Late Blooming ll--Getting Comfortable with the Unknown

In my reading about the brain, one thing that stood out is that the brain often tries to explain things we don’t understand by feeding us old stories, to explain new experiences.  If you are tired of these stories, try getting comfortable Not Knowing why something is happening.

For example, if I come to work on Monday morning and say “Good morning.” to one of my co-workers, and they don’t answer, my brain might start sending me messages like, “They don’t like you.” These messages set in motion subtle defensive responses that actually affect a person’s like-ability.  If, on the other hand, I say to myself, “I don’t know why they are not answering” (which is actually closer to the truth), I stay neutral, and frequently we have a pleasant conversation later, when they don’t have something else on their mind.

After observing more carefully the messages I got from my brain, I expanded Not Knowing into many areas of my life. One example is below:

I planned to give a talk about the Alexander Technique to a church group.  Prior to the event, my brain kept sending me predictions of disastrous outcomes.  I decided to note what my brain predicted and compare it to what actually occurred during the talk, which actually went well.

Now, instead of trying to boost my confidence before a performance, I simply remain open and comfortable with the unknown, having trust in the flow of life, which is definitely a feature of Late Blooming.   

Late Blooming Part 1

Late Blooming:                                                                                                    Part 1--5/23/2019

Maximizing Mind/Body Coordination for your Later Years

Using Alexander Technique and Mental Redirection

For many of us, our 30’s and 40’s are busy times, when we are fully engaged in careers, and possibly raising children.  We bring our experiences and assumptions from early life to these endeavors, without having a lot of time to question these patterns.

As our children start to leave home, it can feel as though our best years are over.  Maybe we feel exhausted and less attractive than earlier.  Sometimes we have mid-life or health crisis.  On the surface, these can look like problems, but they can force us to start to look at the world from other perspectives.

When I was 50 years old, I started to have debilitating, chronic neck pain.  Medical doctors told me that I needed to have the vertebrae in my neck fused, or I would lose the use of my right arm. Some acquaintances of mine had studied Alexander Technique and I decided to give this a try, eventually studying to become a teacher.  Alexander Technique introduced me to forces of alignment within the body, that support what I call Effortless Uprightness, which I will cover in chapters on Posture.

Alexander Technique lessons also initiated the first noticeable change in my brain function.  It taught me that a simple pause before acting, creates choice and improves outcomes .  The brain relegates as many functions as possible to the Basal Ganglia.   While this makes backing the car out of the driveway easier than it was the first time you did it, it also results automatic habits and responses that may not be serving us well.

It is common that Alexander Technique teachers talk about how we “use ourselves”, often in regards to  postural habits, resulting from mental stimuli.  But some years into my Alexander Technique training, I met a teacher who addressed my mental habits directly.  He suggested that I was trying to keep myself safe thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong.  (I remembered coming up with this idea when I was about 10 years old.)  Additionally, he suggested that constantly thinking of worst-case outcomes has a negative impact on your nervous systems.  He wanted me to try to Trust Creation or The Flow of Life.

This was hard, but I chose one thing that I was particularly anxious about.  Every time I noticed that I was stressing about this one thing, I would tell myself to “Trust”.  What happened next surprised me:  With lower levels of anxiety, I started to experience more intuition, which made me feel increasingly connected with the flow of positive life force.  This was such a positive experience that it gave me the confidence to apply this Trust practice to other areas of anxiety.

It also piqued my interest in the brain, both by observation and by reading about brain science, and I started to come up with practices that I have found to be especially helpful.

After a couple of years, I have begun to use my brain quite differently than previously.  Although I am in my late sixties, I experience increasing clarity of mind, and less confusion, overwhelm, and agitation than when I was younger.  It feels like a Late Blooming.

Pain Relief with Alexander Technique

I began taking Alexander Technique lessons when I had chronic neck pain, so I have personal experience with the process of healing damaged nerves and freeing oneself from the cycle of pain.

When I see a new student, I begin by fine-tuning their balance, so that natural forces of uprightness can begin to replace muscular tension used to hold oneself upright. 

Students then learn how to rotate around their center and use the joints with increasing freedom.  These new patterns of movement are clarified and refined in their lessons, including a focus on activities that causes them significant pain.

As the student begins to understand how they can change their physical habits, we begin to explore mental habits, including responses to pain, which are often part of the pain cycle.  

Alexander Technique lessons teaches the student to integrate the body and mind, so that they can have balanced, adaptive responses to the internal and external stimuli, that is part of our everyday life.

When I started taking lessons, I began having periods without neck pain.  At first I couldn't sustain this, but I knew I was on the right track, and increasingly I experienced longer and longer periods without pain, until one day I realized that I couldn't even remember what neck pain felt like.

Alexander Technique Self-Guided Lessons--Introduction

I will be posting a series of basic Alexander Technique lessons, to be used to reinforce information in private lessons, as a refresher course, and for newcomers to the Alexander Technique.  These self-guided lessons will give you a sense of the topics discussed in lessons.

I'm hoping to frame these lessons in a way that everyone can benefit from them on some level, but they are not intended to be a substitute for private lessons.  An Alexander Technique instructor can observe your habits of movement and provide personalized guidance to increased coordination and freedom of movement..

Lesson 1 (Self-Guided)--Standing Forward and Up

Freeing the Ankles to Establish a "Forward and Up" Standing Orientation:

A common misconception is that standing straight or upright means that you stand perpendicular to the ground, with most of your weight on your heels.  This is a hold-over from the Military Posture, a way of standing that does not maximize agility, balance, or coordination.

Activity 1:  Without bending the rest of your body, shift your weight forward to your toes and back to the front of your heels, moving from the ankle joint, and getting comfortable with your weight balance more forward on your feet.  When you get too far forward and feel your toes gripping the ground, picture your toes extending forward like roots on a tree.  (See below.)

Activity 2:  As you are getting used to balancing more forward on the feet, notice where you most easily pivot on your feet.  Experiment with looking behind you, allowing your entire body to pivot around a Forward and Up axis of rotation.  Try both sides.  (See below)

When you are balanced on this pivot point, the weight of the head is over the ball of the foot, allowing the spine to be free from most of the weight of the head, reducing compression of the spine.

Until the next lesson, continue to practice standing in a "forward and up" position, with the head balanced over the pivot-point of the feet. 


Lesson 2 (Self-Guided)--Sitting Forward and Up

Two common misconceptions about sitting:

1.  Sitting straight does not mean that you sit perpendicular to the chair, which often results in locking the hip at a right angle, so that, as you work on activities that are in front of you, you bend the spine, either at the waist, shoulders, and/or neck.

2.  Tilting the pelvis back, so that you sit on the tail bone causes the upper back and shoulders to round. 

3.  Below are some activities to help you sit Forward and Up, so you entire torso comes toward your activity from the hip joint.

Activity 1:  As you are getting used to sitting on your Sits Bones, notice where you most easily pivot when you are sitting.  Experiment with looking behind you, allowing your entire body to pivot around a Forward and Up axis of rotation.  Try both sides.  When sitting on your Sits Bones, notice that your shoulders are naturally wide.  (See below)

Activity 2:  Now roll back on the pelvis, until you are sitting on the Tail Bone.  Notice how the shoulders round, mirroring the shape of the lower back.  Instead of straightening your shoulders, simply roll forward again, so that you are sitting on your Sits Bones, and notice how your shoulders naturally widen.

Activity 3:  Sit at a table in the Forward and Up Position, balanced on your Sits Bones.  Reach for something far across the table.  You'll notice that your entire torso comes forward from the hip joint.  Now pretend you are coming slightly forward to do an activity like eating.  In the same way that you came forward for a long reach, try to come forward from the hip joint (with a relatively straight back), for this more subtle forward movement.  Many people lock their hips and bend from the waist, shoulders, and/or neck for these subtle forward motions.  (See below.)

Activity 4:  Sitting At a Computer:  Sit in the Forward and Up Position, angled slightly forward from the hip joint, towards your activity (the computer).  Align your computer screen with your angle of vision.  The upper arm is parallel to the side and the elbow is bent at a 45 degree or slightly wider angle, so that your hands land on a slightly lowered key tray.  (See below.)