The following day both Martha and Laura were due to have a lesson at their local riding school. I met them both afterwards. I do not know who looked more excited. Martha’s eyes and whole demeanour looked super awake and alert. She was holding her head and easily on top of her clearly lengthening spine. She appeared impressively open and broad cross her shoulders and upper chest. Her lower back had raised and filled out and her legs looked confidently planted underneath her.
“My teacher was really impressed with the way we both responded during the lesson today.” Laura told me. “She was particularly excited by the tight circles that such a big horse as Martha was managing, for the first time, to turn. Do you think the Alexander Technique could have helped that?”
“For a horse to be able to turn one side of its spine has to flex as the other side simultaneously extends. If even as few as two or three vertebrae are restricted by excess muscle tension then the mobility of the spine as a whole is reduced. Freeing those muscles and vertebrae should allow the horse to turn more easily. So, yes” I replied “the Alexander Technique could well have helped – particularly in that area at the base of Martha’s neck.”
Without suggesting that anyone can become an overnight Alexander teacher – in fact it takes three years of full time training- taking a little more time to consciously touch in the manner described above can, at the very least, do a lot to deepen the rapport between horse and rider. In human relationships the cool hand on the brow during emotional upsets and illness; the back rub after a physically demanding day can relieve stress and be of positive physical and emotional therapeutic value, The language of touch is perhaps an even more significant factor in the relationship between horse and rider.
NB It does have to be underlined that Martha is basically a hale, hearty and robust horse with no significant problems. The care mentioned above should not be thought of as a substitute for properly qualified professional advice.
“Ok, then what happens? What do you do next?” Laura asked with growing curiosity.
“Well you don’t actually do anything as such. You continue to attend to your own all over balance as you place your hands on the horse. The hands are quietly attentive and enquiring. The more open and lengthened and widened your hands are the more sensitive they will be.”
“When you put hands on someone you can’t help affecting the recipient’s muscles. Muscles are attuned to the language of touch. The question is to get the touch happening in the right way so that the effect is positive rather than negative.”
Laura went on to place her hands on several different locations along the column of Martha ‘s neck. She took her time about doing this. Apart from being a mildly pleasant experience for all three of us there was nothing remarkable in what Laura felt with her hands or in Martha ‘s response.
Eventually Laura worked her way down to the base of Martha’s neck just above the shoulder blades. This is an area of profound constriction in many humans and Martha was proving to be no exception to this rule. Laura immediately picked this up.
“What do I do now?” she said excitedly.
“Exactly the same as before… Keep coming back to your own all over balance and to opening out your hands. It helped you to pick up the problem area perhaps it will also help you to release the tension this area.”
“Maybe you should take over now Alan” Laura said with a little concern.
“I don’t think so” I replied. A particularly peaceful atmosphere had descended over Laura, Martha and me. I didn’t think that Martha would appreciate me breaking the spell on account of my superior qualifications!
“You know that Alexander Technique teachers now work with horses?” I said to my friend Laura.
Laura was standing underneath the neck of her horse Martha and making long strokes down in the direction of her shoulder blades.
“No I didn’t know that Alan.”
I knew that Laura would not know this rather esoteric chunk of Alexander/equestrian information. I just wanted to be the centre of attention by sounding, I hoped, rather clever and well informed.
I went on to tell Laura about an article in ‘Direction’ an Alexander Technique journal, which had recently devoted an entire issue to equitation. Most of the articles were about Alexander Technique for the rider but one fascinating article was about Alexander Technique for the horse.
The editor of the magazine, Jeremy Chance, was visiting Alexander teacher and rider Sally Tottle. Sally told Jeremy about one of her horses who, after having sustained an injury some time ago now needed much longer to warm up. Jeremy, a non-rider, suggested putting Alexander hands on the horse… The results were impressive. The horse in question had several twenty minutes Alexander sessions. Following each session the horse would seem slightly disorientated for several minutes and then slowly start to move in a freer and more efficient way. The same process was repeated with several other horses who also improved their performance in a steady cumulative way.
Laura listened tolerantly to my ‘learned’ discourse as she continued stroking Martha. “How do Alexander teachers go about putting there hands on anyway she asked?”
Laura had already had several Alexander lessons and knew what it was like from the recipient’s point of view.
“The first thing an Alexander teacher does is to take care of the way that they are using their own self… By freeing their neck … so that their head can balance more freely and efficiently on top of their spine … and thus allowing their whole spine to lengthen and back to widen. By freeing the core of their body in this way the Alexander teacher can use their legs, arms and hands more efficiently. When the teacher is well balanced the quality of the way they touch a human being or horse is automatically more gentle, skilful and effective.”
Although I was talking theoretically Laura was utilising my instructions practically. As she adjusted the way she was standing the quality of her manual and emotional contact with Martha automatically changed. The quality of her touch became somewhat stiller and more sensitive. Martha also became stiller and an attentive look came over her face and eyes.
“Ok, then what happens? What do you do next?” Laura asked with growing curiosity.
Locating attention in the centre of the body is a superb tool for supporting and freeing the voice. It also develops and reinforces feeling of confidence and assured performance behaviour.
Alan Mars https://brightonalexandertechnique.com teaching vocal development at a European funded conference on lifelong learning. Sponsored by London based Pupil Parent partnership. A voice workshop was selected as a way of stretching the groups comfort zones. Delegates from UK, France, Belgium, Germany and French Guyana
London and Brighton Confidence Boosting skills workshops
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Brighton Hove singing lessons LIBERATING VOICE & CONFIDENCE FOR PERFORMANCE
Most singers experience some anxiety at the prospect of performing or auditioning. For some the nerves can be completely debilitating. Celtic harp player and traditional singer Alan Mars suggests some simple methods for transforming stress and anxiety into confidence and excitement.
The techniques are drawn from the author’s extended training in singing, Alexander Technique, NLP and presentation skills training
NERVE ENDINGS & THE RING OF CONFIDENCE
The performing world is full of remedies for nerves, from the lucky rabbits foot (not so lucky for the rabbit perhaps) to Luciano Pavarotti’s gracefully flourished handkerchief! Ultimately, the luckiest charm you have is a harmonious relationship between mind, body and voice.
A little adrenaline can be the fuel that turns a merely adequate performance into an exhilarating experience for both singer and audience. But what can you do if you have rehearsed your material thoroughly and you still feel the kind of anxiety that turns performance into panic?
THE “OUR SONG” PHENOMENON
Many couples have experienced the phenomenon of “our song”. During the courting phase they had a favourite song. Hearing that song, even decades later, can bring the feelings, images and sounds associated with that time flooding back.
Similarly, for many people, the mere thought of performing in public can spark off feelings of confidence and resourcefulness or terror and abject misery. Does the name Pavlov ring a bell? The trick, of course, is to have your very best experiences of confidence and competence powerfully associated with the thought of the venue within which you are going to perform. How is this done? Nothing could be simpler!
LIBERATING YOUR BODY AND YOUR VOICE- IN REHEARSAL!
EXPERIMENT 1) Vocalising from restriction
Think of a time when you were feeling a bit pressured and restricted. Remember this as fully as possible… what you were seeing around you, what you were hearing and also what you were feeling… Stay fully in this state for a while longer.
Now look around the room, does it look any less bright or any less friendly than before? Now walk around the room. Do you feel taller or shorter? Do you feel wider or narrower? What size does your “personal space” seem to be (indicate with your hands)? Is your walking lighter or heavier?
Vocalise an ah sound. Sing a line or two of a song. How easy or difficult was it to vocalise?
EXPERIMENT 2) Vocalising from ease
Move around the room and stretch to dissipate the effects of the last experiment.
Remember a time when you felt “on top of the world”. Recall and relive this experience… what you were seeing, hearing and feeling…. stay fully in this state a while longer and allow yourself to take two or three easy, deep breaths with the emphasis on the outbreath. Allow this feeling to spread through your entire body…..
Look around the room again. Is it any brighter or friendlier now? Walk around the room. Do you feel shorter or taller? Narrower or wider? How large is your “personal space” now? Is your walking heavier or lighter?
Vocalise an ah sound. Sing a little. Notice how your voice feels and sounds different from the first experiment.
You have just taken the first step in freeing your body and liberating your voice! Which of the two states would you prefer to perform in?
The above experiment demonstrates that, as far as our muscles are concerned, the difference between thinking about a particular event and actually doing it is only a matter of degree.
When I run performance workshops many participants tell me that the room looks more friendly and welcoming after doing the second part of this exercise. This reminds me of the old cartoon series “The Gambols”. One of the characters, George, is portrayed in a variety of moods as he responds to the ups and downs of life. When life is going badly there is a grey or black cloud above his head. This is accompanied by an appropriately sagging posture.
When George is on a high, there is a puffy white cloud above his head or a kind of halo radiating light. This is accompanied by a confident posture, bright eyes and a smile. What this demonstrates so well, as many cartoons do, is that the state we are in at any given moment affects the way that we respond to the pressures of daily life- including any performance activity.
Many cartoons also seem to express the belief that the cartoon characters (and by implication, ourselves) are at the mercy of circumstances. It is possible, however, to stabilise your best physical, mental and emotional states, so that you approach performances with a peak performance state literally at your fingertips…
THE RING OF CONFIDENCE
Fully recall and re-live a focused and easy state by seeing , hearing and feeling it again. As you begin to slide into your focused state, gently link the tips of your forefinger and thumb together. Keep your fingers linked for 10 to 15 seconds. You are now beginning to link or “anchor” your resourceful state to your fingertips.
Once is not enough? Strengthen and reinforce your anchor by repeating the above process three times.
Simply linking your thumb and forefinger will now be sufficient stimulus to take you the critical first few steps into your confident and focused state- a very useful thing to do when waiting for your turn in a competition.
“…I use certain tricks that make me feel more secure. Everybody knows about my white handkerchief, which I used in my first concert in Missouri in 1973, in case I started to perspire… I feel much better if I have it out there with me. It has a function but it’s also for good luck.” Luciano Pavarotti- My Life
Many different concert halls and audition rooms share similar characteristics e.g. exit signs, furniture, instruments of different types etc.
Get yourself into a resourceful state by using the fingertip “ring of confidence”. As your state changes visualise the furniture, the instruments and the general room layout. Repeat three times.
This will help you to anchor your most confident states to the appropriate context. If you can do this “live” in the venue, before you perform, so much the better.
Smells are very powerful. The smell of apple  blossom, for example, can virtually transport some people back to childhood, playing in an orchard.
Radio 4 recently reviewed techniques that help actors overcome stage fright. The performer first creates a state of poised relaxation and then sniffs a handkerchief impregnated with aromatherapy oils that encourage even deeper calmness and focus. They then strategically place the handkerchief on their costume just before they go on stage. The odour of the aromatherapy oils then triggers the state of poised relaxation. So there may be more to Pavarotti’s handkerchief than meets the eye!
Imagine your favourite aroma. Breathe it in gently and deeply and let it go with a whispered ah sound. Anchor your peak state to this aroma. Use this technique before performing.
DRIVING THE CAR
Instead of getting into the car and immediately rushing off to do battle with the rest of the traffic…
Pause and place your attention in your physical centre of gravity (just below your belt buckle); extend a strong positive feeling to the world around you; adjust your driving seat; your mirrors; keys in the ignition and your hands on the steering wheel.
This will anchor the touch of the steering wheel to a safer driving state and will ensure that you arrive at work, the interview, the sales appointment etc. in a happier and more efficient state!
This is perhaps the simplest and most powerful self-management technique of them all. Radiate a strong positive feeling from the core of your self. Cast the “net” of your positive feeling over the whole venue including your audience.
BUT I STILL FEEL NERVOUS!
The point of anchoring is not to stop butterflies in the stomach- the point is to get the butterflies to fly in formation. Adrenaline can give you the critical edge that takes you over the threshold into performance excellence. Adrenaline means that you care.
The attitude behind anchoring, I believe, is of greater importance than any anchoring exercise itself. When I ask people about this they say it is to do with a quality of self belief- “I have a choice”; “I have control over my response patterns” ; “I can learn from all situations.” etc.
REACHING HARMONY- THE INTEGRATED ANCHOR
Much of what is written above is drawn from the field of sports psychology (national and local sports teams please take note!) and, more recently, from the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)- a study of, amongst other things, the structure of excellent performance.
Our best and easiest performances happen when conscious and unconscious are working in harmony. This is like watching two excellent dance partners waltzing. They make it all look and feel oh so easy and flowing. But as you look at them you realize that such skill required repetition, communication and time.
After a while your peak performance states become the new normal- you are no longer walking in the foothills, you are becoming acclimatised to the higher slopes. The higher slopes allow you to glimpse unknown and perhaps unsuspected lands of mental, physical and vocal excellence…
“It’s a matter of ABC: When we encounter ADVERSITY, we react by thinking about it. Our thoughts rapidly congeal into BELIEFS. These beliefs may become so habitual we don’t even realize we have them unless we stop to focus on them. And they don’t just sit there idly; they have CONSEQUENCES. The beliefs are the direct cause of what we feel and what we do next. They can spell the difference between dejection and giving up, on the one hand, and well-being and constructive action on the other. The first step is to see the connection between adversity, belief, and consequence. The second step is to see how the ABCs operate every day in your own life.” Sir Walter Scott
“Belief is a matter of customary muscle tension” F. M. Alexander
The second quote is by F M Alexander, the originator, of the Alexander Technique. It was considered to be quite a provocative statement in the 1930s. Some people have suggested that he said it in order to shock. Walter Carrington, however, believed that he was perfectly serious about it because he, F M Alexander, equated belief with fixation. In Alexander’s experience a rigidity of mind corresponded to a rigidity of body. (Walter Carrington on the Alexander Technique in discussion with Sean Carey, 1986, p.45f)
I love the above quote by Sir Walter Scott – it’s so modern! As a little experiment try putting the key words into Google and see what you come up with. You might find quite a few modern versions of “ABC” out there but, to my mind, none of them quite as succinct and pithy as Sir Walter Scott’s. Try buying into the two quotes. Decide to treat them “as if” they were true. Believe that by changing your muscular reaction to adversity you will also change, for the better, the consequences that arise from adversity. How can you change your muscular reactions? How can you weaken the hold of a limiting belief? I’m sure there are many possibilities… including, perhaps, dipping into the preceding pages of this blog.
“No! You may not call me a Confidence Guru! Absolutely not!” – Alan.
“But ‘Guru’ is an extremely respectable term in media circles!” – Television producer.
“That’s as may be but my fellow regulars at the Neptune Inn will take the… will mock me mercilessly if they hear!” – Alan
“How about Confidence Coach then?” – television producer.
“Ok then” sigh… “Let me introduce you to our ‘dates’ in the Green Room”
I’d been asked by a television production company to help coach some members of the public for live television. It was a dating programme. Interestingly most of the participants were in their late forties or early fifties. The usual participants were in their teens and twenties.
The datees would say a bit about their life, their loves, hates and hobbies directly to camera. We sat at a cocktail bar where everyone had to deliver a chat-up line and come up with an appropriate and, hopefully, humorous response. And, oh yes, we all had to strut our stuff down the catwalk (steady tiger!). Nerve wracking, of course, especially if you are not used to being in the limelight.
I taught the participants some basic centering techniques. I’ll say a bit more about the background to some of these techniques in the near future:
Place your attention in your centre of gravity – just a few inches below your navel.
Distribute your body weight evenly onto the ground
Maintain wide vision and wide shoulders
Balance your head easily on top of your spine
In the end we only had time to rehearse one or two things. The participants could sense the potential of the techniques however. And this seemed to really motivate them to simply have fun in front of the camera. A virtuous cycle?
Not everyone got a date. But everyone had fun. What is it about that wonderful mixture of relaxation and excitement that seems to make the world sparkle with possibility?
One woman who was really quite shy and reserved in the Green Room absolutely blossomed on camera. She demonstrated a golf swing, her hobby, to the camera and very shortly thereafter an eligible gent phoned in with a request to get know her better!
The two interviewers were impressed. How come a group of men and women in their late forties and early fifties could be such fun on camera? Why were they so much less inhibited than the usual datees in their teens and twenties?
The centering techniques certainly seemed to help. Is it true that wisdom that comes with increasing maturity? And, perhaps, the ability not to take yourself too seriously? If so then it’s good news for all of us!
The interviewers were also somewhat sceptical. Couldn’t these acting techniques stop people from simply being themselves?
I simply quoted Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”
And I might have added – we often end up playing a part that is unsatisfying and unsuitable. A part that someone else wrote for us. These centering techniques can give us the flexibility, courage and motivation to try out new behaviours. Not all of the techniques will be suitable all of the time. Some of them will be entirely suitable but may take a little time to get used to. Some of them will be absolutely bang-on or, as the old sherry advert used to say, “One instinctively knows when something is right!” and we will take to them like the proverbial duck to water.
PS Many of the centering techniques I teach come originally from my training in Ki-Aikido. They’ve grown and adapted with me. Here is a link for my old sparring partner Charles Harris. We did our yellow belt grading together more years ago than I care to remember. He is chief instructor now for one of the biggest Ki-Aikido clubs in London.