What is AT Motion? "At a certain point the boundaries between acting technique and Alexander technique began to fade...and a stronger sense of teaching a whole person in a dynamic, personal way became clearer to me"....
“The trick to doing this is to stay with emotional distress without tightening into aversion, to let fear soften us rather than harden into resistance.”
I recently shared a quote from the Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön about a practice for developing compassion. She proposes building empathy by imagining ourselves in a distressed person’s shoes, feeling what it’s like to be in dire circumstances. “We can expect to experience our fear of pain,” she reminds us, “Compassion practice is daring.” She invites us to learn to “relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.”
What scares us in dire circumstances is related to what scares us in daily life. We can practice building our empathy by practicing ease in the face of daily distress. And we certainly have plenty of daily stimuli. Dealing with anything unexpected or unfamiliar can throw us off. We fear pain and also we fear the emotional stress being wrong. Many of us fear feeling the humiliation of being seen caught in a mistake. Avoidance of feeling shame keeps many people in the shell of habit, away from engaging in change.
Alexander Technique isn’t Buddhism or any kind of spiritual practice. But it does offer a means for change and receptivity. Sometimes in AT lessons, we feel unfamiliar with changes in posture or breathing. When a person is guided toward a more integrated physical presence they feel often feel more open, but also less like their usual self. Sensations, previously avoided, may be felt again.
Taking an AT lesson involves the audacity to gently and consistently let go of patterns while choosing to stay easy enough to feel more of… everything. Capable of a wide range of experience, we are designed to include it all. This is a great time to develop compassion!
Make a tight fist. Now soften your hand and let it open and expand.
Repeat and notice the sensation of ease and un-doing. Notice how the sensation of expansion is light and multi-dimensional.
Now do the same with your neck, just for a moment. Tighten and sense how compressed your whole body becomes. And release the tightness! Sense how springy you are, how you can rebound up and out when you release your neck tension. You probably took a deep breath, too.
Without adding more tension this time, simply ask for another level of undoing in your neck. Notice how you feel when you do this – emotionally.
Can you continue to practice this simple act of softening when you see the news about refuges and immigrants? Or global warming?
Can you continue to practice this simple act of softening while you write your MOC a postcard or make a phone call?
Everything is changing - What can I count on?
Sometimes I crave change. When it's my own choice to change my habits, I look for change. When feeling playful, I might switch things up by instigating a change. At other times I hate change and the feeling of vulnerability that comes with unexpected change. I might then react with resentment or resistance. Change is happening all the time, and these days I often feel at odds with the rapid changes happening from the White House. When change feels out of control, what can I count on? Is there something that I can do to find support through change? How can I re-establish my sense of wholeness and unity so that my vulnerability isn’t a liability, but an aspect of my resiliency?
We’ve been training for change all our lives!
I was fortunate to grow up in place where I could wander and play outdoors with other kids for hours. We lived within the rules and limits set by our parents, but adults did not structure our play. I remember learning to climb trees by trial and error. At first, trial and error taught me about fear of falling and my tendency to let fear discourage me or stop me from moving completely. I saw how the other kids who could climb easily had a fearless attitude. I mimicked them; I stole their moves and their upward intensity. I developed a pattern of hand and footholds that allowed me to feel confident in getting up and down from one my favorite maple trees. I learned how light and free I was when I believed it was possible — I just had to follow the “up” in my being and my movement, not resist it. My upward intention and energy made it fun.
In Alexander Technique, and movement-based practices, there is an emphasis on liberating the “up and out” direction of our core posture and coordination. A former AT student (Joan Brittain) sent me an email about returning to her T’ai chi class after a very stressful time away:
Our teacher David said I missed some stuff but one of the things everyone needs to keep working on is keeping the "ding" up--keeping the crown of the head up--through every movement. As he demonstrated this, I thought, "Oh yeah, Alexander's primary control." Then, he said, looking me in the eye, that, ideally, we would maintain an awareness of the ding and of keeping our "frame" as we move, at every moment. And, I said with a certain look in my eye (you know that look), "Yeah, we could." He stopped, surprised, and repeated what I'd said under his breath, then chuckled, and moved on to his next point.
The ideal of keeping an upward direction going all the time seems like a tough expectation, but if we are treat ourselves as the lively and whole beings we are, we can experience an appreciation of an on-going process – and develop a sense of humor about the ebb and flow or trial and error in that process.
One thing we can surely count on is the constant state of change, and our intrinsic mind/body unity. Our unity or psychophysical wholeness is reflected in our design for freedom of thought and freedom in action.
Your “primary control” or “ding” or “upward intention” can be counted on to be constantly available. Your energy is always going on, and you are always organizing through your head/neck/back relationship, up and/or down. When any of us are afraid, we pull downward or inward. When we tighten down we interfere with our intrinsic response to gravity, we feel our discouragement, and we sense our reluctance to be moving. The way back to resiliency, and to grace, is through awareness of choice and willingness to let go of resistance. It can be as simple as unclenching your fist or agreeing to let your ribs be spring-y as you breathe. Releasing your thought/movement is an opening for a new direction and a renewed sense of wholeness. You can count on your natural design; you are a cohesively unified thinking, feeling and moving being.
F.M. Alexander’s 4th and last book, written in the 1930s and 40s at a difficult period of change and war emphasizes the significance of approaching action through an understanding of the psychophysical unity of self. He believed that with knowledge comes the responsibility to use that knowledge well. The book is titled, The Universal Constant in Living.
Just had a FaceTime chat with my good friend and mentor, Bill (Dr. William Conable). He reminded me of the importance of finding a balance between giving and receiving. This may sound like I am referring to the holidays and gifts, but I’m thinking about energy and the balance we need in daily life. With all the running around we do in NYC, we can easily find ourselves overextended.
Sometimes, through generosity, we give out more than we take in. I’ve known many actors to give and give to their scene partner, but forget to make time to receive. This is almost always the case for parents; they love their children but they need some care for themselves, too.
With Alexander Technique, we can move and breathe with a greater sense of space. But we don’t want to get caught in a pattern of over-extending. When we think UP and OUT, we undo tension in order to expand into the 3-dimensional space; legs freeing to the ground, back freeing into the space behind us. Right now as you read this, you can experience your capacity for openness and expansion. The cue is “I have space”. But if you feel tired instead of energized, you may be in need of more receiving.
Remember our basic cue, “where’s the floor?” – notice the floor beneath your feet. As you cooperate with gravity to release or “land” on the ground, let that down elicit UP. Sense the upward flow of rebound or buoyancy throughout your whole body.
Now go further with receiving some grounding energy. Let yourself receive even more upward energy but of another kind. It can be sensed as the persistent “hum” or “stream of warmth” from the ground. Some people can visualize a warm red energy that flows up through our bones as deep as the marrow. Others can simply sense the support of the firm ground. The more we can trust that support, the more we can receive support. The cue is “I have support”. Take in, absorb, replenish your energy. Generosity and expansion can be joyful and freeing when we also accept support.
Let's practice sensing our strength; let's build our ability to be powerful and fierce in our understanding of what calm and ready for action entails. Ferocious equanimity!
Here are some simple grounding steps one can take to reconnect with self and to the present. You may already be using an effective means of coping – bravo – this is meant to encourage and support your personal process. Do as much as feels safe in the place you are in right now – you may be surprised by how much that is!
Cultivating a lively use of tension: the
synergy between acting and the
Teva Bjerken, Belinda Mello and Robin Mello
Belinda was interviewed twice by Robert Rickover of AlexanderAudio.com
Listen to Belinda discuss How Actors use the Alexander Technique and [Her] Experience with the Alexander Technique.