New Group Class: Experiential Anatomy and Alexander Technique

fig-70-deep-muscles-of-the-upper-part-of-the-backExperiential Anatomy and Alexander Techniquewith Witold Fitz-Simon

Tuesday Evenings (see dates below)

Learn to see, understand and talk about anatomy with an Alexander Technique twist. In this 10-week class, we will learn about bone, its physiology, function and use as a support structure and foundation for movement, with a special focus on the head and spine. This class is part of the American Center for the Alexander Technique's teacher-training program, the longest-running program in the US, but is open to anyone interested in the body and the way we use ourselves. Excellent for teachers of dance, yoga or other movement modalities, and for anyone interested in how their bodies work.

Class Day/Time: Tuesdays, 7:55 pm to 9:15 pm Class dates: September 13, 20, 27 October 25 November 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 December 6 Class Fees: $400 for 10 classes; $45 per drop in class All fees are payable by cash or check to “ACAT” To register for the whole series: send $400 payment in full* to ACAT, 39 West 14th Street, Room #507, between 5th and 6th Avenue or click below to pay via PayPal (processing fees apply) Buzz #507 to enter the building *There are no refunds for missed classes


5 Reasons Why Six-Pack Abs Are A Terrible Idea

statueby Witold Fitz-Simon I’ve been noticing over the past few weeks how a few of my Facebook friends have signed up to be part of an event for the month of June: "30 Day Ab Challenge for those who need some motivation like me.” I clicked over to the event page and was surprised that 1.9 MILLION Facebook users have said they are going to take part. I work both as an Alexander Technique teacher and a Yoga teacher, so I spend a certain amount of my working week in gyms. I understand the pressure to look trim and have a slim waist, and I see the effort people put in to the goal of hard abs. I also see the harmful effects this can have on them. Tight abs can be really bad for the body, and here are five reasons why:

1. Six-pack abs contribute to bad posture and put strain on your neck

Good posture arises out of a delicate balance of forces in the body. The flexor muscles of the front of your body are there to act as a balance to the extensor muscles of your back body, which are the true “anti-gravity” muscles that hold you up off the floor. Your extensor muscles are intrinsically stronger, when taken as a whole, than your flexors. When everything is going well, the 15-or-so pounds of your head are lifted up off the top of your spine by your extensors. If they over-work and your head gets pulled back too much, your flexors are there to counter-balance. Whereas the tone of your non-fatiguable extensor muscle is continuous whenever you are upright, the tone required of your fatiguable flexor muscles to do their job, is smaller and only needed intermittently. To work your abdominals until they are so contracted that they are perpetually tight means you are setting up a constant downward pull against which your postural muscles have to work in addition to the downward pull of gravity. This means that your neck has to struggle to keep your heavy head, filled with your very important brain, upright and away from the very hard ground.

2. Six-pack abs contribute to lower back pain, rather than help it

Generally speaking, lower back pain comes from the discs and nerves of your spinal column being compressed in some way. Vertebra become displaced or crack, discs get ruptured or start to degenerate, and the nerves that come out of your spinal column in the spaces between your vertebrae are pressed on, which causes pain. Whereas, it is true that increased stability will help keep the structures of the lower back well-positioned so that the pressures and movements that are causing the struggle don’t happen, this stability needs to come from lengthening and widening, rather than adding more compression to a system that is already struggling under the effects of too much of it. The constant extra tone that hard abs have will only contribute to the problem.

3. Six-pack abs make it harder to breath

In order for your breath to flow freely, all the different parts of your breathing mechanism—diaphragm, ribs, lungs, accessory breathing muscles—need to be able to slide and glide around each other freely and with ease. Your six-pack muscles attach to the front of your ribcage. If you have developed them so that they are excessively toned all the time, this means that they are exerting a constant pull on the front of your rib cage and will prevent you from being able to breathe freely.

4. Six-pack abs make it harder to move

Moving well—with stability, balance, ease and power—comes from all the different muscles of the body being able to move freely and in coordination with each other. Those same tight abdominal muscles that are preventing you from breathing freely are also preventing all your other muscles from moving freely. Every time you reach your arm out, or take a step with one leg, or turn your torso, you will have one thick, unmoving muscle at the center of your body pulling back and restricting your movement, making every movement you do require that much more energy to execute.

5. Six-pack abs limit the function of your internal organs

Your muscles and bones are not the only thing that move as you breathe and make your way through the world. Your internal organs do as well. All your internal organs function by having your various fluids move through them. Fluid goes in at one end of the organ, gets processed in some way as it moves through it, and is moved out the other end to allow more fluid to enter. The only internal organ of the body that has its own pump to do this is the heart. Whereas blood pressure is a key factor to the internal functioning of the body, it can’t do all the work on its own. Your organs are moved around and massaged by the movements of your breath and the movements that you make during your daily life. To limit those movements is to deprive your organs of some of the inner flow that they rely on to keep functioning.

I’m not saying don’t exercise. Some form of daily exercise is important to keeping healthy and happy. What I am saying is: let your exercise be balanced and mindful, so that you use yourself consciously, intelligently and discerningly. Use your body in such a way that you are contributing to your overall health and wellbeing, rather than detracting from it.

And you know what is a great way to learn how to do that? The Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique can offer you simple and effective tools to move better, with more strength, more integration, and more ease. It will teach you to identify ways in which you create more difficulty for yourself and will show you how to make better choices in everything you do. If you’re interested in learning how to strengthen your belly without creating all the above problems for yourself, you might try dropping in on one of ACAT’s free monthly lecture/demos, or find a certified Alexander Technique teacher near you.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being.[/author_info] [/author]

Fast and Loose: Protecting Those Hip Joints

(c) 2013 Joan Arnold by Joan Arnold

Yoga Alert

Women!  Beware of yoga!  So said a November, 2013 article in the New York Times by William Broad, a science writer whose provocative articles have challenged America's current love affair with yoga.* He cited serious injuries women have sustained in extreme yoga postures, concluding that yoga's emphasis on flexibility causes severe hip joint strain among women.

Speaking as a yoga teacher and a middle-aged woman with hip joints, I know that, in the practice and teaching of yoga, generalities don't help.  Some women have loose joints, and some don’t.  Some yoga forms put practitioners into exaggerated poses, others don’t.  As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I help people – yogic and otherwise – recover from hip replacements by helping them unravel habits developed before or after surgery, and helping them learn how to move well in their daily lives.  For prevention or rehabilitation, the most important focus is you how you move.  How you walk and sit or perform yoga postures will create strain or harmony in that crucial center of the body.  It’s all in how you do it.

Use or Genetics?

Any movement teacher worth his or her salt should know the pitfalls of stiffness and hyper-mobility.  Some of our students are tightly strung, others loosely strung.  Some are women and some are men.

One aspect of flexibility comes from muscle – muscle fibers’ resting length and the quality of the connective tissue that surrounds each fiber and muscle group.  When we stretch to become more flexible, the best approach is to do so gently, increasing that resting length gradually.  Another aspect of flexibility is inherited, determined by the length of our ligaments, the connectors binding bone to bone that stabilize the skeleton.  Once a ligament is stretched, it stays that way.  That's why we need to be clear about what we're stretching and why.  When you stretch, your primary sensation should be in the muscle, not in the joint.

Those we call double-jointed are born with longer ligaments.  The advantage is that they are naturally flexible, and yoga’s full range of postures come more easily to them.  The disadvantage is that their joints are less stable.  They need to avoid hanging on their joints – something that can feel good and stretchy – and learn how to more fully engage their muscles to stabilize this genetic laxity.  I have one yoga student, a builder who swings a hammer, lifts and climbs all day long, who is hyper-mobile.  I coach him to engage his muscles, not to hang in down dog but to lift up, fully engage the shoulders to spare his joints from the over-extension that, to him, comes naturally.

Those with shorter ligaments have the benefit of greater joint stability.  Though they’d like to be looser, initially they may hate stretching.  In the current culture of yoga, dramatic flexibility is over-emphasized, as is performance over process.  These folks may envy those flexier types, but it’s best when they work with their own body gradually, learning how to release muscles and fascia, to make fuller joint movement available.

Do you know your body type? Your muscles may be tight or loose, but it’s good to know whether your joints—your ligaments—are close-knit or loose.  A good teacher or physical therapist can tell you, but you can test yourself.  Extend one arm out in front of you.  If your elbow goes beyond straight, so it rises above the forearm, you’re on the flexible side.  If it’s hard to straighten your arm fully, your ligaments probably tend to be short.

Structure & Habit

(c) 2013 Joan Arnold

I’ve had beautiful, accomplished yoginis come to my class, dropping into their shoulder joints in down dog – adho mukha svanasana – or too low in the forward lunge Anjaneyasana, pushing down into the ribs and waist, putting pressure on the hip joints and lower back.  In down dog, I help them allow their ribs to come back and up, to spare their shoulders and hips.  In lunge, I teach them to come up from the bottom of the pelvis rather than hang on those available joints. Using the Alexander Technique’s idea of lightness at the top of the spine helps them engage their torso’s natural buoyancy.  With a gentle hands-on suggestion, I encourage them to stop pushing down and guide the pelvis to tilt up and away from the front leg.  Rather than exerting repetitive pressure and misaligning the upper thigh (the femur in the socket of the acetabulum, if you want to get technical), they can spare those delicate feminine hip joints.  The result is freedom and lightness as they breathe more fully and build strength with balance.

(c) 2013 Joan Arnold

As teachers, we can determine how a student's habits and genetics interact and what each one needs to learn.  Though awareness is considered a priority in yoga, "listening to your own body” may mean that you indulge your preferences and perpetuate unconscious habits that do not further your practice.  An insightful teacher can suggest shifts that initially may feel unfamiliar or wrong, but can lead you toward a deeper understanding of your body’s unique needs and a more intelligent practice of the subtle, complex art we call yoga.

* The first, an excerpt from Broad’s book "The Science of Yoga," was a sensational New York Times magazine cover story in January, 2012, entitled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. That piece highlighted the prevalence and seriousness of yoga injuries, and has sparked an ongoing and worthy conversation. Here are two among many responses:

"How Yoga Can Free Your Body" by Joan Arnold "Does Yoga Kill?" by Timothy McCall

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Drawings ©2013 by Joan Arnold, used with kind permission

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JOAN ARNOLD has been a movement educator for over 30 years, teaching dance, exercise, yoga and Alexander Technique.  She has a private practice in NYC, Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley and has been quoted as an expert in Fit Yoga, O magazine and Timothy McCall’s 2007 book, Yoga as Medicine.  Her articles on health, education and bodywork have appeared in national magazines and online in Elephant Journal.  Joan teaches at Jaya Yoga Center in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  In July 2014, she returns to Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health to reprise her week-long workshop on Yoga & the Alexander Technique. [/author_info] [/author]


Fascia, The Body’s Connective Tissue, Can Contract!

skeletonby Witold Fitz-Simon The standard wisdom is that it is only the muscles of the human body that contact and create movement, but it turns out that this is not entirely true. About ten years ago, research began to show that fascia contained myofibroblasts, cells that have the ability to contract when stimulated.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue of the body. It surrounds all our muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and organs, and provides the tensile structure of the body, providing the medium that transfers the elastic pull of our muscles. It holds different parts in place, for example suspending organs from the spine, and allows different parts of the body to move around by creating distinct layers of tissue with surfaces that can slide and glide over each other. Fascia is made up of tight bundles of collagen fibers which are extremely resistant to lengthening. When a person is young and/or healthy, the fibers, bundles and layers are neatly aligned and discrete. As a person ages and the overall good use of their body deteriorates, these fibers can become frayed and stuck together, and can even get shorter. What used to aid and support movement can create limitations and problems. Once fascia gets to that state it can become very difficult to change. It takes serious intervention: either the forceful rearranging of deep tissue massage, or the sustained mindfulness and intention that the Alexander Technique can provide.

Along with collagen fibers, fascia contains extracellular matrix (the stuff that is in between the cells) and fibroblasts, cells that create the extracellular matrix and collagen. The myofibroblasts that have been discovered in fascia are found all over the body and are used in the healing of wounds. As they contract, they pull the edges of the wound together. In fascia, they are found in greater concentration in areas where the tissue is under greater physical stress.

From an article written by Joseph E. Muscolino, author of “Kinesiology, The Skeletal System and Muscle Function,” published in the Fall 2008 issue of Massage Therapy Journal:

“As great and greater tensile forces are placed upon the fascia, more and more myofibroblasts develop from the normal fibroblasts of the fascial tissue. For this reason, myofibroblasts are also known as ‘stress fibers.’ These myofibroblasts can then create an active pulling force that the fascial tissue is experiencing. For this reason, myofibroblasts are found in the greatest concentration in fascial tissues that have been injured and are undergoing would healing. Fascial tissues with high concentrations of myofibroblasts have been found to have sufficiently strong force to impact musculoskeletal mechanics—that is, their active pulling forces are strong enough to contribute to movement of the body.”

Slow and Steady Contraction

The contraction of muscle tissue can be fast-moving, with the ability to respond almost instantaneously to triggers, and is governed directly by the nervous system, either non-consciously through the reflexes of the spinal chord, or directly from conscious intention. The contraction of these myofibroblasts in our fascia is very different in quality, building up over a period of minutes to hours, and was found to be stimulated by changes in hydration in the extracellular matrix of the tissue as a result of stretching. This means that the contraction of fascia would not be directly influenced by the kind of mental intention that direction in the Alexander Technique mode. It does mean, however, that fascia is not as inert as one might have heretofore thought, and this new knowledge gives us a different insight into the mechanism of change that happens over time as the result of continuously applying constructive, conscious direction to the way we use ourselves with the Alexander Technique.

For those more technically-minded, two studies on the topic can be found here and here.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being.[/author_info] [/author]

Less Pain, More Productivity: Demonstrating the Advantages of Primary Control with Muscle System Pro III

Alexander Technique, Primary Control, productivity, painby Jessica Santascoy What is it that makes the Alexander Technique unique? One of the main ideas is primary control, and the understanding that it can help balance the whole body.

What is Primary Control?

Primary control refers to how the head, neck, and torso are working together. When primary control is working well, the head is poised at the top of the spine, and the neck muscles are supple and flexible. When primary control is not working well or has vanished, more muscles are recruited than are needed for movement, there is more joint compression, and there is stiffening. The head becomes a weight. The whole body will eventually feel the impact of the loss of primary control.

If the head, neck and torso are working efficiently together, then we have more ease, which equals higher productivity and more energy, because the body is freer.

Effortless Learning

Muscle System Pro III is an excellent anatomy app that can help you understand or explain primary control and other dynamics of the body.

Allowing the head to drop towards a laptop or a mobile device is a common habit that can cause pain.

One of my favorite features of the app is the robust amount of 3D animations. They help demonstrate key principles and can lead to “a ha” moments. Let’s take a peek inside Muscle Pro III, and find out how it can help you explain or learn about primary control.

Laptop Pain

A friend of mine had tremendous neck and back pain. She was working in cafes, where the screen of her laptop was about 4 inches lower than her eyes. She was dropping her head towards the laptop to see the screen. Her head became a weight, pulling on her neck and back. After working this way for 6 hours or so, she was in excruciating pain, very irritable, often had a headache, and had to stop working. (See Figure 1.)


Ease Pain with Primary Control

Through Alexander lessons, my friend became aware that allowing her head to drop down was causing a lot of the pain. The laptop had become a stimulus for her to “dump” her head - when she’d start working on the laptop, she dropped her head down. She realized that she could choose not to do this, and learned a better way to work, using only the muscles necessary and moving the head at the top of the spine (at the atlanto-occipital joint). (See Figure 2.)

Now, my friend uses less muscular action and effort, and gets more done because she’s not in pain. She is proactively preventing pain, which increases productivity.

What Do You Think About Learning Anatomy?

In my experience, learning anatomy clarifies learning and helps bring about a deeper understanding of Alexander principles.

What do you think? Does understanding anatomy help you learn? Teachers: What are the advantages of using anatomy to demonstrate primary control and other principles? Are there disadvantages to teaching with anatomy?

Features in the App Include:

  • A robust amount of media, including animations showing movement of the body including articulated area and range of motion; still images with different views: anterior, lateral, posterior
  • 3D perspective and ability to move the images
  • Remove and add layers of muscles quickly
  • Quick access to information - including audio pronunciation, origin, insertion, action, and nerve supply of a muscle
  • The ability to take notes in the app, and share images via social media

For Teachers

I recommend getting these apps by 3D4Medical for your app library: Muscle System Pro III, Skeletal System Pro, and the free Essential Skeleton 3. You can switch between the apps to show your student various views and media to clarify concepts. There are iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions. No Android version at this time.

For Learners

My friend bought Muscle System Pro III for iPhone, so she could have a quick review of what she’d learned at the lesson. The iPhone version is an inexpensive investment for your learning, at $3.99.

App images via Muscle System Pro III by 3D4Medical

Top image: Joe Cieplinski


[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JESSICA SANTASCOY is an Alexander Technique teacher specializing in the change of inefficient habitual thought and movement patterns to lessen pain, stress, anxiety, and stage fright. She effectively employs a calm and gentle approach, understanding how fear and pain short circuit the body and productivity. Her clients include high level executives, software engineers, designers, and actors. Jessica graduated from the American Center for the Alexander Technique, holds a BA in Psychology, and an MA in Media Studies. She teaches in New York City and San Francisco. Connect with Jessica via email or on Twitter @jessicasuzette.[/author_info] [/author]