"Learning how to breathe calmly and remaining in a state of relative physical relaxation, even while accessing painful and horrifying memories, is an essential tool for recovery... Since emotional regulation is the critical issue in managing the effects of trauma and neglect, it would make an enormous difference if teachers, army sergeants, foster parents, and mental health professionals were thoroughly schooled in emotional regulation techniques...
Traumatised people are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators (who, hopefully, are no longer around to hurt them) but their own physical sensations that are now the enemy. Apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind shut...Their sensory world is largely off limits"
The Body Keeps the Score - Bessel Van der Kolk ....
Breathe for a change
For nothing stays the same
Constantly moving and transforming I move, inviting you to be with me
To explore your freedom
as I explore mine
Where my arms ride the ebb and flow of my breath
My bones hum with sound and intention hurtling towards healing and hope
Breathe when it hurts
Wounds that will heal over time
Scar tissue transmuting (into music)
New pathways that grow and emerge
Breathe because you can’t not
The only thing I would like you to stop doing, is getting in the way of yourself
So you can breathe again
You were born to breathe and burble and babble like a brook
Breathe in for joy, bathe in the glow of laughter, and ride the breath into silence
When I think about the embodied language of movement that I use for myself, in the practice room, in the teaching space with my students, in the world of imagination and possibility of dynamism in movement – it is not language with a simple and precise meaning. Meaning becomes three dimensional, augmented with sounds, music, or movement, taking on a life of its own.
Hence why writing about Alexander Technique (AT) can feel very clumsy and imprecise – as the words would change depending on who I am with, and how they respond – whether they are a fuzzy or precise thinker, and what information they need/are in search of. Moving towards a students’ goal together, and creating new language in each new moment we have, helps us to communicate better with ourselves and each other.
A brief tangent:
Last week, at Queenscliff beach (after they opened up the beaches again) I was unceremoniously dumped by a set of waves which took me by surprise. It wasn’t the first wave that got me down, but the third or fourth when I wasn’t able to get air in between. When I freaked out and ‘fought’ the wave, things didn’t work out so well and I ended up swimming into the crest of the next wave, spinning further and tumbling down again – when I really wanted to be above water! Whilst I managed to surface safely when I ‘gave in’ to the fact I’d just have to keep rolling with the limited air I did get to inhale for a brief millisecond, it was a dramatic way to be reminded of how it is not the initial drag down that is hard to handle, but the multiple additional ‘bad waves’ that add up and lead to trouble, and in some cases, literally keep you under for the worse.
Coming out of that experience, I'm in a phase of renewed love and appreciation for every full breath I have more than ever right now, not least because breath is a big part of what powers the flute, but also because it powers me - the original instrument. I am very much enjoying continuing to explore the extreme capabilities of my own breath via my music practice, and reading books such as Van Der Kolk's, whose research on mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma affirms the emotional-regulation work that I do with Alexander Technique. Nevertheless, something which I don’t get tired of is being astounded by how we move with each breath!
As part of my continued resource-creating, writing about Alexander Technique for musicians for this year, I am thinking that the most sustainable way to move forward is to keep providing a variety of perspectives on learning and teaching, because knowing how each of us move/learn in different ways, I know that our words together might provide more insight than mine alone! Whilst I am teaching, I am constantly receiving feedback, ideas and ways to express movement for the next student. This process is so perfectly expressed by another student perspective which I received to share this week:
“Practicing Alexander Technique has also significantly improved my posture, as well as my centre of gravity when singing, as I tend to lean to one side and lock my knees which then inhibits my breathing and results in jaw tension. Particularly when I am trying to put movement into my performance, I tend to go off-balance, so my posture and the knee-locking becomes gradually worse. In order to correct this, I experimented with many of the exercises Chloe gave to us during the lectures such as walking with our head so that our body follows which leads to an aligned spine without our hips or torso twisting to disconnect the spine from the neck and clavicular region...
In order to incorporate a means of practicing Alexander Technique that emulated and equated to the amount of thinking I am doing while performing, I found in the reading from Cathy Madden on Alexander Technique that AT can be described as dressage horse riding for humans. As I ride horses and have ridden dressage in the past; this for me, helped considerably in putting AT into perspective. Madden goes on to say that relieving tension in the horse prior to the test to supple their neck and back is crucial to the horse’s form and gait. As an exercise, I thought it might be an unusual but helpful and effective technique to practice a short dressage test on foot, while concurrently practicing AT posture and form. I would “supple” beforehand by doing head and neck stretches/rolls and walking the test with my head leading and body following, in order to practice a method of practicing Alexander Technique that involves thinking about a task I am doing whilst simultaneously integrating correct posture and form. As a result of this experiment, it is becoming increasingly easier to find freer movement when I am singing. I have even progressed to singing while I do the exercise at the same time. My knees are no longer locking up when I am standing still and the tension in my jaw is gradually disappearing due to a more centred stance when I am singing.” Thanks to Jemima, AIM music student, singer, and horse-rider, for sharing.
I hope the sum of this blog has you breathing for change through your day, with me, today!
Chloe For more information on Alexander technique, I’m offering weekly classes from Jan 2021 (online and live). You can email me for any inquiries. This article was written with the support of the City of Sydney Cultural Resilience Grant – support for artist and arts workers 2020-2021. Illustration by Liz Cheung.