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Constructive, Restorative Rest

“Relaxation is too often mistaken for inertia. This is a false conception, and has given rise, in those who do not comprehend its real nature, to the habit of doing things in a semi-lifeless, easy way. Relaxation does not mean acting in a relaxed, lazy manner. It means rest after effort, perfect rest after perfect effort. It implies more than this, for it means conscious transfer of energy from one part of the being to another, with unaffected ease and grace, after an active tension of body or of brain. True relaxation means resigning the body to the law of gravity, the mind to nature, and the entire energy to deep, rhythmic breathing. Complete relaxation of voluntary muscles at once transfers energy to involuntary parts, so that, strictly speaking, there can be no conscious relaxation, except in voluntary muscles and brain. But this is quite sufficient. This transfer of energy produces the requisite equilibrium for renewing physical strength. ”

– The early feminist Genevieve Stebbins from her book Delsarte System of Expression

via Mark Jones – Thanks, Mark!

 

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Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in Los Angeles Burbank at www.alexandertechla.com

Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back

NEWS IN BRIEFHealthFitnessLifestyleISSUE 51•05Feb 6, 2015

ROCHESTER, MN—In an effort to help working individuals improve their fitness and well-being, experts at the Mayo Clinic issued a new set of health guidelines Thursday recommending that Americans stand up at their desk, leave their office, and never return. “Many Americans spend a minimum of eight hours per day sitting in an office, but we observed significant physical and mental health benefits in subjects after just one instance of standing up, walking out the door, and never coming back to their place of work again,” said researcher Claudine Sparks, who explained that those who implemented the practice in their lives reported an improvement in mood and reduced stress that lasted for the remainder of the day, and which appeared to persist even into subsequent weeks. “We encourage Americans to experiment with stretching their legs by strolling across their office and leaving all their responsibilities behind forever just one time to see how much better they feel. People tend to become more productive, motivated, and happy almost immediately. We found that you can also really get the blood flowing by pairing this activity with hurling your staff ID across the parking lot.” Sparks added that Americans could maximize positive effects by using their lunch break to walk until nothing looks familiar anymore and your old life is a distant memory.

The Shocking Truth About Ergonomic Chairs

by Adrian Farrell

http://www.alexander-technique.london/

 

Cynical click-bait headline aside, I’ll cut to the chase, they don’t work. There, I said it.

But let’s look at why that is, there are 3 main reasons:

1. You will think that it’s supposed to take responsibility for you.  This is a commonly held view, and it seems the more expensive the chair is, the more likely you will fall into this trap.  Harking back to my first ever blog, you have to remember that a chair is an inanimate object, it is incapable of “doing” anything, let alone taking responsibility for you. For sure, a good ergonomic chair will provide what we call in the Alexander Technique a “mechanical advantage”, but it wont be providing any guarantees.

2. There’s a strong chance that you will adjust it to your current conception of comfort or habitual use, i.e. to support your current levels of collapse and effectively ingraining them further.

3. This is probably the most pernicious of the three, you’ll bring your old habits to it. Even if the chair is set up perfectly to offer you the greatest mechanical advantage, the habitual way you use yourself will fight against this advantage. Have you ever felt that a well set up ergonomic chair leaves you feeling more tired than a regular chair?

 

It may seem a little unfair to single out one particular chair , but I do so partly from my personal experience and partly because it coincidently exhibits a point I’ve made a few times previously.  They’re also extremely common, certainly across the Square Mile (London’s financial district) where I worked for many years as an IT consultant for a number of investment banks.  For  me, the “Aeron” style chair fails simply because the surface on which you sit is  unstable. To repeat my mantra, “if you can stand on it, you can sit on it“, this is clearly not a surface on which you could stably stand, being a stretchy woven fabric. It’s like trying to stand on a trampoline, it provides little more support for your sit bones than a sofa.  Maybe it’s my narrow definition of what sitting is, standing on your sit bones, but I found that the Aeron strongly encourages a collapse into the back rest. That might be fine for resting/reclining, but aren’t these supposed to be work chairs? As a reminder, the roots of your arms are in your back, you don’t want to loose that support when you are typing away at your keyboard, it invariably leads to tense shoulders and potential repetitive strain injury.

For the sake of fairness I’ll mention another ergonomic chair that I’ve had plenty of experience with in the past. Kneel on chairs do encourage an alignment of the spine, but they leave you somewhat immobile, and freedom to move is an essential aspect of using yourself well. I find that after a few minutes I feel locked in place and rigid, and that always leads to tension and feels more tiring in the long run than sitting on a simple flat surface. I also found it reduced the blood flow through my legs, causing discomfort.

Although it should be obvious by now that any flat surface will suffice for standing on your bottom (yes I will keep hammering home my definition of sitting), there is actually one style of ergonomic chair that I do quite like.  Under the assumption that you are not expecting it to take responsibility for you, I find saddle chairs to be very comfortable, and ironically, it’s not a surface you can stand on easily!  It looks like there’s an exception to every rule, but the sit bones are still well supported.

When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don’t come cheap, it is far better value, and cheaper than many ergonomic chairs, to learn to how to use a simple chair, freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise.

No, what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon” – F.M. Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance.

http://www.alexander-technique.london/2015/02/03/the-shocking-truth-about-ergonomic-chairs/

Speaking at UCLA Stress Less Week

 

January 27
Tuesday – 12-1pm
Pauley Pavilion Club 

Speaker Brett Hershey,

Alexander Technique Certified Instructor

Learn to keep your backs strong, healthy and injury free through the Alexander Technique. Learn how to sit, stand and move with ease and freedom while unlearning various maladaptive physical habits.

Free Stress Bears!

http://www.recreation.ucla.edu/stressless

Holiday Gift Specials for New Students

Give The Gift of the Alexander Technique to Someone You Love or Yourself!

Printed or printable Gift Certificates available. Gift is transferrable and there’s no expiration date!

1 Lesson $65 ($15 off!)

5 Lesson Series $300 ($75 off!)

10 Lesson Series $550 ($150 off!)

8 Classes $175 ($24 off!)

 

Easy pay (friends and family) to brett@alexandertechla.com by:

 

 

Write the name of the recipient in the note and I will email you a .pdf of the gift certificate.

Or you can contact me at brett@alexandertechla.com or call 310-346-7198 for orders and questions.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

Debauchery of the Senses

 

 

by Brett Hershey

Could Your Mechanism for Evaluating Yourself be Flawed?

I had a student once who came in for a first lesson because he, in addition to experiencing back pain, was told by his wife that he had bad posture. Together, they had tried to ‘fix’ it, but to no avail.

I asked him to show me (although I could already see what was happening). He lurched up from the chair and planted his feet, sinking forward and down into his pelvis, and slumping his back down and back. To compensate, his head jutted forward.

His posture was similar to that of the woman in the left photo:

Cellphonebeforeafter

When I used my hands to encourage his fuller stature (like the photo on the right), he reported that it felt wrong. In fact, he started waiving his hands as if he were going to lose his balance, and told me that if i removed my hands he would certainly fall forward.

So I took a photo with my phone and showed it to him. As he studied the image, his hand waiving slowed, then stopped. He couldn’t believe what his eyes were telling him because he ‘felt’ so out of balance. It took him several weeks to get used to this organization, before it became normal.

My student was experiencing what F.M. Alexander called ‘Debauchery of the Senses.” It’s when the mechanism for evaluating ourselves is flawed or compromised.

As humans, we are creatures of habit and excellent at normalizing our current situation. So if we slowly collapse or begin constricting on ourselves, the brain will adjust it’s perception, so that the new habit becomes ‘normal.’

For example, this can become just how we sit, despite the heavy toll on our system:

bad-posture1

Unfortunately, while it ‘feels’ normal or natural, it may be far from how the body was designed to function. So without knowing it, we are decreasing movement quality, increasing risk of pain and injury and diminishing our charisma.

When pain does arise, we are often so lost in our habit that we don’t know what it is that we’re doing to cause it. In fact, we often think it’s not us at all. I’ll hear over and over:

“I  have a bad back.”

“My neck is killing me.”

“Golf is not good for my body.”

“I’m just getting old.”

And then we’ll do everything – from pills, to massage to braces to duck tape to tiger balm – but examine what it is we are actually doing. How are we standing? sitting? Washing dishes? Folding laundry?

That’s why I find mirrors, photos and video so useful in my practice. They show us what’s really happening, what we’re really doing to ourselves.

This can be a blow to the ego at first, that we are responsible for our misuse. But the good news is that then we can actually do something about it rather than live in the delusional and often painful debauchery of the senses.

Walking Like a Girl: Jung’s Theory of Core Wounds and the Alexander Technique

by Brett Hershey

I was recently working with a 63 year-old man in generally good shape, but complaining of stiffness and pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck. He was also experiencing hoarseness in is voice, sometimes losing it all together, which was causing him to miss work.

When I watched him walk, I noticed that he held his shoulders and torso square, preventing them from moving contra-laterally (in opposition to the legs). When I pointed this out, and encouraged him with my hands to let the torso move with each step, he couldn’t believe the difference, how much easier it was to walk. At first he smiled, delighting in the rediscovered freedom.

But then he paused and became emotional.

I asked him what he was experiencing. He answered that he was remembering when he was a teenager, when he was made fun of for “walking like a girl.” To stop the teasing, he stiffened his movement and flexed his arms and shoulders.

Here he was – 50 years later – still trying not to walk like a girl.

Jung said that at points in life we experience such “core wounds.” While the event itself is psycho-physically traumatic, our “reaction formation” to these core wounds  can also have significant (negative) ramifications in our lives. He felt that these reaction formations played a big part in our personality.

I have seen this over and over in my Alexander practice as well as experienced it myself. We form a “reaction formation” to a traumatic incident so that we never have to experience the trauma again. The boy who is beaten up, becomes a bully himself. And, we often forget the incident, but the reaction formation stays subconsciously with us, even becoming who we are.

Most character flaws in movies, like Top Gun’s Maverick (literally his call sign), are a reaction formation to a core wound (his father’s alleged dishonorable death in combat). The story is about  the protagonist overcoming his misbehavior (becoming wingman or team player), which usually includes revisiting the core wound from a fresh/safe/wise perspective.

Psychologists do the same work, tending to work inside out. As Alexander instructors, we tend to work outside in.

I find core wound stories fascinating (my first teacher Ari said we can write a lot of poetry from those places!). However, we can also become stuck in the story and not get out of it. My daughter was born three months premature. She lived in the NICU at the hospital for two months and would often forget to breathe in my arms, turn blue and have to be resuscitated. Fortunately, she is alive and healthy now at eight years-old, but that traumatic experience created an over-protective reaction formation that I still have to ‘inhibit’ at times.

Our main mission in Alexander Technique is to become conscious of the psychophysical reaction formation (usually a combination of tension and collapse), so that we can address, dissolve and no longer allow it to hold us back.

NICU         IMG_1772

By doing so, we live with less pain, greater ease and increased performance.

 

 

Alexander Technique Classes, Lessons, Workshops by Brett Hershey in Los Angeles Burbank at www.alexandertechla.com

Sitting is the New Smoking

 

You’ve probably seen articles like this one recently in the news:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 3.41.27 PM

 

There’s no doubt that, due to technology and the proliferation of the automobile, we are sitting more than ever before. Increasing number of jobs require us to be in front of a computer and commuting traffic seems to just be getting worse.

And I agree that the human body is made for movement, and therefore prolonged sitting, or immobility is deleterious to our health, as is smoking.

However, what I see missing in this analysis is HOW WE ARE SITTINGSitting is far from a uniform activity. There is a wide range of positions, postures and ways people use chairs. Or in Alexander Technique terms, there’s a wide range of ways people use themselves while sitting. Just take a look around the office, cafeteria or restaurant.

Note the photos below. There’s a big difference between how she’s sitting in the first photo and how she’s sitting in the second, or even the third.

OfficeGoodUse   OfficeKyphosis   OfficeLordosis

To extend the metaphor: there’s a lot more smoking in the second and third than in the first, where she’s balancing her head on top of her spine, and her spine on top of her sits bones.

I am a strong advocated for  taking breaks, standing (and lowering) desks, treadmill desks, nap rooms, working on a laptop in bed, walking meetings, improving diet, fitbreaks, etc. They are generally good for us.

Yet, we also need to pay attention to how we are sitting and doing all these activities.

For example, yoga sounds soothing and perfectly safe, yet I’ve worked with a yoga student who ripped her sternum because a teacher pushed her too much in class. On the other hand, Crossfit seems dangerous, yet I’ve seen some Crossfitters who have never been injured (and their use was impeccable).

So how are we supposed to sit? Before taking Alexander lessons, many of my students would catch themselves slouching or hunching as they sit. They then would lurch up into a braced military pose, which lasted about five minutes. Defeated, they then collapse back down.

So again, how are we supposed to sit? How are we supposed to do anything?

That’s what Alexander Technique lessons are for: to remind us how we are designed to sit, stand and move – in any human activity –  in accordance with our architecture, so that we’re taxing our body and mind as little as possible.

Try one ; )

 

Tai Chi Class – Burbank

 

Wednesdays 8:35a – 9:20a ($7)

R.L. Stevenson Elementary (across from East gate)

Come learn the moving meditation of Tai Chi Chuan in a relaxed, friendly, fun environment. I teach Yang style long form from the Alexander Technique perspective, emphasizing good posture and health.

The class will be ongoing. Join us anytime.

Tai Chi and the Alexander Technique

I’m often asked what types of exercise are “good” when learning Alexander Technique. It’s a little difficult to answer, because Alexander Technique is a ‘pre-technique’ that can be applied to any activity – from walking to acting to skydiving.

However, it is sometimes easier to apply the technique when we slow down movement and/or reduce stimuli. Tai Chi does both, and for this reason, I find this moving meditation a great way to ‘practice’ Alexander Technique.

While Tai Chi consists of actual fighting moves, it also teaches the building block of human movement: transferring weight from one leg to the other:

_DSC5069 copy                 Tai chi lunge2

 

This mind-body practice had also been proven to have value in treating and preventing many health problems.

Location:

507 N. California St. Burbank, CA 91505 (approximate)

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 6.01.13 PM

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

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

IMG_8889

And This One?

IMG_8903

And This One?

 IMG_8882

And These?

    IMG_8873     IMG_8869     IMG_8907

Some things are so clear in hindsight. Yet, from the inside or when you’re going through it, it’s hard to see. When I had debilitating back pain in my mid-20s, I didn’t know why.

My Alexander Teacher said that most of us are born with good posture, but acquire negative postural habits, starting in elementary school, but especially around junior high high school.

I scratched my head, trying to figure out what my ‘habits’ were that were causing me so much discomfort, pain, decreased movement quality. I had some injuries, but I worked out, ate fairly well, thought I took care of myself.

And then, not long after, I was going through some photo albums, including the above images. And the proverbial lightbulb went off: in photo after photo, starting in high school, I was standing on my left leg. And often not just standing, but collapsing down into it.

For whatever reason, this is how I stood most of the day, 7 days a week for years.

Aware of the habit, I was able to start changing it, which took some vigilance and felt disconcerting; that pose was my go to position. I felt that I was “cool” standing like that. Did I pick it up from guys in movies or print ads? Older ‘cool’ guys in school? Not sure, but it did some serious damage to my back.

Here I am in junior high, before the habit:

IMG_8914

15 years later and even after becoming an Alexander teacher, I can still feel the echo of this collapse that runs from the left side of my face down to my left toes. Habits are strong, but the sooner we become aware of them, the sooner we can start to dissolve them and return to how were designed

I just wish I had found the Alexander Technique earlier and avoided a decade or two of bad posture.

 

Lumo Lift: Could it put Alexander Technique Instructors out of Business?

By Brett Hershey

Photos by Stephane Hamel, Letanguerrant photography

A friend sent me a link to Lumo Lift, the update to the posture correction system Lumo Back, that now can be worn like a lapel pin. It also connects to your phone and tracks exercise, movement, steps, etc.

At first I was a bit startled, since I’ve been contemplating an App for the Alexander Technique and this seems to be close to my vision. I was also impressed with the Kickstarter beginnings and appealing marketing campaign.

Furthermore, it claimed to do what many of my students have half-jokingly asked of me: follow them around all day and correct their posture. How? It vibrates when you slouch.

I then had a twinge of fear, wondering if Lumo Lift could be the Steam Engine to us John Henry Alexander instructors.  Gulp, will we be replaced by a high-tech lapel pin?

 

sensors-withclasps

 

But upon further thought, I realized the limits of  Lumo Lift. It may remind us when we are slouching, but it doesn’t tell us how we are slouching or how not to slouch. And what if we’re not slouching but over-tensing?

Most students that come to me know they are slouching, say, in front of their computers. They then try to hold themselves up like in an exaggerated military line-up, using excess tension, often over-arching the back, which would clearly satisfy the Lumo Lift. This usually lasts  30 seconds to 5 minutes before they tire and collapse back into the slouch.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for my colleagues and me), the Lumo lift reminds us when we slouch, but what does it do for the holding/over-tensing ourselves up? 

Despite being born with the ability to elongate the spine along the curves and balance the head on top of it, most of us have forgotten how this happens. And so we are left with two undesirable choices: collapsing down or rigidly hold ourselves up.

Slouch                             Perch

 

As Alexander Technique instructors, our specialty is showing people how they are actually, specifically, habitually interfering (i.e. slouching, over-tensing, or a combination of both) with their natural good use, and how they can actually, specifically return to it.

Balance

So maybe some day they’ll be a device or an App to replace what it is we do so well, but in the meantime, the Lumo Lift can certainly be a good reminder apply the Alexander Technique to refresh our directions, but far from a substitute.

There’s nothing like the real thing.

 

The Matrix of Back Pain

MatrixBackPain

by Brett Hershey

Recent photos by Stephane Hamel, Letanguerrant photography

 

I was an all-state lacrosse player in high school. An all-American squash player in college. I won my age group in several triathlons.

Yet, I remember knowing something was wrong with my body, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I could sense the imbalance in my back, unequal weight distribution in my legs. I felt better in motion, yet was uncomfortable sitting or standing for moderate amounts of time. I would fidget, shifting around in attempt to find a better position to hold my body.

I felt like Neo in the Matrix. Everything appeared fine, but I lived with this deep, nagging sense that something was off.

I lived with this growing unease in my body, until I  ‘pulled’ or ‘sprained’ my back several times. These sudden, painful episodes were debilitating. I would have to lie in bed for half a day and then move gingerly for a few days after. The acute pain would go away, but the increased tension and fear didn’t.

Here’s a painful look back:

Brettolduse     Brettolduse2

A friend told me “You just need to relax.” I certainly wanted to, but I didn’t how to do that. I tried massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, etc. which provided short-term relief, but the discomfort and pain would return within days, if not hours.  As my suffering  increased, finding a cure became a quest.

When I met my first Alexander Technique instructor (Ari Gil) in San Diego, it was like Neo facing the choice between taking the blue pill or red pill. The blue pill was continuing with treating symptoms , thus remaining in the “illusion of ignorance.” While starting the Alexander Technique journey was facing the “truth of reality.”

I found it challenging and humbling, because it elucidated all my negative habitual ways of not only standing and moving, but also of thinking and essentially ‘being.’ I felt like I was basically failing as a human being (I couldn’t  stand for 5 mins or take a 2 hour car trip, etc. without major suffering). Alexander Technique was like the owner’s manual for the human body and mind that I should have read growing up. At 26, I had to undo fifteen to twenty years of bad, mostly subconscious, habits. I was embarking on a long process.

Furthermore, Ari pointed out that it was largely my fault. He asked why I had come to see him and I said that my back was killing me. He said, “I bet your back isn’t killing you, but rather, that you are killing your back.” It was like hitting your thumb with a hammer with no one around to scapegoat.

And I was a slow learner. I didn’t ‘get it’ right away. Fortunately, however, I experienced instant relief during Ari’s “table work” as well as when I learned how to do Constructive Rest on my own. Able to actually do something about it, the anxiety of my back pain began to subside.

As the lessons continued, I learned how to take the relaxation, or good use of myself that I experienced in the table turn, recreate it in my own constructive rest, and then apply it to increasingly complicated human activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, sports, dance, etc.

I should note that it’s impossible to condense the hands-on Alexander experience into a few written words, but there were basically 4 steps:

1) Body Mapping – understanding how the body is designed to function by learning where the joints were actually located in the body, how they worked and required good relationship between the parts, especially that the head needs to be released off the top of the spine.  I was shocked at how many misconceptions I had!

2) Awareness 0f how I was habitually misusing myself, or ostensibly by not using the joints  as designed, as well as where I was carrying excess tension and collapse. This is how the body is designed to work; this is how you are using it. See why you are in so much pain?

3) Inhibition – Either stopping the activity that was causing the misuse, or if possible, stopping/diminishing the misuses as I was doing an activity. In the latter’s case, Ari’s hands would follow me and often  prevent me from misusing myself.

4) Direction – I would then think of  how I wanted to organize my body, and from where I wanted to move (the joints). Again, Ari’s hands would gently show me this organization. We would then attempt the activity again, carrying in this new organization.

Although there wasn’t one epic epiphany like Neo had in the Wachawski Brothers’ blockbuster, I was able to increasingly see the matrix of my back pain through a series of a-ha moments, at first facilitated by Ari and other teachers, and then more and more on my own . After six months of study, I knew how to ‘cure’ my back pain; it was only a question of vigilance and time to shine the light of Alexander Technique on my psychophysical habits.

I thought I would only take lessons until my back pain subsided. Yet, once it did, I continued lessons with Ari as I became fascinated with how Alexander Technique not only decreased discomfort, pain, suffering, but It increased movement or performance quality of any human activity, from brushing teeth to portraying Richard III. The more I dissolved the excess tension and sure-up collapse, the better I moved. I  In other words, life became easier.

Some recent pics:

_DSC5090    IMG_2502

I embarked on becoming a teacher so that I could go deeper and deeper into F.M. Alexander’s incredible discoveries. At first it was narcissistic, but when I saw the same transformative effect on others, I knew I had found my calling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         _DSC5331

Alexander Technique is by no means a quick fix. It’s a journey that requires vigilance of self-inquiry. Yet, when we begin to understand the matrix of how we function, a new way of pain-free, exquisite movement opens that was once unavailable.

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.

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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.

 

 

The Alexander Technique Lives On

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by Betsy Polatin
Movement and Breathing Specialist

Posted: 

 

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Over the years, health and wellness trends have come and gone. People are always eager to try the latest exercise regime or find the quickest way to lose weight, but most methods rarely last long. In a sea of fleeting health fads, let’s look at one approach to finding lasting health and overall wellness: the Alexander technique.

The Alexander technique is a practical method for self-improvement through mind/body reeducation. It is studied by Hollywood A-listers, musicians, athletes, and many people seeking to relieve pain or improve general well-being.

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Your Body Gets Better with Age

TaiChi

 

I grew up thinking that our body peaks around 20-25 years old, and then starts a steady, if not rapid, decline. Our joints hurt, we lose strength, our backs just ‘go out’, etc.

“Getting old is hell,” one senior relative told me.

When my back pain started in my mid-20s, and then became excruciating, I thought he was right and mine was just starting early. Fortunately, I found the Alexander Technique (AT).

I remember relaying this belief to my first AT teacher, who told me that he could do more at fifty then he could at twenty. I of course didn’t believe him, but after experiencing my back pain subside over several months, I began to open my mind.

Several years later, I was able to resume the activities such as athletics and dance that I had stopped. At first, it was incredible to just be able to perform the activities without pain. But then I was blown away about how AT greatly improved the quality of what I was doing, accelerated my progress and elevated my enjoyment.

Now, at forty-two, Alexander has become a way of life and improving my use has become inevitable.

I’m not saying that the body is immune from injuries, sickness or deteriorate in some ways. But once we learn how our body is designed and how it works, we can improve our ‘use’ of it everyday. Every activity (and many are repetitive) becomes an opportunity to increase our agility, flexibility and strength.

I see so many people who are suffering, not because they are getting older, but because they have forgotten how to use their bodies, themselves. It’s not their fault; no one was handed an owner’s manual. Yet, that’s what I often see AT as, an owner’s manual. It’s not something superimposed on the body; it’s a way to dust off the exquisite operating system that we were born with and used joyfully as kids.

Case in point: I remember dreading the 2 hour trip between Los Angeles and San Diego that I had to make once a week in my 20s. This week, I returned from a 20 hour trip to Argentina (with our two kids, no less) and I felt fine. In fact, I taught two hours after arriving at LAX.

Recently, I spoke with my first teacher, who is now in his early 60s, on the phone. He excitedly told me that he had discovered so many new things since we had last seen each other 10 years ago. He was eager to share with what he had uncovered and how he was using that in his practice.

Now that’s something to look forward to!

 

You Need More than Core Strength

“I really need to strengthen my core.”

 

For years I’ve been hearing about the concept of Core Strength. Whether it’s at a dinner or party or from a perspective Alexander student, they talk about how important core strength is. They associate core strength with health, good posture or, as we say in the Alexander world, ‘good use.’

 

There is some truth to their claim. There are muscles lining the spine that allow us to, for one, balance on two legs rather than four. And if these are inactive, they atrophy and are not available when we need them.

 

But these muscles can be difficult to access. They activate best when we are balancing ourselves, specifically, balancing our head on top of our spine, like a top hat on the tip of a cane in the palm of our hand. These are best accessed by good form or – I believe we’ve aptly named it – good use. Unfortunately, we often rely on large, external muscles groups, which are ill-suited to the task.

 

There’s a growing list of training techniques claiming to ‘strengthen the core.’ Pilates is one. I have taken dozens of Pilates classes and thoroughly benefited from and enjoyed them. If taught well, they can be a great ivory tower to work on strengthening the body with good form. But it is the form that is more important than the muscles. The muscles will follow suit.

 

The challenge is what happens when we leave the ivory tower. We could do 1000 core strengthening exercises and then pick up our purse or check our cell phone like this:
photo Stephane Hamel                Letanguerrant photography

photo Stephane Hamel
Letanguerrant photography

When what we really need is to learn to do it like this:

photo Stephane Hamel                Letanguerrant photography

photo Stephane Hamel
Letanguerrant photography

If we learn to do that (well coordinate the whole system as it’s designed), the core will strengthen, perfectly as required, every time we pick up our phone or do any other human activity.
What’s paramount is HOW we do things or ‘use’ ourselves.

I should also mention that there can be some pitfalls to these core strengthening exercises if done improperly. If we associate good use with holding, clenching, or over-tensing muscles to stand or perform other human activities, we are interfering with our design and this can cause problems.

Just look at how kids move: they don’t suck in their abdomen or tuck their pelvis to stand up or do anything. And neither do we have to as adults. This excess force not only wastes energy and strains the musculature system, but it constricts our breathing and internal organs. Plus, we often tire after a while from this effort (it can be exhausting), and then collapse the whole system.

What we can do instead is balance the skull on top of the spine. If the head is in good relationship to the neck as we do any activity, that is all the core strength one needs.