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.

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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]

Epiphany

Cate9thTerm-Judy by Cate McNider

As a soon-to-graduate Alexander Technique teacher, my time at ACAT, and why I embarked on this Alexander journey, has crystallized into this realization: I love epiphanies and live for them! I love that moment when ‘I get it’. That is in the direction of the UP for me. That realization is the inner up that supports the physical going up. Getting out of my own way, and allowing my head to go forward and up is what allows the space to receive information from my consciousness. We focus a lot on the physical habits and procedures to enliven our dynamic oppositions in this biomechanical suit we call a body, and it works. What underlies the physical is our curiosity, our innate impulse to rise, to evolve, to discover who we are, to be ourselves. That journey is a process, the process is a journey. It is the best investment we can ever make, to take that journey consciously, to think in activity, to be aware of what we are doing to and with ourselves, and how those habits are reflected back to us in the world.

It is this love of deepening understanding that makes me curious about how can I help this person, this student, realize they are compressing themselves and that they can stop whatever the habit is and dis-cover the un-ease and allow the ease to reveal itself.

Words are always a problem. For example, how I mean these words and how I am crafting them to communicate a feeling to you may not be what you hear or understand, which is where the hands come in to give you an experience of the AT principles and how that applies to you personally. Most of us share some variation of the ‘back and down’, but how that manifests in our neural network is unique and individual. Many books are written about the AT and the authors themselves struggled to various degrees to describe what FM was doing and what the principles point towards.

The quality of the touch is what takes three years to ‘get’, to just begin this ‘teaching’ journey, to allow the energy of the thought to be transmitted to the student’s whole wedded self. The epiphanies come more often after 3 years of study because I am pausing enough, thus more available for what comes through me and to me, the result of ‘getting out of the way’.

And this communal moment of ‘inhibition’ when the teachers hands are on me, and we are thinking together, powerful change occurs. This ability to change is within all of us. If we don’t let go of the old that no longer serves us, we wear it on our body, as the wind shapes the sand, and our lives repeat old outcomes. Breaking out of a cycle of any psychophysical habit is enhanced by practicing the principles and like a run in stockings, it runs both ways.

How you read this is how YOU read this. What I wrote is what I have real-ized. Take your own trip and find out for yourself!

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/McNider.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]CATE MCNIDER is in her final term at ACAT and soon to graduate (all requirements being completed)! She has been a bodyworker since 1991, also practitioner certifications in Body-Mind Centering® and Deep Memory Process®.  She is a dancer, poet and painter (see youtube).  She most recently performed a piece called: ‘Habit and Non-doing‘ at Dixon Place.  Her art can be seen at: www.artsicle.com/Cate-McNider and contacted thru her website: www.thelisteningbody.com.  Many thanks to all my teachers, volunteer teachers and fellow trainees at ACAT.[/author_info] [/author]

Ease on Skis

IMG_2167by Emily Faulkner This past February, I had the good fortune to travel to the Alps to take Erik Bendix’ one week Ease on Skis workshop. I am a passionate skier, and not too bad at it, but having started skiing late in life, I am always frustrated by how slowly I seem to progress and how hampered I am by fear. As a dancer, I love to move. The technique of skiing - the rhythm and the fluid motion – is magical when it comes together, but frustratingly elusive. As soon as I approach a pitch that seems too steep, a patch of ice, or some unexpected bumps, fear takes over, my technique goes out the window, and skiing becomes a matter of survival instead of joy. The Alexander Technique is, of course, the perfect medium by which to analyze fear and response. Enter Ease on Skis!

Ease On Skis is a combination of a new skiing technique and the application of the Alexander principles to skiing. There is a general methodology to skiing, but there are infinite variations in how different skiers approach the specifics. The most unique aspect of Erik’s approach, it seems to me, is how tall he asks you to stand. One thinks of skiers in a deep monkey, but to watch Erik ski is to see something entirely different. Erik has a unique style of skiing that is much more elongated and upright than any skier I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of how one works on a flying trapeze. In order to maneuver on a small bar hanging in space from ropes, you need to extend your limbs and torso. You need to really spread out in order to counterbalance your body, from head to feet and use it like a long lever. Erik dances down the mountain like a trapeze artist. His basic technique is the same as any good skier – transfer the weight from one ski to the other and glide, like ice skating – but the manner in which he accomplishes this, his speed and power, come from a place of ease, length and balance as opposed to compression and strength.

The way Eric teaches is, of course, quite unique, and we did a lot of interesting exercises both on and off the slopes. We practiced falling and getting up again with and without skis. Skiing is basically controlled falling, so it is helpful to get comfortable with actually falling. We examined walking and turning to see how we can allow our heads to lead our body into a graceful curve around a corner. We examined breath to see how the breath can contribute to a graceful turn. We rolled on the ground allowing the body to spiral, as opposed to rolling in one piece like a log. This helped us access our spirals when we got on the slopes. One exercise that was particularly interesting and satisfying was twisting. While skiing down a slope, you slowly turn your head to one side or the other and then patiently wait for the twist to make its way down to the feet and skis in order to turn. Thus by turning your head and merely allowing the body to follow, you inhibit almost all doing and simply allow yourself to turn.

The week of the workshop happened to be particularly foggy and so I, coincidentally, have an entirely new relationship to the fog. Having calmly directed for a week in fog, I actually sort of enjoy the fluffy comfort of being enclosed in white, and I associate it with the Alexander Principles.

By the end of the week, my fear reflex had dampened considerably. I’d had ample opportunity to breath, relax and direct while careening down a slippery hill, and I was starting to trust my new calmer responses. The internal voice saying, “you are safer and happier when you use the Alexander principles” was finally stronger than the voice saying, “at all costs, hold on tight, and just don’t get hurt!” what Eric calls “crisis management.” From the lens of the Alexander Technique, I also had the opportunity to consider my whole approach to skiing. I love the feeling of skiing, and I love the sociability of it, but if it is so hard for me to become the sort of skier I want to be, can I still enjoy skiing? Watching one of my fellow participants really helped clarify that. She didn’t have particularly impressive technique, but she was calm, she looked with her head and let her skis follow, and low and behold, her skis turned, and she negotiated all sorts of challenging terrain. And she did it quite joyfully. As with all Alexander discoveries, sometimes you realize you need to examine your goal, and sometimes you discover an option you hadn’t realized existed.

About a month after the workshop ended, I happened to go skiing again in the Spanish Pyrenees with my nine-year-old daughter. I was a little frustrated with my technique, but I must say that I felt pretty safe. My habitual feelings of fear were far less than they had been. Skiing in new terrain with my friends and family is my goal, and it was awesome! The Ease On Skis workshop was filmed so hopefully in the next year or two, Erik’s technique will be on display for all.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/e.faulkner.png[/author_image] [author_info]EMILY FAULKNER graduated from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City in 1999, and has been an AmSat certified teacher ever since. Faulkner is also a dancer, dance teacher and choreographer.She is on the faculty of Movement Research, a world renowned institution for experimental dance, and has presented her choreography nationally and internationally. Her most current project is a dance film using Steady Buckets players. Emily teaches privately in New York City, and can be found at emilyfaulkner.com. Email her at emily.a.faulkner@gmail.com.  [/author_info] [/author]

"Physical Expression on Stage and Screen: Using the Alexander Technique to Create Unforgettable Performances" by Bill Connington

conningtonby Helen Farmer When I moved to New York after completing my MFA in acting I bought several books that claimed to be New York actor survival guides how to build your career, how to audition etc. I quickly realized little information that help me in the way I needed. I was tense, unsure, and had no idea how to make use of my training when I was sitting in a casting office or worse, waiting for the phone to ring. I wish I had been able to carry Bill Connington’s "Physical Expression on Stage and Screen" with me then. For, Mr. Connington has written a book that both educates and inspires. Working through this book an actor will not only find their feet on the ground and their head moving forward and up, but they will reignite their creative fires and empowered to be the artist they want to be. A true ‘survival guide’ if there ever was one.

Mr. Connington begins as many Alexander teachers do with the story of F.M. the way he tells sets tone for the book to follow. He is not interested in being mired in the past. He touches briefly on the history of AT as well as his own experiences. These sections serve to contextualize the work, making it more someone who has never heard of Alexander or this kind of work. But this is a book for actors, not necessarily Alexander practitioners Mr. Connington moves quickly into the heart of the matter. With the suggestion that the results he has seen are: “Unique, surprising and unexpected” from an approach described as “organic, non-judgmental and open”, I would defy an actor struggling with any kind of block in their creativity to not dive right into the this book.

Basic Principles Brought to Life

In the early chapters Mr. Conninton begins to explore some basic Alexander concepts such as proprioception, end-gaining and startle response. Each explanation if followed by a clearly laid out experiential exercise that the actor can do on their own or with a friend. These exercises allow concepts to become integrated into the actor’s process. Being able to fully blend the Alexander technique into the daytoday lives of the actors and have it be relevant is clearly important to Mr. Connington and is manifested in several interesting ways. The most striking being the of the Alexander principles: Sensory Awareness, Inhibition, Direction, and Constructive Conscious Control. Instead Mr. Connington gives us: Sense, Poise, Flow and Choice. Reading this language I felt as if someone had opened a window in a musty room and let a little light in. The principles are all present, but the shift to less arcane language encourages a kind of accessibility I really responded to. The classical Alexander ‘directions’, become ‘flow thoughts’ and are dropped into the subsequent exercises that investigate both everyday (sitting, talking on the phone, typing) and more expansive activities (walking and talking, balancing, stillness), as well as breathing. Mr. Connington describes this work as: “a multi-platform self-improvement program” and through these exercises he offers concise, simple ways for the actor to gain more self-knowledge and freedom in their work.

Had the book stopped there it would be an excellent introduction to Alexander technique, but it is the second and third sections that truly set this book apart for an actor. In the second section Mr. Connington asks the actor to come out and play or as he puts it: “stimulate and develop your imagination and emotion.” While never losing sight of the principles, the second series of exercises gives the performer the opportunity to explore character building, vocalization and movement in an enjoyable non-judgmental way. Mr. Connington asks the reader to do everything from chanting, to creating a silent movie, to reciting Emily Dickinson. Drawing on such influences as Michael Chekov and Stanislavski, Mr. Connington clearly demonstrates through this expansive and fun section that the Alexander technique is not a stand-alone aspect of theatrical training, and can be used to broaden the range of an actor’s work.

Practical Advice

In the third section Mr. Connington gets down to the nitty-gritty, how an actor is going to use the Alexander technique outside of the studio. This is an essential and oft-missed element of actor training; how do you take the creative exploration of rehearsal or class and put it to work in an audition or performance? Mr. Connington’s vast experience as an actor and working with actors is clear here. Using the Alexander principles he offers exercises that an actor can use in the mundane everyday work of being an actor. Exercises that will get one comfortable with a cold reading (essential if you want to audition for film and TV), or will warm up you up in three minutes or less (great if you are running audition to audition), or will allow you to let go and get some sleep at the end of the day (in case you ever want to play Hamlet). Moreover, he introduces the concept of constructive conscious control, or as he calls it ‘choice’ and offers it to his reader as the ultimate gift. As an actor it is easy to feel like you are not the one in control of your destiny. To be reminded that everything is a choice and that the ability to change lies within their grasp is a very empowering message and one every artist should hear.

It is that message of empowerment I take away from this book. Mr. Connington is offering to every actor a simple, concise, and fun way to fully realize their potential as artists and as healthy happy human beings, an incredible gift to say the least.

ACAT and Bill Connington will celebrate the publication of "Physical Expression on Stage and Screen: Using the Alexander Technique to Create Unforgettable Performances" with a one-time, free event for Alexander Technique teachers and trainees, performers, and their guests on Friday, September 19, 2014, 7-9 pm at ACAT, 39 West 14th Street, Suite 507. Space is limited.  Reserve your place by e-mailing connington@acatnyc.org
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/helen-farmer.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]HELEN FARMER is originally from Calgary, Canada. She holds a B. A. in Theater from the University of Guelph and an M. F. A. in Acting from Rutgers University. A professional actress, she currently teaches acting at Rutgers in the BA faculty and lives with her husband in Manhattan. Helen first experienced the Alexander Technique while working with Kelly McEvenue at the Stratford Festival and continued to study with Greg Seel at Rutgers. She is entering the third year of the ACAT Teacher Training Program.[/author_info] [/author]

Why Are Habits So Hard To Break?

mazeby Witold Fitz-Simon A recent cover story in Scientific American revealed how the brain creates habits and why they are so hard to break. In their article, researchers Ann Gaybriel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Kyle S. Smith (Dartmouth College) outline three stages to laying down a habit:

  1. Explore a new behavior
  2. Form a habit
  3. Imprint it into the brain

Exploring New Behaviors

As you explore a new behavior, three parts of your brain—the prefrontal cortex, the striatum and the midbrain—communicate together to form positive feedback loops that help you determine whether nor not the behavior helps you achieve your goals.

Let’s take as an example, reaching down to pick up and put on your shoes. When you first learn to do this, you might make the choice, consciously or not, to counterbalance as you reach forward to pick the shoes up by allowing your head to drop back and down. To reach your shoes, you are extending your arm out quite a way beyond the stable support of your mid-line and your center of gravity, and taking the weight of your head back creates a feeling of stability. It may not be the best way to do this, but it works in the moment and, anyway, you are more concerned with getting your shoes on than you are with anything else.

The next time you put your shoes on, your brain remembers the sequence of behaviors you performed to fulfill your goal and sets up an expectation of success or failure. You put your shoes on the same way you did before. It works again. The brain makes a note that this sequence of behaviors is an effective way of achieving the goal. This process is repeated every time you put your shoes on, reinforced each time.

Forming a Habit

A habit, from the perspective of the brain, is a sequence of actions or behaviors that get lumped together into one single unit: a chunk of brain activity. When you are first exploring the action, the brain acts with deliberation. It has no expectations and needs to make conscious choices. Let’s take our example of putting on your shoes. The sequence of deliberate choices to get your shoes might look like this:

  1. You see your shoes.
  2. You reach out and down to pick them up and drop your head back to counterbalance the reach of your arm.
  3. With your head thrown off balance, your back gets stiff as you bend down to get to your shoes, so you support yourself by putting your other hand on your thigh.
  4. You sit down with a plop and slump forward to pick your shoes up and put them on.
  5. You try and stand up from your slumped position with your head back and down and need to push off the chair to get up.

As I said, these might not be the most efficient or elegant set of choices you could make, but your goal is to put your shoes on and not necessarily to bother with the details. After this has happened enough times, the process gets simplified in your brain to this:

  1. You see your shoes
  2. You put them on

Your brain takes all those different choices and lumps them together into one behavioral package.

Imprinting The Habit

Once you have repeated the behavior enough for it have become combined into one single chunk of neurological activity, the infralimbic cortex and the striatum work together to make it semi-permamanent in the brain. When you need to put your shoes on, you use the habitual chunk. As the chunk is in there semi-permanently in your behavioral repertoire, your brain won’t necessarily distinguish between your shoes and a wet towel on the bathroom floor, or anything else that you need to pick up from below your current level, so it uses the same chunk.

What Makes A Habit So Hard To Break?

Once the habit is “chunked” and imprinted like this, very little neurological activity is required to use it. In an experiment, rats were trained to run down a maze and turn left or right when they heard a particular sound to receive a reward. When they were first being trained, activity in the brain was very high. As they started to learn how to respond to the signals they were being given, brain activity got less, except for when they had to make a decision. Once they were fully trained, there was high brain activity at the beginning of the run and at the end, but while they were performing the habitual behavior, brain activity was significantly lower. To say when we do something habitually, we are doing it “without much thought” is a fair description of what is actually happening in the brain. Sometimes, when we do things habitually, we are barely conscious of them at all, let alone capable of breaking down the habit into the successive choices that make it up.

How The Alexander Technique Can Help You Break Your Habits

The Alexander Technique teaches how to think in activity, rather than be at the mercy of habitual "chunks" of behavior. It gives you a framework within which to observe the habits as they arise. It teaches you how to let go of the habitual behavior and how to replace it with deliberate, conscious alternatives. To find a certified Alexander Technique teacher near you, click here.

To read the article in Scientific American click here. (You will need to purchase a copy of the issue to read the full article.)

To read an interview with Ann Gaybriel, click here.

To read a technical article on the research, click 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. www.mindbodyandbeing.com[/author_info] [/author]