This was a really fun weekend. My friend Rebecca Harrison came to the coast to offer individual Alexander Method sessions, and to teach another short Alexander workshop. The topic this time was the senses – tuning into ourselves from the inside out. The class was really intimate, just four of us. It seems that this was a busy weekend for folks in town. (She will come again first weekend of June, if you are interested next time.)
Sam did a session Saturday, which he said gave him some new insight into how he uses his body, with particular motivation to change how he sits while interacting with the computer.
Saturday afternoon after her sessions we went to the beach – it is quite ridiculous how infrequently I go to the beach. This time it was calm with big blue skies, perfect beach weather. Calm enough that we laid in the warm sand soaking up sun for a while. (Albeit in attire appropriate for April, rather than summer. garb.) We watched two pairs of eagles playing for awhile. I love the juxtaposition of their majestic flight with the little mewing calls they make. We saw a family playing together- with a tiny naked person so filled with delight it made us laugh. It reminded me of hanging out at the beach with the boys when they were small- how time seemed to slow down as we explored everything together. It was fun playing at the beach again. A call for more play for sure.
It makes me wonder what it would be like if part of early childhood education focused more on understanding the body, and ways of fully inhabiting ourselves. Because I think as children we know this stuff- we just forget as we grow into our adult selves. Maybe if we drew just a little attention to it, validating children’s experience, we would all reach adulthood more in sync with our natural alignment.
There were many sand dollars. Some at the waterline still had their myriad of tiny moving legs, which is something I have never seen before. I find myself wondering what their world feels like to them? How sensitive are the tiny legs? Do sand dollars have any light sensing capacity? What about sound? Or do they have touch alone? Perhaps I was thinking these things because we were h discussing the topic of the workshop.
The thing I took away from the workshop Sunday was a deeper understanding of how we humans experience the world on the teter-toter between tension and sensing. When we hold part of ourselves tense, we reduce the sensory input we receive. By shifting our attention to what we can sense – our body lets go of tension automatically. And this is true of tension we hold emotionally as well- because our bodies translate that emotional tension into muscular contraction. Just by asking the body to feel- we let go of what we were holding tight.
We explored “waking up” our entire bodies. We tend to loose track of the areas we hold tension in, as those areas can be less sensitive. One exercise was noticing the difference between holding something in our hands with tension vs holding it as loosely as possible. There is no such thing as just being tense in one place- any tension sort of expands out to the rest of our body. Try making a fist, and then tune into how your face feels.
“Sensing only happens in the present moment.” Rebecca Harrison
My favorite thing in the workshop was the sensory scavenger hunt/obstacle course we made. We took turns interacting with the objects with our eyes closed while guided by a partner. It made me want to create a play room full of textures at my house. It was an effortless way to be totally in the present.
Lately I have been really thinking a lot about how to more deeply check in with my own truth. Namely because I get so caught up in my head sometimes, questioning, questioning questioning.Thinking about the past and the future endlessly. My experience with the Alexander work, seems to be getting me out of thinking and into actually feeling, and it feels like my truth is inside that non-verbal sensory space.
Last night I had some really wild and symbol rich dreams, which seem to be related to the time spent listening to my body over the weekend. Paying attention in the present moment, somehow opens up that vulnerable creative space within. Perhaps it is because the tension of fear or worry creates a binding that ropes off my inner heart and belly space. Leaving me with less access to my gut and heart intelligences – and my poor brain is left to flail about trying to figure out everything alone.
My dream pointed out another little inner puppet, which is what our household calls those occurrences that influence our thoughts and by extension our reality. For instance say you are going about your day, and some event happens that pushes one of your “buttons.” Suddenly you find yourself in a familiar “puppet show.” where you act out your response – a response connected to some past event more than to what is happening in the moment. Over the past year or so I have been drawing my puppets as I identify them, trying to illuminate these creatures of my blind spots.
We are filled with these sorts of auto-pilot puppet shows – just add input. The trick is to become mindful enough to notice when your thinking is using a puppet script, vs when you are responding to what is happening in the moment. Children are good at providing raw examples of this, imagine a child having a tantrum, screaming about a cookie, when really they are upset about the attention their new baby sister is getting. When you ask them, at first – all they can say is “I want cookie!! I want cookie!! I want cookie!!” Only after you hold them and sooth them awhile, do they feel safe enough to access what is going on on the deeper level. The child can then cry about how things have changed, and fall asleep in your lap, cookie forgotten. It is amazing all the ways we are hidden from ourselves. No matter how old we get.
I like that the idea from the Alexander work to simply breathe and notice. Rather than an imperative like “YOU NEED TO JUST RELAX!” Which I am sure you have found to be just as ineffective as I have when someone has squawked it at you. Or perhaps the more common usage, “I NEED TO JUST RELAX!” which is equally ineffective. (This probably got imputed into the puppet show library during an early tantrum, in which we weren’t offered empathy.)
We of course have physical puppet shows too, for instance when I am at the computer my posture is habitual, the focus is on the keyboard and screen, and moves away from my body. After awhile the crook in my neck brings my focus painfully back to my body. I am going to try a mindfulness app at work, which dings a little bell at intervals reminding you to tune in or stretch. Noticing, and feeling are the opposite of holding tension. Breathing is calming. Setting little reminders to breathe and notice supports the practice of letting go.
There are many paths to tuning in to the moment, to sensing ourselves as fully as possible, yoga, Qigong, mindfulness meditation, etc. The Alexander work too seems to be about practicing being fully present, making that a familiar state. Which is to say build some new pathways in your brain. This allows you to switch gears when you find yourself in the midst of an epic puppet show, physical or emotional. Easier said than done, but a lot more fun than being dragged around by puppets. Practice builds the neuro-place to go to. The more frequently I practice the more easily I am aware that I need to switch gears, rather than always operating by some autopilot puppetry.
Switching gears is much much easier than trying to somehow eliminate all the puppets. Our puppets are really just ourselves trying to serve us in someway – leading to what Marshal Rosenberg, founder of NonViolent Communication -NVC, referred to as “A tragic expression of unmet needs.” Cultivating the ability to tune in and feel physically leads to greater emotional fluidity as well. If all those tight feelings and muscles lead to energetic stagnation, which leads to ill health, then it follows that cultivating awareness leads to wellbeing and health.
So here’s to a week filled with noticing all the lovely details of spring, moments of deep breathing and illuminating dreams. Here’s to a round of awakening all around this beautiful planet.