Alexander Technique in East Yorkshire

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Vogue your way into clothes

Flamenco groupPutting a sports bra on at any time can be a challenge! Here are some thoughts about that, and some Alexander Technique (AT) ideas that might help. For those of you that don’t wear them, you might find an AT nugget in here somewhere.

To get to the sports bra we need a few detours. The first is about bath bombs and Epson salts.

I am a Lush bath bomb gal. I love watching the effervescing ball dance around the thundering bath water as it releases colour and scent, and luxuriating in all of that. So the suggestion from a friend, of soaking in a bath of Epson salts, wasn’t that appealing. I was assured it would be good for my health. Plus, a huge tub of Epson salts arrived, as a present, and thus, I gave it a go.

Warning – do not try this bit at home! I have no idea if Alexander Technique in the bath will work for you! I could end up with my readers drowning in the attempt. Please don’t.

Having an Eco friendly bath is no way to undertake this soak, but it was the only one available to me. The overflow is strategically placed so that I can only be covered by 2/3rd’s of water even when it is full. The bath is short, narrow and I can lay on my back with my knees bent without drowning. Happily, I was able to practice Alexander Technique active rest, releasing into width as much as the bath allowed whilst laying in the Epson salt infusion. I also enjoyed listening to the ocean liner-like central heating noises from underneath the water. A couple of flannels, for warmth, topped off the event: sorry if that’s too much detail!

Bath over, having already been applying the Alexander Technique to laying in an extremely narrow bath, I was pondering on applying it to the unique issue of putting my clothes on. It’s the same problem as dressing after going swimming. How to do this with ease? Hot atmospheres, damp, warm skin and clothing just don’t work well together. There’s that Velcro effect where clothes weld to the skin wherever they touch.

We need another detour here, onto how Flamenco dancing, Madonna and lack of confidence play a part.

Picture a flamenco dancer with their hands spiralling round their body, then take yourself back to 1990, and Madonna’s song, Vogue, and striking a pose.  I recommend you follow the link and watch the video first. It’s a great song and you might enjoy striking a pose? Have fun. I just did! I feel so energised now.

Anyhow, where does lack of confidence fit in? Back in my N.H.S. days I had to go to the occasional meeting. Usually in a stuffy room, sat around a table with other health professionals, at the end of a long week. Picture yourself there as the most senior consultant makes a point. From his position of power he luxuriously floats his hands up and over his head in an arc, palms coming to rest behind his head, elbows wide. He draws a breath, and with confidence, slowly begins to make his point. A while later, a junior doctor speaks out but he just can’t pull off the whole hands behind the head thing. A tiny shadow movement, half going there, and then giving up, happens instead. The effect on the group, and his lack of seniority means his message doesn’t land in the same way at all. To get the full effect try both arm movements yourself, then try going from one to the other. It’s a bit like voguing but less fun.

Back to the sports bra: my usual method looks more like one my Dad used in his motor cycle repair days when all else failed: rive it! After my Epson salts bath, and my Eco friendly chilling out with the Alexander Technique, I was up for exploring what happens if I don’t rive my sports bra on? What happens if I use the Alexander Technique?

Back to Flamenco, voguing and lack of confidence. Well, putting a sports bra on and applying the Alexander Technique looks like a cross between all of those! The up side, is I was laughing my head off by the time I finished and I wasn’t at all flustered like I normally am. The down side was, I took ages to get dressed and I would have been mortified if anyone had walked in on me.

I started by releasing my usual rive-it approach tension. I stopped several times during the process and thought about having a free neck. In those moments of stillness you might have thought I was dancing, but more likely, if pressed, you would have described me as a trussed up turkey.  Sports bras have a unique property of rolling themselves up and becoming extremely rigid and rope like, despite their elastic content. I needed to take a Sun Tzu, Art of War, indirect approach.

What I did learn was a sports bra goes on (and off) much more smoothly when applying the Alexander Technique. However, another tip, if this is available to you: partners come in very handy. Get someone else to help!

 

Alexander Technique can be applied in all sorts of ways, including dressing! If you fancy finding out how, get in touch and book a lesson!

Jane Clappison MSTAT

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk

Sick bed musings

Sick bed detritus

I used to believe that if I was ill, and in hospital, I would sit by the side of my bed, dressed: until I got real.

Being ill sometimes means my nightwear gets changed because it’s been worn 24/7, and it’s beginning to smell.

Being ill means my sick-bed multi-tasks as a library, of books I want to read, but don’t have the concentration for. A roving dog bed, as snoring Kyra and I dance round the space. An observatory, as I delight at the wind blowing through the neighbour’s pine tree, it’s jostling branches playing a frantic game of tag. It also becomes a rubbish bin for tissues and other detritus.

Being ill is a challenging process on all levels, it’s different every time and we all navigate that as best as we can.

I am not in hospital, but I am ill.

I thought I would share some ideas, including Alexander Technique ones, that are helping me. They are not earth shattering. They come into my full focus and then wane. I do what I can. It takes perseverance.  They are not a panacea but they bring me joy.  They help me remember there’s more to life than feeling ill. They may give you some ideas to try out when you are ill? Even one will change the experience.

The root of my problem (literally) has been a tooth infection that spread and is ongoing. Sometimes all I can manage is to let my body get on with it. Other times:

  • I notice myself in my environment, what is around me, sensing what is behind me (without looking) and that helps me be in the present moment. It calms me and placates my need to be well.
  • I observe my body, where it is attempting to brace and hold against the unknown invader . My teeth, jaw, face and neck regularly take on a defensive role. Softening my eyes reduces strain and pain. Releasing the inside of my mouth into length and width ripples through my body, my shoulders drop and I breathe more deeply.
  • Noticing pain free areas rather than painful areas also helps break a cycle that feeds the pain.
  • I am remembering to balance rest with activity. I regularly take a walk round the house and garden. I have been exploring a few things as I do that such as:

Noticing my breathing as I move.

What happens if I breathe out when I stand up?

What happens if I take a breath in?

What happens when I don’t change my breathing and think crown away from feet as I stand?

What differences can I feel under my feet as I move from one surface to another, from carpet to wooden floor to stone to lawn?

I observe my reluctance to lay down in the day time. I remind myself of my niece as a baby, when she had not yet learned how to sooth herself to sleep, and she struggled with that transition from wakefulness to rest. However, through resisting rest, on laying down, I discover I have created pain. I rest, letting go of the effort of being upright, and as I release into semi supine it brings ease and relief from pain. My body thanks me. There’s a work in progress for me here as I challenge beliefs around this resistance and honour the need to sleep.

  • When the energy rises I tackle the accumulating pile of dirty items that won’t go in the dishwasher. I enjoy the contact of my feet on the floor, the view of the changing colours in the garden, the sounds the water makes in the sink as I work. I also notice my gradually wrinkling hands and a growing tiredness as I sense the whole of me in this space.
  • I am thankful for my husband’s suggestion to sit outside. Somehow I forget that simple things can be a blessing. I can enjoy how the delightful autumn sun gives life to the Acer’s vibrant feathery red leaves against the electric green garden. I have a special fondness for the shadows on the patio, especially the dancing butterflies. I even saw a Red Admiral yesterday, in October!
  • I can laugh at myself. This morning before my husband went to work he came to see me in bed, to say goodbye. Wryly he said “New brooch?” gesturing to my top and grinning. I looked at it with puzzlement and there was a purple, lint covered, firmly glued, partly used, throat lozenge! Well, it had obviously done its job of calming my coughing and helping me get off to sleep! Being ill can be very messy, and amusing.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  Helen Keller

Perhaps these ideas might help you towards overcoming suffering? I wouldn’t recommend the brooch.

When you and I are well, perhaps we could work together to explore these ideas? Contact me or phone me to book a lesson or workshop.

Jane Clappison

01759 307282

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Parapets and whistling

Penguin on rock

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

 

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge (Tuli Kupferberg)

Natalie Collins (Unsplash)

I love that practicing the Alexander Technique brings new information, new ways of seeing things all the time.

A recent Alexander Technique lesson I received started something like this…

Teacher – What’s happening with your foot?

Me – Oh it’s forward of the other, it’s often like that.

Teacher – What else is happening, take a look!

Me – Oh it’s becoming windswept! It’s been going that way since I broke my ankle.

Teacher – What about if you release into the windswept way it wants to go…?

Me – OH! Wow!

“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out they way they’re supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable than the experience itself.” – Goldie Hawn

The release felt like my foot was softening, expanding, spacious,  opening, beautiful, limitless, effortlessly yielding and it had a ripple effect, through my whole system, opening out into the world. It sounds profound and it was.

I wouldn’t say I am a control freak where most things are concerned. Yet, with many years dancing, teaching movement & working as a Chartered Physiotherapist, I do keep falling into the trap of trying to “control” my body and wanting it to be other-than-what-it-is! I was doing that same thing with my ankle and my foot. I was releasing them the way I wanted them to go. I was trying to control them, despite all my Alexander training (habits can be so deep they go unnoticed) and despite that (mostly unconscious) effort to control them my balance was getting worse and my foot was stuck in the middle, going two ways.

So, back to the lesson …we spent it thinking about releasing into the direction that my foot, and my body wanted to go. I marvelled about how “releasing into the direction something wants to go” had such a profound effect and I knew that the same process could be applied to life. Google defines release as…

allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free.”

It is not about collapsing, or admitting defeat but involves ceasing trying to change things in-the-moment, accepting things as they are, setting things free to be just as they are. Releasing into an unknown outcome.

I have been lovingly acknowledging and embracing my windswept foot (which probably evolved as a result of a fall and broken ankle) as being part of me. Accepting that this is how it is.

The paradox is that by witnessing it and allowing it to be, giving up the control, things have changed and my foot is already less windswept and my balance has improved.

Sometimes I come back to a thing over and over before I take a different path. I may be back here again in the future! I suspect release is rarely a one- time thing especially where habit is concerned. I do know that “releasing” can feel utterly impossible if one does not know how, and it can be challenging as well as breathtaking. The Alexander Technique is a wonderful tool to support this process.

FM Alexander described his technique as conscious control of the individual. Yes, it is about “control” but of a different kind. One where we can react differently to our patterns.

When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is! – unknown

Jane Clappison MSTAT (with gratitude to Lena Schibel-Mason MSTAT)

01759 307282

www.janeclappison.co.uk

Want to reduce pain? Try the Alexander Technique.

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.

Pain abstract picture

Pain abstract picture

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!

The Alexander Technique, mental movies, anger, stress…and change!

film-331553_1920 (Copy)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!

Joy (Copy)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

 

Labradors, snuffle mats, feet & The Alexander Technique

Kyra, our black Labrador retriever puppy

Kyra, our black Labrador retriever puppy

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.

 

 

Kyra asleep in her crate

Kyra asleep in her crate

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!

If you want to learn more about The Alexander Technique, why not book a lesson or come to one of my workshops?

The Alexander Technique, Directions & Cooking chutney

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!Pears and oranges on 2 chopping boards with knife

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!

Jane standing chopping in monkey positionI 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.

Man stood at kitchen counter with bad posture  Box on kitchen counter with chopping board on top     Man stood at kitchen counter in monkey position

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!

pan on stove for web

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.

www.janeclappison.co.uk

 

Copyright – All photographs – by D J Clappison.