Alexander Technique, Astology and Automobiles

My good friend and astrologer, Margaret Sweet – Astrologer,asked me to give some hints about getting in and out of the automobile.  I will do this, but first I wanted to share a little bit about astrology and F.M. Alexander.

While studying with Marjorie Barlow, Mr. Alexander’s niece, we broached the subject of astrology.  I asked her if she had ever had her chart read.  She replied that she had because two of her friends, Joyce Warwick and Joyce Wodeman (both Tauruses) had given her the gift of a reading.  I then asked her if she had ever asked Mr. Alexander if he was interested in astrology.  She replied that he was interested in astrology.  He didn’t reject anything.  She went on to tell me that he was really very tolerant in many ways.   If you would like to know more about this subject,  the Alexander Technique and Marjorie Barlow,  I suggest you read Marjorie Barlow and the Alexander Technique  An Examined Life  In Conversation with Trevor Allan Davies.  This is a very inspiring book about her life.

Now let’s look at getting in and out of the car using the Alexander Technique.  The operative words here are Watch Yourself.   These two words were favorites of my teacher Marj Barstow.  When I was leaving Marj for the first time after spending the summer with her,  I asked for advice so that I might continue to learn and grow. In those days,  there were no teachers in Texas.   She looked at me with incredible intensity  and said , watch yourself.

I suggest you go up to the car and watch yourself without making any effort to do anything “right”.  Just watch what you are doing.  You will probably discover that as you reach for the door handle, your neck stiffens a bit and there is excess tension in your hands, arms, torso, legs and even your feet.   Watch yourself as you lower your body to get into the car.  Ask, what am I doing with myself?  Observe.  Watch yourself get in and out of the car at least five or six times without correcting anything.  find out what your habits are.  Remember you can’t do something new if you don’t know what you are doing.

Now just stand in front of the door and  inhibit, just pause. Give yourself direction:  “My neck is free, allowing my whole head to ease forward and up off the top of my spine, allowing my whole body to follow lengthening and widening.”  It is important to be very aware of the activity of the joints in this endeavor.  As you open the car door, really look at what you are doing.  If you are the driver, you must navigate the steering wheel to get into the car.  You might want to turn your body outward and sit first and then swivel yourself behind the wheel.  Or, you might want to very lightly hold the steering wheel  and the door while you lift the right leg and being conscious of the hips joints, place your  right leg in the car first. Be mindful of how your joints work and assist you to have ease and flexibility.   Experiment and use your thinking.  Learn to trust your thinking.

I teach my students to apply the thinking and experiment.  Find out what works for you while you carry out even the most mundane activity.  What do you do with yourself while brushing your teeth? While sitting at the computer?  Learn to watch yourself.


Cooking with the Alexander Technique

 Many years ago I was in class in San Francisco with Marjory Barlow, F.M. Alexander’s niece and a member of the first teacher’s training course.
She began to share with us an experience she had while at the stove making a Bechamel (white sauce).  One has to stir this sauce at least twenty minutes for it to thicken and to prevent lumps.  As Marjory stirred and gave herself directions she became acutely aware of a spot in her feet, in her heels to be exact.  This spot was an inch in from the edge of her heel in the middle of her heel.   As she used her awareness to scan  her whole head in relationship with her whole body, she began to notice that this “spot ” was connected to  her primary control and was key to her using herself with great ease.  Fascinated,  she looked up this place in the feet in one of her husband’s anatomy books and found out that it was a “nerve center” that indeed connected into her entire nervous system.  Hence, our “up” is connected to our “down”.  I always reflect upon her discovery while cooking and wanted to share her discovery with you.

Here is a great recipe for Creamed of Asparagus on Toast.  My mother, Shirley made this whenever she saw the need for “comfort food”. 

Bechamel sauce: This is really easy.

In a heavy sauce pan melt 3tbl of butter on a medium to medium low flame.

After this melts, add 3tbls of flour.   You may use rice flour, it will just be a slightly different texture.  Stir these ingredients  constantly with wire whisk.  Now slowly, very slowly add 1 cup of milk or  you may substitute  unsweetened soy milk.  Add salt and pepper to taste  and keep stirring for about 20 minutes.

Toast any bread that suits your fancy or you may even use a brown rice cake.

Drain a can of asparagus really, really well. This is key so you do not delute the sauce.  Mix with the white sauce with the asparagus and  place the creamed of asparagus on the toast.   Serve with a mixed greens salad  and you have a wonderful meal.

Alexander Technique at the Farmer’s Market

One of the best ways to learn about yourself is to watch others.  This morning at the Farmer’s Market, I saw a little boy who was exemplary of “good use”.  He was under two years of age and his little head moved up with each step he took.  His arms eased away from his shoulders and his legs eased out of his pelvis. His breathing was deep and effortless.  Every step was a delight for him and for me as I watched him. 

Soon I was watching everyone.  The woman with a cane, distorting herself to accommodate the cane.  The man who was drinking coffee and pulling his head down to the coffee cup rather than bringing the cup up to him.  A woman who was cutting vegetables so we could have a taste of the very fresh delicious right off the farm produce.  Her hand was white with the tension with which she was holding the knife.

There are so many reasons we go from the freedom of the little boy to the distortions we pick up as we age.  The reasons are not so important.  What is important is that we know how to take ourselves out of mis-use  by thinking  and being watchful we can choose better habits.

Running: How do you move?

 While walking around Lady Bird Lake I have a great opportunity to watch a  large number of people using their bodies while running and walking.

This article is very helpful to those of you who would like to improve your running and walking. For those who would like to have just a few tips, here are some suggestions to make your running more enjoyable and body friendly.

  • Sense where your ears are, your occipital ridge and the bottom of your cheekbones.  This is where your head sits on the top of your spine.
  • Make sure that your head is tilted ever so slightly forward on the top of your spine .
  • Now think your head “up” and allow your whole body to follow lengthening and your rib cage widening.
  • Notice your whole body following with ease and greater flexibility.

Swimming with the Alexander Technique

This morning as I began to swim I also began an awareness of my whole head to my whole body.  Where exactly is my head attached to my neck?  Where are my TMJ?  Where do my arms join the shoulder ?  How are my legs connected?  And, all the while:  my neck is free allowing my head to go forward and away from the top of my spine allowing my spine to lengthen and allowing my back to widen.  Noticing how my feet are connecting to my ankles and how the toes are responding, I am constantly going for freedom of movement and eliminating stress.  I am watching how my breath opens on its own and deepens.

Swimming  allows you to let the water support the body and gives you a wonderful opportunity to practice your awareness of your body and how you use it.

Welcome to Joanie Mercer’s Blog site

Welcome to Joanie Mercer’s Blog site.  It is my intention this site will inspire, offer insight, and create  enthusiasm for the Alexander Technique. I also hope to fan the flame of  desire to live life with more awareness, mindfulness and compassion  for oneself as well as others.

People often ask me how I got to be an Alexander Technique teacher. Two words: back pain.  Back pain was a family affair.  By the time my mom was 50 she was spending at least half her day in bed due to a “bad back.”  Back in 1973,  I was a Hatha Yoga teacher.  Yoga was just coming into people’s consciousness.  One day I did a simple  forward bend and could not easily  stand up again.    Not wanting to take my mother’s route of pills or surgery,  I went to the chiropractor and through an x-ray found out that I had “degenerative discs” and scoliosis.  Determined to find alternatives I began to study with a clinician who did workshops in Gestalt, Feldenkrais movement and Neo-Reichian breath work.  It was at his insistence  that I look into the Alexander Technique.   I went to the library and checked out a copy of The Use of the Self by F.M. Alexander.  It is 40 years later and I am still reading this book and still learning from it!