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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)
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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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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!
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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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
A few weeks ago I learned a trick that birdwatchers use to find birds in trees. They don’t look for the bird outline, they look for the spaces that they can see in a tree and are much more able to spot a bird outline.
I hear birds in my garden but many times I wonder what kind of bird is producing such a beautiful song. I generally search in vain for the answer. With this new superpower, looking at the spaces, it was a joy to spot the Robin amongst the branches, following me from bush to bush, eagerly waiting for worms, as I worked in my garden.
I got the tip from a fabulous piece written on the 9th September 2019 on a Facebook page called The Feldenkrais Guild UK. They have been writing regular pieces which I have often shared to my Facebook page. The pieces made me aware of how similarly Alexander & Feldenkrais saw their work.
The topic for my “project” this month grew from reading that piece because the writer offered a way of applying the birdwatchers trick to the body.
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