Mind the Gap, Part III:

Mind the Gap, Part III:

How to Discover a Gap

Identifying gaps between thoughts or actions will help expand your awareness.  Let’s start with investigating gaps that are right in front of you and easy to find.  We can talk about gaps in both time and spatial realms.

Consciously recognizing these gaps that may or may not be familiar to us will give insight into our habits and actions that have so far been unconscious and automatic.  We often leap from moment to moment, thought to thought, action to action, here to there, on automatic pilot without registering that we can actually get between these activities and experience them more fully.

Find a spatial gap by noticing the distance between these two points:

  • Your body and an object that is relatively close to you like the door to the room you are in.

  • Your hand and shoulder.

  • Your eyes and the computer screen.

Find a time gap and notice the time it takes to:

  • Move your hand from your mouse or trackpad to the keyboard.  

  • To step from one foot to the next.

  • To find your phone when an alarm goes off.

Find a thought gap and notice the “space” or “time” between your thoughts.

  • Become aware of the moment you decide to get out of a chair and the moment your body starts to move.

  • The recognition that you are hungry and the thought of what you might like to eat.

  • The moment you register what someone says to you and the start of your response.

By beginning with these larger relatively easily identifiable gaps, you can practice regulating your attention and learn to expand your field of awareness in increments that are manageable and comfortable for you.

A next step in expanding your awareness is to pick out a moment about halfway between one point of awareness and the next familiar point of awareness.  You don’t have to be totally precise with the timing as the intention is to discover that there IS time between the moments you have previously been aware of.

Let’s look at this in walking.

Noticing these moments.

  1. Right foot touches the ground

  2. Left foot touches the ground

 

Then:

Right foot touches the ground - notice

Halfway to the Left foot touching the ground - notice

Left foot touches the ground - notice
 

Then divide that time and space in half again and notice those moments

 

Any action or thought can be divided like this so you can expand your attention and awareness. And you can find gaps and insert your awareness with all of your senses.

You can also notice gaps in time at a micro level like:

  • The time it takes between touching your keyboard and the time the image appears on your screen.

  • The time between someone asking you a question and the time you take to answer.

  • The time between having the thought to get up from your chair to get something and when you actually land on the floor.

You can sense the time and space at the same time:

  • Notice the time it takes you to look from your hand to the screen AND the distance between them.

  • Notice the space between your two friends talking AND the time between the sound of their voices.

In order to notice and experience these moments you have had to keep yourself from jumping ahead into the next known moment.  You have had to INHIBIT (in the F. M. Alexander Technique sense of inhibition) your normal responses in perception to allow for something else to enter your awareness.

It also may feel like you have to slow down your activities to notice these gaps.  That can be useful but it isn’t necessary.  We aren’t actively trying to go in slow motion although it may be interesting to try for a short while.  We are encouraging the building of awareness and perception of what we are doing from moment to moment.

At first it is useful to simply notice and acknowledge that there have been things occurring that have so far been out of your field of attention.  These moments have been occurring all the time but have simply been out of your conscious awareness until now.

MIND THE GAP - part two

 

Minding the gap can apply to our sense of space, the distance between things. There is a continuum of space through your internal body that extends past your body boundaries into the immediate space around you and even further beyond into your environment.
 
Space can be perceived and felt. For instance you can sense the gap, or the space, inside and across your body from shoulder to shoulder. You can also sense the spatial gap between the top of your head and the bottom of your feet. As you experience space in this way, you sense that you take up space and have volume—length, width and depth.   
 
Although your skin creates a container for your body it can be useful to think of the skin as permeable—perhaps, a soft boundary between yourself and the environment. When you allow yourself to “be in your own skin” in this more fluid way, you may notice that there is not as much separation between you and your environment as you may have initially thought.
 
Allow yourself to experiment with sensing the space inside your skin. Then sense what it is like to focus on the space just outside your skin.   Now let your focus expand to take in both of these spaces at once. 
 
How far outside your body boundaries can you experience yourself while also sensing your inner space?
 
By focusing on the space and gaps between things you will discover and experience a three-dimensional, multi-sensory field. This increased awareness will allow you to perceive space differently – you may experience a gap – or an expanded perspective. 
 
This new perspective on the world and perception of space creates an expanded/an increased field of awareness. As you are able to inhabit this field, you will notice that it presents new opportunities for relating to your environment.  You will notice there seems to be more time to take in and respond to stimulus from the environment.  You will find you have more time to absorb incoming information and more time to choose your outgoing response.
 
Even as you immerse yourself in this larger field of awareness, you will notice that you will still be able to focus in detail on your task at hand. For example, you can see an object locally AND experience the larger field at the same time.  You will discover how an open and expanded field of awareness allows for more choices and creates a sense of possibility. 
 
An expanded field of awareness also allows for an attitude of ease and openness in your whole mind-body. Watch how your experience of the space-time continuum changes!

Here are three exercises to explore the space in, through, and around your body.
 
I. Start by discovering the gap, a sense of space, within your body boundaries:
·       Notice the distance between your ears.
·       Sense your width from shoulder to shoulder.
·       Notice your length between the top of your head and your sit bones.
·       Sense the distance between your sternum and your spine.
·       Explore the 3-dimensionality of your rib cage.
·       Experience the distance between your hips and feet.
·       Sense the entirety of your length between your head and your feet.

 
II. Now notice the gap between your body and your environment:
·       Sense the distance from top of your head to the ceiling of the room you are in or to
        the sky above you.
·       Notice the space between your hands and the nearest objects in your environment.
·       Notice the distance from your eyes to the screen or paper you are now reading.
·       Sense the space between your feet and the floor (might not be much of a gap).
·      Notice the distance between your back and the closest object behind you.

 
III. Now sense the space as it passes through your body and into the environment:
·       Sense the distance from the ground through your body out the top of your head to
        the ceiling above you.
·       Notice the space from the wall in front of you through your body to the wall behind
        you.
·       Sense the distance from the wall to your right through your body to the wall to your
        left.
·       Sense the distance from your screen or page through your eyes to the back of your
        head.

 
As you practice sensing the space in, around and through you body, you will become aware of new sensations and perceptions. They may be unfamiliar. Make sure you allow yourself to entertain these new experiences with interest and curiosity.  Sometimes we think new sensations are wrong or incorrect.  Let yourself explore each new sensation as it arises without judgment.
 
Start expanding your sense of the space-time continuum slowly.  Practice a little bit at a time.  If you start to feel “spaced out” and by all the new sensations, slow down even more.  Open up slowly and in small increments so you get used to the larger view. You are learning to “space in!”
 
 Mind the Gap,Part III coming soon!

MIND THE GAP - part one

 

Minding the gap between a thought and the resultant action is one of the skills we learn through the Alexander Technique.  When we practice inhibition in the AT sense, we adjust our mental process by inserting our awareness between our thoughts and actions.  This expands our self-awareness as well as our awareness of our environment. In the beginning, we may need to slow down in time in order to register these changes.

As our awareness grows, our mental and sensory perceptions affect both time and space. Taking ourselves out of automatic pilot mode and into the open field of possibility requires increasing our awareness to perceive moments that have so far been unknown.  Learning to expand our field of awareness can be a satisfying activity and can lead to greater mental and physical ease.  Opening our awareness loosens the grip on how we perceive reality and gives us more choice as to how we respond to different situations.

In this entry we will focus on the thought process involved in minding the gap. Experiment with these instructions. First, notice that you can register an individual thought. Then, notice that you can also observe the time/space between that thought and the next one that follows. This perception can occur as part of mental conversations you are having with yourself and conversations you have with others. It also occurs with thoughts that lead into actual actions. 

Warning: all thoughts you have, whether or not they necessitate a movement through space, will have a physical effect you can perceive.

It takes practice and vigilance to develop expanded awareness. From here, it's possible to cultivate a process F. M. Alexander calls “inhibition”. Awareness is necessary to effect change of any sort. We have to observe our response to stimuli, whether internal or external.  Stimuli can come from any or all of our senses.

Noticing the gap between one thought and the next is the first step in a process that allows for a continuous flow of responses to stimulus. It is a process that helps us move past our current habits (what F. M. Alexander calls our current ”constant in living”) to learn and embody an easier, thoughtful and more fluid ability to respond to the world.

This more optimal use of ourselves leads to physical, mental and emotional freedom from our ingrained habits of stimulus/response that basically run our lives.

It is not necessary to go into slow motion to discover the space between our thoughts and our thoughts and actions. However, it can be helpful to slow down at times to give ourselves the opportunity to find out what is occurring.  The Alexander Technique is sometimes confused with moving in slow motion.  That is not at all the intention of the training.  It does take conscious time and focus to learn how to insert our awareness into our activities. However, new thoughts and expanded awareness can happen very quickly.

Here is an activity to experiment with. Take a look at the sequence below. Find the gap between your thoughts in this non-emotionally charged process of asking yourself if you would like a glass of water or a cup of coffee.  What happens between your thoughts, where do you go?

Example:

1. Thought/Stimulus:  Seeing a glass or water or cup of coffee in front of you

Gap

Response:  Registering you could have some if you would like


2. Thought/Stimulus:  Would I like something to drink?

Gap

Response: (Your response)

3. Say your answer was “yes”:

Thought/Stimulus:  Impulse to reach for the glass or cup

Gap

Response:  Begin the movement to pick up the cup

 4. Thought/Stimulus: Making contact with the glass or cup with your hand

Gap

Response: (Your response)

If you couldn’t observe  a gap between your thoughts, slow down until you discover where you go mentally when you think and how the decision was made. Take your time. How did you arrive at your response?

This process applies to every decision we make. We can become more conscious of the moments between our thoughts, and between our thoughts and actions. In order to discover what happens in the gap we have to keep ourselves from jumping to our first immediate choice.  Only then will we be able to notice what is occurring. Once we can tune into these moments, we will be able use them to make new decisions and choices.

More to come!

 

Where is Up?

Where is Up?

Up is a word we use often in the Alexander Technique: Go up, think up, up off your leg, up and out, up and over and just plain up, up, up!

In talking to people about where up is, it has become clear that we sometimes perceive things very differently. It might seem obvious to say up is toward the sky or up is out the top of your head. These are the same thoughts when you are sitting or standing, but what about when you are lying on your back or tilted forward to do a task?

Do an experiment: lie down on your back and look at the ceiling or the sky. Then take your arms up. Where do they go? Do they go:

1) toward the sky away from the center of the earth, or

2) above your head parallel to gravity toward the wall or space?

There is no right answer.

It is, however, interesting to see what each of us uses as a reference point to define parameters like up or down. Once you understand this, it will help you to be clearer when giving and receiving directions. It is fascinating to realize we don’t all perceive things the same way.

If you are on your back and take your hands up toward the sky, you are using what might be called the Standard Cross of Axis, where up is always toward the sky and down is always toward gravity.

 If you are on your back and you take your arm parallel to gravity in a line that is a continuation of the direction of your spine then you are using the Body Cross of Axis as your reference.

These directions are all taken from the shoulder joint. See what this looks like if you are doing a handstand.

In terms of the Standard Cross of Axis, your arms are down. Whereas, if you use the Body Cross of Axis, your arms would be up.

As you get in and out of the chair though out the day, think of your head leading your body “up” from the end of your spine. As you tilt and come forward, the top of your head probably won’t always be facing and oriented toward the sky.

Play around with this and see what you discover.

It has become clear that we are not all thinking of up as the same thing for many reasons. That is part of what makes teaching the Alexander Technique so interesting. As we understand what we think and how we think, we begin to clarify our thinking. As we change the way we think, our relationship to ourselves and to the environment also changes.

Where is up?

We perceive and embody our understanding of “up” in different ways. Being mindful of this difference can make it much easier to communications with others.

Closing the Gap

We are closing the gap between our different ways of defining things and also closing the gap between what we think is happening and what is actually happening around us.


ORAL SEAL

5 things to learn from the Oral Seal

In the chapter on breathing in Walter Carrington's book "Thinking Aloud" he writes about the oral seal and indicates there is a lot to learn from the oral seal.  
   
The oral seal is when you close off the oral cavity from the nasopharnyx. To make the seal touch the tip of your tongue against the back of your lower teeth. There should be no pressure against the teeth and jaw. Then let the back of your tongue come up to gently touch your soft palate (behind your back molars). Keep the tongue wide and soft as it contacts the soft palate. Allow the larynx to hang from that contact point. You will then be breathing in and out of your nose.  It may feel at first as if you are “doing” something to keep the oral seal in place. This is most likely because you have been pulling your tongue down habitually. Play with this and see what happens. I think the natural and optimal tongue place is when the tongue is quite high and wide in the back.
 
The oral seal:

  •  Identifies and sensitizes the inner landscape of the head, neck, tongue and jaw. This is an area many of us haven’t considered that we can actually sense and direct.
  • Takes pressure off the top of the spine so you can find a higher and more accurate sense of the atlanto-occipital joint where the head and spine meet. Check to see that you are not pushing your tongue down to make the oral seal.  The back of the tongue goes up and back from the tip of the tongue reinforcing the up and back of the whole body.
  • Identifies the length of your air column/tube.  With the oral seal the column comes up to the back of your nose along your spine.
  • Helps you notice if you are sucking or pulling the air in and out when you inhale and exhale.  Leave your tongue alone as much as possible.
  • Contributes to the “up the front” direction of your body.  As you release up into the oral seal there is a sense of coming up the front of the body which balances the lengthening and widening of the back. 

Throughness

I started using the word throughness in my teaching several years ago. I didn’t know if it was a real word or not, but it was the best word I could come up with to describe what I experience and what I observe happens when we are free and directed. There is a sense of openness and of the flow that goes through the body without resistance from gravity to the sky, from the sky to the pull of gravity, from body part to body part, and so on.

I finally looked throughness up in Google and found that it is actually a real word used in horseback riding. It is where the rider senses the ground through the horse. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“In equestrianism, throughness is an absence of resistance in the horse to the rider's commands.”

Click on this Wikipedia link to see how the lines of flow and energy go from the rider into the ground and back up again through the horse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throughness

It is interesting that Alexander was such a horse person and was probably on a horse the day after he was born. He must have been aware of sensing through the horse, and I’m projecting a little bit, but I think he must have naturally sensed the same throughness in people when he started to put his hands on them during his teaching.

Finding the state of least resistance, the appropriate amount of force and pressure, easiness and an uninterrupted flow of energy, are elements we look for in our movement and activities. This applies to our thinking, internal movements and actions as they relate to our environment. Remember the lack of resistance doesn’t mean to collapse or become limp like a noodle. We need to have the appropriate amount of tone to accomplish our activities. The issue is that most of us use too much force and pressure pursing a direction that isn’t helpful. Thus, we miss the feeling of throughness which allows for amazing freedom of movement, flow, and direction.

The concept of “release into the direction” could also be “release into the throughness.”

As you move through your day, discover your throughness by thinking of your body as a whole and allowing for less resistance. This is undoing and non-doing. The directions will support you. 

 

Voice and Inhibition

 

The concept of inhibition is central to the Alexander work. Changing and undoing one’s habitual pattern and response to a thought or action requires that one stops performing the habitual pattern or response so something else can happen. This is the process of inhibition.  

I often say that one has to be “in front” of an action. Thinking and noticing how you respond prior to initiating an action builds the awareness one needs to change the habit. Then one can notice what happens when one first has the thought to do an action. Eventually, one can find ease BEFORE the thought even comes.

You can apply this principle to our voice work with the following process.

One way to work on your voice is to apply Alexander’s idea of inhibition very directly to how you speak or sing.

Step 1: Find your best use in silence, allowing your breath to move in and out without resistance. Let your tongue go much as possible, so the tip of your tongue touches the back of the lower teeth and the back of your tongue is high and wide near the back molars.

Step 2: Begin to say something (start with one word that doesn’t have any particular meaning to you). Go right up to the moment of phonation. And then… 

Step 3: Pause and notice any tension that may have accumulated in any part of your body (especially your head, neck, tongue and jaw).

Step 4: Let the tension go out the top of your head and flow into the space all around you. In other words, release into your directions of lengthening and widening.

Step 5: Repeat this activity letting go earlier and earlier in the process of phonation. As you notice any tension building up, release it into your length and width.

Stay with easy words until you can have the thought to speak and arrive at the moment of phonation without any tension.

Step 6: Then you can start adding words with meaning and content. Go though the same process until you can speak or sing without any excess tension. (Remember letting go does not mean becoming a puddle or collapsing.  You are releasing into your 3-dimensionsal directions.)

Working with this process alone will help you notice what you do when you begin to interact with people in a real conversation or with musical entrances, when you have to come in at a particular moment in the musical score.

More to come…

The Balance Arts Center has moved!

The Balance Arts Center has moved into a larger and more convenient location near Midtown South/Chelsea/Flatiron District!

We've been busy with our winter/spring schedule and finding a new space, packing and then implementing a big buildout!

We had to leave our great space on Fulton St. on May 1 as the building, along with four adjacent buildings, was sold to make way for a big new 50 story high-rise.

After much searching and running around town, we found a fabulous space in Mid-town South just off Broadway on 28th St. (28th is the street with all the flower shops.)


We're already up and running with our full schedule, thanks in part to a wonderful contractor.
Come and visit!

Our new location is:

Balance Arts Center
34 W. 28th St., 3rd floor
NYC, NY 10001

Our new space has 4 beautiful studios.

Two of the larger studios are perfect for groups in the Alexander Technique, yoga, pilates mat, dance therapy, dance class, workshops, acting classes etc.

The two smaler studios are great for individual work in the Alexander Technique, massage, acupuncture, yoga or pilates, voice work individual or small group sessions etc.

Here are the pictures, rental rates and specifications:

Front Studio (26' X 21') $30/hr.


Back Studio (21' and 13' X 37' - The back space is an L-shaped studio with windows on two sides.) $35/hr.

Medium Studio (13' X 13') $20/hr.

Small Studio (13' X 10.5') $15/hr.

If you or someone you know is interested in renting space write to:
space@balanceartscenter.com

or call
646-526-6515

More Balance Arts Center news soon!

Practicing Part I.

How/what are you practicing?

This is the first of several postings on practicing.  Many of us are working at refining something we already engage in or are learning something completely new and different.  In either case the process probably involves practicing (of some sort).  How one goes about getting better at something is an interesting topic. How and what one practices is very important to the outcome.

Geoff Colvin, in his recently published book “Talent is Overrated,” says deliberate practice is needed to improve any activity and he goes so far as to say that if one doesn’t continue to deliberately practice one can actually get worse at something rather than improve.

Sheer repetition of an activity is practicing of a sort but not deliberate practice.  I had one singing student tell me she warmed up while watching TV. She thought that she just needed to put in the hours and she would improve.  Such an extreme example makes it clear that she was just entrenching her habits into muscle memory without any consciousness or awareness of what she was doing.

In the Alexander Technique we learn exactly how to practice deliberately and what to practice. The Alexander Technique can address any activity at a very fundamental level. In fact, I think The Alexander Technique IS conscious deliberate practice.  The Alexander Technique gives us a process to follow that will lead us as far as we can go with our skill in an activity.  As you learn the AT you are learning to build conscious awareness of what/how you think while you are in activity.  From this awareness you learn what it means to deliberately practice in a way that focuses on the process, (Alexander would have said “the means”), rather than only on the goal.

It is my belief the whole point of the Alexander Technique, conscious awareness, and deliberate practice is to take our thoughts and actions off automatic pilot mode. Only then we can bring our habits in to our conscious awareness and make choices about how we are accomplishing very critical and essential aspects of the task at hand.

It is a skill to be able to take an action and break it down into practicable segments that will have an important effect on the outcome of an activity.  Colvin talks about deliberately practicing the parts of an activity rather than the whole activity itself. Then those parts in their “better” form will be available to you while you when you need them. A good Alexander Technique teacher will be able to help you discover the essential elements of any activity (singing, golf/tennis swing, jogging, typing, speaking) you wish to work on that will make the most difference to you. Even if the teacher isn’t proficient at your specific task, they are trained to look at fundamental elements of how you are doing what you are doing and guide you to new concepts and choices for accomplishing your task.

Let’s look at one fundamental aspect of speaking and singing: the inhale.

For the speaker or singer, the inhale, is critical to the vocal production.  If one has not deliberately addressed the inhale; being able to take air in without sucking and pulling (either through the mouth or nose) and where the air is directed on the inhale, it will make some difference to one’s singing if one focuses on pitch, consonants, vowel, and volume but probably won’t create the full desired effect. The fundamental support and airflow have to come first before phonation.

Here are some other aspects of the inhale that can be deliberately practiced.

The first step is to do a good long exhale with your best use and then as you allow the inhale:

-       Allow the sense of your body weight to go into the ground. This requires releasing your joints.

-       Keep your full body length on the inhale (no shrinking -age on the inhale). In other words stay long while the air flows down into your body.

-       Consciously direct the air in up behind your eyes and allow the air to inflate your body from the inside.

-       Sense the movement from the effects of your inhale all the way to your fingertips and toes.

-       Allow your tongue and jaw to be free and easy as you inhale. (Keep the root of the tongue easy too. Clue: The natural resting state of the tongue is higher than most people think.)

This is a good start for your inhale -- of course there are more aspects.

After you have deliberately practiced the parts of your own task, integrate the segments you practiced into your whole activity. Be conscious of allowing the whole to be different and informed by the practice you just performed.

Often students say, “this is much easier physically and much more difficult mentally.”  Ah – then they are paying attention. That is great. In the case of the speaker/singer, when the awareness is there, the sound is much freer, more resonant and easier to listen to.

The Air Column: Your "Tube" Includes The Tongue

Before you read this blog entry, check in with yourself and consider what you think of as being your air column.  Where it is? How long do you think it is? Where do the top and bottom end? How/where does the air flow through it?

First, let’s focus on the top end of the tube.

I’ve found that many students think the upper end of their “tube” or “column” is at the level of the bottom of the mouth, base of the tongue, or at the vocal folds. 

The top end of the column through which your air flows extends up into your head, behind your tongue, into your soft palate and the arch formed by the bones of your skull, behind the hard palate.  Notice the top of this arch is above where your skull balances on your spine. The top of this vault is just below the center of gravity of the head and behind part of your eye socket.

This means the air passes through your vocal fold, larynx, in the back of and behind the oral cavity on it’s way to the top of the column.  When the back of the tongue is free (and not pulling down) it helps form the front of the tube, directing the air up in to soft palate toward the vault.  

To experience the full height of your air column, allow your tongue to be in it’s natural position, (as in Alexander’s “whispered ah”) with the rounded tip of your tongue gently contacting the back of your lower teeth, and the back top corner of your tongue wide and high touching the soft palate along with the sides or back of the back upper molars.

This “oral seal” as it is called, divides your nasopharynx from your mouth creating a column of air back by your spine.  You are now breathing in and out through your nose.

The column through which your air flows extends up behind the back of your tongue with the tongue in the oral seal and toward the top of your head.

While exhaling, direct your air up toward the top of your head.  It will automatically go our your nose.

While inhaling, allow the air to come in to the top concha of your nose. This is way up nearly between your eyes.

(image used by permission; David Gorman, pg. 19.)

As you breath make sure there is no sucking, pushing or pulling the air in or out.  Let yourself find the natural suspension as you move from exhale to inhale and then inhale to exhale. Leave your tongue alone.

Please Note:

There should be no sound/noise on the inhale breathe.  If you are making sound you are constricting your throat somewhere.

The oral seal may be higher than you are used to if you habitually press our tongue down.

When you speak and sing well, this air gets caught up behind the back of the tongue, vibrates the skull and creates resonance.

Walter Carrington writes about the oral seal in his chapter on breathing on page 69 of  “Thinking Aloud.”  At the end of his explaination he says: “So there's really a nice lot to work on.” This is the beginning of what I understand the “nice lot” to be.

Daily Preparation for Working at a Desk

Directions to give yourself at the start of the day or before you start your work session.  Use these instructions to help you prepare for your work session so you can work from your best balanced-and-easy body/mind.

Begin facing your workstation with your feet flat on the floor, back long, elbows easy, and hands on your thighs.  Allow yourself to sit on your chair without anticipating the work you will be doing during the day.  Stay with yourself for a few minutes (or even a few moments) before beginning to interact with colleagues, the phone, and your computer.  

As you work with these directions from the beginning of the day, you will develop a new habit of finding ease each time you sit down.

Allow the following instructions to guide you to ease and freedom of movement.  As you release and let go, a sense of three-dimensionality will emerge.  You will find a sense of your own body weight rebounding from the floor back up through your entire system. Allow for those directions to emerge and support you from the inside of your body. (This is to say that letting go is not collapsing, slouching, or slumping.)

  •       Let the muscles of your neck soften and let go.
  •       Let your tongue go by contacting the base of your lower teeth with the rounded tip of your tongue in the front as the back of your tongue rises up toward your soft palate.
  •       Notice as you let your tongue go your neck releases more and more.
  •       Let your entire larynx release so you sense your whole voice box letting go.
  •       Allow a small space between your molars in the back of your mouth.
  •       Let your eyes rest in your head. 
  •       See specific objects in front you and the space around you as well – use your peripheral vision.  See the space above and below you, as well as side to side.
  •       Sense your head balancing on your spine.
  •       Play with “yes” and “no” movements of your head from the top of your spine.
  •       Allow your air to go out of your body up toward the top of your head and spring back in up into your head behind your tongue.  Repeat this several times.
  •       Sense the column of air start in your head up behind your eyes, and travels through your neck and throat into your chest down to your diaphragm.  It feels like the air can go all the way to your pelvic floor.
  •       Let the air turn around from your exhale to your inhale easily without any pushing or pulling.  Take the time to let the air move your body on its own time – not when your mind thinks it needs to move.
  •       Notice your ribs and abdomen respond to your breathing. 
  •       Let your ribs move side to side (wide) as well as front to back (deep - between your sternum and spine)
  •       Let the free movement of the ribs remind you to find your length on both your exhale and inhale.
  •       Allow your abdomen and pelvis to respond to your exhale and inhale. 
  •       Sense movement in the back of your pelvis as well as in the front.
  •       Let the chair support your body weight through your sit bones.
  •       Rock your whole torso forward and back so that you can sit without any tension in the front of your hip joints.
  •       Notice that you can let your legs release when you let the chair take your body weight.
  •       Let your legs be in front of your back and your back be behind your legs
  •       Allow your lower legs to go straight down from your knees.
  •       Sense the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
  •       Allow your feet to spread out and soften into your shoes.
  •       As you breathe notice the width across your shoulders.
  •       Keep the space between your upper arm and the side of your rib case.
  •       Notice the width across your back, through the shoulders, out your elbows, through the wrist, and into your fingertips.
  •       Return to your breathing and sense the inhale inflating your entire body, all the way into your hands and feet.
  •       On your exhale, allow your body to remain where it is without pushing or pulling the air in or out.
  •       If you wish, close your eyes for a moment, then open them while you keep your eye muscles and whole body easy.
  •       Hear the sounds around you.
  •       Feel your weight on the chair again.
  •       Sense your entire body responding to your breath.

Now you are ready to go into your day or work session.  Notice how you can return to this state of ease between activities and each time you return to sitting at your desk or when you sit in a meeting.  Notice what pulls you out of this state of ease and choose to return to this ease as often as you can.

Listen to the Balance Arts Center Podcast for "The Daily Preparation for Working at a Desk" (about 10 min).

Download here.

Think BEFORE You Move or Act

I often remind students to build awareness and thought “in front” of an action. It is important to inhibit the normal response to carrying out an activity BEFORE it happens, then think and re-direct into a better balance knowing what the intention is, and THEN do the action from this better situation. As you will see below, the sequence of events is important.

A student in my teacher training class had a major “ah ha” moment during a class discussion. She realized what had happened when she was learning to drive a car. She thought she needed to get the car moving and then figure out where she was going --- in other words she stepped on the gas pedal BEFORE she started steering the car. The result of this sequence of events was 9 accidents. I hope these were just fender benders.


I also like the example of someone trying to make a ball curve once you have thrown it directly straight ahead. It is too late to do anything about it. The curve has to be in the spin of the ball from the very beginning. It has to be in the intention of the toss. Once you have released the ball from your hand it is obviously difficult to redirect it. How many times have you thrown a ball and then tried to steer it through cheering and yelling, as if the ball could make it’s own choice in mid-air. Very funny!

Another example of thinking before acting is one I love to watch and one I often think of: the sport of Curling. Curling involves a large, round, flat stone slid on ice toward a goal. The team members scurry around the stone adjusting the trajectory by sweeping the ice. The sweepers have some control over the direction and distance the stone travels, and  the intention and thought are there from the beginning of the movement.

Obviously, 9 car accidents is a dramatic example of what happens when one waits to be in activity before they direct and it makes a point. Thinking of where we are going and having an intention is really important. This idea applies to EVERYTHING we do.
Things like:

·      starting to sing and then searching for the pitch (like listening to oneself and then deciding if it is the correct note).
·      jumping in the air and then deciding where your feet should land (focusing only on getting into the air).
·      getting out of the chair and then looking for your feet and connection to and being on the ground (needing to stay connected to the whole all of the time).
·      swinging a golf club, hitting the ball, and then thinking of the how far away the hole is.

I’m sure you can think of your own examples. I’d love to hear them.

Please send me your examples via email here: arodiger@balanceartscenter.com

5 Alexander Technique Tips to Help with Your Singing Auditions

 



As recently seen on: http://www.yaptracker.com/posts/5-alexander-technique-tips-to-help-with-your-auditions/

5 Alexander Technique Tips to Help with Your Singing Auditions

Auditions, rehearsals, and even lessons can be a time of heightened experience and awareness.  There are ways to work with the stress and anxiety of those moments that will help you perform optimally.

Following are five tips will help you stay focused and present during these moments so you have access to your best vocal technique and your intentions for communication are realized.  They will help you as you prepare for your audition and during the times you are in front of an audience.

The tips are based on the concepts of the Alexander Technique.  The Alexander Technique helps you become awareness of what you are doing mentally and physically and gives you ideas and experiences of how to cultivate your best posture, balance and breathing. Remember, the Alexander Technique is about finding the optimal tone and direction for your body, not releasing or collapsing into a puddle.

Tip #1.  Singing is a Whole Body Activity

Your whole body supports your singing so make sure you consider your entire being as you prepare and perform. It is easy to become so focused on one part that the whole is forgotten.  The goal is to be free and fluid with your entire body so the air and sound flow through your three-dimensional body and are not blocked at any point.

To find your whole body, sense the ground and your own body weight through the bottom of your feet (let your feet spread out on the floor – no gripping of the toes of arches of the feet) into the ground.  Notice that you can then sense an easy upward motion coming up from the ground through your entire body and out the top of your head.  This buoyancy comes from keeping all of your joints free and easy – from your ankles to the top of your spine (keeping all of the natural curves in your spine so your neck isn’t over straightened).  Allow this movement to happen by letting your body balance easily rather that “fixing” or “reaching” for a position or direction.

Tip #2.  Keep your Head - Neck - Tongue – Jaw Free

Now that you have your whole body in mind and in your awareness, let your head, neck, tongue, and jaw soften and release.  This does not mean to go limp, be passive or let your jaw sag (thus pulling your whole system down).

Instead, keep gently lengthening through your easy neck behind your tongue and jaw out through the top your head (no reaching or pulling on your neck) while your head balances on the top of your spine.  As you do this you will notice that it helps you find the sense of your whole body rebounding from the ground and lengthening as mentioned in Tip #1.  Let your tongue be easy and wide, and your jaw move on your skull from the joint (back by your ears) so it doesn’t disturb the balance of your head on your spine..

Through developing an awareness and conscious perception of the head- neck tongue and jaw independently you will be more aware of the whole.  And you will have a better ability to articulate your vowels and consonants.

Thinking of these directions every time you inhale will help you find your best balance and state of readiness for each phrase.  They will help you get back on track for the next phrase if you notice that something is not the way you want it to be while you are singing.

Tip #3.  Use Your Breath Well - Sing on Your Air

Use you breath to calm your body and your mind.  This is especially useful while you are in a waiting or green room.  This will help you stay with yourself in the midst of a potentially active and tense situation.

Stay long and exhale more air more than you might do normally (out toward the top of your head) and then let your air spring in above your tongue and into your entire body.  Sense the movement of your inhale all the way down to the soles of your feet while you keep your tongue easy.

The inhale will help you define your length, width, and depth and lead you to your best support.  Let the air come in above your tongue and travel all the way down to your sit bones and then into your feet, lengthening your body in two directions at once.

Start each phrase by catching the initial movement of your air as it turns around to an exhale and singing on that air.  Make sure not to blow the air or push it up through your body by squeezing your ribs.

Tip #4.  Use Your Eyes Easily

The head leads the body and the eyes often lead the head.  Allow yourself to see a specific object and see peripherally as well. Staying easy in the eyes helps you maintain your best balance (keeps you from pulling forward off your legs and even subtly leaning on the audience).  It also helps you to present yourself in a confident and assured manner.

Remember that peripheral vision is up and down as well as side to side.
Leaving your eyes easy will help you to stay in your back and find your support, again because it helps you to not lean forward.

Tip #5. Pay Attention – Stay Conscious

Stay tuned in while you are singing.  It is important to “sing” and communicate what you wish to communicate and still stay conscious (no checking out on high notes).  It can be a delicate balance between focusing on the technical things you know you need to attend to, being in character, and giving it your all.

Another way of saying this is to find a balance between the specific aspects of what you are doing and the more global overall full body awareness you need for singing.  The dance between these two things is something every performer grapples with. Everyone needs to find their own balance.

The most important thing is not to “zone out” but to “zone in” and stay conscious. Find how/when you need to focus on what.  This varies with each person. Sometimes “zoning in” feels like “zoning out” if you have been micromanaging your singing.  In any case, stay conscious and notice what happens so you can direct yourself to your best singing.

Most of all it is important to enjoy your singing and let that show to whomever is listening.

 

 

Head and Neck

The Head and Neck – Up the Front

Before we return to a discussion of the tongue let’s look more closely at the head and neck relationship.  I started this discussion in the April 2009 entry entitled “Neck Free” and will expand it here.  This will inform the next discussions of the tongue.

In the Alexander work the head and neck are given a great deal of attention due to the fact that the leads the body into motion when we use ourselves well. Keeping the neck free allows the body to follow the head in lengthening, widening, and deepening  – no matter what “position” you are in.

Often, when we think of the head-neck connection, the focus is drawn to the back of the skull where the head meets the spine at the Atlanto-Occipital joint.  (AO joint)  This is very useful AND there is more to the picture.

When the anterior (front) of the neck and spine, near the tongue and larynx, are included in the discussion of the head and neck, the full neck, head, and full body begin to fill in more clearly.  In the picture below, notice that:

*  the front part of the Atlas is higher than the back part

*  there is a large vault/arch up in the skull forward and ABOVE the AO joint

*  the center of gravity of the head is well above the AO joint (forward and up away from the AO joint)



As you release the front part of your head on the spine this allows you to continue your upward direction up into the vault of the skull toward region of the center of gravity.

This knowledge and awareness allows you to play with the balance of your head on your spine in a very refined way.  Focusing on the area of the center of gravity of your skull when you direct your head gives a higher and clearer sense of what the head is, and were to direct it from.

Activity:  From a seated position, look down at your knees, allowing your head to follow your eyes as you look down.  Keep in mind to keep yourself free in the front of your AO joint and keep the upward direction going up toward the center of gravity of your head.

When you look down lengthen along both the front AND back of your spine.  This is much higher and longer than many people seem to recognize.

 

Big Hint:  (preview for what is to come) You can see already that if you are pulling your tongue down you are compressing the front of the spine and taking away the inner space of your skull – the very space you need to give your speaking and singing have the best vibration and resonance.

 

The Tongue, Part 2



A few months ago I wrote about the tongue and all of the ways it effects the breathing and speaking. The tongue continues to reveal itself to me as a huge influence in the overall use of the body. I hope your experimentation from the previous tongue blog entry has helped you.

The Tongue, Part 2 will address a few more thoughts about the tongue and ways to improve your speaking and singing.

Consciously release any downward pressure you may be putting on your body with your tongue by letting your tongue soften and drift upwards in your mouth (especially in the back of your mouth). Notice again how this frees up your breathing and immediately gives you a sense of lightness throughout your entire body.

Reestablish an easy exhale and inhale without pushing or sucking the air in or out.  Close your lips on the inhale so you can breath in through the nose in the direction up behind the eyes and nose.

As you let the air come naturally in to your body, inflating you from the inside, you will experience the movement from your inhale up into your head, down to your pelvic floor, side to side and front to back in your torso, and in out in to your limbs.  Make sure your ribs are allowed to respond to your breathing process. The air itself and the lungs don’t extend into your pelvis or limbs but you can sense the motion from the intake of the air throughout your entire system.  Imagine the movement of the air giving you an internal massage that tones your organs.

Next, focus on the moment between your inhale and exhale (without anticipating the turn around of air or trying to control it in any way) and you will notice the breath suspends slightly before it turns around to go the other direction. Let that moment of suspension expand just a little bit and notice that your entire body can release into your directions (length, width, and depth) more when you allow the suspension to exist. The moment between your inhale and exhale can be particularly buoyant and grounded simultaneously.

Use that moment of more ease and freedom to begin your sound while speaking and singing.  Make a vowel sound of your choice starting the sound just above your high tongue in the back of your oral cavity.  The moment you are looking for may well be the moment when you feel you can’t make a sound and nothing will happen – go for that moment without squeezing the air out. The sounds will come out.

Let the air move ever so slightly behind the tongue up toward the soft palate and allow the sound to begin. Keep allowing the air to move gently up behind the tongue while you continue with the sound.  Notice that you can sustain the sound for quite awhile in this suspended state.

Some practice phrases might be:

“Hello how are you” as the “h” encourages the air to move.

“Hi”  for the same reason.

Counting to 10 or beyond as you can focus on the process rather than the content of the words.

Note:  It is not necessary to move the air that is in the bottom of the lungs up to the top of the soft palate before you start the sound.  I have found that many of us think we have to move the air that is in the lungs all the say up to the vocal cords in order to make a sound. Actually there is air in the whole tube all the time and you can use the air already in your column to produce the sound.  This is a revelation to many people and helps reduce any squeezing that may be associated with the beginning of speaking or singing.

Next we will pay attention to where your body is vibrating while you make sound.  Stay tuned.

I Lost My Sock or Let’s Go To Ballet Class


People often ask me about the balance of the head on the spine and what it looks like. I’m always in search of a good example to share. Many of you may have already seen this video as it has been widely circulated but I think it is worth watching again as an observational exercise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JmA2ClUvUY

Notice how the head balances on the spine, and the head leads the body, and the legs move on the back.

As you watch notice how the little boy who is facing away from the camera keeps his head balanced so easily on his spine. You can see how aware he is of the back of his head and how it counterbalances his face.

Observe how they move their legs on their backs. When they pick up their legs it doesn’t disturb the length or width of their backs.

This is a very good example of the head leading and the body following. I noticed this especially when one of the boys squats down and comes back up to his full height with a great amount of ease.

Every time I watch the video I have a whole different idea of what they are saying. It is so amazing how they obviously know what they are talking about! Their attention span is quite amazing.

Alexander Technique on NPR

The Alexander Technique made it on to National Public Radio. This is great. San Francisco Alexander Technique Teacher Jo Gray is featured on the program that aired this past Monday. You can hear the interview and read the text through this link.

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/28/134861319/alexander-technique-a-balm-for-back-pain

It is also posted on the AmSAT (American Society of Alexander Technique) website.

http://www.amsatonline.org/

Enjoy the interview!!!