The Space Around Me

I started Alexander Technique lessons three months ago. A couple of nasty car wrecks left me with a long-term neck and back discomfort that now bothers me more and more when I am practicing. I’m hoping to become more aware of how I create tension when I am at the harp, and to learn how to not do that.

My second Alexander lesson ended with my teacher working with me at the harp. With my neck, shoulders and ribcage loose and expanded, my arms felt like they were floating, my fingers were strong and free, and the sound that burst forth when I plucked the strings was full, rich and glorious – and different from anything I’d heard come from my harp. That was all the convincing I needed that I was on the right track.

Tonight’s lesson was different. No harp, just gentle upward strokes on my neck and head, then me walking back and forth across the length of the room. As I walked, my teacher asked me to be aware of the empty space above my head. “Now feel the space in front of you and behind you as you walk, feel it move across the room with you,” she said. “All this space is here for you. Being aware of it gives you room in which to move, and gives you freedom to relax, to open, to expand.”

What a concept! Despite what I am sure adds up to be hundreds of thousands of dollars of therapy, the idea that there is all this space around me, and that it is mine to move my body in, mine to use, mine to be in, still feels new, and breath-taking. Bourbon took up all the space in my childhood house. I grew up knowing there was no room for me, knowing that I needed to stay safely hidden away, taking up as little space as possible, hoping I would not be seen or heard when the nightly chaos began. I longed to be invisible. Staying silent, small, and unnoticed was as close to invisible as I could get. Much of my work with performance anxiety is about peeling away these layers of fear and substitute invisibility, and finding that I can be safe when I am seen and heard.

Tonight, walking across the room feeling the two feet of space above my head, I feel my neck and spine lengthen and relax. There’s no need to hold myself in. My shoulder blades slide down my back and my arms swing freely – there’s plenty of room around me. As each foot touches the floor it rolls easily from heel to toes. I feel as though I am gliding on smoothly oiled joints, instead of plodding across the room on my creaky oft-broken ankles and my cranky knees. My legs and hips are happy to hold me up and ask no help from my neck, which now only has to balance my head on its topmost vertebrae. Moving feels light, and spacious, and good.

Doing table work, my teacher gently reminds my hands of all the space that exists between the tendons and bones, and of all the movement that my fingers are capable of. After my lesson, again at my harp, my hands find the C-major chord and roll it perfectly without help from finger and thumb splints. My ring fingers stay rounded, instead of collapsing. How or why I don’t know, or don’t yet have words for. Perhaps fingers, too, find support and ease being enfolded in this new, expanded space around me? Each lesson leaves me “curiouser and curiouser.”

Tomorrow I shift to an entirely different space: the annual Southeastern Harp Weekend in Asheville, NC. The space around me will be filled with all things harp, and with people as silly-ga-ga about harps as I am, but will be quite deficient with wi-fi access. I’ll be back in Blogland with harp weekend stories next week.

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15 thoughts on “The Space Around Me

  1. I am glad you have that space to yourself. Time yes, but more so it is our attitudes that heal the scars of childhood. Your attitude is stellar. What you wrote here has touched me. I am happy you have found such a beautiful outlet as you have in music.

    Oh Janet. I regret not reading this before. It slipped by somehow–I’m sorry.

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    1. Learning that I am not what happened to me has helped ease the scars, and music opens the door to JOY. I’m glad to know that this piece touched you, my friend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and yourself with me.

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  2. I was so happy when I read this article this morning. You are changing your life through changing your posture and I wish that the technique would be taught in schools. For those who aren’t aware of it there’s a video that gives a concise overview of the technique with Academy Award®-winner William Hurt and teacher Jane Kosminsky on youtube.

    There are two other introductory videos as well. And if they type “Alexander Technique Self Study” into Google they will find resources.

    In 2006 two of my friends who also had less stellar childhoods and who both had traumatic life experiences that troubled them well into midlife became practitioners of the Alexander Technique. One was a yoga teacher and the other was a dance instructor and they both brought what they learned into our yoga and theater and dance classes.

    I learned so much about improving my health. From them I gained understanding of how posture and breathing and attentiveness and movement from them. I learned how to how to claim my space and be comfortable in my own body. That’s why I’m so glad to read that you are pursuing this as well. By finding and claiming your space and healing in the process your musical performance is bound to improve and so will other aspects of your life.

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    1. The latest version of WordPress for iPad has it’s own idea about when it will publish a reply. I hadn’t quite finished when it sent my reply to you. Thank you so much for sending both. Feeling the immensity of the space around me and all the possibilities this space contains is shifting both my posture and my thinking. Knowing that you reaped such positive benefits makes me glad that I am following this path.

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  3. I have heard great things about that technique as well. I am glad for you.

    By the way, if your back doesn’t experience permanent relief, I would highly recommend Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno.

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  4. What a poignant and insightful post. Thank you for sharing. I have always been intrigued by the Alexander Technique..wish it were available here. How exciting that you are seeing a difference and that it affects the sound from your harp! I look forward to hearing more about your results. I envy your harp escape this weekend but am definitely going next year come hell or high water! Tell me all the fun stories and joys!

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    1. I will definitely keep you posted on the Alexander technique discoveries. The SE Harp Weekend was fun and exhausting. I managed to limit myself to buying only enough music for one extra lifetime. Thoroughly enjoyed three classes with Kathy Bundock Moore, and play ing so many beautiful harps for my friend who was harp shopping. I still love my Merlin the best, tho. I do hope you’ll be able to come next year.

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