The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It

I’m listening to Dennis Prager interview Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College and author of this new book.

Coming back from a commercial, Dennis introduces Larry, who makes an audible inhale.

Dennis: “I heard you inhale. That means you want to say something.”

I’d have to think that when you make a noticeable inhale, that has to involve some tightening and compressing of the neck. By contrast, if the neck is free, you will breathe automatically and easily without undue effort and compression and tells.

I was struck in my Alexander Technique training how the teacher’s could always tell when a student wanted to say something because the tell was so dramatic.

The ‘Wit’ Playwright With Beautiful Use

This woman is lovely! I wondered if she had Alexander Technique lessons. Her loose limbs and expressive face go together with the absence of excess tension.

It’s hard to do any decent writing when you have a teaching job as this story notes:

“Teaching — for Ms. Edson at least — is a full-time occupation. She needs the summers, she said, to do nothing, because that makes you a more interesting person in the classroom, and writing on the side is too distracting. “The presence of fictional characters in your head, especially ones who talk, is extremely preoccupying,” she said. “And the nonfictional characters in my life are abundant.””

The New York Times reports:

MARGARET EDSON is the Harper Lee of playwrights. She has had just one play produced — “Wit,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 and has been revived on Broadway in a Manhattan Theater Club production starring Cynthia Nixon — and having said what she had to say, she doesn’t feel any need to try playwriting again. She occupies herself these days with projects like learning the piano and setting the multiplication table to opera choruses. She reads Dante in Italian, a canto or so every day, and once made a scale model of Paradise with the Sun-Maid raisin lady holding a basket of souls.

But Ms. Edson hasn’t entirely abandoned the theater. Her current stage — where she is the dramatist, cast, stage manager, lighting director, prop master, usher and supply clerk — is a second-floor classroom at the Inman Middle School in the Virginia Highland neighborhood here, where she teaches sixth-grade social studies.

Except for the eyes in the back of her head, which miss nothing — not even secret fiddling with a broken zipper — Ms. Edson is the kind of teacher who makes you wish you could go back and repeat middle school. In a commencement address she gave at Smith College in 2008 she called teaching a “physical, breath-based event, eye to eye,” which is another way of saying it’s a performance. She is a very tall, slender, loose-limbed woman with a wide expressive mouth, and she works the classroom like a tummler. She mugs, does voices, makes big arm gestures and frequently pauses for dramatic effect.

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Sitting In A Chair Is One Of The Worst Things You Can Do For Your Back

Loren Shlaes, an Alexander Technique teacher and Occupational Therapist in New York City talks with Robert Rickover about ways that parents can help their children develop good posture.”

Loren: “When you’re carried in a car seat, you’re moving in one plane. When you’re carried on your mother’s hip, every time your mother turns, you turn. Every time your mother bends, you bend. You have to constantly adjust your head position against gravity. That’s how you learn about your body in relation to the rest of the world. If you’re constantly strolled or carried in just one direction, you’re not going to learn about your position in space. That delays the maturation of your postural reflexes.”

Robert: “For parents — is your child spending an enormous amount of time just sitting and being moved around?”

Loren: “Everything the child knows before about the age of six comes from his physical relationship with the world. For him to know those things, he has to move through it freely. If we are impeding his ability to do that by strolling him everywhere, strapping him in a car seat, we’re denying the child an opportunity to develop his intellect and strength.”

“Get rid of the video games, turn the TV off, and organize a touch football game with the other kids in the neighborhood.”

Robert: “Furniture is chosen for schools from the point of view of what is most efficient for stacking and moving. For the custodial staff. From the perspective of different-sized children all sitting in these desks…”

Loren: “Chairs are hideously not user friendly. Societies that don’t depend on chairs don’t have back problems. Sitting in a chair is one of the worst things you can do for your back. It just encourages slumping.”

“If you are so small that your feet don’t touch the ground… There’s a postural signal that happens when your feet are flat on the floor. It sends an extensor signal up your legs and up your spine. It helps you to sit up.

“If a child is sitting with his legs dangling, he has no chance of sitting up straight.”

“Movement activates your nervous system. It allows you to be alert and aroused. Movement sends extensor tone. That gets you up against gravity. When you force a child to sit for long periods, it’s like taking the air out of a balloon. The longer they sit, the less juice they have.”

“I recently visited a kindergarten where the teacher was telling a story and she kept telling the children over and over to stop moving. Anyone with common sense would’ve said, boy, the children need to move instead of shouting at them over and over to stop moving.

“Sitting on the floor? A lot of children don’t have the postural stability to sit in that criss-cross applesauce position. They fall over. It’s uncomfortable. If they don’t have the strength to sit like that, how much attention are they going to have for what is going on in class?”

“I remember this poor child who couldn’t sit criss-cross. He compromised by sitting on his heels. The teacher refused to go on until he sat cross-legged.”

“If somebody came up to you and said, ‘Stand up straight!’, and you were not an Alexander teacher, you’d probably do some variation of pulling your head back, arching your back, squaring your shoulders, sticking out your chest, tightening your ribs and legs. And then you would think, yech, this feels terrible, and you’d just go back.”

“I would encourage parents to give their kids as much unstructured time to play as possible. I’m not talking about sending them to soccer. I’m talking to make sure they have time to go outside to play so they’re not spending their spare time outside of school slumping in front of video games and televisions.”

Loren Shlaes blogs:

How much sleep should a child get? Toddlers and preschoolers should get about twelve hours of sleep. School aged children should get about ten hours of sleep. High school students should get about eight or nine.

Less sleep than this on a regular basis can cause a host of problems, including a compromised immune system, delays in language acquisition and neurological development, socialization and learning issues, anxiety, poor attention span and frustration tolerance, emotional fragility, impulsivity, and poor self regulation.

Many of the children I treat are not very good sleepers. They have trouble transitioning to bedtime, they have a hard time falling asleep once they get in bed, they wake up during the night, and they are crabby, irritable, and hard to get going in the morning.

If your child habitually wakes up tired, cranky, and hard to get going, he is either not getting enough sleep or the sleep that he does get is not resting him properly.

Unfortunately, modern life interferes with circadian rhythms and healthy sleep patterns. We no longer spend our time out of doors using our bodies for hunting, gathering, and planting, going to bed with the chickens and waking up with the roosters. Electric lights mean that we no longer need to obey the natural rhythms of the sun and moon, retiring when it is dark and being naturally awakened by light. Staying up late to work or read before the advent of electricity was uncomfortable, a strain on the eyes, and an enormous outlay of effort and expensive fuel. Since the advent of the light bulb and cheap electricity, it is thoughtlessly easy to stay up long past the time when we should be in bed.

Loren blogs:

Many of the children I treat can’t sit still simply because they need to move their bodies. In big cities like Manhattan, children don’t have the opportunity to run around freely, and their overscheduled parents don’t make the time to take them to the park. It often takes much convincing on my part that regular unstructured time spent out of doors, either at a park, beach, or playground, is an essential priority for children, and that constantly strapping children into strollers, car seats, high chairs, play pens, and anything else that prevents them from moving and exploring freely is impeding their neurological and cognitive development.

I often go to schools for observations and leave with the feeling that the adults who are responsible for planning the children’s days don’t always schedule activities with a realistic view of what is possible and what is not.

I recently observed a second grade classroom in which the children were required to sit quietly for 90 minutes and write without a break. After about 30 minutes had gone by, the teacher was expending a lot of energy trying to get her class to stay seated and focused. Ninety minutes for a group of seven year olds is a long, long time to sit still. Another time I observed a classroom of six year olds being given a highly structured, rather uninteresting craft activity to do. After about fifteen minutes, the teacher was working mighty hard to maintain decorum. The majority of the children had long since finished their task, and were more than ready to move on, but they were required to sit there for ten more minutes. The children got more and more restive and bored, and the teacher became sterner and sterner as she tried to force the children to sit. It would have been much less toxic to give them a second task or to give everyone a one minute structured movement break.

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Does Your Home Health Aide Have Violent Hands?

Loren Shlaes, an Alexander Technique teacher and Occupational Therapist in New York City talks [to Robert Rickover] about ways the Alexander Technique can help Occupational Therapists.”

Loren: “An occupational therapist looks at who you are, what your life is, and all the things you have to do to fulfill all of your roles and responsibilities. If illness and injury comes along and disrupts your ability to do that, how can I help you get back to where you were before or find other things that will give you pleasure and make you feel useful.”

“Before I took Alexander lessons, I was in pain all the time and grumpy as a result. It affected my ability to do my job. After I took lessons, I became aware of how uncomfortable I was in my body. Letting some of that go improved my ability to be an effective therapist.”

“It can be a physical job. I was lifting patients all day. Every time I touched a patient was another opportunity to hurt myself.”

“When I worked with patients in bed, I would be hunched over. I would bend at the waist. And I would come home every day with a terrible back ache.

“After taking lessons, instead of bending over at my waist and hunching in my spine, I would use my legs instead to bend over and my back stopped hurting.”

“The last staff job I had at a big hospital, there would constantly be [employees] on the disabled list. They would be hurting themselves.”

Robert: “For self-protection purposes, the ability you get when you take some Alexander lessons could be very valuable for OTs.”

Loren: “I took a weekend class with Marie Stroud. The minute she put her hands on me, I was transformed.”

“If there are any OTs or PTs listening, [Alexander Technique] is a form of NDT (Neuro-Developmental Treatment). An NDT practiticioner will guide the body using a normal movement pattern.”

“I went to the American Center for the Alexander Technique in Manhattan. My school was 9-12 Monday through Friday.”

“I was working for a hand therapist in Manhattan. I was a little too over-eager to educate my patients about why they were getting their repetitive strain injuries. And she let me go. She got sick of me trying to convince people to go to Alexander and get some postural help. Please don’t sit like that. You’re killing your neck. She couldn’t bear it. So she fired me.”

“If you’re engaged in heavy physical labor all day, you’re going to learn [in Alexander lessons] how to use your body. This will protect you from getting injured.

“Because my own posture and use was so bad, I didn’t feel good in my body a lot of the time. I didn’t have a whole lot of energy. I was using my big muscles to hold myself up instead of my postural muscles. I was over-working my muscles. Once I let that go, I had tons of energy I had never experienced before. That made my work day more pleasant. I noticed I had more energy to play with the children I was treating than colleagues who were 10, 20, 30 years younger than I was. I’m in my 50s but I can still get down on the floor and play with the children.

I’ll get down on a scooter board and play hockey with them.”

Robert: “I would imagine that your Alexander training affects how you contact your patients. I would imagine that the quality of your touch is much more pleasant.”

Loren: “I remember one of my patients telling me how much she hated her home health aide because this woman had very violent hands. I’ve had people tell me over and over, ‘Why is it that when you work on me, you do not hurt me? The other therapists always cause me pain.’

“When you’re touching a patient with a knowing hand, it’s a whole different experience for the patient.”

Robert: “To become an Alexander teacher is a long process. A lot of that is about learning how to use your hands in a way that’s going to be effective in helping your students, but that’s going to apply to any physical contact you make with your hands. When you touch somebody, information about your nervous system is being conveyed to them. If your nervous system is in better shape, they’re going to get something more pleasant than if you’re stiff or holding yourself rigidly.”

“Everything we’re talking about here could apply to any kind of body worker. Massage therapists are often in pain and can learn how to use their bodies more efficiently and get better results with less work.”

Loren: “If you specialize in pain management and ergonomics, it is important to know how critical someone’s posture is to change their repetitive strain problems. One hundred percent of repetitive strain injuries are posture and use related. If you’re changing a person’s work habits or you are good with your hands like I always was. I could work with somebody and take their pain away but I couldn’t teach them how to keep the pain away. If you’re interested in helping someone learn to take care of themselves, [Alexander Technique] is the way to do it.”

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The Effect Of Thinking On The Body

As I move around in the world, I see people talking on their cell phones.

At least one half of the conversation I do not hear, but I often see the effect of what is said on the person in my vision.

Many times, things get heated, and I see people contract, tense up and go into a version of the fight-or-flight reflex in reaction to what is said to them. Most of the time, it seems that people don’t have any choice in how they react because they are locked in to their habitual responses. If he gets a certain stimuli, say the wife yelling at him, he goes into fight-or-flight.

Living in reaction sucks. Living in response is great.

You think you have a stressful job? There are probably people in the world with the same job as you who are not stressed by it. How are they able to respond to their work in a more helpful way? There’s something in how they think about their job that allows them to avoid unnecessary muscular tension. They have a helpful construct.

So too with relationships. Is your marriage getting you down? Well, there are probably people in far more difficult circumstances than you are in who do not react as tensely you do. They’re able to be calm and considered. What helpful thought construct do they have going that you do not?

Alexander & Mindfulness

Amy Ward Brimmer, an Alexander Technique teacher in New Town and Philadelphia, Pennsyvania again talks with Robert Rickover about her experiences with negative directions and about their usefulness for teachers and students.”

Amy talks about a mindfulness course she took recently. “The teacher, in preparation for meditation, was asking folks to sit with their spines upright…and letting the head balance delicately on top of the spine. I thought, that’s wonderful but most of the people in room wouldn’t know if they were doing that or not.”

Instead, the teacher could’ve advised the students to think, “I’m not pulling my head down” or “I’m not holding my neck” or “I’m not tightening my neck” or “I’m not fixing my head.”

Amy: “A student told me he did this when he [thought he] was late for a meeting and had to walk six blocks to another building. He told himself, ‘I’m not in a hurry.’ He arrived on time for his meeting and arrived in a state of awareness.”

Robert: “Think about what happens when you are in a rush. Typically you distort your walking pattern. You might push your chest forward. You’ll exaggerate the worst aspects of your walking in the same way that people who run often exaggerate the worst aspects of their walking.”

“You can still move as quickly as you want, but just say to yourself, ‘I’m not hurrying.’”

“I find that my students love to use negative directions in a way that was never the case with classic directions.”

The negative direction “I’m not compressing myself” or “I’m not compressing my spine” tends to have a three-dimensional quality for people who use it.

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Listen to the whispers, so you don’t have to hear the screams

Sarah Chatwin blogs: “…I would have been far better off paying attention to the fuzzy feeling of illness when it first wrapped it’s tentacles around me, instead of soldiering on and achieving nothing except making my own life a little more difficult. But isn’t this typical of what most of us do, especially when our bodies start sending us messages that they are unhappy? We plough on, ignoring the protests, the twinges and the pain, or smother them with painkillers and heat pads. It’s often only when the situation is desperate that we take action. Before I discovered the Alexander Technique, I was in such bad shape that I managed to put my back out whilst putting in a contact lens (a notoriously strenuous activity!). Take a few moments to think about your own situation. Tune in to yourself, listen. Listen to the whispers, so you don’t have to hear the screams.”

F.M. Alexander Would’ve Fit In With Downton Abbey

According to Wikipedia: “Alexander arrived London in June 1904, and quickly acquired a fine wardrobe, a manservant, and a smart address at the Army & Navy Mansions in Victoria Street. As he later said “In those days, you just couldn’t get on here [London] unless you appeared to be the right sort.””

Even though he was from Australia, F.M. Alexander spoke with an upper-class British accent. He apparently developed this long before ever setting foot in England.

Dr. Jereon Staring writes: “He was to enter the second stage in a life of not belonging. He joined an amateur dramatic club, preparing himself for the career that gave him what he really wanted: he decided to become a reciter. He took part in amateur performances in so-called drawing room entertainments. In 1892, he won the preliminary contest of the dialogue division of the Victorian Amateur Competitions Association competition. The prize suggests he had successfully masked all traces of an Australian accent and now spoke with the accent of the upper class English.”

Robert Rickover tweets: “Alexander Technique Abbey Heads! Which character in Downton Abbey has the best use? Which the worst?”

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How Alexander Technique Can Help Your Running

Author Malcolm Balk tells Robert Rickover: “The energy in the body follows your thought. When you have the thought of going up towards the head, they become live weight. They’re not dead weight. It’s the difference between carrying a kid who’s asleep and the same kid who wants to jump up and snuggle. The weight on the scale doesn’t change but the feeling of it is different.

“Runners tend to land at between three and ten times the body weight at every landing. Which end of the spectrum do you want to be on? When you make yourself dead weight and your feet are driving into the ground, you better hope the good Lord gave you some good connective tissue.”

“Running with minimum padding on your feet, you feel what is going on underneath your feet. I don’t need to run in minimal shoes. Through my Alexander training, I can feel and hear what my feet are doing on the ground.”

“You run like you sit. Are you lengthening or collapsing in the chair? Is your energy going up or do you feel like it is 5:30 pm on Friday? That energy and coordination in your body comes out when you run.”

Next interview: “The Alexander Technique is a pre-technique. It’s what you need to know to learn something else.”

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How the Alexander Technique can help with Eating Disorders

“Shirley Wade-Linton, an Alexander Technique teacher and Registered Dietitian in Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia talks with Robert Rickover about ways in which the Technique can help people with eating disorders.”

Shirley: “Because people with eating disorders almost by definition are out of touch with their bodies… They have a terrible relationship with their bodies. They hate their bodies. They fear their bodies. They have zero trust. They are not communicating in a useful way with their bodies. Continuing to do talk therapy with people, you can’t convince an 89-pound anorexic girl that she isn’t fat because it is not rational but if you can do some table work with her… They begin to change their relationship with their body.”

“The size of the body is not relevant to the Alexander teacher. We’re looking for release and openness and a mind that changes from anxiety and fear to calmer and more alert. When that change happens, people are fascinated. They start a new relationship that is not based on size and shape.”

Robert: “That process, particularly table work, could help someone obsessing over their size and nudge them in the direction of being interested in how they function.”

“How does this mechanism in which I live actually work? It takes them away from the root cause of starving themselves or not eat enough.”

“I’ve read in the literature that people with eating disorders don’t like to be touched. That has not been my experience.”

Shirley writes:

When it comes to the area of hunger and satiety, our bodies may seem unreliable. We can confuse feelings of nervousness, boredom, anger or sadness with the feeling of hunger. But when attention is paid, it becomes clear that food is being used to suppress emotions.

Endgaining might be defined as the desire to bring about the end (not being hungry anymore), however inappropriate the means might be to achieve this. We gulp down food simply to stop the feelings of hunger. I used to watch people eating food on the London Tube rather than waiting for a much more pleasant place to eat.

When presented with a meal, the means whereby the end can be accomplished means staying in the present. Quiet mind, soft belly, tasting the food, smelling the food, releasing the death grip on the fork and knife. It means enjoying the moment, staying conscious, not letting the mind wander, but staying in the experience of the food and the cues from the body. Mindful eating increases the enjoyment of food if the food is good and decreases the enjoyment if the food is stale or boring or simply not good tasting.

Inhibition is a capacity to be nonreactive. Inhibition is an action and a freedom. It allows us to keep our options open. How many of us keep our options open when eating a meal? How often do we finish the entire meal because it is on our plate? Do we give our bodies a chance to respond to the input of nutrients and notice when the body is complete with the meal? Or do we react in our habitual way and eat all the popcorn, finish the bag of crisps, eat everything on the plate because that is our habit? We also eat everything on the plate because it tasted so good at the beginning of the meal when we were hungry. We then desire to have that taste again and again and we don’t notice that as the body is satisfied the taste buds signal us to stop.

Imagine stopping and inhibiting our usual reactions and so being present while eating mouthful by mouthful. Being conscious in the action, mindful in the process.

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