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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.
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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)
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!
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.