Conscious Eating during Interesting Times

What and how we eat and drink can support us and give us core strength and stability. Are you eating processed foods? Even “health foods” that are processed can rob us of real nutrition. As an experiment for one week, eat only whole fruits, whole grains, beans and whole vegetables. If you are still a meat eater make sure you take in no more than 1 or 2 oz per day. Fill up on the beans, grains, and vegetables using the fruit as a treat (no more than 3 pieces a day).  Pay attention to chewing, slow down, put your fork down between bites and breathe. Just for one week do this and see if you feel more confident in other areas of your life, if you are sleeping better, less bothered by other drivers and “the news”. This is only a commitment for a week…it could be fun and interesting and who knows it could change your life.

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Interesting Times

I once read that  when the Chinese say we are living in “interesting times”, “interesting times”can also mean “dangerous times” and means pay attention to what is going on within you and externally. The word interesting is the give away that times are perilous, we live on the razors edge.It is “interesting” has no judgement implied either good nor bad; just interesting.My ears always perk up when I hear this word. Interesting means I won’t be bored that’s for sure. The message of the word “interesting”is rich and consuming; be dispassionate, be the calm in the storm, be a witness, practice loving kindness the very best you can and be light-hearted in the midst of a insane world, ala the Italian film, A Beautiful Life.

My Alexander Technique practice, my yogic practice, my practice of a WFPB no oil way of eating are all supportive and sustaining in maintaining centeredness and balance.  Balancing the physical, mental, emotional,and spiritual aspects of life is necessary in interesting times. These are the times of earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, sudden explosions and least we forget we are in a time when people are very divided around what we value and how we want to live together. It is also a time when the portals are open and tremendous energy is available, true evolution is possible and I believe major lessons to be learned. This plane of existence, this earth, this universe is school. Kindergarten for some, high school for others and University and post-grad work for many and we can skip grades at this time. We can Wake Up and help others to open their eyes.

This is the deal.

This morning while perusing the NYT online, I became acutely aware of my use. “Use” is the relationship of one’s whole head to one’s whole body. How  do we coordinate the two in movement and stillness? what is the play between whole head/whole body?  I ask some the simple questions: what am I doing with myself ? how am I interfering with my self? I become acutely aware of “habit”. Here is the deal: HABIT!

How do I work with habit? Well, first of all, awareness. I become aware of sensations: stiffness, range of movement, the weight on my feet, any pain. I continually return to the awareness of the relationship of my whole head to my whole body. I direct “let the neck be free…allow the whole head to delicately move very slightly forward (tiny tilt of chin forward), and up; whole head very very delicately moving away from the top of the neck.The operative words here are delicately, slightly,tiny. The instant I do that I am present in the moment. My breathing is full and free; stiffness melts into increased range of motion and pain dissolves.

Great I say! Then enters the realization that I must continue this process over and over and over. Returning to the awareness, directing with clarity of observation and accepting the freedom of presence. Interrupt the habit that interferes and replace with the habit of awareness, direction,acceptance.That’s the deal…for today.

Breathing

What happens to one’s breath when one practices the Alexander Technique? When the head moves ever so slightly forward and up off the top of the spine and the whole body follows lengthening and widening, the breath is able to come into the back all the way to the lower ribs and below. This reduces excess tension and allows a sense of calm and energy. Becoming more aware of the relationship of whole head to whole body and the activity of breathing is a great way to begins any activity from singing to dancing to brushing your teeth to stirring a pot. It will truly make your meditation practice more easeful and allow a deepening of your experience of being the witness.

Vigilance

This morning as I was filling the tea kettle I noticed that I was hunching my shoulders which was rather shocking to me. I am reminded of a Sanskrit word, avadhana, which means vigilance. This takes vigilance to a whole new level, the level of sacred practice. I must say that after 37 years of practicing the observation, thinking and direction of the Alexander Technique, I am more aware than ever that for me this is a sacred practice. I honor, respect and revere the teachings and my teachers of the Alexander Technique.
To approach my practice with this understanding creates a deeper experience of the Use of the Self. I become present in the consciousness within that is untainted,clear and light as well as grounded that is the core of my being.
For me it always comes back to mindfulness and awareness and how often throughout the day I can return to presence. It is easy for the mind to drift and for thoughts to run rampant. Since my thoughts create my world the more often they are the awareness, inhibition, and direction of the Alexander Technique the more the more often I have peace and clarity.

Whole head whole body!

My teacher, Marjorie Barstow, often said this phrase; “pay attention to your whole head in relationship to your whole body.”  She often emphasized this when someone was complaining about a specific ache or a pain  they were having.  I always found this phrase to be very helpful and simple.  For one thing it got me to be mindful of the connection of my whole head to my whole body  and that I had the choice to  ease up out of the pain.  So many of us came to the Alexander Technique because of pain or injury.  The other thing about this phrase was the word “relationship”. To me the very essence of relationship is the possibility for freedom, understanding, growth, movement.   My experience is that the body is always in movement and relationship.  Even in rest or sleep as long as we are breathing and our hearts are beating we are moving;  the various systems of the body supporting our aliveness.  

I also know that Marj was very mindful of the details and often used her skillful hands  to show us the tiny details of how we were coordinating and using ourselves.  It seems though,  it is human nature to get bogged down in the details so her verbal instruction was to keep it simple.  “What are you doing with yourself?”  “The most important thing is what you yourself are doing.”  “Watch yourself and watch others. What do you see ? What do you notice?”. 

 The whole head in relationship to the whole body also means the possibility of constructive change.   Another way of seeing this is in our ‘relationships’ with other people or even ourselves.   In order for relationships to be healthy there must always be constructive change and the acceptance of impermanence.  In our relationships with our partners we are continually  changing as we grow and become more conscious of their needs and our needs in regards to one another. Think about your relationship with your parents and how we go from dependence to interdependence and sometimes as the roles reverse and our parent age,  to dependence once again.   Eventually,  our parents pass on and we experience first hand the impermanence of the body.  Accepting our own physical, emotional and spiritual changes is freeing and enlightening.   

 In the whole head /whole body relationship,  movement means change.  It is possible to move constructively, to just allow a tiny forward rotation of the head at the atlanto-occipital joint and then allow the head to ease away from the spine and allowing the whole body to immediately tag along. This does not have to be a big change.   In fact,  if we use our thinking and awareness in conjunction with the teachers’ hands on guidance,  even small changes become helpful giving us a sense of integration,  of being “whole” and “one with ourselves”.   We notice we breathe deeper and more easily as oxygen becomes more available.   Our performance improves whether we are singing, dancing, typing on the computer  or just out for a walk. Thus,  living our life becomes more enjoyable and we delight in every moment.

What Are You Doing With Yourself?

My teacher Marj Barstow would ask this question, ” WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOURSELF?” and immediately I would go into a watchful awareness.   What am I doing with my head in relationship to my neck?  my whole body?  What is my breathing like?  Free and easy  or tense?  How are my arms ?  Are they moving freely?  my legs?  I find it helpful to put up sticky tabs with this one question, on the dashboard of my car, on the fridge on the bathroom mirror, at the kitchen sink.

When I am swimming it is often easy to go into this mindfulness.  I am horizontal and the water supports me so I can easily watch and let my neck be free.   I can locate the crown of my head and ease my whole head away from my whole body.  I watch my arms for any excess tension.   My kick originates from my core and my breathing is easy and full.

Cooking is another great opportunity to witness “what I am doing with myself”.   How am I standing at the stove?  What is the quality of my lunge when I bring things out of the oven?  When I reach for utensils or reach for a pot, what am I doing with myself?  It is also an opportune time to inhibit, pause, and consciously direct my head/neck/body relationship.  These daily activities can trigger back pain for so many of us if they are performed unconsciously.

We can also learn so much from watching others.   Recently I was at a demonstration at the Texas Capital and what an opportunity to observe people !  What do we do with ourselves when we feel passionately about something?  What do we do when the adrenaline is flowing and we are in a state of excitement?  What do others do?  There were many young children there and they, too, provided and excellent opportunity to watch.  So many of the kids were free and easy in their movements and setting excellent examples of  good use.

So let’s make today a day to be mindful  and conscious of what we are doing with ourselves!

It is what you do before you do what you are doing.

Alexander Technique is also about being aware of  what you do before you do what ever it is you are doing.  For instance, you are sitting at your computer and you are putting your fingers on the key board.  What did you do before you moved your hands?  Did you tighten your neck slightly ?  Did you free your neck?  Are you using your body as a whole or thinking of it as parts? What is happening with your breathing?  Another way of saying this is: what are your habits that precede your activities?  Taking just a moment, you can watch your whole head in relationship with your whole body.  You can allow some ease to move throughout your whole being.  Now watch yourself place your hands on the keyboard.  A whole different experience that incorporates awareness, mindfulness and ease.

Can you help me out?

There is a great story about a man who falls into a hole.  A doctor walks past him and he shouts up, “hey doc, can you help me out?” the doctor tosses down a prescription.  Then a priest walks past and he shouts up,”hey pastor, can you help me out?” the priest calls out a blessing.  Then his friend Joe walks past and he yells, “hey Joe, I am down here, can you help me out?”  Joe immediately jumps down into the hole.  The man in the hole says, “that was crazy Joe, now we are both stuck down here.”  Joe says, “yea, but I’ve been down here before and I can show you the way out.”

This is story is so relevant today.  So many of us have been through so much and we get the messiness of life.  We need not be afraid of the messiness.  We can be willing and open to show our vulnerability, show our feelings, ask for help.  My experience is if you ask someone will always come along who has been down that road before and will lend a hand.  It is when we have shame and embarrassment about the mess that we can not grow and get free.  It is only in making mistakes that we learn to find out ‘what works’ for us.

To Be Present is the Key, I See.

In the last blog,  I encouraged everyone to “watch yourself.”  Today as I was giving a lesson, my student who is a singer and a writer blurted out  “to be present is the key, I see.”  This got me to thinking as we say here in Texas.  What happens when we practice ?  When we begin to watch ourselves, when we inhibit and consciously direct ourselves?   We become still, present.   We can act  rather than react. We become calm and feel uplifted.  This same student shared with me that she feels better as soon as the lesson begins.  

One of my favorite teachers is Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.  From his book  I Am That  is the wonderful explanation of the difference between ‘aware’ and ‘conscious.’  

Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change.  Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality.  There can be no consciousness with out awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep.  Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something. Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent.  And it is the common matrix of every experience.

When we practice the Alexander Technique, when we become conscious of our habitual patterns, learn to pause, and use ourselves consciously;  we become ‘aware’, if only briefly.  This experience connects us to our true nature,  awareness.