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Alexander Technique Exercises

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Words: Choosing My Emphasis (Plus Free AT Exercise)

How do we choose our words? 

A little boy opens his mouth wide to express himself. Actors can learn a lot through his unabashed expression and lack of physical holding.

I’m a bit awed by the power of words and frustrated by the abuse of this power in forums like twitter. I have to admit some fatigue at how difficult it is to dodge the effect of words, so that sometimes I try to rush past them or tune them out! They touch off very deeply felt beliefs, evoke past experiences and plant the seeds of our impulses. 

We’ve been grappling with the impulses born from words in the studio lab this past month. We’ve explored ways of being through embodying the catalyst of a word: communicating through gesture, breath and action. We found ways of expressing monologues non-verbally, without sound. This month we are speaking the words, connecting thought, gesture and sound.

Spoken words resonate. The sounds waves resonate through our bones, while the associated meaning changes our way of being. Words offer choices in how we handle them and examine them. How we place emphasis is a choice that shifts the impact of a word. Just by slowing down a bit, we can notice the effect of our choices of emphasis on meaning.

I like to play with meaning and emphasis while I’m walking down the street. 


Try this:
An Experiment- "Words and walking”:

Try this experiment about emphasis and embodied meaning the next time you are walking…

Start with this simple, true statement: I AM WALKING ALONG THIS STREET.
Divide it into 3 possible emphases: I, WALKING, STREET (who, what, where)
Play with emphasis.

1) Let’s start with the emphasis on “street."

A street in New York City. An old woman sits on a bench reading, some young women walk. It is a warm summers day. Start walking down the street and practice this Alexander Technique a, Acting, and Presence Exercise.

I am walking down this street - this particular street. What is around me on this street? What is in my immediate field of attention? Am I passing under a sidewalk shed, past construction? Are there trees? Trash? Other people? What kinds of buildings are along this street? Are there cars passing by quickly or is the traffic dense and slow? Looking up, I can see the sky and feel the quality of the air, the humidity, the temperature variations, is there a breeze on this street? This street, right now!

2) Now emphasize “walking." 

Two sets of children's feet in sneakers walk down a cobblestone street. While practicing our Alexander Technique, Acting, & Presence exercise, focus on the idea of walking. "What am I doing? Oh, I'm walking!" etc...

What am I doing? Oh, I’m walking! What’s going on with my walking? Am I earnestly attending to the efficiency of my walk? Or am I mostly oblivious to the sensations of walking? Do I dare try out a funny walk in public? What are some of the specifics of walking? How are my legs swinging? How do my feet contact the ground? Can I sense my rhythm? What are some of the AT cues I’ve been using for walking - like letting my knees release forward, easily, from the back of my knee? Can I release extra weight or tension as I walk? What about Alexander’s simple self-directions: let my neck be free so that the weight of my head releases up and out of my spine, let my back spring up tall and wide and deep, let my arms swing easily at my sides, let my legs release away from my head and use the ground.
Walking!

3) Now play with the emphasis on “I."

A young woman crosses a bridge in the forest. She is serene and present. While practicing our Alexander Technique, Acting, Presence Exercise, practice walking with the emphasis on I. I'm the one walking, etc...

Here I am!  I. Me. I’m the one walking, with ease if I choose it. I’m the one deciding where to go next, I walk along this street and so I am essential to this place and this moment. Every step I take is happening NOW and now and now. Here I am and you can see me! I’m here, aware of my surroundings and with inner sensation… I’m walking with my own private history and beliefs. I am.

And finally, equally emphasize all three elements: I AM WALKING ALONG THIS STREET. 

Each choice of emphasis is more than a choice of words: it’s a choice of perspective. The experience of each word evokes a different way of being within the same activity.  

 

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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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