How Your Posture Affects Your Life

Greetings and Happy Holidays to everyone. I wanted to get a second newsletter out before the end of the year. It’s been a difficult year with health challenges and some unexpected stresses of life.

One of the most important things I wanted to share with you is how important noticing one’s posture during times of stress can be. I think we all revert to our familiar contracted habits of physicality. When this happens we stay stuck in our mind and body and do not usually make the best decisions. Taking time to pause and realign can make such a difference, not just for your body but for your thinking. Having the practice of checking in with your alignment a few times a day, even once an hour, can give you more energy and certainly improve your posture as well as your mood. So this is just a reminder to take care of your body by taking care of your alignment. It is also important to find easy and fun ways to help you remember to check in with your body and settle your nervous system.  Here is a useful article about posture and mood.  And, please remember the most important part of this is connecting up with your body and allowing movement along the spine and outwards to the limbs.

If you’re at your computer, be sure you have things ergonomically placed by using a supportive chair, stool or ball. Remember, sitting is the new smoking! You need to move your body and find ways to keep a nice straight line, not the head forward crunched over look we usually end up with. This helpful video will give you a good visual sense of how to work with with your posture while sitting at the computer.

Every year it amazes me how much the traffic increases during the month of December. This too is an opportunity to exercise our ability to stay calm and clear in the body. This also helps with clarity of thinking, emotions and actions.  So of course it’s also a perfect time to lengthen your spine.  Send your head towards the roof and your sacrum towards the bottom of the car.  There is a much more in-depth explanation in my March 2015 newsletter about posture and driving.

Happy Holidays,
Elaine

Driving, Alignment and Awareness

Have you ever noticed how your body feels after a drive? Do you feel more or less relaxed? Is your neck tight? Do you feel shorter or more compressed?

We are all aware of the importance of being attentive when we drive. We are often more aware of our bodies because there is a demand to be awake and present in order to arrive alive. Going unconscious can be done to some extent while driving to familiar destinations. Have you ever gotten to work or your home with no awareness of the drive? Generally our reaction responses will kick in when we need them, but it is disturbing to realize how easy it is to drive on ‘automatic pilot’.

Being conscious of your posture can help you be more aware and present while driving. There are ways to drive which support your alignment and posture while you are behind the wheel. You can arrive with a sense of your spine elongated and shoulders relaxed, it just takes intention and consciousness focus. Try noticing your level of relaxation and how your joints feel as well as your height before you get into your car. First be aware of your skeletal system. Too often we conform or collapse into the shape of the seat we are sitting in. Unfortunately most cars don’t seem to be designed for good posture. Ideally your pelvis should be slightly higher than your knees. The seat firm enough so that you can be aware of the bones you’re sitting on. Too often we sit behind or in front of the sitz bones. You want to be directly over them so that your pelvis is supported.

When your pelvis is in a stable supported position you can lengthen your back and let your head move toward the roof of the car. You want to maintain this height and length while you’re driving. This can easily be done with your breathing as you take a breath and think of breathing into your sitz bones and bringing that breath up along the front of your spine and out the crown of your head. You can let your tailbone and pubic bone point to the seat while the crown of your head is pointing up. Think of sending your head and tail in opposite directions. I can assure you that when you do this consistently you will develop a habit and reach your destination consciously. You can arrive more relaxed and as tall or taller than when you left.

This way of breathing comes from Cantienica, developed by Benita Cantieni. You can go to her website for more information and she does have a wonderful e-book which is available for purchase.

Galen Cranz and I teach classes combining using the principals of Alexander Technique and Cantienica in the East Bay.

I will also be teaching some classes in Marin County, dates TBA. I hope you find these tips helpful and that they add to your comfort while driving.

Thanks, all the Best,
Elaine

Exercise and the Alexander Technique

There are a plethora of studies out now about how important exercise is to one’s health and longevity. Many gyms count on people signing up and then dropping out. This usually happens in January, (new year’s resolutions) and early spring, when we want to look good for the summer. To stay with an exercise program, it’s really important to find what you enjoy doing the most, what brings the most pleasure in your body. For many it’s running, walking, dance, tennis, or swimming. Whatever you choose, how you begin and end is important for obtaining the most benefit from your exercise.

Before you start your exercise, pause and check in with your alignment. Many of us get caught up in keeping our minds busy/entertained while exercising. As a culture we seem to multi-task. It’s actually better for your body/mind to just be with the movement, to be aware of the changes in your body as you move. So stand against a wall and tune into your posture. Make note where you feel tight, how even is the weight distribution is in your feet, how your back is touching the surface, if both sides of your hips are touching. Do your shoulder blades touch? Take a minute to feel your feet, do a few foot rolls. Lengthen your spine, let your head move in the opposite direction from your sacrum. Roll your shoulders back and let your body take up more space. Widen as well as lengthen.

Now start with whatever exercise you have planned. When you are done, do the same thing; stand against a wall and notice what has changed. Is your posture giving your brain the message that it’s more relaxed, more aligned? Taking the time to notice will give you more information about your body and how the exercise is impacting you.

I will be offering classes combining Alexander and Cantienica this fall. Cantienica, a fitness work-out, is very popular in Europe and is now being presented here in the Bay Area. The founder/originator, Benita Cantieni is presenting a training here at the end of October. Cantieni describes her system as a “logical anatomy” for laypeople, an instruction for self-healing, or as viviatomy, the science of the living body. I find the work extremely helpful for feeling connected to and directing from my core. One way it differs from other workouts is its focus and understanding of activating the pelvic floor. This is something most people have very little understanding of in any activity. Knowing how to engage the pelvic floor will improve your posture and strengthen your core, as well as prevent many problems that can come with aging. Ms. Cantieni’s web site is www.cantienica-method.com. Her book Tiger Feeling is available in English as an e-book. I highly recommend it.

Please contact me if you want more information or to take the class. 415-948-8523

All the Best,

Shoulders

Have you ever noticed your shoulders inching up towards your ears and felt the tension it creates in your whole boy? This unconscious habit can make you feel upset even when there is nothing to be upset about. Here is a TED Talk video about how body language shapes who you are. Here is a TED Talk video about how body language shapes who you are.

MJS_Posture10p1When my shoulders are tight or raised it usually means I’ve shortened the distance between my head and sacrum. This leads to compression along the spine as well as the shoulders taking over and trying to carry me around. Since the relationship of the head to the spine is called ‘primary control’ in Alexander terms, you know if this relationship is off then the entire structure is going to have trouble. Thus starting with bringing the head/spine in proper relationship is the first step in bringing your shoulders to a relaxed position.

shoulder_jointAnother unconscious habit that can contribute to shoulder problems is lifting and pulling up and in at the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is made up of the clavicle and shoulder blade coming together to form a round socket. The arm bone, the humerus, fits into this socket and too often we think of the head of the humerus as part of the joint. This thinking may be what causes us to pull up and in with the arm, creating more tension in our shoulders. Learning to recognize this habit is a step towards reducing the stress and tension we are putting on this joint. Learning to let the elbows drop will give more space to the joint. This action will also reduce wear and tear on the shoulder.

 

Rowing is a popular sport with a great opportunity to either learn how use your shoulders properly, or really abuse them and end up with rounded shoulders and poor posture. Most rowers pull in at the shoulder joint and round their torso; they forget or don’t know about the importance of lengthening up along the front as well as the back of the spine while using the oars. And ideally letting the elbows drop instead of pulling the head of the humerus into the shoulder joint. This is also helpful when you are at the gym using a rowing or weight lifting machine. Exercising your body with good alignment and use will make a huge difference in your posture, as well as give you a better sense of awareness of when you are going out of alignment.

 

One of my favorite exercises for releasing the stress on the shoulder joint is an egoscue exercise. Here is the link to it. If your shoulders are not limber enough for this you can lie in conscious constructive rest position and slowly open your arms wide initiating the movement from the finger tips not the joint. Learning to think the movement by connecting your thought to your bones and muscles without forcing allows ease and comfort throughout your entire being.

All the Best,
Elaine

Eating, Posture, and The Holidays

Eating can be a tricky subject to begin with for many of us. Throw the Holidays in and it’s a perfect setup for New Year’s resolutions!

During this time of Holidays: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the New Year, we want to celebrate and have fun. Unfortunately, we often forget our bodies’ needs during this time, which can lead to stress and illness. There are too many opportunities to overindulge and be busy, when often at this time of year what we yearn for is peace and quiet.

Since food is a main event at these festivities, I would like to share some helpful ideas related to eating, posture and mindfulness.

If we break down the physical steps to the art of eating it may help. Most of us bring our mouths to our food rather than the food to our mouths. Observe yourself eating. Do you bend at the midsection of your back and send your mouth and chin towards the food? This puts your spine in a C curve and is not supportive of your posture, or a graceful form.

Next time you sit down to eat, experiment with bringing the food to your mouth rather than your mouth to the food. Practice sitting in a supportive posture and bringing a utensil to your mouth, letting your jaw gently open and allowing the food in. Slowing down the eating/feeding process and observing your habits brings mindfulness and allows for less indulgence and overeating: Awareness of eating brings more sensation to your body thus giving you a better sense of when you have had enough.

An unconscious habit I have observed many times at social gatherings is the tendency to mimic the posture of whomever you are speaking to. I think it is an unconscious way to non-verbally relate to others or set them at ease. If you are a really tall person talking to one shorter there is usually a pulling in and down to be on the same eye level. Or a short person talking to a taller person usually drops their head back and down and lifts the chest, leading to an unnatural extension in the spine. There are usually lots of Holiday gatherings where you can practice staying with your own body, even at an office party!

The reward will be coming out of the Holidays season with more height (or not losing what you do have), less pain, weighing the same, or less, and feeling relaxed and ready for the New Year!

Best wishes for a very joyous and peaceful holiday, whichever one you choose to celebrate!

All the Best,

Elaine

Habits

Some of our habits may be hard to live with but actually we cannot live with out them.

Habits allow us to function. The brain learns to put a series of movements into simple chunks which make it possible to do many activities at once, like chewing gum and walking at the same time. Have you ever watched a child learning to walk?

It takes practice, lots of falling down and starting over with one step at a time. Eventually the process is established and no longer an effort. This ability becomes so familiar and such as part of us that we don’t have to consider the inner workings. And thus a habit is born. <!–more–>

Not having to re-invent the wheel each time is efficient and saves a lot of time (can’t we all use more time!). However most of these habits: physical, emotional and mental, are done without awareness or conscious “inhabiting” of ourselves. For better or for worse, this ability can leave the habit in charge rather than the awareness of our whole being.

Understanding your physical posture is the foundation of Alexander work. Because we so often learn posture at an early age from watching our parents or caregivers most of us do not learn supportive habits. Did Grandma have her neck forward, or did Daddy walk with his feet toed out? Imagine walking with one of your parents. What patterns of movement feel familiar?

If you want to change a physical habit I suggest you start with something simple; a familiar activity that you do on a regular basis.

One thing I have noticed that wreaks havoc with my posture is using the cell phone and the computer. I have seen this with many people. We tend to fall into our electronic devices. Necks/heads fall forward and we round our shoulders. Here are some diagrams to help you sense the right position: Head Directions, Neck Directions and Body Directions.

Start by simply being aware of your body while you are texting, emailing or what ever you like (chopping veggies or brushing your teeth are good too). Remind yourself to take up your full posture, to sit or stand in a way that supports your entire body/being. This is not always possible when we are in a hurry. Practice and awareness will make a difference.

Remember when changing a habit it needs kindness and patience. Also changing too quickly can cause instability, so easy does it!

As Mark Twain said “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time. Because these habits were learned so early on and often have emotional content, they don’t want to be cast aside but understood and released.

A few months a go a friend sent me a review of a book about habits. I was thrilled because working with and thinking about habits is one of my favorite pastimes! Here is a link to the book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It even goes into how habits develop and become part of how we function as a society,

Thank you for reading. Please share with anyone you know that might be interested.

Until next time,

All the Best,

Elaine

Sleep and The Alexander Technique

Sleep is the great restorer. We often take it for granted until we are lying awake longing for it’s arrival.

Being conscious of posture in bed can be conducive to a good night’s sleep as well as useful for your posture during the day.

There are many reasons for insomnia and I am not saying the Alexander Technique is the only answer for entering the land of deep sleep and dreams. What it can do is help you relax and unwind the physical tensions that contribute to the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

When you first get in bed, let your body lengthen out. Exhale out to your finger tips and toes. Give your body the instruction to relax the neck. Let your body unwind by reminding yourself to exhale and let go of any holding. Feel gravity help you by letting yourself relax into your bed. Let go of holding yourself in any place in your body.

Lie on your back and have a pillow under your head (not too high), a small support under your knees, and just exhale. Notice any tension in your body. Remember your body is always trying to inform you of what is going on, so this is a good time to listen. Don’t try to change anything, just allow what is there to be acknowledged.

Go through your body starting at your head, noticing any tensions and exhaling, letting go as best you can. Don’t try to change anything, just let go, moving on down to your shoulders, again exhaling any tightness in your shoulders and upper back. Continue on down your back to your pelvis, noticing tension in the lower back and imagining it leaving your body, exhaling as you move down your legs to your feet.

Now starting at the midline of your body, take a breath in and as you exhale think of the breath going out your fingers and toes and the top of your head. Let your body expand as you exhale, letting go of the sense of separation between you and the air around you.

Do this at least 3 or 4 times. Notice how you feel.

A chi gong exercise is to use your tongue to make circles inside your mouth: start on the middle of your left cheek, go up across the across the roof of your mouth and down the middle of your right cheek. Do this 9 times.

Also let yourself yawn or make yourself yawn. This can be done by taking several short breaths in and then exhaling. Yawning is very important; here is some useful information about yawning.

There is a wonderful Chi Gong meditation called Bone Dreaming. I like it because it works with sensing your bones and letting them move. When your attention is directed that way, the relaxation is deep and sleep can come. I have used it for sleep, as well as resting and unwinding. Click here to visit the website for Giles Marin (scroll down to find “The Bone Dreaming Meditation”).

Often the inability to sleep happens when we are too wound up and over-stimulated. Alexander directions of freeing the neck and letting go of tension so the body can lengthen and widen can provide a calming sensation. Sense the occiput moving away from the sacrum, creating a lengthening along the spine.

Ideally you sleep on your back but you can use these instructions if you are a side sleeper. If you sleep on your side make sure your head and neck are supported so that the head doesn’t drop lower than your shoulder. Also it is best not to curl into a C shape but keep the occiput and sacrum in the line, in the same plane. Side sleepers also generally do better if they use a pillow between their knees. This way the hips will stay aligned and the pelvis will not be twisted.

For back sleepers using a small pillow under the kness can eliminate strain from the lower back.

Hopefully you will be able to make use of these ideas on getting yourself to relax and enter a deep sleep! And if all else fails, check out how your ancestors slept.

Have a good Labor Day weekend and let me know what you discover about sleep and Alexander Technique.

Thank you.

All the Best,

Elaine

Alexander Technique and Depression

In the last newsletter, Lucy Rush’s phone number was left out. Here it is for those of you who asked for it: (415) 221-1500)

Depression is not on the list of topics most people discuss easily. Yet at the some point in life almost everyone experiences some degree of depression. And some people have to deal with it on an ongoing basis.

Years ago, while I was working with a student, as she was freeing her neck and allowing more movement up along her spine she said, “Oh, if I do this I can’t be depressed.” Now I’m not saying this is the answer to everyone’s depression, but there are many changes that can happen when we learn to be aware of how we are using our body, or in Alexander terms, our use.

We store memories in our body. I have often thought of the body as an archeological site. With breathing and awareness as our tools we can unearth many memories that are not in our conscious thoughts. Doing this often gives a healing and lightening effect in ones entire being. For more information you can visit the Somatic Experience Website and watch a YouTube video about it.

When starting with Alexander lessons, you learn what physical and mental habits you are employing that contribute to compression, poor posture and pain. These same habits can also add or contribute to depression.

It is well known that exercise can be key in alleviating depression. When one is depressed it is usually hard not to identify with the emotion or feeling. We get stuck in thinking I’m sad or I’m depressed and there is usually a physical pulling in and contracting. This is one of the reasons the Alexander Technique can help when one is in a depressed state. As you change the holding in your body, your mood also has the opportunity to change. Being aware of your posture and how you move can take your thoughts in a new direction.

Of course there are many degrees of depression and seeking professional help is an important step.

However, remember how important it is to move your body and allow it to change your mood. The awareness of how your body and your thoughts impact each other is extremely useful.

The next time you are feeling a little blue or depressed try the following exercise. Lie down with support under your head. Have your legs resting on a chair or stool. From this relaxed position, just welcome in whatever sensations, feelings and thoughts are in your body-mind. Be aware of sensations, feelings and your breathing, especially your exhale. For just this time, let go of resistance, allow whatever is there just be there. Don’t pull away from whatever is there. Let your neck be free and allow movement up along your spine. Let the body lengthen and widen. Watch your breath and let yourself exhale completely.

Make time to walk in nature. Preferably somewhere with lots of green and/or the beach. Let yourself move out equally from the center of your body. Let your head reach for the sky, more of a thought than an action. Its a softening and allowing not a push. Let the front of your body expand out in front of you as you let the back expand out in the opposte direction. Allow the sides of your body to widen out, right side out to the horizon on the right and left out to the horizon on the left. Feel your feet connecting with the earth, not gripping but just making contact. As you look around let your eyes take in the beauty of nature. Sense the connection and know you are part of this beauty.

All the best,

Elaine

The Lymphatic System

I hope your New Year is off to a healthy good start, but if not here is some information that will help. And if it is off to a good healthy start this will keep it going in that direction.

The lymphatic system is often overlooked in our understanding of staying healthy. I find this especially important as I get older. The Lymphatic system can slow down or become sluggish from many different factors, aging is one of them. This can cause pain and discomfort. Once you read Lucy’s description of the lymphatic system you will understand why there is pain and what to do about it.

Lucy Rush is an amazing Lymphatic massage practitioner. I asked her to explain in brief the Lymphatic system. In case you don’t know where your lymphatic system is located check this site for deeper understanding.

Lymphatic_SystemLucy’s Synopsis:

The Lymphatic system is a fluid transport system, consisting of lymphatic tissues and lymph vessels. It is an integral part of our immune system and thus functions to protect us in several ways. Our lymphatic tissues, including our lymph nodes, are involved in the production and distribution of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells. B-cells and T-cells are two of the three types of lymphocytes. B-cells produce antibodies and T-cells help B-cells, as well as aiding in the elimination of viruses. Lymph vessels create and move lymph fluid. Lymph fluid is a clear liquid, comprised mostly of water (96%) along with a varying mixture of proteins, lipids, hormones, toxins, bacteria, cell waste, etc. Lymph nodes purify lymph fluid by filtering out, neutralizing or destroying any pathogenic substances or microorganisms.

Lymphatic_System_of_Face_by_aljasThe way in which you might be the most familiar with the lymphatic system is in the tissue swelling (edema) and tenderness one can get during a cold, flu or after a surgery. Lymphatic massage can be beneficial towards the end cycle of illness and post-operatively, as well as helping to strengthen the immune system for those who suffer from allergies or autoimmune diseases. It is a group of gentle, relaxing massage techniques that support comfort, recovery and wellness. These techniques help increase the flow rate of lymph as it moves through the node areas, enhances lymph node function and aids in detoxification. There are many benefits of lymphatic massage. The reduction of edema is perhaps the most visually apparent benefit and has a wonderful ripple effect. Decrease of swelling supports reduction of pain, discomfort and stiffness, helps to lessen numbness and enables mobility of muscles and joint range of motion.

“I apply Integrative Lymphatic Massage on a broad spectrum of conditions. These include sinus and bronchial congestion, abdominal bloating and discomforts, joint sprains, cosmetic surgery post-op, and internal organ and cancer surgery post-op. I am continually amazed at the effectiveness of lymphatic massage and its cumulative results and enjoy teaching my clients simple techniques and practices that they can do at home to support their health and wellness.”

(CLICK HERE to read more)

Lucy Rush, CMT is a massage therapist and educator. She is in private practice specializing in Integrative Lymphatic Massage, Acupressure and Swedish/Deep Tissue techniques. She has been an instructor at the San Francisco School of Massage for the past twenty-one years and teaches at two other schools in the greater Bay Area and abroad.

zaaz_15K_209x327One of the newest exercise machines, the ZAAZ, purports to move the lymphatic and circulatory systems as well as give you one hour of exercise all in 12 minutes.

Sound too good to be true? Actually I think it is great but remember there are no magic solutions. It is still very important to have the awareness of how you are using your body while you are on the machine, and to understand your alignment. It’s still important to walk and move in a variety of ways. However, 12 minutes on the machine is really better than not doing any movement. Besides the there is a sense of relaxation and energy I get when I use the ZAAZ machine.

Another great way to get things moving is to attend the upcoming workshop, “Spring Cleansing and the Alexander Technique” lead by Denise Aubin and special guest: yours truly, Elaine Belle. Click Here for the workshop flyer.

Hopefully this information about your Lymphatic system is inspiring you to pay closer attention to your body and give you an understanding your many different systems working in your body that keep you healthy. The human body is truly a wondrous work of art. Being of aware of the multilayered systems and how amazingly each system works together gives one reason to pause and appreciate this gift of life.

All the best,

Elaine

Elaine Belle is a certified Alexander teacher with over 20 years experience. The Alexander Technique is a gentle, hands-on process to realign the skeleto-muscular system.