New Years Resolutions: Here’s What I’m Thinking

2017 is a new year.  January is on the calendar and it always seems to ask the question “how do I want to improve myself this year, how can I make life better for myself and my loved ones.  A certain evaluation process is usually calling.

Or, at the other end of the continuum, “how can I stop suffering, ruminating, having regret,  you fill in the blank.” 

It’s an interesting stimulus that we deal with every year as the calendar ticks up one number. I always wondered why it seemed to be such a chore. I stopped making them because it didn’t feel authentic.  New Year’s Resolutions seemed like the Hallmark version of self-improvement. 

But that didn’t seem to work either, because I felt compelled to improve my life in the new year. It’s difficult to escape the nudge because we hear about New Years Resolutions, talk about it, and blog about it (here, for example!)

If everyone is buzzing about making resolutions and many of us make them, it seems natural to be swept along into thinking along these lines.

This quote from Walter Lippmann, an American journalist and political commentator offers a contrast:

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.

I love this because it brings me back to an awareness of myself as I am right now without obligations born out of a duty to conform….

even unknowingly.

In Alexander speak, there is a wonderful phrase that I often use in my lessons with students that gets to the root of mindfulness and the means to change something that doesn’t work anymore.

“We are setting up the conditions whereby the right thing does itself”

If I decide to live in this moment fully I am setting up conditions whereby authenticity reins and habit, conditioning and limiting thoughts fall away.

So, for 2017 my goal is not to specifically work on anything, e.g. stop chewing gum, reacting habitually to a trigger, tensing up, or any number of other list detailing changes I think I should make.

My goal is to take my advice to others and embrace the organic, habit reducing, free breathing condition, that will be the fundamental basis of all the other stuff I want to change.

If you have signed up to receive my “10 Steps to Competition Greatness” you will have a taste of  this process which can be used in your daily life.

And Happy New Year!!

Please share your ideas about NYR’s.  What works, what doesn’t work.  Or maybe you ignore them………

THE THREE TRUTHS OF OUR DESIGN

 

  1. We are designed as a uniquely coordinated, organized structure.
  2. We acquire interferences with our design through habits.
  3. We can become aware of these interferences and learn to think ourselves back to our inherent design.

The question is what do we think?  What thinking allows us to effect our design in an efficient manner.  Conversely, should we do something?

It comes a slippery slope when we decide to use our already habituated self  in a physical manner to make positive change.  What are the cues that we often utilize to attempt to modify our habit that is already interfering?  HINT:  The cues are our habits.  Bummer.

So back to the dilemma:   How to change our inefficient habits into something that reflects our inherent design without using those same familiar, but clearly ineffective habits

In the course of learning, for example, a cha cha routine I was still struggling with the cha cha style. There was so much going on, one (hip action), two (hip action), cha cha cha (thank God no hip action on this one)! 

It was so easy to forget that my most important action, in this complex endeavor , was to maintain my WHOLE body as an organizing element.  If I stopped tightening the parts of my body that did not contribute to a good cha cha, I could manage the various hip actions/non hip action components that created the rhythm and physical movements required to produce a coordinated cha cha.

I noticed that facing challenges, (i.e. cha cha), provoked an insidious invitation to tighten in places that don’t contribute one bit to a free expression of what I was doing.

I’ve learned that the way around this is to think of what I want instead of my tightening habit, e.g. let my neck be easy, my breathing to continue and my attention to be expansive.

Sending those signals is effectively reducing the tightening habits and viola!, a new foundation is leading the way towards less extraneous tension and more ease .  AND strength. 

I often think about the simple analogy; a building is not structurally sound without a good foundation. 

Our bodies are marvels of design and the most talented, hard working, facilitated dancers among us have issues of interference that can be addressed by learning new thinking skills.

Marjory Barstow, a student of F. M. Alexander aptly said; “ You have to do the brainwork”.

As a ‘hard working” dancer, what a relief it was to stop doing so much and start thinking more.

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Buddha says “Wake Up!”

 

buddha

Really?

When I first began ballroom training, I was obsessed with remembering steps, the shape of those steps and anticipating the intention of my teacher.  He most definitely lead and I was to follow.  It was all about sensing the lead and responding accordingly.  Yet, I worried about this and continually anticipated his intention, often with disconnected results….It was quite a job embracing being open to change wherever that took us.

I longed for the days when a choreographer would set a piece on a group of us in ABT.  We learned it, practiced it and knew EXACTLY what was coming next.  No surprises.

Later after suffering for a long time with this uncertain lead and follow, we started doing open routines and showcases.  The dances were choreographed and I knew EXACTLY what was coming next. This was comforting, but I soon learned that knowing the choreography does not mean that the audience/judges/viewers should see that you know what is coming next.

I learned that no matter whether you know what is coming next or not, being present in the moment is key.  The moment, well played and honored is luxurious and authentic and most certainly more enjoyable, for me and, I presume, those watching.  Our teachers speak about the importance of connection and when I allow myself to pay attention, without rushing to the next movement, the connection is seamless and organic.   This is what draws the audience in.

Being present means that you are opening up to all your senses:  sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste (should you have had that mint?)  Our kinesthetic or proprioceptive sense reminds us where our arm is relation to our body.

In my meditation classes I have learned that enlightenment comes at the heels of awakening to all our senses.  From where I am as a relatively new student of meditation,”Wake up” became, well, a wake up call that ease, enlightenment,calm, and that elusive peace was more about waking up than dropping back and shutting out.

I love it when new realizations align with older ones.  What I have learned from meditation has reinforced strengthened,  and enhanced  those skills.  F.M Alexander acquired buckets of these skills after observing himself for years with a 3-way mirror and discovering that he was unable to deflect his compressive habit in favor of staying in the moment.He discovered that there is a unique organization of the head/neck/spine that relates to all the parts of the body  His discovery is easily applied to our partner to partner connection – key to experiencing the beauty of seamless and uninterfered with movement.

F.M.’s discovery was such an important part of my understanding of movement.   I learned how WAKING UP to the moment and being aware of inefficient muscular habits netted many benefits.  I’ll be talking more about this in my next blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorting out Good Ballroom Posture…..

When I was a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theater, people would come up to me and ask “are you a dancer? and then immediately “you have such good posture.” I would reply “yes”, and “thank you”.

When I was a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theater, people would come up to me and ask “are you a dancer? and then immediately “you have such good posture.”  I would reply “yes”, and “thank you”. I felt content that in fact I had good posture.  But that compliment was always tied with “are you a dancer?”

Hmm…

When I stopped dancing professionally and started to teach ballet, I continued to be that dancer that “had good posture”, yet I was unwittingly passing along the model of an over straightened  spine  to my students.  At the same time, I was experiencing intense neck and shoulder pain. My spine was braced and operating by habit, acting as if I was still a professional ballet dancer, and not responding to conventional treatments. My anxiety about this was building and became another daily challenge.

The reality is that most of us dancers have an idea about posture that involves way too much muscular tension.

And I was an excellent example of this.

It wasn’t until I started looking for both relief for my neck pain and a more organic way to look at posture that I bumped into F. M. Alexander’s discovery.  Rethinking the relationship between my head neck and spine was a revelation. I was soon pain free and decided to train as an Alexander Technique teacher.

Since that time, I have studied Ballroom dancing for the past 12 years, in particular American Rhythm and International Latin.  There is no question that had I not changed my impression of “good posture” I would not have been able to continue lessons all these years, win competitions and find the enjoyment  in moving.

Is there a special posture that we apply to ballroom versus walking down the street, waiting in line at the market, singing or playing a musical instrument?

We have all been taught by our awesome teachers that there is a specific angle of the head, or an element of body positioning that is required to evoke tango, salsa, waltz or rumba.

However, I have learned that good  posture is based on the architecture of our bodies, the support of the spine, muscles, ligaments and tendons  that help to move our amazing structure.  But HOW to coordinate this in an efficient manner is what I have learned over the years.

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