The Alexander Technique Applied to Mindful Eating

by Brooke Lieb

In an effort to reduce stress, I have stopped watching the news. I skim the homepage of the Guardian and the NY Times to keep current, but otherwise, I rarely watch news on TV or online.

Instead, I watch British films and TV, comedies and crime dramas, home improvement shows and I am a huge fan of the Great British Baking Show.

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Mindfulness and the Alexander Technique

buddha-935135-mby John Austin There have been several articles in the New York times on mindfulness recently and it would seem that mindfulness is back in vogue. One that caught my eye most recently was focused on a study that found that pausing, even for just half a second, between having a thought and making a decision to act on that thought improved decision making.

Now this isn’t shocking new information to many people, especially anyone who has studied the Alexander Technique; but the question, “How do we access the space between thought and action?” is still an interesting one.

Most mindfulness practices when boiled down to their essence consist of these instructions:

  1. Be conscious of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Pay attention without judgement to the present moment, not letting your mind wander elsewhere.
  2. Include your self doing the activity in your awareness, don’t solely focus on what you’re doing.
  3. When you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention to your breathing/feelings.

There are many variations and exercises designed to cultivate this state of ‘mindfulness’ but they are all essentially related to the above. The principles seem simple enough but try putting them into practice. You will soon find that it’s difficult to notice your mind wandering and come back to the awareness of your breath when you’re doing nothing, let alone when there is a task at hand.

Here’s where the Alexander Technique is invaluable. Through hands on experiences from a teacher your awareness of your self is significantly improved so it doesn’t require so much effort to pay attention to what you’re doing.

Most people have difficulty being conscious of what they are doing because there is a general misunderstanding of the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is not the voice in your head as many of us believe; however, we can be conscious of the voice in our head. Consciousness is also not our brains telling our bodies what to do non-verbally (i.e. desire for coffee, lift right arm to pick up coffee). We can be conscious and experience these things, but for the most part we are watching our unconscious habits unfolding. This is different than making a conscious decision. Consciousness essentially allows us to do two things. Pick a direction and stop; although not necessarily in that order. Generally you must stop doing your habit(s) that are taking you in directions you don’t want to be going to move in a direction you do want to go.

The difficulty here is that we have so many unconscious habits going on below the level of our awareness and it’s nearly impossible to stop doing something we don’t know we’re doing.

One thing I never liked about the word mindfulness is that it implies a separation between the mind, body, and consciousness. The three are parts of a whole that are intimately connected and functionally equivalent. The nervous system takes in sensory information and responds to the various stimuli we encounter. Our consciousness is able to access a limited amount of that information at any given time in order to act as a failsafe to our instinctual reactions. If the wrong response is learned one can inhibit the reaction by being conscious (or mindful if you will) and creating a space between stimulus and response for choice.

F.M. Alexander discovered that the information registered by the nervous system could be distorted by patterns of malcoordination and muscular rigidity that originated in the conceptualization of movement and posture. This is a huge point to consider because if our sensory information is flawed, even if we make the space for choice our decision is based on unreliable sources. Therefore, proper use of the self which results in reliable sensory feedback is an essential first step to a successful mindfulness practice.

There are some things often taught as mindfulness that actually take you away from being consciously aware.

  • Close your eyes when you pay attention to your breath.

Closing your eyes doesn’t bring you into the moment, it’s essentially hiding from it. You can’t very well take a moment to close your eyes to pay attention to your breath while driving on the freeway.

  • Imagine a sunny day (or some other scenario that is pleasant).

Again this type of instruction takes your consciousness away from your self. It’s much more helpful to be aware of what is there and your reaction to it. Whatever is there will still be there when you come back from your happy place.

AT-Mindfulness Tips:

  1. Find the top of the spine (roughly between your ears/behind your eyes). See if you can keep your awareness of the top of your spine without losing your other senses; keep seeing, hearing, feeling your feet on the ground etc. This will expand and quicken your conscious awareness as you learn not to hyper-focus on one thing at the cost of everything else in your awareness.
  2. Seeing is a great indicator of the quality of your consciousness in any given moment. If your vision goes blurry, your presence has a similar quality. When you think about something, do you still see? Or do you turn your eyes toward your brain to concentrate? Is it necessary to leave the present moment to think?
  3. When you have the urge to do something (pick up your phone when it rings, cross the street on green, etc.), take a second to stop and find the top of your spine. Keep the awareness of the top of your spine as you give consent to the activity or choose to do something else. Notice if you are reacting or actually making a choice.

This post originally appeared on John Austin's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/headshot.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JOHN AUSTIN started pondering and pontificating on the probable and possible reasons for the tragic loss of joy in himself and his fellow musicians as he approached his breaking point in a music conservatory. In fact, he was nearly a casualty of the music “busi-ness" when he stumbled on the Alexander Technique. Since then he's been inspired by his training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique to write in an attempt to better understand what was happening to himself and others. Mr. Austin has an active performing career, blog, and teaching studio in West Harlem, Manhattan.[/author_info] [/author]

Bedbugs, Lead Paint, and Neck Pain: a Case Study of Alexander Technique NYC

emergencyby Dan Cayer In 7 memorable months, my family was visited by 2 of New York City’s dreaded housing plagues: lead paint and bedbugs. If you count hardhearted, greedy landlords, then we had that plague, too. Twice, we packed up all our stuff, tried to keep normalcy for Ruby, and twice we were disappointed (crushed, really) to find out that we could not live safely in the apartments we had moved into.

In the first apartment, our landlord evicted us after Ruby tested high for lead in her blood rather than deal with the lead. We were living on a month-to-month lease since things had been previously very friendly between us. He also blamed all the lead exposure on a single bookshelf we attached to a wall. In our next apartment, my wife had two allergic reactions to bug bites before we happened to catch a bedbug scampering across our bed at 3 AM. Ruby and I soon started getting bit as well. Our landlord had lied to us about bedbugs in the building – the previous tenants lasted only three months.

We weighed our strategies: court, rent strike, living in plastic biohazard suits, but ultimately, though we were deceived both times, we had little recourse but to walk and take our revenge fantasies with us.

The feelings of powerlessness, rage, and worry were having a field day on my body. I’d walk around during the day, thinking of how unfair it was and hating my landlord. It felt as if someone were drilling my head down into my body. My neck and shoulders were hardening into concrete. Adrenaline was pumping all day long; it began production early in the morning, waking me up around 4:30 or 5.

Each time I thought about the unfairness of our plight, I could feel a wave of tightening seize my body. My wife and I were paralyzed with how to proceed. How do we fight to get back our security deposit? What were our rights when we were clearly not at fault?

It wasn’t until I checked in with my body that one decision became clear. When I thought about staying and fighting and going to court, my body contracted into a fist. When I imagined just leaving – money be damned – I felt the fist relax and enjoyment seemed possible again. At that moment, and many others throughout the 7 months, my training in the Alexander Technique helped me find a place, as Rumi wrote, “Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Steering myself over and over from the hypothetical, from rehashing the past or recounting our injustices, to the present experience of living in my mind and body was tremendously healing. It not only kept me moored to sanity (mostly), I was training for how I want to deal with hard times in my life. I don’t want to be driven mad with fear or completely lost when life becomes unstable. I want to be embodied enough to breathe and to think. In the revenge fantasies and fearful projecting into the future, I was always having to fend for myself. Coming back to my body and mind also meant returning to my family and the humor and love we still managed to improvise, picnicking on top of our plastic bins with Thai takeout. Soon, it would be time to move again and leave the plastic bags behind. By returning faithfully to the present moment, I could really leave it all behind.

This post was originally published at dancayerfluidmovement.com

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Dan-Head-Shot-13.jpg[/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 www.dancayerfluidmovement.com.[/author_info] [/author]

Fishing For Our Body's Wisdom

Japanese-fish by Dan Cayer

I can remember trying to ‘feel’ the swampy mess of bodily sensations and emotions I felt trapped inside me. What were these squeezings in my chest and throat, this panicked gripping in my abdomen? I knew there was wisdom in the body and that if I could relate with it, I might feel less stuck in my life and more able to make decisions. Yogis and meditators had written luminously about the wisdom we have inside us.

So I sat very silently and very still. Like a fisherman with my line in the water, waiting and listening for something to surface. I sat and bent my ear low, trying to divine the meeting of every little stirring. Is this anxious squeezing in my throat related to my childhood? To creativity? Yet like a deer at the edge of a meadow, the more I approached, the more these sensations retreated or froze up.

The framework of me needing to intellectually understand physical-emotional pockets proved to be stifling. Too much to ask for. It was best to see what bubbled up on its own, bringing its unconventional intelligence to the situation at hand.

Over years, I’ve come to relax my judgments, analysis, and pressure on the body to hand over all its secrets. Now it’s more like relating joyfully with my 19 month old daughter – genuine communication that doesn’t require language or agenda. There are simply waves of presence going back and forth between us.

I see now that the bodily feelings – wise, scared, and finicky – are always transmitting. They may not meet my expectations of solving problems or telling me what I should do with some difficult choice. Nonetheless, what my body offers is beautiful, wet and real; the fish jumping into my boat before I even can prepare the line.

This post was originally published at dancayerfluidmovement.com

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Dan-Head-Shot-13.jpg[/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 www.dancayerfluidmovement.com.[/author_info] [/author]