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
Jane’s January 2020 Alexander Technique Project
I’ve been playing with “negative directions” which, Missy Vineyard first described in her 1997 book, How you stand, how you move, how you live.
Robert Rickover wrote a blog about negative directions, if you want to know a bit more about them. There are also links on that page to various podcasts if you want to really immerse yourself.
This is a brief description of them, from Robert’s blog, for your information:
Alexander Technique directions of any kind are self-instructions designed to improve the quality of our posture and the way we move as we go through life. Alexander Technique teachers often teach their students to use “positive directions” such as “I am letting my neck be free,” or “I am lengthening and widening.”
Negative directions, on the other hand, are statements that say “no” to habits that you have (or possibly have) which you would like to stop. They typically begin with the phrase “I am not” – for example, “I am not tensing myself.”
Grammatically, they are negative statements, but they are a positive affirmations that you want to stop doing things to yourself that are harming you.
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Santa didn’t leave a sack at the end of my bed! He had always left the sack at the end of the bed. Was I that bad this year? I was panic stricken and so was my sister who I shared the room with. We rushed out of the bedroom, meeting our brother on the way towards “the front bedroom” i.e. Mummy & Daddy’s room. The tsunami of us anxious kids shot into their room and almost all at once we began a traumatised chorus of “Santa hasn’t been”. Fortunately panic was soon over when we discovered he had “been” and left our sacks with Mummy and Daddy.
We were not the only one’s affected as years later my Mum still tells us about that day and the “hasn’t been” chorus which happened because they wanted to see us opening our presents. She doesn’t recount or remember my other traumatic experience on the same day which was the Land Rover.
One of the presents in my sack was a toy Land Rover. I was over the moon. It would pull an imaginary horse box for my herd of plastic horses. I can remember the tyres to this day. Big, knobbly, black tyres, white centres and the grey and green paint job. I zoomed it round my other presents and our slowly emptying sacks…until my Mum & Dad realised the toy I was playing with actually belonged to my brother, who was looking on enviously. I don’t remember how they explained it to me, or the way I parted company with it. I am fairly certain I won’t have given it up without a fight and it would have involved tears, and most likely not all mine. I have never forgotten the toy that I wasn’t actually given.
Christmas and the festive season can be overwhelming for many reasons, for all ages and all walks of life. It can be overwhelming in a pleasurable way as well as painful. A mixture of emotions, highs and lows and challenges of all kinds. From what I have heard in the last couple of days, food shopping is currently high on the list of people’s challenges, for those lucky enough to be able to afford that.
This year has held quite a number of challenges for me, especially latterly. Sometimes with all the wisdom I imagine I must have gathered over the years, including my Alexander Technique skills, I struggle to hold onto what might bring some calm and peace. Latterly, all I can offer myself, and perhaps you, is to come into the present moment by focussing on one thing. Hands, jaw, breathing, whatever takes your attention. My feet are often my “go to” place for that. I reconnect with my feet and the earth. I notice everything I can about the sensations coming from them. They ground me. Maybe they will you too? A moment of centering in the whirlwind of life events.
Jane Clappison MSTAT
Alexander Technique Teacher
Jane’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:
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.
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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This month’s project started when I realised I was “screwing” my left eye up in response to jaw pain. The project evolved over time but was influenced by the ideas in a new Alexander Technique book written by Alexander Farkas, who is a fabulous Alexander Technique teacher. The book is called Alexander Technique Arising from Quiet.
In his book Alex talks about how F.M.Alexander was on an endless search to make the technique simpler. I tried to apply the idea to this month’s project but it got more complicated before simplifying.
I started off in a minimalistic way by thinking of softening an imaginary ring around my eye (probably influenced by knowing there is a ring of muscles around each eye). As I invited that softening, I noticed it caused a cascade of release involving my jaw, neck, throat and shoulders. I was also aware it re-connected me with the present moment.
I continued to invite softening round the eye, marvelling at how screwing up my eye was linked into a swathe of tension and also involved a disconnect with the present moment.
I also knew there was a lot going on for me which was likely to be influencing my tension so I began to use a “mindful bell” app as well. It gave me a reminder every 5 minutes to release my eye. By the second day, my shoulders weren’t joining in the habit and I was beginning to feel way calmer.
I then wondered how I might apply a more commonly known Alexander direction (or thought) i.e.that of lengthening and widening. Could I apply this to my head? I began by inviting the space between my eye and the back of my head (the occiput) to lengthen. I then applied the widening to the space from ear to ear.
Alex’s book then had an influence: things could be much more simple. I also wondered how to draw in the idea of non-doing. So I came full circle, to the wish that the whole of my head, the whole of me, release into the space around me. As I did that I also became aware of all the space around me. A sense of me in the continuum of things. That space where it is a joy to have a body and the sense of effortless in being.
I think the journey I went on this month did help in bringing me to a point where the wish to release into the space around me brought overall release (including my head, neck and shoulders). Rather like when someone learns AT the classical way. Traditionally we learn the directions one at a time, and eventually there comes a point when they happen all at once from a place of inner calm and quiet.
I have shared this project (the steps below) with a couple of my clients whilst they were doing active rest and they found it very useful. You might like to try the prompts below when you are doing active rest? Or maybe when walking (I found that was really interesting)? Or just before sleep?
Invite release around the eye
Invite release between the eye and the back of the head
Invite release from ear to ear
Invite your head to soften and release into the space around it
Invite your body to release in all directions into the space around it
Notice what happens
If you give this a go, let me know how you get on?
You might like to book an individual lesson and we can work through it together.
Jane Clappison MSTAT
Alexander Technique Teacher
An ex physiotherapy colleague, who I respect greatly, recently saw one of my Alexander Technique (AT) adverts. His response to what I had written was ‘Jane, why do we need to improve our posture?’ The short answer was ‘you don’t,’ but it got me thinking, and thinking…and thinking, about posture. It’s a commonly used word. A simple definition is “the position in which someone holds their body.” We kind-of understand what it means, or do we?
My machinations grew to me wanting to write a blog about posture and how it relates to the Alexander Technique.
I thought it would be useful to link it to a story from my past about posture and I came up short! Literally. As a child, I can’t remember anyone ever asking me to sit up straight or complaining about my posture. However, young kids don’t usually have a problem with their posture. They have an inherent way of doing things that seems to involve a great, easy, effortless way of being.
When I went through school, almost all my friends were taller than me. I guess at an unconscious level I wanted to be level with them. I wanted to be one of the gang and fit in. I know I wanted to be taller as they shot even further upwards. I suspect it was one of the reasons I didn’t adopt a slumped posture. I probably tried to stretch upwards. The reverse is true for many tall children who slump to meet their shorter friends. Of course it wasn’t really about posture but other things.
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