Cantare Studio

VOICE AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Posted on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 by Marieke Schuurs

Singing is not an activity! Singing is one of the clearest examples of embodied thought that I know of.  The movement part of singing is a long, steady exhalation.  A full breath and a relaxed, open throat are determined by how well we are balanced through our skeleton, so that our internal systems can move unimpeded by outer muscle tension. The rest of singing (onset of sound, pitches/notes, resonance, words, rhythm, communication) is a combination of awareness and thought. You are aware of your balance, your breath, your audience, your accompaniment. You decide to start your sound as you begin your long, steady exhalation. You think of all the notes, words and meaning that make up a phrase as you continue your exhalation. Your long steady exhalation then reflexively encourages a full, complete inhalation for the next phrase.  Try this: sitting balanced on a chair, breathe out slow and steady while you think of a phrase of a song. Repeat a couple of times, each time letting the breath reflexively return. Then actually sing the phrase - what is the experience like?  Is it similar to how you normally sing? How is it different?


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Posted on Monday, April 24, 2017 by Marieke Schuurs

" The doctor of the future will give no medicine but instead will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease."  I re-found this quote by Thomas Edison the other day and became interested in it's educational aspect, as well as noting that the care of the human frame is first on his list, and cause and prevention of disease is last.  Who teaches care of the human frame today?  Physical therapists, Massage therapists, Chiropractors, Fitness trainers, and Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, and Yoga teachers - to name a few.  But are we educating as we relieve symptoms?  Are we teaching clients to understand themselves?  "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  This familiar quote has evolved from many different sources.  Why wouldn't we educate our clients?  The pool of humans who can learn something new about themselves in order to live healthier lives is infinite. An educator continues to learn for herself and passes down her information to her clients, becoming a conduit of information in a particular field.  Learning happens through touch/experience, through audio and visual presentation, and mostly through dialogue.  Are you an educator?  How do you define what you do?

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Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017 by Marieke Schuurs

The Alexander Technique, at it's philosophical core, is based on the idea that the mind/body is an indivisible entity.  This is being supported by recent research in fascia, the connective tissue that is woven throughout everything inside us.  I took a walk the other day and noticed that my legs were moving ahead of the rest of me, indicating that I was leaning back. My first instinct was to correct by leaning forward, but I found I was working harder to walk (ie; more muscles were engaging). Then I thought, "Oh yes, my head needs to move forward and away in order to re-balance myself."  No sooner had I thought my thought, than my system adjusted and my balance improved with no extra work this time.  In fact, the re-balancing was so gentle that I didn't feel like I was moving at all, but my legs were definitely more underneath me and my walk more effortless.  Take this mind/body idea in a different direction - we know that as soon as you think a pitch (note), your vocal folds respond and change length for that note, even if you are not singing, but just have a piece of song running through your mind.  We also know that anxious or negative thoughts create both chemical and physical responses, changing breathing, core temperature, our ability to take in information through our senses and level of muscle activity (to name a few).  Conversely, a true "happy thought" is an instant energy boost.  I've been searching for a word that successfully encompasses mind/body indivisibility, but haven't found one yet - maybe we need to invent one?  Or find one from another culture and language?  More on this topic over the next few weeks...

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Posted on Friday, December 23, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

How do you see the world?  Through the lens of your own experiences over time.  In order to see the world differently, you would have to have different experiences.  An actor was goes for an audition and has a poor experience, either because he was less prepared than he thought or because the audition situation was not supportive of success (long commute, poor time of day, poor acoustics, etc).  If he has several similar experiences and no positive audition experiences, then he will begin to anticipate the negative experience, which will release stress hormones into his system.  Stress hormones cause us to tighten up, taking us off balance and inhibiting our ability to breathe.  There's no way to stop the stress hormones from happening, thus ensuring that the experience WILL be negative.  

If you want a different outcome, you must have a different perception.  If you want a different perception, you need a series of different audition experiences.  Do a few easy auditions for the experience.  Or audition for a part you don't want anyway, just for the practice.  Or practice your audition material for friends or mentors.  Remind yourself each time that you DO NOT KNOW how the audition will go, and it could as easily go well as poorly.  Teachers, offer your students opportunities to practice auditioning in an environment that ensures a positive experience.

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Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

The concept of being in the present moment has become quite popular lately.  People say to each other, " I (you) need to be more present,"  and they usually mean "bring my attention to this moment."  My question is HOW?  What is the pathway by which one becomes present?  Do I block out and concentrate?  Or open up and listen to all sensory input?

Students of the Alexander Technique commonly say that their mind clears and becomes more calm as their coordination improves, either as a single session experience or over a period of time.  Improving coordination and use is generally achieved by letting go of excess work (tension) rather than by adding work, by releasing/not-doing rather than doing.  The less tension there is in the our system, the less constant feedback via our neural network. This feedback can then be interpreted by the mind as random thoughts, anxiety, pain, etc.  

Bodymapping for Musicians teaches Inclusive Awareness: an open field of awareness with a roving focus point.  It is the opposite of concentration, which excludes all input except the focus point, sort of like putting blinders on a horse. Somatic studies have shown that concentration requires tightening through one's system.  Input from the world comes through our senses all the time, it requires work to block it out.  Inclusive Awareness opens up our awareness to the input from our senses.  It's like looking at an entire painting, while also noticing a particular detail. 

If my physical coordination improves by letting excess work go and my thinking becomes more clear as a result, and if I allow for a more Inclusive Awareness as part of navigating life, then the pathway to being in the present moment includes releasing tension and opening up to the world around us through our senses.

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Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

Inhibition/Not-doing  - In Alexander terms, inhibiting is the conscious choice to “not-do”.  Remember the experience of being at the doctor and needing blood drawn?  You first response was to tense your arm in anticipation of pain, but you knew that would make it worse so you deliberately asked your arm to stay relaxed. You inhibited your natural response to being poked by a needle. 

We can talk to our systems, ask muscles to let go if they are not actually needed.  Try asking your back-of-neck muscles to soften (quality of a relaxed muscle) – don’t do anything, just mentally ask.  Ask several times in a row – any changes?  Rather than asking and then doing or moving, you are asking and then noticing what happens, trusting our systems to respond to our request.

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Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

Stopping – Do you remember “Red light, Green light” or freeze tag from when you were a child?  In order to not get tagged, you had to run and then freeze and not move. I noticed the other day when I was walking that, in order to stop walking, I tightened my system to come to a stop – much like in freeze tag.  So what is stopping?  In order to walk, one must allow oneself to go off-balance in a certain direction, ideally in a coordinated fashion.  So it follows that stopping would be coming back into balance.

Next time you are walking (maybe in a store where you might stop a lot to look at things), you could play with the idea of stopping as a process of coming back into balance.  Does it change the quality of stopping?  In what way?

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Posted on Wednesday, May 04, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

Axis and Appendicular – one of the ways to think about how you move is to identify the Axis muscle system and the Appendicular muscle system.  The axis muscles support the movement of your head, spine and ribcage for balance and breathing.  They are generally smaller muscles, run vertically through your core (core muscles), and do not give much kinesthetic feedback (we don’t feel them working).  In contrast, the Appendicular muscles are larger, mainly horizontal muscles that wrap around the axis, designed to move our appendages (arms and legs).  Because arm and leg movement is usually voluntary, these appendicular muscles have lots of nerves going to them so that we can feel them moving (kinesthesia).

Think about your axis system for a moment, running up and down through the core of you.  Encourage this system to be free and buoyant.  Notice whether the axis system maintains freedom when you walk or lift something.  Or do you tighten down the axis system as a part of your movement?  Try moving both ways, tightened down or buoyant – how does that change the movement, especially at the joints?

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Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

Dancing Starfish – It is a studied fact that, under stress, our system tightens by pulling our appendages (arms and legs) towards our center, in order to still/quiet movement and then gather for a possible outward movement into flight or fight. If you are under constant low-grade stress, then this tightening is happening continuously as adrenalin is pumped into your system.  We need time to recover from an adrenalin dose, which we often don’t have before the next stressful event happens.  Over time, your kinesthesia (sense of yourself) records this contracted state as the new normal, and you no longer notice it. 

We know from the Alexander Technique, and from later documented studies, that the relationship of the head and spine are of primary importance in the overall ease of movement in our systems.  Simply put, if your head/spine system is tightened and compressed, then all your movement is compromised.

Enter the Dancing Starfish – a thought designed to encourage a certain response: How/where can my head balance in order for my arms and legs to release away from my torso?  Ask yourself this thought and notice the response J.  

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Posted on Thursday, April 07, 2016 by Marieke Schuurs

An ordinary spring, like the one that might come out of a pen.  Hold it vertically between thumb and forefinger. Press on it – this is very like the downward compression that happens through the head-spine system, when the relationship of your head at the top vertebrae of your spine is off-balance. Now, slowly release the spring to its full length, watching it as you do so.  Try it several times – does your system respond to what you are watching?  As your head/spine system un-compresses, you are returning to balance. 

How does this work?  When your mind thinks a thought, the rest of your system responds to that thought, whether you notice or not. And when you experience something with one part of you, the rest of you comes along for the experiential ride.  Compress the spring again, then just think of releasing the spring.  Did your fingers start to release the spring before you had a chance to put thought into action?  Thought and action are so much more simultaneous than we understand!

Thanks to Catherine Kettrick and David Mills for this one J

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