Recipe for Change

  by Patty de Llosa

Contrast is crucial, bright/dark, sound/silence. We always forget our deep need for quiet as we go thru our day of achieving, solving, hesitating, and wondering if we’ve done all we should. How refreshing a change would be right then, in the middle of the action!

Well, how about it? What if you could stop to listen at any time, over coffee, while brushing your teeth, even at your desk, leaving off focusing on your papers or computer? You could close your eyes and imagine for a moment that there’s another way of functioning. What would you notice? What would you hear? Perhaps your own heart beating and your own soul calling you home.

Unfortunately, without being aware of it, we often allow ourselves to function in an automatic stimulus-reaction mode that leaves no room for conscious awareness. The pressures of life and our habitual patterns rule our choices until it seems nothing new is possible.

However, new findings in neuroscience show that changing how we do what we do is as important for our wellbeing as eating the right food. Studies in neuroplasticity indicate how new impressions stimulate and even feed our neurons. It’s time to celebrate the fact that what we think changes the physical structure of our brain. When we change our minds, we change our brain.

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatrist affiliated with UCLA, and author of Brainlock, works with people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) by teaching them to change their thinking through a specific four-step program. Well, friends, when you look at it you’ll see that his program could apply to all of us if we want to live more consciously!

The first step is to Relabel your thought, feeling, or behavior—to give it another name. For example that’s what I did some years back when I identified the voice I’d assumed was my conscience to be a tyrannical inner judge (See Taming Your Inner Tyrant). As you recognize and separate out what’s really important to you, you can begin to call some of your drives what they really are, compulsions. They aren’t just another habit, but much stronger, and they live on your energy. In other words, they eat you.

The second step would be to Reattribute what you want to change by calling it by its new name, which could be Automaton, Habit, Tyrant, Mealy-Mouthed Complainer, or any juicy expletive that resonates with you and helps wake you up to its presence.

Dr. Schwartz suggests that the third step, where the real work is, would be to Refocus, replacing your thought or behavior with a new action. What’s more, your brain chemistry will create new patterns of behavior if you can stick at it long enough. As Schwartz explains, “The automatic transmission isn’t working, so you manually override it. With positive, desirable alternatives—they can be anything you enjoy and can do consistently each and every time—you are actually repairing the gearbox. The more you do it, the smoother the shifting becomes. Like most other things, the more you practice, the more easy and natural it becomes, because your brain is beginning to function more efficiently, calling up the new pattern without thinking about it.”

The fourth and final step is to Revalue. As you begin to understand that the old patterns never really worked for you and another way of living is possible, even desirable, the intensity of need for that particular behavior diminishes. You become a happier and healthier human being. This methodology, dear friends, is truly exciting! You can work at any moment to change the chemistry of your brain!

Here are a few exercises you might try:

  1. Begin to notice which of the demands that come at you in your day you jump to respond, and which you hold back from. Maybe you are like me, good at making to-do lists, but more involved in checking items off than in prioritizing them. When I’m overwhelmed with my list, a couple of questions can help me bring balance to my day: What do I need to do right now? What do I want to do right now? They may not be the same.
  2. Let it ring. The telephone is our ever-present means of communication with the world. But we don’t have to be its slaves though I sometimes question the intensity of my focus on it. OK, maybe my job is to answer it, but I can begin to take charge of the automaton in me who wants to grab it at the first ring. Try this: Let it ring three times as you allow the sound to penetrate (and perhaps irritate) your newly aware body/mind, then pick it up and respond. Another time, wait two rings, or four. Anything to stay alive to where you are in time and space.
  3. One way of refreshing your outlook is to take a different route. Whether walking to the subway, driving to the office or taking time for a brisk walk, go a different way, forge a new path. Why does it matter? Ask the nearest neuroscientist!
  4. When you are at home, the same wake-up-and-live methodology applies. Invite yourself to put on the other shoe first for a week, then change back. Use your other hand to pour the coffee or hold the knife or fork.
  5. Finally, the uber neuro-improvement challenge will be to experiment with writing with your other hand. Becoming ambidextrous is a royal road to refreshing the brain. So is learning a new language. Investigate crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers.

This post appeared originally at Patty de Llosa's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]PATTY DE LLOSA, author of "The Practice of Presence: Five Paths for Daily Life," "Taming Your Inner Tyrant: A path to healing through dialogues with oneself", "Finding Time for Your Self: A Spiritual Survivor’s Workbook," and co-editor of "Walking the Tightrope: The Jung-Nietzsche Seminars as Taught by Marion Woodman" is a Tai Chi and Alexander teacher who lives and practices in New York City. A contributing editor of Parabola magazine, she has studied many spiritual teachings while making her living as a mainstream journalist at Time, Leisure and Fortune, and raising a family. Visit her blog at[/author_info] [/author]

How Learning the Alexander Technique Has Saved Me Money

savings_piggy_bank_smallerby Jeffrey Glazer Recently, I realized that it’s been years since I’ve spent a dime on efforts to get myself out of pain.

Before I learned the Alexander Technique, I went to practitioner after practitioner in an effort to find a solution to chronic pain in my arms and neck. But really I was just trying to manage it. In addition to the psychological and emotional cost of having chronic pain, my inability to manage it myself was costing a lot of money.

I went to a great number of medical and nonmedical practitioners. I went to two different neurologists, two different physiatrists, a Lyme disease specialist, massage therapist, multiple physical therapists, an occupational hand therapist, a chiropractor for active release therapy, multiple acupuncturists, a craniosacral practitioner, and an MD for trigger point injections. While I would often feel some relief in the short term, the debilitating pain would always come back.

At first it was similar with Alexander Technique lessons, I would walk out with less pain, but it would eventually come back. BUT, what separated the Alexander Technique from the other things I was trying was that I wasn’t being treated; rather, I was being educated. I was becoming aware of what I was doing that was actually causing my own pain.

For the first time, I made a connection between my use (how I carry myself and react to life) and my pain. And all my teacher, Judy Stern, was doing was bringing my awareness to how I was moving, pointing out areas of excess tension and distortion, and giving me the experience of carrying myself in a radically different, and almost freakishly easier way.

Once I had enough Alexander Technique experience under my belt, I became adept at creating change in myself. I learned to identify when I was doing an activity in a way that would eventually lead to pain, so that I could then use my Alexander Technique skills to make a change. Now, when I start to experience pain, I am self-sufficient in dealing with it, no longer dependent on someone else to make me feel better.

Did years of Alexander Technique lessons, including teacher training, cost money? Of course!

But, the money I’ve spent on learning the Alexander Technique has been an investment, rather than a sunk cost.

And I am now reaping the return on that investment, not only in the form of greater ease and enjoyment of life, but the economic return of savings on health care costs.

As the saying goes, “health is wealth”, now I know that can literally be true.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JEFFREY GLAZER is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. He found the Alexander Technique in 2008 after an exhaustive search for relief from chronic pain in his arms and neck. Long hours at the computer had made his pain debilitating, and he was forced to leave his job in finance. The remarkable results he achieved in managing and reducing his pain prompted him to become an instructor in order to help others. He received his teacher certification at the American Center for the Alexander Technique after completing their 3-year, 1600 hour training course in 2013. He also holds a BS in Finance and Marketing from Florida State University.[/author_info] [/author]

Creating a Culture of Life around Technology

culture-of-life-at-desk-FINALBy Dan Cayer So I guess it’s time to follow through on those New Year’s resolutions… I’m reminded of a quote, “We overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.”

I have not underestimated my ability to forget the name of this person, but the point seems clear given the various fads of self-improvement out there. When we make a slapdash effort to get fit, start meditating, lose weight, etc. we often have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. If we don’t notice immediate signs of improvement, discouragement might set in and our gym membership or meditation cushion becomes forgotten.

Somewhere in our mind, we know that this will likely happen. That’s part of what creates such intense effort at the beginning – going to the gym five days a week, meditating for an hour at a time – we are trying to right ourselves before the door swings closed again and we go back to our TV-watching, sugar-loving selves (that’s my fear, anyway).

It’s important to remember that what we’re really trying to change is not our present self, but the habits that got our present self to where it is. That means developing daily rituals to help us shift our inertia-driven orbit away from what is easy and familiar, to what may be more challenging but ultimately gratifying. We never say on New Year’s Day – I’m going to have a really impressive three months, and then by April I’ll get too busy and forget it all!

Reach the Sleepy Places

Resolutions become wishful thinking if we don’t take on the areas of our life where we usually operate on autopilot. Let’s say we want to eat healthier but we’ re used to coming home from work stressed, hungry, and scarfing whatever’s around until we are reconstituted enough to make dinner. If we don’t have easy options waiting for us in a bowl when we get home, we will probably pass on the healthy stuff.

One of my resolutions is to improve the way I use technology so I don’t detract from my health. I have a condition where typing even a sentence or dialing a phone number can be extremely painful, so I route all of my computer and phone work through voice recognition. Learning and using the software’s is hard enough, yet it’s been my experience that technology and mindlessness seem to go together. How easy is it to check out in front of a screen?

It’s in these dark places where the habits are at their strongest – like mold! So if we can bring the light of our awareness to the places where we perpetually are discursive, brooding, absent-minded, etc., then imagine how much easier it will be to do it in the rest of our lives! Practicing mindfulness and compassion while using email is like training for a race by running up a huge hill. It’s hard but our muscles (of mindfulness) are getting so much stronger. We’re creating habits that will change our trajectory.

A Culture of Life

To wrest this phrase from its current politicized context, I create a culture of life at my desk. Each morning, I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to clean the surface of my desk, go through piles I left the day before. I check in with my body for a couple moments when I sit down. All around my computer are pictures of my family, beautiful places, and inspiring slogans. I even buy myself flowers occasionally – aw, shucks! They are like medicinal injections to help me be strong enough to fight off speediness, disconnecting from my body, and tunnel vision.

If I didn’t bring so much positive intention, I know it’s easy for me to spiral downward into speed, distraction, and eventually pain. I’m much more productive when my culture of life is thriving around my workspace’s since I’m not working out of a frantic state of mind which often leads to poor decisions and time management. Rather, I’m reminded of the good things in life and how I wish to conduct myself.

How can you create a culture of life at your desk or wherever your autopilot place is? What will provoke you to notice your surroundings and feel more space? (Hint: cleaning up is a really good start.)

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]