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']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/helsinki-sun-headshot.jpg[/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: marielberger.com[/author_info] [/author]

Seeing More and Letting Go: Widening My Experience through Alexander Technique

Mariel at BarbesBy Mariel Berger [Many thanks to my Alexander Technique teacher, Witold Fitz-Simon, and my Alexander Technique Psychologist, Jane Dorlester]

I used to believe that intense focus and concentration were the best way of being. I would spend hours practicing music, hours focusing on just one little thing. The more the world disappeared around me, the better I was supposed to be. In undergrad music school, I would walk up and down the hallways and see people in their practice spaces, for hours upon hours, directing all of their energy and attention onto one single thing. I learned that individual mastery of one instrument was the way to be. I practiced all of the time.

When I tried to look at the larger world around me, I got easily overwhelmed, scared, sad, anxious, lost, hopeless. So to cope, I would simply zoom in and ignore all the background noise, erase any thought that didn’t pertain to this one single thing. This scale. This piece.

I have realized that my coping mechanism was also what led me into deep bouts of depression, narcissism, self-absorption, and intense crying from feeling a disconnection from the world around me. Then, to alleviate my sadness, I would dive back into music in order to escape, continuing the cycle.

Depression is losing sight of the whole — falling into one mental space that feels as though it always was and always will be.

Depression is only seeing one thing — being trapped in one experience, one repeating and repeating thought.

I spent so many years narrowing my focus that my mind got into the pattern of hard fixation.

When composing music I spent hours deep in my imagination, but then I wouldn’t be able to come out from the intense focus. I mistook this focus for depth, but depth is not narrow. It expands and has breadth. I was digging a tunnel that ended how it began:

[dark]. [blind].

[alone].

For the past two years, I have been practicing Alexander Technique. Through this technique, I have learned about a soft gaze and a light awareness. It has been two years of unlearning the habits of zooming in. It has been two years of expanding out, seeing more.

Yes, I am home inside my body and aware of my sensations, I hear my thoughts, but I am also aware of my surroundings. Just as I feel my feet, I feel my feet touching the ground.

When writing a piece of music, I used to think about it so hard that my brain would hurt from all the grasping, and I would get a headache. Now, I hope to approach art-making as less thinking hard and more softening around an idea. I clear space and watch the tendency of the mind and body to grip; but instead of gripping, I let go. I soften my gaze so I see more than what’s in front of me. I let the subtle colors of the periphery be a part of my expanded experience.

The practice of releasing clenched muscles and obsessive thoughts is starting to help expand my interpersonal relationships. I am learning that there is an easier way of relating to the outside world. Because of various traumas in my childhood I have an intense fear of being abandoned. So I grew up relating to people with an anxious attachment style--clinging to them so they wouldn’t leave me. I also grew up tightening my body in fear of someone potentially hurting me. Through Alexander Technique I have learned that I don’t need to walk around in the world with my body frozen in defense. My torso can widen and deepen, my legs can move away from my pelvis, my knees can move away from my back---I can expand and expand.

I thought I was protecting myself hiding in my tightened and scared body, but I ended up causing myself pain. I developed chronic shoulder and neck pain, headaches, and pelvic pain. I am learning that practicing an open and expansive way of being does not mean that I’ll be more easily hurt by others. Quite the opposite! When my neck is free, head is moving forward and up, torso is widening and deepening, knees are moving forward and away---I am grounded, balanced, fluid--- poised. I am able to go in any direction anytime. So if someone tries to connect with me who isn’t ultimately healthy for me, I can walk away.

The essence of Alexander Technique is the simultaneity of all possibilities-- embracing the whole experience--not being stuck in one position, on one path, one direction, one idea.

I am learning to unfasten my grip on my friends and loved ones. I am also learning that I can’t control people or the world around me. However, maybe I can expand the Alexander Technique directions onto my friends and loved ones? I can look at my mom and wish for her neck to be free and for my sister’s head to move forward and up. Everything about Alexander Technique teaches me to widen, so I can in turn expand Alexander Technique into the world.

Since practicing Alexander Technique (and also with the aid of anti-depressants), I rarely experience bouts of severe depression. In addition, the pain and tension in my body become alleviated each day when I remember my directions: to widen my experience, and to be aware of the space around me-- the world around me. Each day I notice myself gripping and falling into old patterns, and instead,

I let go... I let go...

I let go...

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/helsinki-sun-headshot.jpg[/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: marielberger.com[/author_info] [/author]

Make Your Life as Interesting as a Procedural Drama with the Alexander Technique

sherlock-holmes-968046-mby Witold Fitz-Simon In genre fiction, movies and TV, there is a type of story known as the procedural. The classic version of this type of story is the Police Procedural, best exemplified by the TV show “Law & Order.” The crime is committed and the detective is on the case, using forensics to search out cues, canvassing the neighborhood for potential witnesses and piecing together the truth. A good police procedural can be riveting. Each clue uncovered, each witness questioned can build up to a fascinating portrait of passion, of greed, of intrigue. The Alexander Technique can make your mundane daily routine just as interesting, even without the drama!

One of the key ways in which we can get ourselves in trouble in life—doing things like stressing ourselves out, or giving ourselves repetitive stress injuries or back pain—is by not paying much attention to the how and why we’re doing things. We go for the end result of our goals without being mindful of the choices we make to achieve them. This puts us at the mercy of habit: a history of behaviors that get the job done, but not usually in the most effective way possible. And if those habits have in them the seed of mis-use of our bodies, or emotional unease, then we can only add to our problems no matter what we do to get away from them.

Be Your Own Detective!

The solution to this is to be more like the police detective in the P. D. James mystery, or the Crime Scene investigator in the TV show. To pay more attention to the process and the details. In the Alexander Technique there are certain practices that you do over and over again in a lesson like sitting, standing and walking around. Even though there is a lot of repetition of these activities, we don’t think of them as exercises.

The idea of an exercise is something that you can learn to get right once and keep doing the same way, often quite mindlessly, to achieve a goal. In the Technique we think of the activities we carry out as “procedures.” You might spend a lot of time with your teacher sitting and standing, but the point is not learning to sit and stand correctly. The point is to become aware of how you approach the activity. What is your intention when you do it? What do you think about. You must become the detective in the mystery of your own life!

Get On The Case!

Try this right now, if you have the time. Do something simple and easy: stand up and sit down, or reach out and take a sip of your drink, if you have one at hand. Whatever activity you have chosen try it once or twice without thinking about it very much.

Now that you have your chosen activity fresh in your mind, take out your mental notepad and pen and interview your prime witness, yourself. Ask yourself these questions:

Did you notice anything special about what you just did? What were you thinking about as you did it? What did it feel like to do the activity?

If you don’t have any concrete answers, try the activity again a few times and see what you come up with.

Okay, now you’re going to put the pressure on your witness and ask for more details:

What was the first thing that you did to carry out your chosen activity? What part of you did you move first? When you moved, what happened to your neck? Did it get tense or was it easy and free? What was the quality of your movement? Was it rushed and effortful? Was it lethargic and slack? Was it easeful and effortless?

Let’s change tack here. You’re going to put on your forensic scientist hat and try some experiments.

Think about doing your activity again, but stop for a moment before you do it. Notice if you have tensed up in preparation. If you have, let everything soften, even if just a little bit, and try it again. What happens when you do it again this time?

Next time you do your activity, notice what you do with you head? Does it move in the direction you are moving, or does it seem to be heading somewhere else? What happens if you let it lead the movement in some way?

It doesn’t take much to go from rushing around mindlessly, oblivious to what’s going on around you, to having a bit more awareness of yourself and your environment and to start to change the way you do things. All it takes is curiosity and interest, and applying that to yourself. And if you need a little help, take an Alexander Technique lesson with a qualified teacher. You’ll never be bored again!

[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]

Releasing Eye Strain with the Alexander Technique

boys-green-eye-1405557-mby Witold Fitz-Simon Eye strain is an increasing problem for many of us in our digital world. Our eyes were not built to be constantly staring at a fixed point with a bright light shining straight at them for several hours at a time. They are, in fact, incredibly skilled at tracking the movement of all the things in our environment, as well as moving around themselves, but once you fix your gaze on something for an extended period of time, all sorts of mechanisms can start to go wrong.

Constant Movement

We see by the light from our environment falling on our eyes which is then directed to the retina, a layer of specialized cells lining the inner surface of our eyeballs, which change the information carried by the light into signals that our brains can process. If a particular image falls on the retina without moving for a while, those light receptors start to get tired and no longer send information, so the muscles of your eyes cause them to constantly jiggle a very tiny amount in a movement called saccades. This means that the light falling on your retinas is shifting around just enough to keep the receptor cells fresh. If your eye muscles become tense and rigid, then that movement is going to be restricted and your eyes will have to work that much harder just to see what is in front of you.

Staring at a bright screen has the additional effect of causing us to blink less. Blinking is an extremely important physiological process. Not only does it effectively wipe the surface of your eyeball, clearing it of accumulated residue from the atmosphere around you, but it also spreads your tears around, keeping your eyes lubricated and hydrated. Once they start to dry out, they become much more prone to irritation.

Relief for Your Eyes

If you find yourself suffering from eye strain, Constructive Rest is a simple and effective practice you can use to help find relief. To learn more about how to set up Constructive Rest and what it can do for you, check out this post. Once you’ve done that, come back here and follow these instructions. (You can also follow them right now at your desk.)

  1. Close your eyes for a moment and notice how tense they are. Do your eyelids close easily? Are your eyes darting around behind them, or are they fixed in place?
  2. Place your palms over your eyes for several moments. The contact of your palms and the darkness of having your eyes covered will help them start to recover.
  3. Once your arms start to get tired from being held up against your face, let them rest by your sides.
  4. Allow your eyes to open and expand your gaze all the way out into the periphery of your vision.
  5. Take a few moments to think about allowing your neck to be free. Just think about it, though. Don’t move it around and try to stretch it out.
  6. As you think of your neck being free, allow your head to be poised on the top of your spine. If you are lying down, allow its weight to be supported by the books underneath it.
  7. Allow your whole torso to soften and widen and deepen.
  8. Allow your arms and legs to ease out away from your torso.
  9. Notice the state of your eyes once again. Are they as tight and as gripped as they were? If they are, don’t worry about it. Come back to allowing yourself to be generally softer and freer.
  10. Instead of staring out at the room around you, allow the light of the room to come to you. Allow it to fall on your eyes and to be taken back into the visual centers at the back of your brain. I say “allow” because this is happening anyway, but sometimes we do things that get in the way of even unconscious and automatic processes of the body.
  11. Allow your eyes to move around freely rather than being held fixed in one place. In particular, allow your gaze to rest on things that are different distances away from you as a change from staring at one fixed point over and over again. Stay like this for several minutes.

If you make a point of doing this once or twice a day, over a period of time you can begin to retrain yourself to use your eyes in a more healthy way.

If you suffer from a lot of eye strain or other work-related issues, a trained Alexander Technique teacher can help you change your habits and make your working environment easier and less stressful. Find a certified Alexander Technique teacher in your area here.

[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 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]