Thursday, 27 February 2014

Less Is More….

I worked with a delightful couple from a theatre company today who felt they were struggling to get into role as convincingly as they would like to; they are playing characters who are also acting being other characters.... The process was becoming hard work for them both, and the result appearing somewhat forced. I could (and almost hear!) their brains clanking with the effort of trying! We had had a couple of sessions around balance, free necks and breath, managing high heels, ‘constructive slumping’ in an office chair, allowing sound from the whole body, and then came today’s session. Both of them were very tired with the effort of long rehearsals and their recent preview night’s acute demands. 

The young man, Tom, was struggling with getting into his older character. He had an idea that he wanted to be not unlike Jim Broadbent, so I asked him to ‘go right back to neutral’ as he sat in his chair, and then allow his legs and feet to absorb the sense of this much older actor. I said legs and feet as I wanted Tom to be as far away from all the thoughts in his head as possible! As his time of neutral stillness moved organically into a movement, more of him filled the stage than ever before, and more of ‘Jim Broadbent’ filled the lines. The young woman, Sarah, sensed the change clearly and appeared to find it easier to play her role with him. Tom still seemed slightly unconvinced it was working; like many people, being in his body isn’t, as yet, as familiar to him as being in his mind. I like to go very slowly with the process of opening up to what is happening in our bodies; too fast and the head’s thoughts will leap back in before a confidence in the senses has had a chance to gel.

Then we worked with them both playing a scene where much happens very quickly; the two actors playing the four characters - two people in an office playing two people they had to be in order to hide a misdemeanour.

Then we removed the emotion to see what would flow… Not that Tom and Sarah looked like this!)

It was still a little bumpy, neither feeling the swift changes they were trying to make were really working. So I asked them to play the scene as neutrally as possible - no characterisation, no postures, no emotional input to the words, no intention to portray anyone. It was more than marking it, but not ‘acting the parts’. I sensed might happen and it was only a matter of moments before they were revealing the characters with a new  clarity and conviction. They were pleased, and not a little amazed! Sarah then said that she ‘still couldn’t get that bit right...’ so I asked her to repeat it with even less. Bold and willing, they played the scene again, “With even less than before, please...” 

I sat spellbound as the scene unrolled before me....Sarah’s character’s self-dislike apparent and touching me in my stomach, her hatred for the boss curling my insides, their fears apparent as an uneasy fear within me, her humour and wit flashing in and out of the lines. Tom’s new speed and versatility was right there to meet it with a new flexibility and depth, their sought after characterisations simply happening organically. There was a moment when Tom and Sarah swapped lines by mistake and one commented about this to the other in order to right it, and I was really not sure at all that the comments weren’t lines to the script that I just hadn’t noticed before, such was their connection and depth. 

When the scene finished, Sarah’s eyes were sparkling - she knew she had connected with the very thing she had been looking for, and she was excited for future rehearsals now she had a valuable tool in her pocket - Do Less! Tom was very tired from all the rehearsing, and we all acknowledged that his head was stuffed with too many thoughts. I advised them both to go and do something completely different; the very thing that their mind would say, “I don’t have time for that”, and they each had a plan for the next day or two. There’s nothing like leaving something to simmer whilst we go off and do something else; when we come back, so much has clarified in the open space we make by our absence. I know both of them made a great discovery today in the ‘space-of-non-doing-ness’ and that their desired clarity will be with them within a few days. With 10 days until opening night, they’ll be just fine.

Sarah added this comment after the session: "Sometimes when rehearsing or performing, you're thinking of so many things at once (vocal techniques, physicality, lines) that you become tense and therefore less able to connect with the 'truth' of the character you are playing. Annie's exercise of playing the scene without emotion really helped me re-connect with my character and her emotions - almost immediately too!  I'm hoping I can incorporate this into my performance when we start touring."

I love the increased confidence and self-trust this work offers, the trust that one’s intention is powerful, appropriate, vibrant, and heart-centred, and that if you’re doing what you love without getting in the way by trying too hard, it will just happen. And I am always humbled by the courage of students to give new ideas a go, and to face their fears and beliefs and allow them to shift. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Trying to stand still and to move forwards all at once = sore hips and lower back!

Penny came today for a lesson - her hips were sore and she felt her old tight lower back had returned. She is wanting to move forwards in life to new things, but as with so many of us, her desires for her, albeit grown, family pull her the other way. She had noticed that her breathing had been very shallow since her young son had got a job abroad and left home in the autumn. I also found her holding on in her lower back, leaning back way beyond vertical, and also very resistant to going forwards in any way.  When standing up from a chair she didn’t want to move forwards from her hips so the action was a struggle; her lower back tightening hugely to heave herself to her feet. When sitting down she dropped like a stone rather than coming forwards from her hips and in her knees in order to lower herself in balance to the chair. And when standing upright and walking, her upper back was falling backwards towards family and her hips were lunging forwards towards her dreams. She said she felt so off balance that she couldn’t move with any freedom. 

What I am writing might seem as if I was wanting Penny to ‘stand better’, or ‘move right’, but both those would only be the result of a deeper understanding of what was going on. After talking together about how things were for her right now, I asked her to let herself move forwards from her hips as she stood, to let her head lead and her body follow. So much easier! And sitting down again meant she allowed her head and her knees to move forwards, and she found herself seated again with no sense of an off-balance fall to the chair. 

When Penny got up again I had the sense that she was standing as if she had two huge lengths of powerful elastic attached to her bra-strap at the back, and which went down through a big ring in the floor about 2 feet behind her and then back into her hands. It was as if she was pulling on this imaginary elastic, pulling her upper back down towards the floor behind her. So she stopped ‘pulling', and let the elastic lengthen considerably, This let her upper back release forwards and up in space. With the thought of another softer elastic from her head to the ceiling just in front of her, she allowed this one to take up the release of her back. This meant her hips moved backwards under her torso again, and she said she now felt in balance, and that she was also in a place from where she could move away from to stand up, sit down, walk, and then return to.

Penny said she could now see how she could step away from ‘home’ briefly to shop, visit, work, and then return again afterwards. She didn’t have to hold herself ‘at home’ all the time until she could make the big move. Now she could stop trying to be in two places at once - At Home and On her Big Journey all at once. That had been what was pulling her both backwards and forwards at the same time and creating the resistance and pain.

She went away balanced, happy, and easier, having made an important discovery as to where she was in her thinking and her future plans, and how the resulting buried feelings had affected her body.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


And b-r-e-a-t-h-e!! Please don't run away; this is offered 
with love in order to help!!

Today it was the dentist for a planned filling replacement. Two things filled me with a bit of tension; the cost (I wont go there) and the having my mouth open so wide for so long. Not blessed to be Julia Roberts with her enviable barn-door mouth, and coming from the tight-lipped home counties (damn it), this always causes me more pain than any injection can prevent! 

My lovely Irish dentist always fills me with confidence, so much so that I had even forgotten (yes, genuinely!) that this appointment would mean an injection! But it was done before I even knew it. The difference is that Sean moves around his patients with a quiet compassionate attention, moving slowly with respect and honour around the head, acknowledging that he is doing something quite ‘invasive’ to his patients -  I hope you can find a dentist like that; it makes such difference!

Then the drilling - No! Don’t switch off!!! I have some some really useful tips for being in the dentist’s chair which I hope will help you! 

I was lying back, knowing I could resist the fact I was there or go with the flow, and that I only had to raise my hand and Sean would stop and give me a break. So, what to think first? Let’s make a list for ease...things I found helpful today to go with the flow:
  1. Soften my hands that were folded in my lap; there was no need to clasp them as if holding on to a cliff face!
  2. Soften my neck - the area around the hair line at the back of my scalp, and imagine a widening space up behind my eyes and up into my brain, like rings on a pond.
  3. Breathe!!!
  4. Allow my mouth to be open... In fact, when I stopped resisting and let Sean and his assistant keep my mouth open with their instruments to do what they needed to do, it became much easier... I was then not forcing my mouth open beyond where they needed it to be, or fighting them in a futile effort to try and close it.
  5. When it became tiring and sore, I remembered the ‘smile behind the eyes’ that unlocks the jaw to enable it to open freely. Try this now for me?... Look miserable and pull your jaw down to open your mouth as wide as you can. And now close your mouth again. Now, think of something pleasurable that creates an inner smile behind your eyes... It can show in your mouth too, but the important bit is the smile in your eyes and up behind your cheeks. Now allow your lower molars to drop away from your upper molars.... Can you tell the difference?! So, even though my mouth was open and below my ears was screaming in discomfort, I thought about letting that smile happen, and I felt a great release and the relief from jaw-sore was fantastic!! :-)
  6. Then I let my hands go again, and my legs which had joined in the foray!
  7. And breathe..... which showed me something quite interesting; I had stopped breathing on the out-breath. This meant that I was pulling down away from Sean’s hands and instruments...sort of squashing myself down out of the way. As I breathed I came up to meet him again, and the relief was fantastic, again. Far less resistance on my mouth and jaw.
  8. So I softened up towards my head, and my body deepened upwards from the ‘chair’,  the distance between my back and my front feeling like it had trebled. Again this stopped my resistance to Sean’s instruments.
  9. Smile inside again - more relief from the jaw which had begun to tighten again.
  10. And breathe....this time I felt something release in my shoulders; that part directly above the armpits at the front; I had been narrowing across there in an effort to ‘help or hide’...and it was doing neither, of course! Try that?... Lift your shoulders and narrow across your front, and open your mouth wide...? Now release that tension, allow your shoulders to float apart and Just Be, and then open your mouth with that smile. Easier? I found it hugely so. (Perhaps you had to be there, but it’s something for your ‘handbook’ when you next visit your dentist!)
  11. Again I felt myself come back up towards Sean; I had pulled back down without noticing! And breathe....and smile....and relief...!
  12. This time I let go in my body and let the chair come back in support of me - to cradle me. This stopped the ‘ I am trying to levitate myself out of this place’ tension and again the softening released my jaw and allowed me to be present to the event. It’s far scarier when we ‘run out in our minds’; the body feels abandoned!
  13. Each time I needed to rest, I listened to my body, not my ‘I might interupt him’ mind, and he willingly stopped just for a few seconds, enough for me to soften my jaw to closed, smile inwardly to unhinge it and re-open it again. 
  14. Softening hands, legs, body, neck, breath, shoulders, jaw, smile, tummy, toes....they all helped hugely. (And I mean soften, release, de-frost, not chillaxed, relaxed, lying on a beach stuff which is a crazy demand in the dentist’s chair!)
And then it was done, all over, and finished. An apt sigh of relief, one final release of the neck as I paid the humungous bill (tension is resisting what is!), and out to dribble over a coffee and write this for you in a beach cafe in the sunshine, spring showing her nose at last, the beach full of laughing, barking happy people and dogs, and all is well in the world! It might well be baby-food tonight, but who cares; ‘tis done!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Effective and Reliable Friend in Your Pocket…

This is a sentence from Jeremy Chance, a fellow Alexander teacher, and I like it, a lot. It’s real. It’s truthful. It shines a light on the reality of life. By sharing some of my own experiences of being in pain, the bit I’d like to shine the light closer to is the last bit in italics, the bit that I offer you...
“I often remind students: this work will not prevent injury or pain, because life happens. Stress happens. It’s natural. What you are gaining is an effective and reliable method to deal with your stress, pain and injuries that is based on sound principles.”
Maybe people think we say we cure, but surely (and wisely) also think we don’t, yet both those immediately set up quite a lot of wobbly thoughts and feelings... “What if it doesn’t work?”, “What if everyone else can do it, but I can’t?”, “What if she thinks I’m stupid?”, “What if I think she’s stupid?!!” And, you know what?... I feel that too! What if I can’t, what if I’m stupid...! You see, I’m human, life happens to me, too, but I’m a teacher of this work and so I’m never, ever meant to have pain, discomfort, stress, angst, or I?! So, over the next day or so, I thought I’d share some of the experiences I have had in 30 years as a teacher, and how this method has been ‘effective and reliable’ for me. This is today’s...
When I’d been qualified as an Alexander teacher only a year or so, I moved my furniture around, and whilst dragging a heavy pine blanket chest from one room to another, the feet of it got caught on the metal strip holding the carpet down in the doorway... That and the chest were inflexible, my back was flexible, and the result was an injury to my lower back. I was stuck, and in great pain. I eased myself down onto the floor to ‘go within and let it be with my reassurance’, rather than panic and tense up massively. (Over the years I have used the lovely TV’s, “Don’t panic. Mr Mannering!” to myself and students many a time!) With simple paracetamol to assist the initial protective spasms to ease, I went on to discover for the first time how intensely connected were my legs to my back; my legs just wouldn’t work properly, and for the next week or so, they collapsed under me when I least expected it. I was intrigued to find that not only could I could not pull on something, but I couldn’t push either; using the jet spray in the manual car-wash being surprising agony... (I also remember the skill of changing channels on the TV with the tip of a wobbly 15 foot bamboo cane from my place on the sofa - the good ol’ days before ‘remote control’!) But I attended to the ongoing releasing of my neck and my back, intending them to lengthen, breathing into my back, and not giving in to the desire to pull down into a panicky ‘I’ve broken’ state. I experimented and found the pain to be no worse, and in fact easier, when walking, standing and lying ‘long’ than when I ‘shrank’ and shortened into the universal ‘my back’s gone’ shape..... (Where is it meant to go, by the way...?!) 
I knew from the first lessons I had ever had that giving the body parts space through this intention of openness gave them more blood supply and more room to go back to their ‘default’ arrangement, so, by moving as if all was well, I gave my painful back and body the space, and indeed, all was well within a month. I was fine again, and importantly, not carrying any label suggesting I ‘had a bad back’. I didn’t; it had just suffered briefly at the hands of life. I had received many well-meaning 'assurances' from people that I had 'isms and itis' ' galore, and that I would ‘never again be able to do x, y, and z’, and that I ‘ought to’ and 'should'...., but I simply went on with the Alexander ‘effective and reliable method’ that had relieved me of my neck pain years before, and I came out of this ‘Annie vs The Pine Chest’ situation with a strong, able back, and no labels or restrictions for my future in my mind, and much new and useful information.

Over the years I have had intense ‘golfer’s elbow’, a painful hip/groin, stiff necks from ‘sleeping wrong’, a very sore right foot, a breakdown, and a thunderclap headache from coughing from which I surely would have panicked more than at any other time in my life had I not had this ‘effective and reliable’ tool in my pocket... I’ll share more on all these tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


In the last two days two more mice have been reported as suffering at the hands of their masters. Given hugely restricted quarters and then nigh on crushed to death. If they could have squeaked, this could have been prevented.
What on earth am I on about?! Well, I’m talking about the wee creature, Mousus Movus, that lives on your desk - if you’re a desktop computer person of course*. This poor wee creature is greatly ignored, and even if seen and acknowledged, hugely misunderstood. He (or she, of course) is blamed for many a right arm ailment in its user, but has no way of defending himself. I know of lucky mice who wear a fluffy coat with a teddy’s-tummy-squeak sown into the back of it. The moment the owner's hand gets too keen, or their body too heavy, the squeak alerts the owner to back off, and Mousus Movus (MM) can breathe again.

*If you’re a laptop person, your mouse is trapped within the touch pad, but we’ll get to this breed later - Mousus Trapidus.

This endless crushing of the breath in this vulnerable creature comes alongside the cruelty of keeping it in such a small space. He lives on a mat measuring twice times his length and barely three times his width. He can just about turn around, but is never given the chance. The master, alongside the placing of his entire weight on MM’s back, squeezes and tightens on MM’s throat each time MM threatens to leave the mat. MM is trying his best to be where Cursor, his mate, wants to be, but the mat stops him from doing this. Sometimes he is even lifted up and slammed down onto another part of the mat just so he can ‘get it right’ and move Cursor another millimetre. This severely winds MM and he often takes a moment to recover. How MM wishes he could just have the space and freedom of the whole desk or table; oh, how he would show his master how powerful and brilliant he is!

But the thing he really wants to tell his master is this: “Do you realise what you do to yourself all the time you are restricting me? When you try and make me move Cursor on the big screen above me and I’ve run out of mat, you screw your shoulder into all sorts of contortions with the effort of restraining me. I am so willing to move for you, but you don’t let me! I see you ram your wrist down into the table - or even the wrist rest you have purchased at great cost - and try and move me with just your hand or fingers. This restricts me even more! Then I hear you telling people that you need a new mouse as I have injured you! I am so upset and so hurt; I feel so powerless to tell you what’s happening. I’m just a humble mouse; and if you move me around where you want me to go, I will always heed your wishes, I really will. But I have to have room to move. And I move so much more freely if you’re not heavy on my back and stiffening your arm.

So often my life is short lived - I survive the beatings and crushings, I manage on my tiny mat, but despite this I am all too often put in a drawer; discarded without a whim in favour of a supposedly bigger, better, smarter, cleverer, version - Mousus Ballus, Mousus Ergonomicus, Mousus Erectus...on and on, someone somewhere breeding ever more sophisticated mice, and yet none of us can tell you that you that this isn't necessary! We, the humble Mousus Movus are just fine. It’s how you use us that is key. If you give us room to play, if you support your own weight on your sitting bones on your chair rather than attempting to have us prop you up, if you stop trapping your hand in one place by leaning on your wrist, if you and I can dance freely on the table top, you will be amazed at how easy it becomes! And you will see we are not out to injure you; your not-knowing these things is what is doing that. Might I be so bold as to repeat my main point?... Your bum takes your weight, not us!” 

So, in deference to the wishes of all mice, please have a think about this? Watch how you treat your mouse, listen for its squeak if you’re too heavy on its back. Sometimes let it play for you on a different part of the desk....maybe away over beyond your coffee cup? Or even on your neighbour’s desk!! Fly free and explore, dear mice! Take your masters' arms away from their bodies and encourage them to release and lengthen!

And despite the fact that Mousus Trapidus can’t roam free, living as it does inside a laptop finger pad, it too has a squeak on its back in the pad, and the laptop itself (beside the pad) has one too. So let your arm and wrist dance, tickle the finger pad with your finger tips and play it like a piano. Your wrist really doesn’t have to lean on the laptop at all! You’ve just got used to it being like that. Be aware of the squeak of warning as you work, and play with all the possibilities!

“We, Mousus Movus and Trapidus, and in great numbers, hope this has been really helpful to you. We hope it means happy shoulders, wrists and arms, and happy, happy mice everywhere! If you need more help on this, we highly recommend you visit a representative of the MMTPS - Mousus Movus & Trapidus Protection Society - who go under the name of Alexander Technique teachers. The one, Annie, who has kindly taken our dictation for this plea for help is pretty good; she’s saved many, many mice' lives, and arms of masters, over the years; most notably at UK Orange call-centres. She'll come into your work place too and she, with us, will give invaluable advice in order to save the lives of many mice, and also many masters.

Good luck! Happy typing from now on! We are all very grateful to you for reading this!”