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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
My Dad had quite a few “War stories” he told but the one that I want to tell today is about when he stuck his head above the parapet. A parapet is a low protective wall for concealing troops. It’s a very short story and involves my Dad behind a parapet, his commanding officer, and a random third party doing shooting practice. Apparently his commanding officer bellowed out “Clappison” and my Dad lifted his head up above the parapet, and said “Yes, Sir” and got shot! Fortunately it hit him at the very edge of his forehead. All his kids, and anyone else listening, got to feel the dent in his skull, and the outline of the bullet underneath his skin every time he told the story. He carried the bullet for the rest of his life. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live bullet but a practice round.
My best friend also has a very similar wound from sticking his head above the parapet, but this one happened at school. It happened when he was very young, but he didn’t ever forget it. His body tries to protect him from ever being wounded again, every time he is in company.
Apparently, when he was at school, the teacher decided to tell the class about penguins. As my friend had been reading about penguins, with his mum, the night before, he got really excited. He knew all about penguins and they were from the south west coast of Africa, and even had islands named after them: the Penguin Islands. Unfortunately the teacher had only read about penguins from Antarctica. So when the teacher asked “Where do Penguins come from?” and my friend shot up his hand quicker than anyone else in the class, he got picked to answer the question. The answer made the teacher, and then the whole class, laugh. That bullet landed very deeply and is still felt: everywhere.
My friend hates being at parties. He doesn’t mind sitting on the edge of a group of people. He likes listening to conversations, but it is very unlikely he will join in. He is terrified of being asked a question, and would much prefer to avoid going to parties all together. It has been a habit almost all his life.
So, today we decided to see what would happen if we applied the Alexander Technique to this habit. We talked about what happens when he goes to parties and I could see his face change: his jaw tightened, he wasn’t going to talk, his eyes tightened up, he didn’t want to see, his breathing almost stopped, no air was going to pass his larynx, no sound was ever going to come out, and perhaps if he was really still he wouldn’t be noticed.
We then worked together, respecting the habit was there for a good reason. Firstly we talked about the thoughts, and that they were causing the tension. He wasn’t at a party. The tension remained. I invited him to notice the garden out of the window, and the birds on the bird table. Then I invited him to release his jaw which softened. Then to soften his ribs, so he could take a breath: that took a little while longer, but suddenly a full breath happened and he smiled. We continued working for a little longer. He said he would check in with his jaw when he was next at a party.
I noticed him whistling a little later on. He never does that unless he is really happy! I feel privileged to work with people in this way. To see the person, with their wounds, able to whistle because there is more than one choice on how to react. Perhaps it’s ok to look over the parapet now?
Fancy finding out how to feel more comfortable over the parapet, at parties or when you are in company? You don’t have to like parties, but you can feel more at ease. Why not book a lesson?
Tel:- 01759 307282
Jane Clappison MSTAT
For years, mornings started with my own mental daily movie examining absolutely everything I had done the day before. I looked for mistakes rather than successes e.g. when I was dieting the movie was about food eaten, and spotting “mistakes” so I could lose more weight. Teaching session movies were about perceived faults and how I could improve them. Meetings with people were replayed to work out how I could do them “better!” This mental marathon happened before getting out of bed and meant I started off the day with an incredibly “wired” brain! It didn’t change anything that had happened and started the coming day with rules about how I should be different! No opportunity to be in the moment, flexible and go with the flow!
However, I have discovered a few Alexander Technique based steps which make these morning “replays” either non-existent or at least very much shorter and more positive! I’d like to share some of my experience with you!
“When you know better you do better.” Maya Angelou
The change came in when I started to have Alexander Technique lessons. I learned to notice things in the present moment with no pressure. Over a few lessons I became less ridged in my thinking, less angry and anxious. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own emotions and thoughts. I began to know myself much more. I now understand that I did my morning mental check (and maybe you do too) to “keep myself safe”. If you want to know more about struggling with unwanted thoughts, read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris as he explains this kind of thinking in more detail.
Lessons taught me I didn’t, and don’t, have to vigilantly work out how to do things differently. I can make mistakes (and learn from them) and it’s ok. I can be loved for who I am exactly as I am! I am safe. This has not happened overnight. It has evolved over the last 27+ years! I learned to stop bracing myself and let my muscular armour soften and dissolve into a more fluid, responsive state.
However, old habits die hard! So, when I found myself replaying the workshop I had taught at the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique AGM in 2016 I took a different approach to the one I might have done previously. I applied The Alexander Technique to it.
- I noticed my thoughts from a place of curiosity – “Oh, there are those thoughts again!”
- I knew I didn’t have to change anything.
- I became aware of where I was, what I was hearing, seeing and doing which released all sorts of tensions. I knew I was safe in that moment.
- Knowing I didn’t have to change anything, and that I could just BE IN THE MOMENT also had the paradoxical effect of breaking the old pattern.
- Then I applied further “Alexander Technique” in the form of invitation/s (directions) to my body – “Let my neck be free” and ” I invite my shoulders to do less and widen.”
- Now I was feeling much more blissfully in the moment and could breath and know I didn’t need to change anything!
Some of these behaviours may be familiar? If you want to learn how to change tense muscles to responsive muscles, cyclical thoughts to ones that have choices, feel happier in your own skin being uniquely you…do get in touch! Contact me! Jane – 01759 307282
My family got a new member in the form of a black, mercurial, bouncy, crocodile-like Labrador retriever puppy! We called her Kyra and she is now 14 weeks old calmer and less crocodile-like and more the kind of Labrador that melts our hearts!
We have only just been able to take Kyra out for a walk so she is able to burn off her energy instead of being like a coiled spring!
To reduce her puppy energy to a level we could all live with (before we took her for walks) we used quite a few games to keep her occupied such as a “snuffle mat” I made. It is rather like a rag rug in which we hide biscuits and treats that she has to find. Much of the time whilst making the mat I stood over her indoor kennel as it made a great work bench.
We do spend a lot of time standing whilst being with her and training her and I have used The Alexander Technique throughout the process. I also used it when making the snuffle mat. The key thing I worked on was the direction “UP” combined with an awareness of my feet and crown. People who have attended my workshops and private lessons will be familiar with this “up” (and this is a link to a great article on it by Avi Granit http://www.alexander-technique-london.co.uk/the-3-ups/) but even if you do not know about Alexander directions such as “up” you might like to try the following when you are sitting, standing or bending over a surface doing something. It will bring you into the present moment, ground you and help towards reducing unnecessary effort.
Become aware of your feet and simply notice their connection to the floor and then invite your feet to release and rest on the floor. Your foot meets the floor with an equal and opposite force so no need to push, pull or grip with your feet. Then notice how your feet form a tripod i.e. your heel, big toe and little toe and invite each part of the tripod to be in your awareness. Start with noticing one foot at a time and then both together. At the same time, pay some attention to the room you are in. Yes, you can notice your feet and the room at the same time. It might be more challenging at first. Just notice your feet and the room and don’t try to change anything. Doing this will make a huge difference. Try it and let me know how you get on!
The tension had built up in almost all of my body before it reached a level that I noticed (but then I applied The Alexander Technique.) You see, today is “Pear Chutney” day. It is a ritual that happens for a day, once a year, except for last year when the tree produced 4 pears and I thought I would leave them for the birds!
It’s a labour intensive job that is shared with my husband as we peel, chop, squeeze, & de-core our way through pounds of fruit and onions with the outcome of 12 jars of popular chutney.
So that tension I noticed! At first I marvelled at how “end gaining” i.e. producing the jars of chutney in the quickest possible time, can suck me into all sorts of habits that result in discomfort! Then I noticed where the tension had built up! My feet were gripping, my legs were rigid, my hands were holding on tightly to the knife, the back of my neck was doing way more than it needed! Then I remembered that I can enjoy the journey, by applying The Alexander Technique, as well as produce 12 jars of chutney!
I stopped chopping for a moment. I noticed the warmth of the oven on my leg (the cooking chicken for our cat). I invited the tension in my body to release and for my feet to rest, instead of grip. I also noticed the coolness of the floor!
Over the next few hours, I took time to notice sights, sounds and yummy smells and I gently gave myself a “direction” every now and again.
Directions are an important part of The Alexander Technique. They are rather like wishes in a fairy tale. I just need to say these directions to myself, to ask, and my body knows what to do. I gave “directions” to my hands to hold the knife softly, to my ribs to float freely with each breath, to my neck to allow my head to rest on the top of my spine, for my back to widen. I invited my calves to soften and release my heels to the floor. I invited my crown to release away from my feet. I invited flow through my legs as I stood in a monkey (with my knees releasing away from my back). I was less machine like and the process became more of a dance.
My husband (who has had Alexander Lessons) noticed what his neck was doing. As he is much taller than me we got a box so he could continue cooking at a better height for him. He too stood in a monkey position to put much less pressure on his spine.
We took time out to have a coffee, we went out and enjoyed the garden, and we even caught up on Dr Who! We paced the task and we got the chutney made with no discomfort. Actually I really enjoyed it and took some pictures too!
Interested in the Alexander Technique and how do things mindfully, with much less effort? You will learn how to use directions and how they can benefit you in daily life! Use my contact page, or give me a ring on 01759 307282 to book a lesson.
With thanks to all my Alexander Technique teachers, but in particular to Walter Carrington (who I met through his books and through his pupils) for the fairytale wishes.
Copyright – All photographs – by D J Clappison.