Category Archives: Alexander Technique in Brighton and Hove

Zoom Presentation Skills – Your Voice

Breathing & Voice & Speech

You can wade through this whole article if you really, really want to. But… I can give you a real quick heads-up of everything you need to know to warm up your voice for presenting and public speaking. Right here and right now. 

  • Sing a song that you like… 
    • In a ‘full-bodied’ way i.e. loud! 
    • For 5 minutes
  • Bask in that post singing feeling for 10 seconds
  • Run through a short section of your presentation and…
    • ‘Copy and paste’ the singing feeling into your speech

This will bring much more volume, resonance, colour and clarity into your spoken voice.

Recent UK based research into singing presents compelling evidence that it will additionally help you with stress reduction, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain – the list is too long for this article!

What’s that? You’ve got a singing voice like a foghorn? No problem. Be the loudest foghorn in the orchestra!

That’s it basically. But the following article will definitely be helpful if you really, really want to read some more…

The hunchy, crunchy, wired and tired scenario… 

Aaaah…   Aaaah…   A.a*,a… ??’

This true life scenario features a group of 6 men and women seated in a circle. Their postures are slumped into their chairs, hunched and generally constricted. They look, somewhat suspiciously at each other as they vocalise the vowel sound ‘ah’ in unison. Actually, to be honest, the sound isn’t that unified. ‘Ragged’ would accurately sum it up. They continue vocalising the ‘ah’ sound which becomes steadily weaker, shakier and harsher…

What madness is this!?

Well, there is a method to the ‘madness’… it’s a voice coaching class for people who deliver presentations and speak in public. This stage of the class, I hasten to point out, is the ‘before’ rather than the ‘after’. What you want to be avoiding rather than what you want to be aiming for. Contrast and compare is a very useful teaching tool! Feeling a bit silly and practising something a little unusual in relative privacy is called.. rehearsal!

The voice teacher, who is leading the session, points out that most people feel a little bit stressed at the prospect of delivering a presentation. And a few of us can experience real terror at the thought of addressing an audience. This of course affects many aspects of our delivery not least of which is the quality of our speaking voice. 

But we can’t just hope that we’re going to have a wonderful ‘green light’ day and breeze into our presentation and dazzle everyone with our eloquence and intelligence. Life tends to be a bit more complicated and throws up red lights, obstacles and stress. So it’s a wonderful thing to have a few well practiced tools at our disposal so that we can perform convincingly even when we are right up against it…

The perfectly poised and assured scenario –

‘Aaaah… Aaaah… Aaaah… !!

The teacher asks the particpants to stand and then guides the class through a series of 3 ‘postural landmarks’:

  • Placing the attention in the body’s centre of gravity
    • Being centred
  • Distributing the weight evenly across both feet.
    • Being grounded
  • Allowing the vision and shoulders to be wide and easy
    • Being physically and emotionally open

Everyone, at the very least, looks much more confident and self assured. But will this be enough to change the quality of the sound that they make?

The teacher again leads the group into repeatedly vocalising the vowel sound ‘ah’. The group sound is no longer ragged but, actually, distinctly harmonious. The group sound is louder, warmer, more resonant and each vocalisation gains strength and lasts longer. 

Was this change in the group sound reflected in the subjective vocal experience of the individual participants? The consensus seemed to be… Yes. Very much so!

The teacher points out all he asked the group to do was to think differently about their posture. The changes in the power of their vocal expression seemed to be automatic – like the cart following the horse.

By all means try out the above experiments/ scenarios at home but do go easy on the hunchy crunchy scenario – act it rather than live it.

Assurance

People who look and sound more assured are, generally, more persuasive and succesfull. Humans have known this, perhaps unconsciously, for millenia. And yet it’s still reassuring to have some evidence that reinforces this intuitive perspective…

In the early 1940s, the surgeon William Faulkner carried out an experiment in which he measured his patients’ physical responses to both stressful and pleasant thoughts. When his patients thought of something unpleasant, he noticed that the movement of their diaphragm became restricted, shallow and irregular. These breathing changes were accompanied by a corresponding tightening of the throat and negative changes in the characteristic of the patient’s speaking voice. 

Conversely, when his patients thought of something pleasant, the movement of their diaphragm became expansive and regular and the levels of tension in the throat were reduced. All of this was accompanied by positive changes in the characteristics of their voices.

Faulkner, William B. Jnr., “The Effect of the Emotions Upon Diaphragmattic Function: Observations in Five Patients”, Psychosomatic Medicine, 3, No. 2 (April 1942).

Welcome to the Voice Gym

The human voice is, amongst other things, a muscular mechanism. A muscular mechanism that conveys ideas, emotion, facts and imagination. Like all muscular mechanisms it is amenable to training which enhances its endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. And these qualities are all enhanced through a mixture of repetition and rest and recovery.

We shall look at a few simple reps, i.e. repetitions, which will do much to enhance the warmth, authority and resilience of your voice.

BUT!

Anyone who has been to a gym induction session in the past 2 decades will know how much emphasis the instructor will place on correct posture while carrying out the reps. Or, as I prefer to express it, mindfulness of posture and balance… Archaic greek egyptian statuary here?

The 5 minute voice warm-up.

What are your reps going to be? Forgive me if I drop into the world of opera for a moment…

“When I started serious study, I spent the first six months vocalizing only with the vowel sounds. Day after day I would be singing ay, eee, oh, eye, ooo… my teacher, Arrigo Pola, believed it was essential. And he convinced me. Over the years I have become even more convinced of the importance of this.”

Luciano Pavarotti- My World Page 282

So, there you have it from the mouth of the master. You’re in excellent company! Repeating basic vowel sounds will work every bit as well for your speaking voice as they will for singing. Okay, okay I’ll make it even easier for you. You only have to do 3 vowel sounds – ‘oo’ as in zoo, ‘ee’ as in sea and ‘ah’ as in apple. 

But first, as any gym instructor will tell you, you need to approach it with poise, balance and equanimity…

“I’m nicely centred

I’m beautifully grounded

My shoulders are wide and open

My vision is wide and receptive.”

For a deeper explanation of the postural landmarks please follow this link. 

Start by simply vocalising an ‘ah’ sound 2 or 3 times. And then pause and let your attention radiate through your postural landmarks.

Reasons to be cheerful…

Feeling a bit daft? It’s definitely a good idea to choose your times for doing this e.g. when other people are out of the house. Channel that embarrassment into humour…

  • Think of something that makes you smile… or laugh!

Smiling and laughter are the Royal Road to the diaphragm. We can tell when someone is smiling or laughing when we hear their voice on the telephone or radio. Be that person!

And continue vocalsing the ah sound another 2 or 3 times.

Some more ‘reps’…

Do some vocalised ahs. Play around with the volume – a bit softer, a bit louder. Play with the pitch – higher and lower.

Experiment with combinations of volume and pitch – high and soft; high and loud; low and loud; low and soft.

Slide from quiet to loud to quiet again on a single note. Repeat the same with a variety of vowel sounds.

Avoid straining your elastic suit, your muscular system, as you do this. Continually return to a sense of ease in your vocalising – be centered, grounded and wide. Allow your breath to return effortlessly and naturally between sounds avoiding any exaggerated sucking and sniffing of the air.

Vocalise an ah sound and then gently bring your lips, but not your teeth, together to make a humming sound. You may notice a subtle tingling or buzzing sensation spreading across your lips and face. This feeling may spread to other parts of your body – throat, chest, fingertips etc. This tingling is associated with muscular release and increased peripheral blood flow. 

Now sing a song. Sing several songs. Copy and paste into your speaking voice. Watch out world!

Zoom Presentation Skills 3 – Feedback

VITAL INGREDIENTS FOR THE STORYTELLER’S CAKE…

What a delicious cake!  There are three bowls of ingredients – the visual, the vocal and the verbal. The right ingredients and the right proportions and you have a recipe that is appetising and irresistible.

Developing the ability to give a presenter / storyteller specific, constructive feedback on what they do well and what they can improve on is, of course, immensely helpful.

Once you have developed this ability to give a friend or colleague some constructive feedback on their body language, their voice and their presentation content you are ready for the next step… Self coaching. 

There are so many ways to do this – mobile phone camera, tablet, the Zoom recording function on your laptop. A little goes a long way. Record 30 – 60 seconds of the start of your presentation story, the middle and, of course, the end of your presentation.

Then, and you will need to be both brave and kind here, give yourself feedback on your own presentation. You will be rewarded manyfold for any time you spend on this. 

By managing the physical, vocal and verbal aspects of your presentation skilfully, you will be opening an important doorway to your audience. This doorway has many descriptive names –  being on board; on the same wavelength; neural coupling; rapport; etc. This doorway gives your audience access to the very heart of the message you wish to convey. 

GIVING FEEDBACK

Choose one single element/ingredient to observe – Visual, Vocal or Verbal – and then tell the storyteller:-

“What I liked about your story was…”. 

Be specific about what you hear or see. And now give them some points for improvement:

“What I would like to see or hear more of would be…”. 

Again, be as specific as possible about what you would like to see or hear more of.

The 3 Bowls and the Ingredients

Visual – The storytellers body language:

Are they ‘holding the space’?:

  • Stature / Posture
  • Facial expression
  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Stillness/movement

Zoom considerations:

  • Camera quality
  • The physical background
  • The virtual background
  • Clothing & colouring – is the presenter disappearing?: 
    • A paler skin colour with a light background?
    • A darker skin colour with a darker background?
    • Does their clothing colouring bring their face forward? 

Auditory – Storyteller’s voice:

  • Volume/resonance
  • Speed, rhythm and articulation
  • Pitch and variation
  • Silence and pausing

Zoom considerations:

Microphone quality and placement

Verbal :

Is the English clear and simple?

Engagement – does the presenter give stories, metaphors, analogies and use rich sensory words?

Does the presenter offer an effective balance of:

  • Logos – logic and analysis?
  • Ethos – evidence and credibility?
  • Pathos – emotion and stories?

Footnote – exercises for workshop attendees:

  • I would like 4 or 5 volunteers to deliver a short presentation to your colleagues. 
  • Choose any subject for your presentation – work, home or leisure activities. 
  • Make it short – between 90 seconds and 2 minutes. Spend some time at the beginning and end of your presentation speaking directly to the camera before screen sharing.
  • It’s not really about you at all… The point of the exercise is for your colleagues to turn feedback delivery, 180 degrees, towards themselves i.e. self coaching!
  • Your colleagues will then give you warm and constructive feedback on any improvements you can make.

Zoom Presentations Skills 1 – checklist

Remember Aristotle’s three keys of persuasion? Logos, Ethos and Pathos – logic, evidence and emotion? Taken together they make for a memorable presentation. Sadly too many presenters on Zoom overuse logic and evidence and neglect the stickiest ingredient of all – pathos or emotion.

This article focuses on some easy technical tweaks to make your presentations on Zoom stickier and more persuasive. Follow the external links for more confidence boosting tips.

All too often Zoom is like a badly tuned, old school, analogue radio. With a wonky arial and crackly old speaker thrown into the bargain. A high noise to signal ratio which creates a sense of annoyance. Leading to a state of emotional indifference. So cameras remain switched off… and the presenter talks to the brick wall.

It doesn’t have to be like this. A myriad of highly interactive social activities went online during the Pandemic. Quizzes, virtual pubs, open mics generated a tremendous social energy and colour. A few weeks into our international open mic, a smidgen of trial and error and we had crystal clear sound and vision, laughter, tears and a songwriting renaissance. The tipples and nibbles helped! So, how can we ‘copy and paste’ these qualities into our Zoom presentations?”

Step off the treadmill now!

Make your Zoom presentation as compelling as live theatre. A little effort now will be repaid manyfold.

“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us. 

To see oursels as others see us! 

It wad frae monie a blunder free us, 

An’ foolish notion.”

  • Use the recording function on Zoom to review your presentation. Appraise your body language, your voice and your words. Be kind to yourself but also identify areas for improvement. Use the feedback sheet at this link
  • Adjust your workstation setup so that you can stand up! Get yourself physically balanced and centred! Give us some body language! Acting tip confident body language tips at this link.

Down with Sensory Deprivation!

Allow the audience to see and hear you clearly. Top end computers can come with surprisingly bad webcams and microphones. So…

  • Get a decent webcam and microphone for heaven’s sake!
  • Acting tip… Warm up your voice! Find out more at this link.
  • Consider, if you are the main speaker, turning on Zoom’s ‘original sound’ function.
  • Virtual backgrounds without a greenscreen look rubbish! Buy some cheap green fabric for a greenscreen. 

Don’t merge into the background!

People with darker complexions generally need a lighter background. Lighter complexions generally need a darker background. Choose the colours of your shirt or blouse so that your face is in the foreground.

Bribery – without the corruption?

You’ve made the audience happier by implementing the tech details above. Now you can delight them with a nice big BRIBE!

Begin your presentation powerfully and positively

Involve and Interact with your audience

Repeat your ‘take home’ messages

Be Creative!

End powerfully!

Aristotle, by the way, was Alexander the Great’s personal tutor. Implement the campaigning tips above and celebrate your own, increasing, personal greatness.

Zoom Presentation Skills 2

Centered, Grounded and Wide

And it all went incredibly smoothly”

‘Green light’ days are easy for the presenter but, actually, they are few and far between. We can’t rely on green lights. Red light days – the presence of obstacles and distractions – are par for the course. The last 2 years, 2020 and 2021, have been red light years packed utterly full of unimagined obstacles and difficulties.

What to do? How can we transform anxiety into excitement and obstacles into resources? 

An Introduction to Alive Relaxation – Postural Landmarks

‘Personal presence’ depends on the practice of surprisingly simple yet fundamental skills. The exercises that follow are similar to those that an actor would use to prepare voice and body for going on stage.

In this section, you will be exploring the physiology of confidence by visiting a number of physical landmarks on your own body:

  • Your centre of gravity
  • Your feet and how your body weight drops through them into the ground.
  • Your shoulders and field of vision

Take a little time to familiarise yourself with these physical landmarks of confidence and you will find it increasingly easy to practise them. Waiting in line – in shops, at traffic lights, at cash machines – instead of getting bored or frustrated, you will now be able to practise and reinforce your new strategies.The more you practise them the more frequently you will experience green light performance on red light days.

The Gravity Line

A performer prepares…

“I’m nicely centred

I’m beautifully grounded

My shoulders are wide and open

My vision is wide and receptive.”

Friend – “Are you feeling quite alright?”

Performer- “Yes. Why do you ask?”

Friend  – “Talking out loud to an empty room isn’t normal!”

Performer  – “All the best people talk to themselves!”

Friend  – “Ha ha, very funny. Not.” 

Performer  – “Ah, okay. Fair enough. I’m preparing myself for this afternoon’s presentation using my centering ‘mantra’.”

Friend  – “You really mumble all that centering stuff on stage before you speak?”

Performer  – “Don’t be daft! I do it now so that I’m confident before I step on stage! Once you’ve got the hang of it you can contract the mantra to just a single, silent, word…

“Centred”

“Grounded”

“Wide”

Performer – “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?”

Friend – “Groan!”

Confident performance begins well before you stand on the stage. Muscle mass accounts for 35-45 per cent of the total weight of your body. Every cell in your brain connects directly or indirectly to muscle. Centring profoundly influences this mind-body system, allowing you to transform performance anxiety into performance excitement.

How should you go about it? The following series of 2 minute exercises will, with a little practice, get you to the 1 minute ‘mantra’. The 20 second mantra will get you to the single 5 second, silent trigger word. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

‘…a moment of consciousness, however you achieve it, lasts. It has an effect on one’s habitual functioning for much longer than the duration of the moment. Rather like the sound of a bell. You strike a bell and it goes on reverberating long after it has been struck.’

Adam Nott, Senior teacher of the Alexander Technique

The 2 Minute Centering Exercise

If possible, do the following exercise while standing.

1. Make sure that your body weight is reasonably well balanced between your left and right feet. 

     If you are sitting, distribute your weight evenly between left and right buttocks. Place your feet flat on the floor with the weight evenly distributed – as in standing.

2. Find your own centre of gravity by placing one hand halfway between your navel and your pubic bone. Place your other hand over the corresponding area of your back. The area between your two hands corresponds to your centre of gravity. Pat this section of your body two or three times with your hands, then place your hands back to your sides.

3. Now turn your attention to what is going on around you. Use your eyes to notice three things – familiar or unfamiliar. And now listen – identify three different sounds.

4. Gently switch between concentrating on your centre of gravity and paying attention to your surroundings, while breathing gently through your nose.

5. Say “Keep centre of gravity”, Imagine that your voice is emanating from this centre. Repeat the same phrase internally in your mind’s ear.

Practise this centering exercise regularly. Whenever you feel the need to become more centred, place your hands over your centre and repeat the phrase “Keep centre of gravity”  to yourself. This will help you to reach a centred state.

The 2 Minute Grounding Exercise

Good weight distribution over the soles of the feet is associated with improved postural activation. Good postural activation, in turn, is associated with increasing calmness and greater behaviour assurance. So… what are we waiting for? It’s as easy as a walk on the beach!

Footprints in the sand…

  1. Imagine that you are standing with bare feet on warm, slightly damp sand. Imagine the shape of your footprint in the sand — the roundness of the heels, the outside edge of each foot as it runs up to the little toe, the balls of the feet and the toes. There is virtually no indentation from the inside of the foot where the arch is.
  2. You are going to leave two perfect footprints in the sand by ensuring that your body weight is well distributed. Do this by gently swaying your weight from left to right and then from front to back with small subtle movements.
  3. As you continue making these left/right and front/back adjustments allow your knees to be soft and responsive to the movements.

  4. Now focus your attention on your centre, then on the world around you.
  5. Gently shuffle your attention between your footprints, your centre and the world around you. Build up a sense of the unity of these interconnected parts.

Practise this centering exercise regularly.Distribute your weight repeat the phrase “Keep well grounded”  to yourself. 

The 2 Minute Widening Exercise

Extend a strong, positive feeling to the world around – even sometimes when you really don’t feel like it!

Our English word ‘anxiety’ has its roots in Latin and ancient Greek. Some of the meanings refer to ‘narrowing’ and even ‘choking’. But let’s not do that.  Life, after all, is too short. Let us, instead, learn to deliberately and consciously expand and contract our personal presence. Like a flexible second skin. Smaller for one to one communication. Medium for the meeting room. Really big for the conference hall. And when we travel home on busy public transport it’s probably a good idea to adopt a comfortably insulating little cocoon.

More confident, experienced presenters have an ability to encompass the whole audience with one broad, spacious sweep of their eyes. They can also make soft and personal eye contact with individual members of the audience. The first quality, the broad visual sweep, helps to bring the presenter to his or her full stature and enhances the impression of a larger than life presence. The second quality lends the presenter a feeling of approachability with all its associated qualities.

The 2 Minute Widening Exercise

1. Start by remembering your centre and your footprints. 

2. Link the fingertips of your left and right hands in front of your centre — thumb to thumb, index to index. Smoothly raise your linked fingers until they come to rest, at arm’s length, in front of your face.

3. Continue looking straight ahead and move your hands out to your sides until they just start to disappear from the edges of your vision. Move your hands in and out of the edges of your vision a few times. See the illustration of Luciano Pavarotti below!

4. Bring your hands to rest so that they are slightly inside your field of peripheral vision. Your arms will be almost fully extended, as if you were preparing to give someone a big hug. Be aware of the big hemisphere of your vision in front, to the left and right, above and below.

5. Imagine you have an audience before you. Give them a big hug! 

5. Maintain this sense of your hemisphere of vision as you gently bring your arms down to rest at your sides. Be aware of just how much you can see in your peripheral vision.

Case Study – Luciano Pavarotti


Luciano Pavarotti was a twentieth century operatic superstar – a real stadium filler. When he sang in public he would use certain ‘tricks’ that made him feel more secure. Pavarotti spoke about his use of a handkerchief on stage:

‘Everybody knows about my white handkerchief, which I used in my first concert in Missouri in 1973, in case I started to perspire. I find that I feel much better if I have it out there with me. It has a function but it’s also for good luck’.

If you are too young to remember Luciano Pavarotti, do a YouTube search to get a sense of his larger than life presence.

What About Zoom?

Zoom is the most wonderful tool and we have much to be grateful to this platform for keeping us connected with colleagues and loved ones during the pandemic years. But, when it comes to presentation skills, it so often seems to encourage the exact opposite of what I’ve been promoting above…

Hunched sitting posture, narrowed shoulders, restricted vision and, inevitably, a smaller than life performance.

Try this:

Go into your Zoom account and use the ‘record meeting’ function. Go through your centering, grounding and widening exercise. And then deliver a mini-presentation or recite a bit of poetry or prose. In other words – start to make an association between your performance postural landmarks and the computer and the Zoom platform.

Ding-a-ling! Ivan Pavlov to the rescue again.

(Google it if you’re confused.)

Conclusion

The world pandemic from which we are now beginning to emerge has given us all a painful and unforgettable lesson in the power of uncertainty and in the need for continuing flexibility, resourcefulness and adaptibility.  

Successful performing artists become incredibly adept at consciously developing a sense of inner security and confidence that persists regardless of external circumstances. Or, as the veteran British comedian Bob Monkhouse put it:

‘And the moral is: if you’re a superstitious person and derive comfort from some lucky mascot, keep it with you — don’t depend on it so much that its loss will weaken your self assurance. There’s only one charm you should rely on – your own.’

If you want a lifetime of employability and more, then make sure that your lucky charm lives with you by repeating the 2 minute centering, grounding and widening exercises several times. After a short while you will run them together into the 1 minute ‘mantra’:

“I’m nicely centred

I’m beautifully grounded

My shoulders are wide and open

My vision is wide and receptive.”

Or the single word silent reminder:

“Centred”

“Grounded”

“Wide”

Happy presenting!

“Ding” 

“Dong!”

Singing, Health, Happiness 2

COMMON STRESSES OF THE “ELASTIC SUIT”

LACK OF BODY AWARENESS
Perhaps the most common cause of vocal difficulty lies in a lack of awareness of how we use our body in daily life. We are experts at screening out sensory information that is not directly connected to achieving our goals. This is a blessing that allows us to achieve our objectives without being swamped by irrelevant sensory information. An activity as simple as making a cup of coffee would become unmanageably difficult without this ability.
It can also become a curse. As we focus more intensely on goal directed behaviour our body can become increasingly filtered out of awareness. Day by day we accumulate small, seemingly insignificant amounts of tension without even noticing it. Just as constantly dripping water can distort the hardest stone, these small accumulations of tension have a detrimental effect on both body structure and voice.
Illustrations (to be added)

An ‘Evolutionary Map” = Our shrinking focus From Hunter Gatherer to Smart phone user
Hunter Gatherer ‘Wide focus/ the world’s room’
‘Homo Smart phone-us’

MISCONCEPTION
Most people have only the vaguest of ideas about how their body is put together. And many of us simply have wrong ideas about how the body is structured. How many of us, for example, can accurately locate the full length and circumference of the spine; where the head and spine join each other; where the larynx is; where the jaw joint is; and where the ribs and diaphragm join with the spine? All of these parts, to name but a few, are part and parcel of the singers stock in trade. Misleading ideas have a direct bearing on how we use the voice. It is possible to get a sound out of a trumpet by blowing in the wrong end but the process is wasteful of effort and the sound produced is disappointing.
the startle pattern

FEAR AND ANXIETY
Many people who are confident in all other respects would do just about anything to avoid singing with or in front of other people. In situations of perceived threat a group of responses called the “fight/flight” syndrome comes into force. Adrenalin is released into the blood stream. Breathing and heart rate speed up. The muscles become more tense. The shoulder and neck muscles are among the first to contract, pulling the head down, tortoise fashion, towards the centre of the body.
The person’s face might drain of colour or they may blush. The pupils dilate heightening visual acuity and leading, in some cases, to tunnel vision. For the primitive hunter/gatherer this whole pattern was discharged by actual fight or flight after which everything returned to normal. It is not appropriate, however, to “fight” with your audience or to take “flight” and lock yourself in the lavatory, tempting as both options may seem at the time! Fortunately there are many ways of creatively channelling the energy of the fight/flight pattern to enhance vocal confidence which we will explore in depth in the following chapters.
PRECONCEPTION OF EFFORT
Consider the image of someone lifting a heavy looking suitcase only to find it empty or lifting a light looking case and finding it full of bricks. If the lifter does not pause momentarily to truly consider the weight of the case, they may sustain an injury. Singing, like lifting the case, is equally a muscular activity. Taking time to pause and consider appropriate effort, during practice or before starting to sing, is one of the single most important elements in freeing the vocal and breathing mechanisms.
IMITATION AND MODELLING
How often is grown son or daughter’s voice mistaken for that of their father or mother on the telephone? Why is it that we can recognise certain individuals from a distance? Why do some dogs look like their owners? Young children, especially pre-verbal children, learn a vast amount through imitation and mimicry. The child adopts, to a greater or lesser degree, the postural, movement, breathing and vocal patterns of her carers. Models of vocal excellence are scarce, however, and only the most fortunate of children will find them in their immediate family. This book endeavours to present standards of mind/body and vocal excellence for the aspiring singing student to continuously develop.
HABIT
When you are exposed to a constant unchanging stimulus you will automatically, assuming it is not too painful, screen it out of conscious awareness. If you live next to a busy road you may have to make a conscious decision in order to actually hear the traffic. The author and Aikido teacher George Leonard talks about this in terms of homeostasis:
“Our body, brain and behaviour have a built in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed- and it is a very good thing they do.
… if your body temperature moved up or down by ten percent, you would be in big trouble. The same thing applies to your blood-sugar level and to any number of other functions of your body. This condition of equilibrium, this resistance to change is called homeostasis. It characterises all self-regulating systems, from a bacterium to a frog to a human individual to a family to an organisation to an entire culture- and it applies to psychological states and behaviour as well as to physical functioning.
The problem is, homeostasis works to keep things as they are even if they aren’t very good”
F.M. Alexander, the creator of the Alexander Technique, mentions a case in which he gave a lesson to a young girl who had a severe scoliosis- an asymmetrical sideways bend of the spine. After the lesson she was considerably more balanced and symmetrical in appearance. Rather than being pleased with these changes the young girl complained bitterly about feeling all twisted up! That which was habitually twisted felt normal. And that which was balanced felt twisted and abnormal.
Although this was an extreme case it is still something that we all, to a greater or lesser degree, have to deal with across the range of our activities. Given time the experiments in this book will allow you to “re-tailor” your elastic suit into a more spacious and freer fit. This re-orientation may feel unfamiliar or even wrong in the short term. A basic willingness to familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar will accelerate the ease with which you can reset your homeostats. This will encourage a freer, more confident and dynamic use of your voice and body, regardless of your starting point.

Rhythm, Business Management & Self Maintenance

There is an old Japanese Zen story in which the master is asked the secret of his enlightenment.
“When I am hungry I eat. When I am tired I sleep.” the master enigmatically replies.
“And?” …image.jpeg … you may be thinking. But think a bit longer. Who in the world of business do you know who can put their feet up when they feel the need? At the very least it requires an office with a lock on the door and perhaps a secretary to hold your calls. There are the lucky few in upper management or those who work from home who can do this. Those who do it swear that it profoundly enhances their alertness, productivity and creativity.
Compare this to the energy cycles of an ordinary office. Bright eyed and bushy tailed one moment. Ten minutes later tempers, with colleagues and customers, are fraying, silly, avoidable, mistakes are made on the computer, coffee cups are spilled over documents on the desk, personal memory banks short circuit for no apparent reason. What causes these phenomena that do so much to interfere with a companies competitiveness?
Everyone is aware of the twenty four hour circadian rhythm of sleeping and waking. There are also other, shorter rhythms, of drowsiness and alertness which last from ninety minutes to two hours, known as “ultradian rhythms”- meaning that they happen many times a day. Most people are vaguely aware of this shorter rhythm- one famous example being the mid-afternoon “graveyard shift” which is dreaded by so many.
Research into the bodies ultradian rhythms started in the 1950’s and soon gained momentum as the American military establishment poured millions of dollars into researching how an enhanced awareness of the peaks and troughs of alertness and fatigue could affect the vital skills of key military and aviation personnel. The researchers found that the ultradian rhythms affected both mental and physical performance- concentration, memory, learning, creativity, physical co-ordination and reflexes and of course energy levels. It was also established that long term interference with these rhythms are associated with a host of stress related conditions including gastric problems, breathing difficulties, skin problems, alterations in heart rate, extreme mood swings all of which lead to mediocre performance.
These rhythms are unconsciously recognised in the way that a standard working day is organised i.e. with tea breaks in the midmorning and the mid-afternoon. This has traditionally given the employee a vitally needed break in which they can refresh and rejuvenate both mind and body. In the UK however many companies have slimmed down the size of their workforce with the result that a single employee may be doing a job that was previously covered by two or even three people. This leads to situations where employees, through a sense of guilt, fear or duty regularly override their natural rhythms- tea breaks and lunch breaks are skipped and with them the opportunity to follow the natural drowsy and rejuvenating aspect of the ultradian cycle.
At this point the famous Zen master of old would probably have lain down for twenty minutes or sat on his meditation cushion, stretched his spine and breathed deeply- and promptly have been fired for neglecting the job. (But then perhaps the Japanese are smarter at running businesses than we are.?)

SYMPATHETIC AND PARA-SYMPATHETIC
The alertness and drowsiness cycle reflects the activities of two branches of our nervous system – the “Sympathetic” branch and the “Parasympathetic” branch.
The sympathetic branch is concerned with arousal, external events and doing. It usually generates sufficient energy for us to move through our activities in a relaxed but vital way. When it is highly activated, however, it causes the heart rate and breathing to speed up, the muscles to contract and the blood pressure to increase. In extreme cases, such as battle ground terror, the bladder and the bowels may empty to prepare the body more effectively for fight and flight. You would be forgiven for thinking that the word “sympathetic” is something of a misnomer for this branch of the nervous system! Perhaps the “sympathetic” part is a reference to the strong survival advantages that it confers when one has to get out of the path of a car travelling at high speed.
While “battle ground” activation is less likely to happen within the working context it is not at all unusual for internal alarm bells to clamour loudly when staff are struggling against time to meet deadlines and targets.
The other branch, the parasympathetic, is concerned with more internal processes such as the heart rate slowing down, with drowsiness, a decrease in alertness, a release of muscular tension, with not-doing. It is associated with dreaminess, fantasy and building castles in the air. People may experience a “melting” feeling and a temporary dissolution of the usual boundaries of the personality when they are in this state. This state, which is wonderful for rest and replenishment, typically lasts about twenty minutes and corresponds with the energy replacement trough in the ultradian rhythms.

RESISTING REPLENISHMENT
Typically the rest part of the cycle either escapes our notice or is ignore. Stimulants such as sugary snacks, coffee or simply gritting the teeth are used to override our needs for rest and replenishment. This puts us into adrenaline overdrive. And adrenaline is a stimulant that can make people feel high even as they are damaging their body- think of the football players who fracture an ankle during a game and feel nothing until afterwards. These addictive behaviours eventually catch up with the worker in question through health problems and/or errors in judgement. One can only speculate that the enormous errors in judgement exhibited recently by some financial traders might be linked to this kind of adrenaline addiction.

RECOGNISING THE REST AND REPLENISHMENT CYCLE
So what are the signs and signals that can alert you to the need for an “energy exchange”? Yawning, drowsiness, mind wandering, fantasy and dreaminess, irritability, muscular tension, muscular slackness and even the need to visit the loo are all signs that you are approaching the energy trough.
In the best of all possible worlds one would then lie down for twenty minutes and focus on the most comfortable part of your body and let the comfort spread. This leads to a sense of spacing out that for many people is accompanied by pleasant dreamlike images- a state that hovers between sleep and wakefulness.
But not everybody works in a sympathetic context where it is possible to take a twenty minute break. Some people will go and lock themselves in the toilet for five minutes at this point and simply let their mind wander pleasantly as they breath deeply and easily. Or, more actively, they may go for walk around the block or walk from one part of the building to another or simply stand up for a stretch and a yawn. In all these cases their is a shift down in gear from a goal getting pace to a less hurried process orientated pace. It is at this point of detaching from the goal orientated tasks that many philosophers and scientists have the “aha!” or “Eureka!” experience when the solution to problems that they have been grappling with become amusingly obvious.
This is a more naturalistic approach to stress management that, with a little practice, anybody can incorporate into the midst of their working life.

ENTRAINMENT
There is a tendency within cohesive teams towards entrainment of ultradian cycles. In other words the energy peaks and troughs of well integrated teams will tend to dovetail. Remember the chapter on rapport? Co-inspiratur? Emotional intelligence?

BREAD, WINE AND THOU
“…by eating with another person, both of us reset our rhythms together and fall into mind-body synchrony on a variety of levels. This may be why breaking bread together is inherently such an important sociobiological act, woven deep into our genetic fabric.”
Ernest Lawrence Rossi – “The Twenty Minute Break” pg 87
Rossi continues to outline how, in many world cultures, such an emphasis is placed on shared meals over which business is often conducted. Because shared meals tend to bring the participants mind and body rhythms into synchrony

TIMING CRITICAL APPOINTMENTS TO COINCIDE WITH ULTRADIAN PEAKS
So how would the Zen master/manager organise staff and him/herself so that they were winners in the market place?
The Zen manager knows that they are getting their moneys worth from an employee who takes breaks- individual working rhythms are respected as the foundations of high performance.
Breaks will be taken in team meetings when significant numbers of employees show signs of going into energy troughs. “Spacing out” is encouraged during breaks as a way of generating high quality solutions to company problems.
Important meetings, phone calls, presentations and negotiations will be scheduled, wherever possible, to coincide with the employees high performance energy peaks.
Is this an example of Utopian thinking? I do not think so- the quality of a company can never exceed the quality of its workers and managers.
Winston Churchill, wartime manager of U.K. plc, was a great believer in taking naps in the middle of the day. He claimed that it not only gave him enough energy to do a day and a half’s work but that he could not possibly have fulfilled his responsibilities to the country with it.
Perhaps our true secret weapon was that we had a Zen master at the helm after all.

TIME AND MONEY
“Give me a long enough lever and a place on which to stand and I can move the Earth.”
Archimedes

Posture and Ageing Positively

Glenna Batson is an American Alexander Technique teacher and Physiotherapist. She carried out a research project  at the University of South Carolina on how the Alexander Technique could improve balance and prevent falls in the elderly.

Posture, balance and falls protection using the Alexander Technique
Posture, balance and falls protection using the Alexander Technique. Click on the picture to watch the YouTube video clip.

The participants in the study ranged from age 60 – 89 and received two weeks of group Alexander Technique instruction. The video clip shows, in a before and after format,  the participants going through a selection of balance tests.

Having myself just reached the age of the youngest participant in the study I found the results both interesting and encouraging…

 

Alexander Technique Brighton Hove – Photo Album

In a previous post I mentioned how I used to get tongue-tied or overly enthusiastic when someone asked the question “What is the Alexander Technique?”

Of course, it’ll always be difficult to describe an activity, any activity, that has such a large sensory component. So I promised to put up some photos, with comments, so you can at least get a fly on the wall perspective of what a typical Alexander Technique lesson might look like.

As a general rule, Alexander Technique teachers tend to work from the core of the body — neck, head and back – out towards the extremities ie the arms and legs. The major muscles that move the limbs, however, have their origins in the torso. So working with the neck, head back relationship automatically influences the movement of the arms and legs. The converse is also true – working with the arms and legs will reinforce release and expansion through the neck, head and back.

hnique Brighton BN1

“Allow your neck to be free”

Brighton & Hove Alexander Technique Hand on Neck

“Allow your neck to be free in such a way that your head can go forwards & upwards”

Hand on head. Brighton & Hove Islington Alexander Technique

“Allow your neck to be free & your head to go forwards & upwards so that your back can lengthen & widen”

Hands on the back. Brighton Hove Islington Alexander Technique

In practice most Alexander Technique teachers do not recite these directions parrot-fashion. The words and language tend to be naturalistic and tailored to fit the individual.

Arms & Legs– Although there are specific directions for the arms & legs often the teacher will ask the pupil to continue focussing on their neck, head and back relationship as they work with the arms and the legs.

Alexander Technique Brighton Hove London Islington. Taking arms during table work.JPG”

Legs

Alexander Technique Brighton Hove london Islington__Taking arms during table work

Chair-work

Alexander Technique Brighton, Hove & London chair work 

Alexander Technique Brighton & Hove - Helping pupil with bending. Also known as “Monkey”.
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Alexander Technique Brighton & Hove. The deep squat.

It’s difficult to really capture the living, dynamic quality of an Alexander Technique lesson on a photograph. Young children often embody that Alexander quality unconsciously.

It isn’t just about moving in and out of a chair. It’s a convenient way of learning to move easily and efficiently. A convenient method that can be transferred into all sorts of everyday movements and activities. It’s a great method of learning to suspend habitual muscular and even emotional responses.

osteopathic cpd courses uk alexander technique

Osteopathic CPD courses UK –
Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique  based osteopathic cpd courses
Alexander Technique based osteopathic cpd courses

The next Alexander Technique CPD course for Osteopaths will be on 20th October 2013. This course is also open to physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

The course will run from 11 – 4.30pm in Central Hove, BN3, East Sussex

The cost for the day is £70 or £50 for students.

The course will be run by Alan Mars – a widely experienced Alexander Technique teacher. He has worked in higher educational settings for thirty years running many CPD workshops.

“I have been an osteopath and cranial osteopath in full time practice for 22 years. It has recently been my pleasure to have a number of treatments from Alan. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of his work. His skill and experience are evident in his touch and hands. I’d highly recommend Alan’s Alexander treatments to anyone requiring treatment for problems relating to their spine, pelvis or limbs. I have greatly benefited from his work and continue to do so. Alan’s work is deep, powerful yet gentle and supportive as is his personality and approach.’”
Andrew Bryant – Osteopath

Contact Alan Mars for questions about the next CPD course :

Alan Mars – 07930 323 057

Email – alan.mars@yahoo.co.uk

Osteopathic CPD courses UK –
Alexander Technique