Category Archives: body wisdom

The help of a good teacher

Alexander Technique work at the Ojai Women's Retreat.

Itsuko and Carol offer hands on help with Alexander Technique at the Ojai Women’s Retreat 2016.

I have a pretty good sense of what is going on in my body and I think a lot about what is happening in my spine, so it’s so wonderful when someone can help me to see or understand something that I haven’t felt before. This happened during my retreat experience in Ojai, California last week.

The retreat was interdisciplinary. I taught a daily yoga practice and yoga sūtras and Carol, my wonderful teaching colleague, presented the parts of the workshop on Āyurveda and the Alexander Technique. I didn’t have any experience or expectations of the Alexander Technique, though I knew it had something to do with improving posture and letting go of tension in the body. Carol did a great job introducing the technique and giving us ways to practice the principles of the method. We had language to help us remember and stay with the main concepts, and with the help of another wonderful AT teacher, we each received some skillful and gentle hands on work.

It was during this part of the classes that I had a remarkable experience. Itsuko worked with me and as she gently slid her open hand across my lower back, it was able to let go a little bit. It felt easier and lighter there. Her soft and skillful touch at the back of my neck let me feel that I could move my head forward and up and let go of some of the holding and tension there. I could sense the length come. And then her hand went toward my mid-back. She said something like, “you don’t have to work so much here” and I felt, for the first time, the reaching and straining that was coming from that place. I made some subtle adjustments and noticed the back of my spine round slightly toward her hand. This was fine and pleasant. Something also happened in the front of my spine. In a place tucked in behind organs and protected by the lower ribs I began to release. But this time I didn’t feel ease. I had the ache of letting go of something that I’ve been gripping for decades and whatever was being held in started to spread. I imagined a jar that’s been sitting at the very darkest spot under the sink catching years worth of drips from a very slow leak… I had knocked it over and it was spilling into me. I felt relief, but I also felt some sadness and confusion. I had to sit still for a few minutes and notice that.

There’s so much we can learn with the help of books, stories, self-observation and reflection. It is a valuable and essential part of the work that we do. But having the support and guidance of a knowledgeable and attune teacher is also very important – even essential. There are things that we can’t see about ourselves because we’ve been with them for so long that they no longer operate at a conscious level. Kind of like the joke where one fish asks his fish friend, “how’s the water?” The other fish says, “what the heck is water?” The help of a teacher or someone who can help us to see our own structures or patterns in a kind and truthful way is an invaluable part of our learning and growth. I’m greatful for Carol and Itusuko for being those teachers for me this week.

 

Is balance and good self-care sexy?

 

amanda green yogaBalance has, in the past, seemed a little boring. Post-college I was not interested in all this self-care, self-reflection and routine that goes along with feeling balanced. It seemed much more fun, to be spontaneous and unpredictable. Read: moody and temperamental. Or maybe it was hard and I didn’t know how to do it. Self-discipline didn’t seem sexy or even accessible so I went to the other end of the spectrum making lack of routine and poor self-care (my body can handle anything!!!) my habit.

Last week, I confessed to some good habits that have slipped over the last few months. Hard won routines proved their worth as I made my way toward balance, but with the complications of sickness, travel and visitors, these things seemed to just fall away and brownies made their way into my late night life. When I’m not paying attention or not that mindful about how I go about my business, cravings and urges have much more sway over how I behave. Maintaining balance requires presence and a some effort.

The thing that I keep learning about balance is how good it really is. When I’m rested, nourished, and digesting well, I’m not distracted by the poor functioning of my body. My mind is more clear. I can be present with my family, students and friends. I feel connection more than isolation. I can stay with a thought or idea much longer. It actually can be really attractive. But then something happens and the seemingly elusive balanced state shifts. I forget how much I like it. I yearn for the familiar distraction of being under-slept or over-fed.

Moving in and out of balance is part of life. In the first Chapter of the yoga sūtras, Patañjali lists a whole bunch of things, called antarayas, that get us all at some point or another. Yoga sūtra 1.30 lists the following as interruptions to balance: Illness, mental fatigue, doubt, haste, physical fatigue, over-indulgence, having a view of ourselves that isn’t actually the case, failing to meet a goal, aging and regressing… these experiences can bump someone who is rocking a balanced lifestyle and good habits into a ditch.

If we know how good it is to be in balance, or if the discomfort of being scattered and distracted causes enough problems, we can and usually do come back. This process might teach us something about our own tendencies and help us to find deeper compassion for these human foibles we all face.