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

Do We Really Value Diversity?

 

 

This week I’d like to take some time and space to unpack one of the “Learning Shames” that I wrote about last week:

 

• Body Shame: It’s bad that my body is not like your body, doesn’t look like your body or move like your body. There is a body norm and I am not it.

 

When I feel embarrassment or shame as a teacher, it can be really charged. I tend to speed up and spin out. Intellectually I know embodied learning takes time but I can’t always take the time I need. Slowing down would be great, but that’s not what we do because when you slow down, you feel everything fully! Duh! Who wants to do that??? Well, the price we pay for not feeling our bodies and emotions is frankly getting a little bit too high these days. Like, a threat to life on the planet high.

 

I wonder if body shame is the result of the fact that our culture does not really value diversity. All of us are affected by this whether we know it or not. We instinctively do not want to stand out from “the crowd” because history shows us that it’s not safe.

 

Recently I made some mistakes in one of my Mastermind groups around understanding what life is like for people who live with a disability. I just didn’t get how often this label means people don’t see you or hear you. After my painful mistake I did some research. I started reading “Whistling Vivaldi” by Claude M. Steele. It’s about how just the threat of being stereotyped affects us physiologically – how we know about them (the ones others hold about us) and are unconsciously affected. Unfortunately, the extra effort this takes seems to be key factor in under-performance. We are to not able to express our full capabilities and intelligence because internally dealing with the stereotype takes up so much energy. It’s exhausting and can cause our health to deteriorate.

 

This book is very good, I get into it, so I look in the index for “disability” to expand my understanding…but there was no entry. In a book about the damage that stereotype threat causes there is no research on disability as an issue. That’s how invisible disability can be! It’s not included in the cover design of the book either.

 

So now I understand that a person with a disability may be on edge, and that the edge is real. When they are not heard, it’s an experience that can touch on old wounds that haven’t had time to heal. And this is what makes embodied learning so different and so important – our lives are often not in books! They are in our bodies! We have to listen, or what we have inside us will never be known.

 

In my case, my old wounds around not wanting to upset people because I won’t be safe – those wounds meant that I speeded up and rushed over a moment that was tender and needed more space. If I had just paused, and given myself the time to be confused, charged, and to ask for the time I needed, I might not have caused pain for others. Our ableist culture wants us to keep on rushing so fast that we can’t think, feel, and change.

 

Learning takes the time that it takes. It’s like digestion – you take a taste of something, then you say OK, I’ll take this into my body. I’ll eat it. Eating is one of those things that brings up the importance of consent – to force someone to eat something is a form of torture. We must at the very least make space for consciously giving consent – saying yes, I will listen, yes, I will learn. Yes, I will taste what it’s like to be you.

March 1st, 2021 • No Comments

“Learning Shame” and how to move through it

 

 

Learning should be fun – or so they say! A lot of times it really is. Unfortunately, I’ve been working as an embodiment educator for over 30 years and I can tell you, for a lot of people, fully embodied learning brings up shame. Unconscious ideas about how learning should happen that don’t match up with our actual experience often make what could be a total joy of discovery into something that’s painful.

I myself experience shame around learning – but I’ll write about that next week. This week I want to give names to some of the learning shames my students have shared with me:

 

  • Time Shame: It’s bad that it’s taking me this long to learn this new thing.

 

  • Bias Shame: I’m a bad person because I had this blind spot I just became aware of – I should have known about it but I didn’t.

 

  • Body Shame: It’s bad that my body is not like your body, doesn’t look like your body or move like your body. There is a body norm and I am not it.

 

Movement itself is a fantastic helper if you struggle with learning shame. One of the best things about movement is that you find out by doing it. You can move not to get something right, but to discover something! You can move through things, around them, get inside them, step outside them and wonder at it all. Movement or mobility of mind, heart, and attention is at the heart of how to get free of shame.

Just this past week I was working with a student who has scoliosis and we were exploring the complex spiraling arrangement of how the muscles wrap around our bones. This student has been told by doctors that there are certain ways they shouldn’t move their spine in order to counter the effect of its natural, asymmetrical shape.

Yet, this student can trace most of their pain back to the moment when they started to work on keeping their spine straight as a part of treatment for scoliosis. It’s taken us about 8 lessons to come to an understanding of this together, and we did it through experimenting with a lot of movements, exploring different ways that the spine can twist and move. The result of that is that we discovered the source of their problem was not moving the spine wrongly, but actually trying to prevent their spine from moving at all!

Shame arose around the time it took to make this discovery. That’s embodied learning, too. It’s not all pretty – but the truth was that I too was learning so much as we worked our way through it all, and actually enjoying the slowing down, the inquiry, myself. It was a joy, as well as a shame. Having access to both is what embodied learning is all about. Embodied Learning means that we take the time to feel all the feelings – shame, confusion, and joy. All of it. We don’t have to fake learn any more.

I’m considering a new name for my work, my business: Embodied Learning Systems.

What do you think? Does it resonate? Please write to me with any feedback, it would be so helpful. I’m so excited to do some deep thinking in the next few months about the magical space in which joyful learning occurs, and how we can create more of that space in our lives and in our culture.

That’s why I have to take a break from teaching the morning Mobilignment™ movement classes. I have some major writing and organizational work to do. That means that this coming week is the last week of Mobilignment™ Morning Movement classes until May. I adore these classes and will miss you all very much – and yet I’m very curious to see how my practice will reshape itself as the business grows.

February 22nd, 2021 • No Comments

Why we need to end our addiction to self-improvement

 

 

Is there a part of your body that you have marked for improvement? For me it was my feet. I used to hate my feet because they didn’t make a nice pointed shape in ballet class. Interesting that I ended up spraining both ankles many times! When I think back on it now, I clearly learned somewhere to separate parts of my body into two categories:

1)  Mmmm, it’s ok I guess

2) It needs improvement

This kept me busy working on self-improvement, which basically translated as self-hate because I’d never be good enough. And if I did make an improvement, you can be sure that the bar would soon be raised – an attitude towards learning that was very common in dance classes in my youth.

This addiction to improvement became the number one block for healing injuries of all kinds – physical, emotional, spiritual. I’ll never forget the shock of learning that I could be aware of myself without judgement. Awareness is a simple tool that can get so twisted without us even knowing it. It’s also a first step in the Alexander Technique process – awareness without judgement, otherwise known as embodied acceptance. The word acceptance itself has a physical affect on me, a softening, an opening. I can breath.

Another term for awareness is focus. What kind of focus do you have right now? Narrow focus can result in excess tension and cause injury. That’s why when you get over-focused on healing, it can actually end up exacerbating an injury or generating a cycle of inter-related injuries.

I think that healing is needed in this world, but I’m super clear in my practice that I am not a healer. Healing is a process inherent to every living being but it needs certain conditions to kick in. The condition I’m writing about today is inclusion of your whole body without excluding any parts.

So what does healing mean, if it’s not about focusing on the problem?

We have to be really clear about exactly how to focus on process instead. Processes are what artists use to generate art. Processes are what bodies are really good at too. Eating, pooping, sweating, living, and dying. Moving through stuff, letting stuff move through us. Processes are something you stick with even when the going gets tough, confusing, even scary. Scary can be good (omg this feels too good!) or bad (omg this feels horrrrible I can’t stand it for one more second – but then, somehow you can stand it for one more second).

In a Mobilignment class, the process is to travel through all the parts of yourself to discover a new composition of the whole. You may encounter parts of yourself that you usually avoid. Since we never travel through along the same path, you will eventually be challenged in a good way. You get to visit those parts without getting stuck in them. You learn to include them in the party – even if they are metaphorically your embarrassing uncle! You only have to hang out with him for cocktails – and end up being surprised at the cool conversation you had.

A Mobilignment class is basically a mini -process designed on the spot based utilizing the elements of Mobilignment. Each time an element is introduced, I explain it as if to a beginner, so there is no worry about having to be an expert. Those elements are:

1) Awareness, Inhibition (quieting or non-doing of a particular action), and expansive Direction. These are Alexander Technique tools that improve postural tone in relationship to gravity such our heads are not being crunched down into our bodies.

2) Sequential mapping the cranial, cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral dermatomes on our own bodies through imagination and touch. These are areas of skin innervated by different segments of the cranial and spinal nerves.

3) Spatial and kinesthetic awareness of the 19 special Mobilignment™ Points in stillness and in motion. These are 19 different points that link an important bony landmark to the dermatome that it lives in.

4) Sequential mapping of the 13 cranial nerves that have either sensory, motor, or both functions internally inside the body in addition to the skin on the outside.

Each class is an improvisational score. For example, last week we worked with:

– The 8th cranial nerve and sound
– The sound of breathing
– Moving arms and hands in the silent places between breath sounds
– The nose, skull, and jaw points and the effects of their mobility on hearing and making sound
– The heel point, radius point, and collar bone points in motion
– Dancing to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald singing to each other

Through improvisation, we bypass habitual self-talk and self-image to discover todays version of the whole you! Healing is an inevitable by – product of the process.

Come to your first Mobilignment class for free if you would like to find out what this is like 🙂 Just email me for the link: clare@claremaxwell.com.

 

February 12th, 2021 • No Comments