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.



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!