My place of refuge, for many years, was snuggled up on my grandparent’s high backed two seater sofa between nanny and either the dog, Tiny (who wasn’t that tiny) or my granddad Joe (when he was home from sea).
The sofa would be pulled in front of the glowing fire on these occasions. We would be waiting for bread dough to do it’s magic. It’s receptacle, the wide mouthed red clay earthenware pot, would be sat on the hearth. The inner yellow glaze hidden by a damp white tea towel. I still have that vintage pot and I have made bread with it many times.
Nanny always gently patted the yeasty white mound, as if that sealed a secret agreement to rise, just before covering it in the towel. The memory is extremely clear in my mind, as are her gnarled hands which she believed resulted from stretching material over wings of planes during the first world war.
The sour yeast smell pervaded the room as we sat there, mesmerised by the kaleidoscope-like flames. Our eyes would soften and the soporific effect of the warmth could gently work its magic on us, and of course, the dough.
Whilst in communion with the primitive fire we were invariably munching on my nanny’s amazing, melt in your mouth, apple pie. She had been “in service” and her job as pastry chef meant that her pastry was a party in the mouth kind of amazing. I have never had as good a pie since.
Yeast, warmth, comfort food, crackling fire, safe in my loved up haven doing nothing much.
In these Covid times, some of us (non key workers) have had the joy of doing nothing much. Perhaps exploring baking and other foodie related activities. The fact that I have been challenged to buy yeast and flour is a good sign there’s been a resurrection of these crafts. Either way, my wish is that they stay firmly on people’s agenda when we return to a semblance of life as we knew it. Home cooked, good quality food is essential.
I also know that many people are missing their relatives and friends. Ironically, life was so full for many pre-covid, that time with them was probably rationed. I have definitely been guilty of that. So, I also wish that people remember that a simpler life can be joyful. The pleasures of smelling bread rising, apple pie baking, sitting with loved ones, going for a gentle stroll, agenda-less, pressure free days, is what makes life precious. Let us not forget. Aim to have more of simple pleasures, more times to sit in peaceful silence, easy unhurried conversations, more time with those we love.
The Alexander Technique is a fabulous tool to use to savour these “present moments.” It can bring “doing nothing much” into such sweet clarity and richness. If you would like to know more, get in touch! Online lessons available.
Jane Clappison, Alexander technique teacher
Reduce eye strain:
Jane’s May 2020 AT Project
My May 2020 project is on the use of screens in relation to how I use my eyes.
Here’s what I have been exploring:
- intensely looking at the screen,
- allowing the subject matter to come to me,
- noticing what’s behind the person or the thing I am looking at and what is behind me. Being aware of the space between my back and the back of what I am looking at,
- looking at what’s around the screen, what’s behind it, what’s to the side of it. Changing my focus from what is on the screen to what is around it,
- flipping from one to the other.
The reason I have been doing all of that is to find out what is more comfortable to sustain and what works best for me. I think it is a little bit of a combination of everything excluding intensely staring.
So, you might want to explore these ways of looking (at an ipad, screen, phone etc) with me right now? Join in with me via the youtube video below? (at 1 min 50 secs)
- Start by noticing the present moment: sights, sounds, sensations, smells and what state you are in generally. Invite ease into your body
- Then stare intensely at something eg a computer/ipad/phone screen. My eyes feel uncomfortable when I do that, and my body feels like it is fizzing – what happens to you?
- Release the stare. Soften your eye muscles
- Let what is on the screen come to you. Instantly I feel less fizz when I allow the sights to come to me. Other parts of me release too. Sights are coming to you. What do you notice?
- Then, thinking “My back and your back. What is behind you, what is behind me?” My eyes soften more by doing that. I rather like that one! What happens to you?
- Then, notice what is around the screen: beyond it, either side of it. (I can feel further ease coming into my system when I do that)
- Explore the possibility of going back to your eyes resting on the screen, allowing the sights to come to you, with a sense of wider awareness as well
You might like to give all of those a go? Find out what feels best for you. Try a few at the same time. What works for you? Experiment? Have fun!
Want to give this a go in an online lesson?
Give me a ring or contact me?
Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
The coronavirus has meant that much of the world is operating far more online and that includes many Alexander technique teachers. For some of them, online work has been their main source of income. For some, like me, the virus has meant my face to face work has had to stop and I have needed to do some training to grow my online work. Mio Morales and Jennifer Roig-Francoli generously provided this training.
In the process of exploring online work, I have been practicing giving online lessons with a fellow AT teacher. This month’s project emerged out of that.
When I use “screens” I tend to, very slowly, inexorably, get drawn into the screen. I hinge at the hips and move my throat towards the screen, lift my chin, and look down my nose. My shoulders and shoulder blades move backwards and together! It is an old habit. I have shared a very old photo of my Dad and I peering at a computer screen screen of his newly purchased BBC machine (very old computer from the 1980’s) to show you how bad it can get. So I know it’s always there if I don’t engage some other strategy. I also get visual and vestibular migraine (strange gorgeous zig zags before my eyes and feeling dizzy) if I use a screen too much.
This habit is not the only one! There are so many ways to lose sight of “good use” when looking at a screen. My version might be like yours, but it may be very different. My colleague noticed they have a similar tendency but the emphasis for them is on the upper chest moving towards the screen and tightening in the lower back.
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Easington, a tiny coastal village. A few houses and caravans. It wasn’t a seaside village like we know of today. It was, however, where I spent my summers when I was very young.
I sat, protected on three sides by chocolate coloured, East Yorkshire coastal clay enjoying it’s cool windbreak quality. I now know this coast is eroding faster than anywhere in Europe and the North sea I was looking at, covers many lost villages. I didn’t know or care about any of that. All I knew was my bum was cool, the skylarks were serenading me in the fields behind, and I was hidden from my family and friends at the campsite, and I felt safe. I felt more than safe, I just was. No school, no timetable, no agenda, no pull, no expectations. I had little experience of school at that point anyhow and those other words meant nothing to me. It was blissful.
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As you know I write a blog a couple of times a month.
It has been very difficult to find the appropriate words for the second one of the month. So I did a video and wrote some of my thoughts around why I did a video:
I can’t say it will be alright due to the coronavirus. I can’t say I am coping amazingly well despite all my expertise of relaxation, meditation, Alexander Technique and so on.
What I can say is that I have been anxious, distressed, frightened, calm, peaceful, happy and every other emotion possible. It feels my life was thrown up in the air like confetti and it’s falling down around me. I’m watching it land. Some bits are blowing away. Some bits I have already picked up again and hold close. Some bits I hope I find even though they are out of sight.
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This month’s project was about playing with the phrase:
” the knees can go forward and away“
If you have not had Alexander Technique lessons before, in AT terms, this phrase is called a direction. Simply put, directions are thoughts to bring about how we wish to move (prevent what we don’t want to happen).
F. M. Alexander talked about four main “directions” which are:
Let the neck be free,
so that the head can go forward and up,
so that the back can lengthen and widen,
so that the knees can go forward and away.
As I mentioned, directions are thoughts. They are preventative wishes. In this case, the latter direction is to prevent your knees/legs fixing, holding, gripping and any other manner of things they get up to.
Here’s the process I went through during this exploration:
I started using the direction. The thought of knees going forward and away. I gave the direction (had the thought) in as many positions and situations as I could,
Before I gave the direction (had the thought) I did nothing. It’s important to be in a neutral state (inhibit in AT terms) before giving directions.
I became aware of the present moment. Sights, sounds, sensations,
ready for something and nothing,
I then noticed where I needed to do less, though the simple act of noticing brings about less effort.
In stopping, coming to neutral, preparing to think knees forward and away, my hips, pelvis and legs released. That release continued up my spine, whole back, head and breathing! I was surprised at how much I was doing unnecessarily and how it affected my whole system.
I reflected on my awareness of the way the leg moves. How the leg is a unit, and combined with the trunk, moves rather like an angle poise lamp, in many activities. It is a complex activity when broken down.
Also that the leg spirals unlike an angle poise lamp! The spiral is an important element of knees going forward and away. Released hips/thighs/knees spiral away from each other as the knees and hips bend.
This direction needs release in the hips/pelvis. It prevents the legs from doing what you don’t want them to do. It allows them to spiral following their inherent anatomical/physiological function. You might not notice the spiral happen, but it is happening, from a present moment neutral state.
I invited my knees to go forward and away: For me that is forward and away from each other and away from the back,
invited the thighs to lengthen into the movement,
the back to release away from the knees,
the knees away from the back,
invited the knees go away from each other like off-set headlights,
knees releasing and flowing into the movement.
These invitations can all happen before movement occurs.
Movement happens with ease using the Alexander Technique. To allow this direction to happen with ease, the hips are released and the knees start in neutral ( not bracing back), and the spiral has freedom to happen. It is important to be mindful that the movement arises rather than is “done.” It arises from a thinking process.
Doing the movement is counterproductive. Of course this non-doing movement takes a bit of getting one’s head around it. It is a fundamental element of the Alexander Technique but it takes some practice and it helps to have the support of a teacher.
The exploration reminded me that knees forward and away is an important direction in that it feeds into so much of our system.
- Do nothing, notice the present moment, notice your legs
- Soften, release any perceived tension in the body
- Ease in the pelvis/buttocks
- Ease in the hips
- Soft knees
- Flow through the legs
- Think “knees forward and away”
- Choose to move (or not) allowing the knees to go forward and away
“You have to have the overall intent of going up. And you have got to make sure that you are not bracing the knees, not tightening the adductor muscles, not tightening the muscles at the pelvis and so on. You’ve got to take care not to do those things. Now it will probably help you to think of the knees going forward and away, but do watch out because if you’ve got a yen to do it, to force the knees forward and away, then you will be in trouble. So, remember, the knees forward and away is a preventative, preventative, preventative order.”
“The Act of Living” by Walter Carrington
If you would like to explore what having ease in your legs both in stillness and movement can be like, prevent doing the wrong thing, come and have a few Alexander Technique lessons! Happy to help!
They were on the way to a match. The car was full of excited people all chattering away. They were on the way to a new venue so the driver was using their phone as a satnav. It wasn’t on the dashboard but propped up on the handbrake between the two front seats. The screen could be seen at a pinch but the verbal directions were being followed. Unfortunately due to the noise of the passengers the driver was having trouble hearing those directions. That wasn’t a problem at first.
As the journey progressed they moved into unfamiliar territory so the driver looked at his phone to see what was coming up. It was only for a second or two perhaps. Suddenly there was a scream which made the driver look up. They were within yards of the back end of a bus which had stopped. The car driver banged their foot down hard, but in their panic missed the brake pedal. Their only option was to swerve, out into the oncoming lane. Luck was definitely on their side as no cars were in that lane and disaster was averted. The shock and the thought of what might have been reverberated for a long while.
Oprah Winfrey talks about life’s lessons starting off as a little nudge and then becoming a huge boulder thrown at you calling you to pay attention. I often think about that. The driver who told me about their shocking car journey reminded me about how life keeps calling to us to wake up and pay attention, and it also reminded me about my work.
So many of my clients spend a lot of their life going from task to task, head down, failing to see the full picture, failing to smell the roses. They ignore the many messages their body is giving them and only begin to listen when it becomes a problem. They plough on with stress and pain, and push it out the way to get on with life’s tasks. I think life is too short to to be like that. A treadmill, never stopping.
I don’t think life is about crossing off jobs on a list. Lurching from one thing to another, mind on the next job, not the one you are doing, but sometimes that is what life becomes. It loses it’s sparkle.
The Alexander Technique is often what people turn to when they get a huge wake-up call, when stress and pain get too much. They realise that they need to do things differently. I often see people when their message to look up and take stock has become like a boulder, not a nudge.
Some of my greatest joys are found in moments, when a client realises that slowing down is a good thing. I love it when they tell me they stopped and noticed the present moment. Stopping is an essential part of learning the technique.
Last week a client talked about stopping to look at the snowdrops in the garden when normally they only realise they have gone when the daffodils are in bloom. Actually they usually miss the daffodils too. It made my day. I felt their life was well on the way to being richer.
Perhaps you recognise yourself in this? Perhaps you know you have a tendency to push on. What would it be like to learn to stop and be at ease in the present moment. Easy body, easy mind? Give it a try for the next hour? Stop every 10 minutes and just notice one thing. What’s around you and within you? What can you see, hear or feel?
I’d love to work with you if life is calling to you to stop and discover what it’s like to enjoy being in a body and in the present moment. Get in touch?
Alexander Technique Teacher
Image by Hans Brexmeier, Pixabay
When I trained as an Alexander Technique Teacher I was given a “bone prop”. We used it for a while on the course and then I shoved it in a bag for a few years to surface about a month and a half ago. I now know, to be correct, it is called a Morrison Bone Prop and it was developed by Annie Morrison LCST ADVS for “vocal resonance and clarity of diction”. To quote her website:
Lightly held between the teeth whilst performing articulation drills and vocal exercises – the Prop increases the oral space without the need to bite down to hold it in place.
This month’s project has been to wear and use my bone prop every day.
The prop is a short piece of plastic, with dents at each end that allows it to sit on the teeth easily, attached to a ribbon worn round the neck. I have been using it (placing it comfortably between my front teeth without biting) several times a day.
My main wish was for it to calm my habit of fiddling with a painful area in my mouth with my tongue. It definitely did that instantaneously and it allowed my jaw to become much more relaxed. I particularly noticed how much influence it had, when I went to the dentist for a check up. I was struck by how easy it was to both open my mouth and also hold it open without strain. My dentist was very happy for me to use it.
- experimented with holding the prop between my teeth with my jaw soft, both with my lips open and closed.
- talking with the prop in situ.
- used it during all sorts of activities from watching TV, driving to walking on the treadmill at the gym.
- I have also done the five bone prop exercises that can be found on Vimeo:
During the month I have also done some jaw mapping:
- looking at anatomical pictures of the jaw
- feeling where my own jaw is
- feeling the movement at my temperomandibular joint (TMJ)
- feeling the jaw in movement
- placing my hands on the main muscles involved in jaw movement and sensing what happens there
I appreciate that seems like a whole lot of doing when these projects were meant to be about non-doing. However, there’s a bonus of all this doing, and that is, my mouth and jaw have enjoyed blissful release and lots of non-doing which is becoming more and more accessible without the prop.
I have been using the Alexander Technique all the while in this process. I have used the classic Alexander Technique directions (thoughts about how I want to be) such as inviting my neck to remain free. I have also used other directions to assist with the release of the jaw, tongue, oral cavity, face and shoulder girdle.
It’s been a bonus for my AT clients who have jaw issues as I shared my experiences with them. We combined it with their AT lessons have found the process helped them too.
A bone prop isn’t necessary to use AT to help release the jaw, however it is a helpful adjunct. Even without it, the process of having the teeth separated with a soft jaw, free neck, and tongue behind the bottom teeth will go a long way.
A washed finger placed between the upper and lower teeth, and a wish to have a soft jaw and lips and not bite down on the finger does give a sense of the process with the prop in situ.
However, a word of caution! Do not attempt to use anything other than a bone prop between your teeth for all the exercises (other than the finger exercise described above), for hygiene and safety reasons.
Bone props can be purchased from Annie’s website in umpteen colour combinations (no I am not on commission):
If you would like to try a few of these ideas out with support, come and have a lesson!
Alexander Technique Teacher