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.

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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.