My Personal Journey with the Violin Evolves… to the Stars

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansWhen I was two years old, I wanted to play the violin. My mother, a cellist, made me a toy violin out of half a coconut, so I started playing violin on a coconut. How funny is that?! (Maybe that’s why I’m so nutty! :) )

Now, decades later, I’ve traveled through so many phases with my dear friend, Violin…

As a child and later as a teenager, I had only one goal, and that was to become a great (and famous) soloist. I never questioned that goal – it was simply a given that it would eventually happen. I had no doubts. I won nearly every competition I entered, performed internationally, was featured in TIME Magazine, had some of the best teachers in the world, and was often treated like a princess for the obvious potential I displayed.

What never occurred to me was that I might someday change my mind and take my life in a completely different direction. When I was 19, I decided I had had enough and didn’t want to pursue a soloist’s lonely lifestyle. When I was 20, I got married and completely abandoned my childhood dreams.

That’s when I started playing in orchestras – something I’d never wanted to do.

The next thirteen years were interesting, and I gained a lot of experience as a violinist playing many different roles: Concertmaster, Associate Concertmaster, Section violinist, chamber musician, freelancer, violin teacher… all on the baroque violin as well as modern. I played in a Chicago studio for a McDonald’s commercial, and did injury to my sensitivities playing for a raucous “Young Messiah” show – something I swore never to do again!

Alexander Technique teacher musicians

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After thirteen years, I tired of it and burned out.  It felt like I’d “done it all”, and I had no more interest in any of it – save my baroque duo and performances with Apollo’s Fire. Those, I continued to enjoy from time to time.

When my second son was two years old, the Alexander Technique appeared as a saving grace of fresh air.  Still, I very rarely touched my violin to practice. I knew I was growing, but I didn’t grow as a musician in the way people usually do – by practicing their instrument – because I simply had no desire.  It seems my growth as a musician was happening under the surface.

Over the years I had found two golden treasures, two well-hidden keys to fundamental change and transformation. First, I paid a great deal of attention to the spirit of Love and Life Itself, and then I practiced the self-integration methods of the F. M. Alexander Technique. My fascination with the latter propelled me to become a teacher of the Technique in 2007.

To this day, I continue both of these practices, which to me are inseparable. As I have watched my evolution as a person and musician, I now very firmly believe – with absolute conviction – that this attentiveness to wondering “Who am I?”, with loving awareness of the present moment, is the best way to become a truly great musician.

Alexander Technique teacher musicThe practice of Self-Realization is indispensable to the visionary musician with lofty ideals, because the Self is our primary instrument. My violin, beautiful instrument that it is, is merely secondary. It can only express what lives first within my mind, heart, and soul. Jennifer’s job is simply to observe and get out of the way, to allow the primary control, my Inner Musician, to sing through me and Violin.

My violin playing improves every single time I pay attention with simple, conscious awareness. Whenever I pick up my instrument now, something fundamentally different is happening from what used to happen. Something acts from deep within to integrate everything inside and out.  Sometimes, it’s so subtle that I miss it; but more often than not, it serves to wake me up.

My journey continues.

These days, I find my curiosity piqued, enticing me to practice with my instrument on a near-daily basis again, completely free of pressure or ambition. I have no clear goals, other than to continue this musical journey of Self-Realization and to share my explorations and discoveries with others so inclined.

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansI feel so blessed to have met a very special person recently: Mio Morales, another musician and Alexander Technique teacher whose approach to Life, art, and AT are very similar to mine. Here’s a picture of Mio in Japan with Yasutaka Tonoike, who translates my blog into Japanese.

I have learned so much from him already, and my students have been asked his First Easy Question, “How easy is my neck?” every since I was introduced to it at a conference in Ireland last August.

When Mio offers his keen and quiet attention, nourishing me with ideas for my practice, for a short while I am brought back to my childhood violin lessons, a time when my passion to learn and grow as a musician made me play – I was told –  “like a samurai”.

When I ask “How easy is my neck?”, I notice what is happening, and my heightening awareness celebrates with movements that become surprisingly light and easy. With calm and rapt curiosity, I wonder what will happen next as I pick up my beloved violin.  I love to explore the beauty…

Just a few minutes every day of highly conscious violin practice – on my own and well-supported by the love of a wise and caring friend…this is enough.

The tiniest events have the power to alter the course of destinies… or to cause a garden of giant roses to spring from a ground long prepared by waiting.

I wonder where this growing Consciousness will take me and my dear old friend, Violin.  It’s already taking me for a wondrous ride…

Maybe I will end up in the stars…

Maybe I’m there already…

 

I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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Death, Performance Anxiety, and a Tool for Bravery

Reality-of-Fear-quotes-31331136-481-381_largeThere are times in life when we are called upon to do something which seems terrifying and impossible.

On the outside, we may not always have a choice about what happens to us, but on the inside we always have a choice about how we respond.

The Alexander Technique gives us a way to stop and choose how to react to the stimuli we are presented with; we can choose the habitual and familiar, or we can choose to move forward and up into the Unknown.  From this place of freedom of choice, we can learn to choose whether to let Principle or feelings be our guide,  and we can learn how to move forward in a new, more positive way.

As a performing musician, I am quite familiar with the feelings of dread and anxiety that can accompany the prospect of exposing my innermost Self in front of an audience, facing unknown and unpredictable outcomes. Thankfully, I have been able to overcome those horribly uncomfortable feelings many times, turning them into positive excitement and successful performances, and the more I practice facing and accepting the fears, the better I get at doing this.  The Alexander Technique has helped me immensely with this, and it has brought me great joy – both during and after performances. (See my blogpost on performance anxiety here: http://balanceandharmonyat.blogspot.com/2012/05/how-to-manage-performance-anxiety-with.html)

When I was a beginning Alexander Teacher with very little experience, I was presented with multiple opportunities which elicited a similar fear response, and I was also able to overcome them to good advantage.  Some of those moments felt like being thrown off of a cliff and being asked to fly with wings I was unaware that I had.  Or being thrown into a pool of water at the deep end, unaware that something in me already knew how to swim.Alexander Technique Cincinnati

I sometimes look at life and see it as a school for learning how to accomplish or manifest into reality what seems to be utterly impossible.  I see the Alexander Technique as a tool for learning this extremely valuable skill in a very conscious way.  It is a tool for bravery - for helping us move through the inevitable hellish moments of life with greater ease and grace.

I am so grateful when I look back and see that every single time life has confronted me with a stimulus to learn something the “hard” way (through difficulty, suffering, and fear), something in me has in fact carried me through to the other side, and I have emerged from the trial with a deeper understanding and greater strength.

Learning to trust that “something” that carries us through – it doesn’t really matter so much what we call it – is where the real work and art of living takes place.  It has been said, “Living is not for the faint of heart”!

The practice of being confronted with the seemingly impossible, facing the fear, and making conscious, principled choices about how to deal with the stimulus, is a practice that it would be better not to ignore, although most people do, most of the time.

F.M. Alexander said, “Anyone can do what I did, if they do what I did.  But nobody wants the discipline.”  The first part of that quote used to be the more important part for me, because I wanted very much to know what he did, and how to do it; now I find myself even more interested in the second part.  The practice of increasing our conscious awareness and making principled choices in the face of fear and discomfort is the most difficult, but the most important, discipline.

We don’t have to engage in this kind of self-discipline.  But, I personally choose to do so often, because I know that someday I will be confronted with what seems to be the most impossible thing and the greatest Unknown: my own death.  And I do believe that the death of this body I inhabit is inevitable!  I don’t know with absolute certainty what will happen when it dies, but it is possible that the prospect of no longer existing in material form (or otherwise? can I really know with absolute certainty? can anyone?) may fill me with the greatest fear response I have ever before experienced.  What if that moment suddenly presents me with the opportunity for a performance of a lifetime? What if I will be called upon again to do something that seems utterly impossible, and more difficult than everything that has come before?

alexander technique music

I would like to have a peaceful, positive experience of death when the time comes. To me, one way  to increase the odds of having that experience (not necessarily the only way or the only right way) could be to see this lifetime as a rehearsal, a learning, a preparation for that moment.  People say, “Life is not a rehearsal,” but it is possible that this really means: learn how to perform Life well NOW, so that when death comes, it’s just another moment to enjoy.  The rehearsal is the performance, and the performance is the rehearsal. 

In any case, when death comes, I would like to be prepared as much as possible; I would like to have my “trust muscles” so strong by then, that I won’t hesitate to fly off the cliff or dive off the diving board, into the vast, beautiful, heavenly Unknown.  And since I don’t know when that moment will come, I am preparing in earnest.  I don’t want to fall off the cliff to my destruction, and I don’t want to drown.  I want to rise above my fear, and overcome the challenge.

For this reason, I am grateful for every opportunity life offers me to practice dying (living) well, no matter how difficult, seemingly impossible, or painful.

“Those who die before dying do not die when they die.” – German proverb

I would love to hear your responses to this blogpost.  I welcome your comments!

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Do You Know How to Think to Improve Your Technique?

Alexander Technique teacher musicians“I used to go to my practice room and just start practicing my scales and my pieces… doing the same thing every day… working on things I needed to work on… aware of how little time I had and how much I had to do… feeling stressed… I didn’t know how to relax…

“Before taking this class, I didn’t really know how to think.”

One of my students made that confession to me this morning. It made my day for two reasons: (1) because it showed me once again how important the work is that we’re doing – it is truly life-changing; (2) because it got me thinking about how to think, in such a way that by the end of the lesson, MY life was changed. Again.

That’s a testimony to the power of the Alexander Technique, and also to the privilege of being an AT teacher.

During today’s lesson, I reminded myself – through teaching my student – how SIMPLE this process of clear thinking really is!  AT is incredibly simple – you just need to know a few steps, and then APPLY them to whatever activity you choose to engage in, in order to improve whatever you want to improve.

Here are the Alexander Technique steps in a nutshell:

1. Pay attention to your overall, general psycho-physical attitude (I often use my “Three Magic Phrases” to step into this space of freedom – see the downloadable article in the upper sidebar to find out more about these)

2. Choose a goal (keep it simple!)

3. Let go of your attachment to the goal (completely!)

4. Recognize that by letting go of your goal, you access a place of All-Possibility, where you have infinite choices. You can now organize those infinite possibilities into just three options to choose from. You can:

(a) Go ahead and carry out your intended activity/goal;
(b) Do something completely different; or…
(c) Do nothing at all.

Alexander found that he needed to choose options (b) and (c) many more times than option (a) in order to deeply let go of his attachment to the outcome, so that he was finally able to move with freedom, ease, and spontaneously good coordination.

5. Allow the choice to happen, carrying you into activity or not.

6. Ask yourself, “What happened? What did I notice? What did I observe?”

7. If you’d like to make improvements to the result of your activity (for example, you might wish to improve your intonation when playing an A Major scale), be clear about what you would like to be different the next time you do it. How could you modify your thinking the next time you carry out that activity?

8. Repeat, giving yourself ample time again to enjoy Step #1.

THAT… is how to think clearly, and how to practice and improve any skill with great efficiency.

For better or for worse, we get better at what we practice. If your practicing time includes ANY mindless, repetitive, boring practice, you will get better at playing your instrument in a mindless, repetitive, boring way. I don’t think that’s what you want, is it?

This process may seem tedious and painstakingly slow. However, that’s just an illusion, because your rate of progress is likely to increase dramatically, and you will need to spend much LESS time practicing. This is the concentrated, deep, REAL work of becoming a great musician, with an always-improving technique and pure depth of heart… IF that’s what you want.

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What to Do When “There Isn’t Enough Time to Practice”

alexander technique teacher cincinnati musicI’ve had an extremely busy weekend, filled with essay-writing, videotaping myself, a workshop for string players at NKU, and our second Art of Freedom annual “Non-Performance” (more about that later, once I have pictures!).

So I’m pretty exhausted, but it’s now time to dive in and start practicing for my trip to Cleveland on Tuesday, to rehearse and perform as a member of Apollo’s Fire all week.

I’d like to share a few notes with you about what WORKS BEST for me when I only have a couple of days to prepare for an important first rehearsal. Maybe you’ll find the ideas useful for yourself one day! This is me talking to me:

  • First of all, accept that the amount of available time is the sufficient amount of time. Don’t stress about it; just do what CAN be done – not what you think OUGHT to be done.
  • Rest when tired. Don’t overdo. If you feel like you might be getting sick, make being well your top priority over everything else – even practicing. SLEEP. Even if it’s during the day!
  • Be sensible with healthy food choices, but allow yourself to enjoy what you eat, too. No rushing.
  • TRUST!! that those years of preparatory work learning how to play your instrument and make music have built up an incredibly strong network of neural connections in your brain that will serve you well when you need to call upon them; your job is simply to TRUST your system and get out of the way.
  • Play through the music you’ve been given, but don’t worry about practicing what you can already play the first time around; you’ll have plenty of time to practice more AFTER the first rehearsal. Practice the parts you DON’T get right the first time; but leave them as soon as you can play them two or three times. 
  • You’re not expected to play perfectly at the first rehearsal! After all, that’s why you have six 3-hour rehearsals and plenty of empty hours over several days in which to get to know the music. Don’t expect too much and you won’t disappoint yourself.
  • When approaching your instrument, when lifting your instrument, when beginning to play, and while playing – ALL THE TIME – make awareness of your head-neck area your #1 TOP PRIORITY. Wondering about the freedom and ease in the neck is your #1 KEY to excellence in playing your instrument and making music.
  • Do not overfocus on the notes on the page. Refer them back to the awareness of your neck. Neck first, notes second!
  • Do not overfocus on your instrument, or your hands, or any other part of your body. Neck first, everything else second!
  • Everything relates back to the head-neck’s freedom to be easy. This is THE KEY, so USE IT and TRUST IT.
  • Try it out now, and try it out in the car on the way to Cleveland, and in the first rehearsal. Everything is a big experiment. Stay open to wondering what will happen, and you’ll be SURE to learn. When you’re learning, failure is impossible. So, there’s nothing to fear. Only endless happenings to look forward to and enjoy…. RIGHT NOW! :)

Just writing this out for you gives me joy!  I had to share it with you because I enjoyed so much more ease in my practicing a few minutes ago when I started to really pay attention to my neck more than to the notes or the music.

After all, what I see on the page is something that is happening within my visual system inside of my head – not something happening out there on the music stand. And once I “bring it inside”, what I’m learning needs to pass through my neck before it can get into my hands and my violin.

The freedom and ease of my neck is absolutely essential for me to play at my best. And when there’s very little time to prepare, it becomes all the more important not to let any anxiety about the future enter into the picture, because that would just make me tighten my neck – and then my coordination would be impaired.

So… now that I’ve written down what I’m newly discovering (for the ten thousandth time!) with such enthusiasm, it’s time for me to get back to practicing! Why? Because I have another workshop and a class to teach tomorrow… and I won’t have much time to practice. So, I’d better make the best use of my time right now! :)

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A Well-Musician Chat about the Alexander Technique

alexander technique musicAwhile back, I was interviewed by clarinetist Cara Gray for The Well-Musician, a website for musicians which is unfortunately no longer in service. I’ve decided to re-publish the transcript of that interview here so that it can still be accessed. Many thanks to Cara Gray for her kind interest in my work!

 

A Well Musician Chat with Jennifer Roig-Francoli, Violinist and Alexander Technique Practitioner and Teacher
(Interview published by Cara Gray in 2014)

While interviewing Jennifer Roig-Francoli, I have the feeling I’ve found the ultimate “Well Musician”. Jennifer is a violinist, performing this week with Apollo’s Fire a baroque orchestra based in Cleveland, and a teacher of her version of Alexander Technique which she calls the Art of Freedom. As we begin our Skype chat, I feel my tension melt away just talking to her.

TWM: Tell us how you got started with your interesting career?

JRF: I’ve been a certified Alexander Technique teacher since 2007 and I’ve been practicing meditation all my life. Just in 2013, I finally was able to integrate everything I do – teaching, meditation, plus my violin performance career (I’ve also been a violinist my whole life). I have continued to perform professionally, on both modern and baroque violin. But it’s taken me years and lots of soul searching and investigation and practice and experience to bring all of these elements, plus my spiritual life and my philosophy together in one thing and the result of that is what I call the Art of Freedom for Musicians.

I use The Art of Freedom to keep it kind of open because I also work with surgeons, but right now I am focusing on Musicians.

TWM: What is The Art of Freedom?

JRF: It is Alexander Technique, but it is my own personal take on Alexander Technique and how to learn it. I’ve expanded it – it’s like Alexander Technique Plus! 

TWM: So, how would you describe core Alexander Technique and how does your take on it change?

JRF: Alexander Technique is notoriously difficult to describe because it is something that is so different from everything else. It’s not a therapy. It’s not a treatment. But it has so many things in common with those, mostly yoga… but it’s not exercise. It’s a mind/body technique to help people with stress relief, tension, chronic pain – to help people change their habits and thinking and their movement. Alexander Technique helps people with so much that it’s very hard to specifically describe.

TWM: Is it physical in any way?

JRF: Traditional Alexander Technique is a hands-on experience for the most part. There are teachers who believe it is essential to have the hands-on and if you are not using hands, it’s not Alexander Technique. I do not see it so black and white. And I find that in my teaching, what I do most is talk to the person about what they are thinking and look at their thinking patterns.

What you think is what you get in your body and in your life – so I’m helping people to discover what their thinking habits are. What is getting in the way of achieving whatever they want and then helping them learn how to stop thinking that way (that’s the key). I give them alternative ways to think. These ways are going to help them with their lives – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually – everything that you are can be improved if you change your thinking.

TWM: Alexander Technique could be used for many different people in many different professions.

JRF: Yes, but what I bring to Art of Freedom is specifically applying all of this to music and musicians.

One of my specialties is performance anxiety. People come to me with lots of performance anxiety – and I’ve been there! I actually didn’t have performance anxiety for much of my life – even when performing for large groups as a soloist, but when I changed direction and made music a lower priority in my life and started playing the sections in orchestras I started getting anxiety, which didn’t make any sense!

So I started using Alexander Technique myself to learn about what I was doing to get in my own way. I’ve overcome my fear of flying, my stage fright – my life has improved so much! I actually came to Alexander Technique for neck pain in the first place and it solved so much more. 

TWM: How did you learn Alexander Technique?

JRF: I was one of those lucky people who had a dramatic, very fast improvement in like two lessons. My neck pain was gone (which had been there for months and months). So I fell in love with Alexander Technique but I couldn’t understand it. So I decided to go and do the teacher training course, not because I wanted to become a teacher (in fact, I really didn’t want to), but to learn what this technique is about. It’s a 3 year training of 1600 hours. I took 4, 4 hour classes a week. Half-way through the training I realized I was absolutely going to love teaching, so immediately after graduating I set up my practice and had a full practice built within a year.

TWM: How is the demand for Alexander Technique, and do you think it is growing?

JRF: It is a challenge because it is so difficult to describe and it’s not really in the mainstream yet. It was in Oprah Magazine and there have been major medical studies done that prove Alexander Technique helps with back pain, for instance, so that helps. Since it’s usually taught one-one-one and most of the practitioners are artists – musicians, actors, dancers – and our type tends to not be very practically business-minded, so we come out of Alexander Technique training not having a clue how to market or spread what we do and we have this thing called Alexander Technique that no one understands.

TWM: So how did you go about growing your business and getting clients?

JRF: The most important thing was that I had a very strong belief I could do it! I practice what I preach and I made a very clear goal – I wanted 15 students a week within two years. Then I figured out the steps it was going to take. And one of the steps was to do workshops. I did introductory workshops at mostly music schools. I would offer my services at the workshops and typically 10-20% of the workshop participants would want to work with me. I also launched my website and did lots of word of mouth. And whoever I talk to, I end up telling them what I do in a way they can relate to, then they are interested and very often they come and take a lesson. And within one year, I had 20 students per week!

TWM: Since your version of Alexander Technique focuses more on talking than touching, do you teach virtually as well?

JRF: Yes, I teach via Skype. Most of my practice is hands-on – and I don’t want to eliminate that from my teaching – but I am not excluding the ability for me to teach without my hands. Of course it opens up a much larger client base as well.

TWM: Any final words of thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?

JRF: Three amazing things have happened through my work with Alexander Technique: 

  1. My violin playing has changed dramatically. To be honest, I hardly every practice any more. I go for literally months without touching my violin, then I have a performance, like last year in Carnegie Hall. And when I don’t practice, I actually sound better when I pick it up again. It is rather miraculous.
  2. I used to be the shyest person you can imagine. And now I love teaching workshops to hundreds of people and I love public speaking. All of those fears are gone. And it didn’t work on it. It was a side-effect of Alexander Technique.
  3. I want to feel at home when I am on stage. You sound better at home when you play for yourself. And I don’t wear shoes at home, so I decided not to wear shoes on stage… I played in Carnegie Hall barefoot! It was one of the best experiences to be myself on stage and I loved it.

TWM: What is your advice to get started with Alexander Technique?

JRF: If you want to try Alexander Technique lessons, think of it the same way as you would look for a music teacher. You might not like the first violin teacher you go to, so you look for another one. You might try two or three before you find the right teacher for you. Everyone is different.

TWM: What’s on the horizon for you?

JRF: I recently started teaching a certification course.  It’s a series of classes in modules of six-week sessions.  If you do the first four modules, you can receive an Art of Freedom Level 1 Certificate. These are currently offered in Cincinnati, but hopefully I will be able to offer them online and on-location in the future.

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The SHOCKER: You are Free to be a Bad Person!!

Ok, folks. Here’s the crucial key that most people seem to miss!

YOU ARE FREE TO BE EXACTLY WHO AND HOW YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, and
YOU ARE FREE TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN DIRECTION.

Alexander Technique CincinnatiWhen you really grasp the full significance of this, you will come to realize that you are just as free to go in the “wrong” direction (a direction that is unhelpful and causes suffering) as you are to aim in the “right” direction (a direction that is helpful and relieves suffering).

This is the reality: you are free to choose to think thoughts that hurt you, and you’re free to do the wrong thing.  You’re free to stiffen and tighten your neck. You’re free to collapse and pull down, and you’re free to compress yourself so much that you can’t breathe or play the flute.

You’re free to make your life more difficult, and you’re free to make yourself progressively less happy. You’re even free to do that to other people.

At first glance, this may seem obvious to you. And most of us want to be and feel “good”, and to do the “right” thing. We want to be helpful and healthy and establish good habits that bring happiness to ourselves and others.

But how often do we truly exercise our TOTAL FREEDOM with CONSCIOUS AWARENESS, as opposed to acting mindlessly on the HABIT of wanting to be good, while simultaneously judging ourselves (and others) and pushing ourselves around like SLAVES TO OURSELVES, chained by FEAR?

If we want to realize our true freedom, that means first granting ourselves the freedom to be exactly as we are in this present moment, whether we are aiming up or down, in or out…into love and peace, or into fear and suffering.

What would happen if we could stop judging ourselves RIGHT NOW for going “wrong” and simply notice the reality of all that we are, with full acceptance?

Can you grant yourself the freedom to be bad, go wrong, and mess up? Or do you stop halfway and only give yourself partial freedom, because it’s terrifying to imagine what might happen if you recognized the staggeringly immense freedom that you already have?

Can you trust yourself to choose goodness if you have total absolute freedom – free of fear – to not be good?

The thing is, you’re already hurting yourself, pulling down, stiffening, and tightening…thinking unhelpful thoughts throughout the day, every day, even though you want so much to be good. You’re HUMAN.

ALexander Technique musiciansBut just as you’re free to keep doing that, you’re free to wake up and NOTICE when you’re going down, and you’re free to stop judging yourself for it and being afraid of what you might do if you actually gave yourself permission to experience freedom without fear of judgement and consequent punishment.

Ultimately, we are afraid of ourselves because we don’t trust in our own essential goodness.

YOU ARE FREE TO BE FREE
AND YOU ARE FREE TO TRUST YOUR ESSENTIAL GOODNESS!

Only once you’ve truly returned to yourself your birthright – your freedom to be FREE as you are in this present moment – only then are you TRULY free to choose a different direction. Only when you stop judging yourself for being bad and wrong are you fully free to realize and aim into goodness.

How can you know if you’re going in the “wrong” direction if you haven’t let yourself fully experience the supposed “wrong-ness” of this moment? Sometimes, the “right” direction is masquerading as the “wrong” – but how will you ever be able to discern the true reality if you’re too busy running away from the person hiding behind the mask? Do you really know who you are??

Angels are sometimes disguised as devils, and devils as angels.

How will you know which one you are (or who anyone else is) until you stop to look and live the complete reality of who you are in this moment? If you stop and experience yourself as you truly are right now, then maybe you’ll see that we are BOTH: angel and devil, light and dark, Yin-Yang all in one. THAT is when you suddenly have the true freedom to choose where to put your attention, to choose the life you want, to be who you want to be.

Freedom, ease, love, joy, beauty, bliss, light…..it’s all within the infinite world that you ARE, and you can only know it by experiencing it. In order to experience it, you must seek it within yourself, and in the seeking it, you will find it. What do you wish to experience?

Focus on being wrong, and you will surely find the experience of your “wrong-ness” – again and again and again. And it will hurt – both yourself and others.

Do you want to be and experience your goodness? Know that you ARE essentially good, despite possible appearances to the contrary. Notice the reality of this moment, and do not judge yourself! Simply notice, and choose to see the good – in yourself and everywhere.

Find the ease, find the quiet, find the good, find your loving heart.

It’s all so easy, if what you WANT is ease!

Do you want to play your instrument and make music with ease? That’s easy, too.  But first, you must find the ease in yourself. And before you can do that, you need to notice the reality of this present moment and give yourself the absolute, total freedom to BE WHO YOU ARE RIGHT NOW – and give your music its freedom to be as it is right now, too.  The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.

What could be easier than simply being aware of the reality of this present moment, just as it is?

Enjoy!!!

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What is the Root of ANXIETY and How Can I Make it GO AWAY??

Alexander Technique and performance anxietyDo you experience performance anxiety sometimes?

I do. Not very often, but sometimes. And not just in the context of musical performance. Sometimes, it’s just in conversation with a person I’ve never met, or in a place I’ve never been, or triggered by a very new and unfamiliar situation.

What is this anxiety? At root, of course, it is a variety of fear. Fear of the future, fear of unknown possibilities. It doesn’t really matter what the context is; what matters is how we experience it.

Anxiety and fear may come in a thousand varieties, but at root it’s always the same thing – a separation from an essential part of ourselves, a lack of awareness of another possibility, a certain lack of presence and mindful awareness of this present moment.

Whenever I feel anxious or scared or afraid, there is something important happening that I’m usually not aware of right away, and that is how and what I’m thinking.

When I’m scared, something in me is thinking, “I’m scared” and BELIEVING this is essentially true, and I’m identifying myself with this experience. To believe “I’m scared” is to identify myself with the experience of fear. I am tricking myself and convincing myself that there is no other reality beyond my awareness of this experience.  Ultimately, I’m thinking and believing, “I am fear”.

But is fear really who we are?

In that moment, perhaps it is. But, that can only be a fraction of who we are!

The key is to question our thoughts and our belief in those thoughts. I can ask myself: “If I believe I am fear, what is the result of thinking and believing that thought?” How do I react? What happens in my body, my thoughts, my mood, my attitude…and how does it lead me to behave?

When you believe you are afraid, what happens? Try it out. I can guarantee you that if you believe you’re afraid, you will in fact feel afraid – and the sense of fear will increase the more you think about it.

But what would happen if you noticed yourself thinking, “I’m afraid,” but you stopped to wonder if it’s actually true. Is it true that you are afraid? Is it true that you are identified with fear? Is it true that this is who you really are? Is it true that you are made of fear – that fear is your essential nature?

Impossible! Here’s why. Have you ever noticed that the part of you that is observing your fear is simply observing your experience of fear, but it is not itself afraid?

Can you stop identifying yourself with your experience of fear for a moment and shift your attention to the observer in you? Can you identify with the part of you who notices and wonders and gets curious about the fear? Can you shift your attention to that objective Witness within you and focus on that “You”, even as you continue to experience and feel what your body-mind is feeling?

Now, let’s pause for a moment and ask another important question: What is Love? What is unconditional Love? What is true Love?

To me, real Love is embodied in exactly what the Observer-Self is doing:

The Observer-Self notices and observes, without judgement.
The Observer-Self pays attention to the suffering part of me who is getting sucked into and lost in the scary land of fear.
The Observer-Self watches and cares for that small, compressed, tight, and scrunched-up part of me.
The Observer-Self is loving me by staying with me – totally present – closer to me than anybody else could ever be – filled with compassion and understanding – loving me unconditionally – allowing me to be who I am in this present moment – letting me have my human experience – giving me the freedom to express an infinite range of human emotion – listening to me and my every innermost thought – following my movements of mind and body – and caressing me with its tender, light touch of awareness.

The Observer-Self is not other than Me.

Alexander Technique and LoveChoosing to identify myself with THIS aspect of myself is choosing to focus on Love. Fear may still be present, but the more I identify with Love, the more my fear dissolves. Ultimately, the light of my Self-Love shining into my soul will dispel the darkness of my fear.  Fear tends towards death; Love is Life itself.

“Even though I walk in the shadows of the valley of death,
I shall not fear, for Thou art with me.”

And where else would that reassuring, comforting Presence reside, but within my very own heart? If that loving Presence lives within my every cell, how could this guiding Observer-Self be anything other than That which dispels my fear?

So…. “Seek and ye shall find”!

Seek love and you will find it. Seek fear and you will find it. Which one do you want?

Don’t you want the love to live within you, so you can live in it all the time, and feel it, and swim and bathe in it, and send it all out from your heart and into your music, to touch and warm and soothe yourself and the hearts of every soul you make music for – and more?

This is what I choose to think. It makes me happy. It lifts me up out of fear and darkness. And I know it helps others to feel lighter and happier, too.

Examine your thoughts… and notice the results.

You can choose. What do you really want?

LIVE IT NOW.

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Why Is It So Hard To Teach Yourself??

Alexander Technique CincinnatiI had an interesting experience last week that I’d like to share with you.

I had just taught a great lesson, and what was so great about it was that I was teaching my student how to be her own best teacher; and while teaching her that, I was teaching myself and getting really inspired.

But the really interesting thing occurred to me right AFTER the lesson, when I started wondering why I don’t work with myself – teaching myself the Alexander Technique – in the same way that I teach my students, and with the same kind of disciplined regularity.

That’s when I realized with more clarity than ever that there is a crucial distinction between learning with someone else teaching you, and working alone without a teacher.

So, why is it usually so much harder to teach oneself? Why is it so much easier to do this work with someone else?

The primary reason it’s more difficult is that we need to assume complete responsibility for ourselves when we’re alone. We need to muster up the courage, the desire, and the self-discipline to be both teacher AND “disciple” (student) of oneself.  The student in us craves having a teacher telling us what to do and needs that; and the teacher within us needs to accept the directorship of the student, gently guiding the student-self with compassion, understanding, clarity, and strength.  

The “self-teacher” needs to take responsibility for the “self-student”, and this is not an easy thing to master! To begin with, the desire and motivation to take on the task of self-teaching-learning needs to be extremely high. This is why people in pain or with major issues can sometimes make the most progress by themselves; they are highly motivated to change.

But what if the motivation to change is not very strong? Then the “self-student” becomes complacent and lazy, and doesn’t make the time to do the work. That’s not good news for the student who has no external teacher, because habit will always be around, waiting to catch us in a moment of mindlessness so that it can take us down where we do not want to go. This is why it’s best to have someone else teach you until you’re really fully “weaned” and ready to take on the big responsibility of all aspects of your own life. (Of course, how often your teacher teaches you is usually up to you.)

Happily, after today’s lesson, I realized that I can make it easier for myself. I realized that in a lesson, the teacher focuses on just a few things at a time, and the student then goes home with just a few things to keep in mind.

Why not do that for myself? Why not do that for YOURself?  Why do we think we need to tackle everything at once, and improve everything all together?

In fact, making only one small change DOES change everything else, because everything is connected. Everything else WILL adjust itself. So… I think I can become a better teacher for myself if I only ask one or two things of myself each day… or even every few days… or every week.

What ONE thing can I focus on today, that would be easy for me to remember?

What ONE thing can you teach yourself today? Tell us in the comments box!

*Image courtesy of Supertrooper at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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Space is Easy. Touch the Space.

alexander technique depression anxietyThere is a great deal of suffering in the world. But are you aware of how much more ease there is than suffering?

Just look around you. Do you see how much empty space there is, everywhere? Most things are made of empty space, and there is empty space between and through all things. Every bit of physical matter consists almost entirely of space.

Can you touch the empty space with your awareness? Can you be aware of the ease inherent in the space? There is no pain, no hardship, no suffering in the emptiness of space…none whatsoever. In space, there is only the void of space.

Is there pain in your body, or tension? Can you feel the pain and the tension crying out to you for your attention? You are drawn there like a magnet, and the suffering is all you feel…

Where is the ease, my friend?

Can you sense the space around you, and within you?

Is there pain at the tip of your nose, your elbow, or in your bone marrow? Find the places that are empty, devoid of suffering, and notice the space that exists there. Find the space that your nose or elbow or bones occupy, and touch that space with your awareness.

Space is empty, made of peaceful stillness. Everything happens in space, but space itself is beyond all happening.

Be aware of the ease of space, and let your suffering dissolve.

What happens if you move with that awareness? What happens if you let the creation of your music arise from the void of empty space, touching the space with all that you are?

You have all the power. It is your birthright as a human being, free to choose.

Your power lies in your ability to choose where to place your awareness. Will you fill your mind-body space with the awareness of ease and space, or with the awareness of all that you think is wrong?

Your choice will bring you what you wish for.

Blessings of Peace to you.

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How to Overcome Performance Anxiety ~ by Dan Fries

Alexander Technique performance anxietyThis post is by guest writer Dan Fries. Dan Fries is an author and founder of several companies, including Corpina Nootropics. He started his career at Harvard Medical School studying cancer tumor biology, but saw an opportunity for a more holistic approach to healthcare. That’s when he started Corpina, with a mission to inform the world about responsible brain health and supplementation. He writes about his journey at DanFries.net

 

Think back to your last big performance or audition. What were your feelings right before you walked on stage?

Was your heart pounding in your chest?  Were your hands clammy and cold? Did you feel tense, light-headed, shaky or weak? Did you have trouble concentrating?

Surely, fear and doubt could be the culprit, affecting even the most-talented entertainers. You would have had a vague sense of something bad that was going to occur and blamed yourself for not practicing enough.

Sounds familiar?

These are some of the symptoms and signs of performance anxiety experienced by thousands of people. Of course, you might feel frustrated because your hours of practice and hard work were subdued by your inner feelings of discomfort and fear.

If you’re able to manage stress and anxiety, then all is well. But if you’re like most performers and anxiety confines your ability to practice music, then you may think twice before performing in front of public audiences.

Ultimately, this affects your career path as you might end up playing music in ensembles rather than as soloists or you will take up the profession of being a music educator.

It is important to give yourself some time before you make such career decisions and try to come up with your own ways of fighting anxiety.

Can Performance Anxiety Be Controlled?

The answer is YES! The first step in overcoming your performance anxiety is to confront your vulnerabilities and fears. You need to accept who you are and avoid the feeling that you have to prove yourself to others. Just keep in mind that no one is perfect and nobody expects you to be either. It is okay to make mistakes but that shouldn’t stop you from giving your 100%.

The second step is to know how to channel your negative thoughts, predictions, images, beliefs about performing live. And this is not as difficult as you think.

Common Lapses In Dealing with Performance Anxiety

  • Treat The Symptoms Rather Than The Cause

You are on the stage and you see thousands of onlookers anticipating your stunning performance. Suddenly, you feel your heart racing, breathing becoming shallow and hands starting to tremble. Sometimes you might even feel nauseous and have trouble focusing your vision.

At this point, you might be thinking of overcoming this troublesome mental phase.  What you need to realize is attending the physiological symptoms of anxiety is like putting a band-aid on a deep wound. Such symptoms are the natural aspects of the body’s fight response.

So, if your symptoms aren’t debilitating, then you need to try to ease them through pre-performance exercises like progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing.

[http://i.imgur.com/WED9xjn.jpg] (Anxiety)

  • Over-Practicing

One common mistake that many and probably you too might make is over-practicing. You feel additional practice is the best solution for overcoming your anxiety. But it is not. You can play or sing music well and it is your fear of performing in front of a live audience that pulls you down.

Simply over-preparing or continuous practice will help to give a decent performance but it would never help you to overcome your performance anxiety. Your fear lies in how the audience would react to your performance, not whether you have practiced enough or not.

  • Letting Others Determine Your Performance

As a musician, you might have some firm ideas on what your performance should be like, the repertoire you choose, attire, and the setup of the performance venue. These common practices are not written anywhere and they are just simple conventions.

There are various researches that throw light on how these situational factors cause a huge amount of anxiety among performers. Strict conventions like these when it comes to performance are negotiable, especially if you’re able to get a groove going and you’ve the pulse of the crowd.

Dictating terms on how you perform, what music to play, and what kind of outfit to wear will make you more stressed.  Also, it hampers your creativity.

Treatment For Performance Anxiety

Here are the 6 tips to follow for overcoming your anxiety and fear on the stage:

  •  Be prepared – practice, practice, practice
  •  Shift your focus on entertaining the audience. Don’t be self-conscious
  •  Limit the intake of sugar and caffeine on the day of performance
  •  Keep away thoughts which lead to self-doubt
  •  Practice meditation, breathing, and other relaxation techniques and/or the Alexander Technique
  •  Consider some of the additional suggestions from Corpina to ease your mind and kick anxious thoughts

Final thoughts

A musical performance is not something that you must strive to endure. It must be something that you enjoy and if you don’t, then you are not in the right mental state to perform.

No doubt, anxious thoughts can crop up in your mind, but you need to know that it happens to a lot of musicians. With the right self-motivation and anti-anxiety tools you can overcome your performance anxiety disorder.

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