Returning Home

IMG_1395 (1)by Mariel Berger Many thanks to my Alexander Technique teachers: Witold Fitz-Simon and Jane Dorlester.

For a lot of people, sexual intimacy is an attempt to return to our bodies and feel whole. We spend so much time in our heads, experiencing life not fully in our bodies, not feeling the integration of our system. There is so much fixation on finding a partner and experiencing intimacy as a way to feel connected and validated. Through Alexander Technique we practice feeling whole so that we don’t need to be in our front bodies grasping for more. We can be aware of our back bodies, our head moving forward and up, neck free, torso widening and deepening, knees moving forward and away. All of the parts create a simultaneous awareness of the whole: one at a time and all together.

A lot of the pain I experience in life comes from a feeling of being disconnected and isolated. There’s a quote I love by Lawrence LeShan, “It is the splits within the self that make for the feeling of being cut off from the rest of existence.” I am slowly learning how to experience myself without all the splits -- to gather all my different sides --shawdowed and bright -- and hold them into a unified whole.

This past winter I was severely depressed and felt as if my Self were fragmented into tiny meaningless pieces. I felt alone in my head, and disconnected from myself, loved ones, or any purposeful connection. My mind was full of vicious and self-loathing thoughts, and I tried to escape the abuse by fleeing from my body and myself and towards someone I was romantically interested in. I have learned, again and again though, that true resolution comes from staying -- creating space for the pain, witnessing it, holding it, and integrating it into my whole self. If I try to reach outside of myself to escape pain, that only takes me further from home.

I recently took a course on Visceral Manipulation, taught by Liz Gaggini. We learned that in order to heal a client’s organ, you must have an attitude of nonchalance and only put some of your attention on the person. The rest of your attention will stay in your body, in the room around you, and beyond. In order to heal another, you must stay whole. If you give too much, you offer the person a fragmented presence, an energy that is coming just from the front of the body -- a grasping, an end-gaining.

This is so true for relationships. When connecting with another person, even someone to whom I’m greatly attracted, I can practice not coming forward into the pull of hormones and craving, but remain in my full body. There is much pleasure to feel just here as I am, inside myself. This is a new and exciting practice, to realize that simply walking around and being inside my body can feel good, especially after the last 5 years of chronic pain and health problems. I am learning how to hold pain as part of the experience, not the only thing. I am learning to accept all the parts of myself, and to hold them in an awareness that is deep and fulfilling.

This past winter I liked someone so much that I lost my awareness of my back body. I fell forward. I fell hard.

And the ironic thing is, I was leaning forward in order to feel a connection -- to return home. But home is back and up into my torso, widening and deepening, my head moving forward and up, my gaze softening, my neck being free.

Here I am again, having remembered, but life is a process of forgetting and remembering, of getting lost in the pieces, and then expanding our awareness to perceive more. Alexander Technique is the gentle practice each day to return to our whole.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]MARIEL BERGER is a composer, pianist, singer, teacher, writer, and activist living in Brooklyn, NY. She currently writes for Tom Tom Magazine which features women drummers, and her personal essays have been featured on the Body Is Not An Apology website. Mariel curates a monthly concert series promoting women, queer, trans, and gender-non-conforming musicians and artists. She gets her biggest inspiration from her young music students who teach her how to be gentle, patient, joyful, and curious. You can hear her music and read her writing at:[/author_info] [/author]

Give Better Yoga Adjustments with the Alexander Technique

wfs.adjustby Witold Fitz-Simon Yoga teachers giving adjustments has become a controversial issue in the yoga community. Classic yoga adjustments tend to be strong, manipulative and often invasive, with the teacher sometimes applying considerable force to push a student deeper into a stretch, or to get the student’s arms and legs into a particular position. If such an adjustment is given skillfully, the effects can be positive. Often, however, teachers yank and crank on the student’s body in such a way that can potentially cause injury. It has gotten to point where some studios offer “consent cards” that students lay on their mats to let the teacher know whether or not they are willing to be manipulated in such a way. One company has even started marketing very attractive wooden chips that you can take with you to any studio to let the teacher know your preference.

Injury in yoga—whether self- or teacher-inflicted—has become the current hot-button issue amongst those who love the practice. Even if the potential for injury were not in question, the way a teacher lays hands on a student can make a huge difference, for better and for worse. There a few different reasons why a teacher might give a student an adjustment. Amongst them are:

  • To take a student deeper into a stretch (e.g.: pressing their back down in a forward bend)
  • To arrange a body part to better fit an anatomical ideal (e.g.: outwardly rotating their upper arm bones and bringing their shoulder blades down their back)
  • To help a student get closer to the classic shape of a pose (e.g.: bringing hands together to achieve binding of the arms in a twist)

Such adjustments come from a misplaced value system where the shape of the pose is more important than the experience of the body doing the pose, where more range of motion throughout the body is always better, where more extreme contortion is an indicator of progress along the path. In this way of thinking, the resistances of the body must be overcome by the force the teacher applies. The student’s body must be made to conform to an arbitrary geometry imposed on the student by the teacher’s eye. This is an unsubtle and forceful way of thinking that will not necessarily have the effect the teacher intended.

From the perspective of the Alexander Technique, the root cause of the problem comes from something called “End-Gaining.” This is a particular way of thinking—one of which we are all guilty—where we put the desired end or goal first and focus all our efforts on achieving this goal. The opposite of this would be one where we are attending more to the means whereby we achieve the goal. It is this “means-whereby” which becomes the important thing, regardless of whether the goal is ever achieved. In the Alexander Technique, this type of approach is called “Non-Doing."

Part of this “means-whereby” you might achieve something such as a yoga pose is an attention to the way the body is organized internally. F. M. Alexander, founder of the Technique, discovered that the relationship of the head, neck and back governs the functioning of the body as a whole for better or for worse. If that relationship is well-organized, we are stronger, more balanced and better integrated in the way we move. If it is not, we are weaker, stiffer, tighter.

The primary focus of a yoga teacher working with these principles becomes creating the best organization of the head, neck and back of the student in any given pose or transition. If the student can be more organized in this way, their bodies will be better able to negotiate the demands of a pose, creating balanced and functional strength and mobility. A teacher working in this way will not only be less likely to cause injury, they will be more likely to create conditions of lasting and significant change in their students.

This post originally appeared on Witold Fitz-Simon's blog.

[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]

Good Posture Means Connecting, Not Correcting

by Dan Cayer I’m not against correcting our posture or body on principle. I wish all it took to rid ourselves of chronic pain and tension was figuring the right angle or position, and tapping our body into place. It’s such a seductive offer; that we need only arrange our body and then get on with the rest of our day.

I object to correcting our posture on practical grounds; it doesn’t work. From my perspective as an Alexander Technique teacher and a person dealing with chronic pain for several years, ‘correcting’ posture tends to tie us further into a tense knot, decreasing our ability to actually enjoy our body. In this article, I’ll offer a short but powerful exercise for connecting with a natural posture.

What Correcting Usually Means

The instinctual response to pain is to fix it or push it away. As discomfort crowds our consciousness, our brain reaches for a solution: “good” posture! Or, at least our idea of it. Usually, this means we push our shoulders back and stick our chest up. On a more subtle level, we may tighten our jaw and squeeze our throat against the discomfort and fear that’s bubbling up in relation to feeling pain. When posture carries the promise of not feeling pain or uncomfortable emotions, it’s easy to try too hard and stiffen ourselves.

I don’t mean to offer the unhelpful advice to never move your body no matter the pain. I only wish to say that when the first step of responding to pain or discomfort is to immediately try to correct ourselves, it only leads to a negative cycle of judgment, tension, and undesired results. We trade one problem, say slouching, for another, rigidly arching ourselves upward in an uncomfortable and ungrounded way.

We’ve skipped right over feeling what it’s like where we are, and flown straight to how we should be. It’s this nonstop flight that keeps us from actually finding a way of sitting or walking or simply being in our bodies that feels comfortable or ‘at home’. By dictating an idealized sitting position, we almost inevitably inflict an inhumane expectation on our body that just does not jibe with our actual structure. Sitting upright with comfort and ease and vitality is totally possible – it’s how we were designed. But we don’t get there by muscling ourselves up, “sitting up straight,” or yanking ourselves out of a slouch.

Connect with Your Self First

The first step needs to be connecting with ourselves. This need not be a big deal or require the services of a psychotherapist. Simply pause before changing your body and feel how you are – in your body, heart, and mind. You are touching in to your current experience. It may feel unpleasant like dipping into a cold pool or even overwhelming. Strangely, this is a good thing. You’re beginning to relate with your body not as a contraption that needs to be ordered, but as a physical and emotional self that has a natural organization and its own way of responding to life (often independent of our wishes).

How to Do It

Here’s a take-home exercise on how to connect, not correct:

When you find yourself out of sorts, imbalanced, slouching, or if pain is present, take a moment or two to notice what you’re experiencing on a visceral level, which includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It may help you to actually breathe in once or twice, with the intention that you are breathing in the full experience. After a moment or two, feel free to make whatever change you wish: roll out your shoulders, connect your sit bones to the chair. Notice if it feels different having listened to your felt experience first.

Widening Our Experience of Posture

Posture may seem to be a wholly mechanical exercise but alas, that is only part of the picture of ourselves. Think of how stage fright or performance anxiety has a strong physiological effect. Our bodies and minds are deeply connected.

Take the example of training a horse. The trainer has an agenda but unfortunately for him, so does the horse. A wise trainer coaxes and works with the horse, allowing the horse to have some room to play out its energy while still being taken through the proper procedures. A horse that’s bridled or reined in too tightly will bolt.

In working with students (and myself), I often find that we hold the reins too tightly in our well-intentioned effort to change body patterns and improve well-being. Over time though, students see that immediately correcting themselves – trying to fix their posture in an instant – is another habit just like slouching.

Posture isn’t about scolding and stiffening ourselves, any more than training a horse is like programming a computer. Gentleness and curiosity are required to make any long-lasting improvements in how you sit and stand. You could try right now: breathing in your experience exactly as you feel it for a breath or two before trying to change it.

This post originally appeared at

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/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[/author_info] [/author]

Coughing and the Alexander Technique

cigars-3-593689-mby Barbara Curialle Having spent Thanksgiving week coping with a case of bronchitis, I’ve come away with a few suggestions on dealing with the most irritating (in every sense) part of the problem—the coughing.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which bring air into, and carbon dioxide away from, the lungs. Among the symptoms are shortness of breath and coughing, the body’s means of getting rid of the excess phlegm that builds up. My loyally end-gaining body kept up the coughing to the point of exhaustion and even sore ribs (specifically, the oblique muscles). Rest, a course of antibiotics, cough medicine (the non-codeine kind), and herbal tea did help, but so did these Alexander tips. It takes some presence of mind to direct in the middle of a coughing fit, but what worked best was, as much as possible, to:

  1. Allow my neck to be free and my head to balance at the top of my spine, my torso to widen and lengthen, and my legs to move away from my torso
  2. Bend at the hips, knees, and ankles to go into monkey
  3. In monkey, put a hand on one leg or on a table or other surface to become almost quadrupedal to support me and absorb the effort of coughing
  4. Use the other arm to cover my nose and mouth
  5. Unbend at the hips, knees, and ankles to return to the upright

Of course, remembering not to DO breathing but to allow the breath to enter my lungs helped me feel at least somewhat less congested, as did a whispered “ah” here and there. I won’t say I remembered to do this every time, but I found that even thinking to direct at various random moments did cheer me up, even if it didn’t cure me.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]BARBARA CURIALLE, a graduate of ACAT, has been a nationally certified Alexander Technique teacher since 2009. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in music and social science from Fordham University and a Bachelor of Music (piano) from Manhattan School of Music. In 2011, she underwent spinal-fusion surgery and credits the Alexander Technique with a very directed recovery. She maintains a teaching practice on the Upper West Side and feels at her best when applying the Alexander Technique to physical activities such as walking, running, strength training, yoga, and swimming. She can be found at[/author_info] [/author]


The Shoulders: To Rest or Not to Rest?

519px-Pectoral_girdle_front_diagram.svgby John Austin Finding neutral for the shoulders is one of the most challenging things one can do in terms of the use of the self in my experience. Add a complex activity that requires a certain level of ease in the shoulder girdle on top and you’ve got a recipe for paradox and frustration.

Let’s begin with the basic anatomy of the shoulder girdle. When I refer to the “shoulder girdle” I mean the hands & arms, shoulder blades, and collar bone. You may be surprised to learn that the only jointed (bone to bone) connection of the shoulder girdle to the rest of the skeleton is in the front of the torso at the top of the sternum.

Find your collar-bone (clavicle) by palpating the bone and follow it toward the mid-line until find two roundish protrusions at either side of the top of chest bone (sternum). You are on top of the sternoclavicular joint(s) where the shoulder girdle meets the rest of the skeleton.

If you follow the collar bone out from the mid-line toward the arm until it reaches the furthest bony protrusion you’ve found the point where the clavicle meets the shoulder blade (scapula), the acromioclavicular joint. It’s called the acromioclavicular joint because it is where the clavicle and the point of the scapula furthest from the mid-line, called the acromion process (processes are protrusions that allow for muscle and ligament attachment), meet. This should not be confused with the glenohumeral joint where the upper arm attaches to the shoulder blade; there is no direct bone to bone attachment of the upper arm to the collarbone.

John Austin, aged 11

Now, palpate your way back to toward the mid-line from the acromion, this time following the shoulder blade until it reaches what will feel like the corner of a triangle. You are feeling the “spine” of the scapula. Depending on your muscle build you may have to press quite firmly and the scapula may seemingly disappear into muscle. The strong muscles of the back are what support and stabilize the shoulder girdle as there are no bone to bone attachments in the back. The structure of the shoulder girdle, while providing extreme freedom of movement, also brings an ambiguousness when looking for a neutral position for the shoulders and arms.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that how we use ourselves in our daily activities has a profound effect on the resting lengths of our muscles. It is this phenomenon that we are observing when we see pianists and people who spend hours at the computer still in the shape they work from when walking, eating, watching TV, etc. In the case of the shoulder girdle this can be quite extreme. Because of the lack of bony structural support, the resting position of our shoulders is almost completely determined by the resting lengths of our muscles. If we overstretch our muscles in daily activity, we run the risk of deteriorating the support that allows the shoulders to find a comfortable resting position.

johnnorestAlong the way to becoming a “serious” violist, I was told to keep my shoulders relaxed. So I went about figuring out how to do that. I am meticulous in the practice room and before long I had discovered that I could relax my left shoulder while playing although my right didn’t really follow suit. The static nature of the left shoulder in violin & viola playing allows for a certain amount of relaxation (release of all/most muscle tone) while the larger more dynamic movements of the bow require the arm muscles which originate in the back to be active for movement to occur. The left shoulder can relax even more if you use a shoulder rest as you then virtually never have to move your shoulder.

On the surface you’d think that one less thing to worry about (moving the shoulder to balance the instrument) and a little less muscular effort would be good; so for years I ignorantly thought, “I’m raising my right shoulder, that’s not good.” Yet, after hours of playing it was not my right shoulder that cracked and popped, it was my left. Even after years of receiving praise for my tone which of course comes primarily from the bow, I thought, “But my left is down so it must be better than my right,” and went about trying to lower my right. Needless to say I was unsuccessful.

It wasn’t until years of Alexander work that I realized what I was actually doing was relaxing my left shoulder to the point that it was resting on my rib cage. This was the grinding bone on bone I felt in the form of constant cracking and popping when I moved my arm. I was robbing my shoulder girdle of it’s muscular support by relaxing it and then dragging it across my rib cage.

It turns out that the last thing we want to do when doing any activity is rest. The word activity even contains active! To remedy my issue, I had to relearn to play the viola without the shoulder rest. I found that every little shift was a welcome opportunity for movement in my shoulder girdle. Rather than trying to hold myself still or relax into a blob I was free to move and the movement had an organizing effect on my shoulder girdle which helped remind my shoulder blades where neutral was. I had been taught that raising my shoulder was off limits movement-wise on the viola. How ridiculous a notion it was to make a movement off limits when all of the great violinists and even Primrose himself did this subtle lift of the shoulder.

This rule I assume was a reaction to the common problem of violists & violinists clamping down on the instrument between their necks and shoulders, which isn’t much better. Although, too much tension is less likely to destabilize your shoulder girdle. In my case, relaxing has left me not being able to let my left shoulder be in it’s neutral resting place without pain. I’ve over-stretched the muscles and they now rest on bone and nerves. It takes subtle conscious direction of my shoulder for the pain to subside, which is annoying to say the least.

I’m not sure if it is laziness, bad teaching, or what exactly is at the root of the shoulder rest debate in the string playing world. I’ve already written about the laziness possibility here. String teachers having a very small part of the body of knowledge necessary is possible, pun very much intended. It could just come down to the fact that playing the viola is extremely difficult and the shoulder rest is a seductive little crutch that can allow us to avoid having to learn how to properly use our shoulder girdle in the process of playing the viola, which is not simple and takes a long time to do.

Once again the most healthy option seems to be to stop trying to gain our end without reasoning out a means whereby to attain it; not to mention means that at the very least don’t leave us physically and mentally destroyed and/or with a mediocre end: the music which we care so dearly about.

This post originally appeared on John Austin's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/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]

Comedy and Tragedy: Performance and the Alexander Technique

red-curtain-1374248-mby Brooke Lieb This summer, I decided to check some items off my bucket list while I am healthy, happy and had time. I spent Tuesday afternoons in "Acting for the Camera" in the afternoons, and in a Stand Up Comedy class in the evenings. Although I have a Bachelor's Degree in Musical Theater Performance, I haven't worked on a text or studied acting technique in over 25 years. I have never done Stand Up. The first point at which my AT skills kicked in was the act of registering. I tend to think inhibition is about overtly stopping from impulsive and habitual behavior. In this case, inhibition helped me override the habit of keeping in my comfort zone, to do something new, different and unknown.


I had a chance to observe the on-camera acting class before I registered. I noticed my first impulse as I watched the teacher, Karen Ludwig, work with her students, was to run as far in the opposite direction from this class as I could. As I thought about being in the class, I found a number of rational reasons not to register. I also had the chance to observe my thinking from a new vantage point and understood that my love of acting is the reason I am afraid. I care about learning and doing well. The paradox is that doing well requires me to take my attention off the result so I am present, focused, specific and connected to the reality of the circumstances of the scene. I have to do what I am doing, in as heightened a state of reality as possible.

We have had 9 classes so far, and I've seen my work played back on the camera 4 times. I also have the chance to watch my classmates, working live and on camera. It's much easier for me to hear and see what the other actors are doing well and need to work on. I have a bit of a blind spot watching my own work, so my first order of business is just to be able to see and hear my own work on playback. I haven't seen anything in my performance that horrifies me or makes me go running from the room, even if I'm not satisfied with the reality.

The work I'm doing in class reminds me of my early Alexander lessons. I feel like I have little or no experience, I don't know what I'm doing, and this will be a long and deep process. My relationship to studying acting is much more loaded than my relationship to studying Alexander Technique. I am having to deal with a much stronger stimulus to end gain, i.e., produce a successful result. I feel like a rank beginner and I have to learn how to balance my passion to learn; the vulnerability of being watched and judged; and the need to give myself time and space to explore, be curious, make mistakes, and play.

I have decided to register for the class and continue this upcoming semester. It is so challenging and I am so out of my comfort zone, that I know I need more time and opportunity to practice the craft.


I have always been curious about stand up comedy, and comedy improv/sketch comedy. I love to tell jokes, and friends and family have always told me I have a good sense of humor. I didn't really consider that in stand up, it isn't only a matter of one's ability to deliver the punchline, you must be a writer. I have done a lot of improv (where I always have a scene partner and someone to play off) over the years. I had never done stand up before. I admired brilliant stand up comedians over the years, and their creativity and ability to craft stories out of life's foibles.

I didn't really think it through when I signed up, which was a good thing, because I might not have done it otherwise. It ended up being easier to write my material than I expected. I was fully prepared to find out I had no skill in this area. Unlike acting, with which I have a long history of failure and success, I had no attachment to being any good at stand up. Also, knowing that I wasn't going to be forced to perform at the graduation show made it easier for me to give it a go.

My Alexander tools seemed to be the most useful when it came to relating to the audience. During my 5-minute set, I started out focusing on remembering my script and not starting the next line until the laughs died down. (Yes, I managed to get plenty of laughs!) As I realized they were enjoying the material, I started slowing down mentally, talking to the audience and relating to them as I would in a real conversation. Pacing took care of itself, and I really enjoyed myself. One caveat: this was an invited audience of friends and family of everyone from our acting class, so they were pre-disposed to like us, support us and laugh at our jokes. I must attend some open mics to get a better sense of what it's like to connect (or not) with a roomful of strangers (many of whom are drinking.) I haven't encountered any hecklers, so that is uncharted territory.

All in all, the stand up comedy experience was easy, fun and fulfilled a curiosity I've had for a long time. My whole attitude about it was one of curiosity and play. The nerves I felt getting up to try out new material every week in class, and at performance, was attached to excitement, without much fear. It is a stark contrast to my acting class.

How can you apply Alexander Technique tools to your performance?

In addition to the more physically based tools of freeing your breath, slowing down, taking time to see, hear and choose how you might respond in the moment, you can work with your thinking and internal dialogue.

1. Get clear about your level of desire to be there, doing it, especially if you are particularly afraid or indifferent. Most of us understand the idea that we get performance jitters. Fear makes sense. Apathy doesn't make as much sense, but sometimes a strong desire can trigger apathy as a protective mechanism.

2. Ask yourself:

  • Am I doing this because I want to, and I am invested?
  • Am I doing this because I think I should; or have I internalized the voice of someone else telling me I should do this?
  • Can I tolerate any discomfort long enough to get some experience and see if there is satisfaction or pleasure from this experience?

3. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. Ask them about what kinds of fears, doubts, experiences they have had. Ask them how long it took for them to feel better, or get to a point that they knew they were going to show up and keep going. Talk to a number of people, and notice how varied their advice and stories can be. We all respond to desire and passion in different ways. Some performers seem fearless and outgoing, others seem crippled by doubt, others seem blasé and indifferent, like it's no big deal. Where do you fall on that spectrum?

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB (ACAT, '89) is the Director of ACAT's Teacher Certification Program. She has a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Musical Theater Performance from Empire State College, and maintains a private practice in New York on the Upper West Side, and in Pipersville, PA. Her clients include performing artists, people dealing with chronic and acute pain, and those living with scoliosis. Brooke will be performing another set Monday, September 22 at 7:30 - doors open at 7 at Caroline's Comedy, 1626 Broadway between 49 and 50 - call (212) 757-4100 to make reservations and mention you are coming to see Brooke - if you mention her name, your cover is only $5! [/author_info] [/author]