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Jane’s January 2020 Alexander Technique Project
I’ve been playing with “negative directions” which, Missy Vineyard first described in her 1997 book, How you stand, how you move, how you live.
Robert Rickover wrote a blog about negative directions, if you want to know a bit more about them. There are also links on that page to various podcasts if you want to really immerse yourself.
This is a brief description of them, from Robert’s blog, for your information:
Alexander Technique directions of any kind are self-instructions designed to improve the quality of our posture and the way we move as we go through life. Alexander Technique teachers often teach their students to use “positive directions” such as “I am letting my neck be free,” or “I am lengthening and widening.”
Negative directions, on the other hand, are statements that say “no” to habits that you have (or possibly have) which you would like to stop. They typically begin with the phrase “I am not” – for example, “I am not tensing myself.”
Grammatically, they are negative statements, but they are a positive affirmations that you want to stop doing things to yourself that are harming you.
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Busy tongue seeking calm tongue!
After a tooth infection and root canal re-do of a back tooth last year I developed “burning mouth syndrome” which is exactly that: a burning sensation in the mouth, plus a numb tongue and odd sensations in my mouth. Fortunately it is settling but never-the-less I have become obsessed with “fiddling” with my back tooth. It went from fiddling one side, to sucking my cheek one side, to sucking my cheek both sides, to biting my tongue. I was causing sore spots and lots of pain and I felt I wasn’t in charge and I just couldn’t stop!
I have been applying a number of approaches. Holding a pencil between my teeth worked well as I couldn’t actually do all those things with separated teeth, but it’s hard to talk and produces lots of drooling.
Of course I have been applying the Alexander Technique to it all these months in a rather half hearted way. The discomfort of the facial sensations from the nerve irritation kept drawing me back.
One day last week, I got so fed up of the habit, I realised it just had to stop. I set a firm intention to stop. Thus this week’s project has been my tongue & mouth.
I started by doing nothing. Each time I noticed the habit I stopped what I was doing both mentally and physically and noticed the world around me: the kettle, cups and tea ready to pour, the bubbles of washing up liquid and the sink of pots, the office as I was writing an email. Stop, start throughout the first day. It was really enjoyable. Lots of moments of rest. Each time I stopped, my body let go of all the “doing” including my mouth and tongue and became aware of the present moment.
I also added some thoughts/wishes (Directions in AT language) as to what I would like my tongue and mouth to be like. Here’s a few of the things I did. They are rather delicious even if you haven’t got a mouth issue. Try one or two and see what happens?
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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!
Alexander Technique Teacher
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.
Alexander Technique Teacher
Copyright – All photographs – by D J Clappison.