Getting to Know Your Body with the Alexander Technique (a post for preggos and mamas)

the following is edited from a previous post for Blooma

Definition: The Alexander Technique is an educational method used worldwide for over 100 years. It begins with the premise that the human organism is perfectly designed for an expansive range of activities. It is our own faulty postural habits that get in the way of this potential, but by teaching how to change those habits, the Alexander Technique improves mobility, posture, performance and alertness.  A student learns to use conscious control to relieve chronic pain, tension, injury and stress.

Simply put, we are in control of our bodies.  Well, duh.  But what do we do in an Alexander Technique lesson?  Is it like yoga?  Is it like physical therapy?  And how does it pertain to my pregnant/new mom/experianced mom, body?

Yes and no.  Yes and no.  And just wait, I'll tell you. 

The Alexander Technique was created over one hundred years ago by a Tasmanian fellow named F.M. Alexander.  The long and short of it is, he was having throat/vocal/breathing issues and after seeing lots of doctors and specialists who couldn't help, he decided to take a looksy in the mirror at what he was doing that could be harmful.  He realized that he threw his head back and down, which contracted his spine, cut off his breath and vocal chords, and caused his toes to lift off the ground.  The latter not really having anything to do with his health issues but through his process of noticing himself, he discovered this was a part of the habit.  Thus the beginning of the Technique: 1st step, Awareness.  The 2nd idea, Inhibition, is simple.  He would just stop throwing his head back and down and lifting his toes off the ground. The 3rd idea in the process, Direction, meant that he then channeled, or directed, his head to release forward and up and the tension in his feet and toes to undo, or release.  His throat and breathing issues ceased.  Not sure how his feet fared but it is likely better than before.  Which is how your body will fare if you start to pay attention to it, inhibit its habits, and direct these habits in a different way.

We've already created bad habits in our bodies over the years without the added conditions of pregnancy, a newborn, or raising a toddler - habits like, locking your knees, extending your hips, swaying your back, or humping your shoulders.  And, it's these physical habits that can not only make daily activities rough - sitting at a desk, waiting for the bus, pushing a grocery cart, but can make it even worse, or get accentuated,  when you're pregnant or breastfeeding or picking up and carrying a kiddo. 

Pay attention to yourself next time you perform one of these daily activities, use Awareness and notice whether one of these takes place.  Then allow yourself to Inhibit that habit; stop yourself from doing it. Then try Directing yourself to an easeful place out of the habit with a breath. 

Breath is a big part of the Alexander Technique considering it was breath that F. M. was losing.  It is a great part of all three tenets described above (Awareness, Inhibition, Direction).  If you don't understand the steps, at least understand breath in the same way F. M. did: we need it.  And not only do the afore mentionedphysical habits keep us from breathing our best but so does daily tension and stress compounded with the tension and stress of pregnancy, giving birth, having a new baby, or dealing with a toddler.  In an Alexander Technique lesson, you will learn how to become aware of your breath, inhibit your habits that may constrict or hinder it, and learn to Direct your body to create more space for breath.

Great.  Sounds good.  But wait, how is it like yoga? How is it like Physical Therapy?

There's a meditative quality to finding one's breath and the philosophy of bettering one's body is much the same as in Yoga.  Both methods want to reveal a stronger, more balanced entity.  And it's like Physical Therapy in the sense that some people come to this workshop looking to fix a particular physical issue.  But, unlike some Physical Therapy practitioners, Alexander Technique teachers don't focus on the specific area but rather the body as a whole. 

There are so many layers to the technique. These are just the very basics. Dive deeper into the three principles with a lesson and feel them through your body and practice them in the space. Let yourself feel and be better with the tool of the Alexander Technique.

Musings on a Yoga Class (It's been awhile, please forgive incorrect namings)

I went to a yoga class the other day for the first time in something like three years.  And I quickly remembered why it had been that long.  Going through Chattanooga (chataranga?), my right shoulder started to hurt.  A pain I had spent the first year of my Alexander Technique teacher training trying to abolish.  Part of that had been ceasing to go to yoga.  Of course I immediately modified my pose by putting my knees on the floor but the damage had already been done, my shoulder would hurt for the rest of the class.  Everything else I could do with relative ease but knowing what I know now about my body and alignment, I knew, with guidance, I could have done everything better, more effectively.  That thought was buoying as I went along but also frustrating as that guidance was not available in this particular class. 

The one pose I enjoyed more than I ever have before was the "sit and twist."  Using the connection between my head and tail, and understanding the route that connection takes, I was able to make a deeper, more satisfying wring.  Unfortunately, I saw a lot of students around me "segmenting."  They were leaning back on their sacrum, rather than sitting on and coming up from their sitz bones.  Which then allowed the twist to happen only in their lumbar and cervical spines.  Had the instructor been able to come around, or taken the time to instruct, or perhaps had the knowledge, they might have had the sensation of wringing all the way from the tail bone up to the axis, deep inside the skull. 

Finding what I found in the twist, I begin to understand the religion in yoga.  When I can feel my whole body working together, when I can feel the process and it just goes on and on-rather than trying to obtain an end- the freedom of continuation, like I don't stop here in this class but I continue, my soul, mind and body continue out into the universe -that could be called religion, or at the very least spiritual. 

And then there's the practical.  My shoulder hurt because I wasn't coming up and back in plank or as I lowered myself to the ground.  I knew my head and neck were not at ease and that the connection between head and tail was lacking.  My kinesthetic awareness was debauched in this position.  It's not a position I am often in, nor did I have a mirror to observe myself.  I would have liked a little guidance and in other positions as well.  In twists it can be easy to push forward into them, taking the body out of alignment.  (yes, you can be aligned and twist)  Placing your feet hip width apart can be a lot trickier if you don't know where your hips are (hint: they are a lot closer to your midline).  And going over into half moon or warrior three can be easier if your head is connect to your tail.  Although it can be harder, too, if you're used to hiking up your hip to balance yourself (shouldn't the hips be equal to find actual balance, even if it means falling over a couple of time until you find your true inner strength?).

I had to inhibit myself from going over to my compatriots and encouraging them to lengthen out through their head, or to release into their tailbone and let their ribs expand to find more ease and total body.  For me, this class was about returning to a self of mine I hadn't visited in a long time.  One of the reasons we moved back to this town was so that I would have support for my child and me, so I could take time out to do things like exercise and take a class.  Ultimately the class was good.  Not so much in the release and strengthening I desired, but because I had some me time.  And for that I am grateful.  I also felt I was aware enough (after the initial excitement to get back into it and the reminder from my right shoulder) that if something wasn't working, I just needed to go back into child's pose, or take more time going through flow to make sure I was using my total body and that head/neck were at ease and I was in my whole spine.  Will I go back to this particular yoga class, probably not.  But will I up my own practice and perhaps include a little yoga to increase my awareness and un-debauch my kinesthetic awareness, yes, most definitely.



A Big Move

I've recently completed a big move.  From one big, big city to a smaller, more comfortable one.  On one end, we had to deal with shady customer service people and the frustration of packing 5 years into the wrong sized truck and on the other, mixed feelings of whew and we can see people in minutes versus after an hour long public transportation ride and did we do the right thing for our son.  I'm not sure my husband shares this latter sentiment, I know he is all around grateful to be out of the big city. But I wonder, since our 11 mos old was consistently engaged by the sights and sounds of the streets, by the people who knew him on our block and in particular by all the different sized kids that joyfully crowded the playground, will this shady-sidewalk-everyone- in- their- cars- not- on- public- transportation-play- in- the- backyard- where- are- the- parks type town be enough for this social butterfly?  Will he continue to excel at human interaction or if I put him in a daycare where he isn't under my watchful eye, can I guarantee that he will come out still loving and playful or will some kid give him a black eye and he will forever by cynical, critical and generally a sourpuss? 

But I digress.  This isn't what I wanted to focus on for my first Alexander Technique blog.  I actually wanted to focus on the move itself.  It was truly a day to come up and back from.  The morning started out simple and straight forward enough with a continuation of packing but as other people started being involved it quickly went south.  But now, I realize, I don't want to write about that.  It's in the past.  It makes me make a face.  And yet, one of the reasons I had thought to write about it is because the icky feelings of that day are indeed still with me, as exemplified in said face.  So, how to come up and back from a black tar stuck inside my chest which are my leftover feelings from that day. 

Well first of all, I reflect on my ability to come up and back in the moment.  I was terrible at it.  There was a very long moment of just going up and down the steps with one or two items mumbling under my breath, "we're not going to make it, we're not going to fit everything in, what do we do if we can't fit everything in?!"  I was freaking out, I was on the verge of breaking down.  I was in a state of freeze.  But I couldn't quite freeze and abandon my husband, I had to keep moving for his sake, for our sake.  So I did as little as I could.  I tidied.  I moved small things.  And I kept asking him, my parents, what do we do?  My husband wasn't in any better shape than me.  He just kept hauling things down because that's all he knew to do.  My mom kept offering advice which I listened to and appreciated but couldn't abide.  We had to get out of town that day.  And we had to do it in this truck.  And we had to take everything with us.  Well that just wasn't going to happen.

What happened is this.  Like I said, the morning started out fine.  We were on point to pick up the 16 foot moving truck at noon.  My husband's cousin was coming with us to watch the baby.  We get to the rental office and…our truck wasn't there.  Now this isn't a big lot with multiple trucks you might find in some other city, this was a little office in a trailer in a driveway of a restaurant.  So apparently, if you rented a truck, you had to hope that the person who is using it before you, shows up with it because that's all there was.  Almost.  There was another truck there but it was a 12 footer and had been stolen so there was a hold on it with the police.  Long story short, the hold got taken off and that's the truck we rented.  Terrible idea.  You get a sense of how the day went from above.

We had a rough time as it was in this city we were leaving and this was just a last middle finger in the face, if you will.  The sad thing is, I had been beginning to get sentimental about leaving.  You know how an end is imminent, things sometimes get shinier and prettier.  The colors got brighter and the lines were more defined.  There were friends I was going to miss, a career I was leaving, and the pulse of the city beating inside my son.  On this moving day, all of that was ripped away.  But as I reflect, if I'm honest with myself, I might have needed that.  As I mentioned earlier, my biggest question mark about moving was in regards to my son.  He doesn't know that he was missing wide, open spaces or that mama and papa were struggling because they didn't have them.  He doesn't know the difference in cost of living from the big city to the smaller one.  He only knows that when we walk down this sidewalk there are people and dogs to see and smile at and when we walk down this one it leads to the park where there are so many kids and swings and a jungle gym and sprinklers, and when we go down these steps it takes us to the train where there are more people to smile and wave at.  I did have a career starting to take place, we could have made it work.  As it was, we were both so busy prior to moving we weren't able to set anything up in the new city before getting there.  Was I doing my son, my family a disservice? 

And then moving day happened.  And throughout that difficult time I knew at the end of it we were going to be on the road getting out.  And that's all I wanted.  So maybe I did need that FU. 

We didn't get everything in.  We had to leave some wonderful, emotionally valuable pieces behind.  In the end I had to come up and back from these things and let them go.  (I don't know that I really allowed myself to come up and back or if I was just so exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally that that's all that was left….yeah, that's more like what was happening.)  A friend took my husband's bike, and his cousin took his poker table and our drying racks.  These made the separations less painful.  Our downstairs neighbor offered to keep some of the things in the basement of her restaurant.  And said if we ever come back, we can come get them, they'd be waiting.  But she's a suspected heroin addict/meth head so who knows if they won't really be sold to support her habits. 

Then we got in the various vehicles and we left town.  Drove a few hours out of the city just to get outand stayed at a hotel.  And really, as we left, I believed there was a phantom finger waving us goodbye.

And guess what?  My son is fine.  He gets to see grandparents and cousins all the time.  Here in this new city they have affordable day care and early learning programs.  He will have tons of interaction.  Here his parents have space and support.  And here I have been able to take the time to blog, to write about my moving situation which has allowed me to come up and back from it and see the bigger picture.  It has been about my son, my family: all of my family including friends that have stayed committed even while we were away.  They are excited to get to know my son, my husband, and the new me.  I've already introduced the Alexander Technique to several new people who are excited to learn more.  So maybe a private practice here won't be so long in building, maybe introducing group classes to groups of mothers with kids won't be out of the realm of possibility and maybe, just maybe my kid will love me all the more for giving him space.