Bringing Balance to Your Life

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Reasoned Considerations


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I 'know’ or the full stop that stops growth

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Illustration: I know and boredom
Illustration: 'I know' leads to boredom and stops our growth

Do we know?

One student of F.M. Alexander described Alexander's work as reasoning from the known to the unknown (The Use of the Self, p. 85).

I sometimes hear, during my interactions with Wellbeing Improvers: I know how to do that, I know how to get out of a chair, I know how to bend forward, I know how to sit down, etc.

Do we really know how to perform an activity?

What do we think we know?

Does knowing something make it less interesting and attractive?

Does knowing something box that something in so there is no flexibility?

We know of the past

As individuals there is no doubt that we like knowing. As we personally know and as FM Alexander points out several times in his books, the unknown or the unfamiliar can be scary and can contribute to stress and anxiety. His solution is to have in place a thinking process taking into consideration the conditions PRESENT. This would ensure that we are able to come into contact with the unfamiliar and unknown without fear or anxiety (The Universal Constant in Living, p. 79).

When we say, I know, the I know has, in fact, taken place in the past. What we do is IMPOSE past circumstances on the present ones. It is true that past and present circumstances might be similar. However, similarity is not sameness. That discrepancy, even though small, might be enough to colour the outcome in a way that is not helpful. Alexander goes as far as saying that past experiences or the known impede people (The Universal Constant in Living, p. 147).

Is there any interest, curiosity and challenge in the known?

Knowing something makes that something less interesting and attractive. It can be likened to wanting an item. More often than not, the thrill lies in the wait. Once we’ve acquired an item we wanted, we sometimes do not even look at it: the challenge has gone; our curiosity vanishes, we lose interest as if there is nothing in it any longer for us.

We know how to perform the act of sitting down as we do it very often. In any case, we know how to perform it our way, i.e. according to our conceptions. Most of the time, we feel our way through such an activity instead of reasoning things out. When doing so, a person ends a psycho-physical process which, in reality, should never be finished (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, p. 197).

According to Alexander, the issue lies in the fact that we have been taught that all the ordinary, most necessary, and therefore most oft-repeated acts of life should be automatic and unconscious; for this reason they have become indifferent (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, p. 198).

What is the relationship between change and the unknown?

Alexander underlines a relationship between change and the unknown. Unless we come into contact with the unfamiliar or the unknown, we cannot change and, more fundamentally, we cannot grow or develop (The Universal Constant in Living, p. 91) and find a way out of the predicament we find ourselves in.

A quote by Einstein comes to mind: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them A new element is required which requires flexibility and adaptability.

Only, the discarding of cherished beliefs, the giving up of familiar ways, and the learning of unfamiliar ways of doing thing” can enable us to put into practice new beliefs in new ways of doing things (The Universal Constant in Living, p. 150).

What does embracing the unknown mean?

Embracing the unknown may have unsuspected outcomes such as:

A different kind of control: a wellbeing improver said: I am in charge of my own movement, of my own journey, I have another way to go.

A letting go: “I do not have to get it right, to concentrate another Improver sighed and let go of tension in her body.

An expansion of the mind.

A question to ask ourselves

Now, could we consider that the unknown (and uncertainty) is not as bad as we might think it is.

Are we willing to embrace the idea that when we have a process in place, we are going to end up in the unknown?

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd says Voltaire. Doubting leads us to question; when we doubt, we seek. Hence, our curiosity keeps us interested and prevents us getting bored.

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The other end of the lorgnette: Seeing things differently

By May 10th 2022

seeing things differently
Illustration 12 of seeing things differently

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A Ponder: there is a way out

By April 30th 2022

Quote by Kurz and Prestera
Quote by Kurz and Prestera: There is a way out if only [we] take it.

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Feeling anxious and dizzy

By April 20th 2022

Illustration: Anxiety
Illustration: Anxious and not yourself

Today our Wellbeing Improver is a woman of over 70 living on her own. She consulted me for an movement lesson regarding her anxiety levels and her dizziness.

Medical situation

She does not suffer suffer from any injury and is not taking any medication. She is active and generally fit.

Personal situation

Wellbeing Improver does a lot of regular personal development work and I worked with her a couple of years ago. Living on her own, the lockdowns meant that she had been isolated for a very long time and, because of her age group, though all restrictions have been lifted, she is still very cautious. She had just lost a long-time friend when I met with her again. Furthermore, her brother suffers from dementia which is upsetting and makes it difficult to have a conversation with him.

All in all, she feels very anxious, which she does not like. She is also feeling dizzy, which is a worry as she lives on her own.

General observations

During our talk, when Wellbeing Improver was explaining the situation to me, I observed that she was moving in a particular way when she was relating something painful.

Some thoughts

The question is, are those particular movements she makes helping her or are they getting in her way? Is Wellbeing Improver imposing her ideas of how she thinks she ought to move when there are painful events in her life and when she is relating them? Does there need to be a direct movement correlation to thoughts related to a particular state of mind?

We are all well-made and, unless we have a disease or an injury, we all move beautifully with ease. A lot of us have imposed ideas and thoughts on how to move and, in the long run, those ideas and thoughts trip us up and get in the way of us moving with ease.

Throughout our interaction, Wellbeing Improver gradually changed, considered and experimented with ideas we had been discussing.

A successful outcome

At the end of our session Wellbeing Improver had changed physically and mentally. She looked more serene, more composed; there was a softness around the eyes. Although she was not moving so much from the shoulders upwards, she was more mobile in that area.

Despite the fact she had stopped some of her movements, she was more herself. She was definitely more poised and there was more fluidity in her body. Wellbeing Improver had stopped some additional unnecessary movement behaviours that were getting in her way and had unwanted side effects.

Wellbeing Improver commented that she had almost shed skin during that session and that she was no longer dizzy. She also noticed that her anxiety had gone.

A successful session down the line

This session was also successful for Wellbeing Improver in the following weeks for several reasons:

She had found herself again.

Her anxiety had gone, which meant her perspective on life had shifted and that she is able to cope better.

Because she is no longer dizzy, this does not feed into her anxiety and it also is a huge relief to be able to be and keep her independence and stay at home.

She is in the process of learning how to do something without using her past behaviour.


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High anxiety levels


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An Everyday Activity: Moving our Head

By April 10th 2022

Illustration: People moving their head
Illustration: People moving their head

So why have an Alexander Technique session?

Moving our head is part and parcel of our movement behaviours.

According to FM Alexander, how we move our head - or not, as can be the case - has a direct influence on the quality of our movements. Here is what he says on the matter:

a particular relativity of the head to the neck and the head and neck to the other parts of the organism tended to improve general use and functioning of the organism as a whole, and […] the motivation for this use was from the head downwards (Universal Constant in Living, p. 8)

What Alexanders says is what we are doing with our head either helps or gets in the way of how we move.

Simple and helpful facts about our head

Our skull connects to the top of our cervical spine (the neck) at the craniovertebral junction. The occipital bone, the atlas (the first cervical vertebrae) and the axis (the second cervical vertebrae) give the head its mobility.

The head is front heavy which means that some muscular action is required at the back of the head to prevent a forward tip.

When we manage this balancing act between the front and the back while being in movement, we have poise which is the key to freedom and ease of motion (D. Weed 2012).

Do these physiological facts, presented rather simply, correspond to what we think about our head?

Facts about the head according to a Wellbeing Improver

During an interaction I had with a Wellbeing Improver, we exchanged ideas about how we conceive of the head on top of our spine and how it does not fall off the spine.

This is what she had to say:

The head needs muscles on the side and rests on a muscle mass. They act like tent ropes. This prevents the skull from dropping down, and the end of the spine going into the brain; it sets a distance from the brain.

This might not be how you think about it but it is the way she does.

I suggested a different representation which I drew:



She looked at me rather puzzled: there was no rope.

A clash of ideas

So, here we have a clash of ideas and utter disbelief at my drawing.

Looking at a drawing of a skull on top of the spine and at the neck muscles in an anatomy book was, as well, quite a revelation for this Wellbeing Improver.

Here is why.

But she said, the head is attached to something. I need to feel it, I am holding on to it to keep it in position; it has a place.

She thought that, if her head would not rest on a mass of muscles, there would not be any distance between the spine and the brain, which would mean that the end of the spine would go into the brain. This is indeed a scary thought.

With this view on the matter, a protective muscular behaviour coupled with the fact that she needs to feel her neck, one can understand why there is little movement in the head / neck relationship.

According to FM Alexander this movement behaviour would impede Wellbeing Improver’s movements. Did it?

New idea(s), new outcome(s)

As we can see Wellbeing Improver’s conceptions about her head/neck relationship did not match factual reality. She accepted to consider a view different than hers and here are some of the outcomes:

She had a different head/neck relationship

She realised that her head could pivot

She connected some dots, turned her head to the right and was very surprised at how easy it was (this is important when driving)

An unexpected outcome was that her tinnitus was not so loud

Her neck looked different: she looked softer in the neck – in a way as if her head was not resting on a mass of muscles


Wellbeing Improver went from thinking of her head resting on a mass of muscles and held in place with ropes towards a conception allowing space between her head and her body. This had a positive outcome for her. We need to remember that what we think matters and that WE MOVE ACCORDING TO HOW WE THINK:

The human being has the capacity to influence deeply embedded unconscious habits by means of conscious idea. It matters what you think. (Boggs in Lowell de Solorzano 2020: 18-19)

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A Ponder: placebo cures and change in the brain structure

By March 30th 2022

Quote by Doidge
Quote by Doidge: Placebo cures are not 'less real' than cures by medication.

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Are everyday movements interesting?

By March 20th 2022

Illustration: process brings fascination
Illustration: A thinking process to allow fascination

Are everyday movements interesting?

A Wellbeing Improver brought the following to her session. She is experiencing pain when she opens a carton of milk with her right hand. She described her elbow as being overactive and said that it was doing too much. She linked the doing too much to pain in her shoulder and in her wrist. Following this explanation and the demonstration of the activity of opening a carton of milk, several interesting points came up. I will only expand on three of them.

When does the thinking process begin?

One of the first questions I asked Wellbeing Improver was where does your thinking process begin when you want to perform an activity?

When I want to unscrew the top of the milk carton

What about before that?

When I bend down to get the carton out of the fridge

What about before that?

I don’t know!

What about the relationship of your head/neck and your body in movement? As D. Weed says the poise of the head in relation with the body in movement is the key to freedom and ease of motion.

In a lesson, I start by observing that relationship and the ideas that drive that relationship.

How do you open a milk carton before you open it?

During our interaction I observed Wellbeing Improver and had a sense that she was opening the milk carton before she had ever done so.

Indeed, as soon as she wants to, as soon as she has the desire to unscrew the top, up goes the elbow and everything goes wrong!. It’s like she has her head in the clouds and she embarks on some ring road, some shortcut, which bypasses her thinking process and leads to some movement automatism she does not even consider.

The question is, is such a shortcut helping her or is it getting in her way? She will have to answer that question for herself.

Can opening a milk carton be an interesting everyday activity?

Wellbeing improver explained why she is going off in her mind somewhere: opening a milk carton is not very interesting and I do it the way I always do.

It sounds like the activity opening a milk carton is boring and does not register any longer. This is, because according to F.M. Alexander, we have become indifferent:

Unfortunately, we have been taught that all the ordinary, most necessary, and therefore most oft-repeated acts of life should be automatic and unconscious; for this reason they have become indifferent. (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, p. 198)

Now let’s say we perform any activity, such as opening a milk carton, every time AS IF IT WAS THE FIRST TIME? This would require staying in the present and reasoning things out. It would also mean that automatism does not really have its place when we move and that each movement would be an experiment. We would not know the results beforehand and would allow ourselves to consider several choices. This would make carrying out an activity interesting – even fascinating - and certainly not the way I always do and the performance of an activity would depend on the present circumstances.

What happened when she performed her activity again?

Wellbeing Improver carried out her activity one more time and her movement was different, and she looked different: there was more space between the neck and the shoulders, her upper body was more open, her shoulders not so up, her face was more relaxed.

She felt more in control of her movement and that she had given herself space. She also noticed that she moved her arm differently. Her movement was easy and fluid. As a bonus, she noticed that she did not experience any pain: it had gone away.

She acknowledged:

This moves me forward. My sessions have made such a difference in the way I move.

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Everyday life: screwing or unscrewing the top of a milk bottle or a carton of juice

The other end of the lorgnette: Seeing things differently

By Sylvie Samuels, March 10th 2022

seeing things differently
Illustration 11 of seeing things differently

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A Ponder: doing away with the reasons for illness brings about good health

By February 28th 2022

Quote by Hippocrates
Quote Hippocrates: Doing away with the reasons for our illness...

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Superhero of my body!

By February 20th 2022

Illustration: superhero
Illustration: superhero and everyday movement activities

I am the superhero of my body

I am the superhero of my body announced a Wellbeing Improver when she came in after a previous session with a grin on her face. She had more to say:

I have superpowers!
Since last time, when I notice the pain in my right lower back, I think about the relationship of my head/neck with my body, and about the poise of my head. When I think about that, there is more flexibility in my neck and there is something that flows all down along my back. I still have niggly pains; however, I move better.
I am delighted and I feel like I have superpowers! I like this a lot and I like the fact this thinking helps me with movements I do every day. There is nothing out of the ordinary.

The Alexander Technique does not teach you anything new

Wellbeing Improver’s conclusion ties in with what Frank Pierce Jones says about the Alexander Technique

(…) the Alexander Technique doesn’t teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence in what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotyped responses; how to deal with habit and change.

To start with, a lot of difficulties

This Wellbeing Improver in her late 40s has had a few movement lessons (Alexander Technique) over a couple of years. As a surgeon, she works crazy hours and does not always find and take the time to look after herself, except when it all comes to a head.

When stressed, she experiences severe pain in the top of her back and in her lower back. She feels then that she has no other choice but to seek help when it is difficult to lie down, difficult to sit, difficult to turn over in bed, difficult to get in the car and very difficult to get out of the car. Jobwise, it is very uncomfortable to wear a lead apron.

As she said: All these difficulties get in the way of my wellbeing.

After her first lesson

After her first session, she experienced more flexibility and more fluidity in the relationship between her head/neck and body. The increased movement in this relationship helped with the discomfort at the top of her back and in the lower back.

She went away with more movement in her whole trunk and reported that she had noticed an immediate transformation : she could sit, lie in bed, turn over in bed, get in and out of her car more easily. There was improvement in her everyday life even though getting out of her car is still an issue.

According to F.M. Alexander in Man's Supreme Inheritence, this is how any movement is:

If the mechanical principle employed is a correct one, every movement will be made with a minimum effort.

Some more work (discussion and manipulation) at her shoulder (gleno-humeral joint) led her to realize a few things:

Her movements at the gleno-humeral joints were less easy than the movement in her neck

She had a tendency to fix her neck while moving her “shoulders”

Little by little, throughout her session, her movements got easier

She mentioned she could perceive different movements

Step by step by step by step

It is important to notice that Wellbeing Improver improved gradually. Although we move as a whole, she is also starting to disassociate the different parts of her body.


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Superhero of my body!

The other end of the lorgnette: Seeing things differently

By February 10th 2022

seeing things differently
Illustration 10 of seeing things differently

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A Ponder: pain: emotions, sensations and thinking mind's beliefs

By January 30th 2022

Quote by Furness-Smith
Quote by Levine and Phillips: To solve a problem, you must first acknowledge it...

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An everyday life movement: Raising your arm

By January 20th 2022

Illustration: People raising their arms
Illustration: pictures of people raising their arms/hands

A Wellbeing Improver’s experiment

What’s on your mind today? I would like to raise my arm, past my shoulder.

Why are you interested in this? I find this movement painful and I am experiencing a pulling in my shoulder (gleno-humeral joint).

Wellbeing Improver does not currently have any injury. She, however, mentioned that a few years back she had a ski injury and did something to her tendons; she also had a mastectomy on the left side, which meant that for a while she was doing more with her right arm.

A performance baseline

We started the session with Wellbeing Improver showing me her activity.

When she raised her left hand, she could not raise it very high without some discomfort.

There was also some movement at the hip joint together with the raising of the arm.

Our interaction together

We started with the head/neck relationship which brought about more mobility in the head/neck relationship.

We then did some work with the arm.

We also talked about a few ideas: we talked about the different joints in the arms, we talked about where the arms connect to the body, we talked about the fact that the hips are not the gleno-humeral joints and that they do not have a lot to do with the activity of raising one’s arm.

What does this mean in terms of movement?

Here is the outcome of our work together.

Wellbeing Improver noticed, after our work and verbal interactions, that, when raising her arm, the movement was neater and required less energy. The movement felt different, and she did not need to accompany it with this big movement from the hips.

She came to discover that she was bringing tension into her right shoulder at the thought of raising her arm and reaching upwards. She acknowledged she did not need to do that, even though in the past she thought there had been a use for bringing this muscular contraction and tension in her right shoulder. As she put it, this tensioning of the shoulder was an archaic movement behaviour that did not really have its place in the current and present circumstances.

Such a realisation and acknowledgment brought about a different relationship of the arm with the body (trunk). When she performed the activity of raising her arm once more, Wellbeing Improver liked the way [she] moved, liked the fact that she can change how she moves . It does not have to be painful and a lot of effort .

A positive experience

Wellbeing Improver went through the process of raising her arm. She found out that she could perform the activity of raising her arm more easily without pain. She furthermore realised that her elbow and wrist had moved : the movement felt easy and very smooth, with the different parts of the arms just following one bit after another.

Wellbeing Improver finds her movement sessions (Alexander Technique) life changing as she is able to move differently. She is gradually improving which is a better outlook to “oh, I’m getting older, it is difficult to move” .

She stopped doing what she thought she had to do in the past and was still doing in the present. As a result, the interference stopped, and she is now able to raise her arm easily.

Transferability

These new ideas are not bound to this specific session. They can be used in many everyday activities such as reaching up into a cupboard, raising our hands, fitness exercises, etc.

This may be of interest to you

Where do our arms attach on our body?

Bringing your arm forward at shoulder level


The other end of the lorgnette: Seeing things differently

By January 10th 2022

seeing things differently
Illustration 9 of seeing things differently

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References:
Man's Supreme Inheritance, Alexander, FM [1910] 1996, Sixth edition reprinted with minor corrections December 2002, Mouritz.
This page was last modified on May 20 2022 7:18am