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Pandemic focus purchasing: Order completed over the phone. Smart walk into town, mask on, quick flash of my card to buy the flowers and a swift hand over of two huge bouquets.
I hadn’t expected them to be so big.
After about 5 minutes of brisk walking I realised I needed to carry these bouquets for at least another 10-15 minutes and I predicted my arms would probably ache. I was tightly gripping them in front of me, elbows at 90 degrees. I had hoped to put them in a large carrier bag I had brought with me. They were far too big to fit into it. I remembered I had studied the Alexander Technique for over 30 years and smiled.
What if these bouquets were actually two huge balloons and they weighed nothing, in fact they were holding my arms up? Immediately I let go of the strangled grip I had on all the flower stems. My hands felt so much better! My wrists and arms released, my neck and jaw released. I looked around me as I walked. I had a spring in my step. I enjoyed the mass of colour in those bouquets in front of me. I revelled in the late autumn air. The walk was a pleasure.
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This is the 10th interview in a series of interviews I carried out with people who have had Alexander Technique (AT) lessons.
This interview is with Dorothy, who is in her mid 70’s, retired, lives with a partner and leads a very full and active life. Dorothy has been having face to face Alexander Technique lessons with me for a few years.
Each time Dorothy comes for a lesson she tells me about something new that the Alexander Technique has helped her with. Since doing this interview, one of the things she told me was that she used to dread filling and emptying the washing machine. She told me the problem wasn’t so much getting down to the washer but getting back up. She used to need to pull herself up on the washer. Now, she doesn’t even need to think about it.
AT has influenced Dorothy’s life profoundly. She no longer rushes through life, ticking off everything on her “to do” list, but instead, experiences the richness of being in the present moment. Here’s her thoughts about that:
I would like to know a little bit about what impact having Alexander Technique (AT) lessons has had for you.
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They were on the way to a match. The car was full of excited people all chattering away. They were on the way to a new venue so the driver was using their phone as a satnav. It wasn’t on the dashboard but propped up on the handbrake between the two front seats. The screen could be seen at a pinch but the verbal directions were being followed. Unfortunately due to the noise of the passengers the driver was having trouble hearing those directions. That wasn’t a problem at first.
As the journey progressed they moved into unfamiliar territory so the driver looked at his phone to see what was coming up. It was only for a second or two perhaps. Suddenly there was a scream which made the driver look up. They were within yards of the back end of a bus which had stopped. The car driver banged their foot down hard, but in their panic missed the brake pedal. Their only option was to swerve, out into the oncoming lane. Luck was definitely on their side as no cars were in that lane and disaster was averted. The shock and the thought of what might have been reverberated for a long while.
Oprah Winfrey talks about life’s lessons starting off as a little nudge and then becoming a huge boulder thrown at you calling you to pay attention. I often think about that. The driver who told me about their shocking car journey reminded me about how life keeps calling to us to wake up and pay attention, and it also reminded me about my work.
So many of my clients spend a lot of their life going from task to task, head down, failing to see the full picture, failing to smell the roses. They ignore the many messages their body is giving them and only begin to listen when it becomes a problem. They plough on with stress and pain, and push it out the way to get on with life’s tasks. I think life is too short to to be like that. A treadmill, never stopping.
I don’t think life is about crossing off jobs on a list. Lurching from one thing to another, mind on the next job, not the one you are doing, but sometimes that is what life becomes. It loses it’s sparkle.
The Alexander Technique is often what people turn to when they get a huge wake-up call, when stress and pain get too much. They realise that they need to do things differently. I often see people when their message to look up and take stock has become like a boulder, not a nudge.
Some of my greatest joys are found in moments, when a client realises that slowing down is a good thing. I love it when they tell me they stopped and noticed the present moment. Stopping is an essential part of learning the technique.
Last week a client talked about stopping to look at the snowdrops in the garden when normally they only realise they have gone when the daffodils are in bloom. Actually they usually miss the daffodils too. It made my day. I felt their life was well on the way to being richer.
Perhaps you recognise yourself in this? Perhaps you know you have a tendency to push on. What would it be like to learn to stop and be at ease in the present moment. Easy body, easy mind? Give it a try for the next hour? Stop every 10 minutes and just notice one thing. What’s around you and within you? What can you see, hear or feel?
I’d love to work with you if life is calling to you to stop and discover what it’s like to enjoy being in a body and in the present moment. Get in touch?
Alexander Technique Teacher
Image by Hans Brexmeier, Pixabay
When I trained as an Alexander Technique Teacher I was given a “bone prop”. We used it for a while on the course and then I shoved it in a bag for a few years to surface about a month and a half ago. I now know, to be correct, it is called a Morrison Bone Prop and it was developed by Annie Morrison LCST ADVS for “vocal resonance and clarity of diction”. To quote her website:
Lightly held between the teeth whilst performing articulation drills and vocal exercises – the Prop increases the oral space without the need to bite down to hold it in place.
This month’s project has been to wear and use my bone prop every day.
The prop is a short piece of plastic, with dents at each end that allows it to sit on the teeth easily, attached to a ribbon worn round the neck. I have been using it (placing it comfortably between my front teeth without biting) several times a day.
My main wish was for it to calm my habit of fiddling with a painful area in my mouth with my tongue. It definitely did that instantaneously and it allowed my jaw to become much more relaxed. I particularly noticed how much influence it had, when I went to the dentist for a check up. I was struck by how easy it was to both open my mouth and also hold it open without strain. My dentist was very happy for me to use it.
- experimented with holding the prop between my teeth with my jaw soft, both with my lips open and closed.
- talking with the prop in situ.
- used it during all sorts of activities from watching TV, driving to walking on the treadmill at the gym.
- I have also done the five bone prop exercises that can be found on Vimeo:https://vimeo.com/themorrisonboneprop
During the month I have also done some jaw mapping:
- looking at anatomical pictures of the jaw
- feeling where my own jaw is
- feeling the movement at my temperomandibular joint (TMJ)
- feeling the jaw in movement
- placing my hands on the main muscles involved in jaw movement and sensing what happens there
I appreciate that seems like a whole lot of doing when these projects were meant to be about non-doing. However, there’s a bonus of all this doing, and that is, my mouth and jaw have enjoyed blissful release and lots of non-doing which is becoming more and more accessible without the prop.
I have been using the Alexander Technique all the while in this process. I have used the classic Alexander Technique directions (thoughts about how I want to be) such as inviting my neck to remain free. I have also used other directions to assist with the release of the jaw, tongue, oral cavity, face and shoulder girdle.
It’s been a bonus for my AT clients who have jaw issues as I shared my experiences with them. We combined it with their AT lessons have found the process helped them too.
A bone prop isn’t necessary to use AT to help release the jaw, however it is a helpful adjunct. Even without it, the process of having the teeth separated with a soft jaw, free neck, and tongue behind the bottom teeth will go a long way.
A washed finger placed between the upper and lower teeth, and a wish to have a soft jaw and lips and not bite down on the finger does give a sense of the process with the prop in situ.
However, a word of caution! Do not attempt to use anything other than a bone prop between your teeth for all the exercises (other than the finger exercise described above), for hygiene and safety reasons.
Bone props can be purchased from Annie’s website in umpteen colour combinations (no I am not on commission):
If you would like to try a few of these ideas out with support, come and have a lesson!
Alexander Technique Teacher
Santa didn’t leave a sack at the end of my bed! He had always left the sack at the end of the bed. Was I that bad this year? I was panic stricken and so was my sister who I shared the room with. We rushed out of the bedroom, meeting our brother on the way towards “the front bedroom” i.e. Mummy & Daddy’s room. The tsunami of us anxious kids shot into their room and almost all at once we began a traumatised chorus of “Santa hasn’t been”. Fortunately panic was soon over when we discovered he had “been” and left our sacks with Mummy and Daddy.
We were not the only one’s affected as years later my Mum still tells us about that day and the “hasn’t been” chorus which happened because they wanted to see us opening our presents. She doesn’t recount or remember my other traumatic experience on the same day which was the Land Rover.
One of the presents in my sack was a toy Land Rover. I was over the moon. It would pull an imaginary horse box for my herd of plastic horses. I can remember the tyres to this day. Big, knobbly, black tyres, white centres and the grey and green paint job. I zoomed it round my other presents and our slowly emptying sacks…until my Mum & Dad realised the toy I was playing with actually belonged to my brother, who was looking on enviously. I don’t remember how they explained it to me, or the way I parted company with it. I am fairly certain I won’t have given it up without a fight and it would have involved tears, and most likely not all mine. I have never forgotten the toy that I wasn’t actually given.
Christmas and the festive season can be overwhelming for many reasons, for all ages and all walks of life. It can be overwhelming in a pleasurable way as well as painful. A mixture of emotions, highs and lows and challenges of all kinds. From what I have heard in the last couple of days, food shopping is currently high on the list of people’s challenges, for those lucky enough to be able to afford that.
This year has held quite a number of challenges for me, especially latterly. Sometimes with all the wisdom I imagine I must have gathered over the years, including my Alexander Technique skills, I struggle to hold onto what might bring some calm and peace. Latterly, all I can offer myself, and perhaps you, is to come into the present moment by focussing on one thing. Hands, jaw, breathing, whatever takes your attention. My feet are often my “go to” place for that. I reconnect with my feet and the earth. I notice everything I can about the sensations coming from them. They ground me. Maybe they will you too? A moment of centering in the whirlwind of life events.
Jane Clappison MSTAT
Alexander Technique Teacher
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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An ex physiotherapy colleague, who I respect greatly, recently saw one of my Alexander Technique (AT) adverts. His response to what I had written was ‘Jane, why do we need to improve our posture?’ The short answer was ‘you don’t,’ but it got me thinking, and thinking…and thinking, about posture. It’s a commonly used word. A simple definition is “the position in which someone holds their body.” We kind-of understand what it means, or do we?
My machinations grew to me wanting to write a blog about posture and how it relates to the Alexander Technique.
I thought it would be useful to link it to a story from my past about posture and I came up short! Literally. As a child, I can’t remember anyone ever asking me to sit up straight or complaining about my posture. However, young kids don’t usually have a problem with their posture. They have an inherent way of doing things that seems to involve a great, easy, effortless way of being.
When I went through school, almost all my friends were taller than me. I guess at an unconscious level I wanted to be level with them. I wanted to be one of the gang and fit in. I know I wanted to be taller as they shot even further upwards. I suspect it was one of the reasons I didn’t adopt a slumped posture. I probably tried to stretch upwards. The reverse is true for many tall children who slump to meet their shorter friends. Of course it wasn’t really about posture but other things.
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I got back to the present moment.
I know this is a wonderful moment.
(Thich Nhat Hahn)
This week’s “project” has been my breathing. More about why in this month’s blog. However, I was surprised to find, when I paid attention to my breathing, that it was often rapid, and in my upper chest. A deep breath felt difficult because my abdomen was tight and restricting the movement of my diaphragm.
Becoming aware of each breath, and maintaining attention on the breath, is a way into the present moment for many religions and disciplines.
Learning the Alexander Technique does free up the breathing. However, my discovery about my breathing reminded me that breathing can be affected by anxiety, emotion, tension, physical issues: many things.
My breathing has become slower and easier by applying the Alexander Technique. I will share the things I have been doing with you, over the next couple of weekly prompts. They have an indirect effect. They bring me to a place where I can let go of tension and my breathing does itself.
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