On the bank, instead of in the river

I tend to think about life rather than live it. (or frantically live while thinking about other things) I feel as if I’m standing on the bank thinking about the course rather than practicing swimming in the river. The longer you stand on the bank, the more out of shape you get. You become a landlubber. Roots grow beneath your feet. The flow of the river becomes a scene viewed through a window and the skill of swimming in the flow is lost.

Granted, one cannot live without thinking about life. Planning is necessary to a productive life. But balance is the key. Do you ever feel lost in a group conversation, where you can follow but almost never add to it? Do you feel like a clumsy oaf when trying new things? The issue is probably that you are too far removed from the present, too much time spent on the bank watching the river flow by.

Body Language and Alexander. Here I refer to our own body’s language, the signals our bodies give us in response to events. Most of us respond unconsiously to most stimuli: annoyance, fear and anger all translate into the body directly. The goal is first to be aware of these reactions, then eventually control them.

Do you feel your body energy change when you pass people walking on the street? I feel a change in the “posture” of my neck and shoulders while passing people in my local public park. It’s a fairly safe park, so that’s not the problem.

I can be walking along merrily with a lanky flow in my body until I near another person or group. Subtle habits of fear tense in me: fear of what they’re thinking of me, of their possible judgments. A multitude of micro-anxieties clog the flow of my body. In a way I shut down. Yet I’m barely aware of it unless I tune in carefully, which I’ve only recently learned to do. I tend to look away or down the moment our eyes meet. I fear their rejection. This subtle reaction becomes the norm. I forget I ever knew the flow.

When I refer to the “flow”, I mean a state of physical and mental poise, natural and relaxed, from which one can move the body and mind in any direction. Many Eastern physical “arts” have a similar starting point for their practices.

I’ve been learning about Alexander technique for a few months now. Originally, this technique was used to help actors and other performers tune in to their body’s reactions to stress. But I am finding that it can help balance many issues whose primary symptom is held in the body. If the body is unbalanced and tense, the mind, being part of it, will certainly suffer as well. You may not be able to change the stress causing events in your life, but you can change how you, starting with your body, react to them.

An animal’s body reacts to surprise with a tensing of the neck and shoulders. This is called the “startle position”. Humans have a great deal of stress in their daily lives. Driving a car is the most common. Job performance is another.

Add to these the multitude of subtle stresses that can be created by the imagination. Fear of judgment is a huge issue for me. Growing up gay trained me to live cautiously. Those habits are deeply ingrained in my body’s life. I’m sure you also have some issues of self-consciousness, which inhibit the flow of your true self. Please feel free to explore these in your comments.

We all have inevitable stress in our lives. How we handle this bombardment is vital to health, to freedom and growth.

Learning your body’s language is the key. When you learn to stay relaxed and poised you are a more continuous person emotionally and intellectually. Concentration is better. Decisions are easier. Coordination is better.

Doing rather than analyzing is the goal. Being in the body rather than the mind is the path. One Alexander teacher emphasizes the importance of staying aware of the “live” situation around you as you become aware of the body, being in the room rather than in the mind while you move your arm or relax your neck. This way your neck relaxes without you “thinking” about doing it or “telling” it to relax. The difference is paramount.

These skills are particularly important for a musician. Speaking with the body is what musicians do. However, any human body can benefit from learning to better speak its own language.

We are bodies. Our body’s intelligence/poise gives continuity to our daily lives. And swimming in the river helps. So jump in. The water may seem cold at first, but it’ll warm up, and then you’ll feel more alive than ever.

24 thoughts on “On the bank, instead of in the river

  1. I notice that I tense up (in the neck/shoulder area) whenever I even think or talk about anything stressful or controversial. That’s a lot of tensing up throughout the course of a day! And of course I do it also under the circumstances you described. In fact, I hate jogging around people for that very reason! It’s a heck of a lot harder to jog when you’ve tensed every possible muscle in response to the sight of another person. No wonder I like to spend so much time alone- I need relief! I don’t know how to swim (analyse that!) but maybe I’ll try to see my jogging as swimming through the air……

  2. Dearest Betty- The tension may be caused by those things, but the solution is not to avoid them, but learning to stay relaxed in the flow of your body.

    thanks for stopping by.

  3. THanks for this, Garrett. I have to prepare to start giving readings of my work. You just convinced me that the Alexander technique might be a great first step.

    Also liked the post you had about Aikido here earlier.

  4. patry- Yes, it would be a perfect way to become familiar with poise under pressure.

    I don’t remember metioning Aikido in the post, but ther was a link to posture and Aikido. But many of these body awareness techniques overlap.

    thanks for stopping by.

  5. Trée, you know just the right thing to say. Yes, it would be nice to do that with you. But I’d talk the whole time. What’d be more fun is splashing in the river. Or some “river frisbee” in the deeper parts.

  6. This is a really thoughtful post…

    Self-consciousness. I’ve realized a lot of things that help:

    1) life is ad-libbed
    2) if I fake it (that I’m not ad-libbing) people will be fooled
    3) nobody is actually looking
    4) it still matters what my mother thinks, or what I imagine she’d think. still trying to rid myself of that one.
    5) people’s reactions generally reflect more upon them than upon me. if a negative reaction, consider the source. if a positive reaction, consider the source.

    It’s late, I’ll be back to read more 🙂

  7. Julie- Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I smiled at the truth you stated about mothers. for me it also applies to my father.


  8. Dear Garnet David…

    I truly enjoyed this post. I am just taking up yoga and meditation again after having been away from it for years. Already I can feel the difference. I am eager to learn more of the Alexander Technique.

    Thanks for the pep talk.

    Ciao for now…

  9. David, your posts are always thoughtful and through-provoking. Thank you for this, it gives me a better understanding of the Alexander technique which I associated just with theater… but see now the broader applications. Also, I appreciate the underlying message of the need to stay present in the body, aware of my use of my body. It is unfortunately easy for me to tune out of my body a bit too much, too quickly, and for too long. Like any other kind of awareness, it needs to be recultivated moment by moment, over time!

  10. Teri- I just got back from being out of town a few days. Thanks for stopping by.

    I can imagine yoga and meditation being good for you in particular, the multi-doer.

    Alexander has also helped me understand posture, to better meditate.It can be painful to sit improperly for awile with a straight back. And it’s helped me with yoga: to feel balance between all parts of the stretch.

  11. MB- Hello. You do understand that I’m being very free (creative) in my applications of Alexander. In other words, if you take lessons, don’t brag about what I’ve taught you.

    We ALL tune out of our body way too much. And when we are tuned in, it’s usually in a self-conscious way.

    Thanks for your comment.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – like a walk in the fresh air, or dipping my toes in cool blue water. Thank you. It was a healing read, and I met a need I have right now to gain some understanding. x

  13. Hi David!

    I do discern a definite change in you. You seem mellower and more at peace than before. Hope this peace endures, guides and nourishes you!

    (( ))

  14. Shankari- You are absolutely right! I’m impressed. It goes deeper than the words I posted here. Sometimes I’m afraid to write about it because the peace is so new and fragile and I don’t want to ruin it with to much analysis. Thank you for you sensitivity.

  15. Dominique Jacques is a world-class Alexander Technique teacher. She trained under FM Alexander’s principle proteges, Walter Carrington, and has over 30 years of experience.

  16. Nice to know. Is there a reason for mentioning her name here now? My friend Dale Beaver has 20 years experience and has also studied with an Alexander original protege.

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