The Alexander Technique helps with over-efforting in every sense of the word – not just the physical tightening and strain that leads to bad posture and injury, but the mental and emotional gripping that leads to stress, anxiety, depression and impatience. Alexander Technique is all about coming back to yourself, freeing your neck, allowing for space, being in the present moment and then permitting the next moment to unfold in its own time. I talk a lot about what Alexander Technique is in some of my previous posts so I won’t go into details here, but if you’re curious go to THIS POST. For a terrific little news segment on how it works, CLICK HERE
Well awesome! There is a technique out there that, if you put some of your attention on you in the more challenging aspects of your everyday life, can help you make lasting change for the better. But what about those moments when it really isn’t about YOU at all? What do you do during those times when taking care of yourself just isn’t a priority?
I bring this point up because about six weeks ago when I gave birth to my first child. After all, his safety and comfort take precedence over my most basic needs to eat, sleep and shower. I found over the first week I would happily tweak my thumb a thousand times if it meant picking him up or putting him down safely. I observed that when he was inconsolable, (as I’m learning most new tiny humans are for large portions of the day and night) my instinct was to pull myself down and curl my body around him in an almost unconscious effort to calm and protect him. These physical patterns didn’t stop him from crying but they did give me some terrible back, neck and wrist pain that threatened to turn into chronic conditions if I didn’t quickly undo my new bad habits.
So if Alexander Technique is the practice of focusing your attention on you, how do you continue to take care of yourself when it really isn’t about you at all? It’s counter-intuitive, but I’m learning that I’m not being selfish or a bad parent when I leave a little bit of my attention on myself for my wellbeing. I’m slowly coming to understand that even when he’s screaming bloody murder, I can stop for a moment and prevent myself from hunkering down and tensing my neck before picking him up. I can take a brief pause at 3 am to let my jaw unclench and my frustration and anger abate when he won’t go back to sleep. I can remain poised with my head balanced easily on top of my spine when the UPS man is at the door with an important package and I’ll have to let it go because I’ve got my son nursing in my arms. I can take my wellbeing into consideration without sacrificing his care. In fact, when I practice allowing my joints to work as they are built to, when I put less pressure on myself physically and mentally I can remain in a better place for longer. By taking care of myself in this way I actually enhance the level of his care rather than detract from it.
You don’t have to have a kid to feel like there are times when it really isn’t about you at all. But keeping just a little of your awareness in your back pocket can make a huge difference not only in the quality of your life, but in the job or activities you do.
Not to get too off topic, but I think acting is a prime example of this. I say this because when an actor is asked to become someone who is robbing a bank, fighting pirates, saving the world, or having a terrible fight with the one guy that got away, most of us are taught to believe it ISN’T about the actor. It’s about the character living through this event TRUTHFULLY, right?
Well, yes and no. My personal belief as an acting teacher is that actors CAN take their wellbeing into consideration without sacrificing their living truthfully in the given circumstances. We have to—or we risk blowing out our knees, or our voices, or sacrificing the emotional truth of this moment because we are too riddled with tension to be dealing with the honesty of what we are feeling THIS time around.
Is what I’m saying heresy? Maybe, depending on your training.
However next time you are rehearsing or performing a scene, I dare you to try this: come back to yourself, your whole self while you are acting–just for a moment. See, hear, smell, sense your partner in the space you really are in, feel your feet on the floor and notice your breath. Listen to what s/he is saying right now – how s/he is saying it. I would argue you aren’t denying the reality of your character or the scene at all by getting back in touch with yourself in this present moment—you are only making space for presence. You might just be coming back to the visceral you, rather than getting trapped trying to do the “right” thing or trying to behave the “right“ way.
Just like when I’m being a better mom by putting a small portion of attention on my wellbeing rather than my child’s, I’m becoming a better actor when I put some attention on my whole self and my present moment when while working on a scene. This is especially true if I’m using the real estate of my brain that usually sits there watching myself, judging my performance in real time, and beating myself up for missing a line. By taking care of myself in this way, I can enhance my work, rather than detract from it.