give and take

Lately in my Alexander Technique lessons, my teacher has been asking me about what I feel like when I move or sit or stand a certain way.  Alexander deals a lot with posture and a recent homework assignment was to look up when I walk.  Look up, as in not at the ground, which is what I do most of the time, apparently.

I have noticed multiple times over the last few weeks that when I look up and not down when I walk, I feel different.  I feel different physically, of course, but I also feel different emotionally.  I realized the first time I tried this “homework” that when I look up as I walk I feel more confident.  I feel as if I am facing the world and not hiding from it.  I feel like I am a part of my surroundings and not lost somewhere inside my head.

The thing I am discovering is that body language flows two ways: it can be an expression of what I am feeling and it can also trigger feelings.  It can be the effect or the cause.

Some ways that I hold my body may have started out as a way to express what I was feeling but much of the way I move now is done out of habit.  The thing is, if I started hunching over when I sit because I felt insecure and wanted to hide, now when I do it out of habit, those old feelings come up in me.  Many, many times now, my posture contributes to how I feel more than it serves an expression of my feelings.  Now when I sit up straight and lean back, I feel exposed, unprotected.  I have gotten so used moving and holding myself in a self-protective way that it feels unnatural to lean back against a chair, to let myself be seen.

Other habits I have seem to work this same way — eating, for example.  I started eating to cope with my emotions, and now I have a habit of eating a certain way — it is my knee-jerk response, my routine, my way to hide.

Another habit I have is being alone.  It starts out as a response to feeling sad, or overwhelmed, or needing to recharge.  Before I know it, I have immersed myself in solitude so completely that the thought of breaking the pattern feels like exposing myself; it feels unnatural.

The good news, of course, is precisely the two-way nature of this mind-body communication.  I remember several months ago, I had gone out to dinner with a friend and a group of her friends.  As we were waiting to be seated I realized that I was constricting my shoulders (this was soon after I started my Alexander lessons).  Because I had been working on this body-awareness business, I consciously relaxed my shoulders.  Suddenly, I felt more relaxed, less anxious, and I hadn’t even realized I was stressed.

Sometimes it feels like a “chicken or the egg” question, particularly with habits like being alone or slumping when I sit.  The thing is, it doesn’t really matter.  I am learning how to change one part of the conversation.  The rest will come along soon enough.

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4 responses to “give and take

  1. This is really interesting. I’ve been working lately at keeping my head up and looking where I’m going and not at the ground when I’m out walking Sadie. I looked at it from the whole posture, suck in my stomach etc. But now that I think about it when I do this I feel more “up” than if I just plod along looking at the ground. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Wow, that is really cool. Good for you for recognizing the two-way nature of all this.

  3. Hi, I’m here through ICLW. This post was so interesting! I share the same automatic reactions as you: the eating, solitude, hunching/contracting. And you wrote about them in the same ways that I experience them too. It’s strange how what were once coping mechanisms turned in to automatic, knee-jerk reactions that no longer serve us. (Or me…I don’t want to speak for you.) I’ve heard of the Alexander technique, but never knew what it was. Sounds like something I should check out. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. This reminds me of when I was in college. I was very shy and I usually did the look down when I walk, don’t speak to anyone, but I made a conscious decision to change. I started looking up and smiling at people and saying hello. Now, I live in the south, so most people would smile back.

    I’ve gotten back in the habit of not speaking to people a lot of times. I’m pre-occupied with my own to-do list or the person I’m walking past seems dark and pre-occupied (sometimes I speak, but they usually don’t pay any attention), and a lot of times nowadays the person is on the phone.

    I still do try to look around, to see if I spot some birds flying by or an interesting cloud, or something new on the street – a sign that changed or a new business opening (I work downtown and when the weather’s nice, my husband and I will sometimes walk somewhere between our offices for lunch).

    Thanks for letting me know that there are a lot of benefits to looking up both physically and spiritually.

    ICLW #104

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