Category Archives: alexander technique

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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sorry

Tonight in my Alexander Technique lesson, my teacher (and friend) said she wanted to work on speech patterns with me.  We’d never done that before.  Previously we had just focused on movement, muscles, bones, and posture.  Tonight she had me read a passage from a book to her.  In this exercise, and in many of the other exercises we’ve done, I have noticed that my inclination is to hunch over, to draw up, to lean forward, to try to conceal as much as I can of my own body.  As if I could hide in plain sight.  From the very beginning of our lessons, she’s been working with me on standing or sitting to my full height, and not trying to make myself shorter, not trying to make myself smaller.

The things she pointed out to me tonight about my speech patterns, both the words I use and how I hold my body when in conversation, did not come as much of a surprise to me.  She asked me a question she had asked me earlier in the lesson and I answered in a roundabout, defensive way.  I heard myself doing it, and yet, I couldn’t seem to stop.  She had me answer again, and this time I was direct and made no excuses, no apologies.  I felt more powerful, more assured as I spoke the words the second time.

As I think about the lesson, I know that I apologize, make excuses, and talk in a round-about, trying-so-hard-not-to-offend way.  I think this comes partly from the feeling that I constantly carry that I am about to get in trouble, that I’ve been doing something wrong and am on the verge of being caught.

And so it makes sense, if I’m feeling unsafe with people, on-edge, it is no wonder that I am so slow to let others in, to let them get close.  If getting close to people means having to justify myself all the time, if it means having to guard myself, or be contrite for who I am, it is not worth it.

But if I can somehow hold my ground and let them in, if I can manage both things at once, well, that would be amazing.  That would be living.

I think my teacher put it best when she said to me, “The more grounded you are in yourself, the more you stay in touch with yourself, the closer you can get to other people without giving yourself away.”

What I have been fearing is that in letting others into my life, or letting them be closer to me, I will lose myself.  Alone may be lonely at times, but at least I am intact.

So now I want to learn what it means to be grounded, to be present in my body, to stay in touch with myself, especially in those times when I feel uncertain or afraid.  I want to have my cake, and eat it, too—without apology.

hold on tight

Jo asked me how I am.

The answer is—really, really great.

In the couple of weeks before my appendectomy I felt a definite shift in my thinking, a definite shift in my approach to the world.  (Then the appendicitis hit and all of July was basically a wash.)  Of course, I didn’t become a different person and I have plenty of neuroses and issues left to sift through, but right now they’re not making me feel like a failure.  Right now I feel like I’ve turned a corner.

A piece of this corner-turning has come from starting to learn the Alexander Technique.  For quite a while my therapist had been suggesting that I take up an activity to help me have better awareness of my body.  She suggested both yoga and the Feldenkrais method and I was trying to figure out something that would work well for me.  Serendipitously, I discovered that a woman from my divorce recovery class is a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which I had never heard of before.  It’s a bit hard for me to explain what it is, but Wikipedia says it is

an alternative medicine and educational discipline focusing on bodily coordination, including psychological principles of awareness. It is applied for purposes of recovering freedom of movement, in the mastery of performing arts, and for general self-improvement affecting poise, impulse control and attention.

During the lessons I’ve had, my teacher will have me sit, stand, or do other basic movements.  She then instructs me (often using light touch) to change my movement or position.  The changes are usually quite subtle, but I have found the sessions quite powerful, even overwhelming.  I often get dizzy, which seems to be a signal that we’re moving too quickly (I never would have thought before that such slight movements could cause a change in my blood pressure, but there you go).  Also, the idea that we’re moving too “quickly” often seems strange, as the changes in movement or position I make are quite slight.

The thing I like the best about my lessons (other than my friend’s giving me a hefty discount in her fee) is how I feel when I leave.  I feel really present inside my body, and have an awareness of my body that does not normally come easily to me.

Another thing I really like about learning this technique is that I am not just learning better posture, but the lessons that I learn about my physical self all seem to be mirrored in the rest of my life, and so I am learning about me.

I could give you a number of examples (and may, in the coming days), but the one I think about the most has to do with how I hold my shoulders, neck, and jaw.  Much of the time I hold everything very tightly:  clenching my jaw, scrunching my shoulders up, tensing my neck.

This is actually the same way that I hold on to the rest of my life.  I’ve noticed this posture in myself most when I am anxious (which comes much more frequently than I ever was aware before), when I feel that something is out of my control, out of my grasp, when I feel the ground shifting below my feet.  I have noticed that this feeling comes many, many times a day.  I hold myself as if bracing for a blow, as if trying to keep all the plates spinning.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

In learning to let my shoulders release, my jaw unclench, I have noticed that as soon as I am able to do so, a bit of the angst leaves my belly, my arms feel looser, my heart is lighter.  This has become a physical reminder that I don’t have to hold all the pieces in place, I will be okay if the plates fall, there is no theoretical fist waiting in the wings to wallop me.

My teacher suggested that when I notice that my jaw is tight, to focus on how my feet are stable on the ground, how I am solid in my chair.  I don’t have to hold myself up completely.  The earth is perfectly capable of holding my weight.  It is not all on my shoulders to micro-manage.  If the plates fall and crash, the earth will still be here, holding me up.

catching up

I seem to have fallen out of the blogging habit in the last few days.  Partly, I have not been able to communicate well what has been going on, which is mostly internal.  There are a few externals that I’ll catch you up on, and hopefully this will end the blogging drought.

  • I have started lessons in the Alexander Technique.  A woman in my group (actually one of the volunteer facilitators) is a teacher of the technique, and she has been kind enough to give me a reduced rate.  I have had two lessons so far and have been becoming more and more aware of how much I tense my muscles (shoulders, neck, and jaw particularly) and how unaware of my body I am most of the time.  I had been talking with my therapist about finding a way to learn to be more present in my body and then I learned about this technique and that D teaches it.  I will try to write more about it later.  It’s been a really fascinating experience, so far.
  • I have decided to stop sticking my head in the sand about my finances.  I think I had a pendulum-swing reaction to not being under X’s controlling thumb in money matters, and haven’t been paying nearly enough attention to how I spend my money.
  • My sister is still on a downward spiral.  Not much to say about that—actually, there’s a LOT to say about that, but not much that can be said succinctly.  I hope to write more about that later, as well.
  • In happy news, two of the greatest people in the world (and their 8 month old daughter AND their rambunctious Labradoodle) are moving back to the US from the Netherlands this week.  And they’re moving to my city!  In my insanity, I have offered to dog-sit while they are schlepping their belongings from the various locations across the state where they have been stored.  Miss Famous and the Labradoodle do know each other, and Miss Famous was, well, not the best hostess the last time they were together.  I will keep you up-to-date on these two dogs’ shenanigans.  Here’s a couple of pics of Miss Famous’ once and future house-guest:

    Gertie, with her laser-eye beam look

    she's a lot bigger than Miss Famous

    There are no pics of Gertie and Miss Famous together, because, well, yeah.  Hopefully things will be calmer this time around and I can share photographic evidence of their friendship with you.