‘Cast away the works of darkness and armour yourself in light.’ Or let go your habits that pull you down and direct yourself up and out into the world. When we let go of our habits sometimes we can feel very vulnerable. But instead of armour and fixity, we have responsiveness, direction, movement that will serve us much better.
Be aware of your touch today – who is touching you? And who are you touching? You don’t have to be an Alexander teacher to bring awareness to the very special nature of touch and how vital and life affirming it can be, a reference point for our balance, a physical contact with another human being. Maybe it is a day without human touch. But you are still in touch with things, even perhaps with an animal. Touch affects us.
Whatever or whoever you are touching, being touched by, be aware of it, notice your response to it.
We can use our own brain, our own conscious constructive control to relinquish our habits – to inhibit, to direct, to make different choices, to perceive in the mirror or in filming ourselves what we want to change and observe this process. But o how lovely it is to have a guide! How heart-warming to have a compassionate teacher who will gently place their hands on us and use their nervous system to contact ours, so we can be in rapport and come into the space they are inviting us into.
Coming home. Although our habits feel familiar, sometimes they are blocking a sense of our true self. When we give up our habits, when we let go of trying hard to be right, end-gaining, holding ourselves back and down, and instead allow ourselves to inhabit the space that’s there for us, right here and now, then it can feel like coming home.
Stand in front of a mirror in profile. Look at the top of your head and where it is in space. Balance yourself by finding the support at the back of the foot. Ensure the hip comes back at the same time, and the torso gently pivot slightly forward. What has happened to your height? You may find you have got a little taller. Practice this rebalancing act throughout the day when you find yourself standing still.
As you carry out any activity, imagine it is the first time you have ever done this. Beginner’s mind.
Alexander is a retraining of the brain for effortless movement. Sit in a chair and imagine yourself to be very very heavy. Think of how solid you are, the weight of bone and flesh. Let go entirely so everything is dropping to the ground. Keep this thought going as you stand up, take a walk and return to the chair. Now, think the opposite. Imagine yourself to be light and airy. Think of all the space inside you, that you are filled with helium, and everything is expanding up and out. Stand up and walk with that kind of thinking and return to the chair. Different? The choice is yours.
Be generous with your voice. Direct it so others hear you easily. Whisper an ah three times enjoying the freedom of your jaw to smile and open widely. Sing a note from way down the bottom of your range and slide it up to the top and back. Hum quietly to yourself and imagine the hum radiating from your throat and mouth to the top of your head, filling your head. Keep humming and direct the sound all the way down to your feet. Fill your whole body with your quiet humming.
Laurence Olivier apparently worked out in a gym in 1960’s before it was The thing to do. When asked why he was doing this, he answered ‘Because the body is sovereign to the voice.’
How is your voice today?
Enjoy the unknown territory today. Let go the habit. Find yourself in a beautiful garden to explore with unknown paths, hidden delights, a secret place. Are you exploring in trepidation and excitement? Wonder? ‘I wonder what is going to happen…’ Perhaps next time you pause and walk through the portal the garden will be different again….a new land.
Such deep bliss when we stop trying to get things right.
Is it possible to find a twinkle in your eye, a grin spreading throughout yourself? O the joy in hearing natural joyful laughter amid a grim silent troop of city dwellers trying to get things right, trying to arrive on time! It isn’t always easy if we are feeling sad or cross to genuinely laugh joyfully. Maybe we can manage if we respond to something outside of ourselves. Or maybe we can inhibit the gloomy thought for a huddle of jokes we store up somewhere in our brain for times like this. Or have a quick dance. It might work to encourage those endorphins.
Have a thought of one of your happiest moments. Remember where you were, tune in to the sounds, see the colours of the environment clearly, the temperature, the fragrance of the room or outside place, re-experience that happiness and bring that happy moment, that happiness back to now. Enjoy your day, best you can.
‘Thinking does not require muscular contraction. Unfortunately many of us have taken to contracting muscles as we think. ‘ Cathy Madden from Integrative Alexander Technique for Performing Artists
‘The Alexander Technique is initiated by a wish.’ Cathy Madden from Integrative Alexander Technique for Performing Artists
Doesn’t that sound magical? Bring the magic back to your life: wish your neck to be free so that your head floats freely on top of the spine, in such a way that the back lengthens and widens, and your ankles knees and hips free up.
The head leads and the body follows.
‘Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle ant the life if the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared’ Gautama Siddharta 563-483 BC
When you’ve got lots to do, find the gap between things. Take momentary pauses. Find the space. Then the neck will free and the head rise and the back lengthen and widen and the limbs release.
Is it better to be dwelling in an ugly place and perceive the beauty over there, or be in the beautiful place and perceive the ugliness over there? Perhaps neither. Perhaps be in beauty and perceive beauty all around us.
Each moment is precious and fleeting. We walk along the road and see a lamp-post coming towards us, a tree, some point on our travels, and as we continue to walk, the lamp-post has disappeared, gone and some other piece of street furniture is in our vision, some other horizon. Constantly on the move. Unless we choose to wait for a while, take in the perspective from that point. But the lamppost is no longer part of the vision, we are inhabiting it.
We are a balancing act. A ‘tottering biped’ as someone once said. We are always about to fall over and our system reorganizes us to return fleetingly to some base line. We balance our work life with social life with family life. We balance our minds between the outside world and the inner realm. When we take on the Alexander work as a way of easing back pain or improving our posture, it is not surprising it has life-changing consequences.
‘Stick to principle and it will all open up like a giant cauliflower’ AR Alexander
Holding, fixing, co-contraction, effort, heavy, down, narrowed, inside, serious, hard work, trying hard, reacting….
Freeing, releasing, co-ordinated, easy, light, up, widened, outside, fun, energised, experimenting , responding….
I know which world of experience I prefer.
Don’t narrow your vision today. Keep it wide. Keep your attention out. It will unfix your joints, release co-contraction and make life easier.
When we remember something we often hold ourselves in automatic patterns as we relive a moment or think deeply and go inside. Its as if we abandon ourselves to think, abandon this moment to go back in time. If instead we bring the memory to us in the present moment, we can still consciously take in our surrounds and be responsive. Having deep reverie is fine. I imagine Wordsworth did this on his couch ‘when oft in pensive mood I lie’ as he thought of a crowd of daffodils.
Maybe today we think of armed conflict about the world and its consequences to us and our family. Bring the memory to this moment.
Is inhibition a direction?
How aware are you of what you are doing to your face. Is it frozen, inscrutable, held, is it moveable, expressive, over anxious? Be in your face today! (Haha)
Which habits will you inhibit today? Sitting and standing? Walking?
As a child we learn to walk mostly through crawling. To reorganise your walking you can get a lot of things going by crawling again as an adult. Have a go to day. If your wrists hurt then you can always go up on your fists like a gorilla. If that’s still painful or you have problems with the knees, lie in semi supine and bring both knees up to the chest. Take your left hand to your right knee and your right hand to your left knee. Keeping that contact, move one knee down toward the floor a couple of inches, and as you bring it back, do the same with the other knee and continue this movement for a while. You will be exercising the right – left brain cross over and getting the diagonals working, similar to the crawling work. It releases tension in the upper back too. You can then take the left hand off the right knee and if it was under the other arm place it over the other arm or vice versa, and replace it on the same knee again. Repeat the movement of the knees. This may fox you for a while! Enjoy the feeling of incompetence while it lasts.
We can be sceptical of an explanation, without being sceptical of the phenomenon.
Our feedback system isn’t very efficient on its own. Imagine playing ‘hunt the thimble’ and the participants shout ‘Warm, you’re getting warmer!’ 10 seconds after the searcher was there. Not very fast feedback. We also have a feedforward system to anticipate or guess what might happen according to past experience. A good tennis player is predicting where the tennis ball will land. It’s when these two systems get out of balance so we are constantly in the feedforward place of end gaining without taking in the current feedback, that we get into difficulties. Stay present and use both. Perhaps that is why it seems so slow when we start Alexander? We are starting to take time to receive feedback and slightly inhibiting our feedforward system.
We may not know where we are going, but if we stick to the path we’ll get somewhere. In Greece there is a saying that it is best to follow a mule track rather than a goat track. The latter will take you to the edge of a cliff, the mule track to a taverna. May your Alexander path always lead you to the taverna! Sometimes it feels like we are on a cliff edge as we move into a place of change. However with Alexander we can always choose to step back, to wait. Perhaps to turn back.
Children are not efficient in their walking. We can be though.
No-one knows quite how the Alexander Technique works. There are a lot of myths mixed in with truth. If a voice teacher suggests that someone thinks of the breath ‘sinking into the belly’ and it has the desired effect of creating a bigger intake of breath and relaxing the shoulders for example, then although the breath doesn’t actually do that, and the gas exchange still goes on in the lungs up there in the rib cage, it doesn’t hurt, does it? (Well it may create a strange body map which later could be tricky…) If I say imagine the spine lengthening as you breathe out, it may not actually lengthen but the thought may have ensured that the spine isn’t being unduly shortened.
FM wanted it to be considered a science but perhaps we could think of it as an art. Whatever the scientific truths of AT – and there are some – it seems to produce amazing results anyway.
Remember the head leads and the rest follows. As visual creatures for the most part, maybe it is the eyes that lead and the head follows, and the rest follows. If you place your finger tips flat on the top of the neck at the back and move your eye from left to right you will pick up a response in the neck muscles, readying themselves to turn the head in the direction of the eyes.
Take your spine for a walk today
‘FM used to say that it was important to get to the point where the whole body is informed by thought’ Marjorie Barlow,
from Sean Carey’s Think More, Do Less.
‘The body is always part of the world. I sit on this chair; the chair is on a floor in this building; and the building in turn rests on the mountain of stone that is Manhattan Island Whenever I walk, my body is interrelated with the world in which and on which I take my steps. This presupposes some harmony between body and world. We know from physics that the earth rises infinitesimally to meet my step, as any two bodies attract each other. The balance essential is walking is one that is not soley in my body; it can be understood only as a relationship of my body to the ground on which it stands and walks. The earth is there to meet each foot as it falls, and the rhythm of my walking depends on my faith that the earth will be there.’
Rollo May, The Courage to Create.
So, you have freed your neck, your head has risen forward and up, the back has lengthened and widened, and the knees released forward and away. Now what?
We are an ocean wave crashing onto the sand. The wave has a back and the crest is coming over, and it is extremely powerful and moving forward . We come into our back and get a tremendous surge of ‘up’ and the top of us, our head, is beginning to drop, up and over, forward and up.
‘The difficulty for all of us is to take up a new way of life in which we must apply principles instead of the haphazard end-gaining methods of the past.’ FM
‘You want to feel out whether you are right or not. I am giving you a conception to eradicate that. I don’t want you to care a damn if you’re right or not. Directly you don’t care if you’re right or not, the impeding obstacle is gone.’ FM
‘When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the work is exactly what is being done in Nature when the conditions are right, hte difference being that we are learning to do it consciously.’ FM
‘As soon as people come with the ideas of unlearning instead of learning, you have them in the frame of mind you want.’ FM
‘The things that don’t exist are the things most difficult to get rid of.’ FM
Check – can you see, can you move, can you breathe? If all of these are true you are sending nice calming messages to your brain. Imagine chewing a large piece of delicious food in your mouth – you get to choose what it is. As you chew you will find yourself salivating. Another calming signal to the brain. Life stops being an emergency.
Change the habits and the routine may change.
There is more lung tissue at the back than at the front. Astonishing.
Sometimes learning happens very fast, sometimes very slowly. In Alexander it takes the time it takes.
It’s quite fun sometimes to go up on your toes – without pushing the pelvis forward- and then gently lower the heels whilst still maintaining that ‘up’, as though the head is staying in the say place and not sinking floorwards.
Learning is fun, isn’t it?
‘No-one wants to learn the Alexander Technique, they just want to be better performers, athletes or have the pain go away, or feel good.’ True or false?
I think some do want to learn Alexander Technique for its own sake because it is apparently magical and they are curious. What is this process that makes me experience my movement in the world so differently? How does it work? How, when someone trained in the work touches me, does it produce this effect of lightness and ease? We brush up against the mystery of life.
Sometimes habits are good and are worth cultivating.
We cannot change what challenges life throws at us, but we can change our response to them. Therein lies our power.
‘Seek freedom and beauty will arrive of its own. If you seek beauty directly you risk losing freedom and its attendant beauty.’ Pedro del Alcantara
‘Functional freedom awakens feeling, and when this happens it is not necessary to ‘put’ feeling into anything. It is there. ‘ Cornelius L. Reid
‘Play with a cold head and a warm heart’. Not sure who this is attributed to, but thought it Alexandrian. There is a disassociation when we pause and make a choice that may appear cold or feel hard, but it is tempered by the enormous compassion that Alexander brings. A very warm heart indeed. I wish this to you most today.
‘Force may subdue, but Love gains; and one that forgives first, wins the laurel.’ William Penn 1693
FM wasn’t a spiritual man and AT is not an overtly spiritual practice, but many find a spiritual dimension to their lives in studying Alexander. The Quakers helped FM a lot in the States during the wars when he taught there.
Eric Baker, a conscientious objector, a Quaker, in 1941:
‘I felt very excited and worked up so when the chairman asked me the leading question Why do you object to civil defence, I asked to be allowed to sit for a few minutes in quietness while I gathered myself. When I felt ready I told them simply….They listened very quietly….Their decision was to register me unconditionally on the register of COs. All over in 20 minutes.’
Alexander in action.
‘FM used to say that it was important to get to the point where the whole body is informed by thought’
‘I’ve realised that the habits I once thought were personal are actually internalized narratives for the culture we live in. Therefore I believe that inner transformation and social awakening are one.’ Michael Stone.
People don’t always realise how revolutionary Alexander is. It is so subtle and changes things we thought were set in stone.
‘Just say know’ Ram Dass
The Many Gifts
The gifts keep arriving
They don’t need three Wise Men
They don’t need Bethlehems.
They come from the lips of people
And the touch that lifts
the black burden from bowed shoulders
Even in the sad lands of gaols and torture
the people sing. They dance
in the middle of desolation.
Hands must close on the strange gifts
Even those that bring tears
to eyes that have been longing to weep.
They wash ashore
From the sea that seems empty.
They emerge from the inner and the outer darkness.
The Quakers meet in silence and wait for spirit to move them to speak. Sometimes no-one speaks. Sometimes someone speaks and the attention of the meeting enfolds them, listening without reacting. Very Alexandrian. Practice listening today. Speak less, without being impolite.
What is it to be fit? To have a strong cardio-vascular system maybe. Sometimes in the Alexander world we can get addicted to the floaty flexible sensations of good use and not challenge ourselves to strengthening exercise. What sort? Walking is the safest and along with Alexander lessons is a wonderful way of helping out lower back pain. If you are not already in an exercise programme consider it. Half hour fast walking every day does wonders and exercise is a brilliant activity to apply our Alexander principles to since it is of itself and not end-gaining. After all you cannot play an hour’s worth of tennis in half an hour.
Fear is sometimes governed by end-gaining, the principle of imagining the worst. Imagine instead the best and let go the outcome. This brings happiness, tranquillity, bliss.
You should lose the shoulds from your day. Haha!
Mercy. Have mercy on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Judges ask God to have mercy on our soul. We can ask ourselves to have mercy. Be discerning but not judgemental.
Although we cannot change our habits in sleep, we can change our habits OF sleep. As we have a calmer day, no longer end gaining or pulling down, we reach the sleeping port in an easier way and the sleep becomes easy. Give yourself the joy of 8 hours. It is essential for our well being. Before you sleep, go through your directions, your spatial directions, be aware of your breathing and the bliss of sleep will arrive all on its own.
When we are most skilled at something, it is the most difficult to let go of and find another way. But here’s the joy: you can always go back to your old skilled ways at any time you want.
Maybe the old way doesn’t seem right anymore, but the new way is not so easy to find and you are in this stuck place. Take courage. It’s so rare to be stuck, to be lost, to not have the answer. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Sometimes just witnessing your own breathing is joy enough. It is like the sea with big waves and little waves and never still.
Autumn and Spring are very Alexandrian seasons full of change, letting go of old leaves, albeit beautiful flame coloured leaves, and readying the tree and plants for new growth, brilliant greens and yellows. Which season do you perceive yourself to be in? Perhaps you are having a day of winter when nothing seems to happening, waiting for the moment to arrive. Maybe a day of summer when the fruits of your labours are shining for all to see and you can languidly inhabit some new place as if you have known it all along.
Which part of the elephant are you in relationship with today? Are you practising monkey by bending the knees first or letting the head lead and tilting at the hips first? Are you emphasising direction or playing more with inhibition? It does not matter which. It is still the same beast.
Let us have an awareness of the Earth day, your connection with the ground. From time to time notice the contact with you feet, and notice your contact with the sitting bones. Or the back, if you are leaning. Or your arm. Or your thigh. Or your hand. Whatever you are in contact with, with whichever part of you, is a contact with the Earth. You are contacting the Earth when you are in touch with someone else.
As we begin to react, over 600 muscles prepare to take action. Quite a programme to inhibit and re-organise.
It takes a lot of courage to change. Be kind to yourself today. Take courage.
We are creatures primed for predicting movement. When someone serves a tennis ball the receiver has no time to keep her eye one the ball. It’s simply too fast for our brain to process. But she can predict where it might go, reading her opponent’s body movements and based on past experience.
So our living in the now is predicated on our ability to predict futures from past experience. And it flows seamlessly. If we are concentrating on our future, then we miss the present. The future exists for us in the moment. As does the past. A memory of the past comes into the now. Our habit is often to leave the experience of now to dig around in the past. It can be pleasant to root around in our personal history of course, re-live happy times. But this thinking is happening in the present. But we don’t need to stay in the past, or make it our habit. Inhibit this and the past will come to you.
Can you inhibit your worry thoughts? It’s wonderful if you can, if only for a few moments .
Sometimes we feel that yet again we are in our world of habit and we react by feeling bad about it. Don’t worry, this will pass. It is part of the process. Our awareness has grown, not our habit. Our habit is the feeling bad about it. The light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train but actually the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes this work will generate nice feelings. Sometimes it is OK to bask in them.
It takes the time it takes to find the path, and we get lost on the way. Hurray! How refreshing! It is very difficult to get lost these days.
Sometimes there is nothing to say. Alexander was heard to say near the end of his life when questioned, “Read my books, it’s all in there.”
Sometimes I would ask questions to which my teachers didn’t answer. They gave me plenty of words, but didn’t directly answer. That’s because it wasn’t the right question, they would say. I was beside myself with rage and wondered at their apparent smugness.
Of course now I understand their answer and they were right. It wasn’t the right question.
The amount of relief we feel as we let go, is on a ratio as to the amount of unnecessary tension we were holding. Perhaps when we first start out on our Alexander journey we are wooed by this feeling of floating, ease, bliss that we get sometimes when we are coming up and experiencing doing nothing. We are duped into craving this blissed out state and seek out the feeling. We stumble on it again as a teacher puts their hands on, but the feeling is secondary to the reasoning and letting go that is required. The feeling is a consequence of our non-doing. Sometimes. We could not exist in the world in such a state constantly. Like the euphoria we can have on stage performing perhaps. All we can do is keep sticking to principle, inhibit, direct, be present, rearrange our primary control.
It is such a joy to notice when we are holding or pulling ourselves down. Because in that moment we can let go of it, if only for a moment.
Don’t let Alexander lead you to a sense of perfection. It doesn’t exist. We are not trying to be perfect, just use ourselves as well as we can in the given circumstances. It’s all a little rock and roll. Everything changes. What seems right one day may not be the next and on it goes. Allow yourself to be imperfect today.
‘Sleep is the last refuge of habit.’ Walter Carrington.
So you won’t change your sleeping habits directly. And semi supine is not primarily a sleeping position.
When you free the arms, you are no longer trapping the ribs and breathing will also become freer.
Take your arms out to the side and back again, and clock the effort. Stand in a doorway and try to raise your arms as your hands press into the frame for 15 seconds. Then step away from the door and raise your arms again. It is likely they will float effortlessly upwards. As they return to your side think again to raise them, but pause and ask them to float as before. Your brain can remember what it did to move them effortlessly and it will happen again.
Time to surrender again.
When we move effortlessly it can seem we are going slower. Faulty sensory perception. It’s just we’ve taken the rush out of everything. Often we are moving quicker.
What are you paying attention to today? Whatever it is, is it possible to ensure that your are attending in a wide focus? We are habituated to narrowing our attention. Perhaps sometimes we need this concentration, but not as our default. Make the widened field of attention your default today.
Just decide to be tall as is possible today, not by stretching up but by being aware of up.
The myth of core stability: core muscles. They used to be called abdominal muscles. They are mostly used for keeping our innards inside, for defecating, for vomiting, for flexing the spine. They are not attached to the spine. They are attached to the ribs and the pelvis. Electrodes were placed on the abdominal muscles to measure their activity whilst someone was simply standing. Movements were so slight nothing registered on the equipment. No measurement was recorded. You don’t need the abdominal muscles to be strong or pulled in or tightened for you to be able to stand effectively. They have very little to do with it. If you have a habit of holding your tummy in as you stand, let it go today.
When you straighten your arm and place your fingertips against a wall, then slightly bend the elbow you will notice that the fingertips are still in contact with the wall. The arm has not shortened, the muscles have got longer A straight arm is a contracted arm. The same is true for the legs. So if you notice your knees locked back today, release them. Your legs will be longer.
Are you sitting or standing in ‘monkey’ ? What is ‘monkey’? Alexander called it the position of mechanical advantage. But how deep or shallow is the ‘monkey’? It is according to the need. When we are standing we are in monkey. The angles of the hip knee and ankle are not so acute, that’s all. When we are sitting it is ‘monkey’, but the support is from the sitting bones as well as the feet. Today may you always be in a place of mechanical advantage.
The act of letting go is easy. It is everything leading up to the point of letting go that is the difficulty.
We may not know how change occurs but if we open ourselves to it, it can happen seamlessly.
We cannot control what stimuli the world challenges us with. We can only control our response.
Find space for yourself before the usual day begins. Then you can wear the day like a garment, something you chose to put on.
Do you have a schedule today? Or will the day unfold as it will? If it is a busy day ahead, look at the gaps between appointments, albeit small ones like looking at the gaps between these words. These are the moments to rest and give some space for yourself. To sharpen the saw.
Not always easy to let go of old habit. It is familiar like an old coat. It is almost all we have ever known and is comfortable to us in some ways. But there comes a time when the old coat will no longer service us. Time to take it off and hang it in the wardrobe or take it to the charity shop. And if we still need a coat of habit, then you have opened yourself to wear a better one, more serviceable, that gives you freedom to move , that looks fabulous!
How is your internal space? Probably working quite well. Our attention is often drawn inward, narrowed to some part of us or a discomfort, physical or emotional, regret or worry for the future. But it is our own world and we are at that moment cut off from what is going on around us. One of the best medicines is to pay attention to the world around you right here, right now, the space above behind, on either side, the space in front the connection to the earthâ€¦.. But careful you don’t space out! It’s another form of narrowing when we focus on just the space and not the details.
Why did we collapse? Why did we as a child get into the habit of blocking the world out, looking down, dropping the neck? Maybe we didn’t like the world very much. Maybe we were feeling sad or put upon. Maybe our only way of coping was to ignore the real world, get into the world of the internet, or our own head, taking us away from the unpleasantness around. Or maybe we were simply copying someone else and wanted to emulate them. Before we knew it, whatever the reason in the first place, we have a habit. How we got it, we may never know, but now we are liberated, now we can consciously come out of it. Hurray! If we want.
Sometimes we have been contracting our psoas and lower back muscles to pull the chest up to make us feel upright. When we let go of these, we come into a slump, the head and chest dropped down. This collapse was probably the first doing. The second doing was pulling ourselves up to please someone. To get rid of the first doing, we have to rid ourselves first of the second doing. So don’t hold yourself up today. Stay down, and then gently let your eyes look up and around, the head following, the spine following the head and you will find yourself up without tightening the lower back or pulling the chest up. If it feels down to you still, check it out in the mirror. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.
Think of how you eat today. We often end-gain our food. Think of bringing the food to your mouth rather than dropping your neck and taking your head to the food. It isn’t so easy when it’s a bowl of soup or noodles of course. If you are at home, pick the bowl up so it is closer to the mouth, so the spoon or fork doesn’t have to travel such a long way. When you eat are you thinking of other things? Stay present as you eat. Be in the moment of your eating. Bring awareness to your eating. Enjoy!
If you place your hands on your head for about 15 seconds and take them off again, you may feel how the head rises and the spine lengthens all by itself. We are often pulling our head into the spine and are not aware of it. We become aware if it only when the weight has been taken off. The spine is a lengthening device. Let your head rise and take the weight off the spine.
When we lie down in semi-supine it’s not just the body that untangles itself, but the minds also, all those thoughts become ordered and sometimes that busy mind comes to rest.
Experiment: when you have a knotty problem, lie down and see the knots untying. Maybe the solution will come to you.
What have you learned today, or what will you learn today? Maybe that the price of butter has gone up in the supermarket, maybe you will have discovered how the universe was formed, or to forgive a deep hurt against you. They are all moments of learning. We are inherently learning creatures. It is difficult not to learn.
Think of the top of the spine pointing to the sky. Useful thought if you suffer with ‘tech neck’ , dropping the neck from the 7th vertebra. It stops it.
As you walk watching something come towards you, when it arrives in a moment it is gone and something else on the horizon presents itself, coming towards you. So it goes on.
Walking. Are you walking tall today, allowing your legs to lengthen, your head reaching up to the sky? Earth below, sky above, and we lengthen between the two .
Not doing anything: bliss. Find some time to do absolutely nothing.
‘I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering up its things, packing up and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night’
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
There are moments of epiphany in the Alexander work, but mostly through gentle persistence, we discover something has shifted, disappeared, left us.
‘She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.’
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
I think in AT we are given the tools to help us cast aside the fictitious self.
‘Every single act must be approached as though we have never done it before. Then we can find things out.’
Its OK sometimes to be completely wrong about something. To misjudge something, to make a terrible mistake. We won’t know its wrong until we get a new perception, new knowledge. This can be quite liberating and offer us a fresh approach. Acknowledge the milk is spilt, then let the cat lick it up and get another carton from the fridge. or have your tea black for a change. Thank god we don’t have to be right all the time!!
Got any fixed ideas? Best free them up. They may be completely wrong.
‘When prompted to speak, wait patiently to know that the time is right.’ from Advice and Queries, Quaker Faith and Practice.
‘In ordinary teaching, pupils and teachers are quite convinced that if some part of the organism is too tense, they can relax it – that is do the relaxing by direct means. This is a delusion on their part, but it is difficult to convince them of it. In the first place if they do chance to get rid of the specific tension it will be by a partial collapse of the parts concerned, or of other parts, possibly even by a general collapse of the whole organism. In the second place it is obvious that if some part of the organism is unduly tensed, it is because the pupil is attempting to do with it the work of some other parts or parts, often work for which it is quite unsuited.’
FM Alexander , Constructive Control of the Individual.
Sometimes learning happens without us knowing it. Later from one hour of experience and instruction, we can have amazing repercussions throughout the week, throughout our lives. How come I have remembered that? How come that thought is popping up into my brain as I walk along? How come I am walking differently, effortlessly? Ah, that’s the magic of being human.
Sometimes we don’t feel we have learnt anything. It is too easy, too obvious, too simple, ‘I’m not doing anything!’ . Quite!
Think of what’s beneath your feet. The planet. The crust of the earth, the magna at the centre.
Remember to look up the stars today, and if you cannot see them, a star blind sky, then remember that they are there.
‘You make my arm feel like a cloud’. Can you make your arm feel like a cloud? Without substance, floating, free. Give yourself that instruction today and perhaps you will find that too. Continue the direction to include all of you, so all of you feels like a cloud.
How are your eyes? Are you resting them as you read this or tightening them? Have a wider vision, relax the muscles around the eyes. Pay attention to the eyes today. They receive a lot of light.
When you think of your knees releasing forward it may switch off that huge contraction we often give ourselves in the quads. Imagine -we are trying to move and hold ourselves at the same time! No wonder it’s all a bit of an effort.
If you stand with your feet together, then play with standing with your feet wider apart. If you stand with your feet wide apart, stand with them together. This way you can play with something other than your habit. If you think you stand with neither together or wide apart then try one or the other. Which feels most normal? It may be you have a faulty sensory appreciation.
If you have a pain in your shoulder, it may be the tightness in your legs that is causing it.
We learn through unconscious imitation as a child. Now as an adult we can learn through conscious imitation. Think of someone you admire in how they move through the world and from time to time imagine you are them. Model them. You may feel yourself coming ‘up’. Make sure you are not ‘doing’ them which could lead to un-necessary tension, just become them.
‘I must neither push my thought nor let or drift. I must simply make an internal gesture of standing back and watching. For it was a state in which my will played policeman to the crowd of my thoughts, its business being to stand there and watch that the road might be free for whatever was coming. Why had no-one told me that the function of will might be to stand back, to wait and not to push?’ From A Life of One’s Own by Marion Milner (Joanna Field) 1936
Substitute ‘must, got to, ought, should,’ for ‘I wish’. FM said that ‘I must but I can’t’ were two impostors to be released when we changed it to volition. It puts us into conflict. A wish or desire is wholesome, we are no longer divided. I was once in a traffic jam on my way to work. How could I want to be there? Because I was there, and no other way if I wanted to get to work, which I did
By the time you have finished reading this sentence, the future will have arrived and become the present. The past is the beginning of the sentence. We don’t ever have to chase the future. Or end-gain. The end will arrive. Stay in the process.
Find some quiet time today. Just for yourself. Sit in a chair and wait expectantly. Something will happen. I can’t say what. Everyone experiences something different.
What are you wearing? Here’s a great game- choose to wear clothes you wouldn’t normally wear. Not your usual habit, your style. If you wear your hair up, wear it down. If you wear make-up leave it off, and vice versa. If you wear greens and browns, try reds and blues, plain colours, try patterns. And wear them for the day. It can change your life! You may discover something suits you really well. Or you may find that you walk differently, feel more or less confident……amazing how changing our clothes can affect us so much.
Sometimes wearing a hat can make us crouch down, under the brim. Wear your titfer with pride today and remember to think of the space, the ‘up’ beyond the hat.
Turn ‘must, ought, should, got to, have to’ into ‘I want’ or ‘I wish’ and have a nice day :-)
Sometimes when you are all tensed up thinking about a terrible thing that might happen it’s rather useful to take your mind to the directions. When we ask our neck to be free and our head rise up to allow the back to lengthen and widen everything seems to fall into place and the worry thoughts leave you – for a while at least. How nice that worry thoughts can be solves by controlling our physical response to fear.
‘It’s a funny thing… but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.’
And the Mountain Echoed …Khaled Hosseini
‘I want something else. I’m not even sure what to call it anymore except I know it feels roomy and drenched in sunlight and it’s weightless and I know it’s not cheap. Probably not even real.’
– House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielweski)
‘Leave yourself alone.’
‘You get away from all your pre-conceived ideas because you are getting away from your old habits” FM
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
What are you doing right now? Reading this of course! Today talk through what you are doing as you do it, to keep your mind from wandering.
Stand in a door frame and press your hands into the frame as though trying to fly. After 15 seconds stop, move away from the door and let them rise up magically with no effort. Every time you go to pick up a glass of water today or a cup of tea, pause and remember that sensation and see if it doesn’t happen again, so you can pick up your cup of tea gently and effortlesslyl
Blow an invisible feather
“37. Ffffforget shopping list, social calendar, thwarted ambitions, presidents and politics, cholesterol score, football scores, hair-loss, weight gain, sunshine, wet rain, tax bill, over-the-hill….and feel the earth come up to meet your insignificant but creaking body.”
An extract from ‘A to do list for Alexander Technique’ by Martyn Potts, trainee in Alexander Technique
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
go and open the door.
Alexander is often considered a body discipline. Ah -ah. It is a psycho –physical discipline. When you notice today your brain yakking on its usual stream of suggestion and daydream, it is very Alexandrian to inhibit this. Inhibit and inhabit a quieter place, the outside world.
Another experience of semi-supine:
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
‘The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self.’
“I must neither push my thought nor let or drift. I must simply make an internal gesture of standing back and watching. For it was a state in which my will played policeman to the crowd of my thoughts, its business being to stand there and watch that the road might be free for whatever was coming. Why had no-one told me that the function of will might be to stand back, to wait and not to push?” (From A Life of One’s Own by Marion Milner)
The traditional verbal directions of Alexander – to allow the neck to be free; to let the head go forward and up; to let the back to lengthen and widen, and the knees to go forward and away – are rather like a recipe for a cake. They have to be in the right order or we won’t rise!
‘Let us meet and talk of things inconsequential’ says Mr.San, a character from a play called Bone Harvest I was once involved in. To idle, to have dalliance sometimes is refreshing to the spirit. Nothing is THAT important ……is it?
Always good to pause before clicking on ‘send’ . Maybe sleeping on it may be a wiser choice. Inhibition in action.
If the world is a challenging place today maybe it’s ok to wrap yourself into a little ball for a while. Then we’re in a psycho-physical unity and not one part forcing another part to smile bravely. However smiling bravely can sometimes turn into a genuine smile and equally begin to return us to a psycho-physical unity without conflict. It takes courage to stay responsive to the world when we have been knocked for 6. But it is possible to take the blow, acknowledge it , recover and return to full standing, perhaps a little wiser.
Here’s a tip: if your shoulders are slightly held up, think of your elbows dropping or lengthening away from the shoulders and it often sends the shoulder blades back home. And it takes away your obsession with shoulders.
‘You can’t do something you don’t know if you keep on doing what you do know’ FM Alexander’s Articles and Lectures p 196
‘As soon as people come with the idea of unlearning instead of learning ,you have them in the frame of mind you want’. FM Alexander ‘Articles and Lectures’ p 198
How are your legs? Be-kind-to-legs day. Often without realizing we are bracing them, locking the knees and using an immense amount of force to push the Earth away. I was teaching someone who had this problem to the extent that when he walked away he left indents in my carpet. I experimented in bracing and pushing my legs into the floor till I too had created an indentation. Wow that was a lot of effort! Not only my legs but all of me was quite locked up. Any apparent freedom in my waist and ribs was only at the expense of everything else locking up – including my neck. So, not just legs, but be-kind-to-yourself day. Free the knees. Remember you have ankles and hip joints too and allow the up direction throughout, so nothing is having to push. In a pushing competition between us and the planet, guess who is going to win? Best not even go there.
What would you do today if you weren’t doing what you have got planned? Planning is useful essential…and habitual. I worked with a guy once who never had a spare piece of unplanned time in his day. Even when walking he would have to be listening to language programmes on his headphones. Maybe you could plan a day of being unplanned. Hang out and discover what happens. Oh-oh. This could be dangerous, the unexpected might occur.
Make sure you don’t try too hard today! And make sure you don’t try too hard to not try hard…..
‘Joking is undignified, that is why it is good for the soul’ G.K.Chesterton
It is also good for a whispered ‘ah’. Here’s the menu:
1. Be in the here and now conscious Alexandrian state of direction
2. Ensure the tip of the tongue is resting on the back of the bottom front teeth
3. Think of something funny
4. As the smile arrives on the face, open the jaw
5. Let the air out on a whispered ‘ah’
6. Close the jaw and let the air rush in through the nose
It’s ever so easy and by having the funny thought we sweep away the dark thoughts that may have been cluttering our mind, so we are already in a state of renewal. By having the funny thought we are opening the false vocal folds allowing the airway to remain unhindered. – except for the true folds that will half open, allowing the whispered sound. Keeping the tongue stuck to the teeth at the front there ensures that the tongue gets a good stretch and isn’t held at the back, impinging on the space at the back of the throat, allowing for better resonance, and if the jaw likes to go from side to side as it opens, it often is a help to guide the jaw on its journey, so the jaw drops straight forward and down. IT is brilliant for releasing the tight muscles of the jaw and the belief we should not open our mouths too. It seperates clearly the action of the jaw from the head. I have seen this performed many times by acting students, all goes well until the moment the jaw begins to move and then they concentrate and look glum, taking it all far too seriously. The smile needs to continue throughout and the whole exercise be taken lightly.
And that wonderful whoosh of air that arrives through the nose is so uplifting it’s impossible not to smile with delight.
Are you doing what you want to do? If not, it might be time to change.
My line manager in a drama school was designing the course for the year and I read the packed schedule with interest. I loved he had timetabled in ‘time for dreaming’ . Influenced by him, I wrote in my schedule for the Alexander lessons ‘Time for the unexpected.’ I love the unexpected! May the unexpected arrive in your life today. Not all unexpected things are nice of course. But I hope today the unexpected is beauteous for you.
Today let there be peace in your life. Just a small piece of peace if that’s all that’s available. A moment between the shelling.
When you re feeling fraught distracted and generally discombobulated that’s the BEST time to practice inhibition. Maybe you don’t have to feel all those things. Just give up for a moment the need to do any of it, the need to feel any of that. And as you return to the fray, maybe you can decide to enjoy the busy -ness you are experiencing.
‘Why don’t you come up on the porch and idle with us a while.’ So says Grandpa in the Waltons to a neighbour…….find some time for idling today! Maybe with a friend.
Pausing before taking action is not dithering or being undecided. It’s being more committed. If you find yourself dithering, make a choice one way or the other. It will lead you to somewhere.
Stop….take in the world around you. As you read this allow your eyes to relax and let the words come to you. Practice this all day whenever you are reading anything, on a screen, in a book, on an advertising board. Let your eyes soften and be aware of the periphery. You will still be able to read, I promise.
Stop pulling down. Then the up will be revealed. It’s already there, waiting for you.
Are you ‘on line’ ? Responding, listening, learning and communicating? Or are you off line living only from memory and habit? We can’t be ‘on line’ all the time, but often our habit is to be off line, in our own world in the truth of our own perceptions, rather stuck. Maybe it’s worth practising being on line.
Habits are ok, we are creatures of habit, after all. But we know them so well, we don’t have to practice them. Think of one you know of, and practice NOT practising it today.
Once we’ve cracked not pulling our head back, then we can apply that method to anything. The method? Your own experiment of course but you may find Alexander’s way of inhibition and direction rather useful.
Is it OK to daydream? Of course it is! Just ensure it’s where you choose to be, not where your mind takes you. It is an enchanted fairy path that can be very pleasurable, but also treacherous. It is where dreams and new theories and plays and artworks lurk, but any artist will tell you it also requires fierce attention to manifest these fantasies. You may not want to make it a habit.
How are your shoulders today? Where are they? Are they ‘home’? When I ask you about your shoulders what are you thinking about? The blade, the bones shoulder girdle, the trapezius muscles which aches, the shoulder joints ? And what happens to the rest of you as you think of them?
There is more lung tissue behind your centre line than in front. Whisper an ‘ah’ as you come into monkey slightly tipping forward from the hip joints, and stay there as you allow the air to enter. You may feel the ribs at the back working more, the effect of the diaphragm at the back…then allow yourself to breathe in as you come back up to upright standing.
Do yourself a favour: now and then check you are not bracing your legs. You don’t want to be bending them, another sort of ‘doing’ , just don’t lock them . This will release the lower back and the diaphragm so you can stand and breathe more easily. As well as taking the pressure away from your knee joints. Of course we may know all this and still find ourself doing it, so dedicate today to gently observe yourself releasing not bracing.
Thought for the day: where does it come from?
Two guys were taking part in a competition to see who could saw a tree down the fastest. They were using hand saws. As they puffed their way through the trunk their saws became blunt and it was becoming harder and harder to saw through the wood. One guy stopped and sharpened his saw. The other guy just continued to use his brute strength, not wanting to waste his time. Guess who won the competition?
Nice story to remind us of our habitual end-gaining. Stop and sharpen the saw today!
We are always so busy busy busy…..life has become a busyness! Schedule in a meeting with yourself. Timetable moments of rest.
Think of the inside of the back of the pelvis, think of the inside of the back of your ribs. This may help you to come into your back.
Just refuse to collapse today, just refuse. Do not give consent. Stay with the ‘up’.
In the journey between holding the shoulders up and pushing the shoulders down, there is their home. So much thought on shoulders: too held up, too pulled back, too collapsed forward. Leave them alone, and they will come home, blades, collar bones and all.
Another image for Primary Control:
The Silken Tent
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
‘I need to stop thinking and then I can let go.’ Revelation from a student on the table.
There are a lot of types of thinking. The analytical thinking , intuitive thinking, meditative thinking , trying hard concentrated thinking, mind wandering, day dream, fearful thinking, imaginative thinking open responsive thinking…… the last sort is very Alexandrian. It’s allowing the interface between outside and inside worlds. The thought being triggered from the outside newness perhaps, rather than the internal memory based stimulus.
Is Alexander an art form or a science?
If we accept ourselves in the moment, there is no need to change. That is the change. Further change will occur all by itself.
Make a fist and notice the tension and the emotional association with this act. Then undo the fist. On the other hand allow your finger tips to gently curl down and touch the palm of your hand. Bring your thumb gently across so that the tip rests between the middle and ring finger. You will have created the shape of a fist without the tension, a different ‘means whereby’ . If you needed to have a strong fist to bash someone then of course you could tighten it up again. Often we are approaching life like a fist. Let us inhibit past associations and curl our fingers instead.
Go with the flow…but it is also possible to tack against the wind to go forward. Look to where the wind is blowing a nd use it with your wise sails to take you where you want. Use our free will to walk our own path not just follow like lemmings the one to the cliff.
Wait for the opportunity to take action, but prepare yourself to take advantage of the opportunity. Be vigilant, not switched off. Or you’ll miss it.
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks on a marrow-bone’
WB Yeats ( A prayer for old age)
‘The body is always part of the world. I sit on this chair; the chair is on a floor in this building; and the building in turn restson the mountain of stone that is Manahattan Island. Whenever I walk, my body is interrelated with the world in which and on which I take my steps. This presupposes some harmony between body and world. We know from physics that the earth rises infinitesimally to meet my step, as any two bodies attract each other. The balance essential in walking is one that is not soley in my body; it can be understood only as a relationship of my body to the ground on which it stands and walks. The earth is there to meet each foot as it falls, and the rhythm of my walking depends on my faith that the earth will be there.’ Rollo May, The Courage to Create
Under the cherry blossoms
Thinking she was someone I knew, I once greeted someone very enthusiastically, although they were a stranger curiously walking down my garden steps thinking it was a public path. I made her feel welcome. And she responded with smiles and pleasantries. I realised quickly I didn’t know her but didn’t admit my early error. I kept up my enthusiastic welcome until she wandered off on her own adventure. I decided I could respond like this to everyone who wandered into my life, and enjoy together the cherry blossoms.
Half way down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
I’m not at the bottom
I’m not at the top
So this is the stair
Halfway up the stairs
And isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head
‘It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else instead!’
…..an Alexander place to be.
We can apply Alexander to anything
If we leave ourselves alone, the world, our system, our acting, organises itself. But maybe we need some free will that allows us to stop interfering and allow things to unfold naturally.
Take the plank out of your own eye before trying to take the speck out of your brother’s. Put on your own oxygen mask before putting on your child’s.
Perhaps I am wrong. I do not have to be right. What I think of as right may be wrong. Maybe I am wrong. Wrong! Stop doing the wrong thing and the right will do itself.
Habits of thought: if you look for weeds you will find them, but if you look for flowers you will find them. Today let us look for flowers.
Sometimes when we think we‘ve made a free choice, actually it’s a habitual choice…Here’s ‘two roads diverging in a yellow wood, which shall I take? – that one, it looks less trodden…oh -ho, no it’s not- it’s very trodden…..’ There is a faulty perception of what is really new and out of habit sometimes.
My interpretation of the outer territory is a map, not the territory itself.
Let me always be open to changing the map as I explore the territory.
‘When we set out to do a thing, getting it done is not really the important thing. Rather, what is, above all, important is to pay attention to what we are doing to ourselves while in the process of doing that which we set out to do’ FM Alexander
Are you frightened of losing your habit? Maybe it’s spare luggage we don’t need.We are not our habits. Sometimes people get concerned they will stop being themselves. As we let go of our baggage, in my experience, we become more ourselves.
Look up the Master Ichu Zen story, between master and disciple.
What would freedom from habit sound like?
If you were to draw your habits, what would they look like?
Where would you most like to be if you were not where you are now?
Is where you are where you want to be?
Can habits be separated out, or are they all part of the whole psycho-physical system?
Which habit would you most like to be rid of?
Is habit the same thing as routine?
Where do your thoughts come from? A habitual place?
After the dark of winter, all is springing up, sap riseth and ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.’ (Alfred Lord Tennyson )
Spring is the season for Alexander thoughts too – up up up! Let us hitch a ride on what is happening around us, the up direction of the earth itself . Let us be like a plant raising its head toward the sky, such a force that the weed can force a way through the pavement. We too can rise through the concrete of our habits.
Ankles are wonderful things. They help keep us upright. If your ankle suddenly gives way…..ouch! They need to be flexible and supportive. The ligaments wrap round the joints like a support bandage. When we come into monkey it is the ankle that first follows the head – imagine a fine golden chain hanging from your finger and you lower it onto the palm of your other hand, it is the lower links that fold first. So as we lower ourselves through space it is the ankle knee and hip that respond so our lower links, our legs can fold. A nice up direction with that order – ankle knee hip.
Where is your attention as you read this? Our eyes see a postage stamp, the size of the moon, all else is made up from past and predictive future. Think of widening your vision: these words will still be here, the words will come to you from the page. Be aware of the gap between the words. There is nothing we have to do to read, once we have learn this skill. It is very difficult to inhibit the brain from making sense of these black marks on the page in clusters. So even the intellectual pursuit of reading can be a non-doing exercise.
If you have difficulty reading, then thinking from the Magic Lemon might help. Or cross left leg over right knee and place your right had on your left leg. This also can magically make the words appear clearer.
Go up not down, come into your back, not the front, be rather than do, and have a good laugh.
My recipe for a nice day – particularly the last item.
Apparently we always live in the past. Our eyes see things a tenth of a second after the event has occurred. And the brain predicts what we will see. So tennis players never really have their eye on the ball – it’s moving too fast. Have a nice day living in the 10 seconds ago present!
Change can sometimes be sudden, dramatic, violent and extreme.
In Alexander it happens much more gently and only when we are ready for it.
May you experience some gentle change in your life today that is uplifting, non-doing, and unfamiliar.
It can happen in a moment.
‘Between the stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is the power to choose our response.
In that response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Viktor Frankl.
Inhibit your reaction to discomfort by trying to change. Accept the moment right here right now, for better for worse, give up trying, and that IS the change.
A lot of people have written a lot of things about the Alexander Technique, very eloquently. They would all say that in the end it is something to experience not read about. How can one describe the taste of a peach to someone who has never eaten one? If you want to learn to ride a bike you need to get on a bike and practice. You can’t do it by reading a manual.
‘What I noticed was the absence of sensations that normally accompanied the movement.
The tension and effort which I had taken for granted as a necessary part of getting up weren’t there.
It was like the noise of a factory which you are not aware of until it stops.
I couldn’t find words to describe the absence of a sensation’
Frank Pearce Jones
‘You can never win a fight with yourself. One of you is going to lose and it’s always going to be you!’ David Gorman
The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience, and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.
‘You cannot change and yet remain the same, though this is what most people want.’ Patrick MacDonald
Have you looked at rooftops recently? A great way of attending to the up direction. Be mindful of how you look up of course .
If you are already in a state of here and now the eyes will easily lead your head to tip a little, maintaining a length through the front and not collapsing the neck. Look at the rooftops, look at the sky. We so often are looking down or in front, thinking of the horizontal plane. Let’s take in the vertical again. The up goes on forever. So maybe the ancients were right to think of the gods being above us.
Watching a crowd of people walking to work in the city this morning I noticed how they were all going up and down as they walked, pushing the world away and collapsing to it. It would be very strange if they were all gliding to work with a smile on their face. If you have the opportunity, take a look at others as they walk today. Do they too go up and down? Do you? Is it possible to maintain the same height whilst walking?
When the neck is free , the head rising up, the back lengthening and widening, our limbs long and easy, we are at our most excellent best. And we can find that state n a moment. Do it now. Let go of whatever is holding you back, pulling you down, come back to this moment right here right now where the up exists. Ping!
Up is a direction, it is a state, it is a movement. It is an energy. Give yourself this gift today .
As we get old some things wear out, like knicker elastic. When we use ourselves well we find new ways of keeping our knickers up!
The pause before action, this magic gap between stimulus and response when it has come to consciousness what we are about to do, and we can choose to continue or not do it….it’s enormous!
Ii is a split second and yet it is timeless . Like Dr Who’s tardis, that looks smaller on the outside but enormous on the inside, so is this inhibition moment, barely noticeable to outsiders, but to us a huge moment of space and time where we reorganise.
When you want something, let your mind come to a resting state, the blue sky between the clouds, the gap between the words and in that space put out your intention, wish, desire. Then let go of the result. Don’t end-gain. Come back to now. Let the intention be carried out. Perhaps your desire is to get up from a chair, pause, let the mind come to now, and allow the system to organise itself….. Inhibit, direct. And you will rise up.
How can I get that effect from your touch for myself? You can’t. When we touch someone, there are two nervous systems working together. Takes two to tango. But you can work on your thinking.
We are born with half a brain. We develop our cognitive skills by interacting and learning from the outside world. This learning never stops. It goes on throughout our lives.
We can only know ourselves in reference to the outside world.
Let’s think of the back today. Just have it in mind as you get on with the rest of your What is the back? It includes the spine, the shoulder blades, the ribs, the pelvis, the hip joints. It includes the muscles of the spine, muscles of the upper limb, the glutes, the quadratus lumborum…..But the spine goes up through the neck, the glutes are part of the lower limb….suddenly the back become a meeting place for the limbs , an area of breathing, manipulation, walking….. So let us picture the back from behind, tune into the back as we feel our way through the day, and celebrate this extraordinary area of the Self.
When we look at an animal, we usually look at its back – anything four legged – hamster, cat, dog, cow, goat, deer, – it rarely presents its underbelly, soft and vulnerable. As a two legged creature we constantly expose the front, our soft vulnerable space. Let’s not stretch it up or out today, let it hang gracefully from our back.
Freeing the neck. What is neck?
Are you thinking of the front and sides as well as the back? What is the width of your spine within the neck? A bridge between the head and the back. Where does the neck end and the shoulders begin? Do we include the shoulders into that area we call neck? Muscles of the neck are connected to the spine, the head, the shoulder blades, the ribs, the sternum, the jaw and the collar bone – one connects the larynx to the shoulder blade. One continues half way down the back. Then there’s the connective tissue, blood vessels, nerves, fatty tissue, the wind pipe, the oesophagus…. This bridge is crowded with traffic! Best keep it free so all runs smoothly. Enjoy thinking of your neck today in a light gentle manner. Concentration might clog it up.
Eyes. Let’s soften our eyes today. Let’s see from the back of our eyes, let them widen away from each other, away from the narrowed frown.
Turning with the eyes. We hear something, an event, a change , become aware of something, a fragrance, a flicker, we sense someone behind us, the light shifting, and we turn to investigate further. Today if you turn to the right let your left eye lead. If you want to turn to the left, let your right eye lead. See how it goes.
Jaw. Let’s play with the releasing the jaw today. Enough with clenching and stretching the lips.
Let’s be aware of our feet today. Extraordinary arched events at the end of our legs, much maligned , much abused, shoved into tight fitting coverings with an added heel, as though our own is not good enough. Feet are flexible and robust. They put up with hard surfaces , sinking surfaces, they interface with the planet, they bear a lot of weight, support and move at they same time. 27 bones in one foot. Wow. Let’s not take them for granted today. A day in praise of feet. Heel, ball, toe, ankle, arch, instep, the space between our toes…. Love them all, let them exist.
As you walk around today, imagine you are taking your brain for a walk.
How lucky we are to have come across Alexander Technique! How did we get here? By chance? Because someone told us about miraculous pain relief, a burst of confidence, a kind touch? Or an advertisement for a workshop, our own curiosity to find something unheard of? Whatever the spur, it was us, our own choice that walked through door of the teacher for our first lesson. We made the step, the leap of faith. We took action.
Come into your back. Don’t go looking for your back, wait patiently for it to come to you. Like a mountain in the mist it will suddenly reveal itself to you, its proximity, vastness and strength.
Illness. Alexander is not a panacea is for all illness and difficulties. There are viruses and disease that will get you no matter what. What we can do is use ourselves as well as we can whilst this illness takes its course. There are many words that suggest we are at war with the illness. We have to ‘fight it, combat it, are attacked by it’, or ‘surrender to it.’ We separate the part that is hurting us, ‘my back is killing me’ for example. If we accept we are in this state, hopefully temporarily, then we are no longer in conflict, but are whole again. The sky is still there, the earth supporting us, space around us. And great medics, medicines, family, friends and our own spirit to help us through.
Space. There is a white bare antechamber at L’Orangerie designed specifically by Monet to help people clear the mind of the hubbub and busy ness of the world, to prepare for the stillness of the Water Lilies.
If our dwelling is big enough it is good to have a room free of ornament and clutter to sit quietly in. Our own temple. Or we can create such a space in a corner of a room, on a shelf…some physical space that is a clear, quiet space. The external quiet space then becomes symbiotic with the quiet space in the mind. A place to inhibit our habit of rushing about and being busy.
Touch. When were touch someone else our system picks up and reads the other person’s use, consciously or unconsciously. We can tell if that person is tense, held or floppy, exhausted, excited , present, balanced, energised, up, collapsed, worried, happy, guarded, open…all sorts of things. Alexander teachers are practiced at receiving this information and in looking after their own use patterns, invites the other person to join them in this. It’s an invitation, not a demand.
Change could be dangerous. Our system goes onto alert mode when something changes, when we encounter the Unknown. Brilliant how we look after ourselves this way. We need just the right amount of change – so it becomes wonderful, exciting, not too much that it becomes fearful. Alexander is brilliant at this. We get the change we can cope with at any one time.
What keeps human beings upright? The spine? Muscular effort? The weight of the head? Gravity, the Contact Force? Our legs?
None of these – it is our wakefulness. We tend to fall over when we fall asleep.
I like the thought that we give ‘up’ when we let go and surrender.
We surrender our weight to the earth and the earth gives us that ‘up’ direction.
‘Trying is only emphasising the thing we know already ‘ F.M. Alexander.
‘No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.’
Yoda, Star Wars.
‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ Yogi Berra
‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it’ Yogi Bear.
Give up trying for Lent. Sweeties may also be a good thing! But whatever you do don’t try to give up….
Alexander Technique is revolutionary. It’s anarchic, it asks us to think for ourselves. It changes our thinking. And it turns us into quite nice people.
Sing a little, dance a little, have a laugh….can’t be such a bad thing.
Once a day. It’s very human.
And we can do this privately for ourselves .
Might change the life.
Always expect the unexpected. Even if nothing unexpected obviously happens. There is the potential for it.
Great teachers will come when we call them. They are there already there just waiting for our invitation.
The moment we change it is easy. It was everything leading up to that moment that was difficult.
When we are unhappy very often we are in our own world. We may go through something upsetting and want to ‘process it’, to analyse and chew over what happened, and wonder at our own or others behaviour. During these moments the outside world takes second place, our habits will take over, looking after us so we don’t fall over for example. But sometimes it may be that the desire to process may be the very habit we need to address.
As we take our attention to the outside world we can live presently and the disturbing event begins to dissipate, have less hold on us. We can acknowledge its importance of course and respect our reaction to it, and then come out into the present space and time that has been waiting to greet us and continue our adventure in living.
When we are very sad or grieving we may think we need to put on a brave face, try to feel better. Best not perhaps. Best accept that profound feeling, acknowledge the hurt and emotional pain. Then engage with the world and it may be that the world can offer some respite and the heart will smile again, and joy begin in its own time organically to sprout.
Is it easy to change a habit? When we stand up from a chair our mind associates this with all the millions of times we have done this before. So we do it the same way. Even if we pause and direct ourselves it may be we still do it the same way despite our best endeavours. We need to remember from all those millions of times the moments we rose from the chair with our teacher a non habitual way and begin to associate that with our standing. Consciously. We cannot do this by hoping to re experience the feeling. We need to give up hope for that lovely feeling and simply remember the thinking, the plan of action that went into it. Then we might get that nice feeling again.
It is easier to learn something that is unusual. If I want to learn ‘monkey’ to think of this every time I pick something up throughout the day is unrealistic. If I think of it in the privacy of my own bathroom and attach it to cleaning my teeth, I am much more able to remember and experiment with this and there will gradually be a knock on effect in the other activities. We build up an alternative muscle memory. Slowly slowly.
Having an Alexander lesson is like updating the system. Or defragmenting it. Defragmenting clears all the clutter from the computer so it can work more efficiently. Good to de clutter the system. Let’s do that today, let go of past tangles, live cleanly in this moment. Then we won’t be fragmented but living as a whole.
Must, got to, have to, should, ought……o dear , such trying words. Transform them into desires . I want.
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.…”
We are falling upwards into a state of relaxation that is there waiting for us.
‘Keeping his back perfectly still he loses all consciousness of his body.’
From Hexagram 52 of the I Ching as translated by Alfred Douglas.
I have had this experience. Everything is working so easily with me, I’m in such balance that I lose the usual kinaesthetic habitual sense of my body. My usual kinaesthesia is picking up the discomfort and excessive tensions. When all is in balance no signals need alert my brain to such things, so it is as though I have become invisible. I discovered though I was still very physical and There. I may have felt invisible and insubstantial but the wall was still very solid and all my wizardry has not allowed me to walk through it.. …yet.
Stillness. Mountain stillness. The mountain is teeming with life – birds and animals and insects, trees, plants -things growing and in constant movement. Even the rocks are moving but in such a long slow time frame we cannot see it. The dust soaking into the hillside from the rain, a stone rumbling down the hillside. The hillside I look at from Carthage over the waters towards the Sharik Peninsula is the same landscape as Elissa – or Dido – looked at centuries before. So we can perhaps be still like a mountain. There is movement – fluids pulsing, heart beating, the movement of the breath, the muscles gently releasing and contracting in our inherent top-heavy instability; our ‘up’ direction through the spine, the upward direction of the out breath, the upward direction of the diaphragm and the heart as the air rises. But as we step back and look at the mountain it appears to be still. So we too can find that stillness, solid as a rock, connected to the earth, the mind stilling.
Passive + active = neutral. The balance of the two forces brings us to the neutral, the unknown , the potential. Resistance to a force forward will take us up. Resistance to a force down will take us up. As the hand comes forward come into the back. As the head goes forward and up , the back stays back.
When two people meet and touch each other something else happens. Each meeting can be a sacred act. We are affecting each other, responding to each other. Our balance shifts, our brain takes in the other person as ourselves, we share the same moment, the same space.
If there is no beloved in your life right now, perhaps you can think s/he is waiting for you in your future.
Does our intention come out of our habit? If we stop our habit, our habit of narrowing , goal making, end-gaining, then perhaps our intention will come out of some unknown place and be quite surprising
‘People will think I am teaching them to get in and out of chairs. It is nothing of the sort.. I am teaching them to inhibit a reaction to a stimulus that always puts them wrong and learn how to deal with it.’
What is this life if full of care ….
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
(William Henry Davies)
Waiting. What are we waiting for? If we live in the moment then there is nothing to wait for, it’s all happening now.
The guy who invented post-it notes was trying out ideas for a new superglue….
Think of something funny! FM said (along with many others I am sure) that ‘the work is too serious to be taken seriously.’ We need to cultivate the twinkle in the eye. When I got up in the morning I found an aeroplane outside my bedroom door – than I remembered I had left the landing lights on….
It is good to have a little store of things that make you smile for the whispered ah. Bring yourself to a directed state, think of something funny, as the smile emerges on your face, allow the jaw to drop and breathe out on a whispered or unvoiced Ahhhh. Close the jaw and let the air in through the nose. The genuine smile opens the false folds of the larynx to keep the throat wide and free.
If you can’t think of something funny think of something naughty…..that often works!
Bringing awareness to your breathing is a wonderful thing. Count 10 inbreaths, count 10 outbreaths, count 10 whole breaths, cease counting but focus on your breathing apparatus. Focus on the entrance and exit of the breath, whether it is the nose or the mouth that is your chosen portal between the outside and inside world. To focus on breathing and not interfere with the breathing pattern is not so easy. Those meditating thus and being mindful suggest keeping the spine aligned, the head balancing on top and the eyes closed, or cast down. But it isn’t always easy. Sitting on a chair or using a kneeling stool helps, unless one is easily able to sit in lotus on the floor. We can apply inhibition to stop interfering, and direction to keep ourselves ‘up’ to help maintain a healthy head neck back relationship. An excellent activity to practise our Alexander principles.
Bring awareness to yourself right now. How are you reading this? Don’t try to change anything, just become aware and as you allow this awareness in, the change has already happened and it may be that you want to move to re-organise yourself, or stay exactly as you are. It is your choice. Chuck out those two impostors ‘I must but I can’t’ and invite in volition – I want, I wish, I desire…..
Change. It refreshes. Allow yourself to change something. Maybe clean your teeth with the less used hand. Drive or walk down a street you never have before. Fold your arms the other way round. Just for the hell of it. Unstick your brain.
Wild geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I saw an Amazon walking from the station today. So tall and striding and not dropping herself down into the rest of us. It was a joy to behold. Looking at other people is always interesting, to observe their choreography how they move through life. The movement and stature is so memorable. When we go to see a play how often do we remember the words? But we remember the story, the plot and the spectacle. Let our walking be a joy to behold! Live adventurously and walk cheerfully as the Quakers say.
Sometimes we will not know what happens during an Alexander lesson. It is a mystery. It is beyond words. We may feel nothing and later in the night or the next day experience something extraordinary. Or we way experience something extraordinary in the lesson itself but are rendered speechless as we feel our lungs moving , situated differently, or a balance and shape our brain cannot comprehend. The need to verbally express what we are going through becomes irrelevant . Sometimes tears are released , as some profound truth is realised, or an old memory brought to the surface , or it’s a release that has no memory to it but has sparked a feeling of sorrow, regret, compassion, relief.
And sometimes the lesson will be run of the mill, oh now I feel more relaxed, a little taller, lighter, heavier and we go way happy. Sometimes it may be annoying: I didn’t learn anything much from that! Where is the change I was seeking, where is the nicer feeling?
Each lesson is different. And unpredictable. If we come with an open mind, we will always learn something.
When it’s cold, we often shrink ourselves to keep warm. Let’s decide not to do that. And if it is raining let us not pull down away from the rain to avoid it. Let us accept the weather we have been given today, inhibit our reaction and live freely whatever the stimulus.