Friday, 18 July 2014

On 18:05 by Victoria Stanham in ,    No comments

“I’ve got a slumping habit.”

That sentence is missing some information.

A habit is a pre-set response to a specific stimulus. Slumping your spine is a response you’re giving to what stimulus?

What is this stimulus? Why did you slump the first time? Was it a physical (pain) or emotional-mental (fear) stimulus?

Perhaps the original stimulus is no longer there at all.

But, from that first time you used curving your spine as a response, to the present day, you’ve repeated the gesture so many times, that is has re-calibrated your inner compass, and your “feeling” of being “straight”, your inner map of having the bones of your skeleton aligned, has nothing to do with what true alignment really looks like.

Whenever, and for whichever reason (esthetic, pain, functional), you decide to return yourself to a truer sense of alignment, your first big challenge is going to be re-calibrating this “body compass”.

Why is this a challenge? Well, because the new alignment will “feel wrong”. Even though it will be more comfortable, lighter on your joints, and coupled with a wonderful sense of occupying all your available space, it will just not feel like the “real-you” at first.

¿How can you re-calibrate this inner sense of alignment?

You’ll need 2 things.

1. Someone or something outside of you that can give you necessary feedback for the re-calibration of your compass.

2. Application and experimentation in your daily life of your discoveries.

External feedback: If your feelings are off-target, then you cannot trust 100% in what they are telling you… That is, you cannot trust your interpretation of the info they are giving you. You need to learn how to more accurately interpret the sensory feedback you are getting.

If you have ample time, patience, and the soul of a detective-scientist, a mirror may be all you ever need. Mr. F.M. Alexander went that way, and that is how we have the Alexander Technique nowadays.

But if you are lacking that Victorian discipline, then the quickest and more practical alternative is to get yourself a teacher. The best part about getting some outside help from a teacher is that you have more avenues of feedback than the purely visual feedback a mirror offers.

A teacher can also give you:

a) bodily information through touch and movement;
b) aural information through the use of sounds and voice;
c) conceptual information through anatomy, philosophy, physics or any other body of knowledge, that can help you organize your ideas about your body, your balance and your movement.

Experimentation: Habits are strong and it is difficult to realize that we’re using them constantly. If you are decided to work on your posture and alignment, and you already have new feedbakc to work with, you need to start using it in self-observation.
Your answers will come in 3 stages.

First: You won’t even realize that you are slumping until something external to your bodily calibration tells you (a mirror, a crick in your neck, a reminder on your phone to check your posture). The impulse that leads you to slumping is still happening outside your conscious awareness.

Do not despair. The good thing is that you are becoming aware on a daily basis of how much you slump, and now you have the tools to do something about it. Give yourself your directions, re-align your structure, give yourself some space. Repeat this as many times as you are able to remember throughout the day.

Second: You new challenge is now to catch yourself earlier in the slumping process. Perhaps you need to set yourself more memory-aids (mirrors, alarms, post-it notes), anything that will remind you to scan you body for slumping tendencies.

The more you get into the habit of scanning yourself regularly, the earlier you’ll start catching yourself when slumping is starting to occur. This can give you the chance to practice stopping before being completely collapsed.

As an added bonus, all this periodic and regular releasing of unnecessary tension is in itself re-calibrating your sensory compass. You’re getting better at telling when tension is accumulating in places where it shouldn’t be.

Third: Your challenge is now to recognize what stimulus is tipping you into slumping-mode before the slumping appears.

This requires more self-knowledge, but since you’ve been practicing self-observation in the second stage, you’re well prepared to tackle this new stage.

This is the truly interesting phase of the process. It is this stage that really tells us a lot about ourselves. When you become an avid detective intent on catching the information your body sends as it is sending it, you start discovering fascinating stuff about yourself.

With time you’ll start to note all type of bodily sensations (tickling, tingling, expansions, contractions, changes in breathing, etc.) that give you a heads-up as to what your forthcoming reaction will be to the person, situation, thought or even weather-conditions you are facing. And all of this before you’re reaction has become a full-blown affair.

So now you have the option to stop before the habit-tsunami takes control of your reaction, and adjust your response to what is most effective for you and your goals.

This week’s challenge: Catch the Feeling!

If you already have the basic guidelines on how to align yourself without tension, then this week I invite you to observe the process of giving in to your impulse to collapse.
 (If you have no clue about what guidelines to follow to re-calibrate your inner-compass I reccommend you try my 4 introductory lessons or contact an Alexander Technique teacher in your area).

Simply give yourself your directions and get on with your day. Check to see if you can catch yourself earlier and earlier in the process of slumping, noting what thoughts, feelings or situations are those that tip you over.

If a “beter posture” is your end, then all your answers are in the means-whereby you reach it.

See you next week.


Friday, 11 July 2014

On 11:56 by Victoria Stanham in    No comments

Feelings about situations, people or places are also anticipations… and they’re physical.

Imagine a person that gets on your nerves. Imagine them doing that thing that gets on your nerves, that thing you’ve told them so often to please not do.

Now sense the tension in your body. You’re anticipating.

We anticipate emotional reactions all the time. We base our anticipation on our previous experience of that person, place or situation. This is as normal and natural as the physical anticipation of weight we played with in last week’s blog. But, just as in anticipating physical effort, in emotional anticipation we must also be open to adjusting our response to what the present circumstances really present.

With emotional stuff, with relationships, this isn’t always as easy as with a regular physical weight. Some situations, some places, some people are able to trigger in us deeply ingrained pre-programmed responses that we cannot simply wish away, ignore, or consciously de-activate and adjust our response, if we are already in the middle of our emotional and physical reaction.

These situations require taking time to step away from the stimulus, until we are ready to face the situation, place or person from an open perspective, from a new place. This may take as little as a few seconds (a couple of conscious inhales and exhales and a quick reminder of your directions), or as much as months or years.

In that period of stepping away from the stimulus what we are actually doing is we are finding our own balance, our own coordination, our own sense of inner order, finding our head and our feet. We are also learning to organize our resources in new ways. We may be learning to use our resources in similar but less demanding circumstances.

Eventually we are able to face the original stimulus with “fresh eyes”, seeing it for what it is and what it offers us today. We’ll approach it differently then, tackle it with a new inner order. We may even simply confirm that we don’t want that place, situation or person in our lives as much, or at all, anymore. But we’ll have made this decision from a calmer place.

We might also realize that today we can deal with the stimulus as it is. But perhaps tomorrow, if the stimulus is really strong or we’re having a particularly bad day, our old reaction comes up. However, this time we’ll be more in tune with our bodies, with those first signs of tension that indicate that we’re starting to anticipate our old response. We can then choose to once again step away to find our inner bearings, our inner sense of direction, and make a fresh decision respecting our response to the stimulus.

So this week, start playing around with this idea that we anticipate our social interactions. Check to see how this manifests in your body. Check also to see how long you need to step away from the stimulus to find your bearings, in order to really be able to face it from a new, more flexible and coordinated place. Allow yourself to be surprised by the “new” in the “old”.

See you next week.


Friday, 4 July 2014

On 16:26 by Victoria Stanham in ,    No comments

We all anticipate; we prejudge based on our previous experience of similar situations.
This isn’t something bad per se. It is normal and biological. It is the job of our brains to anticipate situations in order to ensure our continued survival.

However, if you’re not awake and aware that your pre-judgments might be a bit (or a lot) off the mark, and you’re not adjusting accordingly, you may be limiting or arresting your physical and mental-emotional development.

Allow me to illustrate how your brain anticipates, and how this manifests in your body.

1. Sitting there where you are now, become aware of the amount of tension or muscular activity that is going on in your neck, shoulders, arms, torso and legs.

2. Now imagine that in front of you is a 30lbs. weight which you are going to lift with your hands.

3. Return your awareness to your body and notice if the degree of tension or muscle activation in your neck, shoulders, arms, torso and legs has changed.

Do you notice a difference? Why is there a difference if it all happened in your mind?

Your brain stores memories of what it means to lift a heavy weight and how much muscle effort it took you to accomplish it before. Therefore, when you gave your brain the order to imagine lifting a weight, it took the instruction literally (brains or not very good at distinguishing fact from fiction) and prepared your body for the coming effort and strain.

Is this a bad thing?

By no means. In fact, this anticipatory activity is what protects you from hurting your back when you lift weights in real life.

And yet, it is not always to your best advantage.

Sometimes we do not allow ourselves sufficient freedom to change our pre-judgment of the situation, even when circumstances contradict our anticipatory action.

When I ask you to imagine lifting a 30lbs weight, your brain makes a quick estimation of what that weight means and anticipates accordingly. You brain does not calculate exact weights, and will generally over-estimate the amount of necessary effort.

If I should then give you a real 30lbs weight, you need to be open to perceive how much effort is really necessary and adjust your reaction accordingly, in order not to waste energy.

This also applies to mental-emotional situations.

When you have a meeting that is worrying you, your brain is preparing your body to go into defense or attack mode. If you notice the amount of tension in your body that this pre-occupation is creating, you may realise that you are preparing for an uncertain situation in the future with perhaps way more energy that the present moment requires. 

If the meeting is tomorrow, and you are already muscularly anticipating it today, how effective do you imagine your pre-activation for the present tasks is?

Anticipating is something our brains do, but we can learn to monitor our anticipatory activities, and thus be able to adjust them according to what the REAL PRESENT situation actually demands, and not what our imagination calls for.

APPLYING THIS IN YOUR LIFE: Learn to recognise your anticipatory reactions

In order to notice when you’re using more effort than is really necessary, you first need to develop more body awareness.

1. A first step in this direction is to get into the habit of routinely scanning your body for unnecessary muscle activation that may have crept up on you unawares.
Check to see how much of that tension you can let go of, how much you can stop doing, what is the minimum necessary tension required to keep you poised upright while sitting or standing.

2. Once you have released (to the best of your ability) any unnecessary muscle activity, imagine the next action (physical or mental-emotional) that you need to undertake. Become aware of how much anticipatory activity this imaginary act has generated. Take a minute to recognise if you are really anticipating the next step, or if you are really anticipating step 4 or 5 further down the line.

Let go one again of any unnecessary tension and reconsider what the next action really is… the immediate next step.

For example, if your next action is to send an email, do not jump ahead to the moment of writing and hitting send, before even lifting your hands to the keyboard. Or if your next action is talking to your boss about a problem, do not jump ahead in your mind to the middle of the meeting when you’re already defending your point.

Stay with the immediate next step and adjust your response to what the present situation calls for.

See you next week.