Friday, 2 May 2014

On 09:39 by Victoria Stanham in , , , ,    2 comments
Did you know that your back pain, your chronic muscle tension and your bad posture could be products of your ignorance of a key language that is being spoken non-stop all around you, but that you somehow cannot perceive because you don’t know about it?
What would you give to learn to speak this language?
I’ve been giving English language lessons for many years here in Uruguay. Generally my students are adolescents who are trying to keep up with their school’s English requirement, or who are trying to pass one of the several English language international examinations. These kids come to one hour lessons weekly, sometimes two or three times a week. Some of them don’t even like English all that much. And yet, they understand and accept that, in today’s world, it is necessary for them to know and speak English. Their parents have made that point abundantly clear to them.
What strikes me as interesting is that we all live immersed in another language of which the vast majority no nothing about: it’s the language in which body and mind speak to each other. It is not a verbal language; it is a language of neural stimuli and physiological responses, and we perceive it through our physical sensations and emotional states. However, since we have never been taught this subtle language’s grammar, structure or vocabulary, our interpretation of it, and our ability to intervene in this ongoing communication in order to achieve certain desired results, ends up being limited, when not downright counterproductive.
Not knowing how to speak this tongue is much more limiting for our wellbeing than not knowing any other language. And yet, few people know about it, and even fewer take the time and effort to study it. The results of this illiteracy are serious health problems, both physical (hernias, chronic muscle tension, joint wear and tear leading to arthritis, etc.), and emotional (uncontrolled stress responses, anxiety, stage fright, etc.), as well as general unhappiness borne from not being able to achieve our desired physical and mental outputs.
You need to learn how to listen to and understand what your body and mind are telling each other, because it is this ongoing conversation that is dictaing your phsyical form (posture). Your posture (the end result of this conversation in this language you may know nothing about) has direct effects on your physical and emotional health, as well as on how others perceive you, which in turn directly affects your relationships and social life. Being able to consciously have a say in this conversation, in order to re-direct its flow towards the results you desire, should be a priority in our education, in much the same way that we are expected to speak a second language and know how to use a computer for most jobs.
If we accept the premise that to correct your posture and improve your physical and mental performance you need to learn a new language (let us call it the Psychophysical Language), it is to be expected that you won’t be able to master it from reading a book or taking a few lessons. However, you do not need countless years of lessons to get to a fairly proficient level; after all, you used to speak this language fluently as a very young child, so it’s just a question of uncovering what you already know but forgot. As with all language, it is possible to quickly learn to recognize some key words and phrases, and to learn to communicate with them to achieve basic goals. With time, patience and commitment you could become quite fluent at it, to the point of “blending in with the natives” so to speak.
This is why I would like to teach you some of these key words and phrases, so that you can start having a dialogue with your body-mind. Your mind is already conversing with your body, but it does so at an unconscious level. We’ll try to bring some of this conversation up to a conscious level, so that you can start hearing what your mind is telling your muscles, and can decide if perhaps it wouldn’t be to everyone’s benefit if you altered the tone of their conversation.
Let us start with the feet. What are your feet telling you?

Your feet are the base of support for your whole body when you are standing and of your legs when you are sitting on a chair. They are made up of a lot of little bones (26), muscles (38), joints (40) and tendons (over 100). Given all these available structures to articulate, your feet are able to “speak the psychophysical language” with a great nuances of tone and an ample vocabulary. If we give our feet the necessary space to move freely, they are able to adapt their shape to all types of terrain and thus help you keep your balance. However, we tend to have them cramped, compressed and bound up inside shoes that do not allow them to communicate all the information they have about where and what you’re standing on. Mostly, we only listen to our feet when they scream in pain after long hours of being tortured.
In my previous blog I told you about the importance of creating a spcae and time for practice. Conscientiously practicing a little bit of self-observation every day es the equivalent of studying the grammar of this psychophysical language we’re talking about today. The more you get to know this sensorial language in which your body and your mind speak, the more you’ll be aware of it, and how it affects your performance, in your daily life. And as soon as you start to listen in on these conversations and understand their general gist, you’ll be able to join in on the dialogue and thus avoid only finding about the important things when they’re already a health problem.
So this week I invite you to start by reconnecting with your feet. I’m leaving you 3 simple practices to jumpstart your exploration. It’s best if you do them with bare feet, so take advantage of your morning or evening shower to practice them.
1.     We tend to have the soles of our feet really tense and this generates tension throughout the whole posterior musculature of your leg, all the way up to your sitting bones. To release your feet think about the space between your toes and imagine that warm water runs between each pair of toes. Be aware that your toes are way longer than you probably imagine. Although they’re covered in skin, which makes them look like one big mass, your toes actually start halfway down your foot. They need the space between them in order to move freely and adapt and mold to different surfaces  and thus help you balance.

2.     When you are standing the weight of your body should be spread equally among 3 key points on your foot: the heel, the base of the big toe, and the base of the little toe. You are in essence standing on a tripod, or a three-legged stool. Check to see which of these three points you tend to favour the most, and which foot you tend to favour the most. Play with your body weight, alternating the emphasis on each point and noting the effect that it has on your posture and the amount of muscle tension you must put on your legs and lower back to keep your balance.
3.     We can now join exercises 1 and 2. Release the soles of your feet, remembering the space between your toes, and feel the weight of your body distribute itself on the 3 points of contact: center of the heel, base of the big toe, and base of the little toe. Imagine that at each of these three points of contact you have little suction pads that adhere your feet to the ground, connecting you with the earth. Move your toes around, opening them and closing them, while keeping the sole of the foot soft and the 3 key points in easy contact with the floor.

Practice these exercises for a week and let me know what you find out about the conversations your feet are having.
See you next week with more Psychophysical Language grammar and vocabulary lessons ;)
P.S. Alexander Technique teacher Angela Bradshaw has just published an excellent book on how to recover your body-mind balance and release unnecessary tensions, called “Be In Balance: A Simple Introduction to the Alexander Technique”. It comes with a lot of easily applicable exercises and ideas. The book is easy to read and full of great drawings, and makes for a great introduction to the concepts of the Alexander Technique for those wanting to explore it. You can get the book on on this link (US) or this link (UK).


  1. Thank you Victoria for mentioning my book Be In Balance! I love your blog post, sharing widely :)

    1. You're welcome Angela! Your book is fabulous and deserves to mentioned! I highly recommend it to everyone interested in learning what the Alexander Technique is about in a simple, straight-forward and fun way.