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—
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—
‘There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice ‘the bloom of the present moment’ to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.‘ Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Most of us do not make Thoreau’s choice to sequester ourselves in the woods. As we sit in traffic and arrive home to feed the children, is it possible to delight in a ‘broad margin’ to our lives?
Thoreau arranged his Walden Pond life in such a way that he could stop what he was doing, whether physical labor or mental exertion, and indulge in ‘the bloom of the present moment.’ For parents of young children, not going to happen. For the person commuting two hours each day with a full office day between, I don’t think so.
Perhaps we have opted to acquire a few more possessions than Thoreau, prefer central heating to a wood fire, and have tossed a few kids into the mix. How about a broad margin right in the midst of that life? Let’s find out if it is even possible by allowing the present moment to bloom, whatever that moment holds.
thanks, pixabay. This photo reminds me of fall kayak paddles.
We are at the zoo.Three generations: a two-year old, a 30-something, and a 60-year-old. In rapt attention at the glass enclosure wall, we watch two tiger cubs tumbling over each other in the morning sunshine. The moment shimmers with beauty and our amazement. And then the two-year-old says, ‘But I want to see the apes!’ His mama responds, “Yes, we will, but we are here now, with the tigers.’
What a vignette for an illustration of end-gaining, a term Mr. Alexander used to describe the habit of striving to arrive at the end-goal, get to the next place, satisfy our desires and wishes, complete our task. In attempting to arrive at the ‘end,’ we lose ourselves and the present moment.
This end-gaining habit starts early in life. Of course. We are born with a mind, and a healthy toddler has an active one. And so begins the life-long learning of mind/body integration. My body is here; my mind is there. Now what?
Follow the coaching of this child’s mother, and you will be on your way. Acknowledge that, yes, you would like to be done, you would prefer to be at the next place, you are getting just a little bit ahead of yourself. And then, notice where your body is in that very moment, and return to NOW.
That’s a primary practiceof the Alexander Technique, so useful for the arts, for self-care, for the living of life itself. It also comes in handy at the zoo—
‘Part of my difficultyis that I am always trying to be right. I must stop this trying to be right, for immediately when I try to be right, I do things wrong (i.e., in the old way that feels right). I must cease this trying to be right.’
That’s Goddard Binkley,in The Expanding Self, a memoir of Binkley’s Alexander Technique training. His journal entry continues:
‘Inhibit this tendency(to try and to be right) and I shall then be free to project the guiding orders, that is to direct my neck to be free, and my head to go forward and up. Moreover, if I can inhibit this tendency, which is so overwhelming, to try and be right, I can then allow nature to assert itself.’
Yes. That. What he said. Quit with the trying. That’s all this Alexander Technique teacher has to say. Just stop with trying so hard. Often the trying has produced the physical tensions and misuse, and merely stopping will be enough to restore ease and poise.