Alexander Technique: Unfinished Sculpturing

by Brett Hershey

Along the hall of the Academia in Florence leading to the famous “David,” there are six  “Slaves” that Michelangelo left behind unfinished. While the perfection of the “David” is breathtaking, I drifted back to the imperfection of the “Slaves.”

accademia

The figures are half-free, half-trapped in their giant slabs of marble. Apparently, the project lost funding (long before Kickstarter!) and was abandoned by Michaelangelo. Captured in their struggle, they offer a clear, existential metaphor.

A metaphor to which new, as well as life-long students of the Alexander Technique, can relate. Alexander Technique releases us from our habits of excess tension and collapse, freeing us from the stone, as it were. It allows a renewed ease, poise and coordination. Especially in the hands of skilled instructor, one can experience wonderful, even addictive, moments of blissful release.

slave11

However, it also can make us painfully aware of the parts of ourselves that are not yet free, or that have slipped back into the rock. Instead of the exquisite sensation of liberation, we are now (maybe for the first time) conscious of our excess tension and collapse, which can feel awful, hellish, even existentially damning.

This is, of course, the human predicament: caught between the harsh dualities of this incarnation. And as a wise teacher once said, we are either freeing ourselves into life or retreating back to our prison.

Most of us our born free, and there are some who manage to stay free. But it’s a tough planet and most of us tend to succumb to the encroaching stone. We can try to ignore or numb the pain, but often these measure don’t last. The suffering gets louder, or to carry the metaphor, harder.

It’s disheartening to find our bodies poorly organized, entrenched in tension and collapse. Despair, even panic can set in when we are unable to do anything about it. Fortunately, F.M. Alexander discovered a way out, that works, time and time again. His technique, like an owner’s manual, shows how to carve ourselves from the stone.

the journey’s rigor depends on the strength of the habits, the will and creativity of the individual as well as the quality of the guides available. It’s not always easy, but I know of nothing so effective at improving the use of ourselves.

Michaelangelo

Golf & the Alexander Technique

by Golfdashblog.com

Can the Alexander technique vastly improve your golf by helping you to “do-less” by freeing yourself of tension and non-productive movement patterns your golf swing?1 These are a few things we’ll be exploring in the article below.
So what exactly is the Alexander Technique? The Alexander Technique is a 100 year-old method founded by F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), for understanding how to use your body and mind. It is not an exercise program. It’s a unique way of thinking and challenging the habitual ways you use your body.

The main premise is that…

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The Fictitious, Pernicious Waist Joint

HumanSpinejpg  by Brett Hershey

Was it a fashion designer? A physical therapist with cataracts? Or perhaps an imprecise nebulist who uttered the expression “Bend at the waist” for the first time?

Whomever the culprit, his command seeped into the collective (sub)consciousness and made many a back unhappy. The problem is that – and peruse the image above-  there is no joint in the ‘waist’ area.  In fact, there are no joints anywhere between the atlantic-occipital joint (just inside the head, about at you ears) and your sacrum/pelvis. It’s a fluid continuum of vertebrae that are designed to curve, undulate, spiral, but NOT significantly bend nor fold.

Many of us have it in our brain’s body map that the pelvis is separate from the back. We pick up things – from  cell phones to couches – by folding at the fictitious waist joint. The spine will reluctantly obey the order, but we are asking it to do something it’s not made to do.

Check out the definition of “waist” below. I was pleasantly surprised to find its  root is from a word that ostensibly means “where the body grows.”  Much more helpful to think of it as an area that we elongate rather than a place we fold: 

Waist (n.) Look up waist at Dictionary.comlate 14c., “middle part of the body,” also “part of a garment fitted for the waist, portion of a garment that covers the waist” (but, due to fashion styles, often above or below it), probably from Old English *wæst “growth,” hence, “where the body grows.”

Note in the diagram below that the waist and  pelvis are very much a part of our back. You can see that we are clearly designed to fold under the pelvis at the hip joints:

 

HipJoints

 

So let the major bending  and folding take place in the real  joints rather than the back. That is how we are designed. If you do so, can greatly decrease discomfort or injury, as well as greatly increasing movement quality. Leave the waist for the fashion designers.

Are you a Martyr or a Magician?

 

Massagebaduse

by Brett Hershey

So often we hurt ourselves either trying to help others or to ‘get things done.’ This is the Martyr archetype, in which we cast aside care for ourselves to help others or achieve our own goals.

Of course, there are those  situations where this is unavoidable, such as pushing a child out of the way of a speeding car or donating a kidney. These are rare. Most of the time, we could actually get things done, help others AND take care of ourselves.

I would venture to say that we can not only take care of ourselves, but even grow STRONGER. This is the Magician archetype. Growing more powerful as we help ourselves and others.

Perhaps it sounds narcissistic, but why should we constrict or collapse ourselves as we complete our tasks throughout the day? Why should our bodies hurt after cleaning the house or writing a report? Often times we (myself included) get so caught up or fixated in what we are doing, that we fail to see how we are using ourselves.

As an Alexander Instructor, I’ve got to first pay attention to my use. This is for my welfare, but it’s also the primary energy I am transmitting to my students. Have you ever had someone give you a shoulder massage, but instead of feeling it good, it’s uncomfortable? It’s probably because they are carrying a good amount of tension/collapse and they are transmitting that to you.

_DSC5230                  _DSC5139

 

And while it’s especially clear in my profession, the same is  true for yours. As Buddha said, we all have our 10,000 things to do and those tasks effect the people around us. I am continually astounded by what happens when my students examine how they are doing things  and improve their ‘psychophysical use’ (posture).

There’s a cost to what F.M Alexander called ‘endgaining’. I’ve worked with a number of massage therapists, like the one above, who damage their backs while trying to relax others. “It’s just a hazard of the trade”,  I’ve heard. This is not true, because I’ve seen massage therapists with some amazing use; and they feel better after giving a massage then when they started.

A helpful parable here is the Tortoise and the Hare: if we rush through and fixate on the end, we often burn ourselves out.  So instead, let’s take a little time to focus on how we are doing our tasks (Alexander call it ‘the means whereby’); it could mean a big archetypical shift from martyr to magician.

 

 

Fitness And Exercise For Musicians: Choose Wisely

by Bill Plake

As someone who not only practices music daily, but also, engages in physical fitness activities on a regular basis, I firmly believe that your fitness has an impact upon your music making.

It’s not as if you can’t play well if you’re not physically fit (lots of very unfit virtuosi out there). It’s just that you might do better if you stay fit.

Regular exercise not only helps improve your vital bodily functions (circulation, breathing, digestion, sleep), but also, has a measurable impact on your mental faculties. Exercising regularly improves your mood, your memory, learning and processing information…your overall mental acuity.

In my experience as a teacher, I find that students who are physically fit tend to have better concentration, efficiency and endurance in their musical practice as well (again, there are exceptions to this observation).

Yet it is with a note of caution that I recommend a physical fitness regimen to musicians. Here’s why:

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Musician: Is Your Audience Judgmental? Are You?

Love audience love self

 

Today’s blogpost offers an answer to another great question brought up by a respondent to my recent survey for creative and performing artists.

Q:  When I perform, I often sense that others are judging me and finding me inadequate; and I am also judging and finding myself inadequate.  How might I get over myself and make it more about other people?

A: I appreciate this question very much.  It reminds me about how grateful I am for having the experience of being an Alexander Technique teacher.  Let me explain by first giving you a bit of personal background, as I gradually answer this question.

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Power: Are You Giving It Way?

I’ve had a number of directors send me actors whom they wanted to use for a powerful role – such as president, king, queen or other dominating character – but the actor seemed too weak or diminished. He or she couldn’t project power.

How do we know if a person’s powerful or not?

Subconsciously, we know immediately. Like animals, we are highly perceptive motion detectors. In a blink of an eye we can evaluate another person’s power. This happens in all our daily interactions, but it’s especially poignant in auditioning and performing. Casting directors are constantly evaluating movement quality or body ‘music.’

What exactly is power and how do we increase it?

Some might prescribe a trip to the gym, which could help, but true power is not derived from having or flexing big muscles. True power is generated by exquisite coordination of one self – mainly, having an excellent relationship between head and spine, and moving from this central organizing principle.

Contrarily, If we collapse on or constrict ourselves, we give up our power. We literally impede our ability to do things. Our charisma diminishes as well.

Note the power difference of the same actor:

If we want to play a weak character, this can be an effective choice. Note the actors below and how the power switches between them in the two photos:

We can also lose our power or create weakness for comedic effect:

photo Stephane Hamel                Letanguerrant photography

photo Stephane Hamel
Letanguerrant photography

Often times, especially when auditioning, we’re not aware of what we are doing, how we are using ourselves, and therefore, how we are coming across. We get lost in anxious thoughts or the side rather than staying present and we greatly diffuse our power:

photo Stephane Hamel                Letanguerrant photography

photo Stephane Hamel
Letanguerrant photography

Notice the difference when come back to ourselves, our stature and the present moment:

photo Stephane Hamel                Letanguerrant photography

photo Stephane Hamel
Letanguerrant photography

So don’t constrict and collapse your power away. Cultivate it!