I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s month-long meditation challenge. This is really fun. Every day she sends a link to a brief guided meditation. Although they are connected, each day the approach is a little different—walking meditation, meditations where you pay attention to your breathing, your thoughts and emotions.
My favorite so far was the eating meditation. My husband and I did this one together. I love eating and cooking, so I thought it would be easy. First, we were supposed to look at our food. My husband and I both stabbed some broccoli and garlic and raised it to eye level. We were both like, looked at the food, done, check! But there was a pause in the podcast. That continued. Causing us to actually Look At Our Food. At this point mine was just a tiny piece of garlic as the broccoli had fallen off, but I noticed the caramelized edge, the shiny surface, and that it was shaped like the state of Illinois. Next, we were to smell the food. (I re-stabbed the broccoli.) We both sniffed. Check, done! Another pause. We continued smelling and yes, hum, noticed the porcini mushroom oil, the thyme. Then (finally) we were to taste the food, and you guessed it, another pause, a long pause. And I found myself really tasting it (delicious!), and I thought of how life is like this. You think you’ve done it, but there is often a little (or a lot) more something you hadn’t quite noticed. How we need that nudge, and we go a bit further. So my husband and I continue to experiment with mindful eating, although not quite as slowly. The guided experience provided perspective. Thanks to Ms. Salzberg for her prompting.
I discovered Sharon Salzberg one night when I couldn’t sleep. I turned on the i-pad—against the rules, I know—and looked up guided meditation or some such. After passing on a couple of dreamy voices complete with bird sounds, I came across a podcast from the Rubin Museum in NYC (a fantastic immersive place of Himalayan art and culture, which I had visited by accident, on a trip to NYC.) Here was this calm, down to earth woman with a sense of humor, leading a long meditation. I thought, she is meditating also, as she’s guiding us. This is the real deal.
My friend and mentor, Alex Murray, at age 85 demonstrates the advantages of “going up” in this video clip. This is a spontaneous riff at the end of his talk on Raymond Dart and the Alexander Technique at the Freedom to Move Conference in NYC on May 16, 2014.
Alex talks about the Alexander Technique in a practical way, demonstrating going up on the toes, using your full height, full reach, and range of vision.
Mark Abley’s book Spoken Here is about languages that are becoming extinct. While reading it, I came across the idea that some languages are noun-driven and some are verb-driven. English is noun-driven. For example, we say “It rains” or “It snows”. We always add a subject or “acting entity,” regardless of whether one exists. Hopi is verb-driven. It has verbs without nouns. They would simply say “snows.” Abley raises the question, might it be easier to understand certain aspects of the natural world through a verb-driven language? He suggests that perhaps the “relativist discoveries of modern physics could be expressed more easily in Hopi than English.”
This made me think of human movement and the initial tendency many students have of seeing the Alexander Technique in static terms. For example students will often ask, “Where should I hold my shoulders? What is the right position for my head?” Or they might freeze, hold their breath, and ask, “Is this posture correct?” At the end of a lesson, when they feel long and light and loose, they might say, “Now, if I could just hold myself like this!” And I can see them start to stiffen.
The idea that we should hold ourselves in a static position is not accurate or realistic, but it is a very common view and contributes to the problems with strain and excess tension that so many people have. Abley’s book made me wonder if our noun-driven language could contribute to their prevalence.
When writing about the Mi’kmaq language, Abley quotes Harvard trained law professor Sake’j Youngblood Henderson: “the use of verbs rather than nouny subjects and objects is important; it means that there are very few fixed and rigid objects in the Mi’kmaq worldview…. To have to speak English is like having to put on a straitjacket.”
Part of the AT teacher’s job is to help their students think more dynamically. To look at “posture” for example, as a response in the moment, not something you can get or hold. Students learn a more dynamic way to balance and support themselves that replaces old habits of rigidity. For most people this is a new experience (or one they have not had since they were very small children) and a new way of thinking about themselves. The experience and the new language used to describe it reinforce each other.
Abley suggests that language affects how we perceive and experience the world. I think the same is true of how we move and think about movement. Language and habitual movement are so much a part of us we often don’t consider them. Examining these constructs can open the door to exciting and profound change.
Here is a funny video about the perils of the workplace and the benefits of an adjustable desktop: