Reading Aloud with Confidence and the Alexander Technique – April 2019

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Last month I had the pleasure of taking a workshop for the wonderful charity ‘First Story’. Their mission is to change lives through writing. As it says on their website they ‘believe that writing can transform lives, and that there is dignity and power in every young person’s story. First Story brings talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities to work with teachers and students to foster creativity and communication skills. By helping students find their voices through intensive, fun programmes, First Story raises aspirations and gives students the skills and confidence to achieve them’.

The author Stephanie Cross, who was running one of the courses, had been taking Alexander Technique lessons and realised its potential to help her students overcome their ‘performance anxiety’ and feel more confident reading their work aloud. The finale of the ‘First Story’ sessions is the students’ book launch. Their work is published as an anthology, (they even design the book cover) what an incredible opportunity. At the launch the students get the chance to read their pieces to an invited audience before becoming like famous authors at a literary festival and signing their books for those that attend.

My session was organised to help students prepare for this event and equip them with some practical tools to help them feel calm and collected, and help them enjoy the process. This felt like a project close to my heart. I am dyslexic and at their age it was my worse nightmare to be asked to read aloud in class. I was better in an assembly or reading something I could pre-prepare as I had my own techniques to make this slightly easier. I would mark in extra places to breathe if needed and practice reading the piece aloud so much, that on the day I was really performing the piece from memory rather than reading it. During my Alexander Technique Teacher training I was able to improve my reading of previously un-seen pieces and feel more confident with this process. This was in part due to sessions and discussions we had on ways of seeing and reading. As a result, for the first time in my life at the age of 38, I realised how differently other people read and what their techniques were, I had no idea! We also spent time as a group reading aloud from F M Alexander’s books, taking turns reading while an Alexander teacher worked with us and gave hands-on guidance. This was a friendly, non-judgemental atmosphere and gave me the room to practice reading aloud, which I find I can now enjoy, Alexander Technique is fantastic.

I wanted to create this same friendly, non-judgemental safe place to explore reading aloud with these students. The session I ran started by giving the pupils an experiential understanding of how all our bodies tend to habitually react under pressure. This is similar to the flight, fright, freeze response or ‘startle’ reflex. We know that if we are stressed the emotional brain (the amygdala) takes over and stops our thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) from working well and generally tenses up our bodies. But if we can notice some of the stresses physical effects (through Alexander embodied awareness tools) we can allow the tension to dissipate, breathe more easily, see the room around us, and our thinking brains can kick back in due to the calming of the nervous system. We then perform better and have greater peace of mind. To explore all this we played a great AT game called ‘drop the sox’ which Judith Kleinman, my teacher and mentor taught me. It is a great way of seeing how we respond to a stimulus, in this case the thought of having to read aloud to an audience is represented by catching a bean bag being dropped. The students enjoyed the game and started to notice what they were thinking and how their bodies were reacting. They fed-back these observations to the rest of the group very articulately. They initially noticed critical/worried thinking, their shoulders scrunching, elbows tightening, heads poking forward, hearts beating faster and sweaty palms. I prompted them to notice other things like their breathing and their tummies. The game then gradually lets them play with the AT concepts of pausing (inhibiting) and thinking (directing their bodies) before and while in activity. I gradually added different things for them to think about and they noticed how they responded. The students also noticed that as they thought different AT thoughts, they used their bodies with more ease and poise and things becomes easier. Even, not always catching the bean bag in the game was ok, it felt less stressful – it was ok to make mistakes!

This experiential learning then helped inform the reading aloud process of those that volunteered to read their pieces aloud to the rest of the group. I gave further guidance with some more questions and Alexander thinking during this time. The session was an experimental and open approach to reading aloud. I was very impressed with the kind and useful way they gave each other feedback. The group was respectful of each other and the whole process felt supportive, friendly and playful. Listening to them read their creative writing compositions was a joy too, it was inspiring to see what they had produced with Stephanie’s guidance.

After an hour we had a break from reading aloud and I guided them through a little movement activity they could use to help release tension before performing. Better still we then had a short biscuit-break, kindly supplied by Stephanie before the last few volunteers read in the same way, with self-observation and accepting useful feedback and suggestions as to how reading aloud might be easier.

I finished by recapping a few key points and giving out handouts with some useful questions and AT tips to help them on the day. I also reminded the students that all these skills and tools are transferable. After all any situation where we feel slightly outside of our comfort zone is just an everyday sort of ‘performance anxiety’. Some of these students had exams in the summer term, interviews to think about and other occasions where the skills they had explored and learnt in this session will come in useful. I felt the Alexander Technique was able to give these pupils skills I would have found useful at their age and made my experience of reading aloud much more comfortable. My relationship with reading aloud has been transformed through the Alexander Technique, I read aloud to the children of Educare Small School every time I teach AT there and now have the skills to read with expression and do ‘voices’. I don’t even mind when I make mistakes (and I realise nor does anyone else!). I love it, storytelling is wonderful and unexpected gift form the Alexander Technique. I wish Stephanie’s students an enjoyable book launch in the summer.

If you have any questions about the Alexander Technique or my work in schools please feel free to contact me using the details at the top of the page.

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How the Alexander Technique helped me with my disastrous day commuting! March 2019

IMG_0300Every other Wednesday I go to Educare Small School, Kingston-upon-Thames. I love it, as I have probably mentioned before! It’s a wonderful place and teaching AT to 3-11 year olds is one of my favourite things to do. It’s just under a two hour commute, but worth every second of travelling. I have worked there for over 6 years and usually the commute is fine. I mentally break it down into sections and its a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. But last month I had a challenging commuter day, both ends of the day the journeys went not as planned and I ended up travelling for more time than I spent at Educare. It was tiring, there was not denying that, but I think my AT skills really saved me from being completely frazzled. I felt able to go straight from my 3 hour adventure to Kingston into teaching, without the need for a strong cup of camomile tea!

I start my commute with a short walk up a hill to the local tube station. Always a great time to notice what I am doing with my body, how I am walking, mindfulness in motion. I also have to carry an extra bag in one hand, so I can notice my grip, arm, shoulder and swap hands from time to time. I can see my surroundings and pay attention to my body. Sometimes when I feel in a rush, I notice a tightening-up. I can pause, allow my excess muscle tension to release through my Alexander thoughts or intentions (directions) and play with a sense of flow in my movement. I investigate my gait, the way I walk through my feet, think about my hips, knees and ankles being free. I can ask myself ‘am I leaning back and lifting my chest?’ (an old habit) or am I poised and well co-ordinated and able to enjoy the walk? – Ten minutes of mindful attention!

Once on the tube I am very lucky, we live quite close to the end of the line, so I always get a seat for this first part of my journey. I have time to read and another chance to check in with my body; what am I up to while reading? While ‘people watching’ on the tube I notice many are slumped through their bodies, hinged forward from the base of their necks, with very little balance and poise. Alexander Technique can help us be more thoughtful and skilful. First, I think about how I am sitting, feet on the floor, back supported, sitting bones releasing into the seat and head balancing lightly. Then I can think about how best to hold my book. This is when my extra bag is very useful. I place it on my lap, rest the book on top and loosen my grip. I can notice any excess tension in my hands, arms, shoulders and arm pit area- pause and direct (think about releasing) I can tilt my head from the top of my neck and move my eyes to read. lastly, I can allow myself to still stay aware of my surrounding. it may sound a lot, but it takes no more than a few moments every now and then to pause and think.

The next part of my journey I have a swift change of tube line, but then I tend to have to stand as the tube is busier. This give me the opportunity to ‘tube surf’ and practice a mini-monkey to allow easy balance with all the motion of the carriage. I quite enjoy being playful with this process. Even though the tube is often crowded I think about ‘coming into full stature’, expanding into the space around me – seeing, breathing and balancing – and the crowds don’t bother me as much.

It was this part of my journey that went wrong that day. The line I had to change to had massive delays and was suspended on the part of the line in needed for my journey. I have never had to think of a different route before. I asked a helpful member of staff for advice, they said I needed another tube line then a bus. OMG, not only was this a bit of a magical mystery tour, it was clear to me I was going to end up being late. ‘Pause, seeing, breathing, balancing, onwards and upwards!’ A little mantra, it helped. I noticed the slight stress arising in my body, paused to focus on the mantra, then I assessed (1) what I could do (2) what I had influence over (3) what I had no control over. I could email Educare and let them know I was going to be late, so I did they were very understanding. I could influence how I approached this next part of my weird commute even though I had no influence over how long it might take. It would be fine, so I just paid attention to my body and thoughts. I asked for directions and help when I needed to. People were very helpful and friendly and my diverted journey was made quite enjoyable as I chatted to one lovely woman on the bus.

I like to make my commute as active as possible. I walk up and down the escalators and use this and the many stairs as another chance to practice my Alexander thinking and direct movement, another game! (You can see why I am suited to teaching children). How free can I allow my hips, knees and ankles to be as I walk/jog down the escalators. What happens when I think of my head balancing lightly? When I am walking up stairs or escalators can I lead with my head and focus on my knees lifting up to the next step rather than pushing down heavily on my feet. Can I think of a line from the top of my head, through my body and back leg down to my heel? So much to notice, play with, being in the present and enjoying the process. You can’t get bored when you are paying attention!

I eventually got to Educare and back home to my family. I had a wonderful time at Educare. I finished my day reading an Alexander fiction book called ‘The Labyrinth of Gar’ to the older children. its fun reading this book, I get to make up voices for characters and escape into the fantasy world that Sue Merry created. We were singing songs some of the characters sing. My story-telling time is another AT awareness time. Firstly I have to sit on a very low stool to be closer to the children sitting on the floor. A challenge made far less uncomfortable through some AT thinking. Then the reading out loud, I’m dyslexic and reading aloud a piece of writing, previously unseen, used to be my worse nightmare. It would certainly produce ‘startle reflex’, but that has much improved over the years of practicing AT (details another time), but it’s enough to briefly say I can enjoy reading aloud now. Even better, I can actually remember what I have read afterwards. I can say with great certainty the embodied awareness and other skills I have learnt with the Alexander Technique saved the day!

For more information of to book a lesson, use the contact buttons at the top of the page.

Alexander Technique- Tension and Release, but what about Relaxation? February 2019.

Alexander Technique teaches us how to release excess tension so that we can be more balanced, coordinated and poised. But is it a relaxation technique?

mural1Well that’s not an easy yes or no answer. It depends what you mean by relaxation and even then it depends what your goals are in the moment (not forgetting the difference between goals and end-gaining, we can have a goal and allow for the process of reaching it to be mindful, whereas end-gaining in contrast is mindless).

What do we tend to mean by relaxation? What type of posture or body use do we think of when we imagine being relaxed? If we think of being slumped on a sofa, watching telly, without any thought of how we are positioning our bodies, I don’t feel that what we really think of as relaxation in Alexander Technique.

In Alexander we often use the word release rather than relaxation. We are learning to become more mindfully aware of our habits of excess tension and we are building tools and skills that allow us to consciously choose to release this tension. It is a conscious thought that allows this release, not a ‘doing’. We can not actively try to release tension through physical effort. We are not stretching muscles, the release of tension is a non-doing as we are doing the excess tension. The muscles are being contracted, shortened when they don’t need to be. This level of tension is not functional, rather than helping us in the way we do the things we do, it hinders us.

The purpose of releasing the excess tension is to allow us to function better in our bodies. We are then more balanced, efficient and at ease as we do the things we do. We are less likely to cause discomfort and pain or get injured. The release of tension is a letting go. Using thought, or as FM Alexander called it ‘directing’ sending a (neurological) message to our bodies that we don’t need to be working that hard, we can let go of the tension. It’s non-doing as release is an absence of tension. This allows vitality, flow and ease of movement. We feel energised and things become easier to do. We become more comfortable in our bodies. This ease transfers into any activity we choose, thus it is, in this way not as much about relaxation as it is ease, poise and dynamic presence.

So, relaxation? Yes, Alexander Technique can be relaxing too. But I need to define what this means to me as an Alexander Technique Teacher. When we release excess tension and allow our bodies to function better it has a multitude of positive effects. Absence of excess tension can help reduce blood pressure, we can breath easy. Tension and poor breathing habits can be part of the stress response our bodies display, along with increased stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol). We can feel hyped up or on edge. As we learn to notice these tension habits, release, breathe easy and be present, engaging in the things we are doing more mindfully, it reduces the stress response of our bodies. This favours the relaxation (parasympathetic) side of the nervous system. Thus, a sense of relaxation can be a by product of the Alexander Technique.

We can add to this effect by choosing to practice regular periods of constructive rest. This means lying on our back with our head supported, knees bends and the soles of our feet on the floor (or even more relaxing, legs resting on a stool or chair as shown in the photo below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TMP00196We bring our attention to our body, noticing any tension and mindfully offering release (with no expectations or trying), but being conscious of the tone of voice we are using, (preferably one that is friendly and helpful rather than berating or finding fault). We are facilitating muscle release, letting our spines become ‘springy’ and able to respond to our free and easy breath. If we are tired, suffer with insomnia or have been stressed this can certainly be used as a relaxation exercise. It can be quite easy to fall asleep doing this and although it’s not normally it’s primary objective, why not use it for this purpose if that is something we need. Constructive rest is energising and a powerful way of restoring vitality as well as a great way of improving our embodied awareness and allowing our backs to rest. We let gravity give us a helping hand by giving our intervertebral discs a chance to rehydrate and plump up. It also allows us the time to stop and just be for a while, a really invaluable practice.

So is the Alexander Technique a relaxation technique? Well, yes and not. That is not its primary purpose, but it is one of its brilliant side effects. We can learn to relax and look after ourselves, a really valuable skill in itself.

If you are interested in finding out more please contact me by using the contact details on the contact page, see the menu.

 

 

 

 

Alexander Technique and teaching young children -December 2018

decblogI have always loved teaching young children. Before I qualified as an Alexander Teacher I worked as an education volunteer for the National Trust and as a Teaching Assistant in primary school. I love their energy, it’s so much fun, very creative and I get to be a bit silly!

Children, in general, are a very honest bunch and you can tell very quickly if they find something engaging or not! It’s fun making the Alexander work simple and easy to understand and in a way that will hold a child’s interest. I am now used to being very adaptive and explaining things in many different ways, thinking on my feet (or Alexander puts it, staying with the ‘means whereby’). I am sure my adult Alexander teaching has benefited much from my experience of teaching children. I’m always learning so much from the many students I teach. Over the past 5 years or so I have worked with children with all sorts of particular learning needs and personalities at Educare Small School (3-11 year olds).

At Educare we (Sue Merry* and I) teach through movement, storytelling, drawing, games, role play, pictures and videos. We teach body mapping and anatomy and quiet time (a version of constructive rest). I work with children 1-2-1, in pairs and in small groups. We even work on children and teachers in their classes, as they are working. AT is completely integrated into the learning.

The children and teachers have a ‘Ready List’, so named by one of the children. This has been made into a poster for their classroom walls. They use it to remind themselves to stop and come back to their bodies and the space around them. They also use ‘Magic Words’ (child friendly, no jargon ‘directions’, thoughts) that allow them to be the ‘Boss of their bodies’.

So why do we bother to teach children this young? They don’t tend to be suffering with back pain or injuries yet! Well, there are many other reasons to learn Alexander self-care skills, especially at this age, the most important being that they are still using their bodies quite well until about 6-7 years old. Alexander work can then be just part of their education (rather than the re-education it is seen as in adults, allowing people to undo unhelpful habits). We are able to reinforce their good body use and bring embodied awareness to it. We give them the practical experience and vocabulary to describe how they are being in their bodies while they are doing what they are doing. Very importantly we teach them the tools to stop or pause and choose how to respond to situations rather than being reactive. This Alexander principal is such an important quality to establish as children grow and mature. We also nurture and encourage their natural curiosity about learning and experimenting. Alexander work helps teach them it’s ok to get things wrong and hopefully become more comfortable with it, as I wrote in a previous blog, a growth mindset. They learn to focus on the process, rather than only having their eye on the goal, and not caring how they got there. The children learn to look after themselves, deal with stress and anxieties or just find ways to calm their bodies and minds with ‘quiet time’. They can also find more physical comfort as they sit at their desks to study.

(The teaching of young children has always been an important part of Alexander work. Starting right back with FM Alexander himself. He established ‘The Little School’, during the 1920’s with a fellow Alexander teacher Irene Tasker, who had also trained with Maria Montessori. The little School stayed open, with a changing format and in different places, due to WWII, it finally close in the late 40’s.)

I also teach primary school aged children in my private practice**. I tend to get the parent involved in the lessons too, whether they have had AT lessons themselves or not. In my experience this has helped put the child at ease when starting lessons and takes away some of the awkwardness of working 1-2-1 with a child while the parent is sitting watching. When a parent takes part, they have a shared experience and vocabulary that can be taken home, talked about and practiced, helping embed learning. The whole family then gets to benefit. When a child is brought for lessons, for whatever reasons, they are the main focus, but when a parent takes part in the games and activities we all get to share what we notice and talk about what we are doing. It creates an open and relaxed atmosphere, which makes learning easier. Often children are better than their parents at certain movements, for example, balancing, children find this fun, it turns things on their heads and we all learn together.

As with my adult lessons, I have created and give visual aid handouts, that are child friendly, these are taken home and add to the ‘out of teaching room’ learning. The lessons have a practical approach that is relevant to the child’s interests and everyday activities.

Children may come for a variety of reasons: anxiety, stammering, hyper mobility, poor posture to name a few, but benefit from their new Alexander self-care skills in many different ways. If you would like to find out more about how your child can benefit please contact me, or have a look at my website where I have podcasts and films about some of mine and other Alexander teachers work with children of all ages.

* – Sue Merry is one of the two co-founders of Educare and a pioneer in the evolution of teaching Alexander Technique work to young children.

** – I teach teens and young adults too, but I generally do this 1-2-1, as with adults.

Alexander Technique in Sport and Fitness – November 2018

The society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique has just produced a short promotional film about Alexander Technique in Sport and it made me think about my experiences.

We often think of AT for helping us recover from back pain, or play our musical instrument with more fluency. But of course, being able to use our bodies in a free, balanced and better co-ordinated way can improve sports performance too. Whether you are an elite athlete or someone who wants to keep fit and healthy, it helps prevent injury and work to our full potential whatever that may be. When we have the experiential knowledge of how our body works best through AT, it’s easier to do whatever we do in a more considered, balanced way that enables us to have a long term healthy approach to our physical (and mental) wellbeing.

Before I trained to become an AT teacher I was fortunate to have lessons with a few Alexander teachers, including a couple of lessons with Elisabeth Walker, a first generation teacher*. She was in her 90’s at the time. I was so impressed with her vitality and ease of movement, she was inspirational. She was still able to squat down holding on to a door handle and able to lift and direct me from sitting on the floor to standing. I thought if I could be anything like that as I grew older it would be amazing. It was certainly one of the factors that made me think of training.

I was sporty as a child and young adult, competing in discus, basketball, netball and swimming. Then in my 20’s I turned my hobby into my job and worked as a personal trainer. Unfortunately I had no knowledge of AT when growing up. I was very committed and trained ‘hard’. At times this lead to injuries that looking back, may have been preventable with a better understanding of body mapping and AT skills. I do remember coaches emphasising the importance of technique over strength, but as I was young and strong I was more likely to rely on power and not take care of my body. Now-a-days with apps like Coaches Eye it’s far easier to film and analyse technique and body use. And with AT teachers and coaches working together sports people can get the best combination of advice. After all practice does not make perfect. If you practice badly you are more likely to get injured and less likely to improve. Intelligent embodied practice and training is what is required.

The techniques elite athletes use to achieve medals are not necessarily easy on the body long term. So it’s important for us to know the difference between techniques that may take athletes to peak performance and what will promote long lived healthy bodies for the rest of us. Take cycling, when you watch the Tour de France you can see cyclists whizz past in very aerodynamic postures – backs arched, necks looking compromised. This gives them the edge in the race. But, if we are not racing and just want to enjoy some healthy cycling is this the approach we would want to take? Probably not. Instead we might lengthen through the spine, take the pressure off our neck and maybe out of our shoulders and arms by sitting in a slightly more upright way. We may not win any races, but we are more likely to still be cycling into retirement. This is why AT teachers work with coaches and teach athletes ways to stay as easy and free as possible while they are training and competing, but when working with fitness enthusiasts may work in a different way. All people come to sport with their own ability, fitness, injuries and goals and we can be sensitive to these to achieve sustainable, well co-ordinated and efficient use of their bodies.

I recently had the opportunity to take an AT workshop during a Yoga and Pilates retreat day, it was well received and a lot of fun. AT can compliment and give practical skills that are useful to both yoga and Pilates (and vise-versa). AT offers body mapping, embodied awareness and improves co-ordination. It’s also helps with teaching us how to respond to stimuli, rather than reacting. In this case the stimulus is the particular pose or exercise being performed. We can pause, and be mindful of our bodies, using them with an accurate body map and understanding how to allow our bodies to perform and move well, without being pushy and having excessive tension which can lead to injury.

Alexander Technique is the ‘how to’ of anything – not just getting in and out of a chair 😊. So I really enjoy when pupils come to me with particular questions or problems that we can explore and trouble shoot together. I have had great fun working with pupils on their physiotherapy exercises, yoga and Pilates exercises and weight training exercises as well as skiing, fencing, badminton and running. I teach pupils the skills to make movement more mindful, considered, co-ordinated, safer and more effective. If you would like to find out more about how the Alexander Technique can help you please contact me using the details at the top of the page.

*Elisabeth was part of FM Alexander’s first teacher training in the 1930’s.

‘Try Hard’ Mindset or is that Mind/Body set? October 2018.

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We are often told from a young age that we need to try hard and you’ll make it – or, you need to try harder – put some effort in to achieve what you want. Whether that’s being better at spelling, competing at sport, playing an instrument or later in life in our careers. But, is it really good for our mind/body wellbeing to be doing all this trying hard, striving, struggling?

I don’t mean we needn’t bother at all, just lie there doing nothing in a free and easy way (although a little bit of that certainly feels great, and constructive rest is a great, nourishing way of stopping for a while). I mean, do we need to approach life with gritted teeth, trying hard, striving to succeed? These are often seen as mental attitudes we need to employ to get better at something and achieve our goals. However, what we think affects the way we use our bodies too (emotions are expressed as muscular tension). The way we use our bodies also affects the way we function (mentally and physically). Trying harder can lead to excess body tension, head aches, pain and breathing pattern changes, which can make us feel stressed or anxious. If left unchecked this can lead to RSI and other ailments. If you drove around in your car with the hand break on, you wouldn’t be surprised if eventually it broke down. Some if us are doing the equivalent to our bodies!

The Alexander Technique allows us to find a new approach to what we are doing – lighter, freer, more poised, curious and focused, but with less effort and tension. We can still achieve our goals while looking after our mental and physical wellbeing. We may have been lucky enough to experience this when things are going well. Physically and mentally things seem to flow, it feels effortless. This is the state that we can do our best work in, but often we can’t consciously find this state and instead put more effort in and tense up.

Generally we are drawn to people (in all realms of sports, the arts and work) who make what they do look effortless and easy. Think of Gene Kelly in ‘Singing in the Rain’. Roger Federer playing tennis or your favourite orator. Its not to say they haven’t spent time perfecting the way they do things, but tense, tight ‘effort’ is not part of the way they do things.

The Alexander Technique gives us a framework that allows this body/mind ease. It starts with cultivating embodied awareness of our habits (as I wrote in my last month’s blog). Then it offers ways to release any mental and physical tension and be free of our unhelpful habits. We are able to stay with the process of what we are doing and look after ourselves while working towards our goals. It provides a method to establish mind/body calm in our hectic lives.

Alexander Technique has been helping people for over 100 years, but modern science is confirming the validity of this old method. Some of its principles can be seen in modern psychological approaches to learning, such as Growth Mindset which is being used in schools. In this approach, development over results is encouraged, so is curiosity. It encourages positive values such as learning and development and helpful ‘self talk’ (how to manage how we talk to ourselves – positive, helpful and energised).
Blogs. growth mindset

 

 

 

I do love seeing that certain mind/body wisdom holds true where ever it comes from; Alexander Technique,growth mindset, and I found this in a mediation book I am reading a the moment. *

‘insight (understanding) doesn’t operate outside of calm. The requirement to insight is that the mind is calm and steady enough not to be in the grip of the hinderances (eg. bad habits).’

In other words, when we want to work well and think well, being stressed and putting ourselves under pressure is counter productive.

I looked up synonyms for strive, I thought I might share some with you.

Try, try hard, toil, strain, struggle were listed – BUT so were attempt, aspire and venture, which to my mind, feel much more in keeping with the principles of the Alexander Technique. So, pause, and ask yourself, can I do less? can it be easier? (in terms of tension). Lighten up and find a new, freer and more balanced way of doing and being with the Alexander Technique. If you would like to find out more please contact me using the contact details at the top of the page.

*Meditation, A Way of Awakening by Ajahn Sucitto.

Habits – the good, the bad and the ugly! 11th September 2018

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” F M Alexander
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“Chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy too be broken.” Warren Buffett (American Business man, investor, speaker and philanthropist.) (I disagree with the second part of this quote, but thats how it often feels!)

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” John C Maxwell (Author and speaker who writes about leadership qualities.)

“Depending on what they are our habits will either make us or break us, we become what we repeatedly do.” Sean Covey ( Author of the ‘7 Habits of Highly Successful…… books)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit”. Aristotle (Greek Philosopher).

I am having a quote binge! I recently gave an Alexander Technique presentation and was looking for some good quotes about habits, I found the above quotes really interesting. The way we move through life is constructed, in part, through a series of habits (things we do and the way we think). Some of these are useful, some necessary, some inefficient and some down right damaging!

 

 

 

Some of the ‘not so great’ habits I had as a child, I luckily managed to stop, like sucking my thumb, a very difficult habit to break for me. But I was determined to stop before starting secondary school! It was a bitter first lesson in the unconscious power of habits, as I time and again sucked the ‘Stop n’ Grow’ that had been painted on my nail completely unaware that I was putting my thumb in my mouth again. I gradually learnt!

As many broken New Years resolutions show us, changing our habits can be difficult, but not impossible. The key is having a workable strategy and the skills in place to enable us to change. The Alexander Technique teaches us the tools to drop those damaging or inefficient habits and build more efficient and healthy ones. We may come to AT to help our bad back or poor posture, but these habit changing, tension relieving tools are wonderfully transferable skills. They allow us to change all sorts of unhelpful physical and mental habits that then allow us to begin to look after body and mind in an integrated way.

The first step to changing our unhelpful habits is to learn to connect mind and body and be more aware of our bodies and the way our thoughts and emotions influence the way we use them. AT gives space to reconnect, build our embodied awareness so that we can notice what our habits are. This building of awareness or embodied mindfulness is best achieved, as one of the above quotes says, by putting it into our daily routines. Sometimes its helpful to start by choosing a few particular regular activities to be mindful of; for example, brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea, walking up stairs or getting in and out of your car. The activities are short and specific and we can set an intension at the beginning to notice our body and thoughts during the activity and see what happens. We are raising awareness of what we do and think habitually, helpful and unhelpful. This is best done in a very friendly, un-selfcritical, curious and playful way, otherwise we may just become one big frustrated ball of tension! We can remind ourselves that without awareness there are no choices available, no chance to change. Therefore, we need to congratulate ourselves when we notice our habits.

Step 2 – Find space to pause and breathe. Take a moment to be with yourself, ask: am I trying too hard and bringing excess tension to my body? Can I do less? There are also 3 other questions that can be really useful:

Am I seeing? – Am I over focused and tight or can I soften my focus into panoramic vision and see the space around me.

Am I breathing? – Sometimes we maybe holding our breath without realising or be breathing in a shallow way, we may sigh a lot or over do the in-breath. ‘If in doubt, breathe out’ is a useful mantra, as it calms the nervous system. Also, notice what you are up to with you tummy muscles, can you let go and allow your breath to be easier?

Am I balancing? – to be easy and well co-ordinated we need to be free in our joints to rebalance and respond to our changing environment. Is your head balancing lightly? What about your ankles, knees and hips, can they soften a little?

Step 3 – Add in some useful thoughts, or as we Alexander teachers call them, ‘directions’.
-My neck is free.
-My head is balancing lightly.
-My back is lengthening and widening.
-My ankles, knees and hips are free. -My shoulders are resting and widening away from each other.

or my thoughts for children

-My head is like a floaty balloon.
-My shoulders are like runny custard
-My body is soft and tall.

This process – over time – guided by an AT teacher – releases us from the grip of our unhelpful habits and allows us to create a new, more poised, free, considered way of being. You can change your habits, there is no magic pill, just the daily cultivation of mindful awareness of body, mind and emotions through AT and its well worth the commitment. For more information about lessons or to book please email me using the form on the contact page.