11.05.27: AT Lesson: Finding the Spine

We had our first Alexander Technique lesson with our new instructor Wendy. It was really enjoyable and highly educational! We think we know things about our bodies, but it is based largely on assumptions and a sense to our bodies that is based on false information. I'm not sure where it starts, but somehow we get off track and develop habits, and add injuries to that which create compensation to compound the habits, and we're a mess!
Wendy started out explaining a bit of the philosophy of Alexander, which is based on a foundation of Kinestetic awareness, which is an awareness of our body parts in space. Since both of us were sitting she began to explain that the most common habit is for people to organize their "balance" and "posture" around their back. The reality is that the muscles of our backs are not designed for support, but are designed for movement. When our posture and balance is organized in our back, the muscles take a great deal more strain than they should, which results in a great amount of tension, pain, and it reduces our ability to breathe freely. Additional things start to happen as a result of that basis of organization - our shoulders and neck begin to change as well as downward into our hips and legs. We're all completely inner connected, and when one thing happens, it affects the whole.
When we organize correctly around our spine, rather than our back muscles, the tension can be released. Our spines are designed to support us vertically, even with the slight curves in the structure. When we sit, our "sit bones" or "seat bones" at the bottom of our pelvis it supports our spine and upper body. When we organize around our spine, it is much deeper within the central part of our trunk than the process of organizing around our back muscles, and provides a lot more central support. Using only our back muscles leaves a lot of forward strain from our organs and lungs which are in the front part of our body, and usually results in a slumped posture. Organizing from the spine from our sit bones upward means that we can move as a complete unit to reach forward for objects while sitting. Our sit bones are designed to be "rockers" from the sitting position, to allow us to reach forward without collapsing (which is what most people do when they reach for something from a sitting position).
As Wendy is going through much of this, she is gently pushing and manipulating my back, lifting upward at my shoulders, and rocking my ribs side to side. I found myself in a very comfortable AND upright position. Breathing was easy, and free, and it did not feel like a struggle at all to hold the position. It felt stable, and strong. There was something distinctly different about the sensation of being held up by bone rather than muscle. My head was comfortable on my neck (which is placed on the top of the spine way up between the ears, much like a bobble head, not way down behind our jaw like our brain likes to make us think it is!) and it felt effortless to sit there. Wendy helped me organize to slowly simply stand up. The action was simple and slightly awkward, but still took very little effort in the end. It felt like trying to operate a body that I hadn't used before. Like driving a different model of car... it's still a car, but yet, handles differently than what you've become so accustomed to.
After practicing that a few times, she had me walk around the room a little. It felt free and easy, and required little thought or effort. She began to work with Jim after that, doing the same things. To watch him visually change and slowly shift and adjust and become straighter and taller. His presence became clearer, and firmer, and he got even taller. She had him stand up and worked from there to adjust the way that he was carrying himself so that his spine was supporting him. He looked more comfortable and prouder with more presence in the room, and even taller! Once his posture improved, she began to talk about how he sits at work, and the kind of chair he had to use. She began to have him experiment with how he stood up to find a way to move that would not strain the hip. She helped him find a motion to get up off a chair or stool that used a twisting motion pivoting off of his stronger leg and swinging his left leg around so that there wasn't any strain on his hip. He experimented with getting up off the stool and sitting back down on the stool and found quite a bit of comfort in the motion. It was a revelation to find a better way to move that reduced the pain in his hip and joints and accomplished the same means.
We wrapped up our lesson and made plans for the next one. I can't wait!
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11.05.29: Revisiting the Tao