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Friday Five: Resolutions and Absolutions Edition

Resolutions:
I’m playing a belated Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals on Resolutions:

Before: My Dining Room Table Desk
Before my Desk
The Corner: Before my Desk

 

1. In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

In 2012, I wanted to make space for my business.   I took an online class in getting organized from the Artbiz Coach, Alyson Stanfield.  She asked us to take before pictures, and then create a space where we could work on our business.  Stratoz encouraged me to get a standing desk, so I could get away from all the sitting, and so I commissioned Dave and Mindy Spray of Creative Wood Designs by DAMI.  Dave measured the corner, and my height from elbow to floor and worked with me to create a desk that fit me.  I am amazed and how standing makes it easier for me to organize, to make to-do lists, and feel at ease rather than hunched over the dining room table with piles of stuff.  My desk has a big drawer, storage under the drafting top, and a flat area for a pencil cup.

Standing Desk from Creative Wood Designs by DAMI
Standing Desk from Creative Wood Designs by DAMI.

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual?

Discovering the Alexander Technique as a way to find more ease in my movement and in the studio was wonderful in 2012, and now I want to incorporate the idea of “constructive rest” into my daily life, and rest breaks while I am working in the studio, which is part of having compassion for myself.  F.M. Alexander, originator of the technique, believed that we are a unity of mind and body that makes up the self, that English doesn’t have a word to describe this whole unity of the physical-mental-emotional-spiritual self.

3. What is one thing you hope your family will do differently this year,  ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

More art and jazz dates with Stratoz.  We both tend to lack momentum in getting out of the house, or are busy with craft shows, but when we go on a date it’s awesome.

4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year?

Stratoz attends the church on the corner, and there’s a new rector who just arrived in September, after an 8 year search.  I know people from this congregation than any one I ever was a member of, and they have a welcoming spirit, and I hope they find ways of being emboldened in sharing this welcome with the community.

Absolutions:

5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are assured of.

I want to be gentle with my body, and give myself enough rest, and the opportunity to release tensions that accumulate in my muscles.  I want to have compassion for myself, and rest in the idea that there is no “perfect”, and to practice letting go of tasks before I “feel done” with them.

Related:

10 Ways to a More Ergonomic Mosaic Studio

Rest and Repeat Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs.

Taking Time to Rest: Alexander Technique’s Constructive Rest as a Way to Release Tensions for the Artist at Work

Rest and Repeat Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs.
Rest and Repeat Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs.

I made a quarter note rest, which in musical notation is a sign to be silent for one beat.  Stratoz designed and cut out the pieces of the rest sign, and then I flowed around it with green glass, and as I worked, I had the idea to make repeat signs in the corners, rest, repeat, rest, repeat.  I was smitten with it, and tempted to keep it in my studio as a reminder to take breaks.

Alexander Teacher Imogen Ragone wrote about The “Restorative Niche” and Constructive Rest.  Imogen had read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and was taken with Cain’s idea of a Restorative Niche, a place you got to return to your true self, and how it resembled the the idea of Constructive Rest in the Alexander Technique, also known as Active Rest or Semi-Supine: lying down in a position that allows you to let the tension in your body release.

I am an introvert, and being alone is a way to restore my energy.  I enjoy being with people, whether over for pizza or conversations over coffee, but if I don’t give myself time to recharge, I am quickly exhausted.

I came across some images of sculpture by Sean Henry which makes Constructive Rest larger than life.  “Catafalque” at Salisbury Cathedral is bronze with oil paint and brings a meditative sense of the wider world while yet being grounded in the self.  Henry has created sculptures of people seated, lying down, sitting, and they have a kind of quiet, considered, contemplative quality.

I remember reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s assertion that it’s helpful to spend some time on the floor each day.  It is a reorientation of the body that can also reorient the mind.  I often found it difficult to find a comfortable position on the floor because it was hard on my back, but Constructive Rest allows my body a way to be at ease.

Catafalque (2003) Sean Henry bronze sculpture at Salisbury Cathedral 208 x 394 x 194 cm
Catafalque (2003) Sean Henry bronze sculpture at Salisbury Cathedral 208 x 394 x 194 cm

 

I found drawings by Julia Kay on Flickr.  The one below is called “Active Rest” and I love the dark blue watercolor that feathers into lighter shades down to the feet, a visualization of releasing all the held places, as we let the floor hold us.

Active Rest: 2008.04.18

One of the most difficult things for me is taking breaks.  When I am working on mosaics in the studio, I have years of habits that are so a part of me that I don’t even notice them, both physical and mental.  I often feel a need to finish something once I’ve started it, even if my body hurts or has tensed up.  I also have a belief, that is slowly being altered, that once I have tension in my body there’s no way to let go of it and I need to forge ahead.  Through my Alexander Lessons I am learning that I can let go of tensions,  if I offer my body the opportunity.

Lying Down for Back Pain Relief, Imogen Ragone.
Lying Down for Back Pain Relief, Imogen Ragone.

 

I’ve been adding Constructive Rest to my day, after a stretch in the studio or at the computer, and especially after grouting.  I lay down on the bedroom floor and rest my legs up on the bed.  This lets my lower back release completely.  I put a book under my head that helps release my neck, neither scrunched upward or downward.  Imogen has a photo on her blog of this version, which is a possibility if your back is troubling you.

More images on my Pinterest Board Alexander Technique and Ease in the Art Studio.

 

 

 

Suspended Harmonies: Fiber Art by Ted Hallman at the Michener Museum, Artist and Alexander Teacher

Ted Hallman Suspended Harmonies
Suspended Harmonies: Lederach artist Ted Hallman finally lands first installation at Michener Museum – Souderton Independent – Montgomery News

 

At my Alexander Technique lesson, my teacher, Ted Hallman, gave me a Christmas card with a photo of one of his fiber sculptures on the front and inside inscribed, “It’s a different tree this year 2012.”  Stratoz and I went to see Ted’s installation, Suspended Harmonies at the Michener Art Museum, which abounds with trees knotted and woven around steel armatures and suspended by line at the ceiling.  Stepping into the Pfundt Gallery, you are enveloped by the work, and surrounded by a tracery of shadows on the walls.  Trees are a symbol of what can grow in gravity.  Ted likes to remind me of this upwardness, and how our bodies like this, as opposed to pulling down, or collapsing.

In 2011, I started Alexander lessons, in the midst of back pain, and difficulty working in my studio.  Visual imagery has been an important part of my learning, either by watching how Ted moves and stands, and in searching for images that evoke the ease of being in alignment, and realizing my strength comes from the back of the body, rather the front in my old habits of leaning over and hunching.  I started collecting images on my Alexander Technique and Ease in the Art Studio Pinterest Board.  I have received positive responses to this, and recently Robert Rickover at Body Learning wrote about visual depictions of AT.

If you are going to be in the Doylestown, PA area, consider checking out Ted Hallman’s Suspended Harmonies.  And when you see trees, remember their ease, and as they grow toward the sky.

Suspended Harmonies: Fiber Art by Ted Hallman, James A. Michener Art Museum through March 3rd, 2013.

Margaret Peot: Artist, Costume Painter, Writer

The Creation of the World According to Birds, 16 x 20, Margaret Peot, 2008
The Creation of the World According to Birds, 16 x 20, Margaret Peot, 2008

Looking for Margarets has led to me to so many interesting women, but I found Margaret Peot because of looking for images about the Alexander Technique on Pinterest, and she had an Alexander board.  Fortunately for me, Margaret Peot also had a board of her woodcut art, and in looking for more about her, I also discovered she works as a Costume Painter at Parson-Meares, LTD, for Broadway shows.  Such awesomeness to know there is such a job as painting costumes!  Check the costume fabulousness on her site, from mermaid scales for Bette Midler, a suit of flames for David Byrne, and fur for Flying monkeys.

Margaret Peot is also an author of books about making alternative journals and cards, ink blot art, and The Successful Artist’s Career Guide.  In an interview on ArtistsNetworkTV, she mentions her mother’s recollection that Margaret would say she was going to be an artist until she was 40, and then write books, and this has come true.

More Margarets on my Margarets Pinterest Board.

Ted Hallman at his loom

Ted Hallman: The Alexander Technique in the Art Studio

Ted Hallman's 'The Inner Tree'
The Inner Tree, c. 1977. Ted Hallman, American, born 1933. Knit acrylic yarn, steel, 90 x 63 1/2 x 30 3/4 inches (228.6 x 161.3 x 78.1 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

 

In November, my back began paining me, and I had some difficulty with putting on my socks, let alone being in the mosaic studio.  I was in distress, both physically, and emotionally, wondering if my transition to full time in the studio since 2010 was contributing to my back pain.  I remembered my choir director mentioning the Alexander Technique, and searched for teachers online.  Serendipitously, there was an Alexander  teacher only 1/2 hour away, who is also an artist.  Ted Hallman has been creating innovative textile art since the mid 20th Century.

Currently, one of Ted’s fiber sculptures is on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Perelman Building. The Inner Tree is eloquently described by Rebecca Saionz, “Knotted acrylic yarns over steel armature form a tree whose branches have a netted basket-like quality.  The piece assumes a striking fragility, neither holding itself up, nor completely dangling from the ceiling.”   Stratoz and I went to see it last month, and I was struck how the sculpture conveyed a sense of what I experience in Alexander lessons, the concept of feet rooted on the ground, and the head up, as if with the help of invisible threads.  I like the image of an inner tree reaching for the sky, while rooted in the earth.

Hallman-Water-Lily-Pads_525
Ted Hallman, “Water Lily Pads,” 1964 (MAD/Ted Hallman)

Alexander teacher, Robert Rickover, invited me to record an interview about my experience with the Alexander Technique as an artist, and I was glad to be able to share some of what has helped me become aware of how I am using my body, and the possibility of ease in the studio.  Robert maintains an extensive website called The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique, which is a great place to start to learn more, as is his  Alexander Audio with specific applications of the technique.

For visual enjoyment of Alexander concepts, check out my Alexander Technique Pinterest Board.

Ted Hallman at his loom
Ted Hallman at his loom

 

The Inner Tree on display in the Secret Garden exhibit in Philadelphia through July 2012.

 

Margaret Goldie(1905-1997): Teacher of the Alexander Technique

Margaret Goldie with F.M. Alexander from mouritz.co.uk, 1.06. UniversalConstant
Margaret Goldie with F.M. Alexander

Margaret Goldie(1905-1997), was a first generation teacher of the Alexander Technique(AT).  She’s pictured here with F.M. Alexander, the persistent studier of himself, and of the ways we move by habit, and how these habits can cause us difficulties and pain.  I started AT lessons when my back was complaining about how I was working in the studio.  When I discovered Margaret Goldie’s name, I tried to find a photo, and after searching, this is the only one.  Miss Goldie(as she was called), didn’t want any photos taken of her teaching, and published no books(see Miss Goldie: A Little for the Record.)

Alexander developed his technique of “good use” of the body through his relentless observations of his own movements after repeatedly losing his voice while doing public speaking.  He started taking students, and these students then started various schools of AT.  Miss Goldie was not one to turn her teaching into an industry.  She wanted people to experience the same kind of awareness that Alexander found for himself, and that she found for herself.  She left a distinct impression on her students, who often write of being both awed and scared of her.  John Hunter writes of his experience with Miss Goldie:

This brings us to decision. If we have choice, then we have to make a decision. It is here that many of us get stuck. In my first or second lesson with Margaret Goldie she said, ‘Now I am going to ask you to make a decision, and it will be the first decision you’ve ever made.’ At the time I found this a very strange thing for her to say. Had I not been making decisions all my life? Had I not decided that very day to get out of bed and come and have a lesson with her? This is a very interesting question. We assume that because we end up taking one course of action rather than another that we have made a decision. But is that the case? My suspicion is that we have merely acquiesced to impulses following the path of least resistance.

This moment of freedom, before we act out of habit, is powerful.  I see glimpses of it when observing myself, but there are many habits entrenched in how I move, and I get frustrated with all I need to notice, like the proverbial onion, layer after layer.  I am learning it is not about “doing” Alexander, but about letting my body go into the positions of most ease.  As Fiona Robb quotes Margaret Goldie(as cited in Robert Rickover’s article on Miss Goldie) :  ”Any doing is an overdoing.”  I like that.

 

More Margarets at my Margarets Pinterest Board.

My new Alexander Technique Pinterest Board.

Miss Goldie: Teacher of the Alexander Technique by Robert Rickover

10 Ways to a More Ergonomic Mosaic Studio: The Art of Working with Pain

1.  Set a timer, preferably in another room.  I set the timer for 20 minutes, 10 if it’s something very intricate, and walking down the hallway to turn it off helps me be more mindful of my body.   A  5 minute break every hour doesn’t do it for me.  Yes, at first frequent breaks interrupted my flow, but now they are thoroughly part of it.

2.  Take a shoulder break by putting a 2 soft balls or empty 16oz water bottles, or small rolled up towels under my arms(anywhere from the pit to nearer the elbow) for a few minutes.  This position allows my shoulders to rest while different muscles are engaged, and I can keep mosaicing. The first time I read about this in Franklin’s Relax your Neck, Liberate Your Shoulders, I couldn’t imagine it helping, but it felt great.  I look funny, but, oh well.

3.  Wear a padded glove on your nipping hand.  I wear a Sammons Preston Rolyan anti-vibration glove

4.  Work on several different projects to vary the types of tasks I am doing.  Invariably, too much of one thing, whether it be nipping, gluing or grouting, increases my pain levels.

5.  Remember to breathe.  When I’m focusing intensely, I tend to hold my breath, and tense my muscles.

6.  Take a day off from the studio.  Yes, I love making mosaics.  Yes, I have orders to fill.  But to sustain my craftsmanship in the long term, I need to give my body a chance to decompress.

7.  Stand up to nip and glue.  This may not work for everyone, that’s the nature of ergonomics, not one size fits all.  But for me, having a tall drafting table and standing as I work allows me to get better leverage with nipping, using the big muscles in my arms and shoulders rather than just my hands.

8.  Lift up your work to avoid crafters’ hunch.  I elevate my work in progress on a box on top of my drafting table.  Sometimes I sit down to work, if standing is getting uncomfortable, and use a drawing table with an adjustable top, and elevate the surface to an angle just enough to get a better view without the tesserae sliding off.  If you glue the bottom row first, that can catch any errant pieces.

9.  Invest in a hammer & hardie.  This traditional mosaic cutting tool is an alternative to wheeled mosaic nippers, and you can cut chunks of smalti with the tap of the hammer.  The more types of tools, the options you have.

10.  Consult a physical or occupational therapist who can guide you with appropriate exercises and adaptations.  I had an overzealous day with scissors several years ago when I was making collages, and woke up unable to extend my pointer finger.  A hand therapist was instrumental in helping me protect my hands.

 

Related Posts

Margaret Goldie: Teacher of the Alexander Technique

Ted Hallman: The Alexander Technique in the Art Studio

An Artist’s Experience with the Alexander Technique:  Interview with Robert Rickover