our planet—