“The interaction between feet and earth communicates information through
the whole body, and the whole body responds to the extent of this
relationship, giving rise to self-knowledge.”
–Stanley Keleman, The Human Ground
I had my first lesson in the Alexander Technique 33 years ago. The whole experience proved to be life-changing… but that’s a whole other story. Today, I want to talk about the theme of the BGB’s 10-day Actor’s Challenge: Letting Go.
The experience of “letting go” is one of the loveliest gifts of having lessons in the Alexander Technique. A lesson provides an ongoing stream of individual moments for letting go of tension, tension you might not even realize you have… until you consciously let it go.
Now this tension, tightening, constricting – it wasn’t always there. Tension can be a proper biological response to threat. Sometimes it is a quick freeze, getting really quiet to assess the options of meeting the threat head on, or getting the hell out of there.
If the threat is resolved, if it is followed by a sense of safety, muscles can relax and life goes on. The person goes back to being relaxed yet aware, going about the business of living yet supple enough to respond instantly if there is a subsequent threat.
Now, if a person experiences threat on a pretty regular basis, and there are no possibilities for fight or flight – like if you’re a kid in a dysfunctional household – then unconscious constriction that might give the perception of relative safety, becomes the default.
If we experience chronic stress as kids, we can sometimes keep the knowledge of why we tightened up in the first place in a secret compartment, a place where overwhelming and unresolved experiences are not accessible. Or maybe our memories are crystal clear. We just can’t seem to do anything about the tension. So, we’re just tight. It doesn’t feel like it’s something we are actually doing. We don’t know we’re doing it. We can’t feel that we’re doing it. It’s a drag, but that’s just us. Or is it?
But then a day might come when something doesn’t feel quite right. Like we realize that we don’t seem to trust our instincts or even our perceptions. Like we haven’t been spontaneous since we were 4 years old. Like we really suck at reading people. Like we are living in a constant state of anxiety. What’s that about?
That is until…
…until the time is right for looking inside and seeing what’s going on. I like to think of this as your past and your present getting together for coffee. As your past and your present start yakking away, they start to get curious about each other. That’s what an Alexander lesson is like: the past and the present are getting together for coffee. They are having a real dialogue. Back and forth. The past is the constriction we may or may not be aware of in ourselves, body and mind. In an Alexander lesson, the present is the experience of becoming aware of, and then letting go of, that constriction. This is a pure being-in-the-moment moment. Over and over and over.
—–F. M. Alexander [whose deep explorations of how people embody themselves became the Alexander Technique] had a series of phrases that he said to his students while he guided their awareness with his exquisitely delicate touch. The phrases go something like this: Let the neck be free, to let the head move forward and up, to allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen. His words and touch were designed to help the student notice and then let go of tension.
And so, with the help of a series of Alexander teachers that I studied with, and in the course of my training to become an Alexander teacher, I repeatedly had this lovely experience of letting go. Letting go of effort. Letting go of tension. This was accompanied by a delicious sense of inner spaciousness, a feeling that I wasn’t a collection of parts and pieces. I had an experience of wholeness in myself.[I was someone, me, standing on the earth, sending down roots from juicy legs and feet and simultaneously sprouting up from the earth to have a look around].
My awareness of myself expanded and spilled out to include the space around me.
I think one of the greatest things about practicing Alexander is that you develop the ability and the tools to become aware, and change your experience in the direction of less effort as often as you want. That means a lot of possible moments, every single day, to let go.
So as you think about letting go during this 10-day Actor’s Challenge, I invite you to deepen your connection to your body.
You might start by giving a little love to your legs and feet. They don’t need much. Just notice them. Say hi as the ground rises up to meet your foot with each step … or even every third or tenth step. See what those legs and feet are up to. See what they’re feeling. Is anybody home?
When they are present and accounted for, let your cheekbones float up, let your spine lengthen, let your back fill out. As you let go to ease up, take a look around and see what’s possible from here. Right here. Right now.
For more by Debby, check out her Letting Go videos on BGB T.V.
Become more familiar with the Alexander Technique and other useful tools to maximize your acting potential. Classes start now at the BGB Studio.