Strategies for a Lie Down #1: Expand, like rising dough

by Brooke Lieb

During many Alexander lessons, part of the lesson is spent with the student resting on her or his back on a table as the teacher uses verbal guidance and hands-on assistance to help the student expand her or his back onto the table, release arms and legs away from the trunk, and ease mental and physical tension and stress.

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View from the Table, ACAT Pipes

pipes2 by Cate McNider

As an Alexander Technique teacher in training, we are introduced to what is called a ‘lie down’. With the right number of books placed under our heads so that our heads are in right relationship with our backs as if we are standing, and our knees are bent to the ceiling and our feet on the table.  This horizontal position put me in visual contact with the external pipes running longitudinally and laterally six or so inches from the ceiling at ACAT.  As the teacher directed my thinking to allowing my spine to lengthen and my back to widen, I was seeing these criss crossing symbols above me.

pipes1

At the beginning of my first term I wished, along with my ‘neck to be free’, to have something more stimulating to look at, but soon I realized the simplicity and beauty of the pipes, the functional details of their construction and the shadows they cast. So in the spirit of awareness, inhibition and direction I created these replicas of various perspectives of the ceiling pipes at ACAT. I decided to photograph them with my iphone and paint them in charcoal and water color, to celebrate my overhead surroundings.

Taking time to have a 5 or 10 minute ‘lie down’, we give ourself the gift of deepening our awareness of ourselves and seeing what ease can follow with that practice.  (see Witold Fitz-Simon’s post on how to do Constructive Rest) Next time you do that for yourself, notice the ceiling, see what is above you and if you can let go more into what is underneath you, and you might find when you return to vertical, you most likely are more up than when you went down!

ACAT Pipes #3

ACAT Pipes #4

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/McNider.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]CATE MCNIDER is a third year trainee at ACAT and has been a bodyworker since 1991. She came to NYC as an actor in 1985 from studying at the Drama Studio in London for two years after graduating from Sweet Briar College.  She performed Off-Broadway as well as solo dance performances from 1986 -2013. In 2002, she became Body-Mind Centering® practitioner, which brought her closer to understanding movement patterns. She produced two one hour improvisational dance evenings in 2005 about her past-lives, ‘RISK, It’s Really All One Dance’ (excerpt on youtube). In 2010 she published a collection of her poetry: Separation and Return. She began painting in the early 1990‘s as a means of expressing experiential states and concepts where words fell short. Paintings are for sale, contact Catewww.thelisteningbody.com.[/author_info] [/author]

A Master Class with Marjory Barlow [video]

by Witold Fitz-Simon This master Class with first-generation teacher, Marjory Barlow, was filmed in 1986 at the first International Alexander Technique Congress. Here she goes through the finer points of giving a table turn.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/After-crop1.jpg[/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. <a href="www.mindbodyandbeing.com">www.mindbodyandbeing.com</a>[/author_info] [/author]

How To Sleep Better

kitty by Jessica Santascoy

Many people ask me if the Alexander Technique (AT) can help with insomnia and getting a better night’s sleep. Yes, AT can help!

My sleep ritual is inspired by AT principles and strategies, and it’s one of the most effective I’ve ever used. This ritual requires very little effort and it can be done before bed, in bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night. Also, the order of the steps isn’t important - you can do them in any order you like.

1. Say your AT Directions

“I allow my neck to be free, so my head may balance delicately at the top of the spine, to allow my whole torso to lengthen and widen.”

Wish your directions without searching for a release and without doing anything like stretching. Trust that over time your thinking will help you move into more ease and less tightening.

I like to think of how a cat, dog, or a baby sleeps - there is no unnecessary tension.

2. Soften your vision

About an hour before you go to sleep, begin to soften your vision. What does this mean? In a nutshell, this means not over-focusing or straining your eyes.

The verbs “look” and “see” imply we do something, we work, in order to see. To soften your vision, allow what you are seeing to come to you. It’s a passive seeing, imagining that what you see is coming into your sight, rather than actively looking.

Begin to include your peripheral vision. It’s common to over-focus on objects and people during the day, such as on a laptop or a mobile device screen.

But now, you want to direct your vision to be easy and soft, and including the peripheral vision is a good way to help you do so.

3. Notice your breathing

Don’t try to change it, just simply notice it.

No need to try to deepen your breathing by emptying your lungs completely or sucking in air when you inhale.

Simply allow the breath to move in and out.

You could put one hand on your ribs and another on your abdomen. Notice how your torso changes shape as you breathe. If you like, you can gently place your attention on the out breath.

When I’m having a lot of trouble sleeping, I do constructive rest. So add constructive rest into my ritual above, and take practical steps to sleep better (less caffeine, turn off your mobile device/computer an hour before bed), and see how that works.

What are your favorite ways to get yourself to sleep and have a restful night?

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/santascoy.jpg[/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]

How To Do Constructive Rest: The Alexander Technique Lie Down

Constructive Rest, Semi Supine, Lie Downby Witold Fitz-Simon The Lie Down is an important component of self-care. All it takes is ten minutes once or twice a day. It will give you a chance to calm your mind and rest your body while exploring the principles and the “means-whereby” of the Alexander Technique: observation, inhibition and direction.

Set Up

  • Find a clean, firm, comfortable surface to lie down on. The floor is better than a bed as it will give you a level surface for better support. If your back pressing into the uncovered floor is uncomfortable, lie down on carpet or a folded towel or blanket instead.
  • Lie back with your head supported by a number of books. There should be enough height under your head so that the back of your neck can be firm but soft to the touch, and that there is a sense of space on all sides of your neck.
  • Lie with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lie with your elbows bent and your hands resting comfortably on your torso, perhaps your lower ribs or abdomen.

Expanded Awareness

As you lie here, calm your mind and soften your gaze to become aware of what is going on in the periphery of your vision. Allow the light of the room to come to you, rather than staring out.

Keep the level of your eyes above your cheekbones rather than turning down towards them. This will help to keep you alert.

Expand your awareness to include the room around you and your body. Allow the sensations of your body to rise up to meet you as you look out through your eyes, rather than dropping your awareness down to feel your body.

Inevitably your attention will wander. Gently bring it back to the present moment, looking out at the ceiling with the center of your awareness behind your eyes and above your cheekbones.

Observation

As you rest here, become aware of the touch of your body against the floor. Observe where you might be pressing down into the floor or where you might be holding yourself up away from the floor. Observe where you might be narrowing or compressing. Observe where you might be holding.

Inhibition

As you observe all these places where you might be doing something muscularly in your body, let go of what you do not need. You may find that there are places where something is holding or doing that aren’t ready to let go. Leave those places be.

As you consider your legs, you will find that some muscular effort is necessary to keep them up. See how little you can do without your knees falling in or out. If, as you explore, they do fall in or out, simply send them back up towards the ceiling.

Direction

Without feeling to see if anything is happening, send a message to your neck to be a little freer so that your head can ease away from the top of your spine. Send a message to your back for it to lengthen and widen. Send a message to your knees to ease up towards the ceiling. Send a message to your shoulders and elbows to ease outwards away from your wide chest and back.

Become aware of the movement of your breath. Without trying to shape or change anything, and without losing your expanded awareness, follow each exhalation to its logical conclusion. Allow your inhalations to drop in without actively taking a breath.

Coming Up

When you decide it is time to get up, pause and let go of your first response to the thought. Come back to your expanded awareness. Use the process of coming up as an opportunity to explore your expanded awareness. Once you have got to your feet, pause.

Once again, send a message to your neck that you would like it to be a little freer so that your head can be balanced in poise at the top of your spine rather than being held in place. Send a message to your whole torso that you would like it to be long, wide and deep. Send a message to your legs that you would like your knees to be easy and pointing forward and away from you. Send a message to your shoulders that you would like them to widen off your wide chest and back. Do all of this without feeling to see if anything is happening. Then go on about your day.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/After-crop1.jpg[/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. www.mindbodyandbeing.com[/author_info] [/author]

How to Calm Your Mind and Invite Inspiration to Strike

How many times in your life have you been under the gun to come up with something new and inspiration just isn’t coming? Maybe you have to write a proposal at work, or come up with an idea for a fun outing with the family. Maybe you’ve been hammering away at a problem for an hour and the solution is still beyond your reach. It’s a situation most of us have found ourselves in. Why is it that inspiration can be so elusive in moments of pressure? The answer is something called the startle response. As stress levels rise, our body’s fight or flight response kicks in, creating all sorts of problems that can get in the way of clear and creative thinking:

  • Tightness in the neck and shoulders

  • Restricted breathing

  • A surge in adrenaline

  • Anxiety

  • Agitated thoughts

The Alexander Technique can offer you a simple and effective solution to help calm your system down and expand your perspective, giving your subconscious mind a chance to do its work. And it can take as little as five minutes!

7 Steps to Calm Your Mind and Arouse Inspiration

1. Find a quiet space and lie down on the floor. 

You don’t need a lot of space to do this, just enough to be on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can let your arms rest by your side or have your elbows bent and rest your hands on your trunk.

2. Put something firm under your head to allow your neck to lengthen and release.

A couple of books are ideal for this, just an inch or two of height should be enough.

3. Soften your gaze and look up at the ceiling.

After you have yourself situated, allow yourself to settle. Keep your eyes open and really see the room above you. If you close your eyes or glaze over, you will be getting lost in your own thoughts and won’t be able to achieve the state of calm you will need.

4. Allow any mental chatter to calm down.

This can be very challenging. You might find you have to keep reminding yourself and bringing your awareness back to the present and to what you are seeing above you many times.

5. Let go of anything you don’t need.

Once you start to get yourself centered, you might notice muscles working that don’t need to be, given that you are resting on the floor. Gently encourage them to relax. You may find that they don’t cooperate straight away. Don’t worry if they don’t. Just keep sending the suggestion to your body that it can soften and do less. Allow your neck to be a little softer and a little freer. Allow your whole head to ease away from your body and your back to lengthen and widen across the floor.

6. Don’t keep looking for the solution.

You’ve been searching for the solution for however long at this point and it hasn’t come to you, so we’re going to change your approach. Let yourself be present and notice when your mind starts to leap around. When it does, as it inevitably will, simply remind yourself to not look for a solution. This way your conscious mind, which has been failing up to now to come up with the idea you’ve been looking for, will no longer be overriding your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind is infinitely more vast and complex than your conscious mind and has a lot more resources available to it. Give it a chance to do its work.

7. Have a little faith and stick with it.

Your unconscious mind is infinitely more vast and complex than your conscious mind and has a lot more resources available to it. Give it a chance to do its work. Hang out here for five to ten minutes: keep calming your mental chatter; keep allowing your head, neck and back to expand; keep coming back to the present matter and letting go of a need to find your inspiration.

Perhaps your inspiration will come while you’re lying down, perhaps it will come after you get back up and reassess your situation. At the very least, going through these seven steps will give you a different perspective. Using this process, called “Constructive Rest” or a “Lie-Down” in the Alexander Technique, you will have calmed your nervous system, dispelling the unwanted effects of stress and giving your body and mind a chance to decompress.

If you find this helpful, tell me in the comments about your experience. If your interest is piqued, click here to find an Alexander Technique teacher near you.

Witold.png

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. www.mindbodyandbeing.com