The Power of How: A journal about The Alexander Technique and Movement

How can we change if we don’t stop what we are already doing?

Photo of frog doing nothing by Mathew Kosloski

 

Do you long for a different political climate, a different song, a different vibe? Me too!!!! But…how can we change anything if we don’t stop what we are already doing? Let me tell you the story of how I experienced the national crisis in the USA this past Tuesday, January 6, so you will understand what I’m saying.

My first response was to think “OMG, it must have been extremely traumatic!” for the people inside when our Capitol building was stormed by domestic terrorists. The police, the lawmakers, the regular old cleaning staff. Then I began to include myself in the picture and honestly, all of us who care about the democratic process upon which we depend. Me personally, it really stopped me in my tracks – although I was on a subway train, which kept moving!

It didn’t seem to stop much else, however. Life went on, the train kept moving, the tweets kept tweeting, the newscasters kept casting, the terrorists kept terroring, and the public kept outraging. Even when a person was killed, nothing really stopped. Then, when the police finally re-opened the Capitol and the lawmakers returned to work, politicians on both “sides” kept spouting the same rhetoric they were spouting before this particular crisis.

Nothing stopped. Nothing changed direction. Nothing changed, not really. But dear readers, we don’t have to live that way. We can change, and we can do it now. All we have to do first is stop doing what we were doing. The second step is to identify more clearly what we don’t want, and identify more clearly what we do want. But first, our biology requires that we stop filling our nervous system with what it’s doing, kind of clear the decks, so that something else can happen. It’s kind of like playing music. End one phrase – even just a beat of silence and intake of air, before beginning the next.

I’ve never tried to write about this, but it’s the best thing I could think of to do with my experience yesterday. So if you are game, curious, keep reading and I’ll guide you through stopping (or “inhibition”), a key component of the Alexander Technique process.

In a moment, you are going to stop reading these words. I mean, keep reading them right now, but in a moment you are going to stop. When you stop reading them, your heart will not stop beating, your body will not stop breathing, time will flow onwards. You can just sit there and enjoy it, watch the show go by. See how long you can enjoy stopping before some part of yourself starts doing something – thinking, planning, making movement, multi-processing, etc. It might manifest in physical tension or whirring thoughts, in which case, you can just play with stopping again. Trust your interpretation of these words, don’t worry about “getting it right.”

You can even set the timer on your phone for 2 minutes, just to give yourself a framework for the experiment.

OK – ready, get set, GO!

Wow. 2 minutes is so amazing when you aren’t doing anything! I just did this experiment myself, and here a few things I notice as I return to typing on my computer keypad – since that’s what I was doing before I stopped.

– I can feel my whole body
– My breathing is much easier
– The top of my hands and my shoulders are so much softer even though I am now typing again
– I’m aware of the sunshine pouring across the room, across my keyboard and hands
– I can feel a cool breeze on my skin

What do you notice? Did you take two whole minutes? So much happens in that time frame that to actually write it all down would take an hour. That’s how intelligent and sensitive you are. Even if discomfort or thoughts or whatever arises in that two minutes, you can just watch how it changes and shifts. You could talk about this in very abstract terms, but what I actually mean by “stopping” is just to stop sending messages from your brain to your voluntary musculature – the muscles that move your body around. There are plenty of involuntary things that will carry on doing stuff without you making anything happen.

This “stopping” capacity of your central nervous system is available to you at any time, such an amazing resource. I truly wish that we can all tap into it more in the coming year when the going gets tough.

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January 8th, 2021 • No Comments

Why you need to stop aligning your pelvis

 

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you don’t know about your body? I hope you won’t let this stop you from the joy of learning. But when you are in distress, what you don’t know can seem daunting. Who can you trust? 

The experts, like doctors, physical therapists, or bodyworkers who spend their whole lives learning about the body will always have more expertise than you do. But they often disagree with each other.

In some ways, these people (I’m one of them) do have more expertise, but in one significant way they don’t. You are the one who lives in your body and knows it best from the inside. That inside knowing is yours, and yours alone. That’s where you spend your time 24/7. When you work with me, I help you get located in yourself and start to use your own intelligence to sort out what will work for you and what won’t. It’s more about how to listen than who to listen to. I listen to everybody.

When I go to the doctor, my emotional experience around my own ignorance (yes, I have more to learn too) has ranged from frustration, to despair, to abject terror when my body is in a vulnerable state of discomfort, injury, or confusion. And I am an expert myself! Add to that the complexity of the pelvis, and the situation really gets out of hand. It’s like grand central station, all the forces coming and going from all directions. But there is one simple thing in that can prevent so much suffering.

Talking about what the body can do is an infinite conversation, whereas talking about what it shouldn’t do is much simpler. The Mobilignment approach is to start with a person’s inherent ability to perceive the difference between rigidity – holding parts of the body in a static relationship to each other – and mobility, or a fluid state that adapts itself to your physical needs at any given moment.

So when it comes to the human pelvis, my message is simple. Don’t hold it in place – in any way, shape, or form. Any attempt to place or hold your pelvis will cause all kinds of problems with your balance, posture, and movement. Balance it, yes – but don’t hold it in a static position. Once you are able to access this fluidity in stillness and in motion, you will know better how to make sense of any exercise or information that you need to learn. Fluidity and ease feels good and is self-reinforcing. We all want more of it.

Recently, it dawned on me like a ton of bricks: the sit bones (the part of the pelvis that is below the hip socket when standing, also called the ischial tuberosities) should not be held in place in relationship to the legs and feet. Ever. I knew that before, but I hadn’t really taken into account the weight and presence of this part of the pelvis below the hip joints.

There are so many muscles running from this part of your pelvis to the back and inside of your legs! If they are held rigid in any position at any time, your legs will not be able to articulate properly and your whole upper body will stiffen as well.

I know that seems simple – and I hope it is! Because I wasn’t conscious of how much I hold this part of my body, I think that I wasn’t actually using the musculature of my legs fully, causing some injury to muscle and nerve tissue. The details don’t matter – the difference between rigidity and mobility does, and we can all access that easily.

Experiment this way: place your fingertips in as relaxed a manner as you can on your sit bones. You have to get up under the butt muscle a little bit to feel the bone.

With your fingers lightly there, use your own touch to observe the motion of those bones under your hands as you walk – motion in process.

Now stop walking. When you stop walking, do those bones stop in a rigid position over your feet? If they do, chances are you have also stiffened elsewhere and held your breath. Is it possible to stand with your legs fully extended, upper femur points and sit bones free to move in relationship to each other?

That’s the simple message of Mobilignment™. One Mobilignment point can open up a kind of macro-fluidity. The top-of-the-femur point reflects back to you the wondrous ability of your body to move and balance in multi-dimensional reality. This ability depends, in part, on the availability of each joint within your bony structure for mobility and responsiveness.

Enjoy!

January 4th, 2021 • No Comments

Engagement, not relaxation, can free tight hips, thighs, and minds

 

Aren’t all of those muscles that flow down our legs beautiful? Still, it can sometimes seem like all they want to do is be tight and pull up into our lower back. Sometimes it can seem like stretching or trying to relax the legs is the solution, but I’ve discovered over a long period of time that my legs actually need to be activated in a very special way for my lower back and hips to be truly free and easy.

Those outer muscles and lower back are tight because the inner thighs aren’t working enough. But you can’t solve the problem with more “doing” because then you will be tightening everywhere! How can we bring about the kind of muscular engagement that is just right, just what is needed for whatever movement we need to do now?

The “problem area” for many is the illiotibial band. The belly of the illiotibial band crosses over the greater trochanter of your femur, or thigh bone, and can get really tight. Runners and dancers especially suffer from this and do all kinds of stretches and rolling on rollers to work this tension out. Here is the spot, the upper red circle:

 

 

 

It is only through activating the inner thigh that we can encourage the outer thigh to release into its full length. This activation of the inner thigh will create a better balance of muscle tone in the legs such that you won’t have to poke and prod into the tissue of the illiotibial band for relief, since over the long run that can cause tissue damage.

This toning of the inner thigh should be in the service of releasing the pelvic floor, lifting the head up over the feet and legs, instead of tightening the neck and pulling the weight of the head down and towards the ground. Connecting the activation of the inner thigh with “releasing up” is the secret. I use the femoral Mobilignment™ points  to activate my inner thighs with ease and fluidity.

First, let me show you the relevant “points” on your femur that you can use to clarify how you use your legs. First, the upper femur points which are at the very tippy top of the femur, in the middle of the femoral head:

Instead of over-efforting, just give a thought of these two points softening towards each other. Softening them towards each other wouldn’t freeze your tailbone. It is just a “spatial thought”. It won’t feel like muscle are working – not in any way that you are familiar with.

Next, take a look at the lower femoral points, which are on the inside knob of the lower femoral points at the inside of the thigh:

And think of these points as well softening towards each other. The activity will be a kind of lively and fluid toning of your inner thighs that actually releases the neck, shoulders, lower back, tailbone, and pelvic floor. Delightful! This kind of fluid and easy tone will also help your balance since toning of the inner thighs brings us more clearly over our feet without bracing.

Just to be clear – you can send these directions in yourself in any position. Your legs could be rotate inwards or outwards in the hip socket. You could be sitting cross legged on the floor, or in a chair. You could be in a yoga asana. It’s not about shape, position, or about “pulling your thighs together,” but the activation of these directions can certainly precede bringing your thighs closer together. The points can soften towards one another, or away from one another.

Here is an image of the muscles that are activating:

 

I will write more in the next newsletter about the implications of this for a deeper mobility of the sitting bones, the lower round rockers of the pelvis (you can see in the illustration that they are below the hip joint) which provide attachments for all of the muscles of the inner thigh. If those two rockers are held stiff or square in relationship to your legs, you will have balance problems and not be able to fully access this magical inner thigh tone. If, however, the sitting bones are free to move even slightly, you will find that all of these femoral points are fluid and gliding in relationship to each other, facilitating easy balance and mobility.

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December 29th, 2020 • No Comments