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‘Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.’

– Lao Tzu Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

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“It’s our choices, Harry,
that show us what we really are…
far more than our abilities.”

~ Albus Cumbledore from ‘ Harry Potter’ by J K Rowling ~

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that
you too can become great.”

~ Mark Twain ~


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Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness –- shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor studied her own stroke as it happened — and has become a powerful voice for brain recovery.

See how she speaks about the right brain as a receptor for energy and the beauty of one-ness experienced through the right hemisphere. Did you know that a practice of Chi Kung improves the functioning of the right brain?

by Naomi Shragai

In our culture today the connection between physical and emotional problems is gaining currency. Surprisingly, the best answer to coping with the stresses of life is by using a hands-on approach that straightens the body. This technique can help in balancing moods, changing behavioural patterns and managing life’s challenges.

To most people the Alexander Technique is a method of improving posture or relieving backache. However, the emotional and psychological benefits have convinced many to continue lessons long after their aches and pains have disappeared. Hilary, a 38-year-old barrister from North London, gained enormous psychological benefits from having lessons in the technique.

Her psychiatrist had referred her to me after a two-week admission at The Priory Hospital for a psychotic, manic episode. Therapy and medication had had minimal impact on her subsequent depression, and both she and her psychiatrist were willing to try anything that might help. When I first met Hilary, who is married with a four-year-old son, her depression was so severe that she could not even engage in a 50-minute therapy session. Instead, I suggested three Alexander Technique lessons a week until her mood stabilised.

Hilary says she was suffering extreme depression at the time. “I was completely non-functional,” she recalls. “My son, Peter, was three months old and I had to leave him with a full-time nanny to look after him. I wasn’t doing anything except trying not to kill myself.”

The effects of the technique in balancing her mood and helping her to think rationally were powerful. “Before, I had ten years of antidepressants and therapy to some effect, bringing some stability. Using the Alexander Technique helped me to achieve a degree of healing that wasn’t possible with just talk therapy and pills. For me, the technique became a lifeline. I felt calmer from the first lesson.”

The Alexander technique is a way of re-educating the body towards balance and alignment. In individual lessons, a qualified teacher helps the student to recognise faulty muscular use and poor posture through gentle touch and guidance (see panel, facing page). There is an emphasis on lengthening and widening the back, and freeing the spine to achieve a more co-ordinated movement.

With the aid of the teacher’s hands, the student learns to release and lengthen muscles that have been shortened over time because of stress and misuse. But how can stopping unnecessary muscular tension heal emotional wounds? Unconscious experiences, such as unhealed traumas, unexpressed feelings and painful memories can be pushed into the body where they are not free to be dealt with in the mind. These tensions might turn into physical symptoms and ailments, but can also lead to mental illness, such as depression and anxiety.

Frederick Alexander, the founder of the technique, taught that how we use our bodies has an extraordinary effect on our ability to accurately perceive the world around us, as well as our emotional and physical health.

“I had been holding fear in my muscles” Hilary says the technique helped her to cope with emotional scars from her childhood. “One experience I had is that I would just let the fear out of my body. I would lie on the treatment table and I would just let it flow out. I had been holding it in my muscles. So, with lessons over time, the world seemed like a less scary place. I had less fear. I look back now and realise that this fear made me perceive anything anyone did to me as a threat. As a result, I was basically confrontational all the time, with everyone.

“Of course, at the time I couldn’t see it. As my balance improved, my perceptions softened and with less fear came less confrontation. I was better able to connect with reality.”

“With balance in your body, you feel less vulnerable, more able to cope. A good example of that is my son’s crying. When I started Alexander lessons, Peter’s crying was the sound of m failure as a mother. It was heartbreaking to me. Obviously, a child’s crying is not that, but I had made it all about me, using it to condemn myself. With the Alexander Technique I was able to reassess the situation – it’s just the sound of a baby’s crying. It didn’t pierce my heart. A feeling of stability replaced the fear and self-loathing.”

For Hilary, the physical space gained in lessons in lengthening and widening the body translates to a mental space available for thinking and reflecting.

Another Alexander Technique student, Sally, a 50-year-old mother of two and a theatrical agent from Central London, initially came to see me for psychotherapy for family problems. Further into the therapy we agreed that it might be beneficial to use the technique. Sally says: “Whatever is thrown at me now, my spine supports me. I feel that I can hold myself physically and emotionally. I no longer see my brain in my head, I see my mind and body completely co-ordinated. I’m much more balanced, more selective in what I say.

“I used to rescue everybody. That was my role in life. That was the norm. I’d get up in the morning and I’d rescue people. The armour was on and I went into battle because that was the only thing I knew. It’s very different now. I’m looking after myself, I think I’ve come out of it much more selfish. What I didn’t know was that if you look after yourself, you’re going to be so much better with other people.”

Anne, 39, a single woman from North London, had attended psychotherapy sessions for nearly seven years for depression. Although the insight she gained was essential for her to make sense of her life, she felt frustrated when her depression recurred at stressful times.

“For me, the Alexander Technique was more helpful for depression than therapy,” she says. “With good posture and balance you are more able to withstand the physical and emotional knocks that life throws at you. A feeling of a lightness and ease in standing and sitting replaces the sense of being held together by tension and fragmented body parts. With lessons, my body started to feel less fragmented, more cohesive, and with that cohesion came a new clarity of thought.”

These three women had psychotherapy sessions alongside the technique, but all benefited from their improved body use. It helped them to translate the insights gained in psychotherapy into changed behaviour.

Another student, Tim, 52, a single professional man from South London, who also suffered depression, says the technique even helped him to contain suicidal thoughts. He describes how lessons left him with a heightened sensitivity to feelings, as well as a greater capacity to hold and think about these rather than being overwhelmed by them. He says: “You feel yourself getting into gear, but you don’t actually end up driving.” Making the neurological connection Missy Vineyard, who runs a training course for Alexander Technique teachers in Massachusetts and is the author of the book How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live, describes the lessons as learning how to consciously stop unwanted behaviour at a neurological level. She believes that the technique teaches conscious inhibition by activating the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for impulse control.

Lucy Brown is a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a student of the Alexander Technique. She is committed to understanding the technique’s neurological and psychological links.

According to Professor Brown, studies suggest that the technique activates those parts of the brain involved with cognition, learning and emotions. She says: “It is reasonable to speculate that areas of the pre-frontal cortex would be activated under the circumstances of a lesson and long-term learning from the technique.” While further research is needed to establish exactly how the technique produces these benefits, people’s experiences speak for themselves.

Students of the Alexander Technique will confirm that the mind is not just located in the brain, but in the muscles, cells and organs throughout the body. The writer and novelist Aldous Huxley, a student of Frederick Alexander’s, knew these truths all too well. In writing about Alexander’s work, he said: “If you teach an individual first to be aware of his physical organism and then to use it as it was meant to be used, you can often change his entire attitude to life and cure his neurotic tendencies.”

(The names of the students have been changed.)

THE LOWDOWN

What is it? The Alexander Technique was developed by the actor Frederick Mathias Alexander around 1900. He believed that correct alignment of the head, neck and spine would alleviate back pain, breathing disorders and stress-related conditions. He claimed the technique frees the neck of muscular tension. It also allows the head to move forward so that it balances lightly at the top of the spine, which encourages the back to lengthen and widen, giving the body freer movement.

Suitable for Treating neck and back pain, poor posture, migraines and arthritis. It is increasingly accepted as useful for treating chronic problems such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease. What little good-quality research there is suggests that there could be some merit for these claims.

Cost £30-£40 for a 45-minute session.  Contact The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (0845 2307828; stat.org.uk ) to find a teacher near you.

Naomi Shragai is a psychotherapist and teacher of the Alexander Technique in North London. She is a member of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the Association of Family Therapy and the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique

* Have your say

“At last , an article which says so eloquently what I experienced as some lifesaving benefits of the Alexander Technique. When I nearly died following an ectopic pregnancy and was told that I was likely infertile, I nearly cracked with grief. A therapist sent me to Alexander lessons, saying, “You need to learn to look after yourself rather than become dependent on me.” Lessons gave me back my old confidence, taught me to pause, or inhibit, long enough to use verbals instructions to “free my neck” and “allow my back to lengthen and widen” which quietened my anxieties. I went on to give birth to three miraculous children using my Alexander orders/directions and “whispered ah” breathing. Alexander also kept me and my ITN C4 news crew safe when we were in danger of being kidnapped in Peru in 1990. It took away the panic by connecting me with my common sense. Alexander is deeply scientific, not “alternative”, and your article helped to put the Technique where it belongs. Thank you.”

– Anita Bennett, Bristol, Bristol

“I came to the Alexander Technique a year ago with severe M.E. It was a struggle at first to get from the taxi into the clinic and today I walked home 20mins uphill! I can also relate well to the huge improvement in my mental wellbeing as I had a plethera of emotional troubles for a large part of my life resulting in copious prescriptions,none of which did anything to quell my extreme anxiety and depression. When I collapsed with M.E a few years ago I feared my life was finished but now with the simple beauty, yet fascinating complexity of the A.T lessons I know I have a new and exciting life ahead of me.”

– Sheralyn Rennert, Surrey, U.K

“I also came to the Technique because of a “physical” issue and came away with more “mental” well-being. Of course the Technique itself emphasizes that physical and mental are 2 sides of the same coin. A good place to learn more about the Technique is their wonderful site at http://alexandertechnique.com.”

– Jack Martin, Dublin, Ireland

To find an Alexander Technique Teacher near you go to Alexander Technique International, (ATI).

RELAX and REGENERATE!

On April 25-27th please join Senior Healing Tao Instructors, Marie Favorito and Sharon Smith for a Special Weekend Retreat of Taoist Meditation and Chi Kung. Explore the mystery and healing power of chi, build a more intimate relationship with your energy, Immerse yourself in the Tao practice and return to your life refreshed and renewed

Take advantage of this rare opportunity to study with Marie and Sharon who together have over 50 years of experience in the Taoist arts! We guarantee that you will come away with a solid base for your Healing Tao practice. This will be held at beautiful Angels’ Rest in Leyden, Massachusetts (2 hours west of Boston & 3 hrs from New York City).

Your retreat fee of $475.00 includes all teaching, accommodations on Friday and Saturday nights, and six high quality organic meals. Arrival is on Friday at 3:30 PM and departure will be Sunday at 4:30 PM. Accommodations are elegant dormitory style with 2 to 5 per room (because of space limitations, there are no single rooms). Each guest will enjoy the beautiful facility, high-quality linens and towels, and restful sleep on a Posturpedic mattress. You may want to bring your own towel for the pool & hot tubs and comfortable shoes for exploring the surroundings. The retreat is limited to 22 participants.

You are sure to be inspired and refreshed by the energy we will generate in this beautiful country setting. Angels’s Rest is in the heart of nature, in the small, peaceful town of Leyden. Located on 20+ acres of private woodlands and meadows in the Berkshire foothills of Western Massachusetts, the elevation of Angels’ Rest offers breathtaking and far-reaching views of mountains to the east and south. With its pristine natural environment, comfortable quarters, and personal care, Angels’ Rest creates the perfect setting conducive for deep work in Meditation and Chi Kung.




*This weekend retreat is also important training for those Healing Tao students interested in becoming Associate Instructors (first level of instructor certification). If your intention is to train for this HTIA Certification now or in the future, this workshop is a MUST! Students who already have the prerequisites may be eligible for Associate Instructor Certification. Marie and Sharon will make these determinations after the weekend. See www.taoinstructors.org for information on prerequisites. Or speak with Sharon or Marie. Students in training will arrive earlier on Friday afternoon for their first session.

We will emphasize the following practices:

The Microcosmic Orbit Meditation
The Inner Smile Meditation
The Six Healing Sounds Chi Kung

Taoist meditation practice starts with opening The Microcosmic Orbit, a meditation practice in which you focus on circulating your life force through two of the most important energy channels in your body. These two channels, the Functional (Ren Mai), and the Governor, (Du Mai), connect in a flowing circle going up the spine, over the head, and down the front center of the body. The front and back channels are joined to form a circuit of continuous energy flow which is called the Microcosmic Orbit. Bringing your tongue to the roof of your mouth generates this connection. Also referred to as the small heavenly cycle, this meditation allows you to increase, recycle, and store reservoirs of chi in an energy center in your abdomen called the lower Dan Tien. The
Microcosmic Orbit meditation is further enhanced by blending and supplementing your body’s own energy with the energies of Nature, the Universal, Cosmic, and Earth Forces which surround us. This not only raises your ‘vibration’, but greatly increased resistance to stress and illness.

The Inner Smile is the most basic, profound relaxation meditation in the Healing Tao. This meditation begins in the eyes and quickly produces the relaxation response. It calms and strengthens your nervous system by bringing the energy and essence of a smile and healing light into your body. In addition, the Inner Smile harmonizes your emotions and enables your body to rejuvenate itself with light, relaxation and the power of your mind. Using this focus and mindfulness, you guide the smiling essence through your major organs, the digestive tract, the brain and spine, enlivening and strengthening the central nervous system. Used as a tool, the Inner Smile meditation helps you handle life’s everyday challenges, allowing you to stay centered in the most trying of situations. Learn to Transform Stress into Chi and vitality that can be used for healing and creativity!

The Six Healing Sounds is a simple but profound practice that balances and regulates the body temperature by releasing trapped cold or heat, creating perfect ‘weather’ inside. Based on Chinese medicinal principles, this sitting chi kung involves simple arm movements synchronized with the breath and meditation to relieve stress, cool the inner organs, and cultivate tranquility, energizing the body with regular practice. Useful for anyone in any stage of health or healing.The Sounds are easy to learn and joyful to practice. They are part of the ancient and often overlooked science of Traditional Chinese Medicine. For centuries they have been used for detoxifying, strengthening, and regenerating the internal organs having a positive effect on physical health, emotional stability and spiritual unfoldment.

SImple Chi Kung to wake up your chi! Movements and meditations to lubricate the joints, stimulate chi flow in the organ systems, and set up a positive emotional disposition. Chi Kung literally translates as “skill in using energy.” Chi Kung means the practice or discipline of moving your life force and breath. Chi Kung provides internal power that can improve general health and is claimed to help maintain youthfulness. Chi Kung practice increases your Chi (Life Force) and brings a sense of calm and centeredness. With the graceful moves of Chi Kung, you can invigorate yourself, sculpt a lean, supple, agile body, fine tune your senses and supercharge your immune system.

The fee for this weekend retreat is $475.00 which
includes all teaching, accommodations on Friday and Saturday nights, and six high quality organic meals. For more information please visit www.bostonhealingtao.com

Retreat Payment Policy:

Full payment is required by April 1st, 2008. Any refunds requested prior to April 1, 2008 will incur a $100 cancellation fee. After that, refunds will be made only if a replacement can be found. This policy is firm.

Publication:

MayoClinic.com

Publisher:

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Date:

Nov 15, 2007

The ancient art of tai chi uses gentle flowing movements to reduce stress of today’s busy lifestyles and improve health. Find out how to get started.

The graceful images of people gliding through dance-like poses as they practice tai chi (TIE-chee) are compelling. Simply watching them is relaxing. Tai chi, in fact, is often described as “meditation in motion” because it promotes serenity through gentle movements — connecting the mind and body.

Originally developed in China as a form of self-defense, tai chi is a graceful form of exercise that has existed for some 2,000 years. Practiced regularly, tai chi can help you reduce stress and enjoy other health benefits.

Understanding tai chi

Tai chi, sometimes called tai chi chuan, is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. To do tai chi, you perform a series of postures or movements in a slow, graceful manner. Each posture flows into the next without pausing.

Anyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can practice tai chi. It doesn’t take physical prowess. Rather, tai chi emphasizes technique over strength.

Tai chi is used to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase flexibility
  • Improve muscle strength and definition
  • Increase energy, stamina and agility
  • Increase feelings of well-being

Tai chi has more than 100 possible movements and positions. You can find several that you like and stick with those, or explore the full range. The intensity of tai chi varies somewhat depending on the form or style practiced. Some forms of tai chi are more fast-paced than others, for instance. However, most forms are gentle and suitable for everyone. And they all include rhythmic patterns of movement that are coordinated with breathing.

Although tai chi is generally safe, consider talking with your doctor before starting a new program. This is particularly important if you have any problems with your joints, spine or heart.

Stress reduction and other benefits of tai chi

Like other practices that bring mind and body together, tai chi can reduce stress. During tai chi, you focus on movement and breathing. This combination creates a state of relaxation and calm. Stress, anxiety and tension should melt away as you focus on the present, and the effects may last well after you stop your tai chi session.

Tai chi may also help your overall health, although it’s not a substitute for traditional medical care. Tai chi is generally safe for people of all ages and levels of fitness. Older adults may especially find tai chi appealing because the movements are low impact and put minimal stress on muscles and joints. Tai chi may also be helpful if you have arthritis or are recovering from an injury.

Despite its ancient history, tai chi has been studied scientifically only in recent years. And that research is suggesting that tai chi may offer numerous other benefits beyond stress reduction, including:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Improving balance and coordination
  • Reducing the number of falls
  • Improving sleep quality, such as staying asleep longer at night and feeling more alert during the day
  • Slowing bone loss in women after menopause
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving cardiovascular fitness
  • Relieving chronic pain
  • Improving everyday physical functioning

Learning to do tai chi

Wondering how to get started in tai chi? You don’t need any special clothing or equipment to do tai chi. To gain full benefits, however, it may be best to seek guidance from a qualified tai chi instructor.

A tai chi instructor can teach you specific positions and how to regulate your breathing. An instructor also can teach you how to practice tai chi safely, especially if you have injuries, chronic conditions, or balance or coordination problems. Although tai chi is slow and gentle, with virtually no negative side effects, injuries are possible if tai chi isn’t done properly. It’s possible you could strain yourself or overdo it when first learning. Or if you have balance problems, you could fall during tai chi.

You can find tai chi classes in many communities today. Contact your local senior center, YMCA or YWCA, health club, community education center or wellness facility for help finding qualified instructors.

During tai chi classes, the instructor can give you personal guidance and correct any errors in your style before they become habit. Eventually, you may feel confident enough to do tai chi on your own. But if you like the social element, consider sticking with group classes.

Putting tai chi into practice

To reap the greatest stress reduction benefits from tai chi, consider practicing it regularly. Many people find it helpful to practice tai chi in the same place and at the same time every day to develop a routine. But if your schedule is erratic, do tai chi whenever you have a few minutes.

You can even draw on the soothing concepts of tai chi without performing the actual movements if you get stuck in stressful situations — a traffic jam or a work conflict, for instance.

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