Monday, 25 November 2013


Today a student and I were discussing the learning and discovering that occurs during an Alexander lesson. Delight and pleasure were high on the list this morning - for both of us. The thing I want to share here is the - to me - wonderful few minutes we had in being with a new word.... Well, a new word for an old word - 'inhibition'. That Word that is probably one of the main defining features of the Alexander Technique. But the word that trips so many up - mostly on the path to even considering lessons! Whilst it may have been a Very Good Word in 1920, and it might be a Very Good Word in scientific circles now, it's not a word that has people rushing to book an appointment. "I'm going to my inhibition class" is likely to lose friends rather than gain them! 'Heck, what if some of that rubbed off on me...?!?' might be the thought!

Let me put that word slightly in context for those of you with baffled expressions - and I hope you're still reading! F M Alexander used the word inhibition before Freud got his hands on it and tied the world up in knots. If we are lucky and blessed, we are all full of inhibition - and I mean inhibition and not inhibitions. Without it our limbs might move uncontrollably and we would find it hard to carry out every day activities. When we want to pick up a cup, our messages from our brain to our limbs work smoothly and our hand and arm can co-ordinte this action with ease. Without inhibition - as can happen in someone with Cerebral Palsy - the overactive or overly stiff hand might knock the cup over and/or spill the drink before the cup reaches the lips. Even when blessed with a working inhibition, many of us have still got into 'over-moving' and/or 'being stiff'; the stiffness often coming from subconsciously over-doing something and then rigidifying to stop the over-doing that has us not spill the drink. That rigidifying isn't inhibition; that's just two sets of tension - the one doing and the one resisting that doing.  Daft really! Best to just stop - consciously inhibit, say no to - the first set of tension and not bother with the second.

Still here...?! I do hope so; this is magical life-changing stuff!... So, conscious inhibition is the 'non-doing' of anything that prevent us from (in this case) successfully picking up the cup. It's not the suppressing of excess movement, it's the process by which not too much movement happens in the first place. 

I often say it like this in lessons: Imagine you're about to drive away in your car. It's stationary, and you're on level ground. You have the engine ticking over, gears in neutral, you don't have your foot on any pedals, and you're just being there - not going anywhere, yet. Or you can be in your car with the handbrake on, foot on the footbrake, and a wheel-clamp on the wheels and a couple of bricks in front of the tyres for good measure. You then rev the car like crazy, slip the clutch, have smoke pouring out of the engine compartment, hear the squealing, uncomfortable engine, and yes, you don't go anywhere, but to what cost!?! The latter is suppression, fixing, resisting. The former is inhibition - the art of doing nothing more than is needed in any given moment.

So, in an Alexander lesson, you are discovering all your 'handbrake ons' and 'accelerator revvings' and letting them come to a stop - metaphorically taking your hands and feet off everything. Then letting them not doing anything at all. Then letting them do only what's needed to have you move off on your journey. It's about 'un-learning the old' - inhibiting the old - living in an absence of excess.....
Walking in, with, and as humility....

There, inhibition's not such a scary word after all, is it? Just long, old-fashioned, and cumbersome. So today in the lesson, we were playing with other words, and my student was using one I'd not really thought about before as being 'inhibition'..... "Humility". To sit with humility. To drive as humility, to walk across the room to the ringing telephone in humility. I like this - I love the simple-simplicity, the surrender, the acceptance in it. It reveals this truth: I either walk, or I don't walk - always my choice. And if I walk in humility, I am saying 'yes' to the activity with my whole self; yet walking with only what is needed to walk - no more and no less. I am not "resisting walking to the 'phone, but going to do it anyway, because what if I don't answer and it's important..." I'm not pushing and shoving with my legs, hardening in my body as I walk because I just don't yet know that none of that is necessary to walk to the 'phone... Humility is just the absence of everything that gets in the way of my simple stepping across the room and saying 'Hello'. 

Humility - I like you. You have a raft of quite dreadful synonyms in Thesaurus, but I just don't think people 'get' you. However, the one word there that describes you well is 'non-resistance'. So, I still like you. Thank you for being. And thank you to my student for the lovely gift of this word today.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

My Happy Place.... Reflections on teaching....

Recently a colleague posted a Facebook comment about the idea of describing ‘my happy place’ when I am working. I liked that - a lot - and thank her - a lot. My reply was this: When I am teaching I feel (a) like I'm playing, (b) that my heart is singing, and (c) I am absolutely 'on purpose'. It never feels like 'hard work', even though I am 'working hard'. I am definitely in 'my happy place'. 

Yes, when teaching, the world goes away, and yet I am more present than ever. My focus finds a steadiness, intention clarifying in each moment as we go along. I have a sense of trust as we connect through that part of us that ‘gnows’ * - not a head sort of ‘knowing’, but something far more powerful and efficacious - and you connect to that part of you, too. Part of my job is to keep my head out of the way, and that’s probably the hardest work of all! My head thinks it knows, but it can only ever know things that have gone before, and in my teaching we are looking for the new, the way not being used, the way that in its freshness and flow isn’t plagued by pain and stiffness, lack of flow or self-doubt. 

I have learned the anatomy and physiology, worked out many ideas and taken on many philosophies, but in the moment with a student, it is important I don’t let any of that crowd the decks and simply ‘move the furniture around on the Titanic’. That just looks like something is happening, but nothing really is. We are after dropping the old way and allowing a new, creative, fresh, appropriate, working, conscious way of being, and none of that resides in the repetition of our past responses to life. If it did, all would be well, we would have no pain, no discomfort, no dissatisfaction with our life, and not be looking for any answers. If we’re looking for something to ‘improve’ (aka, change) about our life, then the old isn’t where to look. The thing is, the old is familiar, ‘the devil we better know’, and anything different feels wrong. Oh the muddles we get into in life just because we interpret ‘different’ as ‘wrong’....!

 Alert, poised, awake, ready, open.....
So, when I work I am aware, awake, alert, open to as many possibilities as I can be in that moment. Open to sense what you, as my student, is doing and present enough to reveal it to you immediately in order for you to see it, sense it, and make a new choice in that moment. I use anything that comes to me - analogy, imagery, anatomy, science, philosophy, psychology, mimicry, acting, three-D models, children’s toys, pen and paper, photos, everyday items, stories, and touch to enable the new to be experienced along with the change in the thinking required to have the method become yours. 

 Toys that clarify....
If I can keep my ‘proper mind’ out of it - you probably know the one, the one that Has to Be Clever, academic, professorial, successful, confident, in touch with that elusive Rightest Right that ever was Right (!!*) - I can be truly There For You, present to what is, and not bogged down in what I expect, or assuming how things will be regarding your concerns. Then I can serve you. If my head in in charge, it’s become all about me, my stuff, my expectations of you, my assumption of What is Right. But a lesson is all about You. What you bring, how you bring it, how you think, work, see and sense life. For that I need my antennae switched right on high to whatever it takes to assist you to reach the place in which you want to be - pain free, flexible, co-ordinated, confident. In this way my teaching mostly feels like ‘play’ in its creativity and freshness, in it’s communication with you - an utter delight for which I am so, so grateful.

And when something comes, something connects with you and a penny drops, release happens, and the how becomes clear; oh my, my heart leaps - singing its way round the room. There is a ‘rightness’ in that moment that has nothing to do with being ‘right’’s a rightness that comes from the absence of anything at all; just a huge ‘That’s It!’ The absence of ‘wrong’ - of discomfort, of struggle, of confusion, of pushing, of expecting, of trying, of dis-integration, of stuckness.... There’s a light that comes on in your eyes at this point, and that light is one of the most beautiful things to witness on this planet; the light of realisation, of awakening to your own inner strength and power, to your self and your total and beautiful ok-ness. In those moments I often feel I might have to hold back tears of respect, humility, awe, and delight for you...  Oh yes, my heart sings so when I teach.
And during these moments there is a flow, an unstoppable happening, as if something else is powering them... Something far bigger than me...Something that just ‘gnows’.... And I just ‘gnow’ deeply inside at that moment that I Am On Purpose - I am living my truth, I am doing what I came here to do. No resistance, no doubt, no confusion, no fatigue..... Clarity, delight, energy, stillness, gratitude and love.

 The Joy of Purpose....
In my teaching is My Happy Place - my play, my singing heart, and my purpose. How lucky I am. Together with you my students we discover more and more what it is to be human, to be here on Planet Earth in our earth-suits, to re-member how they work for us so delightfully willingly when we let them, and how we can allow ourselves to allow this with so much more ease and joy.
(*!! - NB, Just in case you wondered, this isn’t where we think it is! You can stop looking now! It’s in the absence of anything - the absence of that which resists our very essence.)
* By ‘gnowing’ I mean that inner surety, ‘gut feeling’, an embodied understanding. Not necessarily any Christian Gnostics who claimed to have superior spiritual knowledge. They did however understand this ‘gnowing’ sense.

On releasing......

On it's way!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

On trying....

Quick! She needs a straightjacket!
They’ll put you in a padded cell.....

They’ll come and take you away....but no one will want you.
You’ll end up on the streets with nothing.....

You’ll lose the house....
What did we do to deserve you....?

“Mummy, Sarah said this, and did that, and then tore my shirt today”
“Well, what did you say to make her do that? You must have said something to upset her...? To make her do that?”  

Get upstairs to the bathroom; I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap....
The gagging, the taste, the fear, the indignation of attacked self-esteem.....

“Pipe down! Ssssh! Stop it! That’s wrong! Sally wouldn’t do that! What do you know?”
Shrink - doubt - frown in bafflement - harden - protect - pretend - act - defy.

Young - curious - bouncy - talkative - inquisitive - quick - excited - creative - keen....
Sensitive - nervous - confused - doubting - choked - bewildered - tight - angry - sad...

Black, terror, blind-with-confusion, turning in, facing self, shouting, hitting, compressing.
What I do. What I say, What I think, What I try. 
Who I am - not good enough.
All I have being used as a weapon to change me....
Home, safety, love, grounding, care, shelter, protection
Removed, taken, stolen, disappear, vanish without warning because of
Who I Am.
More than that - Because I Am.
Because I exist, I wont exist.

Is non-existence fearful? No.
Is the reason I can’t exist fearful? Yes.
That reason is....?
Because everything I do, I say, I am, is responsible for how everyone on the planet feels.
It was so at 5, at 15, and as my world grew, 
so did the numbers of people I surely impacted.
As my knowledge and skills grew, so did my ability to ‘make things worse’....
Am I afraid of loss of ‘my riches’? 
Everything I am so blessed to have, to have in the west, in the UK?
No, no more than most.
But the fear of the reason I would lose them, yes, yes, yes.
Fear, fear, fear - crippling - black - holding - blind - fear.
For that loss would confirm the wrongness of my existence.

Young they would take me away from my shelter.
Older they would take my shelter away from me.
Because I exist.

And because I didn't try hard enough to change.

Try, try, try, - “Just try, darling....For us?”
Just look as if you’re trying?
Just don’t come bottom?
All that money and...head in hands, tears and migraines;
Oh God, you’re hopeless.....

So, I’ve tried.
I’ve tried and tried and tried to look like I’m trying.
I try and try and try, and check endlessly that I am trying....
by trying to feel as if I am trying.
Check that I feel as if I am trying.
...that I am tired out - from trying.
...that I am so busy - with trying.
...that I can tell people all that I’ve been doing in my trying.
...that I can tell people all the things I am going to try next.....

But that I can succeed....?
Who? Me?
Tell people I’ve succeeded?
Tell people what I am going to succeed at next?
Baffled, and what you mean by this? 
Oh come on!! Don’t be crazy!
I can’t succeed; you know that, you can see that, can’t you?
It’s Not What I Do.
But I am very good at trying.
I’ll try ever harder for you, over and over.
Because I care. I care to please. I care to care. 
But they never thought I could succeed.
And you don’t either - surely?
I never thought I could succeed.
So we stopped at trying - a trying truce.
And I just got better and better at trying.
Going round and round in the collecting ring, never going into the main ring.
That’s for others.
That’s for the clever ones.
For the ones who try so well that they succeed.
I’m not even very good at trying.
Only trying to try.
Trying not to show that I even fail at trying.
Pretending I can. Pretending I will. Because I will....
I really, really will, I will.....
I’ll try.

And I’ll try so hard to be the person you want me to be.
To be the success you want me to be.
The one you say you can see....
The one who is mirrored back from my eyes to yours....
The you you want to be....
The one who has Made Something of Me....
So you can feel your trying has worked.
So you can feel you succeeded.
Through me.
The me who you think can make something of you.

And if I fail? Again?
I will lose everything.
Taken in punishment.
For being me. 
For not being I-have-no-idea-who.
But mostly for not trying hard enough.
But if I don’t keep trying to try harder, no one will want me.
I’ll end up on the streets - alone. 
Beyond dead - unwanted.

If I do more than trying, I Will Fail.
If I can’t succeed at trying, I will fail at doing.
That failure is too big to imagine.
Trying is safe; trying is what they wanted.
I can’t truly fail if I only try.
But if I act - I might fail.
Then I, Me, Who I Am, I fail - actually fail.
Actively fail.
Do something different to the plan where trying resides,
and oh they will laugh!
Derisory - jeering - mocking - shame - shrink - harden - turn in - stick - beat - stupid.
Plus, their life will be spoilt by my failure to please.
And they will feel like me....
Mocking and mocked - jeered at and jeering - hurt and hurting. 
Reduced - by me.
No, no, no - I can’t risk that;
My pain and their pain - too much.

So, I’ll keep quiet.
Keep all this to myself.
Hide it.
Keep me to myself.
Hide me.
And just tell them I’m trying.


Tomorrow, how did this manifest in my body? And how did I release it?

Friday, 15 November 2013

“All great truths begin as blasphemies.”

““All great truths begin as blasphemies.” George Bernard Shaw famously said that, and he was right. His observation explains why so many truths must be very gently introduced, with voices soft and the truths themselves understated.” 
Reading this today in one of Neale Donald Walsch’s inspiring and deeply questioning books, I was set a-pondering..... Years ago, when FM Alexander was first teaching his ‘work’, people came to him with all sorts of ailments - pain obviously, fatigue, breathing problems, (and constipation seemed high on the list; all those corsets I guess!) and he taught them to become aware of their habitual stiff or floppy ways of standing, walking, sitting. He taught them the ability to say ‘no’ to those ways, and to ‘project a new set of directions’ (to their self) in order for their response to be one of both choice and a new found integrated and connected ease. His hands gave the experience of how this would be, offering a ‘picture on the box’ of how the default operating system you you were born with felt, affording you to know where you were aiming for when you worked on your self away from lessons with him. 

This was in the early 1900’s. FM knew, and often wrote about, the strength and importance of his work, of the basic principle of life behind it. Indeed I often think Wilfred Barlow’s early book on the work, “The Alexander Principle” (1973) carried a preferred name to ‘technique’, even if that is also what it is. I quote here an extraordinarily powerful page from from Frank Pierce Jones' book, "Body Awareness in Action". Bear in mind Alexander's words, taken from the preface to the British edition of his book, "The Universal Constant in Living", were written in 1946. "Alexander was concerned about the dilemma that had been dramatically thrust upon the world by the explosion of the first atomic bomb and the spilt between conscious and unconscious behaviour that marked the condition of civilised man. He believed that man's power over external nature and his ability to exploit this power for destructive purposes was increasing at an accelerated rate unaccompanied by by any increase in the knowledge of "how to control nature within himself" - that is to say, how to control his own reactions to the external world. In an age that demands the highest degree of rational and responsible behaviour, modern man "still rarely fails to react according to pattern (habit), no matter what the circumstances". Alexander hoped that the bomb had so dramatised the danger that the whole world faces that men would be forced to come to a full stop and realise that their only salvation lay in pushing the boundaries of human evolution further by "bridging the gulf between consciousness and subconsciousness in the control of reaction".* Knowing how to stop, he said, demands a technique of inhibition in which refusal to give consent to habitual (unconscious) reaction is the basic means for change. It is the only reliable means by which man can overcome the effects of "emotional gusts" which show themselves in "prejudices, jealousy, greed, envy, hatred, and the like". and ruin the chances for establishing the essential conditions for peace and goodwill in the world." Here Alexander was sharing with his readers the deep underlying power - in fact, imperative importance - of his work. How many read the preface in a book? And how many now know of this paragraph? Probably it is because of thoughts such as those of George Bernard Shaw, those with which I began; most thought it was a blasphemy, and possibly still do. It went right against how they believed the world worked best, and this way of thinking still abounds today - fixed rigid thinking about How It Must Be. Maybe FM and GBS discussed this over a meal; they were contemporaries and GBS had many a lesson with FM.

For now, just consider this.... "Knowing how to stop, he said, demands a technique of inhibition in which refusal to give consent to habitual (unconscious) reaction is the basic means for change." If we are unwilling to carry our handbag or brief-case differently to our habitual 'shoulder up' way, and not respond to mother-in-law or our boss without tightening the back of our neck, clenching our jaw and letting our breathing become shallow - and only "Because that's just how I do it, even if it causes me discomfort" - how on earth are we, as human beings, going to be able to change our reaction to the really, really big things in life? We can tell ourself to 'stop a habit' or 'save the planet' all we like, but we are so in love with the way we like things to feel that often nothing really shifts at all. We have to experience the difference, and then everything changes. That's where the Alexander Technique comes in - the new experience.

Neale goes on to say, “Yet there comes a time when truths can’t be understated any more. They bubble up to life’s surface and burst forth in all their glory. These are times of great moment for humanity, for it is through such bursting forth of great truth that our species evolves”. What we’re seeing now is the beginning of an explosion in the ways in which Alexander’s principles are being offered and received. No more just the one-to-one lesson with the hands being the ‘picture on the box’. Added in is more talking, more questions, much deeper enquiry, more giving the student the chance to really learn from within, which this is true education - educare: the bringing forth from within - discovering that they already know this principle and are just removing the dust sheets that hide it in readiness for its use.

So, what is this principle then? Fundamentally it is this: Our thinking as human beings creates our world. And our world is part of everyone else’s world. So be careful what you think. Be very aware of what you think, and allow your thought the flexibility in order to let them change according to current stimuli. What you think is what you get. The human being is a creator, not a victim. And this work is about realising what we are choosing, becoming aware of the fact that we are choosing, how these choices manifest in our lives, the agreements we made before we had the power of choice - the ones we took on board years ago about ‘How it is’..... Is it still? Was it ever? Now we can choose, and this work assists that discovery and the making of new choices. We took on other's 'Just how it is' without being aware of them. They were only how it was for them then, and most probably taken on board from someone else’s ‘just how it is’ that they absorbed from another’s.....and so on back into the shadows of time. It's time to make new choices from new thoughts.

How we move, how we live, always comes from a thought. Without pointing a finger, I will write this part using ‘you’ to try and make it clearer. How you are sitting now was preceded by a thought process - I am relaxed. I am tired. I am in ‘I do/don’t like this blog’ mode. Or the ‘I ought to be doing something else’ mode. The fact that you aren’t aware of this doesn’t mean doesn't exist. You do have a choice as to whether you meet anything in life with contraction and tightness, or with open flow. You can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this blog with this open flow. Or you can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with tight contraction. It’s not the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ that tightens you, the blog, or me writing it, it’s your response to it. You tighten or release your self. No one else does it. You do it. To your self. With your self. In the work of Alexander you make this discovery, and then you experience what it can feel like to respond in open flow, and then you learn how to let that be for yourself away from lessons. You regain choice - conscious, aware, choice. The 'blasphemy' of which GBS speaks? The thing people don’t want to take on board? That you have this choice. We all that choice. In every moment. We always have. And that the choices you make affect every part of your life - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

So when FM Alexander talks about something as huge as nuclear warfare, he is writing about when a government had a choice to make. He knew it would be far better for us all if that choice had been made by a group of self-aware, awake, conscious, habit-dropped, open-flowed, non-contracted, seeing the big picture, understanding cause and effect, response-able people. But the stiff necked, unfocussed, contracted, fearful, unconscious, ir-response-able, habit-ridden people chose to be involved in an act which most certainly did not honour others, or the planet.

It is time for this principle which he highlighted so long ago to be woken by us now and to be released in to the world For it to be seen, understood, and used. For it to “bubble up and burst forth in all its glory”. Yes, 'The Alexander Technique' brings about better posture, relieves back pain, RSI, headaches, etc, etc, etc. Eases the playing of musical instruments, creates greater flow in dancing and riding...... But the principle within it is world changing. And its time needs to be now; 1946 is a long, long time ago, and Alexander had been already teaching for 50 years by then. How much longer will we wait? 

What Alexander would say to this time-lapse film showing every nuclear explosion on earth from 1945 - 1998 I cannot imagine......

* It might be best to clarify that the 'control' FM wanted, and his work offers, is not the suppression of, the caging in, of intention, but the same skilful 'driving' of someone who knows how to control a car, to drive, and who does so well in all conditions. "Controlling a car" is not the pulling on of the handbrake, locking it in a garage and not going anywhere. Neither it is in ourselves. It is 'being at our wheel' in flow, balance, and with full co-ordination - psycho-physical-emotionally-spiritually.

Thursday, 7 November 2013


Yesterday I wrote about having been in a process yesterday of healing a major shame 'button' from my past. As I said, there is another way to live than in the shadow of our life experiences. 

Recently I have been wrestling with a bit of a demon - one that told me over and over "I'm not good enough". Know that one? In fact mine had got really demonstrative and was screaming "In fact you're stupid!" I hope you don't know that one. But either way, I know I'm not alone, and it's something that saddens me to see it so prevalent in so many people. It's a demon that responds of sorts to various methods of 'Get Rid Of It' therapeutic ways, but it still tends to pop up again when least wanted, and it had been around for me far too much recently. Of course it was also giving me the gift of choice - choice as to go on squashing it down - not realising what I was still believing - and see things important to me slip through my fingers like sand, or to face it within my body, heal it, and move forwards. 

This is how it was for me: I knew I wanted to process a feeling of shame, of embarrassment, of fear that had risen up the in the days before. It was strong! Why I have no idea, other than it was decision time, so I am really quite grateful to it for turning up its volume so strongly. 

As soon as I settled into the safe silence with my facilitator friend and my soul, the feelings increased, and unusually very definite images moved swiftly through my mind.... I was 16, back in school in the upstairs classroom near the main hall - 5A I think - and I was aware of myself at my desk in the back corner, in my summer blue and white dress with the short 'bell-type' sleeves. I was so 'there' it was extraordinary. It was the start of the September term, hence my still being in summer uniform. 

I stayed with the feelings in my body, allowing my mind to let the images flow. Some of the images I had remembered before, but not the detail and certainly not these feelings. A huge sense of shame flooded through me. I was at that desk in uniform because I was still in the fifth form. 3 'O' levels were needed to get into the sixth form and I had gained 3. But 'art didn't count' and my two english passes weren't enough. All the other 73 fifth form girls had moved up, but not me. They were in home clothes now, in a different part of the boarding houses, bedecked with prefect and head of house badges, and I was the laughing stock of the school, 'held up as an example'. One out of 74 girls to not 'go up'. The sense of shame I was drowning in was dark, pungent, suffocating - everything about me shrinking inside, not unlike the dot on the TV screen that used to disappear down the middle when programmes ceased at about midnight in the 1970's.

The next sensation was one of my chest lifting, something in me producing a shield, a defiant 'you won't see me crumple' attitude - but inside was a different matter. Open pages of exercise books flashed before my eyes - the marks D minus, E, C plus, D, even Fs and H's (fail and un-markable) - despite my ever-optimistic plans of A or even A-. It seemed no matter how how hard I tried, nothing I wrote passed muster. I would be pleased with my work, but I seemed stupidly alone in that. * The re-sensed feeling of utter hopelessness was with me again in this process - but this time I was safe, and had my soul experiencing it with me. Soul work is powerful; its high-frequency energy able to transform old, stuck, cellular low-frequency energy in the same way light turns darkness to light.

Again I was in lessons, putting up my hand with a confident answer only to have the whole class laugh at me. Again receiving back homework covered in red ink. Again in my boarding house being told to 'stop being difficult and simply  start trying to get higher marks'. Again in the car with my mother, she pleading with me to "Just please don't come bottom?" and "Just look as if you're trying, darling?" Again in the hall when the class placings were read out - if I was really lucky I would share 74th place with one other girl, mostly not; it was all mine. Again in the headmistress's room being told I 'had the mental age of three and would end up cleaning lavatories on Waterloo station'. (One of London's main railway stations.) But the over-riding feeling was the empty, hollow, black sense inside that accompanied the being laughed at, jeered at, mocked, teased, endlessly 'baited'. 

A friend gave me a wonderful healing a week or so ago and said she had the really strong feeling that I had 'put myself in a box and closed the lid right down at about 16-18 years old. Was this the case?' I had forgotten this during the process I was in above, but yes, there it was: 16 and I did shut that box down and locked the lid. No point at all in being 'out there' where I had to risk feeling these painful feelings of 'stupid' any more. I would 'build a me' that could resist this - a me that looked fine, looked clever, looked busy, looked busy at trying to be clever. (Recognise this from the previous blog?!) Yes, looked busy at trying to be clever. Or even trying to look busy because I was clever - not. Or even busily and cleverly trying to try. Lazy and stupid? Me? No way! Can't you see how that can't be so??! And that habit had stuck. And despite its seeming effectiveness, of course I still didn't succeed. Me in the box never believed that could ever be possible; I had enough evidence to the contrary. 'Try but fail anyway' was my label. I had been told so by very powerful people in my upbringing. And my busy-ness was empty.

But life eventually gets us to a point where we can release all our old 'boxes', and my soul seemed to have brought me to this point this week. I was being encouraged to write, to share my experiences, but I was fighting this all the way. Yes, I have a computer stuffed full of words. I have several 'books on the go'. I write my feelings and experiences, my ideas and plans, about my work, about consciousness, about the magic that is humanity..... thousands of words...for One Day. How could I let those words out there to receive those (at best) D minuses, become covered in red ink, and risk the derisory laughter all over again. And what if people, being older than meanly blunt teenagers, said it was great but laughed behind my back? So, I couldn't let the words fly free. So what did I do? I tried. I looked really busy. I tried to look busy. I wrote about having written. I wrote about what I would write. I tried to look like I was doing what I knew needed to happen - but none of this was Doing. It was Pretending.  (Ironically I had turned Non-Doing into an art form!)

It is quite extraordinary how schools kill creativity. How school replaces a child's uniqueness and freshness with stale old stuff. And how many adults, whether they passed exams or not, are left thinking their words are not good enough. I know so many. Yet, who says??? It's time to not agree any more.

So, I am still wondering, still respectful of the fact that you may well not like my words at all. That they don't resonate with you in any way (which means you might not have reached that sentence so have missed my grateful acknowledgment of you even beginning to read!) But after the powerful process of yesterday I am going to Give It a Go and Do It. I'm not stupid - never have been, even if we don't agree on everything - so I will write and post. Share into the ether to unseen eyes that belong to warm beating hearts. And if one word reassures that none of us is stupid and reminds that those how label thus just have yet to wake up. And if just one word supports, encourages, or has another not feel alone in their as yet un-popped bubble of 'NGE' (not good enough) then my writing has served.  And that is all I want it to serve, to be a friend to another who has felt any of the feelings I ever share. And to offer reassurance that, as I said at the top, there really is another way to live than in the shadow of our life experiences. 



* Mind you, the 32 pages of hard and noble work on the essay "Describe the differences between the organisms of the amoeba and the paramecium" ended somewhat badly but with a good laugh; I received a really unexpected 'R' (returned) for this one, a huge red 'R' that covered the whole of the front page and the downward stroke of the 'R' cut four pages right through with its fury... I had completely unwittingly written 32 pages about the difference between the orgasm of the amoeba and the paramecium..... 

And this is the powerful video I have ever seen that addresses the 'flood of shame' - do watch. Brene Brown - Listening to Shame

What does wearing a hot-water-bottle cover as a hat have to do with the Alexander Technique?

On Sunday I posted this to colleagues on a facebook page: “Just wanted to state my appreciation to FM; the long drive home tonight, wrapped in and fixed rigid by a ton of scarves against the very cold, windy and wet from my broken driver's side car window, had me appreciate the humble free neck; I didn't have one for all the journey (despite the attempt), and it had me realise I mostly do. And how much more comfortable it is! Good to be reminded of this fact!”

So, who is FM? And why am I so grateful to him?

FM - Frederick Matthias - Alexander discovered certain ways as to how the body best functions; the basic situation being that the human being is a much happier bunny (!) when the joint between the skull and the top vertebra (atlanto-occipital joint) is free to move. The four tiny pairs of muscles that run over this joint are massively instrumental in us functioning successfully and happily. Of course there’s a lot more that goes on around here, but I am very fond of these little guys and often refer to them in my teaching. 

When we are under stress in life - whether it is of the chronic type or the acute ‘made me jump’ type - muscles around the shoulders and neck shorten, bunching up our neck, pulling our head down into our collar and pulling the shoulders up to meet it. The classic ‘Brrrrr! It’s freeeezing!” look, or the ‘apres-balloon-burst’ look. Inside all this tension are our little guys - our four pairs of sub-occipital muscles who are needing to be lengthening rather than shortening in order to successfully send their information to the brain. This information is to do with our orientation, our sense of where we are - our kinaesthetic sense - and without this we can feel disorientated, somewhat lower in confidence, and a bit brain-fuddled. Other tensions then creep in around the body to compensate for the lost information from the little guys.

Ok, are you ready for a bit of an imagination game about this? It’s really important, but it’s not easy to put into words. In its ultra-simplistic way the words below certainly wont win any anatomy awards, but it’s an attempt to describe what goes on in this area when we are under stress. Right, get your imagination going: imagine having about 12 shortish lengths of ribbon, the ends of which you were holding in your right and left hands. If you were able to shorten all but 4 of the ribbons a little, can you imagine what those remaining four ribbons would look like? They would be flopping about with lack of tone. The allowing of the shortened ribbons to lengthen again has them able to regain their length and tone. In muscular terms, if our outer layers of muscles are over shortening in response to something in life, or in my case cold wet wind, the deeper muscles will be a bit like those four remaining ribbons - a bit ‘floppy’. Our muscles can’t send messages to the brain as effectively without tone. So, in releasing the tightenings around my neck and back, I allowed those all important four pairs of muscles to work effectively again. And this is one of the things ‘FM’ Alexander discovered. He didn’t invent this head-neck-relationship; it happens in us all, it’s how we work, but he discovered that interfering with it changes everything, and consciously allowing it to function as designed also changed everything - for the better!

So, there I was, still 100 miles from home, driving in filthy conditions - heavy rain, high winds, wild spray from the half-term traffic - and tired from many miles driving for a concert in London. There were signs suggesting that the road ahead was closed which would have added another hour and twenty to the journey, so I had stopped in a motorway services to check the situation. When I left again having discovered the road had re-opened, my wing mirror was too wet to see what was happening around me, so I pressed the button to lower the window and wipe the mirror. “Kerrrrr-screech-clunk!” The mechanism broke inside the door and the window fell all the way down and was clearly going to stay there from that moment on. The spray and wind poured in on top of me, along with the NOISE of the motorway! Immediately, reflexly, my head pulled back and down to meet my shoulders flying up the other way.....! And why would they not; this is a classic reflex we are born with, yet one we mostly have no idea we can consciously overcome.

Back when the stars were in a different place in the sky, (I just love that saying from Barry Brailsford!) I would have undoubtedly had a stiff neck the next morning, and I pondered as I thundered along (oh my, the NOISE!) how we think it’s a draught that causes a stiff neck, when of course it is the tension from our (futile) avoidance of said draught than creates it. So, what to do.....?

I stopped as soon as I could - in the sort of narrow lay-by that has trucks take you out as soon as you get out of the car. Hey ho, just another ‘startle pattern’ reaction possibility! I found a bag and some Sellotape in the car and set to trying to cover the gaping space. Everything was far too wet to stick so I gave up and got back in. Reaching around to the back seat (another movement all too often fraught with tightness in us all) I unzipped my suitcase and starting pulling clothes into the front seat with me. I put on a second coat, wrapped my nightdress around my legs, a long cardigan around my neck, my long black concert skirt around my neck too, placed a pale-blue fluffy hot-water-bottle cover over my right ear and secured it in place by tying a black cotton shawl around my head, and again tying the ends around my neck.

First challenge to my head-neck arrangement (remember those little guys deep inside there?) was the bulk around my neck!! Plus the pull-down of my head into my shoulders by the shawl as it held the hot-water-bottle cover tightly on my ear. I was already feeling such gratitude for knowing what I know; without ‘FM’ I would have already been in a right old state, the impending stiff neck already building up from within.

I began to drive again, the stimulus of the buffeting wind, the noise, and the cold constantly requesting I pull into the classic "This is freeeeezing and horrible" shape. But no; no way was I going to keep doing that. Each time tension crept in I was aware of it and kept releasing, softening, opening, releasing, softening, opening in my neck and shoulder area as I drove along. I was imagining how, through this softening, the three little pairs of muscles deep inside my neck were being afforded space to function.

As I often say to students about tightenings and tensions, “Ask yourself if it’s helping any. And if it isn’t, don’t do it.” Of course no amount of tension was going to stop the elements pouring into the window, and the journey ahead was going to be 100 miles taking 90 minutes no matter what....that was just the way it was going to be, and fighting it with my neck wasn’t going to help AT ALL. One point worth mentioning here: the difference from my work as an Alexander teacher is that “Just relax” isn’t part of my thinking; so often all that happens is collapse, and we can’t function as a bag of soggy mush either. It’s the specific, focussed release in this all-important area of the head-neck that makes all the difference. When this area remains free, other tensions find it much harder to manifest elsewhere. 

So, after a stop to re-fuel (requiring a lot of undressing and dressing up again!) and the building of the wind over Bodmin moor to at least a gale coming straight at my ear, I continued driving (aka, being thrown around on the road) with the noisy racket, plus the heater on full fan, the radio on LOUD to distract from both those... Learning, remembering, and appreciating so much as I went along. It was really quite strange to feel (due to the scarves) this ‘inability to move’ in my neck after 30 years - it sure took me back to the late 1970’s when it was indeed the case on a daily basis before my first lessons in the Alexander Technique. I was aware of the question ‘How do people cope with this feeling?!’ in my mind as I drove - the gratitude to FM, and my aunt for her first introduction all those years ago. (I also thought how useful this knowledge would be for sailors at the helm in heavy weather - something I decided I really wouldn’t like much at all; at least here I was fairly dry!)

I finally got home and the sense of freedom when I took off all the gubbins from around my neck was wonderful - and the relief in knowing that years ago I might well have not felt any different, scarves on or off, because the fixing would have been coming from within my neck and not from what was wrapped around it!

The next morning, no stiff neck. And a happy group of tiny, important muscles in my neck. Just a car window to be mended.

If you would like to know how to ‘free your neck in crazy circumstances’ (which also includes the ‘dull crazy’ like sitting at computers, washing up, using your mobile/cell phone) do get in touch with me, or with an Alexander teacher in your area. You just never know when you will feel really, really glad that you did! :-)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Let Yourself Feel All the Feelings....

You know this one...? The part of us that says of those of us ‘in the business of personal growth’ that we are failing if we have a day containing even a few negative thoughts? A day of judgements? A day of pain, low energy or brain fog? The mind understands it so well - soothing us with gentle and appropriate platitudes; the ones we might use with clients and students. But still we 'shouldn't' feel so bad; after all, how long have we spent working on ourselves? Learning all the methods and ways of not feeling these things?! Yet the body rebels and ‘what we resist persists’. We resist strongly and feed the persisting of the feelings, until the latter win out fair and square. Well, today I had a process from a friend. Monday night had been a bit of a mega-night in all of the above; fearful, depressed, tired out, and a bit battered from the many miles driven in uncomfortable circumstances over the days before. I had no idea why the feelings had manifested, and I could feel my embodied resistance to them strongly. During the process today I received a clear and loving message:

“We love you so much for your efforts. For your working so hard to avoid what you call negative human feelings. For attempting to ‘rise above them’. For wanting to assist others away from their own so-called negative feelings, and to instill confidence for them with the absence of your own. But you know, you are in human form. You will feel those feelings. And so will they. None of you have done anything wrong to have them. And if only you knew how much you are loved when feeling them. Just as much as you are loved the rest of the time. There is no line crossable in our loving. It is only you who compares feelings and gives them a false hierarchy; we just see you and love you the same way in every moment. Can you forgive yourself the low moods? The tiredness? Any aches or pains? Can you truly and deeply let yourself have them as humans will? And just know how unconditionally loved you are?”

The sense in me was of a great opening of possibility. Of peace and calm deep in my cells. Of a gentle acceptance. And even though my head had got this advice over and over in the past, the difference in this moment was that my body got it, and I felt the forgiveness flow into every cell and pour a balm over all the trying and doubting. I felt a great peace in the acceptance of 'gnowing' that all human feelings have a palpable ‘rightness’ to them. 

We walk a fine line between finding the present moment’s feelings unacceptable in ourselves (and also in others) and finding the present moment’s feelings acceptable. When to help people Be, and when to help them Grow. The difficulty lies when he have buttons that get pressed. It’s these buttons, and the interpretations we make about them, that lead to us deciding we have unwanted feelings. And all the ”I shouldn’t feel like this anymore”s and the “I should be able to change this now”s are the resistance that maintains them. But heal the buttons and the feelings are healed. Then the acceptance of our feelings can flourish. And yet this is a circular event, joinable at any point on the circumference; allow the acceptance of being a beautiful, fully-feeling'd human, and the relevant buttons begin to dissolve away on their own, acceptance blossoms, and a healing has happened.

The more I stayed with the emotions through Monday night - in my body and not my head - the more they softened and lost their power. And today I healed many buttons. What they were I will share tomorrow; they are similar to ones held by so many of us. But rest assured there is another way to live than in the shadow of our life experiences.

The funny named shop....

Once upon a time there was a shop in a town. This shop had a big sign that meant nothing to passers-by, and was forever changing the description beneath, and sometimes didn't even having anything at all displayed over the door. The bell on the door never jangled; the people in the town could be seen walking past the shop day after day, heads down, talking amongst themselves, no one ever looking in the empty window. They walked slowly and painfully, holding their stomachs - hollow from lack of food, the fatigue and pain of malnourishment obvious for all to see. The shop might sometimes change its name from "Oven Operative Needs" through "Kitchen Technician Notions" to "Nutrient Substances", forever thinking up new, unfathomable names that the people ignored. Sometimes the sign was covered in indecipherable print that carried a seemingly complicated message, but the starving people felt no inclination to read it in their discomfort. 

Just down the road there was a place some people had discovered. It was a special place where a cook could stop the hunger pangs and allow them to return to health. The people’s hunger was often so huge that they flocked to this place in great numbers. They thought that one meal from this chef would fill their bellies for ever and stop the need to search for food from then on. The meal they ate did stop the hunger pangs, but they had to keep going back to this shop to stop them from returning. And their lives were on hold for the need of this place.

One day a group of friends decided they would enter the shop with the funny names they didn't understand. What on earth was an "Oven Operative" anyway? And what could they possibly need from it? When they went in they found shelves and shelves of food. They found cooking equipment, and recipe books galore. Oh my goodness!" said one, "This is the shop that will stop us from starving! How could it be that no one knows about it? That so many are starving, and either going to the cook who cooks them expensive meals each time they can bear the pain no more, or walking past this shop over and over as they discuss how hard it is to live with their pain and hunger!”

The friends ran out of the shop to tell everyone, but the people said, "No, that shop can't sell anything we need; look at the name! It's nothing to do with food, and that's what we need!" No matter what the friends tried, the people wouldn't believe them and went on starving, just occasionally visiting the cook’s place for a meal when they were desperate.

So the friends went to the man who ran the shop with the funny names. "How about you just write 'FOOD' over the shop door?" they said. And they went to the chef's place and said, "How about you join with the man who sells the food and utensils and add 'LEARN TO COOK HERE' over the door?" And they connected the two men who began to work together - selling the ingredients and showing the people how to cook them for themselves.

The simply named shop became busier and busier, the window more and more interesting, the bell on the door jangling merrily every few minutes. The town became a very happy place where people lived happily ever after with delicious food in their bellies, and the skills and talents to keep it so.

So, with The Alexander Technique shop, what name would you like to see over the door so you know what it sells. What it can offer you? So you know to go and and discover the delights on the shelves? So you knew how to share this place with your friends? I'd love to know your answers!