Posted: November 13, 2012

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.

Posted: August 13, 2012

I’m probably going to get into a whole mess of trouble over what I’m about to do. The reason I’m going to get into trouble is because I’m about to use my husband as the subject of this article.

You see my husband has this fascinating behavioral trait: he is incredibly careful with his things. In December he bought a new car and eight months later still drives it the way I would drive a borrowed Bentley. When he purchased a new laptop, he refused to take it out of the box and set it up until he had read though the entire instruction manual (I think my computer was open on in the car ride home from the mall and I don’t think I’ve yet opened the manual to this day). I won’t even get into how he cooks with and washes the new frying pan…

Just so that I don’t get into too much trouble tonight, I should add that this behavior doesn’t bother me. In fact I think it’s quite charming and it forces me to acknowledge that I could treat my own things with a little more care. But what fascinates me is that though he has a deep respect for the things he owns, he will, without a second thought, drive himself both physically and mentally into the ground in order to get things done.

The way we care for and “use ourselves” is often overlooked when it comes to our health and wellbeing. We hear from all sides that “we are what we eat” and that it is imperative we maintain well balanced diets, drink plenty of water, and get out into the fresh air to exercise regularly. We learn in kindergarten that we need to wash our hands several times a day to prevent colds and infections. We know instinctively that stress is bad for us, and that a good night’s sleep, meditation, relaxation, and vacations are ways to keep our blood pressure down and our whole selves at their best. And this of course is all true.

But if this is what we believe will keep us in good health, then we’re missing a major piece of the puzzle. The way we go about our daily activities, the way we live and respond to the world around us moment to moment has a weighty effect on our health and wellbeing.

Lets take your car as an example of this. Your manual says (I haven’t exactly read through my manual but I’m sure it mentions this somewhere) that you should have your car thoroughly inspected at consistent intervals, and that oil changes, break repairs, steering alignment, along with a myriad of other routine maintenances will keep your car running optimally. But say you adhere perfectly to these recommendations and take frequent trips to the mechanic. You even get your car washed and waxed every week and keep it in a garage to protect it from inclement weather. However, when you do drive your car, you take turns roughly, fly quickly over potholes, and slam on the breaks more often than necessary. You are rough with the door handles, with the steering wheel, and even with the parking break. Will your car last even half as long as it should?

It really is the same for our selves. If we push to exhaustion and ignore signs of pain when lifting, moving, or bending; if we sit at our laptops for too many hours a day slumped over the keyboard; even if don’t do these things and our only bad habit is to consistently sit, walk or move in an unbalanced way, over the course of ten, twenty, or forty years, our bodies will begin to break down no matter how well we eat and how much we exercise.

We don’t think too much about the small compromises we make with ourselves on a day to day basis, just as we don’t think too much of it when we eat one decadent meal or we hit the brakes too hard every so often when the car in front stops short. Our bodies are built to take on extra stresses from time to time, but it’s when these stresses become daily, unconscious, and unnoticeable that we run into problems. Often we aren’t even aware that we are putting unnatural amounts of stress on ourselves because it feels so normal.

Take a look at this drawing below. The average human adult head weighs about ten to twelve pounds. That’s twelve pounds of force bearing down on the spine nearly every waking hour of every day. However, when the head isn’t balanced on top of the spine (think a slump) the amount of force on the spine increases dramatically. A slump may feel normal and even comfortable, but over time, the increased force can wreak havoc on the whole system. When you look in the mirror, which one of these guys do you see looking back at you?

Do you treat the things you own differently than the way you treat yourself? Have you ever thought about how the way you move, sit, stand, work at a computer, or drive your car may have a direct effect on the amount of energy you have or the pain you may be feeling? I’d love to hear from you.

Jennifer Schulz is an AmSAT certified Alexander Technique teacher. She maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, CA

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