Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #7

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #7

November 29, 1977 : On teaching

You cannot do something to someone, unless you have it in yourself. You will become more and more able to help someone when you help yourself.. You cannot give someone direction unless you give direction to yourself.

When you do something new, you don’t have to worry about feeling it. This also helps people become less self involved.

You can use something above the head to look up and bring the head to move forward (student is sitting) on the hip joint is a good exercise in inhibition. Looking in the mirror you are not going forward as much as you are seeing your head go up. The torso will go up if the head goes up.

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Learning the Alexander Technique can reduce your degree of head forward posture, and most students enjoy their lessons

Learning the Alexander Technique can reduce your degree of head forward posture, and most students enjoy their lessons

by Brooke Lieb

A simple google search with the term “effects of head forward posture” yields results that show a possible correlation between degree of forward displacement and pain in computer users; increased time spent sitting at a desk increasing instances of neck pain; and a decrease in respiratory efficiency. Read more here.

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For Alexander Teachers: Foundations of effective teaching

For Alexander Teachers: Foundations of effective teaching

Training teachers and offering post graduate lessons and classes has been one of my passions during my 30 year career as an Alexander teacher. It has informed my studies, how I interpret Alexander’s writings, and is the area I focus my continued learning and development.

One consistent standard I see across all approaches to training is to emphasize that the teacher’s application of Alexander principles to the act of teaching is the foundation of teaching. Before working hands on with another, a level of self-organization is vital.

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Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #6

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #6

November 8, 1977: "Direction is a form of meditation.”

It is a simple repetition of words. Just being without trying. No need for results or defining: words can be used anywhere, anytime in any position.

  • Stance appropriately wide to height of person

  • Releasing into monkey with no goal in mind

  • Maintaining shoulder width against gravity's tendency to pull shoulders in as torso bends, releasing shoulders out without contracting in the back

    Read more…

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Election Cycle Fatigue: What you can do to take care of yourself and those around you

by Brooke Lieb The first time I voted in a Presidential election was 1984. My memory is far from perfect, but I cannot recall a presidential race that began as early as the 2016 race, with one party's campaigning for the nomination starting in March, 2015; nor can I remember the type of rhetoric I am hearing as overt and extreme in US politics as it is during this election.

vote
vote

Frankly, it frightens me. And I am not alone. There are a plethora of articles about the heightened anxiety levels precipitated by this current election cycle. A search for "election anxiety" yields online articles from The Atlantic, US News, Newsweek, Time Magazine and The Washington Post, among other news outlets.

As an Alexander teacher, I spend my days teaching my students how to self-regulate so they can manage moments of spiking anxiety. To be an effective teacher, I use the very tools I am teaching, at work and in my life.

No matter which side of this debate you are on, it is likely that you feel strongly, believe in your own point of view and fear the outcome. It is also likely that your feelings are being heightened by the coverage you are exposed to.

What can you do to take care of yourself? Here are some resources, including simple tools I teach my students.

1. Remind yourself that you don't have to hold your breath.

When we experience fear or other strong emotions, we sometimes freeze. It may be a tight jaw, it may be subtle or not so subtle clenching in shoulder, chest or abdomen. Frequently, tension reduces the mobility of our torso, and breath requires movement in the ribs.

2. Stand with your back touching a wall or door.

Use the contact with your back against the surface to bring you into the present environment. See and name what is around you, in as much detail as you can. (Example from my studio: Area rug with floral patterns, in beige, burgundy, sage green; massage table with a green cotton sheet that has stripes; dark brown wood computer desk with a cordless phone/answering machine and an iMac; fireplace mantle surrounded by teal tiles).

3. Research what actions you can take to assure your vote counts and that your elected officials represent your values.

Search your state and federal nominees to find out where they stand on the issues (search "[your state] 2016 candidate platforms". In addition to finding out where they stand, you can find out how to support the campaign of those who represent your views.

4. Learn how to bring awareness to, change the subject, and minimize participation in conversations that upset you.

It is possible to effectively bring awareness and shift the conversation without shaming anyone. This article from the New York Times is entitled "Lessons in the Delicate Art of Confronting Offensive Speech"

5. If someone has decided who they are voting for, there is no need for discussion. If speaking to an undecided voter, learn how to listen to what matters to that person.

Here is an article "5 Ways To Have Great Conversations"

6. Limit your exposure to media

Once you have done your research and know which candidates represent your values, and how you can take action to improve their chances in the election, take a media vacation. This has not been easy for me, but I have designated media black out days, when I do not read or watch anything about the election.

7. Have an Alexander Lesson

Alexander Technique teaches mindfulness in daily living. Akin to meditation, Alexander Technique teaches conscious inhibition, or how to calm your "flight or fight" response.

This article in Wikipedia explains the neural mechanisms of mindfulness techniques.

This blog was originally posted at brookelieb.com

[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]

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]

Taking Action: How Does That Work in the Context of the Alexander Technique?

FreeImages.com/Local Guy by Brooke Lieb

In light of the recent hate crime, the mass killing in Orlando targeting the LGBTQ community on June 12, I thought about what it was to respond with meaningful, integrated action.

What has this got to do with the Alexander Technique? Alexander Technique often emphasizes “non-doing” which can be mistaken for inaction. Non-doing is more about having the time and space to unpack a response to find what may be habitual and automatic, and gain access to a conscious, reasoned response.

Working with this paradigm gives me a way to question the accuracy or validity of my feelings, both those I label as sensations, and those I label as emotions. I can also question the habits I have around using those feelings to guide my behavior and actions. I don’t want to respond to this latest tragedy comfortably or in my familiar and habitual way, I want to respond accurately and in measure with my examined belief systems.

I want to communicate with the people who feel particularly at risk of being targeted because of who they love or how they look, a danger that may be even more in the forefront of their day to day lives, as a result of this recent atrocity. I want to offer my support. But for me, my kind words are empty if my actions and behavior don't have the potential to generate a safer world for them.

I want to show empathy and connect with my friends and loved ones to show that I care about this issue and it breaks my heart that people are being murdered because of some distorted set of artificial values held by others. Those beliefs are what make some of us a threat to others of us.

I saw a number of posts about taking action, as the more impactful response to this latest in a “much too frequent and much too long” string of mass killings.

So I went to google to find out how to take action. I donated to the Brady Campaign, I signed a petition which I was informed was equivalent to writing a letter.

I wrote to both of my state senators to say I am a constituent who supports strict gun control, and when considering the second amendment as written: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” I support limiting access to and the use of guns to the confines of a well-regulated militia.

So, yes, I have been crying since Sunday, June 12, and looking at my transparent biases and bigotry to take responsibility for the ways I may have inadvertently contributed to the climate in our country by being ignorant and unable to see what I may be a party to. I see that my inaction contributes to the status quo. By the way, I was raised around activists, growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and I take a lot for granted because so many took action during that time in history.

What has this got to do with the Alexander Technique? I am saying “no" to my comfortable habit to remain silent while feeling hopeless. I often keep silent out of my desire to appear non-judgemental and neutral so my clients won’t feel judged in my hands. Silence can be useful in some situations, but silence can also be a way to stay comfortable and ineffective.

So, instead, I am taking action, and being non-habitual by using my literal and literary voice to express my fondest wishes and hopes - that we take the actions needed so we live in a world that values all human life and celebrates creativity and diversity in how we each express ourselves. I wish to live in a world where no one is in danger from another, because of what they have or don’t have, for what they believe or don’t believe. And that we don’t use our personal beliefs to injure each other.

If you want to learn more about some possible actions to take, here are some links:

Contact your congressional representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Contact your Senator: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

How did your senator vote on background checks?: http://everytown.org/senate-votes/?source=etno_ETActPage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETActPage

Tweet your congressperson: http://everytown.org/tweet-at-congress/?source=etno_ETActPage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETActPage

Support the Brady Campaign to end gun violence: https://secure.bradycampaign.org/page/contribute/center-enough

[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]

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]

I Have Time

spanish ridingby Patty de Llosa Hurrying speeds us away from the present moment, expressing a wish to be in the future because we think we’re going to be late. To counter it, Master Alexander teacher Walter Carrington told his students to repeat each time they begin an action: “I have time.” He tells us that on his visit to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, where horses and riders are trained to move in unison, the director ordered the circling students to break into a canter, adding, “What do you say, gentlemen?” And they all replied together, “I have time.” Try it yourself sometime when you’re in a hurry. Send yourself a message to delay action for a nano-second before jumping into the fray.

We are bombarded all day long by stimuli that call us to immediate action. But the pause of saying “I have time” summons an alternative mode of the nervous system, inhibiting the temptation to rush forward under the internal command to “do it now!” When you hold back your first impulse to go into movement by creating a critical pause during which your attention is gathered, you become present to the moment you are living.

So why do we feel the need to hurry? It may be an unconscious sense that danger is near, but it’s not a lion in the street — more likely a deadline or an exam or an unpleasant confrontation. In my case it was often the fear that I wouldn’t finish the job soon enough or well enough to please someone in authority. I discovered that I harbored a Stern Judge who kept an eye on me all day long, commenting on everything I did: “This is more important so get it done first,” or “That’s less important, so hurry through it.” Now, any time I find myself worrying that I don’t have enough time to finish something, I remind myself that I’m creating my own stress. Then I can choose to respond rather than react.

Some people prefer to stay in the fight-or-flight mode, honing their “edge” and paying the price for it in physical fatigue and mental strain. I used to do that too. But even in the middle of the myriad demands to perform at your best, telling yourself “I have time” can provide a mini-break to the nervous system. It offers a moment of choice in spite of the fact that you have to finish the job. It reminds you to attend to your body-being as you press forward with your work, inviting you to release the tensions gathered at the back of your head, and let your thoughts latch onto your body movements. You can interrupt whatever you are doing for just a second to stretch out of the position you are in and into the present moment.

You may well ask, “How can I be expected to stay in the present moment when I’m pressured to finish this job?” O.K. When you have to get something done in a hurry and there’s no choice, try any of these five steps I offer up from my own experience.

First, acknowledge how you really feel about the job. Let your reactions appear in your conscious awareness. Accept them, whatever they may be. “That’s how it is at this moment.”

Second, turn to the only remaining place where there’s freedom: within yourself. Notice the thoughts that are athinking in you and turn them toward the job at hand.

Third, focus your attention on the moves your hands are making — feel the tap of each finger on the computer, or sense the strong muscles that press the freshly glued object together, or revel in the warmth of the soapy water you are washing something in.

Fourth, begin to explore other parts of your body, starting with the back of your neck, where stress tightens our muscles into tough guide-ropes that pull the head out of alignment. Let your thought move whenever and wherever the body moves, seeking out the tense corners and inviting them to release.

Fifth, from time to time interrupt whatever you’re doing, no matter how important, to get up if you are sitting, or at least stretch out and away from the position you are in. If you are standing, think of your legs like tree trunks and send down imaginary roots to ground yourself on the earth while your head floats up above your torso.

Since everything’s connected in the mind-body continuum, you might be surprised to what extent you can relieve your stressed-out system with a brief, non-essential walk down the hall, a peek out the window at the larger world, or even give a seriously deep sigh that engages you right down to the toes. Do anything to interrupt the deadening bond that glues all your attention to what you’re writing, reading, cooking, chopping, building. Truly, the body possesses wisdom that thought doesn’t understand. We can practice listening to it and allow ourselves to expand into present reality. “I have time” helps us do just that.

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

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/dellosa.jpg[/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 www.findingtimeforyourself.com.[/author_info] [/author]

From the ACAT Faculty: “What is my Alexander Teacher doing with her hands? It’s not like anything I’ve experienced before…” by Brooke Lieb

FindaTeacherby Brooke Lieb When I was taking private lessons, I had no idea how my teacher was facilitating changes in my sense of ease and freedom, I just knew it was different from anything I had ever experienced. I recognized some of it was what what she told me to think and wish for, but it seemed most of the changes were the result of some mysterious and magical quality in her hands.

I decided to give the man I was dating at the time, an Alexander “lesson." I had him lay on the floor and I copied what I thought my teacher was doing. Afterwards, all he noticed was that his shoulders weren’t pulled up around his ears anymore. Other than that, nothing much happened and I realized I had no idea what my teacher was doing with her hands. I began to take private lessons with other teachers as well, and it became clear they had all been trained to use their hands in a specific way. There were differences in the quality of their hands, but the ideas and thought process was the same and I recognized the changes that I experienced with different teachers.

When I started teacher training, I was relieved and delighted to discover that teaching would be an extension of the same skills I had been learning as a private student, and these skills would be applied in a practical, step-by-step process, to the use of hands and all the activities of teaching.

I have now been training teachers on the ACAT Faculty since 1992 and while each graduate has a unique quality to their touch, they are also able to facilitate the same response in my system when they have hands on me as my other teachers. The use of the hands is a skill that can be taught.

A Skill That Can Be Taught

In his book Freedom to Change, Frank Pierce Jones writes:

"F. M. told me that in 1914 he was just beginning to find a new way of using his hands in teaching. By applying the inhibitory control (which had proved so effective in breathing and speaking) to the use of his hands he was learning to make changes in a pupil that were different from ordinary manipulation or postural adjustment."

Throughout my training at ACAT, I was taken through a series of activities where I was touching objects, including a hat maker's head form, balls, cups, common objects, a phone book, and a stool. These activities were preparing me to use the same inhibitory control Alexander referred to when using his hands to teach.

My task was to practice my skills of inhibition and directing during these highly stimulating activities, while the teacher lifted or moved the object with her or his hands over mine. I learned how to avoid unneeded (but very habitual) tension in my hands, wrists, arms, legs and back as I allowed the teacher to do the work. I became increasingly able to allow myself to remain empty of intention and habitual tension as the teacher acted upon the object. I was merely the observer.

As I mastered this ability to follow the leader, I was given more and more responsibility for taking over lifting and moving these objects myself. I continued to override my habit of excess effort and tension and the objects felt lighter and easier to move.

This was the model I was taught to use my hands in teaching: recognize my habit of stiffening or tensing throughout my body to use my hands; pause to give myself time to reduce the level of effort I bring to the task; and use my intentional thinking to carry out the task in a more easeful way, with tone and effort distributed more easily throughout my body.

I use this step-by-step method throughout a lesson, and it is how I train teachers to develop their own step-by-step methods for themselves.

Lifting A Head

A practical example: Adjusting the height of books under a student's head during a table lesson.

This task involves lifting and supporting the weight of a student's head with one hand while adding or removing books with the other.

My first strategy is to spend as little time as possible weight bearing while still accomplishing the task. At strategic moments along the way, I give myself time to pause and release the bracing and effort that arises from anticipating and then actually lifting.

  1. I roll my student's head to one side or the other. The books are still supporting the weight of the student's head.
  2. I rest the hand that will lift her or his head on the books and let the back of that hand release onto the book. This helps me interrupt my tendency to grasp the student's head with tension.
  3. I roll the student's head onto my hand, and give myself time to refrain from lifting. Instead, I keep resting my hand on the books with the stimulus of my student's head on that hand. This moment of inhibition is valuable for me and for the student.
  4. I consider lifting the student's head and observe where I want to brace in anticipation of lifting. I undo the preparation I have observed, since I am not yet lifting. This allows me to actually lift with less anticipatory and wasted tension.
  5. As I lift, I continue to think in ways that allow me to minimize effort and tension as I support the weight of my student's head.
  6. I change the height of the books with the other hands as I continue the thinking process described in step 5.
  7. I return my hand to rest on the new book height, and take time to let my student's head rest in my hand, letting go the effort of weight bearing.
  8. I use my available hand to gently roll the student's head off the hand that did the lifting.
  9. I roll the student's head back to center.

The American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT) runs the oldest Teacher Certification Program in the United States and is proud to have trained more than a third of the country’s Alexander Technique teachers, taught by our world-class faculty. ACAT also serves as a membership organization for Alexander Teachers and students. To find out more about the program click here or come to our Open House May 2, 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

[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]

Marjory Barlow on the Alexander Technique: "Just think it. That's all you can do."

By Witold Fitz-Simon

"Just think it. That's all you can do. Any thing extra you try and do... and we all do this. We all think, "It won't matter if I do just a little bit of doing." And the whole thing is ruined. Immediately. What you're doing, what you're changing, is the pattern... are the patterns in your brain and your nervous system. And that manifests in your body. So, in a sense, you're not working on the body, except very indirectly. Do remember that, because you have control to a certain extent over what you're thinking. You have very little control over what's happening in your body. If this were not so, if it wasn't a question of the brain and nervous system, F. M. could never have discovered the work. It was only because he was able, by thinking, to stop those wrong habits. Probably one of the biggest discoveries ever made by a human being." —Marjory Barlow

Marjory Barlow (1915-2006) was F. M. Alexander's niece, who trained with him to teach the Technique in 1933.

Thanks to Jeffrey Glazer for highlighting this clip.

[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]

The Alexander Technique: A Technique About Nothing?

iStock_figure-with-question-mark_smaller_squareby Jeffrey Glazer For those familiar with the popular Seinfeld show, there is an episode during which Jerry and George are thinking of ideas for a sitcom to pitch to NBC. George comes up with the idea to make it “a show about nothing”.

George:   “Everybody’s doing something, we’ll do nothing.” Jerry:       “So, we go into NBC, we tell them we’ve got an idea for a show about nothing.” George:   “Exactly.” Jerry:       “They say, “What’s your show about?” I say, “Nothing.” George:   “There you go.” A moment passes… Jerry:       “(Nodding) I think you may have something there.” (Source: “The Pitch.” Seinfeld Scripts.)

Most people, when trying to make a positive change in themselves, always want to know what to do. This is especially true for improving posture, body mechanics, and generally how they carry themselves. They want to be told what the “right thing” is, and they assume that is all they need to know to successfully make a change.

But how many times have you tried to “sit up straight”, only to give up because it feels like too much effort?

In the Alexander Technique, the idea of being told what to do gets flipped up on its head. In order to make a change, the first step is to do nothing. All this involves is taking a moment to pause so you can discover what you are already doing that isn’t necessary.

For example, when I find myself slumping at the computer, I don’t go to immediately hoist myself out of the slump. Rather, I pause and take a good look at what I am doing with myself. I may begin to notice that my neck is forward, my jaw clenched, and that I am actively pulling my body towards the screen. So, once I am aware of that tension, I can begin to let it go. As I do so, my body returns to a more natural upright state, and it’s the result of letting go rather than imposing a shape on myself. In other words, I don’t sit up so much as I stop pulling myself forward and down, I do less.

F.M. Alexander, the originator of the Alexander Technique, is quoted as saying the following:

  • “Everyone is always teaching one what to do, leaving us still doing the things we shouldn’t do.”
  • “Like a good fellow, stop the things that are wrong first.”

And in order to stop doing the things that are wrong, you must be aware that they exist. When you find that you are uncomfortable or in pain, see if you can really pause and take a moment to do nothing. You will be better able to find out what your tension habits really are. Once you recognize the habit, you can begin to let it go.

When I first took Alexander Technique lessons, I was struck by the fact that I had never stopped to be in the present moment to look at the reality of what I was doing. I realized I was looking for a solution to my chronic pain everywhere except in the most important place of all, myself.

I’d like to come back to Seinfeld for a moment. When Jerry and George make their pitch to NBC, George keeps insisting the show is about nothing. But Jerry says, “Well, maybe in philosophy. But, even nothing is something.” (“The Pitch.” Seinfeld Scripts.)

So, is the Alexander Technique really a technique about nothing? Even though the first step is to do nothing, it leads to a heightened awareness of self and the unnecessary tension habits that get in the way of effortless upright posture, breathing, and movement that is our birthright. The awareness of and ability to let go of unnecessary tension habits is not nothing, it is most indeed something quite valuable.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/jeffrey.jpg[/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. www.nycalexandertechnique.com[/author_info] [/author]

The Nature of Thoughts

nprby Witold Fitz-Simon “Invisibilia” is a new radio show/podcast from NPR that combines science and personal stories to explore the unseen forces that shape our behavior. In their episode “The Secret History of Thoughts,” they use the story of an unfortunate young man who is suddenly overwhelmed with violent thoughts as the medium through which to look at the way the mental health profession has evolved its understanding of thoughts and the way they do or do not define us.

In the segment “Dark Thoughts,” we meet “S,” a normally easy-going man, who is triggered by a film he watches into seeing violent images over and over again. He begins to identify with them to the point that it begins to impact his life, causing him to withdraw more and more. The piece is a story of his search for help as he attempts to understand and deal with his thoughts, and through it, we are introduced to three major ideas about thoughts and their significance to the whole person. According the piece, the first stage of "thought history" grew out of the work of Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, and those who follow his ideas, the content of "S's" thoughts would be an indicator of a problem in his psychological make-up. They revealed some inherent quality about him. The second stage grows out of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which would say that "S's" thoughts do not say anything particular about who and what he is. Instead, they would be the result of some form of prior conditioning or stimulus, either internal or external. Whereas in Freudian psychoanalysis, patients go through an extended exploration of their lives, thoughts and feelings, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, the patients are given strategies to directly challenge and deal with the thoughts. A more recent "third wave" approach is Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, where the patient is taught to allow the negative thoughts to just be and, in so doing, disarm their power to contribute to negative side-effects such as depression and addiction.

Though not a form of psychotherapy, the Alexander Technique has its own way of dealing with negative thoughts that ties in quite nicely with some of these ideas. F. M. Alexander was one of the first Westerners to realize that mind and body were all part of the same, larger whole of the individual person. A person's thoughts are a part him or her as are their arm or leg. Your arm is part of you, but it is not in any way all of what you are and can be. The same can be said of your thoughts. As part of the larger whole of who you are, your thoughts have an impact on both the structure and the physiology of your body. A thought can create the constriction and tension of anxiety as much as it can create the lightness and freedom of joy.

The Release of Inhibition

Alexander originally called his technique "Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual" (the title of one of his four books). The name is a bit of a mouthful, but with it he was attempting to convey how it is possible to live consciously and constructively. This is to say, we each have many instinctive or habitual ways of thinking, reacting and being, but as thinking, rational people, we have the capacity to choose. Do we live at the mercy of these instincts and habits, or do we live with a mindful, embodied relationship to ourselves and our environment?

One of Alexander's great discoveries was that of inhibition, although his use of the word is very different to Freud's. Alexander's "inhibition" refers to our capacity to neurologically inhibit our responses to a stimulus. We can choose to react habitually or we can pause and let the habitual reaction go. It is a release of energy, of tension, which can bring the body and mind back to a state of ease and poise.

The American Center for the Alexander Technique is home of the oldest training program in the United States. If you are curious about finding out more about the Technique and how it might be able to help you find poise and ease in your daily life, contact one of our teachers in your area.

[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]

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.

Tragedy

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.

Comedy

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']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/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! www.brookelieb.com [/author_info] [/author]