The Alexander Technique – Inhibition
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Jane’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:
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.
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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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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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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Softening the centre
Let your belly soften.
Not a chance!
The Alexander Technique teacher held his hand softly on my abdomen.
Not a chance!
I confessed I just couldn’t do it. We discussed how my years of dancing, and thinking I had to hold my belly in, contributed to the chronic tension. It’s something a lot of dancers do. It’s also what a lot of western women do, conditioned into thinking that a flat belly is more acceptable.
We agreed I would do a few experiments at home to invite it to release. On all fours was one position I tried. However, the one that had the most impact was standing side on to the mirror and letting my belly go and realising it didn’t look any bigger and actually it allowed my ribs, and the area in front of my ribs to soften and rest. I often tell this story to my pupils when they are doing the same thing! I also remind them that if you look at healthy, fit, indigenous populations they often have a softly protruding belly. It’s normal.
This week’s project is tied into the one from last week. Thanks to a recent refresher lesson for myself I noticed that when I did my whispered Ah’s my gut was stopping me from breathing in with ease. There was a pressure at the bottom of my breast bone. It’s one of the places where I feel discomfort when I get IBS. Unfortunately, following a course of antibiotics it has returned! It was also there because my old habit of tightening my abdominal muscles was back! Well, it never went actually, although I had learned to use the Alexander Technique to inhibit it.
If you fancy joining me, here’s what I did to bring about non-doing:
Notice your belly (non-doing, being mindfully present)
Invite it to soften towards the midline (the spine)
Notice how that affects your breathing – for me it usually allows me to instantaneously take a bigger breath, followed by a huge reduction in abdominal discomfort from IBS.
Your belly naturally will rise on an in breath, and fall on an out breath (perhaps with the exception of extreme athletes)
You might like to do it before a whispered Ah and see if that changes things.
Let me know how you get on?
Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
Finding the present moment
through your feet!
I made my feet, especially my toes, a project this week. Can my feet bring me back to the present moment? It’s a kind of thinking to bring about non doing.
In The Use of the Self, F. M. Alexander talks about taking hold of the floor with his feet. He explains that that habit was part of a bigger picture. It sure is.
During this project I noticed I often try to grip the floor with my toes, sometimes I have a lot of weight on my heels, especially when walking. I got to be re-acquainted with some of the unhelpful habits I have, like standing on the outside of my foot when I dry my other foot. Doing that gives me less stability and area to balance on.
Does all that matter as feet are constantly adapting? What I do know is that I don’t have to do any of that extra stuff. I can do nothing instead. I can let my feet do what they are designed to do. It’s much easier and I get some amazing feedback through my feet for all the movements I do, if I leave them alone.
I was pleasantly surprised as I noticed the sensation of the bedroom carpet in the morning. I am always amazed at finding something new in ordinary, everyday activities. I enjoyed spotting the texture and temperature contrast between the carpet and the wood of the floor in the bathroom.
When I invite my feet to rest on the floor, and release to the floor, everything I do, because it’s part of a whole pattern, becomes easier. It also instantly takes me into the present moment.
Maybe you might like to make your feet a project too? Could be a 5 minute project as you do an activity or a longer term project.
You could focus just on noticing your feet in the moment, notice what happens if you invite them to release.
Notice what around you as you do all of that. Let the images come to you rather than forcing it.
If it seems your feet are illusive – try waking them up with massage, or giving them a wash and dry every nook and cranny, or roll your foot over a tennis ball. There are so many ways, and we do these kinds of things in Alexander Lessons.
If you know about the primary directions like “let the neck be free” add your feet into the picture. Can your feet be free to rest?
Let me know if you have any questions/how you get on?
Alexander Technique Teacher
This is the 6th interview in a series of interviews with people who have had Alexander Technique lessons. Here are Jocelyn’s answers to a simple set of questions I asked her about the technique.
Jocelyn is in her late 60’s and had about 20 lessons when she did this interview.
What drew you to the Alexander Technique?
I had heard about it as I am interested in complementary medicine. Also a friend talked about Alexander Technique (AT) and posture. Then an orthopaedic surgeon mentioned my problem was posture related so I looked into AT and found a teacher.
Was there anything unexpected about having Alexander Technique lessons?
The body awareness
It is like having a massage but it’s not massage
I do see the sessions as lessons, not passive therapy
It is harder than what I thought it would be.
It is contradictory – “You’ve got to think and it’s non-doing”
I always feel really good when I have a lesson
I didn’t think that thinking about parts of the body can be so relaxing
What impact did you hope for by having lessons?
(At first) not a lot
I do Active Rest daily and the directions “ease, space, release” are very helpful (especially ease and space).
AT has helped me release tension in my body. It has got me more interested in the mind-body and how anxiety started off the tension. Conventional medicine cannot help with this.
I believe it is “all about tension” of body, mind and spirit.
I think I might be overdosing because I could do active rest, meditation and exercise all day.
I have had physiotherapy, exercises, massage, ultrasound, medical acupuncture. It helped and also helped in understanding of chronic pain. However, the benefits did not last.
The Alexander Technique makes me more aware. I notice my pain (when I am out and about) and then I become more body aware (of what I am doing), then I use inhibition (stopping and thinking) then I use directions (neck free, head forward and up.)
What differences have you noticed through doing the Alexander Technique?
I think there is less pain.
I think I can work on the pain.
I feel more in control of the pain.
I feel more optimistic.
It has given me back control.
Anything else about the “thinking” in learning the technique.
Not yet got my head round it.
I think my thinking has changed.
I thought Alexander Technique was posture and now: thinking and the brain = decreased tension.
I can incorporate Alexander Technique into everything I do e.g. I use direction and inhibition in exercise.
I originally learned to do exercises with tension. I am concentrating on no tension – Alexander Technique has helped.
I still do not understand it – this ‘thinking and not doing.’ I am an over-thinker and Alexander Technique says think.
I can feel energy – I need to understand it…and yet do I need to understand it?
Alexander Technique fits with energy work
And anything else?
I am less tense with Alexander technique.
Active rest – brings about a state to do meditation, it is calming and settles my body and mind and I can do exercises in a less tense state.
It is changing me.
It is making me healthier.
I believe it is a way of looking after myself.
Interested in having lessons? Contact me?
Jane Clappison MSTAT
This is the third interview, in a series of interviews with students of the Alexander Technique (AT) about their experiences of learning the technique.
Students of the technique often come with a specific problem they want to address but then find that they gain a lot of other benefits they had not envisaged.
The following are some of the highlights of Judy’s experiences of applying the principles of AT in her daily life. Judy says it helps to:
- make her walking easier,
- help her manage stairs and slopes easier,
- release into her meditation practice,
- make sitting easy,
- feel she can work out how to do challenging tasks with more ease,
- help her to be calm and feel peace.
Judy is in her 30’s, lives alone and has a number of physical issues which involve both traumatic injuries that became longstanding problems and hyper mobility.
When Judy started learning AT she hoped the technique would have an influence on her posture and help with the pain that occurred with everyday activity. She admits, she didn’t expect it to work, but found out that it did.
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