I thought I would write up a bilan after a month worth’s of training. I can never remember the English translation for un bilan so I had to look it up: appraisal, assessment, results, balance sheet are some of the equivalent words.
Emotionality…that is what’s happening. I’ve restarted Alexander Technique teacher training only a little over a month ago, and it feels so intense this time around. “Why?” I keep asking myself. Fourteen to fifteen hours of Alexander Technique per week. Okay. That’s a significant amount of time. And with this current training I feel that I am changing so rapidly both physically and mentally, I can hardly keep up with the changes. If I’m feeling physically so much better why am I feeling so out of control in the emotions department? Hmmm…because my body is being rearranged and body and mind are one? Because we hold our emotions in our physical selves as well as in our mental selves and rearrangement is going on in the entirety? Because I’m learning new ways of being…creating new habits? Because as I lengthen and widen my back and un-grip my shoulders is it that I’m becoming less and less defensive?
I place the mat in front of the heater to insure that I have a toasty/comfy lie down!
Well, whatever it is, it is certainly powerful stuff. I feel like I hardly know myself. My thoughts and my actions are foreign to me. I find that I have a funny dichotomy going on right now…I wish not to self-edit anymore and this throws me into a tizzy…and I am feeling a kind of soothing detachment from the bothersome stuff in life.
“For me, a person’s unconscious is nothing other than his/her biography, a life story that, although stored in the body in its entirely, is accessible to our consciousness only in a highly fragmented form.” So writes Alice Miller in the preface to her book The Body Never Lies: The lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting. So is this why the long-buried memories from childhood are creeping back into my consciousness? Aha! My life is coming back to me as I’m undoing. Okay…I’ll take it back…even if “painful.” After all I am now a different version of myself.
I keep having fantasies about running away from training but…
Trainer to student: “Think up when breathing in and out! We tend to come down when we exhale.” This makes a big impression on me. And sure enough he is oh so right! I pay attention to my breathing, and I successfully do not come down when I exhale. My breathing feels suddenly transformed; my shoulders seem to soften, to un-grip. I feel wonderful.
This is the kind of self knowledge that I find pretty addicting. So, I will just have to go with the flow!
Position of mechanical advantage aka monkey. Bring it on! Over and over and over again in many of its permutations. Monkey with hands on table palms up, palms down, monkey with back against a wall, monkey facing a wall, monkey with hands on back of chair, squats, monkey, monkey, monkey… Some instructions for yours truly include… “Knees forward and up.” “Lengthen from your thoracic spine.” “Lengthen as you go down.” “Need that elasticity when folding/unfolding those legs.” “Lead with your knees not with your hips.” “Lengthen and widen that back.” “After all, we want to keep that integrity of the lengthening and widening as we go about doing our daily activities.”
Monkey going into monkey…
“Don’t grip don’t grip don’t grip don’t grip.” Gripping is my specialty. A huge light bulb went off for me a few days ago. When I went into monkey, when I went up and down from a chair, when I started to do all sorts of movements…well…I sort of held my breath. I was gripping in this particular way. So what if it took me over three years of lessons and one plus semesters of teacher training to finally figure out that I’ve been doing this? Whatever. At least I figured it out. So then of course I did the opposite…and intentionally started over breathing or something. “Don’t force your breathing!”
Going into monkey with fluidity and elasticity, while keeping all my directions going, is challenging. It’s getting better but when will it be really organic with me??? “Oh! There is more movement happening throughout your ribs!” “Your breathing is different.” “Yes!!! That’s good Rena!!!” “Did you feel the difference?” And so we practice monkey over and over and over again in Alexander Technique teacher training. Je suis crevée, moi! I am wiped out! This stuff takes lots of mental and physical energy, yes it does! But I happen to be feeling really fine these days. I am more “up” than I used to be. Big smile here!
So here we have it: my Alexander Technique teacher training journal/blog. I wish I could say that I am feeling good in my skin…bien dans ma peau…but that is not quite happening yet.
Well you know…I had forgotten all about the fatigue factor of starting to train. My body feels slammed. I am so, so tired. I just didn’t want to get out of bed one morning to go to work. On the days when I have to get up I am sleeping soundly and am woken up by the alarm. On the days when I can sleep in for awhile…well…I wake up too early. Go figure. It’s a catch-22 situation. So tragic! One day, on a day I could have slept in, Doucette the cat started whimpering for food at 6h in the morning, as she knew that I was awake. I got up and fed her and then crawled back into bed and stayed there for another two hours. Not to sleep…just to mull things over…
At least I’m not totally sore this time around from getting into monkey over and over. I do not feel like I’ve been doing heavy weights for the first time ever on leg press at the gym. That’s good! Maybe because I am pushing lots of weight on leg press at physical therapy? Plus doing all the other leg exercises? Maybe my legs are strongish these days???
I had forgotten all about the emotional turmoil that accompanies training. OMG…I’m all over the place! Where is my equanimity? Hmmm not here now. What shall I do? Well…I cannot hop a plane to Paris at the moment so let’s see… shall I laugh like crazy with my fabulous and zany and gifted co-workers? Play lots of Bach? Eat pizza? Yeah…carbs! Go shopping? Have a glass of vin rouge? Do my Alexander Technique lie downs…my constructive rests? I guess all of the above.
Winter scene chez TCAT-NYC…
Sigh…I find that I am mentally fighting going downtown to class. I am having internal battles. I don’t want to trek down on the subway during my low energy moment of the day. Especially now in the freezing, snowy, icy, slippery, messy cold. I have to wear 50 million layers of clothes. Blech. I fight what I need to do. I would rather hibernate. But then, once I am there and ensconced in the training, well, I revel in it. It feels wonderful. I feel wonderful. I feel myself being transformed. Go figure. Okay…so I’m confused. Oh well…I need to chill, right? And maybe go shopping for a new pair of snow boots!
“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” Marcel Proust
Butterflies in the stomach are abating…still waiting for my comfort zone to really set in…however I can say that it is best that I took that fork in the road. Here I am, training again…on my journey again. At the Training Center for the Alexander Technique. Its très chic acronym is TCAT-NYC…Thomas Vasiliades, directing. Someone on the phone at AmSAT referred to him as “my boss.” Pretty hilarious that. I’ll not tell him.
What can I tell you? It’s wild to be part of a brand new venture. After having had so many private lessons with Tom, and having had many turns and much hands on work with him in my former training program, I am now training to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique under his direction. My intuition tells me that my training will be a wonderful experience.
The word “intimate” popped out at me in the two introductions to The Use of the Self, which we are reading closely. John Dewey wrote, in his succinct 1939 Introduction, on describing Alexander’s work: “Each lesson carries the process somewhat further and confirms in the most intimate and convincing fashion the claims that are made.” And in Wilfred Barlow‘s Introduction to the 1985 edition: “Alexander’s work was and is concerned with the intimate management of our moment-to-moment perceptions of ourselves.” Mais oui!
Intimate. In-depth, profound, thorough: intimate work in an intimate, welcoming setting.
Monsieur le Gargouille keeps the evil spirits out of the training room…
And rigorous. I just want to plunge in deeply. We started “at the beginning.” Position of mechanical advantage aka monkey…in several permutations. “Knees forward and away.” Etcetera. And so I am again experiencing the huge divide between merely taking AT lessons and training to be an AT teacher. I am again exploring in depth the ongoing kinesthetic conversation with myself that will lead me to have better use of self. And this ongoing process will never end.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So goes the famous Yogi Berra saying. It seems that I have come to a fork in the road. Should I take it? I am supposed to start Alexander Technique teacher training again but this time around in a spanking new training course. It is to meet during hours that are great for me…primarily in the evenings…thus permitting me to work my normal schedule while I am undertaking my training. Just as I was feeling tentative about returning to work, after having had to take over two months off for my knee surgery and recovery, well, I am having cold feet about starting to train again. After all, the last time I trained was back in June. That’s quite a hiatus. The scaredy cat feeling at work didn’t even last a day. But before that moment, I didn’t want to return, talk with anyone from work, message anyone at work. I felt like I was thinking that I would feel like a stranger when I returned; like I was starting a new job. I am feeling exactly the same way about returning to training. I am hoping that my cold training feet will last not even one class. But right now I am harboring dark thoughts of fleeing in the opposite direction. Even take a time out from lessons. I want to pretend that I never even heard of the Alexander Technique. I am going through my stuff, right?
After all, training to be a certified AmSAT teacher is a huge commitment in time, energy and funds. “Is it worth it?” I keep asking myself. Do I really want to do this? As I know oh so well the answer (yes it is!!!) obviously I’m obsessing and getting worked up for nothing. Such a waste of energy, no? Time to inhibit and redirect (in Alexander terms) right? I will try not to fret.
I’m kinda feeling like Doucette the cat has the right idea!
Being at work now is my panacea against this agita. I’m just thrilled to be able to go to work! It represents sort of a safe haven for me. I just want to tune out the preoccupations of my life while being with my amazing co-workers. One thing though…all my colleagues keep asking me when I’m going to start training again. It seems that I cannot escape.
Well…you know of course that I will bite the bullet. Rumor has it that the first reading we will undertake will be FM Alexander’s third book The Use of the Self. I read this book when I first started taking lessons. So no biggie here. It will be fun to re-read it. I have gotten my copy down from the shelf, and I have found a nice postcard from La Côte d’Azur, sent to me years ago, to use as a bookmark. Oh and I scheduled in a last lesson before training starts!
Alors, en avant!
My copy of The Use of the Self
I woke up listening to some of my favorite cold weather sounds: the combination cacophony of the steam heat coming up…the gurgling and hissing along with the pipes clanging, and Doucette the cat purring loudly in my ear. Lately I have taken to directing myself in bed when I wake up in the morning. I am becoming a real Alexander Technique junkie! In my defense…I feel so good…both mentally and physically. Big smile here!
It’s snowy, cold and windy!
So it’s the New Year. Let’s hear it for auspicious, new beginnings. I am shortly going to restart my Alexander Technique teacher training. I will be, again, often walking across West 38th Street to make it over to ATCPD.
West 38th Street falls within the old Garment District. It’s a jumble of tacky old-fashioned, louche…along with upscale, gentrified. Fascinating place indeed. It is homey. It is captivating. I am charmed by this street. The shops and the energy provoke wonderful memories in me of when I was a kid hanging out in my grandparents’ taylor shop. Very proustien. I kind of love walking along the street, especially in the nice weather when I can photograph to my heart’s content.
Jumble of stuff in a shop
But right now it is winter and it is pretty cold. Ça gèle. I have noticed lately, that when walking in the cold, I don’t crunch down and hunch over like I used to. I used to do this I think to protect myself from the cold…and I am totally susceptible to the cold. I found out that this stuff doesn’t keep me warmer. Not being able to walk around lots for a New Yorker is kind of torture. It’s what we do…as I was so reminded by un ami when he was voicing concern about the state of my knee hampering my ability to scurry around town. So now that my knee is permitting me to walk a lot, and quickly, and it’s cold, well, directing myself to lengthen, widen, un-grip, free up that neck of mine, seem to be in place as I go along. Even in the cold. Well maybe especially in the cold. So I let Monsieur know that all is kind of terrific right now.
Hey, I guess this blog of mine will actually be turning into my Alexander Technique teacher training journal after all! Imagine that!
Gimme a pretzel box
After over two months since my knee surgery I finally was able to go back to work. At first I was feeling kind of timid. It was feeling like I was starting a new job. I found that I was receiving two sorts of welcomes…the heart felt ones from colleagues who were so happy to see me back, and the ones which were totally perfunctory. I was grateful to have been absent for so long to find out who really cared about me. Great knowledge to have! Bittersweet. And then…well…I started receiving hugs. Hugs all around! So many hugs! I cannot remember receiving so many hugs at one particular time. All day long. Some of my co-workers didn’t know where I had been. “Yo Rena, haven’t seen you in awhile. Were you in France?” “Nah…knee surgery.” One of my colleagues, who had also had had time off because of torn meniscus surgery simply said “see I told you” (that I would be out longer than the four weeks I had imagined). Wow to be surrounded by my fabulous co-workers! Amazing energy! Big shot in the arm!
I had a conversation with a French guy who came in. He and I have opposite situations. His wife is American and they visit NYC twice a year. My husband was French and I visit France often. So we blabbed away in French about it all, kind of thrilled by the impromptu exchange. I told him that I had to cancel my planned January trip to Paris because of my knee situation. Oh the sales I will be missing! Hélas! And I began to again wonder about the transformation that happens in me when I change languages. A friend of mine had told me that when I speak French I flip a switch and immediately become joyful and animated. I glow. He says that it happens every time. I finally understand why. I become a different version of myself and I can actually pretend not to be me. Everything sort of shifts. I go outside of myself. I am now wondering about the psychophysical/linguistic reasons that enable this positive-ized transformation of myself. When I speak a different language I hold my jaw in a different way, I gesture a different way, even the pitch of my voice changes. Of course I speak with a totally different intonation. This New Yorker becomes parisienne. I trade one unique accent for another. I drop different syllables. Well, yet again, I was reminded how happy I am to be the de facto French translator at work!
So…how do I feel now being at my “new job?” Well…I feel that I inhibit and direct with total aplomb! That’s how I feel! I feel a tad removed, and very objective about everything and everyone. It’s a great place to be in, I must say! I hear that I have really great energy. I certainly am smiling a lot! So…obviously I do not have much time for AT lessons right now. I mean, after work, I have to go home and ice my knee. I am finding that, at the end of my work day, well, my poor knee is all inflamed and stuff. Obviously I’m in for a long haul. But when I think that even two weeks prior to my first day back, I couldn’t at all stand up much, or walk much, well, I’m totally cool with my physical state of being at the moment.
I came across a bagel café in Paris this summer but I didn’t try it. After all, I do not even bother to purchase camembert here in NYC, do I?
I came across this bagel joint in Paris in July…I didn’t try it…
Lately I especially think about freeing up my neck. I kind of had an epiphany the other day while having a chair turn with a friend who is a longtime Alexander teacher. She worked on my neck and then had me put hands on her so that I could feel the difference between my normal habit and the correct way of holding my cervical spine and my head. My entire cervical spine is fused, well, C3 through C7 to be exact, due to the laminoplasty, the neurosurgery, performed on my spine. My spine had to be fused, to prevent further damage to my spinal cord. More damage and I could have wound up paralyzed. I had thought, and I had been told, that I could not elongate nor move that part of my spine. Not true! As my friend demonstrated! It was definitely a lightbulb-going-off moment for me. I now think lots about lengthening my cervical spine…and even if I just give it a gentle wish to lengthen…well I think that does the trick. I have been holding my head too forward. I must really think about lengthening my cervical spine to hold my head in a better position. Does this make sense? Forward and up, chers amis!
I was assured that my new habit will eventually replace my old habit as I continue to work on this. So, as I held my cervical spine as per my friend’s directions, I realized that it feels weird because my old, faulty habit seems natural. Now, held correctly, it feels kind of like I am tilting my head backwards. It feels like I am holding tension in my neck…but I don’t think I am!
As you can imagine, I am unduly preoccupied with thoughts of my cervical spine. If you remember, it was constant pain resulting from that laminoplasty that finally made me investigate Alexander Technique. Well, I must find my x-rays so that you can see the titanium rods and clips that made for the fusion and that keep my spinal column open. Very bionic. Très super chic! Well I will find those x-rays eventually, I promise.
Xray of cervical spine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So a few days later, I talked this over with my main teaching dude. We were discussing how the very top of my cervical spine can move, and the very bottom can. So I have to work within the parameters of what is physically possible. Indeed, the old habit of crunching down, and carrying my head forward, has to be gently replaced by a new habit of lengthening and keeping my head back. And of course when I crunch down, other parts of my body will be impacted. Tension! For me, the main thing is to lengthen that part of my spine as best as I can, so that my psychophysical self can be as healthy as possible. And we were wondering how exactly my spine was fused. This I need to find out!
same as Image:Gray 111 – Vertebral column.png but coloured (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was snowing that morning. I was in the Times Square station, changing from the Broadway local to the BMT to go downtown. It was rush hour. People were wet, angry, in a rush, pushing. Even though I was going downtown for another yucky medical test, and even though I was in the middle of a collective grouch scene, well, I realized that I was floating. I felt so light, I was lengthening and widening, I was not gripping in my knees or my elbows, as is my want. I just felt great. Wow…Alexander Technique! I was under the spell of my recent spate of five lessons within eight days, all my AT lessons in general, along with my one semester of teacher training. I was luxuriating in all that. I was thinking that if I could feel so great in such circumstances, under the status quo, well, the transformation that I will undergo during my hopefully soon to be resumed training will be enormous. Happiness!
During the medical test, I had the “let my neck be free” mantra going in my head, and I did whispered ahs. I pretended that I was doing a table turn. And then, I made it back uptown. It was no longer rush hour so the atmosphere in the subway was lighter. On the walk home I bought a cheddar cheese and chive brioche from a local bakery. Once home, I enjoyed it with a big cup of coffee…while meditating on the fact that I would not have time for such intense AT hands on until I start training again. My feeling great would have to last awhile. Soon I would be going back to work.
And I do believe that I will be returning to work transformed, totally chilled out. I had just received an amazing e-mail from one of the senior managers at work. He is excited for my return! And so am I! Now I am psyched. I feel that the surgery-provoked hibernation period is coming to a close.
The weather was really inclement. I was hunkering in for the day. I got out my Loeb edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and re-read the Pygmalion narrative. I started meditating on what to make for dinner…
Pygmalion and Galatea (Photo credit: peterjr1961)
Just the other day my pain level went down to…acceptable??? And my spirits lifted…just like that. Well, other great stuff was happening in my life as well, but the cream puff of spirits lifting sure was the diminishing level of pain. Immediate reduction of stress. This is happening just in time, as I am supposed to go back to work shortly. Doucette the cat umm…had an “accident” on the bed that night…elle a fait pipi…of course on purpose…so the next morning was spent doing laundry and making up the bed again. I wish she could just tell me what’s wrong but alas…sigh. I inhibited my usual reaction of getting upset quite nicely. No startle response. I just sighed.
a cream puff. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have managed to turn my mood around. Of course, having had five AT lessons in the span of eight days certainly helped turn me around. Three lessons with the usual suspect, and two lessons with two different teachers. I scheduled these lessons as an anti-having the blues prevention. Guess what? My strategy worked! And guess what? The usual suspect remarked that my ribs are moving much more than they used to. Too cool!
I was thinking about all the lovely things that happened on that first day of less pain. I had great conversations in person, via telephone, and by messaging with amazing people all day and all night long. Had a wonderful conversation with a cousin, and I realized that she understands oh so well. Great talk with a neurologist friend who is totally thrilled that I am doing AT and, in fact, that I am going to continue my training at some point. On my part, I was thrilled to find that he is familiar with the Technique. I had so much great input from so many terrific, supportive people. I am very grateful to…friends near and afar, family, and yeah, la mauvaise Doucette the cat. Such great energy beaming my way!
Judith Leibowitz wrote “The aspect of the Alexander Technique I want to focus on is stress and how using the Technique can help to minimize the negative physical effects of stress. Use of the Alexander Technique will also release excess tension into a dynamic balance of tension in the body that is carried into activity.” This was the opening of an unpublished manuscript of hers…I guess it was from a paper presented in 1985…and it was published in the AmSAT Fall Journal of 2013, number 4. I happened to be reading this as my mood was lifting. “Well yeah” said I to myself. And I thought of my neurologist friend’s explanations of how working on the body can create new synapses, etcetera in the brain. He told me that Charles Sherrington was an oldie but goodie and long dead hahaha. I will have to confer with him on more up to date reading. He kind of lost me with his technical, scientific jargon, but, his message was crystal clear. I must inform myself and explore the neurological ramifications of the Technique.
I went home after the last of my series of lessons feeling pretty floaty. I was thinking that some champagne that evening would be grand. I thought I had a split in my fridge, but alas, I was wrong.
On a homeopathic pain/inflammation remedy note…arnica gel works great for me; comfrey root is banned in the USA.
Below is a photo of Doucette when she first came to live with me four and one half years ago. I am noticing how retro this photo is. A Filofax omg! No iPhone! How did I manage? Doucette had captured the orange pompom “mouse” hanging from her cat house. She was very attached to it for a long time. She used to take it with her wherever she went! Gratuitous photo? No way! I really appreciate her great use of self!
Doucette posing with her captured orange pompom mouse