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Alexander Technique Teaching

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!



New Direction? It's Basics!

New Direction? It's Basics!

Belinda teaching an Alexander Technique to a group of actors. She demonstrates the thickness of the spine by have students hold a skeleton’s spine in their hand to know they have strength and support.

New things are happening at AT Motion!

You may have noticed a new direction. Many AT Motion classes now have a prerequisite. How does this serve you? Why take BASICS 1 and 2 @ AT Motion?

Mastery comes from having an unshakable foundation that you keep returning to and improving. Take another look at your foundation and consider what you need to move forward. When you learn the foundation of a skill, or go about revisiting your foundational skills, you are creating a firmer base that you can rely on.

Concrete slabs making up the foundation of a large building. The slabs are stacked on top of each other with a few gaps and empty spaces.. This relates to Belinda’s Alexander Technique Basics class as you can see, when you build a foundation, there are often gaps left to be filled in at a later date.

Basics 1 and 2 @ AT Motion are foundational classes designed to give an experience of the core principles of the Alexander Technique (AT) through the lens of acting - very specifically through for actors. With a fundamental sense of the work as a prerequisite, you will be able to explore with more complexity. The AT can support your process in more advanced AT Motion classes aimed at specific aspects of embodying a role and living well as an actor.

It’s that simple. Begin at the beginning or revisit the beginning again and again… and then you will be ready to go deeper, take on challenges, express with precision and strength of feeling.






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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