Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Widening My Practice

I begin my practice in an empty room within an old wood home.  As I noticed yesterday the window frames are so wide, a beautifully carved brown frame opening out into our world.  My case lies on the floor next to a chair.  I pause and inhibit my urge to open the case.  Where am I, I ask myself?  How wide are my feet on the floor?  Smiling as I think of Missy Vineyard, I use her take on the Alexander Technique with the negative direction - I am not holding onto my width.  Never good to get fixated on a notion of how to use myself nor how to direct my thinking.

As I bend to my case I direct my spine to be long as David Jernigan has urged me so many times in lessons.  My next thought - I am not holding onto my neck ... then I am not holding onto my desires.  Finally I open my case.  The good news is that I am much more present and aware of myself; the space I am in; and the intent of my practice than if I had not inhibited my act of opening the case.

As I begin to improvise I surprise myself with the direction the improv takes.  The thought how wide can I flow in my improvisation arises?  As I continue the improv, the habitual asserts itself, but now I see an opportunity to explore.  How wide can I stretch my knowledge of music theory?  How might I incrementally work on this?   I pause to jot down these questions.

As the day moves on and interactions with people accumulate I find myself asking - How wide is my acceptance of others?  Which led to how wide is my acceptance of myself?  Is there a difference?  Smiling as I notice that this path through "wide" is also deep.

Photo by Xubayr Mayo

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AT Lessons From My Surroundings

I've been practicing in different physical spaces the last few days and am finding the spaces or objects within them speaking to me of "wide." This thought of wide has not been from my actively directing my thinking via Alexander Technique but just arising from the environment in which I am playing.

In El's Hermitage, I notice a Buddha  carved from wood on the shelf, in a seated position with shoulders that were just wide.  Not stretched, not out of proportion just wide.  I paused to observe this, allowing this statue to inform me.  The space itself was adequate; not large by any means, just enough.  As I noticed this Buddha again,  I saw the "forward & up" of his being.  Perhaps my first AT lesson from a statue.

In the home of another friend I was provided with an empty room to practice within.  A carpet covering most of the wood floor and two windows with shades.  At one point, I noticed how wide the window was that I was facing.  Another piece of wood inviting me to allow my shoulders to be wide; which spread to my feet and  my right hand.  No need to fix nor hold any of the muscles in my body.   Allow the neck to be free, and all of me to be long & wide.   As I worked with a slow melodic phrase, I noticed how I could allow the rests between the notes to also "be wide."  No need to rush the next note, allow the space between notes to be as wide as needed, just as I can allow my back and shoulders to be wide.

The seeds of AT have been planted, nourished and arise in various ways.  Where will the next noticing arrive from?  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Be Wide

Practicing a difficult section this morning, I was proceeding slowly.  Noticing just what my hands are doing, or not.  As I continued this gentle exploration, I realized that I needed to widen my attention to what was my shoulders doing; what was my neck doing? How am I using myself?  A bit of hunkering down and in to tackle this "problem" - or in other words an illustration of "end gaining" manifesting in Patrick's body & mind.  I have seen this drawing down & in before thanks to the Alexander Techniques in a variety of situations.  Usually ones of difficulty, time pressure, or emotional upheaval.   Now thanks to noticing, I was able to pause, direct, & inhibit this hunkering down.

As I was playing the few bars leading up to this section, my thought was "go wide."  A succinct and distilled expression of AT inviting in a few precious moments of freedom from the mule of habits.  I need to be alive within this animal that I am, open to freedom in the moment of doing, directing how I use myself to play my instrument.  Certainly habits are useful, but awareness more so.  And new more efficient habits can be created, directed, and put in place.  But more important than any individual habit, is the need to continue to grow in awareness of how I am doing anything.  As I have known for years, how I do one thing, is how I do everything.  While new habits can manifest, this is not easy - practice, ongoing practice is the key.

Photo by Uncorrected Proofs.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Morning's Practice With the Alexander Technique

As I woke today, I noticed I was a bit scrunched up.  The urge and action to stretch while still in bed, was just about automatic.  As I stretched, I directed my thinking.  As I thought about length, I noticed something let go in the upper part of my neck and spine.  Alive I moved to sit on the the side of my bed.  Again I directed my thinking, first in the Alexandrian way and then in the directions pertaining to my life's aim's and aspirations.  Finding my breath I smiled.  A brief act to harmonize my body, thinking, and spirit.  Now truly alive I took my first step into the new day.

My morning practice awaits me, but this clear and certain awakening act of direction defines the day with clarity and certainty of my intentions.  This brief awakening, invites all of me and the world to move through this day with good directed use.  I will forget. I will need to begin again.  I will forget again.  With each remembering, a new pattern of habit emerges.  One based on principles and intentions.

Moments of opportunity await my awakening.  Waiting for my coffee to heat, can I return to myself and direct my use long and wide.  Moving from the dining room to the kitchen to retrieve my toast, I realize I am in motion without awareness.  I pause, breath, and direct my use.  Now I butter my toast with ease and awareness.  Moving back to the table encouraging my use along principles rather than habit.  As I type these lines I notice I am scrunching, so I pause again.  My wife awakes but before I leave to greet her, I will release myself from my stool with direction.  Slowly these early morning actions take on new life and form a foundation for how I will use myself today.

While driving to Sligo Creek for our Qi Gong class, I remember that even sitting in a car driving, I can direct my use.  Paused at a red light, I direct my thoughts of forward & up, long & wide.  Am I gripping the wheel or directing the motion of the car?  Several times during the class, where the movements we are working with are concerned with freeing our spines; it is easy to remember to direct my use between and during the movements.   Our teacher Master Li, reminds us to take care of our use as we sit at computers and other activities.  Again during this act of typing I pause to direct.  Gently, but persistently,  cultivating the relationship of my head, neck, and spine for freedom in motion and the long term health of myself.

Our nervous systems pass through our spines.  Unneeded stress on the spine will not only hamper our effectiveness in our motion, but also impact how our organs function.  We are beings designed to move, but most of us never receive proper education in how to move.  We imitate others who have poor use, use unnecessary force,  and corrupt our systems into harmful habits.  If fortunate we stumble upon the Alexander Technique and begin to reeducate ourselves.  If persistent and disciplined in out application we learn to be mindful of our thinking about moving, which cultivates effortlessness in our motion.  This awareness spreads throughout our day, throughout our lives.  Are you paying attention?  Pausing and inhibiting habitual activities?  Are you waking up?

Photo by Daniel Zedda.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Matka Boska

Seems like only yesterday since the phone call in the middle of the night from my Father.  He did not know how to say it, nor did I know how to hear him.  Yet he said it, and I heard him ever so deeply.  I'll never forget my Mother.  Later today, my wife & I will gather, light a candle, sit quietly.  I'll play Matka Boska, Blessed Mother, for Mom, for me, and for all Mother's and children.  I am ever so grateful for this life and the gift of Music that enlivens us all.  Mom bought me my first guitar, one much better than I deserved, but she could never say no to me.  What a gift she gave me - life and how to live with love.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mutiple Practices Supporting One Another

We had a wonderful Qi Gong session with Master Nianzu Li on the banks of Sligo Creek this morning.  The gentle energizing movements inviting me to be long & wide from a different perspective.  Between movements in Qi Gong there is a pause, an opportunity to practice what Master Li refers as Triple Regulation.  During this time we check in with our body, mind and breath and relax or engage what is needed.  Frequently I use this pause as an opportunity to direct my thinking via the Alexander Technique.  Allowing the directions to release my neck, back and limbs.  This correlates with me with an ancient Chinese aphorism Ei Dao, Qi Dao - where the mind goes, the Qi goes.

After breakfast I did 30 minutes of organizing and then began my guitar practice.  I love the opportunity to practice in the early morning, especially after such an energizing Qi practice.  I began improvising simple melodies and playing with where they took me.  After this I decided to play through a piece I know well as a warm up, but to play it louder than I normally would.  The twist here being that I wanted to pay attention to my use as I played loud.  Pausing to direct via the Alexander Technique,  I began to play loud.  Why did my right elbow tense as I played loud?  Then I noticed unnecessary tension in my right shoulder, most likely arising from within my neck.  All because of playing loud?  Does loud really require that much force?  Was part of this some type of emotional blockage arising?

When the piece was over, I thought it was good to direct via the Alexander Technique again and let go.  Moving onto working with a tremolo piece - Senseless Loss.  I worked up to where I can play this at a tempo of 76 accurately.  I played through it once and then moved the metronome up to 80 and just played the  last few bars.  Then I put the metronome at 84 and played the same few bars without success.  I back off to a setting of 82 and then recalled an exercise from Pedro de Alcantara's wonderful book  Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks).  On the second beat of each measure you insert a rest.  I began working with the ending in this manner for the next 20 minutes until I could successfully play the ending.  I took a break and then resumed this work but added in a few more bars.  When this was successful I went back to a tempo of 80 and played the entire piece.  I smiled at how easy this happened.  By tackling the ending first the rest fell in place effortlessly.

After this I did a 15 minute Alexander Technique lie down.  I noticed just a little bit of tension around the middle of my spine and back.  Slowly the muscles released as did this discomfort.  Back to the guitar.  I turned on the tape machine to play through 3 pieces I've been working with.  Midway through the second piece I lost my focus and turned off the recorder.  Pausing and directing once again, I again turned on the machine.  Does turning on the tape machine turn on my internal chatter or do I just notice the chatter more?  Though not flawless I did make it through this time. 

I am grateful that I have these wonderful practices of music, Qi Gong, Meditation, and the Alexander Technique that all support one another and me.  Life is very very good.