Monday, January 3, 2011

Very Buddhist

Santa managed to sneak a couple of gifts for me into my daughter's stocking this year. One of them was a little book called Secrets of the Alexander Technique, by Robert MacDonald and Caro Ness.

It appears that Santa knows me well enough to be aware of my Bad Posture--and, okay, I'll admit to it. Two things stand out: like my father before me, I stoop. To make things worse, I habitually stand with all my upper body weight placed on one hip--usually the right, I think, though I frequently shift over to the left--hardly ever on both. Together, these habits place undue stress on my neck and shoulders, as well as on my lower back. They also take a toll on my natural height; I end up looking a good two inches shorter than I actually am.

If I stop to examine the possible significance of these structural defects, I find some pretty obvious answers. The stoop suggests reticence, an inclination to lower my profile in the world, a tendency to want to hide. I withdraw, like the turtle, into my shell. The hip thing suggests a reluctance to stand firm, a shiftiness--not in the sense of being shifty (I don't think I am)--but rather a way of being restless, parlous perhaps, unwilling to commit.

I have no doubt that there is much more to learn about my character from an observation of my stance, but these are the things that come readily to mind.

A first glance at this little book about the Alexander Technique prompts the thought that it is very Buddhist in its approach. It starts out with the notion that our (physical) suffering results from unskillful (physical) habits that we are likely not even aware of. The first step toward recovery is clear-sighted observation and awareness ("sensory appreciation" is the Alexander term); this leads to a pause for mindfulness ("conscious inhibition")--a conscious effort to catch the habit in the act and halt it in its tracks; and then to the conscious choice to change it to a more skillful one ("directed thought.")

Does everyone in the world suffer from back pain? It sometimes seems that way. It's Ellie (aka Santa) these past couple of days, who has been its victim. Probably that arduous global tour on Christmas Eve. Last night it was so bad that it prevented her from sleeping. For more years than I can remember, I dread those occasions when I "put my back out." The irony, as this book plausibly suggests, is that everything we do to protect our back contributes precisely to the pain: we "protect" it by leaning away from it in fear, causing further stress. It's a matter, as I understand it, of restoring the body's natural balance.

I look forward to reading further. Thanks, Santa. As always, right on target. In the meantime, here in Southern California, it's a wet Monday morning--again! This has been, thus far, a most unusual winter, and not only in this part of the world. On the large scale, too, we have work to do to restore the natural balance.


Jean said...

Yes, the Alexander Technique is very Buddhist - all about being quiet and paying attention. I had a few lessons some years ago and, although I expect there are still aspects of my posture that would make an expert wince, it undoubtedly had lasting benefits: incipient backpain from sitting long hours at computer disappeared; I always notice, and have an impulse to shift, when I find myself standing with my weight on one side... Highly recommended.

Happy New Year, Peter!

PeterAtLarge said...

Encouraging, Jean. I'm looking forward to reading further. Maybe, even, work on improving that posture!