Alexander technique

Take a Deep Breath and Say Ahhhh

I wrote about developing your complete triangle in the last post, but as I said the triangle can always grow bigger and stronger. There is one action that develops all three sides of the triangle; mind, body and soul. It is a simple act that, when done mindfully, can change your life.

Are you curious?

Here’s a hint: you’re doing it right now.

Do you give up?

Ok, it’s breathing. Wait! Don’t stop reading. I promise this is not stupid.

Here is how breathing improves the complete triangle: If you focus on something as simple and repetitious as breathing your mind shuts off. I just wrote in the last post how important it is to develop your mind, but it’s also important to be able to shut it off when it’s not servicing you. Your mind voices your doubts and self-criticism. Your mind is what creates the to-do list while you should be enjoying yourself. So the more you practice shutting it off, the more control you gain.

As for body, have you ever tried doing something physical that you didn’t think you could, but then someone tells you to breathe and all of a sudden you can? Kind of like Lamaze or weight lifting. The breath has this magical power that imbues you with strength and confidence. And again it shuts off your brain that’s tell you “this is too hard.”

And as for spirit, nothing helps you feel more centered and calm like breathing. It reminds you that no matter what, as long as you take another breath you are still alive. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Recently I have been taking Alexander Technique classes as well as seeing a chiropractor. I put these under the body category of my triangle. I didn’t want running to be the only method that I use for developing my body. I’ve always wanted to walk with poise and get rid of my computer slouch posture. But every part of the triangle is connected, so if I want to improve my body I also have to improve the way my mind and spirit interact with my body. This is also described as feeling grounded or more comfortable in your skin.

Alexander Technique is all about being aware of your body, and allowing your mind to control gestures to maximize movement and eliminate unneeded stress and tension. Breathing is a huge part of the study. We often think of breathing as involuntary, but the speed in which we breathe, the volume of air we take in, and the level of intention we use with each breath is absolutely in our control. By focusing on the breath it calms you, and reminds you that you can let things happen, or you can make things happen. (I will put more info about these classes at the end of the post.)

When I started seeing my Chiropractor guess what he told me to focus on? You got it: breathing. He explained that the tightness I feel in my upper back is caused from shallow breathing. When I’m slouched over the computer all day, by rib cage is folding over my organs, basically cutting out half of the available lung space. Sit like you would when you’ve been at a computer for a while and take 5 short breaths. Do you feel the tiny muscles around your upper spine flexing? Now sit up straight and take 5 deep breaths (don’t raise your shoulders – allow the air to fill up your whole torso). You don’t feel those little muscles anymore, right? You feel it in your stomach. That’s because the large, strong diaphragm muscles are what should be helping us breathe, not the little muscles around our spine. We over use those little muscles and they get strained, and tight. That’s why I, and many other nerds, experience that kind of back pain.

So here’s a breathing exercise I learned in yoga. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. If this is uncomfortable lie down. Think of someone very important to you. Think of how happy you want them to be and how grateful you are to have him/her in your life. Now take a deep breath in through your nose (most likely you’ll be smiling). Let that breath expand you; push your sides out, let it push your torso to the ground. Keep inhaling until you feel like you’re going to burst. That air is your gratitude and you want to fill yourself with it. Picture that special person again, and then let all the air out in one slow controlled exhale. Do this a few more times. You’ll probably feel light headed afterward, so wait a few minutes before standing.

Alexander details:

Alexander is very popular among performing artists because it enhances stage presence and poise, as well as improves breathing technique. I’m taking classes with a teacher in training at the main institute near Union Square, so it’s much cheaper than normal. One of the fellow students is a concert pianists and he started taking classes years ago after he injured his wrist and couldn’t play for 4 years. He was able to eliminate  the unnecessary stress that was causing the pain, and now he’s playing professionally again! If you live near Manhattan and wish to go to the same school, the classes are 45 minutes long and they cost $8 each. For a certified teacher, prices can range from $30-$80. The school that I’m going to has trained many teachers and can give you referrals for teachers all over the World.

Things are starting to happen

It won't be this creepy

It’s been a busy week. First I visited the sleep clinic. No help there. After an hour long interview about my sleeping habits he said he would need to watch me sleep – creepy, right? I’m also keeping a sleep log which is actually making me more anxious at bedtime. I keep looking at my watch when I get sleepy so that I’ll be able to put the accurate hours down which only keeps me up longer.

Next, I had my first Alexander technique class. I have a wonderful teacher named Morgan, and since she’s in her final semester of certification, the classes are almost free. If you’ve never heard about good old Alexander here’s a brief description. It’s very popular among actors, musicians, dancers, and general performers because it’s about optimizing movement, being aware of your body, developing poise, and releasing unnecessary tension. I have long suffered from Quasimodo posture – or should I say it’s really my boyfriend who suffers from my Quasimodo posture – so the

Gwyeneth Paltrow in Emma

Kate Bekinsale in Emma

main reason for taking this course is to improve my posture. My role model for elegant posture would have to be Kate Bekinsale.

When I first saw her in Emma, I couldn’t focus on the movie because I kept thinking, how is this woman’s neck ten inches long? I would have to say she played the role better than Gwyenth Paltrow purely for her posture.

But now for the good stuff! I met with Caitlin Kelley, founder of Africa Volunteer Corps, and avid reader of the HeSo project (hey girl!) yesterday and had a great time. She started this non-profit to help skilled locals find jobs in community development and social progress. While in Tanzania, she discovered that there was a large pool of motivated, highly qualified locals who had no job opportunities. At the same time, international volunteers were taking up job positions that the locals needed.

I saw this first hand when I lived in Mozambique. People working for International non-profits were being paid $40,000-$50,000 to do practically nothing. Sometimes they would just visit a school, take a picture, and call it a day. Their salaries gave them millionaire lifestyles in Mozambique. They had guards, cooks, and housekeepers. They ate at fancy restaurants every night. They spent their days on the beach. They drove alone in 8 seat SUVs when most locals would squeeze ten people into the back of a truck, that’s if they were lucky enough to get a ride. They presented a completely unattainable lifestyle for most Mozambicans which can’t help but cause envy- heck I was jealous. I believe that their presence did more harm than good. There’s nothing they did that a local couldn’t have done and for far less money.

One of the boys at the childcare center we were working with in Kenya

This is an issue that I have struggled with. When I went to Kenya last year my plane ticket alone cost $1,500. I thought, if I just donate that money to a non-profit in Kenya the money would go so much further. However, nothing impacts you more than actually meeting the people who you are helping, and realizing that they are the ones helping you. If I wrote a check I would be done with it, but now those people are always in my heart and I can’t forget them. But at the same time, I was doing construction work, which is not my forte, and there’s hundreds of construction workers there who need jobs.

So to make a long discussion with myself short, nothing changes you as positively as seeing other cultures, and giving back, but I also think there’s a need for an organization like Africa Volunteer Corps that doesn’t look at developing countries like they need to be rescued. They have all the talent, resources, and possibilities they need. That is why I will be working with Caitlin – writing blog entries for the website, updating the spreadsheets, and filling in the cracks. I’m very excited for my new role, and it’s definitely a HeSo fulfilling project. YAH!

And my last bit of good news is that my favorite Blogger, Ree Drummond, is going to have a new show on the Food Network. If you’ve never visited The Pioneer Woman  she posts great recipes, photography tips, and home decorating ideas. I love her sense of humor and style, and I’ve been following her for 2 years now, so it feels like one of my good friends just got a t.v. show deal. I’m also really inspired that she was able to make a huge career out of doing what she loves. She gets a HeSo award!