Amy Ward Brimmer

mother daughter wife teacher writer dreamer sister worker seeker activist minister healer student human


Breathing with Comfort and Joy

When F. M. Alexander first began sharing his newfound discoveries about human psycho-physical functioning, he traveled around his native Australia and became known as "the Breathing Man." The core of his work was free and full breathing and its relation to overall wellness. Science is now catching up to what Alexander knew in the 1890s.

NPR recently did a helpful piece on the stress-relieving aspects of healthy breathing. Read and/or listen to it here.

The Alexander Technique remains one of the best ways to understand the anatomy and physiology of your own breathing system, and to begin to reverse some of the unconscious habits that develop in everyone over time, and which  interfere with healthy breathing. Similarly, a Somatic Release session often restores full breathing function, as clients begin to let go of restrictive muscular tension in the thorax and throughout the body.

I recently had an SR session with someone recovering from a day-long outpatient surgery. He told me that one of his post-op instructions was to take a few deep breaths every hour or so for the first several hours once he got home. They explained that this would increase oxygen flow to his bloodstream and speed the healing of his surgical wound. It also must be enormously helpful after being intubated and receiving general anesthesia.

I was encouraged to hear this. Doesn't it seem like deep breathing would be one of the best (and least expensive) things hospitals and clinics could do to put patients at ease during procedures and post-op recoveries? Not to mention, knowing how to breathe deeply and mindfully might help the caregivers themselves. (uh-duh, kind of a no-brainer)

Yet most of us remain largely unaware of how we are breathing and what affects our respiration. Unless you are a full-time professional yogi or you have a disorder like asthma (which continues to proliferate, among children especially), you probably take your breathing for granted. After all, it is a reflexive action, something that happens automatically. We don't have to consciously choose to breath in and out all day long; thank goodness! We'd never accomplish anything.

The cool thing about the breath (one of them anyway) is that it is also a process that can be directed. You can choose to hold your breath until you're blue in the face if you want to (but you probably still won't get your way). You can coordinate your swimming with breathing in and out. You can sing. You can breathe your baby out in childbirth. You can slow your breathing down or speed it up. We do this, consciously and unconsciously, all the time. The more awareness of our breathing apparatus we have, the clearer and more powerful our breathing becomes.

First, you have to know your equipment. While a good anatomy book is a joy forever, the best way to learn is by direct experience. Cool Thing #2 about the breath is that it is always with us and so it can be experienced and experimented with at any time. Hey, how about now?

Try This:
  • Assuming you are reading this at your computer, begin by settling into a comfortable upright position. Let your feet be resting flat on the floor, or tuck them under you, Indian-style.
  • Feel the support underneath you. What is holding you up? How is the weight of your body making contact with the chair, cushion or floor? Notice the contact of your back against the chair, or if you are not using back support, simply become aware of the space behind you.
  • Begin to observe your breath. Notice how it drops in and drops out. Follow the in-breath and the out-breath, allow your breathing to be the focus of your attention.
  • Notice what is moving in your body as you breathe. What is happening in your chest? In your belly? Can you feel your shoulders rising and falling as you breathe in and out? Is anything moving in your back? What else do you notice?
  • Take in a very full, deep breath. Let it out on a sigh.
  • Repeat this two more times.
  • What changes do you observe in yourself after taking three big sighs?
Were you surprised at how much is going on in one simple breath? And this is just the really noticeable stuff, like shoulders rising and air moving in and out through nostrils. There's all kinds of chemical exchange going on every time we breathe, and information about our immediate environment being processed by our neuromuscular system. It's interesting to realize that the air we take in and then release out again is our most constant, intimate connection to the world. 

There are so many things in life that are out of our control. Breathing is not one of them. You can learn to breathe with freedom and awareness, decrease the stress in your life, and boost your immune system. (click through to the NPR story above or under Links to see how improving your breathing improves your health.) 

That sounds like a really good way to get through the Winter Holiday Season with comfort and joy!
Come in for a "breathing tune-up" at Way Opens Center. Call me at 917-216-5850.


Way Opens Imagery

Here's a beautiful image of how way opens in autumn:

Way Opens Center  is open for business in its brand new home in the heart of Bucks County in the lovely borough of Newtown.  22 South State St., 2nd floor.
Join me this Wednesday, November 10, from 5:00 - 8:00 pm
Way Opens Wednesday (WOW!) Open House
Good company, refreshments, and a demonstration of Alexander Technique
Hear about Way Opens Center's other bodywork services and learning opportunities.
Call 917-216-5850 for more information.


Website Goes Live!

The Way Opens Center website was launched on Thursday, while I was riding the DC metro towards the Smithsonian.  Not what I might have predicted, but nevertheless it was fun to tell my website designer, Imogen Ragone, "It's a go" while zipping around our nation's capital.

Remember:  Way Opens Wednesday (WOW!) is November 10, from 5-8 pm.  Stop by and say hi, watch a free demonstration, have a nosh.  (or a nibble. your choice.)


Mad Me

I began my Way Opens Wednesday (WOW!) by calling my friend Donna Allen at Times Publishing, Inc.  I wanted some prices on advertising and had some questions about their marketing strategies and territory.  Turns out their deadline for the November issue is Friday, so I ended up making some very quick (and slightly overbudget) decisions that required me to produce an ad today.

So that's how I spent my morning.  It was surprisingly difficult to figure out how much text (as little as possible) and what and how much to include graphically (not my forte).  The three paragraphs about Alexander Technique that I came up with for the Way Opens website (and posted on this blog) might work for some ads, but not this one.  I had to come up with a punch list of benefits and applications that also conveyed a sense of what the AT is like.

Here's a sneak peek at what will be published in about two weeks in the Newtown Gazette:
Way Opens Center Ad

That was my Peggy Olson morning. If you don't know who I'm referring to, I feel a little sad for you. That means that you don't watch Mad Men, and you are missing out on a good show. And some very fine-looking people.  And damn good writing. (yes, I have to curse.  It's that good.)

Maybe you noticed in the ad (if you clicked on the link) that Way Opens Center is having another Way Opens Wednesday (WOW!) on November 10, and also the first open house to introduce me to you and you to me. If you are someone who lives in or near Newtown, PA, stop on by 22 South State Street between 5 and 8 pm for free Alexander demonstrations, a bit of refreshment, and friendly chat. I'd be honored to have your help as I launch what I hope will become a hub for learning, healing, discovery, and transformation. Then you can do a little shopping at Allegheny Art next door.

We are getting closer to a website launch, too.  It's looking really good, thanks to Imogen Ragone, whose design ability is surpassed only by her generosity. She makes good-looking websites for her fellow Alexander teachers at a huge discount as a professional courtesy. If you or someone you know is in the Wilmington, DE vicinity, go take some lessons with her. 

Hope you are enjoying this wonderful International Alexander Awareness Week!


Exquisite Movement

Some people are just fearless.  Check out this astounding combination of courage, strength, playfulness, and grace.  Ethan Law, you blow me away.  And he calls it a "work in progress"!
Wheel Number.

Oh, and Way Opens Center will be available for learning, healing, discovery, and transformation beginning  October 18.  Schedule your lesson, session, or class by calling Amy at 917-216-5850.  Special rates during the early weeks.
Alexander Technique -- mindful movement for life
Somatic Release -- gentle hands-on healing
Mindful Birth & Parenting -- awakening to everyday blessings (now that's a work in progress!)


What is Somatic Release?

One of the services available at Way Opens Center will be Somatic Release sessions.  Few people are familiar with the name "Somatic Release", because it is an approach that evolved out of my 20+ years of Alexander work, my decade of experience as a labor doula, and my own personal journey of healing.  I created the name for this form, but the fundamentals of Somatic Release are rooted in the Alexander Technique as taught by my mentor Alan Katz. I also incorporate elements of Therapeutic Touch, Reflexology, Feldenkrais, Hypnotherapy, and intuitive common sense.

How is Somatic Release different from the Alexander Technique? Alexander lessons are by definition an active period of intentional learning between teacher and student. Although therapeutically beneficial, the AT is not a series of treatments or exercises.

By contrast, Somatic Release sessions are therapeutic treatments, a time for deep relaxation. Fully clothed and lying on a bodywork table, you will experience safe, supportive touch and positive, encouraging words that help you let go of tension. Depending on what the situation calls for, I use my hands in ways that are somewhat different from Alexander lessons. I sometimes use more specific pressure point techniques, for example, or work with the subtle energy field off the body, with very little direct touch. Some movement of limbs and opening of joints may be incorporated, and perhaps various breathing patterns might be explored. Improved energetic flow is the goal.

Alexander work asks you to actively participate as you learn about yourself; Somatic Release does not.  During a session you might be asked to make a mental or visual connection, but for the most part, clients find themselves drifting into a deeply relaxed state of being, thoroughly refreshed and at ease as a result.

Somatic Release is especially useful for individuals recovering from physical or emotional trauma, for those with mobility issues, and as a supplement to healing from surgery. It is also great for times when one is just plain exhausted and wants a little tender loving care.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, a Somatic Release session might be just the thing.


Wordle Word Clouds

Here's a really fun website, where you can take text and make cool "word clouds." Click here to see what my latest post looks like in Wordle.

What is the Alexander Technique?

When I talk about what I do, the inevitable question arises: The Alexander Technique? What's that?

Alexander work changed my life (maybe even saved it), and enhances my daily living in ways that continually surprise me. It can sometimes be difficult to find words to describe it, both because it is so unlike other modalities and because it is something that truly needs to be experienced to be understood.

But I want others to know about this incredible path to freedom, so here goes:

It's simple. How we use ourselves affects how we experience life. Alexander Technique reveals how unconscious habits of excess tension and inefficient ways of moving interfere with your natural ability to live your life with ease and enjoyment. When you recognize your habits, you become free to make simple changes that heal and restore your body-mind balance. You wake up to yourself.

It's powerful. Guided by the teacher's light, supportive touch and verbal cues, you'll explore how you are designed to move and begin some new ways of thinking in activity. This is not a treatment, it's a way of mindful  learning. You'll gain skills that grow stronger the more you practice. What you learn is unique to you, and can be applied any time, anywhere. You're in charge.

It's proven. This is not a quick fix or the latest fad. The technique evolved more than a century ago from the pioneering work of F. M. Alexander, whose discoveries about human psycho-physical functioning  are tried and true. The work has undergone rigorous research, its benefits reported in medical journals, doctoral dissertations, and even a Nobel prize acceptance speech. It is endorsed by doctors, therapists, performing artists and entertainers, ergonomics experts, and a wide range of individuals around the world. People with chronic pain, depression, respiratory problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) credit Alexander lessons as a key component in their recovery.

Alexander Technique
         Simple.  Powerful.  Proven.

Does this make you want to know more? Click on one of the "Links I Like", or feel free to contact me at 917-216-5850.


International Alexander Awareness Week

I just discovered that International Alexander Awareness Week is October 18-24, 2010.
How fascinating that this is the very week I plan to launch Way Opens Center by offering Half-Price Half Hours (short introductory lessons) all week and Way Opens Wednesday, an evening open house. (official invitation to come.)
Synchronicity -- it's not just a theory.


Up and Over It

Irish step dancing often makes me cringe a little, because although it is full of precision and power, it also looks like it produces painful tension in those who dance it.  So what a wonderful discovery to find Suzanne Cleary & Peter Harding, creators of Up & Over It!, Irish step dancing for the postmodern age.  The "We No Speak Americano"  video has been making waves, with more than 2 million views on YouTube.  But I like "3 Little Words" just as much, and it shows them using their whole bodies in a bigger way than the first one does.
Precision doesn't have to mean an increase of tension; dynamic freedom of movement can be fun!

Moving In, Moving Out

It's official: beginning today the new home of Way Opens Center is 22 South State St., Newtown, PA 18940.  Or, at least after tomorrow it will be official, when I pick up my keys and begin the transition process. My new "landlord", Dean Dickson, will be moving out the furniture and sundry items from the space with help of some of his able-bodied clients. Dean is a psychotherapist who works with individuals, families and groups (interested? call him at 215-860-3450), and seems to be a very nice person, based on my limited experience of him.

So I have been preparing to move my necessary equipment -- table, stools, bolsters, mirror, books -- out of where it has been stored around my house and into the new office. Doing this has made me aware of how I've neglected this equipment over the past couple of years, and so naturally this has become an Alexander teaching moment for myself.  The table needs to be cleaned and the wooden legs oiled and tightened. The mirror needs polishing, and just where the heck did I put the mounting bars and screws?  The bolster is covered in cat hair and may need to be replaced if I can't get it clean enough.  And, oh dear, just look at the state my little skeleton model has gotten into!  He will not last much longer, I fear. Time for a newer, better model.

Neglecting our equipment happens when we are busy putting our energies into other places. From an AT perspective, this usually means applying energy in an unbalanced or misdirected way.  But it can also mean just plain old ignoring ourselves or some part of ourselves, until we literally forget about it. When I first began Alexander lessons, I had almost no sense of my body at all. My awareness was so dim that when my teacher encouraged me to think about opening up and moving from my hips, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I thought my hips were the same as my hip bones, never suspecting that hips are big, generous joints that move! This is just one of the many ways I was disconnected from my physical self. It took me a while to reacquaint myself with my body and maintain a sense of my whole self as I moved through my life.  Truthfully, this is a journey I am still on and hope to continue for a long, long time. 

Meanwhile, I am uncovering all the accumulated junk stored on top of my table, wiping clean the dust and grime from books, bookshelves, etc. As I do this, I am reminded of how one of my students described her Alexander process:  like an archeological dig. This is such a gem, and I use it often in attempting to describe what the Alexander Technique is.  (I'm working on my "elevator speech" and will devote another post to that soon.)  We have been conditioned to think of learning as a process of accumulation, but AT work is all about letting go of what is unnecessary, eliminating the interference we habitually infuse into even the simplest of activities, and unlearning our faulty thinking, so that we can become authentically dynamic in how we move and live and have our being (as an old Episcopal prayer goes).

I described this in an article I wrote in 2005 for Energy Times magazine. The link here is to an archived version on their website, which has been inaccurately reproduced -- the title they originally gave it is "Bold, Balanced Bodywork" -- and edited a bit (by someone other than my friend Stephen Hanks who originally commissioned it). Still, it gives a pretty good introduction to some of the principles of the Alexander Technique.

If fortune favors the well prepared, then it is important to be prepared in a way that is clear and unencumbered. Digging out from under the past three years of neglect of my equipment -- both animate and inanimate -- reveals to me some buried treasures I had forgotten about, some decay that cannot be reclaimed, and some new wonderments that arise because I have continued to grow as a human even though I haven't been teaching very much.

In this moment I feel enthused about opening my heart and my doors to new students and new neighbors in Newtown (aptly named!). I know how I feel because I can sense it in my body. For me, that would not be possible without having learned the Alexander Technique, the tool I discovered for digging out from under, so that I would not be buried alive.


Medicine in Balance

When I was was looking for office space, my friend Jeremi Dilworth recommended that I speak with Dr. Wendy Warner at Medicine in Balance. This was about the 10th time in 6 or 7 years that Jeremi had suggested I get in touch with her, so I figured it was high time I did.

Medicine is Balance is a wonderful practice that focuses on holsitic care, and several healing modalities are offered there. Dr. Warner is experienced, warm, intelligent, funny and caring.  My "brief" meet and greet session, to see the space and introduce myself, turned into a 2+ hour conversation, which I found highly enjoyable.  Although the parameters for using the available space didn't meet my needs, I feel like I have been blessed to meet several new colleagues in the area.  I plan to return as a client, if not a practitioner.

If you live in Bucks County, Northeast Philadelphia, or even the Princeton/Lawrenceville area, you might want to check it out. Try not to take as long as I did. . .


The Teacher of My Teacher

I never had the chance to work with Marjorie Barstow, but many of the best lessons I've had were with teachers who studied with her. They all have a lightness and power that I have learned to recognize. Here's a short video that shows what the Alexander Technique is aiming for, what a teacher does with guiding touch, and the amazing Marj in action.  Enjoy.


Back to School

As you may notice (but probably not, since I have 4, count 'em 4,  people reading this), I have renamed this blog.  That is because Way does indeed open, and today I decided on a new home for my practice. 

As of October 1, Way Opens Center will be located at 22 State St. in Newtown. My "studio" is a small but charming room on the second floor, sharing space with a psychotherapy group. The energy there is quiet and serene, yet it is in the heart of town, right next to Allegheny Art, one of my favorite shops ever.

So the center is quite tiny right now, but it is a beginning, and it feels good. This time of year is always a fresh start to me. It always feels like a good time to initiate something (which is odd, given that as autumn progresses, nature begins to pull in, dry up, and disappear).  Anyway, I have a designer working on a logo and image brand, and soon I will have fun helping to create business cards, flyers, and a website. Fonts!  Lots of fun with fonts.

I am continuing half-time at Friends Council on Education as Director of Outreach and Development, so it's just fine if I start off with only a handful of students.  I believe I will have just as many students as I can imagine (and handle).

I am also going back to school a bit myself right now (but of course giving lessons is a form of learning). I recently began taking AT lessons again, this time with Ariel Weiss, one of Philadelphia's premier teachers.  Only the best for me. The experience of taking lessons again after 8 or 9 years without any hands-on at all is worthy of its own post, so I'll describe that another time. Ariel is very good and I can feel our work together is refreshing and re-toning my skills.  It's definitely helping me get my chops back.

In two weeks I embark on an 8-week course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at Jefferson's Center for Integrative Medicine, the first step in what I hope will be eventual teacher certification. This is the program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of my all-time favorite teachers and communicators.  He and his wife Myla wrote the best book on parenting I have ever read, Everyday Blessings:  The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.  But of course Jon is best known for this amazing MBSR program, and the way he and his colleagues legitimized it within the medical establishment, and mainstream society as a whole. 

Plus, in late October I'll be doing a 3-day training with Alaine Duncan, Director of Crossings and Crossings Healing Works.  The workshop, called Touching Trauma, is about learning to regulate the system -- specifically the autonomic nervous system -- in the aftermath of trauma.  Alaine is one of my absolute heroes, which might make her cringe, but it is true.  She's a woman of great faith and courage who followed a calling to help veterans heal and reintegrate, both within and without.  A talented acupuncturist, bright light, and fun Quaker woman, I aspire to be like Alaine. There, I said it.

Don't we all need positive examples in life?  Maybe we each are that to someone else.  I think what energizes me about the coming of Fall is that it is back to school time, and I love learning.  I don't always love the way I learn, I often learn the hard way, but I remain curious and captivated as my life path continues to unfold.  As way opens.


What Was I Thinking?

I decided to launch this blog at Christmastime, just a week or so before taking on a second part-time job.  Not the smartest move of my life.  Two part-time jobs add up to more than one full-time job, as any reasonable person might have known.  Consequently, this blog has never  been very active, and has been lying dormant -- until now.

I am currently in the process of reviving my Alexander Technique practice, as well as offering private and semi-private birth and parenting classes, and Somatic Release sessions.  This blog will be reinvented, too, most likely renamed Way Opens, the new name of my business -- Way Opens Studio. 

From time to time I may blog about the adventure of building this business, but hopefully I'll be too busy actually doing that, and won't have time. Continuing Revelation will have to fall silent once again, but by Thanksgiving Way Opens will be well on its way.