It’s common sense that looking after yourself well enables you to be present for others in your life.
It’s nothing to do with being selfish. In fact the people you love and strangers you encounter will definitely feel the benefits if you’re radiating calm.
I don’t mean new-agey calm. I mean that you’re in your body, rather than on the ceiling with bulging neck muscles.
When I was training to become an Alexander Technique teacher, (a hands-on re-educational approach to movement and speech) we were taught only to put hands on somebody else if we were in a good coordinated state ourselves.
And in order to be in that state, we had to work on our deep-set physical and mental habits, using unfamiliar but amazingly obvious concepts that seemed to go against everything we had learned. (More on that another time).
Habit is one of the strongest forces we deal with in life. Our reactions get hardwired into us not long after we enter the world.
It’s all too easyto get pulled into whatever stimulus we’re dealing with – say the miniature screen of a phone or a blunt grater – contorting ourselves out of shape to meet the stimulus, rather than maintaining the good coordination that enables us to get the task done well and with much less tension.
Ever catch yourself not breathing, scrunching your shoulders, frowning or clenching your jaw while doing the (apparently) most simplest thing? Then you’ll know what I mean.
Alexander Technique gives you a working awareness of your ingrained habits and the tools to prevent them, so that you’re no longer limited by them. It’s an amazing tool for anyone, and of course for performers and speakers of all kinds.
In fact FM Alexander himself could be described as a voice actor of those times (19C), since reciting Shakespeare was his main gig. His technique evolved out of the necessity to address recurring hoarseness that crippled his acting career. He solved his voice problems then went on to help others. He became well known in the theatre world in London for helping actors regain their voices and was often in the wings during West End performances.
I remember one friend’s graduation speech in which she said that the greatest lesson of her Alexander training was learning how to be a student. She’d started out focussed like a laser on teaching and helping others. An honorable aim, and we were indeed training to become teachers.
But in her eagerness to help others she had forgotten that the instrument with which she would teach was herself. She would have to get to know her own habits and limitations before she could help others with theirs.
The same idea can be applied to just about anything.
Since I began practising this demanding and exacting craft I am increasingly aware that in order to communicate fluently, I want to be in a good coordinated state.
A lively directed energy in body and mind brings about flow and presence in speech, which means more expressiveness, ease, and all the good stuff.
It’s not about adding to your list of chores, but about remembering to allow that space from which you can reach out to the world with genuine joie de vivre.
Whatever it is that makes you feel more connected, lighter and generally better, here’s to remembering to give it to yourself this holiday season.