Archive for the ‘Alexander technique’ Category

Calming down, waking up, Alexander Technique and Yoga

Friday, January 19th, 2018

A couple of years ago one of my students showed up to his lesson visibly stressed and tense. He was really upset at the political situation and the angry rhetoric that was going on at the time.

He had come to me for a series of 5 lessons to help him to resolve a hip problem. One hip was noticeably tighter and more restricted than the other.

10 minutes after starting the lesson he was much calmer. And he was really surprised at the difference and the speed at which it had happened.

So, what was up? 

Well, I had taken a bit of time to remind him that his nervous system was out of sync. When you’re in fight / flight mode, your nervous system goes in sympathetic dominance. It’s the mode that gives you a boost when you need to take immediate action to save your life.

Trouble is we confuse what is really dangerous and what is just annoying or uncomfortable. In this case, the political situation was annoying but not actually life threatening.

I reminded him that his feet were in contact with the earth, that his sitz bones at the bottom of his pelvis were in contact with the chair. That gave him some ground support. But ground support on its own isn’t enough to turn a tense person into a calm one.

For that I needed to add in his natural ability for tensegrity support. The ability to be in contact with the earth and flow upwards away from the earth. This opposition produces a balancing effect on the nervous system. You calm down and wake up at the same time.

That comes about from a small movement of your head nodding a little forward at the top of your spine.

Then your nervous system turns on a dime, going from tension and misery in one moment to calm alertness in the next. It’s simple, but not easy because we often overdo /underdo it.

It takes practice, sometimes years of practice: repeating it again and again until it becomes the default way of dealing with stress.

Does your head really lead all movement?

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

In the Alexander world, letting your head lead and your body follow is one of the key principles to, well, pretty much everything. Everything you do has a body involved. The device you’re using to read this was built by other people and the software written by yet more people. Each person had a body. So getting a set of principles that lets you have a life AND a body must a good thing right?

Well, it is. But there are some subtle gotchas that get in the way. Daniel Kahneman, an Economics Nobel Prize winner and a renowned psychologist wrote an essay with the title:
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

It’s one of the key problems about being human and being conscious. The moment we start to think about something, even as great as ‘head leading’, we start to over do. To interfere. That’s why it often takes years of practice before an Alexander teacher can effectively teach. We’re all overdoers – but only on what it is we’re thinking about.

So what might lead us to overdo the thought ‘head leads, body follows’?

We’re hardwired to belong to a social group. So, in our efforts to be part of the Alexander tribe, we might over do. Or the opposite, we’re so into being independent, we resist or rebel
For most people, paying attention to their body is fraught with anxiety. We have scary stories about our body. That little niggle? Oh no! It’s definitely the start of something serious. So we over compensate.
Then there are sensations, feeling and thoughts that arise after we have the intention to let our head lead and our body follow. We are sensation addicts, constantly looking for the next body high and desperately trying to avoid any feeling we might find difficult. Being in neutral place with regards to feelings is something that takes practice.

So, bear in mind: head leading and body following is the best idea ever – except that it might not be as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it!

Are you being honest in your yoga practice?

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

I went and had a massage recently with someone who is also a craniosacral therapist. We talked in the beginning and agreed that there would be a little bit of cranio to help a particular issue. The massage part went well. The cranio, not so much.

The problem was that I wasn’t completely honest. Me and cranio don’t really get along. But, I sometimes think that I should make use of it because it-is-a-really-good-thing. And a few of my friends are cranio people. So, instant recipe for failure. I agreed to have something I don’t really want.

So here’s a revolutionary idea when it comes to practice. Do you really want to do that pose? Or are you doing because … you don’t know which poses to do, you want to fit in, you don’t want to upset someone, you think you should like it.

Practice is optional. So, practice what is really you. There’s no simple formula for figuring out what is going to really work, you’ll just have to come along to my workshop next week and figure it out. And of course, I’ll be there to ask you interesting questions and give you support. Or holding your hand while you have a tantrum/sulk/fears. All of which are part of the joys and sorrows of practice.

Check out the workshop here

Yoga poses, working our bodies natural design

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

I’m standing on the beautiful beach in New Zealand. It’s 2010, and I’ve finished Donna Farhi’s yoga teacher training course.

I’ve signed up for four day walk in New Zealand’s South Island. With me on the walk is a group of American tourists. One of them is trying to do Warrior II. He’s trying hard to get the perfect pose. I can see him visibly making an effort and probably straining himself in the process. Thing is it looks really uncomfortable for his body.

He’s put his left foot at 90° to the other foot and he’s trying to put his pelvis so that he’s in one line with his body. And the problem is that our bodies are just not designed to do that. The average external rotation of the hip joint is 45°, he was trying for a full 90°, twice as much as the average range. Someone told him to do this and he was trying his best to do it.

No criticism or judgment about this, I often find myself doing things that other people have told me to do without really thinking them through. And the result is often discomfort or sometimes even strain. I’m getting a little better at stopping that kind of getting-myself-into-a-panice-trying-to-fit-into-the-class-movement thing because, well, it just hurts too much.

Some of the problem is just simple view point. Take a look at Warrior II from the side and it looks like the pelvis is completely flat.

Vector image from pixabay


But take a look from another perspective and it’s obvious that the pelvis is at an angle.

Warrior II, image from Flickr

 

And that’s the main theme of the workshop in 2 weeks, figuring out how to practice in a way that suits your body. There are still spaces in the workshop why not come along and just see how it works for you?

Stiff people don’t exist, they’re a figment of yoga teachers’ imagination

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

I’m sitting in Paul Grilley’s class about 10 years ago. He’s famous for debunking a lot of myths about flexibility by going back to looking at the surprisingly large variations in bone and joints.

Up to that point, I was convinced that I had very stiff hips and if only I did all the hip openers enough, I would have ‘open’ hip joints. He started talking about the variations in hip joint movement, that some people are naturally good at internal rotation, some at external rotation. Something about it clicked in my body and I went from an experience of stiff hips to hips that were moving easily.

My hips hadn’t changed in that moment, so what did? Well, what changed is that for a moment I was working with my structure and not the story about the structure I thought I should have, if only I did enough yoga. It was my first step into mapping my own structure.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the mechanism that comes into play when we try and move from a faulty sense of how our body is.

I had miss-mapped where the joint was, I thought it was further back than it was. So when I wanted to move my legs, I was telling my muscles to move an area that couldn’t move in that way. So, my muscles tried to work to stop the actual joint moving in order for the phantom joint to move. And since the only movement possible was in the actual joint, that was where the movement happened. So my muscles were trying to hold the joint and move it at the same time. I had a belief my hips were stiff and my faulty mapping of the joint was making that happen.

From Paul Grilley (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

From Paul Grilley (http://paulgrilley.com/bone-photos/)

There’s another way to be stiff. Even if I have a good map of my hip joint, if I ask it to move beyond what it’s capable of doing, muscles will fire to protect my joint.

And then there’s the last way to be stiff, which is not to move enough for your body. If you don’t move enough, your muscles start gluing themselves together. (What is enough movement is a highly individual thing). This is genuine stiffness but is easily cured by movement. The final way is because you’re ill or coming down with something.

So, I’ve need to map my hip joints as a shape in my body. And I’ve also needed to have a sense of where the absolute limits to movement in that joint are. The absolute limits are when bone meets bone.

What would it be like to let go of the cultural story about stiffness? What would it be like to have an accurate map of our internal shape and range of movement AND then pick a practice that works from that knowledge?

Wish I’d known this earlier, it would have saved me many years of not understanding my structure and then trying to retrofit movements on my structure that later proved to be not a good idea!

Want to figure out how to do this for yourself? There’s still some spaces in my workshop in a few week’s time.

My experience of studying brains/vision with Eyebody

Friday, October 13th, 2017

I’ve been studying the Eyebody method for 5 years, going to an annual retreat and taking private sessions a couple of times a year.

The Eyebody method is for those who want to see without glasses or at least that’s what most people who go say they want. Actually, the Eyebody method has evolved from seeing without glasses into a fully-fledged spiritual/religious philosophy and practice. It still has the pragmatic side of needing glasses less and generally improving your vision and co-ordination.

It’s been really good for me, I stopped wearing glasses a while ago and haven’t bothered to even get too worried about not wearing them. I probably should see an optician at some point since my last appointment was 6 years ago, but again, somehow I’m not bothered.

Do I have perfect 20:20 vision after 5 years study with all that time and money? No, I don’t. I have natural eyesight which I’ve come to realise means the same as just having a body. There are days when I’m really fit and active and then there are days when I’m not. Same with my sight.

But I’ve had some experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t study.

On a recent retreat, I was working in a group of people. I was really paying attention to my intentions, allowing my visual self to be completely centred. And suddenly it was like I was in a Vermeer or Rembrandt painting, all the faces of everyone around me were lit within and I was touched by their essential goodness. It’s like the light itself was breathing.

I had a great experience on the London tube going to a workshop. I was on the District/Circle line from Notting Hill Gate when I noticed the vertical hold bars. They were bright yellow. That yellow seemed to suffuse the whole carriage. I got a little colour stoned. Whoa, so much yellow, so amazing. It was just really pleasant. It wasn’t this great enlightenment experience, it was just really OK.

The one thing I learned that I didn’t know before hand? Just how much creative effort we need to put into the act of seeing if we truly want to improve our vision. Then the fine mesh in our brains becomes denser, springier, easier, more responsive. Then we begin to see clearer because we have more neurons on the job.

The downside?
Dealing with visual reactions means dealing with much faster reactions and a much more powerful and subtle energy. That was hard to get at first, my brain just wasn’t there. It’s taken work to get in touch with these faster rhythms.
Natural vision teachers are few and far between. It takes real commitment to see progress.
I’ve not found the religious/spiritual aspect of the work particularly useful.

But the more I’ve gone into it (this was my 5th time in Wales), the more I get out of it.

It has influenced my teaching and my life in a very positive way.

Yoga and Alexander technique: possibilities for pain free movement

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Yoga tends to attract people with unusually large ranges of movements. At the top of that large range are people who persist long enough to become senior teachers with photogenic practices. It creates a distortion field in our perception of what’s possible when we only look at those people doing poses in photos and videos.

We hit a restriction, assume that it’s muscular, it’s our fault, we’re bad people. We’re desperate to fast forward through the difficult bits, we feel ashamed and power on through

Then we hit some pain and assume that there’s something badly wrong, we’re about to die.

What if pain, restriction, guilt or shame was a path to waking up into calmness and not a signal to blunder around in a panicky way desperately looking for someone to save you?

I’m asking myself: what would that shame and guilt free practice look like?

Well, restriction comes from tight muscles/fascia and compression of joints. A practice which is full of shame is going to mean that you’re just not going to be there, just interested to see if the restriction is something that will resolve itself with practice or something that is an absolute limit.

What if I treated all restriction as a place of possibility? Then see if there’s more possibility for movement. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

What would it be like to be skilled, honest and open as I meet these experiences as they arise? As I go into more challenging movements for my body, what emotional skills do I need to be able to meet these challenges in an honest way?

I learnt something really important when I was assisting Donna Farhi in July 2017. Even though she had a very serious injury, she was comfortable. She was comfortable because she was utterly honest about her limits and used them with great integrity.

I learned that you don’t have to be uncomfortable or in pain even when up against really challenging physical limitations.

For me, it’s not about the result (nice though it might be), it’s about asking interesting questions and taking time to explore the answers that really makes the difference.

I’ve been asking these questions for the last 10 years as a teacher and sharing this process with students. Maybe I can help you ask some interesting questions and get answers of your own? Check out my one to one sessions here.

Is there one thing that can make your life a bit easier right now?

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

I was a student on an Alexander technique retreat in July and I decided to offer a morning yoga class. So, for 4 consecutive mornings I lead a one hour class.

The overall theme was working with core stability in relationship to ground, gravity, space and the light. Quite a bit of the class was done lying down on the floor. I was careful to keep offering students the right to make a change in the pose if that change suited them better. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing.

On the last day, I got them to do a long lying down session. We started off fine and then I noticed one young woman becoming progressively more fidgety. No problem, I thought, I’m sure she’ll modify the pose if it’s uncomfortable for her.

We reached the end of the class and she came over to me and asked me ‘that was really uncomfortable, is there anything I can do about that?’ The problem was her sacrum at the back of her pelvis. Lying on the ground didn’t feel good.

The solution was a simple folded blanket under her pelvis.

Instant change for the better.

It made me realise that even with lots of encouragement, we all tend to hold on to stuff that makes us feel bad, even though the solution to it is often simple and readily available.

So that’s my question to you:

Is there something that’s making you feel pain? (Whether physical or psychological).

Could you stop doing that right now and empower yourself to choose a simple solution that’s right there in front of you?

Workshop on vision, brain and movement

Friday, September 15th, 2017

I did a 3 hour workshop in September 2017 on brains, vision and movement. I wanted to see if there was a way of combining 3 disciplines that I’ve studied for a while, Yoga, The Alexander Technique and Eyebody. It was the first time I had brought some ideas about how our brain works into a workshop.

We spent an hour playing around with noticing the difference between what the way that our bodies actually worked as opposed to how we had grown up thinking that they worked. This is the Alexander technique concept of body mapping. I did a whistle stop tour head/tail and then legs and arms.

We figured out where the top of our head was, the bottom (hint: it isn’t the bottom of the jaw). Then we did head / body games to figure out how our heads actually rested on the top of our spine.

Then we figured out where our brain was. Everyone closed their eyes and pointed to their brain. Differed a lot, some people pointed to their forehead. Others to the back or middle of head. As a teacher, that for me was one of the interesting learning points, that we all have very different ideas about what our brain is.

It made me realise that for me now, my brain is inside my whole head and it has a long tail of nervous system running down my spine with nerves branching out to every part of my body.

We did another hour, this time with a simple sun salutation from Yoga. We were exploring what it was like to embody the Eyebody principle of vision leads, brain, eye and body follows.

The last part of the class was on activities that everyone brought to the class.

Two people in the class wanted to work on a computer. The common theme for both people was how they interfered with their arm structure. What I noticed as was, the act of focussing on the screen ended up with both people tightening their shoulders because they had disconnected to the arm support from below. I needed to remind them that the bottom most muscle of their arms actually goes into their tail, that most of the superficial muscle layer of the back of our bodies is arm. Once I had brought this back into their body through guided touch, they were both able to notice a difference.

One chap was a motor cycle courier and wanted to work with this. We worked a lot with being alert and yet relaxed. I helped him with some guided touch around neck and shoulders and that helped him find some space within his shoulders and arms.

Then somebody wanted to work on a the cobra pose in Yoga. Like many people who try this pose, I noticed that the moment that weight was put on the hands, she tightened up. I suggested finding more support from below by lengthening out legs.

I asked people what was useful about the workshop. People found things like left / right eye connection, the body mapping and the linking of vision to movement useful.

Yoga and Alexander technique: The one thing you need for a healthy brain

Friday, September 1st, 2017

I’m walking from the South Bank to Waterloo station in London and it’s a really busy place. Lots and lots of people. I’m minding my own business and enjoying a lunch time walk when something looks odd. It’s as though all the people who are in my field of vision were actors in a film I was directing, and they’re all a bit hostile towards me.

I’ve just had a rare insight into how my brain and my visual system come together to create my current reality. My internal director is having to work really hard to project this vision of a hostile crowd on to the people who are around me.

I let go, I’m just in the middle of a crowd of people. My whole reality changes and all I can see is the people as they are, not as I imagine them to be. I feel a whole lot better and my eyesight improves as well.

Caroline Williams, a New Scientist journalist, in her book “Override: my quest to go beyond brain training and take control of my mind” lists three things to help your brain health. They’re surprisingly mundane. Diet, exercise and meditation.

It’s a bit surprising because diet and exercise don’t seem to be much about brains, but it turns out our brains are hugely influenced by our gut bacteria and much of our brain is about movement.

We all know that diet and exercise is good for us so I’m skipping those in this article. I will come back to these topics because many people are exercise averse and struggle to control their diet.

What about all those clever mind exercises that are supposed to stop Alzheimer’s in it’s tracks? Well, 50% of neuro scientists think they’re a load of rubbish.

In one study around of 11,000 people, found that brain puzzles and games do nothing to make you smarter in general. They do make you a bit better at the game you have been practising, but even then the effects don’t last very long. (Owen AM et al., (2010) ‘Putting Brain Training to the Test’, Nature, vol. 465, pp. 775– 78.)

There again, 50% think they are either harmless or quite effective. So, right now, take your pick.

Back to my internal movie director experience. My biggest insight that day is that it was my brain’s orientation to the world that was off. That orientation was a mixture of physical alignment of my body, mental focus, my intentions for living and what was in my field of vision.

And that for me is the one thing that I really need to have a healthy brain.

It’s that aspect of brain work that I’m focussing on in my workshop on the brain next week.

Our brains really like to be connected to the world, interacting with the world through our senses and our ideas about reality.

It’s our intention for presence, to be fully here and not somewhere in the past or future that makes a difference to our brain. This mental intention for presence wakes us up.

Once we have this, then we go to specific techniques that will allow us to realise this intention.

Alexander work, with it’s very nuanced ideas of the head and spine relationship means that our brain is in a good physical relationship with the world. I’ve been experimenting with this further by wondering which how this affects my brain inside my head. In particular, the thalamus and optic nerve area. I’ve found that my head can be in good relationship to my spine (forward and up in Alexander jargon) and my brain can still be slumped. I’ve been exploring the ideas of Eyebody to bring some awareness to this area. A lot of visual information goes through that middle of our brain and some of it ends up getting stuck in our memories.

What takes us out of this easy orientation to our environment? It’s our brain in survival mode. When we go into survival mode and the situation doesn’t warrant it (that is we are not about to be killed) we start believing things that aren’t real. We pay too much attention to things that don’t really matter.

It seems horribly simple to say, yet this is the thing that really has made all the difference to me: the intention for presence, to be here and now both inside my body and fully in the environment. That leads to a small change in the physical orientation of my brain, my eyes, my head and then the rest of my body follows.

My workshop on yoga and the brain next week is full but I’ll be running it again soon. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll drop you a note when I next put it on.