Thursday, August 23, 2012

Embodying Gratitude with the Alexander Technique

I'd like to share a personal observation with you today.

For many years, the practice of gratitude has been a regular part of my spiritual practice.  I have consciously incorporated this attitude into my life during periodic meditation times, by forming the general intention to be grateful throughout the day, and by looking for specific things to be grateful for.

Over the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with a different angle on gratitude:  I've been paying more attention to what the experience of gratitude actually feels like.  I'm finding the experiment to be very interesting. By shifting my focus a bit more onto my feelings, I'm discovering that my habitual way of practicing gratitude has been primarily (but not exclusively) to focus on my thought-intention, without paying too much attention to the feeling.

I'm discovering quite a few things:

  • For me, gratitude has a distinct physical feel to it, and it takes on some kind of a shape.
  • If gratitude has a shape, for me it's like a somewhat flattened U-shape, or a broad smile; and if it's three-dimensional (even better!), it's more like a wide cup.
  • When I start to feel gratitude, I experience a shift in my head and body, as if the sides of my brain and body are lifting upwards while my middle rests downwards.
  • I find this shape to be symbolic of receptivity, like a cup that needs to exist before it can be filled; and as soon as it exists it IS filled, and therefore I have something to be grateful for, deep inside of myself.
  • Focusing on the intention/goal (in this case, gratitude) as a thought just isn't enough - because feeling my goal - feeling gratitude - being gratitude - is actually part of my goal.  If I am over-focused on the thought-intention, I can still feel the result (I've always been able to feel gratitude), but I'm missing so much of the goodness of the feeling if I'm not also really letting myself feel it - and enjoy it.  
  • Even though mind-body unity isn't a new concept for me, somehow unity of thought-feeling is.
  • Gratitude is not my default mode.  I can tell because when I stop thinking/feeling gratitude in this way, the 'up'-'cup' droops and flattens down again instantly.  
  • I need to practice this thought-feeling of gratitude much more often!
  • Thankfully, practicing gratitude is MUCH easier this way, and it makes me want to do more and more of this kind of practicing, because it feels great!

You might wonder, what does all of this have to do with the Alexander Technique?

Constructive, conscious control is what happens when we formulate a clear intention with our thinking, and let go of whatever we're doing that interferes with realizing that intention.  There are so many possible interferences - "doings" that we must stop - and one of these seems to be over-focusing on the thought while under-focusing on the feeling.  (Of course, the opposite is just as much a pitfall.)  Balance and unity are everything!

Try it out:
  • Think of what gratitude means to you, and start to wonder what gratitude might feel like.
  • Pay attention to your head and the rest of your body, either one at a time or both together.
  • Allow yourself to feel any changes as you get in touch with a true sense of gratitude.
  • Now let go of this feeling of gratitude, and go back to your "normal" state of being.
  • Try it a few times, and maybe increase the intensity and/or duration of the gratitude state.
  • As you switch back and forth between gratitude and non-gratitude, do you notice any shifts in your head? body? mood?
I would love to hear about your experiences with this, or any other thoughts or feelings about 
gratitude that you might have!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Real Change can be Effortless with Alexander Technique

I admit:  I am astonished.

Even though I'm an AT teacher and I know from experience how working on an issue indirectly (focusing primarily on the whole person instead of individual parts) can help create fundamental change...the change I just experienced in myself as I began to practice my violin this evening caught me offguard!

All my life (I've played the violin since age 4), my left hand pinky has been "weak" (well, that was my belief, anyway), which has resulted in playing with it rather flattened out on the fingerboard much of the time.  Over the years that I've been involved with AT, I've been working with changing my belief about that little finger, realizing how strong that side of my hand is, in fact. My work with this has been extremely casual, though, and I remember it mostly while teaching my students about their fingers.

I didn't work much on this issue because I never really expected to be able to play the violin with a rounded pinky--that was just beyond my reach, I thought; I didn't even bother trying to change that.  Playing that way would be an "ideal" dream for me which I did not hope to ever achieve.  It actually wasn't very important to me, either, because the results I've always gotten with a flattened pinky have been just fine for me--very much "good enough".

SO, imagine my surprise as I began to play the violin this evening (at 11:00pm, tired...) and I suddenly notice that my pinky is strong and rounded.  In disbelief, I test it out in different positions, playing different types of music...and lo and behold...I can keep it that way!  I am almost in shock -- I had to come here right away to write about it.

I have NOT worked on this issue.  I have rarely given it any thought, although I have been aware of the flattened pinky as a generally undesirable condition.

How and why has it changed, without working on it at all in the "usual" way?  How can it be that such a fundamental "problem" has changed from one hour to the next (I did play the violin a bit this afternoon and I didn't notice anything different), without any conscious will to change?

Fantastic.  This was entirely unexpected.

This really makes me wonder what other seemingly miraculous changes might be in store for me in the future!  I am in awe of the Mysterious workings of Life....Life's Wonder...and so grateful!

If you are a student or teacher of the Alexander Technique, have you had a similar experience you might like to share?  Something that bothered you that was suddenly changed one day, without any conscious effort on your part to make it different?  I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Morning Moment

Good morning, world

I close my eyes
waiting, I breathe

today, I would like to love whatever I come into contact with
loving the keyboard now...and the air...and my thoughts...even the chaos within...

aiming for Peace
stopping, waiting



just Being
I am not the Doer

let come what may
I will still be Here
watching, listening, touching