Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

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Life’s messages, snowdrops and the Alexander Technique

They were on the way to a match. The car was full of excited people all chattering away. They were on the way to a new venue so the driver was using their phone as a satnav. It wasn’t on the dashboard but propped up on the handbrake between the two front seats. The screen could be seen at a pinch but the verbal directions were being followed. Unfortunately due to the noise of the passengers the driver was having trouble hearing those directions. That wasn’t a problem at first.

As the journey progressed they moved into unfamiliar territory so the driver looked at his phone to see what was coming up. It was only for a second or two perhaps. Suddenly there was a scream which made the driver look up. They were within yards of the back end of a bus which had stopped. The car driver banged their foot down hard, but in their panic missed the brake pedal. Their only option was to swerve, out into the oncoming lane. Luck was definitely on their side as no cars were in that lane and disaster was averted. The shock and the thought of what might have been reverberated for a long while.

Oprah Winfrey talks about life’s lessons starting off as a little nudge and then becoming a huge boulder thrown at you calling you to pay attention. I often think about that. The driver who told me about their shocking car journey reminded me about how life keeps calling to us to wake up and pay attention, and it also reminded me about my work.

So many of my clients spend a lot of their life going from task to task, head down, failing to see the full picture, failing to smell the roses. They ignore the many messages their body is giving them and only begin to listen when it becomes a problem. They plough on with stress and pain, and push it out the way to get on with life’s tasks. I think life is too short to to be like that. A treadmill, never stopping.

I don’t think life is about crossing off jobs on a list. Lurching from one thing to another, mind on the next job, not the one you are doing, but sometimes that is what life becomes. It loses it’s sparkle.

The Alexander Technique is often what people turn to when they get a huge wake-up call, when stress and pain get too much. They realise that they need to do things differently. I often see people when their message to look up and take stock has become like a boulder, not a nudge.

Some of my greatest joys are found in moments, when a client realises that slowing down is a good thing. I love it when they tell me they stopped and noticed the present moment. Stopping is an essential part of learning the technique.

Last week a client talked about stopping to look at the snowdrops in the garden when normally they only realise they have gone when the daffodils are in bloom. Actually they usually miss the daffodils too. It made my day. I felt their life was well on the way to being richer.

Perhaps you recognise yourself in this? Perhaps you know you have a tendency to push on. What would it be like to learn to stop and be at ease in the present moment. Easy body, easy mind? Give it a try for the next hour? Stop every 10 minutes and just notice one thing. What’s around you and within you? What can you see, hear or feel?

I’d love to work with you if life is calling to you to stop and discover what it’s like to enjoy being in a body and in the present moment. Get in touch?

Jane Clappison

Alexander Technique Teacher

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk

Image by Hans Brexmeier, Pixabay

Jane’s January 2020 Alexander Technique Project: Negative directions

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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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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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: Endgaining or present moment?

The bottom half of my parent’s enormous garden was always looked after by my Dad, and since he passed away it has gradually become neglected. The clematis took over the lilac tree and pulled it down, the saplings, brambles and bind weed invaded everywhere. It became a wildlife haven. However, it had to be tamed as it was invading the neighbours gardens too. We also had to tame a lot of the saplings before they became trees too wide and high to manage.

So, my husband, sister and I all converged on the unruly garden last Sunday. We started at different points and hacked our way towards each other. It reminded me a lot of the Sleeping beauty story. Eventually we began to see glimpses of each other through the undergrowth and despite the rain, we kept going and met in the middle. We were surrounded by devastation, sweaty and wet, but had a great feeling of achievement.

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The Alexander Technique and eyes (2)

The eyes still have it

 

I have been reminded that what one sees is in the eye of the beholder, including beauty. I gave that some thought and realised how one sees is also the same. Do you notice how you look at things. Do you notice some of the ways that happens? I’ve spotted myself looking for safety, curiosity, pattern recognition, body language. Looking close up with mouse eyes, looking at the big picture with eagle eyes. What do you notice about the way you look. Does it make a difference? How does it affect your body and what you notice as you stay present?

This week I have been marvelling at how thinking about my eyes leading movement has an effect on my neck movement. It started off by doing an exploration described in Elizabeth Langford’s book Mind and Muscle, an owner’s handbook. I am grateful for her explorations of the eyes and have developed another version on similar lines. In the book, one exploration is done on all 4’s and the other is done with walking and changing direction. Both are fun to do. It’s adaptable to all sorts of activities and I have been doing my version in sitting and standing.

For those of you with neck problems might I suggest you do the exploration when you are with your Alexander Technique teacher? Either way, go as far as is comfortable and as few repetitions as is comfortable. You can chose to do only part of the exploration too, instead of all of it at once.

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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 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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