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I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was about 10. There were lots of pluses to our cohabitation. Excitedly standing at our bedroom window together, on Christmas Eve, trying to spot Santa on his sleigh, was one of them.
On the minus side, I was absolutely challenged by stuff all over the bedroom floor. I still remember the visceral reaction to the chaos. To my sister, the floor was her playground and storage space. It was bliss when I got my own room, though it was extremely tiny. My Dad built cupboards in the room for me. Essentially it became a cupboard from floor to ceiling, with a window and a bed in a recess. It wasn’t hard to keep it tidy.
Somehow, I coped with my sister’s chaos, and over the years I became tolerant to “excessive-to-me” sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, touch, movement: all stimuli. However, if you saw my desk right now you would not think I liked things to be ordered and calm, nor that I still panic when things get too messy. My husband describes my desk filing as a “sedimentary” system and when it gets to full height he describes it as shale. There is a logic in the chaos as the heap consists of things I am challenged to categorise and thus store, jobs pending, and things at the ready. I can tolerate the mess up to a point. When I have completed a job, or when I work out where they belong, they are filed away, A-Z style.
Lately, my tolerance to life seems to have shifted. Visiting cafes (a beloved pastime of mine) is a challenge. It has been gradually changing, but became really obvious last week, when I visited a local cafe that has just been re-furbished. It has huge windows, and the bustling street beyond is in the experience. They have opted for a wooden floor and wooden tables which all scrape and bang, and culminate in unique background percussion. They have lovely twinkly, bright lights, and the sun streams into the windows: it’s a bright environment. They also fitted an extractor fan in the open kitchen and its noises, plus the focused, pressured, yet light-hearted kitchen atmosphere, pervades the whole space. Add to that, the background music, which isn’t really background, customers who turn up their volume to be heard, hissing espresso machines, serving staff darting around. I had ordered, paid, and was sat there realising that it was just-too-much-for-me. I felt every cell in my body was vibrating and I wished for more calm than that cafe could offer.
I gained a better understanding of why things have changed for me when I read an article by Kate Wagner, in The Atlantic (an American magazine):
It’s an interesting read. Essentially the sparse modern decor increases noise, whereas the older style cafes had more noise absorbing furnishings. Therefore cafes are generally louder.
So, what did I do when I received my parsnip soup, focaccia, and berry tea? I decided to just be with the whole nerve jangling experience. I used the Alexander Technique to stay present, grounded, and get to know what this experience was really like for me, rather than brace against it and escape from it. I could then nurture myself with the food, luxuriate in the warmth of the radiator next to me, and even enjoy the cacophony. I also pondered on the merits of noise-cancelling headphones.
Do you notice if you brace against excess stimuli or too much chaos? Do you notice the effect it has on your body? Would you like to explore a way to be more aware of your reaction to these things and choose what to do about it? Get in touch! Have a few Alexander Technique lessons. We could even explore the process in a cafe together!
Jane Clappison MSTAT
“We learn from failure, not from success!”
Dear Alexander Technique students,
I want you to drop your standards (and me, mine). Here’s why:
I was sat in a great cafe, here in Pocklington. They have a tiny table, just for people like me. It’s right next to the cakes, so I can enjoy all their gorgeousness without taking on a single calorie (could inhaling the smell do that?). I was sipping my cappuccino, trying not to get a “joker” smile from the chocolate. I was also writing about my challenges to simply sit down and play my harp.
In came a young woman wrestling with a huge guitar case (you know, the type that withstands almost everything), music books and full hessian bags. Before she sat down at a table, the guitar reverently went on the seat next to her, one of her bags got another seat and the floor and table the rest. She gave her order and proceeded to open up a music book and play the air with her fingers. She was humming in her head (I could tell) and tapping her foot too. I knew she was playing that piece, I could almost hear it. Here was a musician, through and through.
Intuitively I knew she had the experience that would really help me with my harp playing issue. I sat there feeling a bit nauseous at the thought of going over and starting a conversation. Never before had I attempted that. Then she looked up and smiled at me. The warmth of it gave me courage, to ask her if she still found practising a challenge. Yes, was the answer. She also shared so much more. It gave me hope for my musical adventure.
What’s this got to do with standards? What’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?
One of the other things that lovely young woman said, was that she records her playing, and listens to it for mistakes. It’s the mistakes she learns from.
Mistakes to her are what help her excel at what she does. They are part of her deep practice. They are her tool to getting better at her craft.
So, when we realise we have not “inhibited” when we are applying the Alexander Technique, when we lose the present moment and dive into life without a pause: it’s not a failure to meet a specific standard. It’s simply another bit of information to learn from. We will have the opportunity to grow from those moments, review what it is we want, choose what we might do next time, how we want to be next time, and play with it!
Perhaps the standard should be to make as many mistakes as possible?
Fancy making some mistakes with me? Take lessons in the Alexander Technique!
Entrance swipe card poised in my hand, dressed in perfunctory work out gear, terrified, heart thumping, on the edge of the abyss…I swiped! It didn’t work! Failed at the first hurdle. Panic now rising because I couldn’t even get through the door. If that was difficult then how would I manage whatever awaited me in the gym?
I did get in when someone else came out. I felt helpless, floundering like a fish out of water and yet gyms, just like this one, had been my working environment (my pond) for many years as a Physiotherapist. On this day, I was attending the gym (and still am attending regularly) because I had developed a persistent problem with my right knee and had requested an “exercise on prescription” course which my GP had agreed to.
I was met by a lovely gym instructor, and we chatted about my knee problem and what I was hoping for. The instructor set me up on an inclined bike so it wouldn’t be so painful on my knee, and I reluctantly cycled for three minutes. It was a big deal for me. My world had become very restricted by the repeated swelling of my knee which often flared up with exercise. I continued to feel very shaky inside and cautious about everything I was asked to do, but I felt supported and confident in the gym instructor’s ability. I began to enjoy the workout.
About half way through the session the gym instructor said “Do you know you lift your shoulders up when you do some of the exercises?” I thought ” R-e-a-l-l-y? What on earth…?” and then I remembered habits don’t go away. And, that everything I do during the day, every thought, every action, has the potential to trigger that habit. However, the gym session was a stronger stimulus than normal. I was also nervous, and I wasn’t applying the Alexander Technique to what I was doing. I was trying to speedily comply with the instructor’s requests (to please, to end gain). I was well ahead of myself.
What have I learned from that?
1. Habits do not go away. With all movement, the body prepares outside of conscious awareness, before we move. My habit is there outside of my conscious awareness, in its lifelong way, unless I do something different, which is where the Alexander Technique comes in. It is a conscious process.
2. My pre-gym attempts to push my knee (also a habit) and return to running and dancing were not what it needed. I know improving tissue health is essential and the regular gym attendance has helped this to happen. My knee pain has reduced, strength and balance improved, and I feel more confident and can rely on my knee more. I also know my knee responds to a steady, gentle, paced increase in activity. My knee is not yet ready to run, but I am much more confident that, in time, I can run again without it swelling up.
3. Don’t get complacent, stay present and conscious. Recently the gym instructor suggested I try to stand up, off a bench, using one leg (instead of two). Immediately, all I thought was that I couldn’t do it. I worried about being unable to get my bum off the seat. I could also see, in the mirror, that my shoulders were already trying to help, so I applied the Alexander Technique. I decided not to do the exercise and invited my shoulders to rest. Then I thought “up” and the movement happened smoothly and easily.
4. Be patient with swipe cards
To wonderful gym instructors everywhere (but especially at Francis Scaife Sports Centre in Pocklington, E. Yorks, UK)
I am going to join the list of Alexander Technique teachers who admit to this…I have persistent pain! It has been a part of my life for a few years.
I was diagnosed with “polyarthropathy” (multiple joint pains) though I knew that already. It’s one of those conditions that doctors tell you to “live with” whilst prescribing painkillers, or suggesting heavier drugs that have even more side effects. I opted to see how things go.
Having been a pain management physiotherapist for many years I have a lot of tools to help me with it. However, the most useful “tool” to help me with the pain is the #alexandertechnique.
The intention of this blog is to share what works fantastically well to ease (and often get rid of) the pain. It’s great to do first thing in the morning. It works well for other people I have shared it with. It’s really simple! I don’t start moving until I have done these steps…
One – I know I want to move but I think “stop”. I let go of the thought of moving (not so easy especially with a bathroom visit on my mind!)
Two – I invite my body (via thought only) to let go of unnecessary tension.
Three – I move.
Four – If I find myself walking like a weeble or other unwanted ways to move to avoid pain (habits), I stop again and repeat steps one and two, and I might also pay attention to my feet and surroundings!
There are other steps in between you would learn if you came for #alexandertechnique lessons BUT these steps are brilliant all on their own. Try it and let me know what happens!
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