Archive for the ‘Asanas’ Category

How do you know when you’re being sabotaged by your habits?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

I was assisting on yoga teacher Donna Farhi’s 4-day workshop in London recently and this question came up.

 ‘how do I know when I’m in my habit?’.

On the surface, it sounds like a reasonable question. We know that habit can take us out of the moment and sabotage your best intentions, so knowing that when you’re in your habit is important. It’s a sign that you’re out of touch with the moment, you’re lost in the past or obsessing about the future.

But if you look deeper, this is one of those questions that can easily get you chasing your tail in endless circles. Because, the moment your attention is about checking into to yourself to see whether you’re in your habit, you’re already there.

So, if you have to ask whether or not you are in your habit, you probably are.

Once you have an intention that brings you deeply present, you never have to ask whether or not you’re in your habit. This is because your habits will immediately present themselves to your awareness.

For example, if I tend to clench my teeth a little and I’m relaxed and with friends, I probably won’t notice that habit so much or the effect it’s having on my ability to communicate.

But if I want to sing in front of 200 people, you can be pretty sure that I’ll be very aware of that habit because it will be getting in the way of what I want to do.

So, if you want to get to know your habits well, set an intention to be present and work towards being in an environment where you will be presented with a challenge and lo and behold, your habits will immediately make themselves known.

Alexander realised this and his solution was to give people verbal directions that could be repeated when they wanted to be more present. His formula started with ‘Let the neck be free to let the back lengthen and widen’. Nowadays, other teachers have refined these directions and you might also try out something like ‘I’m not compressing my neck’ or ‘My neck is free’. See https://www.bodylearningcast.com/selfdirection/ for more information on these newer variants.
What you say ‘my neck is free’, you’re acknowledging that you have the universal tendency to tighten your neck and you’re giving yourself a different instruction that allows you to contrast what you normally do with something easier.

Our work on being present and letting go of habit doesn’t have to be a huge commitment spanning years, it can be a simple 10 second set of directions.

Of course, most of us have tough life habits deeply embedded in our identities, ways of moving and our way of relating that do need more sustained work over a period of time. And these 10 second directions can be the first footstep on that long road.

There is a whole art to setting intentions and changing your perspective on the environment. It takes practice and skill. I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years with my one to one students. Why not sign up for some lessons?

How do you get out of pain caused by computers?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Computers are often a cause of pain and we can get confused about the real source of that pain. This is about what happened to me on retreat recently where I looking into the cause of my own pain. More on the computers later.

I was on an Eyebody retreat recently and woke up with some pain in my lower back. This is unusual for me and although I was tempted to ignore it, I had a feeling that it was trying to tell me something. Alexander Teacher Jeremy Chance often says that pain is what is right about you, not what is wrong.

I decided to investigate.

I asked myself the questions that I normally ask all my students. Better during the day or during the night? Definitely better during the day. Just asking questions started to get me out of injury panic mode. Injury panic mode is where I start to believe that I have something permanently wrong with me and my future fills with fearful thoughts of pain.

After a bit, I realised it was my bed. I was away from home in an unfamiliar bed. F*ing bedding fell off every night. I was tensing to keep it on.

Better but not quite there.

I started reflecting on something the workshop leader, Peter Grunwald had said: “This is a seeing workshop, not a feeling workshop”. I realised that I had been taking this literally and had been suppressing, ignoring and denying my feelings.

And in so doing, I had cut off one of my most vital resources. My ability to sense the small micro self correcting movements which informs and supports most of my alignment work. My body was simply reminding me that I had forgotten. I was putting a twist into my lower back that isn’t part of the design of our lower spine.

Once I had brought these small movements back, in a couple of hours the pain was gone and in fact my lower back felt better than it had for a while.

When I reflected more on this, I realised that he didn’t ask anyone to suppress their feelings. Quite the opposite, he asked that they let their feelings come up without attaching any particular meaning to them. All too often, at the first sign of any unfamiliar sensation, students grab at that feeling and start trying to do something in their bodies to control it.

I figured out that I need to include the qualities of permission and allowing in my learning. Rather than getting caught up in over literal interpretations of other people’s ideas, maps and methods.

There is a common fear among yoga students going to a workshop that they will somehow be persuaded to do something that injures them. If injuries happen, sometimes the root cause of them is a student disconnecting from their own wisdom and inner resources.

This is why I take some care to set up a teaching environment that is about creating exploration from a place of curiosity.

It’s about developing and prioritising the student’s felt sense of what is going on. I’ve found from experience every student needs a way of creating this exploration for themselves. Many need a lot of structure. Some need more permission and allowing. It all depends on what I’m attempting to teach, where I’m at and where my students are at.

In 2015 I went to assist on a teacher training retreat lead by Donna Farhi. I realised that I had some interesting stuff to say about things that most yoga people over look. The connection between their heads and their spines. How to integrate a piece of learning. How to talk about co-ordination.

I also realised that I needed to do more work on the connection between feet, ankles and ground. My Alexander Technique training had given me a bias of working on my upper body. I set myself the task of having something useful and interesting to say about every major joint in the body.

That’s a long journey but I’m getting there.

In the process, all sorts of interesting connections are emerging from my head to the rest of my body.

I’ve long known that it’s often not the stuff that we do on the mat that solves all our physical aches and pains. It’s developing an awareness that you can carry into your everyday life. That’s why I’ve always included a section in my workshops that all my students to work on situations that cause them tension.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be taking that one step further and holding a workshop on a major cause of tension in most people’s lives: how we all work on computers, smart phones and other devices.

I’ve already given this workshop to a group of Alexander teachers.

You can download all sorts of advice about working with computers and smart phones. Taking breaks. Adjusting the ergonomics of your chair or work station. Doing some stretches that get your body moving. But these are all short term and often superficial fixes.

The course I lead focusses on what’s really important when you work on a computer. Your relationship to your body and to your environment.

It doesn’t fix your shoulders, it works on teaching principles that will allow you to fix those shoulders long term. It gives you skills to include your body in whatever you do in life.

I have a rare skill set for this. I’ve used computers professionally for over 25 years, even built my own PCs and I’m an Alexander / Yoga teacher. I won’t be offering this course again at this price and for this small size group. Take advantage while you can.

Computers/Smartphone, Alexander Technique and Yoga, London, Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm. Cost is £28.

Click here for more information.

Are your hands causing you tight shoulders and neck?

Friday, April 27th, 2018

I was at Robyn Avalon’s Alexander Teacher training workshop a few weeks ago.

There’s one particular exercise that she does with hands. You touch something with tense hands. Then you touch again, this time consciously dropping as much tension from your hands as you can manage.

It’s striking how little we can feel when our hands are tight. Trying to feel with your hands becomes an effort.

Many of us try and feel something in your hands by tightening something in your shoulders and neck. When that doesn’t work, we persuade ourselves that we feel something, even though the feeling is not really there. Or we give up and conclude that our hands are not accessible.

What would it be like to turn off the tension so that you can feel what’s under your hands? When you turn off the tension, even if that turning off is imperfect, you start to notice what’s really under your hands.

Textures and surfaces start talking through you. Another realm of being drops into place and a wordless experience is there for the having.

For our wordy, visually stimulated, devices obsessed culture, this can be an antidote.

Another world is there.

I’m going to be looking into this topic in more depth in my workshop on ease in computer use with Yoga and the Alexander Technique in a couple of months.

Using Computers & Smart Phones with ease using Yoga and the Alexander Technique. Saturday 9th June 2018, 10am to 1pm (https://www.yogaground.com/workshop/39)

Come along to this workshop and find out how to do this.

How asanas end up being difficult

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

At the end of a recent workshop, one of my students was doing Bakasana (child’s pose). It’s a pose done lying face down on the ground with your legs folded underneath you. I looked over and s
he didn’t look at all comfortable.

She said that she found it difficult and then tried a series of different self adjustments in rapid succession.
 I started to wonder about that. What was going on for her?

After asking some questions, it turned out that She expected it should be easy for her because when she went to a class, the teacher told the students to rest and relax in child’s pose. So, she had the idea that this should be easy for her and when it wasn’t she immediately started to think that there was something wrong.

What if, I asked, if she dropped the ‘should’ in her idea of the pose and just went with what it was? It started to help.

That’s the interesting thing about having a real body and doing yoga. Some poses are easy and manageable and some aren’t so much. Most people love child’s pose and find it soothing and restful. But not all.

We’re wired to frame at least some of our happiness about how we fit into a group. If you’re in a group and everyone seems to be enjoying child’s pose and you’re not, it’s all too easy to frame it as you not really belonging.

Once that thought takes root, then all sorts of difficult thoughts spin up about not being good enough, being the odd one out.

When I think about setting up a class where everyone can belong, I never frame that belonging on how well or not you are doing in the pose. I’m interested in using the pose to see what shows up. If it’s difficult, does the difficult you show up? Or can you be easy with what’s there? If it is easy, are you easy too or do you immediately switch off, go into a mind wandering state?

Then the asanas are tools we use to reveal the camouflage that hides our natural design. 

In so doing, we can find that the poses are actually simple and easy as long as we are willing to go at our own pace.

How far is it safe for you to stretch in Yoga?

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Around 8 years ago, my phone rang and at the other end was a very upset yoga teacher friend of mine. She wanted to update her website, so she got a photographer and went through some poses. Of course, she wanted to have some impressive photos, not just run of the mill stuff. She was doing the splits when she tore her hamstring muscles at the back of her leg off the bone. Ouch!! That was an injury that took 6 months to heal up.

The source of Yoga injuries? Generally, it’s someone going too far and too fast for their body. Somehow, a whole web of expectations is created about what the pose is, peer pressure and how your body works; and then something goes ping.

This is where the Alexander Technique can be very helpful. Firstly, it has a culture of deep enquiry into how much is enough. The AT jargon for this is non end-gaining.
Secondly, it is a study of human integration. When you study integration, the key question doesn’t become “how far can I go?” or “how much pain can I endure?”, it becomes “how can I bring this movement into my integration?”.

That simple question of “how can I bring this movement into my integration?” is very different from “how far”, the question itself contains a restraint. If you can’t bring your stretch into your integration, then that’s a sign that you need to consider another way of doing it. Perhaps (a radical idea!), not doing it at all?

Integration in Alexander Technique is facilitated by primary movement (also called primary control). Primary movement is what happens when your head and spine are in a certain relationship with each other. If you’re sitting upright reading this, if your head nods forward at your spines’ top joint and that encourages your spine and head to move slightly upwards, you’ve got your primary movement/control working.

When you have access to this primary movement, you’re moving away from sympathetic dominance. Sympathetic dominance is fight / flight, an important part of our survival functioning. But it has the unfortunate side effect of drastically impairing your long term decision making ability and it also cuts out sensation in your body. When you’ve got access to primary movement, you’re moving toward parasympathetic dominance (the relaxation response) and you have much better access to sensation and therefore are much more likely to pay attention to signs that your body has reached the end of that stretch.

There’s never any absolutes, you can still go too far in Yoga using the Alexander Technique, it’s just a little less likely. It’s certainly not a quick fix either. Most people who I’ve worked with who have significant injuries through yoga have multiple causes for those injuries. They have had to work through many issues to get themselves into a place where they are heading towards an injury free practice.

We all need speed bumps on the road at times and if you do Yoga regularly, the Alexander Technique could be yours.

Why does it take so long to get results?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

I’ve written about a student who wanted know about why it took so long to get results.

This is why.
Because it takes that long for numbness to wear off.
Because we don’t believe it’s possible even though we see it each time we go to class or have a lesson.
Because there are parts of us who need to hide behind the trees for a few years to make sure that it’s safe to come out.
Because it’s a skill that’s just as rich as playing music.
Because the whole thing is really fun and we just like it.
Because it’s really hard and we need that long to get over how hard it all is.
Because we see the gap between where we are right now and where we could be and we either despair and give up or we power on through. When we power on through, we tend to just repeat the same mistakes. When we give up, nothing changes.
Because it just is.

So why put yourself through all that?

I can’t say why you should. I can just say what I’ve found when I show up and do my practice without needing something from it.

I just practice.

Well, I enjoy it. Not always, there are some days when I’m sleep deprived and would rather just stay in bed. Mostly though, it’s become something that’s just me. I used to get anxious that my practice wasn’t the same as other people and therefore maybe wasn’t as good. Now I don’t care, my practice feeds something that makes me more real, more alive.

The more I practice, the better I get at it and the easier it is to get results.

And every now and then, I get instantaneous success!

It doesn’t have to take years, it’s just that sometimes it does.

How long does it take to fix my shoulder?

Friday, February 9th, 2018

Last year, I had a student with shoulder tension come to me for a series of lessons. His osteopath had recommended yoga.

We talked a bit and then he pointed to his shoulder and asked ‘How long does it take?’ He wanted to know how long it would take to fix his shoulder.

My answer, after thinking about it for a while was: ‘3-5 years’.

His response: ‘Huh!!?’

Here’s why it can take that long.

Because the change towards resolving the shoulder tension usually isn’t that long. A few lessons should see some progress. But the problem is that tension will come back. That’s because it’s rooted in habit. Not just superficial habit, but patterns of thought attitude and behaviour which have been around a long time and are hard to change.

Because deep change is difficult. It takes time and it takes practice. Both are big challenges, particularly in the beginning.

Because the change that needs to be made is immediate and simple. Simple is not easy. There’s nowhere to hide. You get it or you don’t. And most of the time you don’t. Most of the time I don’t either. That can be very confrontational, particularly if you have a strong thing about being right or about being perfect.

In essence, you practice over and over again to get something that is an overnight success.

So a lot of the 3-5 years is spent being compassionate about not getting it.

About dealing with the frustration and anxiety that brings up. About learning to practice with a strong desire for progress and at the same time letting go of any attachment to results.

Here’s the thing, if you do that, you’ll get results. And those results will be rich, amazing and bring you back to yourself. The practice is something where you can be you, without some expectation of what you can or can’t do. Then there’s a good chance that you’ll fix that shoulder thing.

How our brains and eyes come together to help us move

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

It’s around 8am and I just standing on my yoga mat and looking at the world. I do this everything morning if I can manage it. I’m not staring or fixing my gaze on one spot, I’m steadily deliberately moving my gaze around the environment, so I don’t miss anything.

It’s easy to miss something by jumping from one object to another so, I’m keeping the movement smooth.

It’s also easy to have a rigid gaze where the environment is there but I’m missing in action. So; I keep remembering that seeing is an action that happens in my brain and if I’m able to place some awareness in my brain, then I’ll be involved in that act of seeing.

After a bit I start moving so that I’m still moving my gaze but now my whole body is involved in supporting me as a I change my orientation to the environment. On a good day, this is how I do my morning sun salutation. It’s everything being there as a whole thing. And there’s a sequence that comes from my intentions that flows through to my brain, my eyes, my head and then my whole body.

In Yoga, this is called Drishti, which translates as gaze. This way of working was first introduced to me not by a yogi, but by the inventor of the Eyebody Method, Peter Grunwald.

Quite often, the way that we move when we’re whole is deeply buried within our intuition and we have no way of languaging it. It just is. That makes sense when we consider that we learn to very early in our lives and mostly through a simple intention to explore our environment. We try lots of different things; at some point it works and we’re crawling, rolling and finally walking and running.

Here’s a suggestion. Simply intend to include your brain and eyes in the way that your head moves and your body follows. Don’t change anything. Be kind, be generous to yourself, you’re just exploring something new. If you find yourself being too literal about what leads and what follows, think of it as brain and eyes being included your head mediating or influencing your movement.

The point is not to spin up into a critical, judgemental, perfect thing where you’ll never succeed; but to acknowledge that you already know how to see and how to move. Checking things out like this allows you to figure out what you’d like to change.

It’s easy to run into problems by trying to do something right, to end up imposing a fixed idea of movement that doesn’t go with that deeply intuitive way of moving.

The only true freedom we have is where to place our focus and our gaze is the physical embodiment of that focus. Making the decision to consciously transition your gaze without jumping while you’re moving is an act of courage . It’s an act against the habits of a lifetime of a restless gaze that jumps from this thing to that thing without ever discovering what lies within.

I’ll be exploring this and other things when I do my workshop on Yoga and the Alexander Technique on Saturday 24th February 2018. There’s still some spaces left.

What are you doing about your back pain?

Friday, January 26th, 2018

One of my students came to me this week and complained about lower back pain. I did some work with her, but nothing really changed.

Then I asked her about her lower back, what did she think that it did? She gave a long and detailed list. I was impressed with her clarity; most students have to stop and think about that. But I wanted more clarity, so I asked her what was her back’s most important job?

Holding her up was the answer. Her back was not doing a good job according to her.

I asked her: ‘what if your back didn’t need to hold you up. What if the natural design of your back meant that you were always fully supported’.

It didn’t make much difference.

Then I repeated it, this time using my hands for reinforcement. When someone has a core support strategy that’s faulty, it can feel risky to even think of changing. Asking them to change cognitively doesn’t cut it, their mind spins into over-drive, their body resists.

They need the experience of having a real choice. That’s the beauty of Alexander Technique hands on work, it can give you the experience of having another choice. It’s incredibly rewarding for me as a teacher to have this skill to offer. She noticed a definite shift in her lower back. Then the rest is PPP (practice, practice, practice). Practice is still a deal, but it’s easier when you know that you’ve been able to do it at least once.

So, if you have a realisation that your body is working way too hard and it doesn’t need to because you have a faulty idea about how your body works, is it all over unless you can get to a teacher who can guide you with your hands?

No, there’s another option. That is about creating an environment where your body has no option but to let go. And that is restorative yoga, the art of using props to restore ease in the way you deal with the world.

I’m covering all the options (body mapping, hands on guidance and using props) in creating ease in Yoga using the Alexander Technique workshop on February 24th 2018. There’s still space if you want to sign up.

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