I teach Alexander Technique privately and to groups of actors and dancers. I’ve been given a GREAT CHALLENGE by one of my private students, a “retired” pastor named Steve. I put retired in quotes because he is one of the most active people I know.
Steve asked me after his lesson today – ” Clare, I canʻt stop thinking about how much this work could help my group at Greenhaven Prison. How can I share some of this energized thinking and movement you are doing with THEM?” Steve runs weekly support groups for prisoners who want to make a smooth and successful transition from prison back to the outside world. (For more information on his work, check out his book Prison Transformations.)
We were working that day on expanding Steve’s ability to energize his body all the way from the top of his spine to the ends of his fingers and toes – as opposed to the kind of general “relaxation” that he is more familiar with, that can’t really be applied to movement and action. In the Alexander Technique we call this “sending directions” to the body. Steve is not an Alexander Teacher, but he has been studying with me for many years and he really loves and relies on the work to keep him active and mobile.
Iʻve now promised to create some movement experiments and meditations for Steve to share. This is the third time he has asked me. He just wore my resistance down! But there are huge limitations: he is not allowed to to touch them, and they are not allowed to touch each other. They canʻt lie on their backs to relax, and they canʻt really move about the room freely. So how can I help a bunch of guys I will never meet and cannot touch to have a more expansive, movable sense of their bodies? How can I create through words and images, some kind of powerful invitation for them to explore the time and freedom that they DO have available to them in their very limited circumstances?
Here is the first meditation that I could think of:
Imagine that you are in a closed, narrow space – like a barn stall – with a scared horse. If you want to invite the horse to calm down, you need to use your whole body to express that wish – because the horse only understands movement and sound, not language. You would need to be very calm, very quiet, very soft and open, breathing easily and fully. You would need to have a sense of rest and calm in yourself. If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes and ask your body what how you can us it to send a calming message to this horse. See if you can ask your whole self, from your head, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, hands and even fingertips….. chest, belly, hips, legs, knees, feet and toes….). After you’ve had time to hear your whole body’s answer, open your eyes.
Imagine the movement that the horse might make once it realizes you are not a threat. Its eyes, its ears, its beautiful neck and spine. How it might dip its head down towards the ground in a bowing motion, allowing its spine to lengthen, bringing the weight of the whole animal forward towards you. The movement of its ribs as it breaths. The switch of its tail. How does it move?
No animal, including humans, responds well to being in a limited space. Every instinct is against this. Yet often we find ourselves in just such a circumstance. The next time you are in a closed space, try this meditation and observe how your body responds. Let me know how it works! I want to rise to the challenge my student has given me!