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Alexander Technique

Gratitude & Reciprocity 2018

Gratitude & Reciprocity 2018

Sharing an Attitude of Gratitude… Thank you!

A woman’s hand holds an apple in the palm of her hand against the backdrop of an orchard.

Do you ever find yourself feeling grateful at the end of the day? It’s been that kind of week for me. I feel especially grateful for the people I work with in individual Alexander Technique lessons. Each week they set aside time for orienting to gravity and connecting their constructive thoughts to actions.

The AT is really a collaborative process that begins with the decision to reach beyond the limitations we’ve grown used to. The courage it takes to unravel patterns is humbling at times. I’m impressed by people of all ages who are to learning more about themselves and appreciate their openness. Engaging with the tensegrity of the body we find creative solutions for moving, breathing -- for being comfortable in one’s own skin and confident in letting one’s voice be heard.

I have a particular enthusiasm for working with actors -- truly one of my “happy places”.
But I want to send a special “shout out’ of appreciation to the non-actors who come in for AT. I won’t use their names, but I do want to share something about a few of these extraordinarily inspiring individuals.

  • I am so grateful to a very strong and intelligent woman in her early 90’s who is my weekly dose of optimism. The image of her walking with a wide and tall back, has stayed with me all week. “Pause” is her favorite AT tool.

  • Another older person I see regularly is managing symptoms of Post-Polio Syndrome. Table-work is what he seems to need and I am have been so pleased to see him becoming both more relaxed and energized. Our work together is quiet and requires very deep listening, almost like tango.

  • I am grateful for the younger folks as well. It has been so rewarding, for example, to teach a college student with scoliosis about the alternatives to living with pain. I appreciate his honesty and the changes he is making are profound. Also, kudos to the writer who came for posture and discovered a new ability to use her kinesthesia.

  • And there are a few people who have been coming in weekly for quite a while. I love that we have access to so much laughter. They have let me get to know them so well, and in return they have come to know me. They keep me honest with myself.

Belinda Mello teaches the Alexander Technique to a group of actors. She rubs her hands together and smiles teaching her students about the use of energy. A student smiles in the right side of the picture.

This is a difficult political and social climate to be living in. So much tension is being generated by an executive administration that leads with intolerance and fear mongering. How fortunate I am that my work requires me to find my balance and to be conscious of the responsibilities of my role. The principles and process of the Alexander Technique are reliable tools - I rely on them daily. And I rely on the goodwill of the amazing people who allow me teach by hand, each week.

Thank you.

Getting Unstuck!

Getting Unstuck!

Headshot of NYC Actress: Caitlin Diana Doyle. Caitlin smiles at the camera in a light denim shirt.

Recently Caitlyn, an accomplished actor, came in for one of her private AT sessions. We’d been focusing on her monologue work and she brought up a particular pattern she’s been working through, and a particular goal, which she termed “not performing my insecurities.” This is a common theme in the work that I do with my clients, and inspired by Caitlyn I’ve been exploring this question in my classes as of late. What does it mean to “not perform one’s insecurities” in practice? And how can we avoid rehearsing our insecurities or tendencies?

Way back when F. M. Alexander started his self-observations, he was grappling with a strong tendency to interfere with his breath and voice when acting. Based on his own description, he was caught in a pattern that today we might call “getting stuck in one’s head”. Perfectionism and similar tendencies can lead us to defensive, self-protective behavior. When we use defensive actions, like freezing up or pushing through, we are rehearsing our insecurities.

Finding your way toward creative freedom and resiliency is one of the journeys of acting that we strengthen via the Alexander Technique. We open our acting choices, explore working with them, and curiosity + discovery is returned to the actor’s experience; the pleasure and passion felt for acting is refreshed.

What is a pattern you feel stuck in as an actor?

How often does what you understand about your tendencies align with the feedback you are getting in class or in rehearsal?

I’d like to hear from you about what skills you practice for freeing yourself from defensive patterns, where you feel successful, and where you’d like my help.

Headshot of Belinda Mello, Alexander Technique Teacher and Acting Coach. Belinda wears a magenta pink button down and smiles to the camera.

In my upcoming Tuesday special topics classes, we will be hearing from each actor and addressing the interference of their patterns in specific aspects of acting and auditioning. Those who are new to the Alexander work can continue with the basics (level 2) on Thursday evenings. On Fridays at noon, we will take time to check in on ourselves through movement and breathing.


I look forward to seeing you in the studio!



Lively focus is a lively choice

Lively focus is a lively choice

What grabs your attention and what fades from view?

Bright sparkling lights can take over your focus temporarily, and then your interest moves on. But when something becomes a priority, everything else fades or blurs a bit.  Even loud sounds, like fireworks, can become background if your attention is pulled elsewhere.

A Camera Lens shows a distant point in a valley in focus while the rest of the image is blurry. This helps us see how we can use our own energy as a theatrical tool of focus.

A person’s attention is changing all the time. Attention is subject to choice. While it’s hard to maintain a singular focus that blocks out everything else, we can and do choose to place something in the forefront of our attention while letting other things be in the background.

In today’s Margolis Method class, we worked with primary and secondary focus as a theatrical tool. In other words, what do I want the audience to recognize as is the most important aspect of my character’s experience? In any given circumstance, what is primary and what is secondary?

Even if you are not an actor, this is a question you are dealing with all the time when you are trying to communicate something complex. Priorities are chosen. Often conflict occurs when there is a disagreement about primary versus secondary priorities.

Applied to nervous anticipation, changing your primary focus can reduce your stress. Instead of letting your nervousness take front and center of your attention, can you make it a secondary or background issue? Can you bring something of more practicality or even of pleasure into your primary focus?

Exploring your options starts with a pause. Open up your senses to what is around you. Use your peripheral vision or widen your scope of listening, try smelling or staying with what you are tasting a bit longer for the subtle undertones.

What do you find in the background (or secondary field of attention) that you would like to bring into the foreground of your attention?

Try this AT Motion experiment:

Primary/Secondary focus walk

Walk A: Take a walk in a familiar place. Start to notice the sounds around you. As you walk let listening and sensing be your primary focus. You might tune into the noises of the city or overheard conversations. The sounds might evoke awareness of your other senses. You will still be aware of decisions your will make about direction in space and your coordination - but let that be secondary. Let listening and sensing be primary.

Belinda teaches an Alexander Technique student in her NYC studio how to stand with ease and efficiency. They stand next to each other while Belinda directs the student. They sile

Walk B: Now make a switch. Instead of focusing on listening and your senses, let your spatial choices and coordination be primary. Use Alexander’s self-directions for springing into expansion, UP and OUT into space. Let your freedom of motion be directed upward and outward. Let our energy support the upward freedom with downward support. Walk with that vertical dynamic. Include the dynamic of volume. Let your opening into width and depth be supported by a strong inward support (your core). Now let the swinging of your arms and legs bring flow into your stride as your choose your pathway or route. Coordinating with spatial direction  is primary but you will still be aware of what you are taking in through your senses - but let that be secondary.

Notice the differences in your experiences in walks A and B.
Notice change.

 

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Physical Gesture Exploration: In Life and On Stage

Gesture.

You've probably used gestures already today. With the flick of your hand, with the twist of your back or the flare of a nostril… you communicated your intentions very clearly. And in return, these gestures informed you about how your feelings, keeping you honest - at least to yourself.

Two actors, a woman and a man, stand with their right hand over their chest and their eyes closed in an open NYC movement studio.

Have you ever discovered that your shoulders are rising up to your ears while watching  a very intense, suspenseful show — and then thought “wow, I guess that really got to me”? For most of us gesture happens before we realize that we are doing it. But at times we consciously select a gesture, like a gentle tap to let someone know “I’m with you”. We use gesture to articulate in an embodied way, distinct from using words.

I've been thinking and reading about gesture this month. Gesture and movement in theater has always fascinated me and driven my work. But the honesty and simplicity of the everyday gesture is on my mind as well. As I'm embarking on a three week exploration of impulse and gesture (see my Thursday group class for Actors), I thought I would offer up a self-study experiment in gesture and embodiment. Anyone can try this -- it's not just for actors!

Here’s an experiment to play with today while you are walking down the street.

The back side of a man walking away in a light jacket and jeans. His arms are crossed behind his back as he walks. What does this say in reference to Lecoq gesture?

Part 1: Observe all the different ways that the people around you are using their shoulders. If you could put words to the gestures, what are they saying?

Part 2: Experience your own shoulders, sensing tension, sensing lift or droop, pulling or shaping to the front or to the back? Asymmetry? What ever you are doing, do it more - exaggerate. Do words or images come to mind? Does this exaggerated gesture remind you of a feeling or emotion? Do you want more or less connection with other people? Slowly do less of your shoulder gesture. How does it feel to let some of it go? Consider completely letting go of your shoulder gesture? What might you lose? What might you gain?

Belinda helps an actor experience more freedom in their head and neck which expands their expressive possibilities. Belinda's hands are lightly touching the young actresses neck helping her feel the space and freedom she can move in to.

Part 3: Take a little risk. Ask for your easy and expansive coordination: Let your neck muscles release holding your head, so that your head balance is fluid and lighter. Let your neck muscles release holding your shoulders so that your arms can swing more easily with your stride. Let your senses take in the area you are in or the street you are waking down. What thoughts and words are you expressing with this way of moving? What impulses do you feel connected with? What would happen if you used this open and easy shoulder gesture while interacting with the next person you meet?

PS Let me know how this goes!

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How to Not Be Triggered By Your Family During the Holidays

How to not be triggered by your family during the holidays

The holidays are the perfect time to reconnect with your family—which, for many of us, brings up mixed emotions. We love our families and we want to see them and spend time with them. But for many of us, family members also have a unique ability to drive us crazy, causing us to fall back into old patterns and making us feel like we never left.

 

This holiday season, if you start to get triggered by your family’s annoying habits—or you find yourself reverting back to your childhood role in a maelstrom of dysfunctional family dynamics—remind yourself of one thing. All those reactions, whether they're justified or not, are reactions. They're just patterned responses to some stimulus—and those reactions usually happen entirely on automatic pilot.

 

When a certain someone makes a passive-aggressive comment about your weight or a pointed joke about the fact that you’re still single, wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to create a gap between what they say and your reaction to it? To create a little cushion of time for yourself so you can be less reactive to triggers?

 

A good place to start is by activating your postural balance so that your movement coordination reflects a calmer, more creative use of your central nervous system.

 

Start taking care of our nervous system by taking care of your head. Your head is subject to the actions of your neck. Freeing up your neck is the key to taking care of your head, and therefore yourself.

 

neck.jpg

You don’t need to be an anatomy expert to know something about your neck muscles because they get super tight when we're tense. The neck has layers of muscles, some close to the spine, others creating the graceful shape of your neck. These muscles move your head and manage your balance.

 

Take a moment to get more in touch with your neck. Start by nodding your head for a moment and feel the muscles around your throat and the back of your neck. Turn your head side to side, looking right and left. You'll feel muscles move but also stretch. Tilt your head like you're listening to your shoulder, first on one side and then the other. You'll feel a lot of stretching and contracting going on.

 

So, now that you’ve found those muscles that move your head and directed your awareness to them, what if you soften those muscles instead of tightening them so you aren't pulling your head at all?

 

When you soften those muscles, your head is much freer, and the spring-like action of your spine can release. Without pressure from tight neck muscles, the weighty head can actually rebound upward, allowing your stature to expand. Back muscles and spinal discs that were compressed can follow along in spring-like release. Breathing becomes less compromised by musculoskeletal pressure.

 

This anti-triggering movement frees your brain up and out instead of pulling your brain down and into your body and mindless reactivity. So give it a try next time the holiday cookie tray gets passed around. Freeing up your neck/head/back relationship will give you a cushion of time for being less triggered.

 

What can you do in the cushion of time you’ve just found? Take a minute to appreciate being unhooked and take your attention off yourself. Observe your family members neck and heads in action. Notice how they're moving (or not moving) and what's happening with their balance. Are they scrunching down on themselves? Are they moving easily with lots of flow?

 

Chances are that you've been unconsciously mirroring the tension of the people around you. If they're holding an opinionated position in a conversation, they're probably also holding a rigid physical position. If you can un-position and be more flexible, you’ll have a great advantage. You won’t be stuck.

 

So how does ease and freedom in your neck help you be less reactive emotionally? Flexible neck/head/back coordination goes along with resiliency. Whereas tension makes us more self-conscious, release of tension enhances our awareness of what's going on moment-to-moment around us. Like other vertebrate animals, we’re more rigid when we’re on alert and more plastic when we’re at ease.

 

When you "unset" your neck, you're moving out of your old patterns. You're opening up the possibility that you don't have to react to your usual triggers. You're opening "up and out" to new experiences with your family. And they’ll be experiencing you as your most resilient, calm, and joyful self.

Happy Holidays!
Belinda Mello

What is AT Motion?

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". 

It may have started when I was a young performer. I happened upon a site-specific performance that made my heart skip! The director was Anne Bogart, and she opened up my world by showing me that my passions for improvisation, movement and story were all facets of one creative design. Later I was able to work and perform with her - how fortunate I was to be given such a key to life and art. Slowly I have continued to learn that the distinctions or categories we sometimes believe in don't serve us.  And I honestly admit that I have to fallen for false beliefs about "this versus that" over and over again in the process of learning to recognize them.

Another stroke of luck was landing a job as adjunct in the Brooklyn College Theater Department. I got to teach lively, sometimes rowdy and emotional, but always big-hearted young adults on their journey as actors. I am so proud of the accomplishments of those former students. Along the way, on my own journey, I built curriculum over 15 years of teaching and earned an MFA. I studied and taught Mask, deepened my appreciation for the many modalities I learned over the years while developing my own unique teaching approach. Recently, I have added Margolis Method into the mix. 

At a certain point the boundaries between acting technique and Alexander technique began to fade... and a stronger sense of teaching the whole person in a dynamic, personal way became clearer to me. I discovered that the work I was doing with actors proved to be invaluable for my private AT students, none of whom were actors themselves. This is why I call my work AT Motion. I started with  the idea of Alexander Technique in motion, but I no longer feel that I simply "apply" Alexander's work to motion. AT Motion now means BEING in motion, being at motion, being as motion.      

AT Motion is my unique approach to being at motion.

You are made to move. The more you allow yourself to move freely, the healthier and happier you'll be.

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Soften Rather Than Harden into Resistance

“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.” 

A Hand Softening into the Rain.

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.

A New Sprout Grows in a clay flower pot on a wooden deck.

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!

Practice:
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 Mom a postcard or make a phone call?

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Everything is changing - What can I count on?

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Everything is changing - What can I count on?

Everything is changing - What can I count on?

A big wave hitting a rocky shore.

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.

Belinda helping an Alexander Technique student feel his natural upward energy. They're standing and she has her hand on his neck.

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.

Belinda leads the group in keeping an upwards direction in an Alexander Technique Class

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.

 

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