Amy Ward Brimmer

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


How to Occupy Anything

The symbol for crisis, an emergent opportunity.
Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don't see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.
                                                                    -- Lao-tzu


Un-Labor Day Open House

Here's the info on my upcoming Open House. Tell a friend.  Hope to see you there.  (And remember to thank a working man or woman on Monday.  The Labor movement gave us the weekend after all.)

11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Learn to move through life with less effort and more ease.

Drop by and learn about Alexander Technique, Somatic Release, and all the mindful activities at Way Opens.
Ø FREE postural and energy assessments
Ø FREE Alexander Technique hands-on demonstration
Ø FREE sample group class at 12:30 pm
Ø Receive a discount on a future session
Find out how this body-mind movement method has been helping people for more than a century, and how it can help you.

“I don’t have to work as hard at good posture as I thought. I can get to a point of balance that is practically effortless. I like to explore, and Alexander lessons allow me to remember what I once knew naturally. It’s as if I were on an archeological dig that uncovers the self I was born with.”

22 South State Street z Newtown, PA 18940 z  917-216-5850


Got Spine?

The spine is the central column of support and the core energetic pathway in our bodies. At Way Opens Center, I teach Alexander Technique as a way to learn how to access this central support and move according to its design. In lessons, we focus on freeing up the spine, allowing it its full length and renewing its supple, flexible nature. Thinking up, inhibiting downward pull or collapse, and rediscovering the poise of the head in movement -- these are all excellent ways to encourage the body to reorganize itself so that activities are easier and more enjoyable.

But do you really know anything about your spine? If you don't have the facts, if your inner body map is badly drawn, you will have a much more difficult time moving in harmony with its design. Over the years, I have heard students say things like:
  • I am trying to straighten my spine
  • My spine is my backbone, right?
  • The spine runs from my lower back to my shoulders
  • I inherited a crooked/collapsed/overly curved/arthritic/weak spine, there is nothing I can do about it, it's genetics
  • My spine is like a flag pole and everything hangs off of it
Nonsense. Simply not true. Unfortunately, if you go through life thinking these and other untrue ideas about your spine, that is how you will try to move. To give just one example, if you believe that what we call the "backbone" is the extent of your spine, you will try to get that "backbone" to do all the work of weight support and movement, way back in the farthest reaches of your torso. Your back muscles will find this exhausting and soon give up, leading to downward pull and collapse.

It is essential, therefore, to get to know the anatomy of your spine. Luckily for all of us, my colleague Sarah Chatwin has written a wonderful, practical article describing the details of this amazing structure that sets us apart as a species. You can click to it on her blog HERE.

I am also reproducing it below, in case you prefer to just keep reading.

In the next few posts, I will share simple bodymind experiments that will give you the opportunity to experience moving through and with your spine, so you can put this new, accurate information to good use.

Five-and-a-Half Things You Need to Know About Your Backbone
by Sarah Chatwin

We humans come equipped with some fairly amazing infrastructure. Here’s five and a half spine facts to help you love your back just a little bit more:

1. All present and correct?
There are 33 vertebrae in an average human spine. Vertebrae are the bony parts of your spine.

Your cervical spine, aka your neck, has seven vertebrae. As all good Alexander Technique students know, the very top of your spine is right up between your ears, not languishing down around your collar somewhere.

Next comes your thoracic spine. That’s the twelve vertebrae that are joined by ribs to form your ribcage.

Your spinal cord runs down from your brain stem, through the cervical and thoracic spine to just below the ribcage. It doesn’t go the whole way down.

Below that is the lumbar spine, which is made up of five large vertebrae.

Next, the sacrum, which is five vertebrae fused together to form the back of your pelvis. The vertebrae are separate when you are born, and don’t completely fuse until around age 26.

Last but not least, your coccyx or tailbone. Four fused bones, but still technically part of your spine. Tailbones are like noses in that they can be very different from each other. Yours may be twice the size of your neighbours’, or half the size, or point a different way.

Not everyone has all these vertebrae. Some people have extras. Others have some missing. Some people have vertebrae in strange shapes, or fused together where they shouldn’t be. As you might imagine, that can cause all sorts of trouble. If you have a standard issue spine, be grateful.

2. Location, location, location
Run your hand along your cervical or lumbar spine. The part you can feel isn’t the main body of the vertebrae.

Each vertebra has three arms. Two stick out to the sides, one sticks out to the back. What you can feel is that little arm that sticks out the back.
That means that the main part of the vertebrae is further inside you – more towards your centre – than you probably thought.

3. Size matters
Prepare to be surprised.

Imagine a pile of citrus fruit, as tall as your spine from the lumbar upwards. Grapefruits at the bottom, then oranges, satsumas and finally clementines. Got it?

That’s the dimensions of an average human spine as a working unit, not a skeleton: vertebrae plus nerves, muscles, ligaments and all the other equipment. Pretty chunky isn’t it?

4. Shock treatment
Two things give your spine its shock absorbing properties.

Between the vertebrae are the (in)famous discs. These are tough, fibrous pieces of cartilage that act as shock absorbers between the moving bony parts. In fact, 25% of the length of your spine is disc.
Secondly, the natural curves of the spine make it brilliant at absorbing and redistributing impacts, as well as simply supporting the weight of the body.

How we do what we do makes a huge difference to the pressure we put on our spines. For example, standing in proper alignment puts 100lbs of pressure on your lumbar spine. Stand out of alignment and lean forwards, you double the pressure on your lumbar. Which is why Alexander Technique training is so effective for people with back pain.

5. Flex and bend
Not all parts of the spine work in the same way.

The cervical and lumbar regions have the most mobility. You can nod and shake your head, and do the hula (should the fancy take you).

But the thoracic spine is far less flexible, and for a very good reason. This is the part that has ribs attached. Inside your rib cage are your lungs and heart. You wouldn’t want a system where a couple of vertebrae could move, swinging a few ribs around with them and pressing on your innards. So it’s pretty important that they work as a unit to create a protective shape that stays more or less the same.

Extra free half-fact
97% of all other creatures on earth don’t have a backbone at all.

Please love your spine. 20 minutes a day lying in semi-supine will make your spine very happy.

If you want to know how to do that, e-mail me at amy@wayopenscenter, and I will be happy to send you instructions.  Better yet, call me for an Alexander lesson, and learn how with hands-on guidance.


There is No Try

    Now that Way Opens Center is on Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In, I am learning how best to take advantage of these social media venues.  It's a little daunting, but the Alexander Technique shows me how to learn something new by slowing down, observing, and experimenting.
     When there is something I don't understand, if I remember to notice the tension that arises around "not knowing," I can release it before it begins to cloud my brain with panic-based messages about how stupid I am. I feel this tension in my neck and behind my eyes; other people get upset stomachs or jaw pain or sharp headaches. I observe myself striving to understand a new way of doing something, using different controls, and in the striving, I tighten. So I let go of trying at the same time I let go of the tension in my neck.
     I have had plenty of opportunity to practice this lately with my new android phone. I had my old cell phone for nearly five years, and the same SIM card since 2000 (the guy at the cell phone store could not believe it).  My muscle memory with that phone was awesome--I could access information and make calls (even play games) without having to think about what buttons to push. 
     With the new phone I am very, very slowly getting the hang of it. At first I had to pay 100% attention to even answer an incoming call or place an outgoing one. It is a challenge to edit my contacts, all of which got lost in the transfer of my ancient SIM card. (oops!, said Phone Store Guy.) I downloaded my gmail contact info, but all the phone numbers are gone and need to be restored. I still don't know half of what this phone can do; I only know what I need it to do, and even that not so much.
     I realize that some people reading this might be internally rolling their eyes and thinking that this middle-aged person is a techno doofus. They'd be right.  To be fair, however, I think everyone gets anxious when they have to learn something new, even if it is something they are excited about learning.


     Bodymind experiment:  Think of something new you had to figure out recently. Choose a physical activity, not an intellectual concept. It could be how to use a mechanical device, or it could be learning travel directions to a new location, like a friend's house or a doctor's office. How about an activity like assembling furniture from IKEA?  That can be an adventure. Maybe you've been given some new physical therapy exercises to do, or you've taken up yoga or tai chi or running. There are many everyday examples of needing to learn something complex in a short amount of time.
     Take a moment now and think back on your experience of trying to understand something new. How did that feel emotionally?  What thoughts went through your mind while you practiced this new task?  See yourself in this experience clearly, picture it in detail. 
     Begin to notice your physical response in this moment as you remember the experience of trying to learn something new. What do you observe?  Is your brow furrowed? Are you holding your breath? Grinding your teeth?  Locking your knees? Clenching your abdomen? Where do you feel the most effort in your body?
     How do you talk to yourself as you try to learn the new movement activity?  If you're like me, you probably hear comments such as, "I'm a total idiot" or "this phone (computer, traffic, bookcase) sucks!"  Feelings of frustration can be internalized ("I'm stupid") or externalized ("this phone is stupid"), and often a combination of both. My mind lies to me at times like this; I have thoughts like "I hate learning new things" (not true) or "I will never figure this out" (almost never true) or "you're so old" (not quite true, and irrelevant).
     Guess what? Tense thoughts create tense bodies. Tense bodies don't function well, making one feel clutzy and inept, leading to more physical tension, and on it goes into the viscious downward spiral. 
     When we can notice this happening, we have a choice. Whether unclenching muscle or mind, the most important thing is to stop.  Slow down.  Step back, take a look around.  Take a breath.


     So it's important to let go of striving, especially when taking in new information, or learning an old skill in a new way. Of course it's helpful to have a goal in mind (being able to answer my incoming calls is useful), but each step along the way is what really matters (first I have to recognize my new ringtone before I can even think about answering a call). Alexander called this "end-gaining" -- the pushy efforting I do to accomplish something that gets me ahead of myself and out of balance with reality.
     Instead, I can practice "non-doing". Non-doing allows me to function naturally and automatically from moment to moment. It helps me notice and let go of the tension in my neck and the pressure in my eyes, and release the need to gain any particular end.  The non-doing way of being simultaneously opens my field of vision and sharpens my mental focus, thus making it possible to understand what I need to learn about the task or object at hand (swipe down the touch screen to get the call. oh.)
     And my neck and eyes feel better too.



I aspire to be even half as good as this poet.


This is a litany of lost things,
a canon of possessions dispossessed,
a photograph, an old address, a key.
It is a list of words to memorize
or to forget—of amo, amas, amat,
the conjugations of a dead tongue
in which the final sentence has been spoken.

This is the liturgy of rain,
falling on mountain, field, and ocean—
indifferent, anonymous, complete—
of water infinitesimally slow,
sifting through rock, pooling in darkness,
gathering in springs, then rising without our agency,
only to dissolve in mist or cloud or dew.

This is a prayer to unbelief,
to candles guttering and darkness undivided,
to incense drifting into emptiness.
It is the smile of a stone Madonna
and the silent fury of the consecrated wine,
a benediction on the death of a young god,
brave and beautiful, rotting on a tree.

This is a litany to earth and ashes,
to the dust of roads and vacant rooms,
to the fine silt circling in a shaft of sun,
settling indifferently on books and beds.
This is a prayer to praise what we become,
"Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return."
Savor its taste—the bitterness of earth and ashes.

This is a prayer, inchoate and unfinished,
for you, my love, my loss, my lesion,
a rosary of words to count out time's
illusions, all the minutes, hours, days
the calendar compounds as if the past
existed somewhere—like an inheritance
still waiting to be claimed.

Until at last it is our litany, mon vieux,
my reader, my voyeur, as if the mist
steaming from the gorge, this pure paradox,
the shattered river rising as it falls—
splintering the light, swirling it skyward,
neither transparent nor opaque but luminous,
even as it vanishes—were not our life.

Dana Goia from (Interrogations at Noon)



Pausing on the Spiral Staircase

I haven't been able to write anything much lately.  As many of you know, my mother died on April 2, and this month has passed in a bit of a daze for me.  Combined with several other mini-crises in the other areas of my life -- from work to parenting to my many volunteer activities -- my professional life has really taken a back seat.  It takes enormous energy to promote Way Opens Center, Alexander Technique, and my other healing services.  I had no idea how enervating the mourning process could be.  Does that sound naive?  I guess it's a little like saying "I had no idea how exhausted I would be after giving birth."

Anyway, I am not going to beat myself up about unintentionally taking a break or pulling back my attention from the work I have been called to do.  Sometimes you have to stop where you are on your ascent and take stock.  The Alexander approach is about nothing so much as pausing to notice what is, and then making a choice for action based on what one observes.

Here's a blog from Tiny Buddha, a wonderful online resource.  I think I'll let someone else do the talking, while I pause to reconsider my next steps.

I do hope I'll see some of you this Saturday, April 30, which is Pay What You Can Day.  Call for an appointment, and set your own fee.  It doesn't have to cost a lot to try Alexander Technique or Somatic Release for the first time.


Don't Worry, Undo

I want to share a blog by Jeremy Chance, an Alexander teacher who lives and works in both Australia and Japan.  Consider what he suggests about non-doing.  Try it out. Crises are the opportunities that arise for our further awakening.


Does Kindness Make You Stronger?

"When we wish and seek to help others, our attitude is more positive and relationships become easier. We are less afraid and have less anxiety. Otherwise we remain shy and hesitant, and feel the need to take a thousand precautions before we approach people. When our intentions are good, we have greater self-confidence and are stronger. This is how we learn to understand how precious and valuable kindness is."  -- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I am not sure I have ever understood compassion in quite this way before.  So practical and verifiable. When a great teacher makes a statement like this, I always appreciate being able to test it to see if it is true. Obviously, one can take this and try it out quite easily.  If I consciously extend good intentions toward everyone I come across today, will I feel more confident in myself and become stronger?  Only one way to find out.

It's possible that even though everything is getting really horrible around the world, and all that I hold sacred in my own nation is under attack from self-righteous fear-mongers, I still have control over much of what I experience in my life.

Beginning today, I will be trying out this process as a way to test the theory that kindness makes you stronger, and occasionally writing about it here. If you want to try this experiment too, please do, and then share your results on the comments section of this or subsequent posts.

This kind of experimentation is part of what I try to practice when I teach the Alexander Technique.  F.M. never asked anyone to take what he said on faith.  He demonstrated what he had discovered about human psychophysical functioning, over and over again, and asked his pupils to apply his teachings and experience for themselves if what he said was true or not.  

The ability to test the truth of something through direct experience is important to me, which is one of the reasons I am a Quaker.  George Fox, who founded the Religious Society of Friends in the mid-17th century, preached the radical notion that God can be experienced directly by each person, without the need for ritual or an intermediary like a priest or minister. (As you can imagine, this was not a popular message with the Church.) Fox and his followers demonstrated repeatedly that each of us can hear the Spirit and be guided by it if we only listen, and that whole groups of people, if gathered intentionally, can experience God and know how to act together.

My expectation in working with what the Dalai Lama has said is that it will be true. But I think that, like a lot of us, I still have some lingering notion that kindness and compassion are "soft" or even "weak" somehow.  Intellectually, I know this is not so, that it takes courage and strength to be kind and to allow oneself to feel sympathy. But I often behave as if I don't know or believe that, so I am interested to see how intentionally extending positive thoughts toward every person I encounter might prove to be an effective method of restoring self-confidence.  I certainly would love to stop being so afraid of other people all the time.

The first thing I will have to do in this experiment is remember to try it!

I would really appreciate any feedback that might come my way during this process.  Feel free to share your comments!


Noticing Habitual Reactions

Today I want to share with everyone an article published on the website Salon by a wonderful writer, Sarah Hoffman (a pseudonym), called My Son, the Pink Boy.  This isn't about the Alexander Technique, or wellness, or healing.  At least, not specifically.  But it is a great example of what happens when we are not aware of our habits of reaction.

One of the principles of the Alexander Technique is that, for the most part, we live our lives in utter disregard for how we are using ourselves; we are a bundle of unexamined habits of tension, misuse and lack of balance. Until we begin to notice our patterns, we will continue to be subtly (or not so subtly) damaging ourselves unnecessarily.  Once we do begin to see what we are doing in activity, then we have some choices about how we'd like to proceed.  We can respond mindfully rather than react mindlessly.

I believe this is true for the whole human species. The society and culture we create is a reflection of our beliefs and ideas.  As a society, if we remain mindlessly reactive, we will continue to damage ourselves.  If we can begin to look at our assumptions and habitual reactions, maybe we can make some different choices and continue to evolve.

Unfortunately, there is a big barrier to noticing habitual reactive patterns: they feel normal. Whether on an individual or group level, habits become ingrained and normalized, to the point  where we don't question or even notice them.  They just become the sea we swim in, or the background noise of the refrigerator humming that you don't hear until it shuts off.

The situation Sarah Hoffman describes in her article gives many good examples of how people often react mindlessly, from assumption and prejudice, even when their intentions may be "good."  If you also read the comments readers have made that follow the article you will see more reactivity.  They are all based on some notion of what "normal" is.  

Based on years of many repeated experiences, it is my opinion that we do not have an accurate sense of what "normal" is, either individually or as a society.  We think we know what "normal" is, but we are wrong.

If possible, as you read the article, notice your own reactions, both physically (what happens in your body as you read?) and mentally/emotionally (what thoughts and feelings erupt?). Observe yourself without judgment.

I am also sharing this article because I work with a number of people who struggle with how their physical expression of themselves sometimes causes them pain and difficulty.  Ultimately, we all project something of ourselves by the way we walk, talk, and behave.  Alexander Technique helped me become comfortable in my body, after years of being taught, explicitly and implicitly, that I could not trust it and it was not beautiful.  Along with other habits of misuse, this was one of the more fundamental habits I was able to overcome through the patient and loving instruction of my teacher.

So now, enjoy, My Son, the Pink Boy.
I welcome your comments!


A Short Video Introduction to Alexander Technique

Here is an excerpt from a video of Marjorie Barstow in 1982, discussing and demonstrating the basic ideas at the core of the Alexander Technique. Notice the difference between the first way she picks up a book off the table, and the second way. It's an old video, so the quality has deteriorated slightly, but the quality of Marj's use of herself is as fresh as ever.
Perhaps the most important thing she says is that one has a choice about how to move and inhabit one's body.


Bold, Balanced Bodywork

Here is a reprint of an article I wrote for Energy Times (March 2005).  It's a nice general introduction to the Alexander Technique.

Bold, Balanced Bodywork
by Amy Ward Brimmer
     It’s a holistic movement experience that unifies body and mind—but it’s not yoga. It’s a fitness process that strengthens the body’s core support muscles—but it’s not Pilates. It helps you think more clearly and feel better about yourself—but it’s not psychotherapy. The teacher uses his or her hands to eliminate tension—but it’s not massage. What is it? The bodywork method known as Alexander Technique.
     For more than a century, people have been using the Alexander Technique (AT) to change the way they use their bodies to heal a variety of conditions, including neck and back pain, breathing and vocal problems, repetitive stress injuries, even mild depression and panic attacks. Typically taught in one-on-one sessions, AT is a unique hands-on method that solves physical problems at their source, rather than just treating symptoms. Through lessons, students discover how they unknowingly hold patterns of tension that limit movement and needlessly cause pain. AT provides a way to unhook from harmful habits and begin moving through life with more power and freedom.
Technique From an Actor
     The Technique was developed in the late 19th century by Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who was plagued by so many vocal problems while performing he eventually lost his voice. After standard medical treatments failed to help him, Alexander began self-observation and found he had excessive muscular tension in his neck while speaking. That led him to an epiphany: When the neck is free of excess tension, the head balances on top of the spine rather than compressing it. Since the spinal column is our core of support and energy, a lengthening spine allows the rest of the body to move freely, and movement becomes less strenuous and more integrated.
     Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Alexander thought so, until he tried not to tighten his neck when he spoke. He soon realized that muscular holding patterns are deeply ingrained, and it was necessary to first change how he was thinking before he spoke or moved. In other words, it’s not what we do, but how we do it that makes all the difference.
     We all have unconscious movement habits. Most of us use more force than necessary to perform the simplest tasks, such as opening a door or stirring a pot. We become accustomed to our way of sitting, standing and walking, unaware that these postural patterns are the root cause of much of our deep discomfort and pain. As you read this, are you aware of where your head is in relation to your spine? If you’re sitting, how are you sitting? What are your hands and feet doing? Did you choose this alignment of your body parts, or is it just a habit?
Teachers and Students
     Alexander Technique teachers are trained to shine a light on these unconscious habits by observing a student’s posture and movement patterns. They also gather information by “listening” to a student’s body, placing their hands gently on the body in a noninvasive way. At the same time, the teacher gives the student information with her touch, encouraging the release of restrictive tension and guiding the student into a new experience of freedom and ease in movement. Everyday activities such as standing, sitting and walking are explored, usually combined with deep release while lying on a table.
     Lessons take place in a low-tech environment without any special equipment. Clothing is not removed, nor is any special type of clothing required—although it is easier to move in loose-fitting clothes than, say, a suit and tie or tight jeans.
The Power to Change
     People take AT lessons for many reasons. Herniated disks bothered writer Jean Kuhn, especially after sitting at her computer all day. She tried yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy and chiropractic, all of which provided only temporary relief. She found that, rather than passively receiving treatment, AT lessons gave her the power to change what was happening to her at any given moment.
     “To me,” says Kuhn, “AT is about becoming conscious of how I’m holding—or not holding—tension in my body. It seems like I’ll use a muscle and when I’m done with it, I forget to ‘turn it off.’ Throughout the day I will check in with myself to see how I’m doing. If I feel tension anywhere, I can release it as I picture my body aligned and in balance.”
     Taking responsibility for personal change may seem daunting at first, but Kuhn found it surprisingly easy. “I don’t have to work as hard at good posture as I thought,” she says. “I can get to a point of balance that is practically effortless. In a way, if I’m working at it, chances are I’m still holding too much.”
     Less effort and more efficiency is the heart of AT, one of the reasons it has been embraced by performers and professional training programs throughout the world. Schools such as Julliard, Yale and London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts have a required AT component.
     “An actor needs to be able to fluidly transform into another character through movement, voice and emotional expression,” says Kim Jessor, senior teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique and an instructor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program. “The Technique teaches actors how to work without forcing, preventing strain and injury. They learn to conserve and efficiently use their energy, which prepares them for health and longevity in a demanding and often uncertain career. My experience with actors who have studied AT is that they are more responsive to themselves and their fellow actors, capable of greater subtlety, and give more compelling performances.”
     But one needn’t be an actor, dancer or musician to benefit from AT lessons. We all have daily tasks to “perform” and when we learn to recognize unconscious mental and physical blocks, we can release them. Letting go of excess tension redistributes energy for everything we do—from household chores to sitting at a computer, from giving a speech to giving birth, from performing on stage to playing on a field.
     Proponents of Alexander’s principles can apply them in many ways because AT isn’t a way to augment one’s experience, but instead is a process of elimination. All the harmful habits that interfere with our innate design fall away and movement becomes more efficient, balanced, light and easy. Says Jean Kuhn: “I like to explore and AT lessons allow me to remember what I once knew naturally. It’s as if I were on an archeological dig that uncovers the self I was born with.”


Article in local paper about Way Opens Center

I cannot believe I forgot to post this article here when it came out last month.  If you haven't seen it yet, please enjoy.  It was published in the Newtown Gazette.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Happy Groundhog Day!


New Year, New You?

This is the time of year when many of us begin to think about turning over a new leaf.  We make resolutions to change some bad habit we know is harming our well-being, begin a new program of exercise, or otherwise embark on a program of self-improvement. I'd like to make a radical suggestion: don't bother. It probably won't work (whatever it is).  What's more, it's not necessary.

I don't believe in "self-improvement," because I don't think we need to improve ourselves.  I think we are all just fine the way we are.  If anything needs improvement, it's the way we talk to ourselves about, well, our selves.

Does this mean you shouldn't quit smoking or cut back on your sugar intake?  No.  What I'm saying is that you are sufficient already, have amazing powers of intuition, empathy and creativity. In particular, your body-mind is nothing if not highly resilient.

I have to thank Dodinsky for reminding me of this.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this wonderful soul, Dodinksy has a Facebook page called The Garden of Thoughts, and he posts beautiful photos and little messages of positivity there.  He recently posted:

Do not sell yourself short by promising to be a better person. You have always been amazing. Recognition starts from within.

One of the principles of the Alexander Technique is that when we allow it, our systems operate beautifully, reliably, and dynamically. Alexander lessons provide the means to restore innate balance so that "the right thing does itself," as we like to say. And not even "restore" balance actually, but simply access it.  It's not like it's not there already. One component of the Alexander experience is the process of eliminating interferences -- unnecessary excess tension, misuse of various moveable body parts, application of excess force, dulling of the sense gateways, unconscious automatic thought patterns.  Once you get out of your own way, amazing things can happen, and often do.  

Okay, so that's a form of "improvement," I get that.  But to me, it's not the same as resolving to be a better  person. I find the whole "self-improvement" industry a little insidious, frankly. The underlying message I hear is that I'm not good enough; I'm broken and need fixing. Nope. (I have the same problem with fundamentalist Christian theology too, but that's for another blog.)  I have my flaws, but so does some of the most beautiful artwork ever created, and most of the living creatures on the planet. 

So if we're not improving ourselves when we study Alexander Technique, what are we doing?  Are we learning a new skill?  Well, sort of, but it's a skill we already possess, if only we knew it.  I sometimes describe it as waking up to myself, encountering my whole self in real time (i.e. now) and noticing how highly functional and able I really am. This takes consistent practice, so if we're improving anything it's our ability to recognize this inherent wellness.  

F. M. Alexander recognized it, or at least refused to sell himself short. A professional actor in late 19th-century Australia, he suffered from vocal problems. Doctors could not find a permanent solution to his problem and, as the story goes, finally one of them told F. M. that he just had a "weak" voice and would be better off choosing another profession. Luckily for us, he did not take kindly to this advice and had been raised to be self-determining (he also appears to have been a little arrogant, like me and maybe you), so instead of giving up his art and livelihood, he set about to understand his part in the whole situation. He discovered that his voice was not weak at all, but the way he had been using it masked how powerful it actually was.

I agree with Dodinsky that recognition starts from within.  Give yourself a little recognition, remember how amazing your body-mind is.  Let it do its thing.  Don't resolve to be a better person in 2011; just resolve to be.  Then go about the business of quitting smoking or losing weight or strengthening your core or whatever you think you should be doing more or less of.