I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was about 10. There were lots of pluses to our cohabitation. Excitedly standing at our bedroom window together, on Christmas Eve, trying to spot Santa on his sleigh, was one of them.
On the minus side, I was absolutely challenged by stuff all over the bedroom floor. I still remember the visceral reaction to the chaos. To my sister, the floor was her playground and storage space. It was bliss when I got my own room, though it was extremely tiny. My Dad built cupboards in the room for me. Essentially it became a cupboard from floor to ceiling, with a window and a bed in a recess. It wasn’t hard to keep it tidy.
Somehow, I coped with my sister’s chaos, and over the years I became tolerant to “excessive-to-me” sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, touch, movement: all stimuli. However, if you saw my desk right now you would not think I liked things to be ordered and calm, nor that I still panic when things get too messy. My husband describes my desk filing as a “sedimentary” system and when it gets to full height he describes it as shale. There is a logic in the chaos as the heap consists of things I am challenged to categorise and thus store, jobs pending, and things at the ready. I can tolerate the mess up to a point. When I have completed a job, or when I work out where they belong, they are filed away, A-Z style.
Lately, my tolerance to life seems to have shifted. Visiting cafes (a beloved pastime of mine) is a challenge. It has been gradually changing, but became really obvious last week, when I visited a local cafe that has just been re-furbished. It has huge windows, and the bustling street beyond is in the experience. They have opted for a wooden floor and wooden tables which all scrape and bang, and culminate in unique background percussion. They have lovely twinkly, bright lights, and the sun streams into the windows: it’s a bright environment. They also fitted an extractor fan in the open kitchen and its noises, plus the focused, pressured, yet light-hearted kitchen atmosphere, pervades the whole space. Add to that, the background music, which isn’t really background, customers who turn up their volume to be heard, hissing espresso machines, serving staff darting around. I had ordered, paid, and was sat there realising that it was just-too-much-for-me. I felt every cell in my body was vibrating and I wished for more calm than that cafe could offer.
I gained a better understanding of why things have changed for me when I read an article by Kate Wagner, in The Atlantic (an American magazine):
It’s an interesting read. Essentially the sparse modern decor increases noise, whereas the older style cafes had more noise absorbing furnishings. Therefore cafes are generally louder.
So, what did I do when I received my parsnip soup, focaccia, and berry tea? I decided to just be with the whole nerve jangling experience. I used the Alexander Technique to stay present, grounded, and get to know what this experience was really like for me, rather than brace against it and escape from it. I could then nurture myself with the food, luxuriate in the warmth of the radiator next to me, and even enjoy the cacophony. I also pondered on the merits of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you notice if you brace against excess stimuli or too much chaos? Do you notice the effect it has on your body? Would you like to explore a way to be more aware of your reaction to these things and choose what to do about it? Get in touch! Have a few Alexander Technique lessons. We could even explore the process in a cafe together!
Jane Clappison MSTAT
I had expected similar experiences, from person to person, when I began interviewing Alexander Technique (AT) students. What I didn’t expect to find, however, was how wonderfully unique those experiences were, and how the technique influenced all elements of their lives.
What follows are highlights of the first interview.
I have changed some personal details for confidentiality reasons.
Sam is in her 50’s, lives with her husband and children and works in a listening profession. She enjoys being creative, and physical activity such as swimming, running and walking in the countryside.
Sam has had experience of the technique both in individual lessons and group sessions. She told me she sees the Alexander Technique as being about body mindfulness.
Having had her first AT lesson as a teenager she came back to it during a pregnancy. Wishing to improve her wellbeing, and apply AT to this specific event, she discovered it had a huge impact. She found it nourishing, allowing her to use her body in a different way. Also, during the birth she was able to move freely, see vividly, and be comfortable in her own body.
Sam continues to have the occasional individual lesson. She says the whole experience of a lesson is gorgeous, rather like going on a retreat. She leaves a lesson feeling freer, lighter and more present. But the benefit doesn’t end there. It’s like she takes a party bag away with her, which has little things inside, like, for example, scented hand lotion and little fortune cookies.
Between lessons, she can get a treat by taking things out of the party bag. She tunes into her body, opens up a fortune cookie, and reads the saying in it. Even one ‘saying’ helps. Sam feels tuning in and using these sayings are influential and pivotal moments, short cuts to enhance the impact of the lesson. One of her fortune cookie sayings is: let the neck be free.
Sam talked about her party bag analogy further and how she used the scented hand lotion on those occasions when she has stopped taking care of herself. Sam chooses one of the hand creams (from the lesson) which might be relaxing or stimulating and then massages it in to get the effect that is wanted. This supports her self-care between lessons.
From her experience, Sam sees that AT has multiple uses from specific events (like childbirth), or trauma (like a back injury or operation), to being in the moment. She told me she has learned helpful do-it-yourself, AT strategies, to use in all of these situations.
Sam says the overall, long term benefit of Alexander Technique lessons, is difficult to define, but she leads a richer life for it.
Fancy finding out about what might be in your goodie bag after an Alexander Technique lesson? Give me a ring or contact me!
Further individual interviews to follow in future blogs.
Alexander Technique Teacher
“We learn from failure, not from success!”
Dear Alexander Technique students,
I want you to drop your standards (and me, mine). Here’s why:
I was sat in a great cafe, here in Pocklington. They have a tiny table, just for people like me. It’s right next to the cakes, so I can enjoy all their gorgeousness without taking on a single calorie (could inhaling the smell do that?). I was sipping my cappuccino, trying not to get a “joker” smile from the chocolate. I was also writing about my challenges to simply sit down and play my harp.
In came a young woman wrestling with a huge guitar case (you know, the type that withstands almost everything), music books and full hessian bags. Before she sat down at a table, the guitar reverently went on the seat next to her, one of her bags got another seat and the floor and table the rest. She gave her order and proceeded to open up a music book and play the air with her fingers. She was humming in her head (I could tell) and tapping her foot too. I knew she was playing that piece, I could almost hear it. Here was a musician, through and through.
Intuitively I knew she had the experience that would really help me with my harp playing issue. I sat there feeling a bit nauseous at the thought of going over and starting a conversation. Never before had I attempted that. Then she looked up and smiled at me. The warmth of it gave me courage, to ask her if she still found practising a challenge. Yes, was the answer. She also shared so much more. It gave me hope for my musical adventure.
What’s this got to do with standards? What’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?
One of the other things that lovely young woman said, was that she records her playing, and listens to it for mistakes. It’s the mistakes she learns from.
Mistakes to her are what help her excel at what she does. They are part of her deep practice. They are her tool to getting better at her craft.
So, when we realise we have not “inhibited” when we are applying the Alexander Technique, when we lose the present moment and dive into life without a pause: it’s not a failure to meet a specific standard. It’s simply another bit of information to learn from. We will have the opportunity to grow from those moments, review what it is we want, choose what we might do next time, how we want to be next time, and play with it!
Perhaps the standard should be to make as many mistakes as possible?
Fancy making some mistakes with me? Take lessons in the Alexander Technique!
Call the Midwife is my favourite TV programme. I feel totally emotionally wrung out after I have seen an episode but, despite that I couldn’t miss one. Episodes are set in the 1950’s and 60’s and involve a team of midwives, based in a convent in the East End of London. My heart bursts open each episode with the compassion and kindness portrayed through human stories from birth to death. An episode I recently watched involved 2 main stories. One of a sensitively portrayed death from cancer and the other of a single mum who had a breech birth (i.e. feet first, when many babies come head first).
Breech births are more complicated than a head first birth and need a skilled birth companion as support during the birth. The nurses on Call the Midwife knew what to do. Nowadays most potential breech births end up with a caesarean delivery, to minimise risks.
Caesarean deliveries for some while have been as quick as possible and very perfunctory. Especially in an emergency when there is a sense of urgency.
I was delighted therefore, to watch a video of a slow caesarean. In this video, baby’s journey into the world was, as I saw it, powerful. They had lower lighting, music, mum could see what was going on (not screened from it) and once babies head was clear the surgeon was mostly hands off. The awesome thing was that the baby pushed itself/walked itself out. After that, baby was put on mum’s chest for skin-to-skin bonding for as long as she wished (which in this case was six hours!)
The Mum to be had informed choice, and had a birth plan, that was honoured.
There are complications in both caesareans and breech birth. So whether a woman gives birth vaginally or via caesarean, she should have informed choice. She should know the risks and benefits, whatever way baby comes, of all her options. She should also be able to decide, for herself, what is the best way of birthing for her and have her wishes respected.
The medical profession should be available to support her, to be informed, every step of the way, pre-conception onwards.
The Alexander Technique can also support women and help them to be empowered at all stages of pregnancy. For example, how to adapt comfortably to the changing bump. How to prepare for the type of birth or positions during the birthing process. How to feed, push prams, lift baby, play, and all other post birth activities…with ease.
There are a couple of books about the Alexander Technique and Pregnancy*. If you want to know more, maybe read one of those books or contact me for a session.
How might it help you? I will let a client and her husband tell you what learning the technique did for them…
EW & EW 1/9/16 – I wanted to thank you for all you work and support. The birth was wonderful. I laboured on my knees with my husband with me and in the water. I progressed quickly with being so low and delivered naturally despite her being in a back to back position
I had the most fantastic experience. I never understood when people said they enjoyed their birth experience before. I could cry thinking about how peaceful it was. Another thing I noticed is that I didn’t ache at all after the birth because my body was so relaxed throughout. When I had my first baby I was so frightened I ached for days after from the tension. I am now using the techniques when breast feeding to check my position.
I would recommend it to everyone and will be passing on the book you recommended. I will definitely be back in touch once I’m back in the world for some more sessions!
I’ve seen my wife give birth to both of our beautiful daughters. The pain of her first labour was mitigated only by gas, air and heavier-duty forms of pain relief thrown her way; the rigours of the second, however, were barely evident to me as she breathed and chanted her way through in a state of near-calm. From my viewpoint, her two labours couldn’t have been any further apart – the first saw her shrouded by tears and expletives, thrashing around red-faced in agony; the second, using the Alexander Technique, was typified by a serene sense of purpose. She didn’t swear once.
Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
*The Alexander Technique for Pregnancy and Childbirth – Britta Forsstrom and Mel Hampson
*The Alexander Technique Birth Book – Illana Machover and Angela Drake