Riding the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island: How to manage a fear of heights with the Alexander Technique*

Wonder Wheelby Brooke Lieb *I recommend NOT riding the ferris wheel in the first place, but if you do find yourself having to manage your fear of heights, at least you might be able to ease some of the discomfort.

In early August 2016, I joined a friend of mine on her birthday adventure to Coney Island. There were three other friends joining us, and the five us rode the F train to the last stop. Our first stop was the 150 foot high Wonder Wheel. The birthday person vetoed the moving cars, the ones that swing along the spokes, towards and away from the center of the wheel, in favor of a stationary car, which had instructions “Do Not Swing This Car” repeatedly posted outside the ride and inside our car.

We bought a discount ticket – Five rides for $30.

There was no line, and there weren’t many people on the ride. That would mean less stops as riders got off and on, so this would be over soon enough.

I got in the back with one other woman, and our Birthday person and her two remaining friends got in front.

My seat companion began to tense up the moment we began our ascent. She expressed her discomfort at heights, and I could see she was starting to panic, just a bit.

“I don’t like heights, either” I said. “This is what we’re going to do. Let’s both move into the middle of the car. Look down at the floor, at our feet. I’m going to hold your hand, and we’re going to breath together. I bet your heart is pounding like a scared rabbit in your chest, I know mine is!”

“Yes, it is…” she said.

“Now, as you’re breathing, if you can think about releasing any tension at the nape of your next, that can help to.”

We managed to look out at the view, part of the time. We kept periodically stopping, rocking in the air and hearing the creaking sound of metal as riders were let off and on the ride. There was no way I could pretend this wasn’t happening.

I held my seat mate’s hand, and tried to see what else was happening, as I took comfort in knowing I would with another being at the moment of my death if this car came off and plunged to the ground. (Yes, I was ABSOLUTELY having those kinds of thoughts!)

Our birthday person’s two friend in the front were doing well, though she wasn’t so keen on it…

One woman had her selfie-stick out and was snapping shots of all of us and the view. The other woman, sitting in the middle, was very easy going and relaxed. Clearly, these two weren’t experiencing anxiety like the rest of us.

“You have a very calming effect” my seat mate said.

“Doesn’t she?” my friend replied.

As we began our descent of the first rotation, my friend speculated “Maybe we only go around once…” with hope.

Coming down didn’t bother me at all, and my anxiety immediately receded as we finished our first rotation. When we didn’t stop, heading up again, my friend said “Well, then it’s only two rotations, because it’s not too busy.”

I was surprised by the return, in full force, of my pounding heart, fluttering stomach and general discomfort as we headed up for the second round. My seat mate was just as uncomfortable as she had been during our last trip up.

We did talk about our discomfort throughout the ride, and the other women were sympathetic to our reactions. It strikes me, in retrospect, that it must’ve helped that we didn’t have to contend with either teasing or well intentioned attempts to calm us with intellectual reasoning. There is nothing intellectual about this fear response.

Once we were on our descent for the second and thankfully final revolution, my anxiety dissipated and was gone by the time I embarked from the ride.

What has the Alexander Technique got to do with this story?

It is my long time study of the Alexander Technique that gave me the skill to summon my inner resources in the face of a frightening experience. I have learned how to stay more present in moments when I have historically panicked.

Part of my skill as a teacher of the Alexander Technique allows me to teach others to summon their inner resources, and the act of teaching gets my attention off my own internal reaction to things that trigger me. Taking care of my student, by teaching and modeling this self-soothing, is best taught by me actually self-soothing as I teach. It’s a win-win.

Alexander calls this self-soothing skill “inhibiting” – that is, interrupting a habitual cascade of responses to a trigger (Alexander referred to it as a stimulus), in order to stay more present to assess the current situation more accurately, in order to respond more appropriately to this moment, in this moment.

I have an old whiplash injury, so any abrupt impact, whether it’s front-to-back or side-to-side triggers my injury.

I skipped the kiddy rollercoaster, I don’t ride any rollercoasters, and I don’t do water rides.

I do fine with spinning rides, so bring on the Merry-Go-Round!

I know I can survive the Ferris Wheel, so if someone offers me a good enough incentive (I am seeing a $ with at least 3 zeros after it…) I can do it, but otherwise, there’s no reason for me to EVER ride one again…

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]

Bedbugs, Lead Paint, and Neck Pain: a Case Study of Alexander Technique NYC

emergencyby Dan Cayer In 7 memorable months, my family was visited by 2 of New York City’s dreaded housing plagues: lead paint and bedbugs. If you count hardhearted, greedy landlords, then we had that plague, too. Twice, we packed up all our stuff, tried to keep normalcy for Ruby, and twice we were disappointed (crushed, really) to find out that we could not live safely in the apartments we had moved into.

In the first apartment, our landlord evicted us after Ruby tested high for lead in her blood rather than deal with the lead. We were living on a month-to-month lease since things had been previously very friendly between us. He also blamed all the lead exposure on a single bookshelf we attached to a wall. In our next apartment, my wife had two allergic reactions to bug bites before we happened to catch a bedbug scampering across our bed at 3 AM. Ruby and I soon started getting bit as well. Our landlord had lied to us about bedbugs in the building – the previous tenants lasted only three months.

We weighed our strategies: court, rent strike, living in plastic biohazard suits, but ultimately, though we were deceived both times, we had little recourse but to walk and take our revenge fantasies with us.

The feelings of powerlessness, rage, and worry were having a field day on my body. I’d walk around during the day, thinking of how unfair it was and hating my landlord. It felt as if someone were drilling my head down into my body. My neck and shoulders were hardening into concrete. Adrenaline was pumping all day long; it began production early in the morning, waking me up around 4:30 or 5.

Each time I thought about the unfairness of our plight, I could feel a wave of tightening seize my body. My wife and I were paralyzed with how to proceed. How do we fight to get back our security deposit? What were our rights when we were clearly not at fault?

It wasn’t until I checked in with my body that one decision became clear. When I thought about staying and fighting and going to court, my body contracted into a fist. When I imagined just leaving – money be damned – I felt the fist relax and enjoyment seemed possible again. At that moment, and many others throughout the 7 months, my training in the Alexander Technique helped me find a place, as Rumi wrote, “Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Steering myself over and over from the hypothetical, from rehashing the past or recounting our injustices, to the present experience of living in my mind and body was tremendously healing. It not only kept me moored to sanity (mostly), I was training for how I want to deal with hard times in my life. I don’t want to be driven mad with fear or completely lost when life becomes unstable. I want to be embodied enough to breathe and to think. In the revenge fantasies and fearful projecting into the future, I was always having to fend for myself. Coming back to my body and mind also meant returning to my family and the humor and love we still managed to improvise, picnicking on top of our plastic bins with Thai takeout. Soon, it would be time to move again and leave the plastic bags behind. By returning faithfully to the present moment, I could really leave it all behind.

This post was originally published at dancayerfluidmovement.com

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Dan-Head-Shot-13.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]DAN CAYER is a nationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. After a serious injury left him unable to work or even carry out household tasks, he began studying the technique. His return to health, as well as his experience with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pain, inspired him to help others. He now teaches his innovative approach in Union Square, Carroll Gardens and in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He also teaches adults to swim with greater ease and confidence by applying Alexander principles. You can find his next workshop or schedule a private lesson at www.dancayerfluidmovement.com.[/author_info] [/author]

Could the Alexander Technique Have Prevented The Great Recession?

American_union_bankBy Karen G. Krueger

"If we understand how a person's body influences risk taking, we can learn how to better manage risk takers. We can also recognize that mistakes governments have made have contributed to massive risk taking."

These striking assertions are from a recent opinion piece in the New York Times (Sunday Week in Review, June 8, 2014) by John Coates, a research fellow at Cambridge and a former derivatives trader at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

I was particularly pleased to see this mainstream media piece acknowledge the unity of mind and body:

"Many neuroscientists now believe our brain is designed primarily to plan and execute movement."

"We do not process information as a computer does, dispassionately; we react to it physically."

These statements, and the neuroscience that underpins them, confirm my own experiences in learning and teaching the Alexander Technique. A century ago, F.M. Alexander used observation, reasoning and experimentation to examine and change his own stress response, and then to teach others to do the same.

The stress response that prompted Alexander's inquiry was a form of performance anxiety: he was an actor plagued by chronic hoarseness when on stage. Coates is interested in the responses of traders and investors to financial uncertainty. Unlike Alexander, Coates does not deal (at least in this article) with the possibility that individuals could change how they react to stress. Rather, he recommends that financial regulators use an understanding of human beings' automatic physical responses to novelty and uncertainty to manipulate the behavior of other players in the financial system.

Coates emphasizes the hormonal changes of the stress response: adrenaline, cortisone testosterone and dopamine all make an appearance. He also describes the related changes in heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. Oddly, he doesn't mention the most obvious physical reaction to stress: tense muscles in the neck, shoulders and back. You don't need a functional MRI or a blood test to detect that reaction to stress!

Like all Alexander Technique teachers, I work with my students on noticing how their neuromuscular systems react to stimuli of all kinds, and using Alexander's simple process of thoughtful practice to change those reactions that interefere with efficient, healthy functioning of body and mind. My students usually begin with straightforward goals: they want to learn to sit, stand and move with better posture and less tension, so that their necks, backs or arms will stop hurting. In the process, they discover that learning to change their physical habits has broader beneficial effects, including a greater capacity to choose to remain calm and thoughtful in situations that previously provoked anxiety.

So I couldn't help wondering as I read Coates' piece what would happen if a critical mass of individual participants in the financial system were to take Alexander Technique lessons. Imagine whole trading desks of traders who were able, in the face of financial panic, to stop tensing their necks, calm down their breathing, and take time to think about how to respond. Could they avoid being swept up into the mass unreasoned reactions that Coates describes, and minimize the damage to their own health in the process?

If you are a day trader who would like to stop allowing your hormones to drive your decisions—or just an average stressed-out New Yorker who would like to feel more in control of your life—find out more about the Alexander Technique:

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Kreuger.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]KAREN G. KREUGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website: http://kgk-llc.com. [/author_info] [/author]


10 Potential Pitfalls in the Studying the Alexander Technique and How to Avoid Them

ACAT, American Center for the Alexander Technique by John Austin

Studying the Alexander Technique can seem like a never-ending road filled with mysterious obstacles and seductive bunny trails that often lead to dead-ends. However, it can be less so if you become aware of these potential pitfalls:

1) Doing the directions

Alexander called the directions “preventative orders” because they are meant to stop you from actively shortening your stature, narrowing your back, and pulling in your limbs. Any new found expanded state is a result of getting out of the way of natural upright. You can’t do an undoing, so don’t force yourself to lengthen or widen. Think (wish, intend, imagine) the change you’d like to see happen and then allow yourself to breathe. Repeat.

2) Relaxing (releasing all muscle tone)

The Alexander Technique is about finding an easeful way of balancing, moving, and being; where your mind and muscles work for you, not against you. We are looking for healthy muscle tone without excess, thinking without effort; that doesn’t mean no work. Don’t let non-doing become nothing doing.

3) Letting your feelings guide your movements

If we do what feels right, we are doing our habit. A general rule of thumb: if it feels right, it’s wrong; if it feels wrong, it’s new. This is different from learning to recognize your habit(s), which we all must do. Eventually your kinesthetic sense does become more reliable, but we must move out of the realm of feeling and into the realm of thought to improve even then. Alexander once said, “When the time comes that you can trust your feelings, you won’t want to use it [kinesthetic sense].”

4) Trying to levitate

No matter how much up direction you give yourself, you must still be grounded for it to be useful. A lengthening of the body comes from the ground and goes up. Don’t be so concerned with your head going forward and up that you lift your feet off the ground.

5) Focusing on specific parts without relation to the whole

Concentrating often narrows our view, not allowing us to see the entire system we are affecting. We then start “fixing” specific problems only to move on to the next problem that we faultily perceive to be independent of the last one. We then feel like we’ve accomplished something by “fixing” many little things, but in reality we haven’t achieved anything useful if we don’t account for part’s relation to the whole; in fact, you even run the risk of destabilizing the entire system.

The most common example of this I see is “putting the head forward and up” as if forward and up were a position of the head, not a relationship of the head to the whole body. When we perceive a problem, it’s best to take a wider view of the area surrounding the problem rather than directly fixing it.

6) Believing that the startle pattern is a habit

We go into the startle pattern (head and limbs pulled into the torso like a turtle going into it’s shell) because we are afraid of something. Whether it’s stage fright or fear of falling on the ground; the startle pattern is a reaction to a thought or feeling; either of which can be habitual. If we don’t want to startle, the thing to do is find the thought/feeling that is causing the startle pattern and inhibit (say no to) it. This is not to say that you won’t have to explore why you are having those thoughts or feelings.

7) Inhibiting doing the activity instead of inhibiting the thought of doing the activity

This sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. Inhibiting (or saying no) can end up being plain old stiffening if we are not clear about what we are inhibiting. Are we saying no to the thought (and therefore the habitual reaction) of sitting or standing while doing chair work, or are we saying no to the activity and muscling through? It is helpful to ask, “What am I inhibiting?” then “How am I doing that?”

8) Mind-wandering

Going inside to try and figure things out, thinking about what you’re going to do later, or anything other than what’s going on in the moment (being present and aware of your thoughts, seeing the room, hearing, and feeling your contact with the ground) just gets in the way of your goal. Even if you are planning for a future event, it’s not helpful to leave the present while thinking about it.

9) Trying to get it right

One of the most powerful experiences in my practice of the Alexander Technique was in a chair turn with Barbara Kent where I realized that no matter how hard I tried to get it right, I couldn’t sit in the chair without stiffening and plopping down into the chair. Barbara picked up on this and said, “Let’s try it again and this time, let’s both be wrong.” I then effortlessly made it to the chair with no plop. Barbara then followed up with a smile, “It’s never going to be perfect, so there’s no point in trying to be.”

10) Being hard on ourselves

Our habits have gotten us to where we are in life. Thank them, and then gently let them know that they are no longer needed. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction- therefore the more effort we exert in trying to overcome our habits the more difficulty there will be in doing just that.

In my experience it’s much easier to tell when we are headed in the wrong direction than when things are going well. This list is far from exhaustive, but if kept in mind it provides clues about when we’ve fallen off the straight and narrow path and makes the difficult journey of personal transformation easier to navigate.

This post was originally published on alexanderviolist.wordpress.com.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/headshot.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JOHN AUSTIN started pondering and pontificating on the probable and possible reasons for the tragic loss of joy in himself and his fellow musicians as he approached his breaking point in a music conservatory. In fact, he was nearly a casualty of the music “busi-ness" when he stumbled on the Alexander Technique. Since then he's been inspired by his training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique to write in an attempt to better understand what was happening to himself and others. Mr. Austin has an active performing career, blog, and teaching studio in West Harlem, Manhattan.[/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 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