Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

Alexander Technique, eyes, anxiety and safety

The eyes have it

When I go out to a restaurant or cafe, I need to sit at the furthest corner to the door, with my back to a wall. Apparently I have that in common with ex service personnel with PTSD. I also prefer to sit at the aisle seat in all sorts of venues. My husband knows this about me and when we go out together he is very happy for me to sit where I feel safe. Yes, it’s about feeling safe.

If the only option is a table in the middle of a restaurant, I can feel the anxiety rising and the dilemma of where to sit at the table. Then I probably chose the spot through gut feeling, though it will be facing the door. I’ve no idea when this need started. I’ve read it’s not a bad thing and that I am security minded. It’s not consistent because I prefer to sit at the front of a classroom, though that might be to do with vision.

Thinking about vision: running the “More Alexander” courses keeps me on my toes. The courses are different every time and are built around the wishes of the group. These opportunities are fabulous as I learn as much if not more than the group in the process of meeting their needs. I am very grateful for them. One of the requests from a course participant this time was to think about eyes and the Alexander Technique.

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Alexander Technique & Resistance

Resistance

I have a very painful right shoulder. It’s been brewing for over a year. It’s been something and nothing until about 6 weeks ago when it became very stiff and painful and now involves my arm up to my wrist. It has meant I have had to ask for help when dressing and undressing. The challenge of asking for that is another issue!

This week I have been thinking about my resistance to that pain. I don’t want it. It’s a nuisance. Yet it’s there. I try to ignore it but I can’t. It’s just on the edge of unbearable, but of course it’s always bearable because there’s no other option. I try to be independent but I need help. Yes, I also need sympathy and understanding and even that’s hard to accept when I have crazy rules like “I should know how to sort this pain”. I’m irritated and pissed off with it. The resistance to the whole thing, the attempts at being angry with it, ignoring it, fighting with it, bring me a painful shoulder and a lot of inner turmoil and tension. It got me thinking of The Borg (a fictional, alien race: you have to be a Star Treck fan) .

A Google search on The Borg phrase “Resistance is futile” resulted in: “resistance: the refusal to accept or comply with something. futile: incapable of producing any useful result; pointless. So “resistance is futile” means that refusing to accept what is happening is pointless, and you should just give up.”
If you are being assimilated by The Borg then maybe giving up is the option. I’m not Jean-Luc Picard either. I’ve discovered the way is not giving up, giving in or resisting the pain. I have found a more zen like, Alexander Technique approach: I am releasing into what is happening. Releasing into my reaction to the pain or thoughts of future pain.

Movements can be so painful that I unconsciously brace before I move. The bracing is in anticipation of pain, but that often results in more pain when I do move. How do I know that? When I don’t brace I have much less pain. Often it’s still very uncomfortable but I am not adding to it.

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Alexander Technique: good enough already

I was asked about change: how to bring about change, when efforts have not created the desired outcome. At the time I said I thought that a sincere wish to change was what was needed, and then “watch the space.”

Afterwards, I just knew that wasn’t quite it. I learned all about the theory of change and how we cycle round it till it happens (or doesn’t), and even when it does we can have a relapse. I could have talked about that but it’s still missing something.

What’s missing is summed up on a poster I have on my clinic wall called Prelude to the dance. It’s from a book called The Dance by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. She starts by saying “What if it truly doesn’t matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?” The prelude is a beautiful piece of writing. The essence of it is the heart of the Alexander Technique. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to the question I was asked about wanting to change, but not changing. Here’s the end of The Prelude to sum up what I feel is essential!

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Alexander Technique and Acceptance

When I worked as a physiotherapist I used a process called Motivational Interviewing. One of the key elements to the process, which is about helping people change, is termed “rolling with resistance”. It basically is about not attacking and confronting someone directly. It’s a compassionate way of working with someone who is not yet ready to change.

Despite having years of working with people where I rolled with their resistance, my own habit, applied to myself, is often to go for the cure: attacking and changing something before I have accepted the reality of the situation. It doesn’t work, and it hasn’t worked in a specific instance and the habit is still there. There’s obviously some unconscious resistance. I am not ready to change. I am creating conflict by trying to change something that is not ripe to change. Thus, I have been working with acceptance this week.

I have been gently accepting this habit I thought I had changed, really wanted to change, but had not.

I have been using the Alexander Technique and inhibiting my urge to change the habit. Instead I have been accepting it’s presence and releasing to it. I have learned a lot more about it by doing that.

This same process can be applied to all habits of thought and action, to pain and discomfort. To anything that you want to change. First comes acceptance: doing nothing to change it but, by doing nothing, it’s doing everything. It’s being in the present moment, with it, just as it is, not as you want it to be. Being at peace with where you are.

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The Alexander Technique and burning mouth syndrome

Busy tongue seeking calm tongue!

After a tooth infection and root canal re-do of a back tooth last year I developed “burning mouth syndrome” which is exactly that: a burning sensation in the mouth, plus a numb tongue and odd sensations in my mouth. Fortunately it is settling but never-the-less I have become obsessed with “fiddling” with my back tooth. It went from fiddling one side, to sucking my cheek one side, to sucking my cheek both sides, to biting my tongue. I was causing sore spots and lots of pain and I felt I wasn’t in charge and I just couldn’t stop!

I have been applying a number of approaches. Holding a pencil between my teeth worked well as I couldn’t actually do all those things with separated teeth, but it’s hard to talk and produces lots of drooling.

Of course I have been applying the Alexander Technique to it all these months in a rather half hearted way. The discomfort of the facial sensations from the nerve irritation kept drawing me back.

One day last week, I got so fed up of the habit, I realised it just had to stop. I set a firm intention to stop. Thus this week’s project has been my tongue & mouth.

I started by doing nothing. Each time I noticed the habit I stopped what I was doing both mentally and physically and noticed the world around me: the kettle, cups and tea ready to pour, the bubbles of washing up liquid and the sink of pots, the office as I was writing an email. Stop, start throughout the first day. It was really enjoyable. Lots of moments of rest. Each time I stopped, my body let go of all the “doing” including my mouth and tongue and became aware of the present moment.

I also added some thoughts/wishes (Directions in AT language) as to what I would like my tongue and mouth to be like. Here’s a few of the things I did. They are rather delicious even if you haven’t got a mouth issue. Try one or two and see what happens?

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The Alexander Technique and softening the centre

Softening the centre

Let your belly soften.

Not a chance!

The Alexander Technique teacher held his hand softly on my abdomen.

Not a chance!

I confessed I just couldn’t do it. We discussed how my years of dancing, and thinking I had to hold my belly in, contributed to the chronic tension. It’s something a lot of dancers do. It’s also what a lot of western women do, conditioned into thinking that a flat belly is more acceptable.

We agreed I would do a few experiments at home to invite it to release. On all fours was one position I tried. However, the one that had the most impact was standing side on to the mirror and letting my belly go and realising it didn’t look any bigger and actually it allowed my ribs, and the area in front of my ribs to soften and rest. I often tell this story to my pupils when they are doing the same thing! I also remind them that if you look at healthy, fit, indigenous populations they often have a softly protruding belly. It’s normal.

This week’s project is tied into the one from last week. Thanks to a recent refresher lesson for myself I noticed that when I did my whispered Ah’s my gut was stopping me from breathing in with ease. There was a pressure at the bottom of my breast bone. It’s one of the places where I feel discomfort when I get IBS. Unfortunately, following a course of antibiotics it has returned! It was also there because my old habit of tightening my abdominal muscles was back! Well, it never went actually, although I had learned to use the Alexander Technique to inhibit it.

If you fancy joining me, here’s what I did to bring about non-doing:

Notice your belly (non-doing, being mindfully present)

Invite it to soften towards the midline (the spine)

Notice how that affects your breathing – for me it usually allows me to instantaneously take a bigger breath, followed by a huge reduction in abdominal discomfort from IBS.

Your belly naturally will rise on an in breath, and fall on an out breath (perhaps with the exception of extreme athletes)

You might like to do it before a whispered Ah and see if that changes things.

Let me know how you get on?

Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
01759 307282
www.janeclappison.co.uk

The Alexander Technique and Breathing

Breathing in,
I got back to the present moment.
Breathing out,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

(Thich Nhat Hahn)

This week’s “project” has been my breathing. More about why in this month’s blog. However, I was surprised to find, when I paid attention to my breathing, that it was often rapid, and in my upper chest. A deep breath felt difficult because my abdomen was tight and restricting the movement of my diaphragm.

Becoming aware of each breath, and maintaining attention on the breath, is a way into the present moment for many religions and disciplines.

Learning the Alexander Technique does free up the breathing. However, my discovery about my breathing reminded me that breathing can be affected by anxiety, emotion, tension, physical issues: many things.

My breathing has become slower and easier by applying the Alexander Technique. I will share the things I have been doing with you, over the next couple of weekly prompts. They have an indirect effect. They bring me to a place where I can let go of tension and my breathing does itself.

Here’s one of the things I have been doing (to bring about non-doing):

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Alexander Technique, present moment and feet

Finding the present moment
through your feet!

I made my feet, especially my toes, a project this week. Can my feet bring me back to the present moment? It’s a kind of thinking to bring about non doing.

In The Use of the Self, F. M. Alexander talks about taking hold of the floor with his feet. He explains that that habit was part of a bigger picture. It sure is.

During this project I noticed I often try to grip the floor with my toes, sometimes I have a lot of weight on my heels, especially when walking. I got to be re-acquainted with some of the unhelpful habits I have, like standing on the outside of my foot when I dry my other foot. Doing that gives me less stability and area to balance on.

Does all that matter as feet are constantly adapting? What I do know is that I don’t have to do any of that extra stuff. I can do nothing instead. I can let my feet do what they are designed to do. It’s much easier and I get some amazing feedback through my feet for all the movements I do, if I leave them alone.

I was pleasantly surprised as I noticed the sensation of the bedroom carpet in the morning. I am always amazed at finding something new in ordinary, everyday activities. I enjoyed spotting the texture and temperature contrast between the carpet and the wood of the floor in the bathroom.

When I invite my feet to rest on the floor, and release to the floor, everything I do, because it’s part of a whole pattern, becomes easier. It also instantly takes me into the present moment.

Maybe you might like to make your feet a project too? Could be a 5 minute project as you do an activity or a longer term project.

You could focus just on noticing your feet in the moment, notice what happens if you invite them to release.

Notice what around you as you do all of that. Let the images come to you rather than forcing it.

If it seems your feet are illusive – try waking them up with massage, or giving them a wash and dry every nook and cranny, or roll your foot over a tennis ball. There are so many ways, and we do these kinds of things in Alexander Lessons.

If you know about the primary directions like “let the neck be free” add your feet into the picture. Can your feet be free to rest?

Let me know if you have any questions/how you get on?

Jane Clappison
Alexander Technique Teacher

01759 307282