Dr. Seuss

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You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’

Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss, 1992.

Morehouse was crowded the day after Christmas. So many people living with cancer, which is who the ten floors of the facility are dedicated to serving. My name is called and I settle into the registration seat. The clerk has photos of her two young grandsons displayed on the cubicle wall, along with a scrap of paper containing the Dr. Seuss quote above. Unexpectedly, while just going through the motions of my annual thyroid cancer check-up, I am delighted to find, in Dr. Seuss lingo, a breezy summary of the Alexander Technique.

I’m considering adopting it as my response at the next dinner party when asked, ‘What is the Alexander Technique?’ As we begin 2020, I wish for you a year of living well with life’s many questions, and the happiness of occasionally discovering good answers—-

 

Kinesphere

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She has eyes in the back of her head.’

Have yourself a walk-about, and travel as if you did indeed have eyes in the back of your head. Notice what this thinking does for your inclusive awareness. Cultivation of one’s kinesphere* is integral to utilizing the Alexander Technique, and OSU’s AT class recently did so with a practice I call ‘Find Your Six.’

Include the six directions in your thinking as you move through the day: Below, Above, Beside, Beside, Before, Behind. Or, you could call the six directions: Earth, Sky, East, West, North, South.

*kinesphere: the sphere around the body easily reached while standing, and that moves with the person’s trace-form in space, (trace-form being the spatial consequences of our movement), as defined by movement theorist, Rudolf Laban.

Poise

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Poise  (pwäz), n.   v., poised, poising.   —n 1. a state of balance or equilibrium, as from equality or equal distribution of weight; equipoise.   2. dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession.

This one word delights, as it simultaneously addresses both body and mind. From The Use of the Self, Mr. Alexander writes:

‘I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ as separate parts of the same organism…My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ processes in any form of human activity.’

But how? How do we recover mind/body integration, lost by so many of us?

Observe. Inhibit. Direct. Repeat.

That’s Mr. Alexander’s ‘Technique,’ or, as Bruce Fertman writes in Teaching By Hand, Learning By Heart, ‘inquiry.’

‘The Alexander Technique is an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more integration we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.’

Here’s to recovering poise with body/mind integration—–

 

 

Inflection

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Recently subjected to the drone of a public speaker’s voice, I had the opportunity to make this observation: a monotone delivery is connected to limited vitality, reduced movement, and restricted awareness. Fluctuations in pitch, vocal resonance, variations of emphasis—all are directly tied to body use.

Which comes first? Monotone voice or constricted body? Giving our attention to ‘which one first’ takes us away from a happy remedy. We can respond to either limitation, in voice or in body, by addressing overall use with some Alexander Technique thinking.

Head leads, body follows.’ Expressiveness invariably increases when the speaker, dancer, actor, or musician tends to this basic AT tenet.  And one marker of improved use is a change in the voice. Eyes sparkle, too! See last week’s post….

Here’s to modulation and movement—-

 

 

Route 66

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This week’s post is a nod to the season’s fine American tradition—-The Summer Road Trip. Think hot macadam, windows down, music on the radio, pulling into a drive-in restaurant to order hamburgers, fries, and shakes, traveling a few more hours, selecting a motel where you can park right in front of your room, IF you don’t see this out front: NO VACANCY.

We long to see a VACANCY sign blazing after a day on the road. But in the motel that is our body, NO VACANCY is what we want. All rooms occupied, i.e.- embodied. That’s us at our best! We study and practice The Alexander Technique for this very reason—-to be fully in residence, present to ourselves and others.

A motel vacancy means empty rooms, unoccupied space. For a road traveler, that’s good news. For a resident of a body, not so much. When teacher-training, one of my Alexander Technique mentors would tease me about my ‘phantom limbs,’ referring to my legs from the knees down. They were there, but absent from my body awareness and only vaguely included in my body map.

A common territory unoccupied by many is the back, not only the back of our torso, but the entirety of our back self: back of legs, back of pelvis, backs of arms, back of neck, back of head. All that is ‘back’ is often disregarded, probably because sight is such a strong sense, and we don’t see our back selves when glancing in a mirror.

Include your back self in a scan of your body, and check to see that all rooms are occupied. NO VACANCY indeed—-

 

 

Under Duress

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Recovery from Monday’s eye surgery has been slow, thanks to a cold virus exacerbating irritated and swollen eyes, and an allergic reaction to antibiotic ointment. The itch so itchy it’s painful? Here’s what I did to get through the week. Alexander Technique students, you know the Procedures

First, observe habitual response. This week’s responses were a minute-by-minute attempt to get away from unpleasant sensations. Eye drops, dabbing and rubbing of eyes, and a good dose of catastrophic thinking—‘This will never end! I’ll be in misery the rest of my days.’

Having observed responses, Pause. Or Inhibit, if you prefer Mr. Alexander’s terminology. How does one pause when hurting? Watch the discomfort with a dispassionate mind. ‘Oh, yes, there’s a streak of pain along the outer rim of left eye.‘ Noted. Mere observation is often enough to restore a bit of ease and comfort, and so it was for me and my eyes.

Continue with Directions. Having acknowledged that all my attention was with one detail of my physical experience, i.e.–unhappy eyes, I chose a prompt, often ‘Whole body, whole world.‘ With inclusive awareness, I noticed the space around my body, the room in which I was writhing, and the garden beyond, where the stargazer lilies were blooming in profusion.

On several occasions, with this practice, I was able to rest deeply and even to fall asleep. And other times my eyes just itched more, and it was on to the eye drops. Keep in mind, Alexander Technique procedures are not about fixing what’s wrong, but doing what we can to integrate mind with body, in service of greater ease and optimal function.

No need to wait for agony. Perhaps there’s a slight crick in your neck from reading this post. Practice the Procedures!

 

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—