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.

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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.

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.       

Alexander Technique, Astology and Automobiles

My good friend and astrologer, Margaret Sweet MargaretSweet.com – 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.

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.  

 http://www.bristol247.com/2012/05/08/how-to-revolutionise-your-art-of-running-31024/

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.