Stretching with Ease

stretching-with-easeby Brooke Lieb Linda Minarik is a pianist, dancer, singer, and fitness professional. Her new book is entitled Stretching with Ease. Linda has been familiar with the Alexander Technique for nearly 40 years. Her first private lessons were with ACAT alumna Linda Babits in connection with practicing piano with ease. Linda’s life-long love of movement inspired her to train in ballet, and to become a certified group fitness instructor, including teaching qualifications in Gyrokinesis® and the MELT Method®.


Tell us about the inspiration for your book Stretching With Ease.


For a number of years I have been teaching the art of flexibility at a corporate gym facility called Equitable Athletic & Swim Club in mid-town Manhattan. The membership is largely made up of left-brainy people with corporate positions, often high in their chosen professions. Attorneys, doctors, financial wizards, administrative assistants to corporate CEOs—highly articulate people, capable of understanding subtle concepts. They come to class to learn about their bodies; yet fitness is not their field.

I set out to create a worthwhile stretching experience for this fitness audience: teaching them stretching basics while respecting their intelligence. Over the years, I formulated a teaching language that seemed to work. I started explaining as much as I could about why pursuing flexibility might be helpful in their lives, how to allow their bodies to release gently into a stretch, how to align their positions correctly to avoid stressing other body areas, and—a crucial point—exactly where they should be feeling the muscular pull.

Stretching as I teach it emphasizes giving the body adequate time to settle into a position—without rushing into or out of it. Most important is partnering mind with body to increase calmness and minimize fear. Recruit your mind to address your body’s tight spots.

The more I taught, the clearer my instructions became, and my classes began to grow in size. My goal: to clear up the mist of incomprehensibility around flexibility. I wanted to share all the hard-won knowledge I had unearthed over more than two decades of searching. Everyone has his own journey, but I wanted to help people shorten their stretching one.


How can stretching contribute to health and well-being, and what are some of the conditions or fitness goals that stretching can help manage or improve?


In some detail, I develop the following benefits of stretching for health, well-being, and fitness improvement in Stretching with Ease:

  • Reduces and heals stress
  • Prevents injury
  • Relieves pain
  • Relieves muscular soreness
  • Improves posture and body symmetry
  • Advances physical and athletic skills


You include the Alexander Technique in the “Further Resources” section of your book. When did you first encounter the Alexander Technique, and how has it contributed to your own performing and teaching?


My experience with the Alexander Technique began back in the’70s, when I was beginning to seek better alignment for my body in general, and also physical ease over the many hours I was practicing piano daily for my degree recitals. My study of the Technique long predates my involvement in fitness teaching. Along with other body-work methods, I am sure it was instrumental in making it really easy to start an athletic fitness teaching career in my ‘40s. After taking an introductory group class at a long-forgotten (by me!) studio in the Lincoln Center area, Linda Babits became my first private teacher. A pianist herself, she spent many hours helping me apply the Technique for a pianist’s unique needs. After training with Linda, I also worked extensively with Caren Bayer and Jane Kosminsky.


Linda currently teaches group fitness at the New York Health & Racquet Clubs and the Equitable Athletic and Swim Club, both in Manhattan. She pursues classical dance and bodybuilding, and has recently branched out into the study of rhythmic gymnastics, working privately with a former member of the Russian team. Linda is a classically trained pianist, operatic mezzo soprano, and aromatherapist. She lives in New York City. Contact her and/or purchase her book through her website at

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

5 Reasons Why Six-Pack Abs Are A Terrible Idea

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

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

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

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

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

3. Six-pack abs make it harder to breath

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

4. Six-pack abs make it harder to move

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

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

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

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

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

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