Sunday, 14 August 2016

Experimentation is Play to Me!

Today I kayaked - first time ever - in Falmouth, in a hired kayak, for one hour. 
Bobbing up and down on an undulating millpond on a perfect day. And experimenting with the arc of the paddle, the request of the same to the water in order to move me forwards over the surface. And suddenly, there I was - recognising the view of the beach from 50 yards out - back in the Isle of Wight in Augusts of long ago when each summer was spent rowing, rowing, and more rowing in my little pram dinghy, ‘Thumbelina’. Yellow she was, with a little red hexagon on each side. I would get lost in endless experimentation and practice, culminating in two or three silver trophies in the town regatta races at the end of August. 
Kayaking today I was reminded both of these happy times and the weekend I ‘learned to play’ in February 2015. I was drawn to Franki Anderson’s The Art of Play workshop in Cornwall through having been an only child, because I felt I had never really played and now I wanted to know how.... At one point a basket of small toys appeared and we were to each take two back to our rug and play with them. I looked at my Dinky car and small doll and went blank. Sneaking a respectful glance at the others - feeling every inch the ‘cheat’ in a school exam! - I could see them making up stories with their toys, some even directing whispered conversations within their plays... I tried, but it felt alien to me. What did I do when young then? Muscle memory had me remember very quickly; I used the toys as targets for improving my skill at throwing; into the toy basket they would go, my stepping back ever further each time to see how far I could be away from the basket and yet still get them in... Clearly sports skills meant way more to me than a doll and a car having a conversation about where to go on a picnic
Today my play was to try many different ways of using my paddle - quickly connecting with the fact that pulling the blade towards me through the water created a tightening in my elbow, but pushing the vertical paddle rod away from me with one arm as the opposite blade was in the water had an opening, freeing sense and was stronger, yet with considerably less work. How smoothly could I do this? How fast to go fast? How slowly to go fast? How deep to go for best use of the paddle blade? Where best to place my sitting  bones in the seat?… On and on, back and forth, 50 yards off the beach, just like in the Isle of Wight over 40 years ago
How appropriate are Alexander’s discoveries to me, based as they are on experimentation and curiosity around ease of effective movement!! No wonder I leapt at them when I first heard about them 35 years ago! A whole world, a whole way of working, even a whole career of ‘experimentation in the smoothest and most effective way to excel in an activity’! Play? This is play to me!! 
And so I played in my kayak today - 60 minutes of play - and it was wonderful! And yes, I did go really fast sometimes when I wanted to play at fast. Other times I played at just bobbing up and down and enjoying how my body responded differently to the waves coming side-on, or fore-aft: how my body can be free to move under my head as well as my head free to move above my body. And how my whole arm structure was compromised into being stiff if I lay back into the little seat as I paddled. And how my arms disappeared into being part of all of me as my whole body became involved in creating a sweeping circle at the tip of each blade; water droplets sparkling in the sunshine as they flew from their edges 
It was a fine, fine hour, definitely to be repeated another day!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Life Grammar!

Today we had fun in a lesson with 'Life Grammar'….

The powerfully simple and simply powerful points of the Alexander Technique are quite simply these:

1. Become aware of where, and how, you are right now…
2. Pause…… Come to a moment of space in your doing-ness…
3. Soften, release out of any compression and constriction….
4. Choose what to do next, rather than being led by habit….
5. Go back to 1. if you are not clear about 4…

So, how does this relate to a busy day in the office? Or home? Or college? Or city? Or farm? Or….(fill in your own blank)?

Well, does your morning often look like this?
wake up get up pee check phone shower dress coffee check phone make breakfast eat breakfast check laptop/computer make phone call read emails make call check phone write blog update Facebook begin work/start to practice take call write email make coffee run to next place take more calls write more emails learn music chew pencil and squirm in chair take next call run to next place write next email be vaguely aware of life outside the window fleeting thought of a meal later run to concert etc etc etc and etc

Or wake up get bounced on get up chase small child around pee shower (with child; what else) dress yourself, try to dress them coffee make breakfast eat breakfast wipe child's breakfast off the walls make calls check emails get child in car stop dog getting in car dry dog (who's wet) put dog in house reassure now screaming child drive to playgroup drop off child stop at supermarket on way to work sit in roadworks check phone chew nails find parking space run to office explain to boss coffee sit at desk and it's only 9.30…...

???? Yes?

What's missing is exactly what's missing in the above paragraphs - punctuation!

Whilst the above are indeed crazy depictions of an equally crazy modern life, something radical changes when punctation is added - space.

Space to breathe - music for singers is often punctuated with commas to denote where to breathe.
Space to re-member you - to feel the ground supporting you and you resting upon it.
Space to orientate yourself - to know where you are and why…and change this if it isn't ok.
Space to change gear from one activity to the next; neutral is between different gears. No missing it out!
Space to change our mind - change direction - be soft to changes - to not 'push the river' - flexibility is true strength and power…
Space to see patterns - to see times to take a break - to come up for air - to lighten up - to let go…

When we start our day we can take a moment to 'set the course to steer' (in sailing terms) -
To know the busy-ness will have spaces in it allows us to begin and continue in balance.
And, even if this is impossible, we can start our day knowing we have a comma or two in our pocket.

In this space we can get out the post-it notes and write one activity on a page to itself…
We can stick them up on the window/door/wall and decide before we begin which is the best order…
We can move post-its around easily - both because we choose to, and because life will choose to, too…
We can add two or three blank post-its! Why? Because life will fill them and we've left space for it…
Should life magically not fill all of them, we can add in one from the afternoon list…
OR, shock, stunning realisation, enjoy a breather!!

Think up your own post-it version? A row of pots on your desk into which you put a task?
A row of those little photo holders with a peg sticking up out of the top - a note in each?
Anything but a list; too fixed, too stuck, too boring, too 2D, too narrow! Anything which can be moved around to remind you that 1 to 10 needn't be in order!

Try it and let me know how it goes for you?
Happy punctuating!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Alive in our own vessel….

A boat knows she is alive at all times.... Ever responsive to the tides and the sky

“All that canvas up in the air! I will heave everything taught as we first come about beyond the corner of the breakwater. The sheet winches creak, the water murmurs on the bottom as Joshua gathers way and begins to come alive... People who do not know that a sailboat is a living creature will never understand anything about boats and the sea.” (Bernard Moitessier) 

A sailor will always be aware of his vessel. A sailor will be present to the conditions he and his vessel are in at all times. A sailor will know where she is going, having checked her course before leaving. She will have checked weather reports. She will have gone over her boat with a keen eye before leaving. The sailor will know his vessel's sound and movement, and be aware of any change which signals action the moment it is needed.

We are a living vessel too, animated by the winds and tides of life, yet one that frequently sets sail with no checks, no passage plan, no course-to-steer, no awareness of the conditions present - ‘present’ meaning ‘right now’. Leap on board, slip lines, head off...and hope. Not so the sailor. Not so the master mariner, ever connected to, and respectful of, the ocean and his best friend, his boat.

Each sail plan carefully considered - not the hauling up of the biggest, easiest, most to hand sail available; disaster could follow if it was the wrong sail; blown out from being over canvassed, a hole becoming a full rip, or not enough sail leaving you overtaken by a chasing squall, or being carried onto a reef. Uncaring sail choice is a dangerous thing.

Ropes - the lines - are checked frequently for chafe, the sailor’s enemy, causing breakages at the worst moments.

Knots consciously learned, long practiced, and placed in the muscle-memory to be right there, even in a gale at 40 degrees heel - being at sea is no place for trying to remember how they go and opting for an old habitual granny knot, which will tighten down never to be released, and creating rope only fit to be cut and thrown.

No, the sailor exhibits perfect inhibition, direction, and conscious control of his vessel, his situation, his intention, and his experience. He is present, aware, and with an eye on his vessel, the sea, sky, sails, and compass - at all times.

And then nature kicks in with her ornary ways; wind shifts, sea state changes, tidal anomalies....and acute presence to what is is required from the sailor reveals itself again. There is no point in living the ‘But it said...’, or ‘I’ll just keep doing what worked an hour ago’; nature is powerful. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t alter the wind, but you can alter your sails’. Constant presence. Constant alertness. Constant immediacy. 

No wonder people love to go to sea and say it makes them feel so alive; they are alive! More alive than most of us ever experience on land. Unless we are at the helm of our own land-ship; our body, and thus experiencing the aliveness of our whole self in each moment.
Alexander Technique is the learning to be alive at the helm of your own earth-ship.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

De-grumpification and de-resistantism….

Grumpy. Yes, that one. Why? What for? In the first hour of yesterday I observed ‘grumpy’. How was grumpy? - meaning, how happened grumpy? How did grumpy get done, for it did; grumpy isn’t separate from me, it IS me. How was I doing grumpy? How was I being as I was noticing grumpy? I noted grumpy was simply about having to do something I didn’t want to have to do right now. I could have focussed on not being grumpy, or telling myself to note the sunshine and the blessing of a new day, but instead I checked out grumpy as best I could; it had useful information. 
This is how it went for me in its un-believably non-earth-shattering-content... I awoke - hungry. I got up to release the dog from his night crate - still hungry. But no food or drink yet as I choose to do my ‘oil-pulling'; the only way I’m getting through the 10 days until I can see my dentist for my previous, but now improving with ‘pulling’, toothache. Grumpy is already growing, but I am ignoring it and powering on. The dog wants to go out, so I let him out. I climb on the bed again and get the oil in my mouth, a teaspoon of coconut oil (pretty ugh until it melts, and even then) apparently in order to draw the toxins and/or infection out of the gum into the oil. Grump grows as dog comes in clean, but all wet and needs a good towelling  (He’s a dachshund - wet from dew.) I sit on the bed to finish watching something on my laptop begun last night, and ‘bonk’ announces the laptop; it’s running out of power. Find the charger isn't in its usual place beside my bed, so get up and go to get it from upstairs - still swilling away. And as I come down with the laptop charger, I see it... 
....the years of grumpiness experienced by me, and of other’s grumpiness. I, and they, just wanted to be doing something else right at that moment. OK, we can’t always do what we want; some things need to be done in a certain moment, but not as many things as we think; all the 'shoulds' of the morning were my own! And that’s all grumpy is. Not a dastardly flaw of character. Not something of which to be afraid. Just grumpy sending me a message to listen. When I awoke I wanted food. But no food yet because of the oil-pulling need. I wanted to get it done (yes, end-gaining!) but the dog had needs. I wanted to watch the end of the Wayne Dyer movie before it goes off air after its generous free offer following Wayne’s death last week. Yet I still couldn’t watch the movie until I had gone and got the laptop charger. And I was still hungry! And tired. There! That was all is was; I'm tired. I want to be still today, but it’s a busy day of teaching. I love and want my teaching, but grumpy, right now, wants to be still. That’s the information I was missing in all the other stuff. That a little stillness is needed. And I can have stillness within my activities, I know I can; it just takes presence to them.
And I remember the times my mum was grumpy as hell. She wanted to be doing anything at all other than cooking meals - I never knew she loathed cooking. That she wanted to be in the garden with her plants. I never knew that until I was about 35. I don’t think she knew until then either. She just, like we all do, tended to project her inner discomfort as she ‘just got on with it’. I’m sure you know what I mean, from within and without. And so we all do grump from time to time 
So, I gained a gentle reminder to myself this morning: that when grump appears, stop. Just stop the inner gabbling, stop the rushing, and listen. One can stop even within movement - I mean, to 'Come To Presence' wherever I am in that moment. Then, Listen. Hear. Acknowledge. Respond. For me this would have meant consciously recognising I was hungry and consciously choosing food over oil, rather than reacting with an inner, ‘But I’ve GOT to do the oil - grrrr!’ Consciously deciding not to open the door (doglette had been out earlier) so the wet wouldn’t have been an issue. Consciously deciding that, if I wanted to watch this movie, I just had to go get the charger. Or not. And mostly to notice and acknowledge that I am tired today. But the main word in there? Acknowledge. Having been heard, grump has laid down and gone back to sleep along with the dog. I'm just a person, like all other persons, who feels grumpy come to visit when inner needs aren’t acknowledged. These needs might not be able to be acted on right now, but that’s not the problem, that’s not why grump has showed up; it’s the need to have needs acknowledged - large and small, both big life decisions and tiny momentary choices. Grump isn’t interested in size of conundrum, just an acknowledgement that it's there.
So happy de-grumpification to you this week. Much de-resistantism to you. And lots of acknowledging for you, by you, this week.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Long-distance Driving Tips

At this time of long journeys to visit friends, family and holiday destinations, I thought I would write the ideas that seemed to have helped both students and myself over the many miles travelled. 

In no particular order…

- Invest in a 'sit upon' or two… These are those firm foam garden kneelers, available from garden centres, supermarkets, and all good general 'Poundlands'… Placed under your bottom on the horizontal part of the car seat, they level out and firm up the seat, so your sitting bones have clear feedback in order for your postural reflexes to work for you. Even if you have the 'best' car seat known to mankind, give this a try - it works!

- A second 'sit-upon' can be used between your sacrum (just above your coccyx) and the bottom of your car seat back - this can give you a little encouragement and reassurance after many hours' driving.

- Sometimes sit up on your sitting bones - if you have sufficient head-room - and don't lean back against the car seat's back at all. As you drive you can 'sway' and move with the motion by being balanced on your sitting bones. Your head is now balanced on the top of you in its best place, and your hip joints free to move. Honestly, it's really restful!  (And about the only way that works on busses and coaches - next trip, try it!)

- When you feel tired, pull over, even into a simple lay-by, and hop. Yes, hop! You don't have to leave the ground very far, if at all, but there's something about hopping four or five times on each foot that re-awakens the whole system. Maybe because it's hopping and not jumping, it requires an awakening of our balance system. Sitting in a car will stimulate that system to go to sleep, and us with it.

- As you're driving along, remember this important point: you are still. The car is moving. If you feel rushed by the speeding traffic around you, or late, or just impatient to get there, allow yourself to 'Be' in your seat, noticing how the car is doing all the effort, cars are passing you by in each direction, but you are centred within your self and Being Still. 

- If you find yourself 'about three feet in front of your car' in your mind or energy, quietly say, 'I Am' to yourself, or out loud, a few times. Feel your self come back within yourself, remember you are being carried by your car and not doing the moving yourself. You might wish you were 'there already', but the only place to be is in the now…. Each now brings you to the now of being there, but not before it is so.

- As you are driving along, bring your awareness to your hands and arms. Are your hands lightly resting on the steering wheel? Or are they pulling on it fit to pull it away from the dashboard? Or are you dragging it downwards into your lap? Lighten your hands - let your arms come from your back and  allow your hands and fingers to flow around the wheel into soft contact - no gripping and squeezing!

- When on the motorway, or other safe (!!!) straight bit of road, sometimes take one hand and let it flatten out on the middle of your steering wheel; probably on the vehicle make's badge and/or your air bag area. Then the other, and if with both, guiding the wheel with the heel of your hand. Hopefully you will feel your hands and back connect, but this short-used position will still let your hands have a moment of opening out. (Your hands will be right there should you need to react quickly.)

- Sometimes wriggle your toes a bit and flex your ankles a little. Simple, but effective! (And don't forget to drink lots of water - the body needs water when travelling, even in a car, even though we know about water for flying!)

- As you drive along, let your eyes soften. Let all you are seeing in front of you come towards you, rather than your eyes tightly piercing the windscreen and impaling themselves on whatever it is you are looking at. This creates very tight and tired eyes! It also is often the cause of your head being poked forward - as it follows your tight eyes - and creating a stiff or sore neck. 

- Take time to sense your pelvis and your hips, and let them soften. Let the car seat take your weight - no trying to levitate off it! Or collapsing down into it heavily - just a meeting and supporting. Let you legs go frequently; it's easy to have them hold and harden as you drive along….the one position and the hidden nerves of driving can stiffen them. 

- Change your position often; this gives your body new feedback and stops it becoming too inert and bored. Use the 'sit-upon' for a bit, then take it out, use two, use one at the back, move the car seat back a notch, wind it up a bit at the base and/or the back rest…. Keep it interesting!

- When you stop, or need to look at Google Maps, or your Sat Nav, let what's on the screen come to your eyes, do not poke your head down and stick your eyes to the screen! And use that most magnificent of things, your arm, to bring your phone, tablet, or screen to you, not your head to it!

Now, safe miles and happy driving! 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

At the Summer Solstice...

At the Summer Solstice,
We honour the four directions
The four seasons
The year
Our life.

East - Air - Newness.

Seeds stored in dark places
During winter
Are now borne into the air 
To fly to new beginnings,
and sinking into the dark earth,
Break open with their purpose...
New ideas - dreams - wishes - intentions.

South - Fire - sun - light - warmth.

In the warming encouraging soil,
The seeds begin to germinate.
The sun and long days
Nourishing Spring's dreams into reality.
Leave the seeds sown;  
Poke around not in the soil
To see if tiny roots have sprouted.
Tread not on their potential carelessly,
Nor walk away in doubt.
Keep the soil clear of these weeds - 
The weeds of mistrust and fear.

West - Water - Nourishment - Care.

Be one with the weather,
One with the soil.
Water when dry,
Drain when wet.
Protect in the storms.
Rejoice in light rain.
And still 
Just watch.
No prodding and poking to see if...  
No checking the roots and 
Pinching the tender shoots.
And no lazy ignoring,
No arrogant assuming.
And protect from trespassers, too.
"Tread softly,
For you tread on my dreams."
Let dreams and plans grow
In trust of their process;
But care for them, too.
Yet, not too much;
Drowning will kill,
As will watching in such fear,
That, immobilised, watering is forgotten.

North - Earth - Harvest.

Then the plant comes to fruition,
The dream becomes manifest.
And the harvest begins,
Leaving seeds for the future.
Take care of these;
Drop them not in the excitement,
For they are your future,
The turn of the wheel -
Life itself.
Rejoice today,
Give thanks for yesterday,
But look to the future
And save seed with respect,
For the east wind to scatter
And the next dream to have life.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Simplicate, don't complify...

In teaching, I often say:

Don't complify!'

We smile, and maybe laugh a little.

Simplicate -
Come to a pause,
A space,

Listen within.

Notice the complifyings,
The holdings,

My hands and voice guiding you,
Their specific-ness comes into focus with practice.

Stay with them,
Let them be so.

In those tight places,

Release into the knowledge that we expand,
By design,
When we soften….

Outwards and upwards,

And allowing the time it takes,
Drop preconceptions,
Release complication,
Meet simple.