Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

Emotions

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On doing nothing in East Yorkshire, and during the pandemic!

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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Under pressure & the Alexander Technique

Light bulb being plugged into socketJane’s December 2019 Alexander Technique Project

Mio Morales, Alexander Teacher, posted a quote, on Facebook, this month. It was about inhibition written by Marjorie Barlow. It reminded me of the ideal way I might have tackled a project, but didn’t. Never-the-less, I did survive the project with inhibition and the Alexander Technique:

 

Inhibition

 

It’s a very active thing! Very, very, active. When you’re passive, nothing’s happening.

No, you’ve got to be very much on the spot to inhibit. For one thing you’ve got to be sufficiently awake to see the stimulus coming. Otherwise it’s too late and you’ve reacted.

Inhibition is further back than people think. Everybody thinks they are inhibiting getting out of a chair or going into monkey or making a movement of some kind.

It isn’t. It’s inhibiting your first reaction to that idea, whatever it is. Whether it comes from within or without. And you’ve got to be all present and correct to be able to do that, to be able to catch it.

 

Marjory Barlow

An Examined Life

 

 

The stimulus, that I wasn’t on the spot to inhibit was the effect of a very small house fire/explosion. It kicked off a huge chain of events that have recently culminated, satisfactorily, in the rewire of a large Victorian house.

The biggest task was clearing and sorting 56 years of “stuff” there through keeping every sentimental object from a family of six and everything that might “come in handy” (broken or not).

It was a huge stimulus. A mental and physical challenge. My days and dreams were full of moving items. I felt like I was in a nightmare. A real life game of Tetris.

The job started off quite calm and measured. However, even though many things went to plan, some things did not. We realised we needed to spend much more time clearing the house. It made me try to do things even faster. Pushing myself to physical and emotional exhaustion. The sleepless nights, full of worrying about the job, just made it all worse.

I felt like a hamster on a wheel. I couldn’t stop. The stimulus, that I didn’t spot too well, that I didn’t catch because I had my eye on the end, whipped me along towards completing the first part of the project in time for the electricians arrival.

Paradoxically I had to stop and apply the process of inhibition. It’s the most fundamental element of the Alexander Technique. It felt extremely counter intuitive because my habit is to fire-fight and to push myself to keep going.

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Out of fear into the present moment

The cycle to work was heavenly. Warm, filled with the scent of newly mown grass and umpteen flowers and the inevitable exhaust fumes from a city commute.

Walking onto wards I was greeted with clouds of talcum powder and many other  unaccustomed smells. My olfactory system, my lungs, my whole being was being assaulted all day long with new stuff!  It was my first ever job as a qualified physiotherapist and I was also struggling to breath!

I had been working in various NHS settings for the last three years as a student physiotherapist so much of the hospital smells would not have been that new, but somehow it was affecting me differently.

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When storm fronts collide

 

“That mindfulness doesn’t work for me, my mind is too full already. I need mind-less-ness.”

Yes, sometimes life is just so overwhelming you want a way out. You want to stop the whole world and get off. It’s just too much. David Whyte, describes it as:

“the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.”

You feel like you are having to run to keep up with your thoughts. They are insisting on a conversation that goes round and round and round whilst you compete in an extreme sports competition. You try to keep up because you don’t feel you have a choice, but you know your legs are going to give out any moment, and you will collapse.

Sometimes it’s not quite so extreme. You always ran on fumes, talked fast, been on the alert, perhaps you physically shake in most of what you do. You’ve maybe had two jobs so you can make finances spread further. You fill your evenings and weekends with things to do. A game of squash usually helps to bring calm, or a long walk in the woods. Then something, almost imperceptible comes along, and that way of being just doesn’t work. Something gives, perhaps you find work becomes stressful or you develop a physical illness, start with persistent pain or  simply you feel like your usual high energy approach just isn’t helpful any more. You crash and burn.

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Embrace the mystery of the Alexander Technique: bring balance to life on all levels.

This is the second in a series of Alexander Technique (AT) student interviews I carried out. You will discover, as I share these interviews with you in my blogs, how unique each person’s experience  of having Alexander Technique lessons is. Yet there are common threads you may also begin to discover.

These are highlights of Cathy’s experiences during and after Alexander lessons. They:

  • helped bring mental, physical & spiritual calm,
  • confidence, and pain relief,
  • comfort and alignment and understanding of her body,
  • balance on all levels,
  • appreciation of the present moment.

I have changed some personal details of Cathy’s story for confidentiality reasons.

Like many others, Cathy turned to AT, many years after originally learning about it. She was in her 40’s and had experienced a number of bereavements, plus pain and anxiety. She felt she was living in her head and running away from her body. Cathy felt sure AT would help with these issues as it addresses the whole person.

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Parapets and whistling

Penguin on rock

My Dad had quite a few “War stories” he told but the one that I want to tell today is about when he stuck his head above the parapet. A parapet is a low protective wall for concealing troops. It’s a very short story and involves my Dad behind a parapet, his commanding officer, and a random third party doing shooting practice. Apparently his commanding officer bellowed out “Clappison” and my Dad lifted his head up above the parapet, and said “Yes, Sir” and got shot! Fortunately it hit him at the very edge of his forehead. All his kids, and anyone else listening, got to feel the dent in his skull, and the outline of the bullet underneath his skin every time he told the story. He carried the bullet for the rest of his life. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live bullet but a practice round.

My best friend also has a very similar wound from sticking his head above the parapet, but this one happened at school. It happened when he was very young, but he didn’t ever forget it. His body tries to protect him from ever being wounded again, every time he is in company.

Apparently, when he was at school, the teacher decided to tell the class about penguins. As my friend had been reading about penguins, with his mum, the night before, he got really excited. He knew all about penguins and they were from the south west coast of Africa, and even had islands named after them: the Penguin Islands. Unfortunately the teacher had only read about penguins from Antarctica. So when the teacher asked “Where do Penguins come from?” and my friend shot up his hand quicker than anyone else in the class, he got picked to answer the question. The answer made the teacher, and then the whole class, laugh. That bullet landed very deeply and is still felt: everywhere.

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The Alexander Technique, mental movies, anger, stress…and change!

film-331553_1920 (Copy)For  years, mornings started with my own mental daily movie examining absolutely everything I had done the day before. I looked for mistakes rather than successes e.g. when I was dieting the movie was about food eaten, and spotting “mistakes” so I could lose more weight. Teaching session movies were about perceived faults and how I could improve them. Meetings with people were replayed to work out how I could do them “better!” This mental marathon happened before getting out of bed and meant I started off the day with an incredibly “wired” brain! It didn’t change anything that had happened and started the coming day with rules about how I should be different! No opportunity to be in the moment, flexible and go with the flow!

However, I have discovered a few Alexander Technique based steps which make these morning “replays” either non-existent or at least very much shorter and more positive! I’d like to share some of my experience with you!

“When you know better you do better.”  Maya Angelou

 

The change came in when I started to have Alexander Technique lessons. I learned to notice things in the present moment with no pressure. Over a few lessons I became less ridged in my thinking, less angry and anxious. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own emotions and thoughts. I began to know myself much more. I now understand that  I did my morning mental check (and maybe you do too) to “keep myself safe”. If you want to know more about struggling with unwanted thoughts, read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris as he explains this kind of thinking in more detail.

Lessons taught me I didn’t, and don’t, have to vigilantly work out how to do things differently. I can make mistakes (and learn from them) and it’s ok. I can be loved for who I am exactly as I am! I am safe. This has not happened overnight. It has evolved over the last 27+ years! I learned to stop bracing myself and let my muscular armour soften and dissolve into a more fluid, responsive state.

However, old habits die hard! So, when I found myself replaying  the workshop I had taught at the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique AGM in 2016 I took a different approach to the one I might have done previously. I applied The Alexander Technique to it.

  • I noticed my thoughts from a place of curiosity –  “Oh, there are those thoughts again!”
  • I knew I didn’t have to change anything.
  • I became aware of where I was, what I was hearing, seeing and doing which released all sorts of tensions. I knew I was safe in that moment.
  • Knowing I didn’t have to change anything, and that I could just BE IN THE MOMENT also had the paradoxical effect of breaking the old pattern.
  • Then I applied further “Alexander Technique” in the form of invitation/s (directions) to my body – “Let my neck be free” and ” I invite my shoulders to do less and widen.”
  • Now I was feeling much more blissfully in the moment and could breath and know I didn’t need to change anything!

Joy (Copy)Some of these behaviours may be familiar? If you want to learn how to change tense muscles to responsive muscles, cyclical thoughts to ones that have choices, feel happier in your own skin being uniquely you…do get in touch! Contact me! Jane –  01759 307282