Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

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“Through learning the Alexander Technique I am able to use my body to maximum potential.”

This is the 10th interview in a series of interviews I carried out with people who have had Alexander Technique (AT) lessons.

This interview is with Dorothy, who is in her mid 70’s, retired, lives with a partner and leads a very full and active life. Dorothy has been having face to face Alexander Technique lessons with me for a few years.

Each time Dorothy comes for a lesson she tells me about something new that the Alexander Technique has helped her with. Since doing this interview, one of the things she told me was that she used to dread filling and emptying the washing machine. She told me the problem wasn’t so much getting down to the washer but getting back up. She used to need to pull herself up on the washer. Now, she doesn’t even need to think about it.

AT has influenced Dorothy’s life profoundly. She no longer rushes through life, ticking off everything on her “to do” list, but instead, experiences the richness of being in the present moment. Here’s her thoughts about that:

I would like to know a little bit about what impact having Alexander Technique (AT) lessons has had for you.

What drew you to the Alexander Technique?

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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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Calm is where you make space for it (even if you feel life is completely upside down)

As you know I write a blog a couple of times a month.

The first blog this month was a project on “knees” and the Alexander Technique.

It has been very difficult to find the appropriate words for the second one of the month. So I did a video and wrote some of my thoughts around why I did a video:

I can’t say it will be alright due to the coronavirus. I can’t say I am coping amazingly well despite all my expertise of relaxation, meditation, Alexander Technique and so on.

What I can say is that I have been anxious, distressed, frightened, calm, peaceful, happy and every other emotion possible. It feels my life was thrown up in the air like confetti and it’s falling down around me. I’m watching it land. Some bits are blowing away. Some bits I have already picked up again and hold close. Some bits I hope I find even though they are out of sight.

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Festive overwhelm and a moment of calm with the Alexander Technique

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

www.janeclappison.co.uk

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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Facial Tension, Alexander Technique and making things simpler

child with eye closed and facial paintThis 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

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk

Alexander Technique and standing still

Stand Still

Recently, I rediscovered a poem called Lost by David Wagoner. When I came across it, I remembered that I had read it out to a group of my students when we were thinking about being in the present moment, something that is an essential part of the Alexander Technique. I am so glad I found the poem again:

 

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner
(1999)

This time as I read it, I thought it would make a perfect subject for my AT topic this month. The bits that stood out when I read it were:

Stand still.

The forest knows where you are.

Let it find you.

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Alexander Technique and Blood Pressure

I have no fuse. At least it feels that way. I imagine myself as a huge round black cartoon bomb but without a fuse. That’s me. I can be pushed and pushed and pushed…and then BOOM, I EXPLODE. I often feel shame when that happens. I learned that response from my childhood. I learned to suppress anger. My history informs me that anger brings rejection and calm doesn’t, so it’s understandable I have these habitual responses. I didn’t learn to use the feeling of anger effectively.

I’m learning to accept and embrace my anger. I am learning to be compassionate about it and be curious when it erupts. It’s a work in progress. Some of the process is about accepting what is and not changing it.

The Alexander Technique is about being in the present moment, accepting things as they are, releasing into it, and not “doing” something to change it. I like that it takes me into calm. However, I am using it to explore my anger. It doesn’t mean I have to explode, shout, scream, deny it, suppress it, just let it be what it is, a feeling that informs me. I can then choose what I do.

It’s coming in very handy whilst I wear a 24 hour blood pressure monitor. I want to rip it off my arm almost every time it beeps. That heralds the machine starting up. Frequently it pumps up, and fails, and starts again but with more pressure. It takes my breath away. My arm feels alien, like it’s turned into one of those rubberised fake arms. I think it might pop. I feel panic. I am irritated that I am having to go through this. My genetics are catching up with me despite years of healthy choices and oodles of relaxation and ways to find calm. Also, years of suppressing and denying anger and wanting to stay in a calm, peaceful state. My thoughts are wandering towards what the night is going to be like. Will I have bloodshot red eyes through lack of sleep in the morning?

I am observing what happens to me. How I tense up and brace. How the cuff restricts my movements which irritates me. How my thoughts are going towards tonight and the possibility of lack of sleep and the future possibility of medication. In this instance it’s not helpful. It will show higher readings as a result! I am choosing to stay in the present moment, notice my feet, stay grounded, notice my neck, invite it to have flow, notice my muscular response and choosing to invite ease and calm. I am not jumping over the reactions but I am responding to them appropriately.

The Alexander Technique is a tool. It can be a lifestyle as well. In this instance it is an extremely helpful tool. I am glad I can use it.

If you are interested in exploring how the Alexander Technique can help with anger, reactions you don’t know what to do with, overwhelm get in touch.

 

Jane Clappison MSTAT

Alexander Technique Teacher

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk