Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to Find Balance with the Alexander Technique - Part II

There are times when I sit at the computer and my neck hurts.  As an Alexander teacher, I have the knowledge and the skills to bring myself out of pain if I choose to.  Yet, for some strange reason, I don't always choose to do that.  Why not?  Why would I prefer to remain in pain while I engage in an activity?  Why do I continue to do something that I know is hurting me in some way?  What am I getting out of it?  There must be some perceived benefit to me that motivates me more than being free of pain.  Very odd, isn't it?  I'd like to explore this further.

I think we all have a similar experience from time to time (and sometimes, most of the time!), of continuing to engage in an activity even though it causes us pain. What is the common denominator, from person to person, experience to experience?  Why do we do it, even when deep inside, we know it would be best to stop or change course somehow?  Why do we not listen to that "little voice" inside?

I think that when I am in a situation like the one I described above, I am trying to "get" something, maybe some sense of pleasure, from outside of myself--even if the specific act is also one of trying to "give" something to the world (or a specific person) outside of myself.  When we're focused on the outside, it doesn't really make a difference whether we're trying to "give" or "get"...the point is that we're still focused on the outside.  When this causes pain, it's because our focus on the outside is being given priority over what is on the inside, and the delicate balance between inside-outside / me-world has been disturbed.  We are thrown off-balance, and we experience pain.  Something in us believes that what we can get from the outside will be better or more important somehow than what we can give ourselves and get on the inside.  In a sense, we abandon ourselves to a faulty belief and don't trust the voice inside that wants to deliver us from pain and suffering.

The inward dimension has priority over the outward.

It is moments of unbalance and delusion like this which remind me of something F.M. Alexander said: "Pain is your friend."  Pain is a friendly voice inside of me, poking me (sometimes not so gently!), telling me I'm off-balance.  It's a little red flag warning me to stop going in the same direction, reminding me instead to re-assess where I am, what I really want and where I want to be, and to re-direct myself into better balance and ultimately greater peace and happiness.  If I would only go inside and listen to this friendly voice and all it has to say, with my whole being--all my attention, then I would be able to find a way to give myself a pain-free experience while also giving something even better to the outside.

That means stopping to pay more attention to "giving" to myself (and therefore "getting" from myself) from the inside instead of "getting" something from the outside.  When I "give" to myself from the inside, I also "get" what I need most--after all, who else but me knows exactly what I really want and need?

Of course, we can also be thrown off-balance by over-focusing on the inward and forgetting about the outward:  I think it is impossible to find true balance without a deep inner awareness of ourselves in relation to an awareness of the "other" which is outside of us.

I'd love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on continuing to engage in an activity even though you know it is hurting you somehow.  What does this mean to you?

* photo by digitalart,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How to Find Balance with the Alexander Technique - Part I

When we feel unbalanced--either mentally or physically or both--it is because we are unconsciously pulling ourselves off-center.  We do this by over-focusing on one or more spatial directions to the exclusion of others.  Our body follows our awareness, and our intention directs our awareness.

For example, if we are concentrating our focus outside of ourselves on work at the computer in front of us, oblivious of the region within our bodies and the space behind, above, below, and to the sides, we will start to lean forward towards the machine, throwing ourselves off-balance in our chairs, and our heads/necks/bodies will become filled with tension.  Or, if we are aware of pain in our heart, unaware of the space around the heart in the rest of the body, and of the space outside the body, we will tend to contract/ collapse inwards towards the heart-region, causing more pain.

What we need to do to regain balance is to first find the WILL to regain balance, then notice where our focus is, stop letting parts of ourselves get pushed or pulled in one direction to the exclusion of the other directions, and open up our minds and bodies to keeping all directions in balanced awareness together.  Here are four simple steps for regaining equilibrium when you feel off-balance:

1. Can you be curious about your current state?  Ask yourself:  Am I happy and content here, in this un-balanced state?  Do I want to stay in this state? Or can I find the will to bring myself back into better balance, knowing that a more balanced state will make me happier?  

2. Notice what spatial direction you're going in, right NOW.  Where is your attention?  What are you focusing on?  Gather information.  Are all directions equally balanced, or is one direction--or several directions--emphasized more than the others?  If you're not sure what direction you're going in, take a moment to pay attention and wait for awareness to come to you.  Take your time.

Are you aware of the outward dimension? Are you aware of the space around you? Are you aware of the sky above you? The ground below you? The space in front of you? The space behind you? The space to each side?
Are you aware of the inward dimension? Are you aware of the inside of you? Are you aware of your head? heart? belly? feet? neck?

3. Remember that you have free will, and therefore you can choose to use it for your benefit. You are free to choose your thoughts and where to put your awareness.  You are free to open up the field of your attention to include more parts of space.  You are free to stop pulling parts of yourself in directions which throw you off-balance. You have a choice: you can either continue to go in the same direction you were headed in a moment ago, or you could stop.
Give yourself time to consider...think it through.  What do you really want?  In which direction(s) do you really want to go?  Would you really like to find a state of balance right here, now?

4. Choose to stop limiting your focus.  Choose to expand your awareness to include all directions, finding a lively state of equilibrium between the inward and the outward.  Are you now in a happier or more peaceful state than when you started?  Now, you can choose to continue with this practice or go on to doing something else.  If you choose to go do something else, you could first find the will to remember to practice this again next time you feel off-balance.

The easiest (and most enjoyable!) way to learn how to practice these steps most effectively is to take Alexander Technique lessons from a certified Alexander Technique teacher.
To find a teacher near you in the USA, click here: American Society for the Alexander Technique.

I'm curious about your experience with this article.
As you read through this article, did you become more aware of where your focus was directed?  Did you become more aware of other spatial directions?  
Did it help you feel a bit more balanced?
I'd love to hear about your experience with these ideas if you try them out!

*man at computer photo by David Castillo Dominici's portfolio is:
*man balancing photo by chanpipat,

Friday, April 20, 2012

When in Doubt, When in Fear

When in doubt,
when in fear,
when in confusion,
when in panic,
when all you want to do
is DO something
to fix it and make it better
and make the pain go away...
















*photo by John Kasawa,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What is the Alexander Technique?

My best definition of the day:

The Alexander Technique is a way to stop and re-direct for healing, joy, and success.

I think we all know, deep down, that we are doing something "wrong" which is keeping us from healing our pain (physical or otherwise), feeling joy, and being as successful as we could be in life. 

If we know that we're doing something wrong (whatever that is--even if we don't know exactly what, and even if it is many things), we know that we need to stop doing it.

If we are willing to stop doing whatever is getting in the way of our healing, joy, and success, then we can choose to stop and re-direct ourselves in a better way (even if we don't fully know what that means).

It is quite impossible for healing, joy, and success to continue to elude us as long as we remember these things and put them into practice!

An Alexander Technique teacher is aware that this process works, and practices it on a daily basis.  A teacher can help you learn to do this for yourself and support you along the way.  A teacher helps you learn about yourself, your habits, what you might be doing that's getting in your way; and then help you stop, find a better direction, and aim yourself towards realizing your goals...

Healing, Joy, and Success!

Click here to find F.M. Alexander's book, The Use of The Self, at
The Use of the Self

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alexander Technique and the Relief of Suffering, Part II

Here's an example of a way of thinking that applies the Alexander Technique to the experience of suffering.  This process may be learned more easily with an Alexander teacher, but ultimately our best teacher is the one inside each and every one of us (after all, F.M. Alexander never had a teacher; all he had was himself and a mirror!).  Alexander lessons can help us get in touch with our "Inner Teacher".

The process consists of simply:
- Noticing what is
- Taking time
- Allowing what is
- Being aware of our inherent freedom
- Choosing what we want, where we want to be
- Stopping
- Aiming

I am tight, twisted, contorted
I am aiming myself inwards, downwards
Tightening, stiffening
I feel pain...grief...I don't like this!
I feel awful, miserable...everything hurts...
my neck is tight...

What is my Goal?
I want..........
What do I REALLY want?

Giving myself time...
Letting myself feel whatever I am feeling right now...
Allowing myself to move and be moved...
Witnessing, observing, noticing what is moving within me...

I want to find joy and happiness again...
freedom from suffering...
relief from pain...
joy, lightness, ease...

I have time...

I have free will...
I am free to feel
free to move
free to be how I am right now
free to want what I want
free to think what I think
free to experience this present moment, just as it is
free to experience who I am, right now
free to feel terrible, miserable
free to feel fear, desperation, panic, grief, depression...

I am free to stop thinking in a way that pulls me down
I am stopping

I am free to choose what direction to go in
I am free to aim, to wish, to desire what is best for me
I am free to not-know
I am free to not-do
I am free to wonder, free to get curious...

I am free
my mind-body-self is free to be just as it is
I am free to be mySelf
I am free to stop getting in the way of my true nature

I know that my True Nature is Freedom
no matter how I feel, I know this is true

I want to go up, be up, aim up
I know where I am, and I know where I want to go
I know where the ground is beneath my feet
I know where the sky is above my head

the neck is free
I am aware of the forward space
I am aware of where the sky is
I am aware of forward and up

the neck is free
the head remembers forward and up
the whole self lengthens, widens, expands

One with everything, inside and out

Becoming Me...
This is Me

One simple thought:
Always remember where the sky is!

The Alexander Technique and Relief of Suffering, Part I

The Alexander Technique (AT) is a method which helps relieve mental stress and physical tension,  eliciting a relaxation response.  This can have dramatic effects on a person's perceived pain and general well-being, regardless of age, circumstance, or ability.  Through the AT practitioner’s gently guiding words and subtle touch, the recipient of AT care is brought into contact with an innate ability to overcome the fight-flight response (which begins as the startle response), thereby moving the individual from a state of physiological arousal into a greater sense of safety created by an autonomic nervous system that is functioning more normally.

This inner shift in psychophysical attitude can have potentially huge positive effects on mood and general outlook (often experienced gradually), as well as deliver many physical benefits for those who are suffering. Some potential benefits include: improved heart rate and blood pressure, better digestive functioning, more blood flow to the extremities, improved sleep, improved respiration, and reduced pain. The expert care offered by an AT practitioner can serve to introduce an invaluable ray of hope during a highly stressful and challenging time, delivering improved comfort and quality of life, along with a greater sense of personal control, self-worth, and well-being.

The Alexander Technique is not a manipulative therapy like massage or chiropractic, but offers a reassuring presence, through words and/or touch, that very softly guides the individual to let go of places of chronically held tension.  When touch is used, it is very gentle, yet appropriately firm, helping a person to feel safe and to trust that they are securely supported in every way, so that it becomes easier to let go into the experience of the present moment, with acceptance.

In my practice of AT, I do my best to offer a simple, compassionate, and loving presence that aims to remove as much self-induced internal psychophysical pressure as possible.  I stay grounded, centered, and accepting of the student’s personal experience of suffering, serving as a reminder that he can stay connected and in loving relationship with the world and people around him, experiencing greater ease despite his current condition of illness or grief.  My personal wish is to offer a real heart-to-heart connection, often silent, which aids in uplifting and healing the whole person from the inside out. 

*photo by Ambro;

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Wisdom of Rumi

“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing
and right doing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about."
― Rumi

open the eyes of the heart
see not the many, but the One

See the goodness
in each blade of grass
how green!

Each of us separate
in shape and form
yet how alike we are!

Just for a moment...
(and how long is that?)

...Let us not speak of the world of separation
but touch That which speaks
from within


"All truly wise thoughts have been thought already, thousands of times; but to truly make them ours, we must think them over again, honestly, till they take root in our personal experience." - Johann Geothe


F.M. Alexander said, "Anyone can do what I did, IF they will do what I did."

*photo by nuttakit

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Heaven and Hell: Practical Concepts with Alexander Technique Directions

Every traditional religious or spiritual practice that I am aware of (including Buddhism) makes use of the general concepts of Heaven and Hell, or something similar.  This includes a sense that a better place is up above us and a worse place is down below us.

In a more superficial, exoteric sense, Heaven and Hell are considered to be physical places "up above" and "down below" us in space.  In a deeper and more esoteric sense, these concepts are considered states relative to and part of the human experience, as in "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you", or "If there is a Heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here".  No matter the perspective or context, these words convey a sense of spatial life direction.

My intention here is not at all to argue for or against a particular belief (or non-belief) in Heaven or Hell.  My intention is simply to point out that these concepts have the potential to be very useful to our everyday lives when understood and applied in a way that (1) includes a physical/spatial conception of the words; and (2) expands to include a psychophysical awareness of the Alexander Technique directions of "up" and "down", in relation to gravity and the physical body on earth.  Thinking of Heaven-Up/Hell-Down in this way can actually be an immensely practical and helpful tool, if a person wants to and realizes how to make the most of the ideas.

Keeping it simple:

To begin with, the AT ideas of "Up" and "Down" could be considered synonyms for "Heaven" and "Hell" in a physical sense.  Then, if we add in the emotional connotations of the words "Up" and "Down" ("I'm feeling really up/happy today..." or "Boy, she's really down/unhappy today"...), we may come a bit closer to a fuller understanding of the words "Heaven" and "Hell".

- We all want to go "up", because we know this is a happy, light, positive direction, tending towards a "heavenly", "enlightened", lively place or state
- We don't want to fall "down", because we know that will make us less happy and we might get hurt (we might even literally hit the ground if we fall too fast in an uncoordinated way!); when we're down, we're heavy and unhappy; when we're very depressed, we feel like we're "in a living hell"; we lack energy, and we are tending towards death and lack of movement
- To go in an upwards direction, we first need to want/wish/desire to go up, and therefore we must make "lighten up" while making the effort to keep Up/Heaven in our mind-body awareness at all times
- We need to resist/oppose the downward pull of gravity, the habit of mindless forgetting of our Goal/Up/Heaven which pulls us down

Two practical choices:

1. NO: We can say "no" to whatever tends to pull us downwards/"hellwards"; we can refuse to fall into the temptation of living habitually/mindlessly; we can stop forgetting Up/Heaven; with our thinking, we can strongly resist and oppose the ground beneath our feet

2. YES: We can continually aim/orient our body-mind in a positive direction, saying "yes" to an Upwards/Heavenwards direction, by remembering that this is our ultimate goal and deepest desire, leading to steady and sustainable happiness

The Hindu God Shiva conquers the demon that lies underfoot, 
dancing ecstatically while aiming up and out, hair flying!

*print by JWT Shanghai, "Samsonite Heaven and Hell"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Should I Eat the Cookie or Not?

On the way home from teaching today, I listened to a talk given by the American-born spiritual teacher Adyashanti (, which ended with two simple suggestions:

     1. Be willing to get very very quiet within, in order to listen to the truth in the heart;
     2. Then, do it.

To me, these are just different words for Alexander's concepts of "Inhibition" and "Direction":

     1. Stop doing; stop the habitual noise, the inner chatter, the mindless habit of unconsciousness;
     2. Allow direction into movement to occur.

When the talk was over, I sat in the car for a moment and thought about how simple these ideas are.  Wouldn't it be nice if I could practice this all the time?  Wouldn't my life be much simpler, easier, more truthful, authentic, and peaceful, if I could just stay quiet, inhibit, and direct myself with my whole being, all the time?  Wouldn't I ultimately be much happier if I could stay conscious in this way from moment to moment?

Next, I entered the house, put away my paraphernalia from the day, went into the kitchen, and was immediately struck by the idea of eating a chocolate-chip cookie. 

"Oh, drat!" Do I really have to put this into practice NOW?!  Can't I just go ahead, relax, and eat the darned cookie without having to think about it?  I'm tired!  It's been a long day! It would be so nice...  so sweet...  I worked well today, don't I deserve something delicious, something pleasurable?  Do I really HAVE to think about this now?!?!  (I started feeling just a wee bit sorry for myself, annoyed, frustrated...)

Hmm...  With Adyashanti's words and my own AT teaching from the day still reverberating in my being, I stopped and stood in the middle of the kitchen.  Instead of "doing the usual" and instantly gratifying my desire to ingest the cookie's comforting sweetness, I remembered my freedom, and decided to try things out for myself, thinking:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Who do I write for? Who is writing?

As I consider the question proposed by my AT colleague/friend, Franis AEngel (see her blog:, "Who do you write for?", I come to understand that the question "Who do you write for?" is not so different from the question, "Who is writing?"  I hope to continue to grow in my understanding of this as I continue to ponder these questions, but for now, this is my answer:

(1) I write for the "me" that feels a need/desire to express/share what is inside of me;
(2) I write for those who are "not me" who might choose to stop, listen, and think about what I write, and thereby gain a (hopefully positive) experience from reading what I write;
(3) I write for the Me that doesn't feel that "need" to share, but does anyway, simply because positive Self-expression is in Its/My nature, and this medium is readily available to be used;
(4) I write for the Me that is "out there" in everyone, open to receive whatever I send out, through words or otherwise, because that is in the nature of the Self which is present in everyone.

At the moment, it interests me greatly that these answers are not just about my writing; they also apply to my Alexander teaching, and to any interaction I have with the world.

To me, Alexander Technique is fundamentally about connections/relationships, both within myself and with those I come into contact with in the world.  Whenever I am in contact with someone else--whether through this medium of writing, through verbal/hands-on/personal contact in an Alexander lesson, through a daily contact at work/walking down the street/in a store/in the car, etc., or simply through my intention--the answers to the question, "Who am I in this relationship for?" are the same as the above:

(1) I am here for the "me" that has a need/desire to be in social relationship/communication with others;
(2) I am here for the "not-me"/you, which has the same need/desire to communicate;
(3) I am here for the Me that is in me, without that need/desire, but which communicates the positivity that is in Its/My essential nature;
(4) I am here for the Me that is in you, without that need/desire, but which receives communication from the "outside", because that is in the essential nature of the universal Self within all.

This kind of expressing/receiving is constant.  We are in constant communication, constant relationship. A word for the conscious awareness of this is Love.

Ultimately, this Love is the reason I write, the reason I teach, and the reason I live.  In addition, I want to be happy, and thinking this way brings happiness!  And in this regard, I truly believe we are the same; there is only One Self.

So, those are my thoughts in answer to Franis' question.
Here is a double-question for you, my dear reader:
Who are you reading this for?  Who is reading?

* photo by Tina Phillips.

Monday, April 2, 2012

At a Crossroads, What to Do?

The truth is, in every single moment we are at a crossroads.  As beings endowed with free will, whenever we remember this, we realize we are faced with a choice; in fact, the choices in any given moment are infinite. Sometimes, it can seem like we have very few choices, maybe even just one, two, or three. Sometimes the choice is very unclear, and sometimes, even when we are convinced of what the "right" choice is (when we know what we really want), we still find it difficult to stick to our intention.  What to do then?

It is now nearly 5:00am, and I've been pondering this question for hours now, regarding a choice I have made that I am convinced is the "right" choice for me, and considering how I will best stick to my intention. Eventually, after considering many options, I was led here to write about it, as I so often am, since writing is an important part of my Alexander practice.

Remembering the wise words of my esteemed Alexander teacher and friend Helen Hobbs (AmSAT, Cleveland), I would like to share some of the wisdom that she has gained through her many many years of study, mainly from her teacher Patrick MacDonald, who was a student of F.M. Alexander.  Last week, I was fortunate enough to have a series of five daily lessons with Helen.

In considering the Alexander Technique, we realize again and again that we must make a decision and then hold firm to that decision, renewing it again and again in every moment.  We must pay no attention to the result; only to the means whereby we are to achieve our goal. How to do this?