Salt is critically important to sustain all life. You’ve probably noticed that animals of all sizes seek out salt licks because they crave it. Our ocean creatures of course have the benefit of living in water which is made out of … Continue reading
“Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”
~ Mother Teresa
It’s so easy in our everyday lives to become consumed by all all the things we have to do, as well as the financial pressures we must endure when money is tight. Feeling down and negative about it all, from time to time strikes all of us, but even when you feel your own stress building up inside you, did you know that perhaps the very best thing you can do is put on a happy face? Yes, even if it means you have to force a phoney smile.
“Peace begins with a smile.”
~ Mother Teresa
It has been said that a photograph or the on camera face of a wholesome female model or actress (perhaps actor), looking right into the camera induces people to buy products–so we know advertisers know the power of a smile! We all inherently know the power of a smile too! We feel good whilst smiling and we feel good when we are smiled at.
Recently however, we find that the simple, natural act of smiling actually helps our health by lowering our heart rate and relieving our stress levels.
An interesting study, took place at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, required participants to hold a variety of facial expressions while enduring stress-provoking situations. The researchers recruited 169 college-age volunteers, of whom half were men and half were women. They were provided with chopsticks and taught to hold them in their mouths while making certain facial expressions. They produced a neutral look, a smile that only involved the mouth, and a Duchenne smile, which is more of a true smile that requires activity in muscles of both the mouth and the eyes. To half of the subjects, the suggestion was made that the Duchnenne smile was to be made like a smile. The other half was simply directed on the muscular action needed.
The entire group of participants were told they would be multi-tasking while holding the chopsticks in their mouths and keeping a particular expression on their faces. The tasks they needed to perform were designed to be difficult and therefore heighten their stress levels. For instance, the volunteers were made to trace a star shape using their non-dominant hand working off a mirror reflection or plunging a hand into ice water (not something we usually would want to smile about).
The researchers monitored the heart rates of the subjects both during and after the tasks. The smilers had lower heart rates than those wearing neutral expressions. The greatest difference was found in those who executed a Duchenne smile that is most similar to a true smile. However, even the participants who formed a smile with their mouths only had lower heart rates than those keeping a neutral face, suggesting that any sort of grin–even a completely fake smile–can be beneficial.
Researchers know today that we produce greater quantities of both adrenaline and cortisol when undergoing stress. This “fight or flight” or as I add even faint reaction, increases the heart rate and affects blood flow to ensure the vital organs of the core of the body are receiving their fair share at the expense of the extremities. Therefore, having a lower heart rate means we are not feeling or reacting to the stress nearly as much.
According to the results of this study, smiling would appear to have some sort of calming effect. In fact, blood pressure rates were also noted to be lower in many of the smiling volunteers, but not all. Since the same hormones in the body that affect heart rate also increase blood pressure, it’s interesting that those results were not as consistent. The difference could possibly be due to high blood pressure being a long-term condition that develops over time and is affected by overeating and other poor health habits, whereas a quickened heart rate is generally short term. Then again, in some people the higher blood pressure could have been the result of hardened arteries, which would not have changed no matter how much one smiled.
Earlier research about smiling has produced mixed results. A 2011 study at Michigan State University in East Lansing found that people who had to be polite all day at work and produce fake smiles ended up with overall worse moods than others. Yet, when those same subjects were told to conjure their smiles based on happy thoughts, both their moods and their productivity levels increased.
Most of us have heard that when we smile we release a chemical message deep within our brain known as an Endorphin. Once released these Endorphins travel down our spine sending feel good messages throughout the rest of our body.
These Endorphins are known to be strong enough to reduce symptoms of physical, or emotional pain, as they
envelop us in a nice warm feeling of well being. They are a chemical of approximately the same strength as another pharmaceutical chemical that we all know of known as Morphine.
Endorphins have that wonderful ability to make us feel happy, and whenever we all smile, we release them. So even if you are not happy when you begin to smile, you will be afterwards, and the more often that you smile then the happier you will feel!
I think, since it costs us nothing to smile and I know I feel better when I do then why not smile as often as possible. If the first thing we would do when faced with stressful people or situations was smile we might unnerve them to such a degree that we neutralize the stressful event right in its tracks. This might even turn into a giggle or full on laugh fest.
It’s nice to see that this has been the subject of scientific scrutiny but, If you think about it, there really is no downside to smiling. It’s time to be proud of our laugh lines which I think are far better than frown lines. And besides stress is very dangerous for all of us: to our mental status, physical health, and overall well-being, it even upsets our companion animals, so for their sake, smile!
A smile may not be a ‘cure all’ but it certainly seems to help us get through all that is going on in the world, or even some of the problems in our own life. It would truly be great if we could truly lower or normalize our heart rate and stress level even if just by a tiny bit; it’s certainly a start.
The act of smiling at or with the one you love can keep you both in the most healthful stage of all known as the honeymoon stage of a loving relationship!
I’ll take smiling over taking blood pressure or anti-anxiety medication or developing a stress-induced ailment. It’s worth remembering that smiling is contagious and you have the power to make other people smile, and you can do this by simply passing your smile on to others.
Let’s starting spreading smiles because they might just turn to all out laughter, just like what happened to these folks on a German train before everyone knew it, everyone was laughing!
It all starts with a smile!
By Celeste Yarnall, Ph.D Doctors the world over know that decreased oxygen utilization by the cells causes the aging process. The NanoVi device is the only known method of significantly increasing oxygen utilization, without introducing extra oxygen to the body… … Continue reading
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique was something I always wanted to experience firsthand. As a holistic health care advocate I like to learn about alternative healing protocols that have merit and the Alexander Technique enjoys a wonderful reputation in that regard. But not many people seem to know about it.
What is the Alexander Technique suggested for?
The Alexander Technique is often suggested for:
- Relief from pain
- Relief from stress
- Improved balance
- More poise & grace
- Ease of movement & coordination
- An integration of body, mind & spirit
- Tools for self-care
- Increased flexibility & energy
What is the Alexander Technique?
“The Alexander Technique is an educational process that helps us to be more comfortable in our bodies and to move with more ease. In a larger sense, it is a method that can help us to become aware of and change all of our habits that cause undue stress in our lives. We begin with simple changes in the habitual ways in which we hold our bodies and move through space. Through practice and experience, the process can then be applied to all areas of our lives.”
–Sydney Laurel Harris
Who created the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique was discovered and developed by F. Matthias Alexander (1869 – 1955) who was an Australian actor.
F. M. Alexander developed severe laryngitis in the prime of his career. When voice teachers and physicians were not able to provide effective, long-term solutions, he began to study himself. He believed that he must be “doing” something to cause his difficulties and then determined that he was in fact “doing” something: he was unconsciously habitually pulling his head back and down onto his spine, causing a contraction of his whole torso and creating excess tension on his larynx which led to his laryngitis. The Technique is the process he used to become aware of and correct the “misuse” of himself to cure his vocal issues.
The implications of the work turned out to be far greater than solving laryngitis. In the beginning, he shared his technique with fellow actors who had similar vocal and breathing troubles. It was soon clear that many other ailments (physical and emotional) resolved through Alexander’s technique and he began to receive referrals from physicians as well as his colleagues. Alexander departed Australia in 1904 for England, where he eventually taught his technique to such notables as George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, John Dewey and Raymond Dart.
Initially, F. M. trained his brother A. R. Alexander to help him teach the Technique, but he did not open a formal teacher training course until 1931. Today, standard teacher training encompasses a required 1600 hours of training over a minimum three year course of training. Presently, there are training centers and Alexander Technique teachers all over the world.
Additionally, F. M. Alexander wrote and published 4 books: The Universal Constant in Living, The Use of the Self, Conscious Constructive Control of the Individual, and Man’s Supreme Inheritance*
I had heard about the Alexander Technique for years and had always wanted to learn more, but it seems things happen right when they are supposed to happen. So when a friend of mine told me of her tremendous success with some issue that she had been dealing with, I was more intrigued than ever.
My friend directed me to the perfect person to meet with firsthand to see AT in action and, lucky for me, the person she connected me to was Sydney Laurel Harris. I was incredibly impressed with her background and training and immediately booked an introductory appointment with her. And I found we had much in common!
Sydney came to the Alexander Technique, like F.M. Alexander himself, as an actor. For me, having been in the film business as an actress, I found it quite wonderful that both she and I had been drawn to the alternative healing arts. I could see that perhaps we both had learned to walk and carry ourselves in ways that were not conducive to healing and supporting our own frames properly. I learned from Sydney that there is so much to learn about the habitual holding patterns we humans get ourselves into through our posture and how emotional issues cause us to carry ourselves in ways that can produce alignment problems and cause painful conditions.
Sydney is a very approachable person and quite experienced in The Alexander Technique as she is a founding member of the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles and also a faculty member. She was an assistant trainer at the Alexander Training Institute of San Francisco from 1977 to 1984.
The fact that Sydney has taught the technique in private practice and in a number of academic and public settings since 1977, including two pain clinics meant that she was certainly inured to any issues that I might have. It was to my benefit that I was in the hands of a true expert and highly skilled Alexander teacher.
I was so impressed with AT, that after just this first session, I wanted to share this protocol in my blog in case it may be of help to others who may be suffering with something, physical or emotional that AT might resonate with. Sydney’s website is a wonderful starting off place and for those in her geographical area you have a great opportunity to work with her personally.
Sydney is a wonderful teacher who is quite used to conducting semi-private groups and private lessons. I think it is imperative to meet with a practitioner in person for an introductory session to get the “feel” of this technique firsthand as it is difficult to verbalize. So much of it involves new kinesthetic sensations as you are guided through everyday movements. Developing accurate kinesthetic awareness takes time and practice. Most people will want to continue with a series of AT sessions firsthand as words do not do it justice.
This YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GbwzqT9piU&feature=player_embedded will give you a brief introduction to the Alexander Technique
Good teachers constantly learn new things, have new insights and grow through their own experience. Sydney shared with me that over the years her work with the Alexander Technique has been powerfully enhanced by her training and experience in additional psychological, developmental and human potential/spiritual realms. These include Family Systems Therapy, Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), Energy Balancing, Peak Potentials and Sensory Awareness. She explained to me that the body is the messenger and that it is a medium that can be used to gain deeper understanding of feelings and thoughts. By learning to tune into your body and its messages, you uncover hidden patterns that have contributed to pain, discomfort and/or blocks. I felt this immediately, but could see that if I read it in a book or article I would have never understood it. I actually needed Sydney’s hands to teach it to my body in the proper AT method.
Alexander Technique in a Class Setting
If you can imagine something as elegant as simply re-learning how to stand up, sit down, lie down, by delicately moving your head to lead your movement, then move on to more complex issues such as working at your computer, making business presentations, playing a musical instrument, performing sports activities, then you can glimpse at what AT feels like. It is effortless when you have it demonstrated to you personally and even in your first session you will experience a profound impact on the way your body ultimately supports you through its myriad of subconscious body functions. You leave each session feeling confident in your own body.
At Training for Piano Student by Sydney Laurel Harris
AT is very helpful to people from all walks of life, not just in those situations I mention above but in all professions, for all ages, who just in the normal course of living their lives experience discomfort, especially chronic pain.
Study on Back Pain and the Alexander Technique
“It’s supportive to know good science validates something that so many of Sydney’s AT clients have experienced over the last 35 years: the Alexander Technique helps to eliminate and prevent back pain. For example, three years ago the “BMJ” (formerly the “British Medical Journal”) published a study that demonstrated the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique (“AT”) for back pain.
While it may seem mysterious to some, it’s really common sense that the Alexander Technique alleviates back pain. We may appear to be relaxed when slumped over the computer keyboard or when slouching in front of a classroom or at the kitchen counter. But, in fact, these behaviors are chronically straining muscles and putting enormous pressure on our backs. The same thing is true if we “try” to do the opposite, eg. by holding ourselves upright in a stiff posture. Most of the time the resulting “posture” isn’t “up right” at all, but rather sending us backwards instead of curving forward. Chronically holding ourselves in any position creates excess tension, ie., uses muscles in a way that wears us “down.” The resulting downward pressure then narrows joints making them less flexible. It also crowds organs and nerve channels.”
–excerpted from AlexanderUSA Newsletter
Can Dancers benefit from AT?
AT can be very helpful for dancers. My favorite dance is Argentine Tango so I am always interested in ways to avoid injury, move more efficiently and be able to share some things for dancers to help them prevent injury. I can clearly see that AT is a wonderful technique for dancers to study and incorporate into their daily lives.
In Sydney’s recent newsletter, which you can sign up for at her website, she shared some insights that she recently gained by attending a workshop given by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, an Alexander Technique (AT) teacher and dance professor at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana. Drawing on her background in dance and her work with AT teachers Alex and Joan Murray using the “Raymond Dart procedures.” Rebecca led Sydney’s group in an enlightening exploration of the movements of the spine, elucidating primary and secondary curves as well as the spirals of the human musculature.
She explained to me that her training has been quite clear about the fact that there is often the misperception that spinal curves should be eliminated in order to have good posture. We’re often told, as actors, models or students to “Stand up straight!” and “Sit up straight!” I think we can all hear those words resounding in our memory banks. AT teachers are interested in their students creating lightness and efficiency in movement that can lead to the student discovering the full potential of their movements. I think we can all relate to that. And as I recall the beauty of the lightness of the AT touch in our introductory session I could see that this technique never used force or any type of rigid movements. It was all very fluid and light. This is very helpful information for dancers.
What about other strenuous exercise routines, such as running?
A few weeks after Sydney studied with Rebecca on AT for dance, she and her husband participated in an AT running workshop with Malcolm Balk, an AT teacher, running trainer, and author.
In their fourth workshop of the year with Malcolm, Sydney shared with me that she found it amazing what a difference a year of commitment to AT and running can make. She and her husband watched running videos that their teacher Malcolm had made of them, and they could clearly see that there were big differences from similar videos he made a year previously. Her husband’s run pattern initially had significant up and down motion, a very common occurrence for long distance runners. Malcolm shared with them that, “if you push up one inch more than necessary at the end of the marathon you’ve also climbed the Empire state building!” That really hit home with Sydney!
A year later, her husband’s run pattern now had very little up and down motion and his stride was much shorter, eliminating “braking” that occurs when the feet land in front of the body instead of directly under the body. This meant that significant wasted effort and energy had been eliminated in his running pattern over that year all thanks to the efficiency of movement taught in the Alexander Technique sessions.
In Sydney’s first taped run from this recent workshop, Malcolm pointed out to her that her feet still landed just a little bit ahead of her body. But not to worry, she was so excited about how different her own running looked overall from the previous videos that she almost missed the rest of the tips her teacher was offering her! Malcolm said, “she now looked much more like a runner,” whereas before she looked as if she was “doing ballet on hot coals.” The insight she carried home from this workshop was recognizing the difference between analyzing her run in her own head versus staying connected with her whole body while running; in fact, to run more from the center of her body.
Many runners who are not trained in AT can be seen pulling their heads back and down and a kind of leading with the chin movement, which has the effect of directing the runners energy backwards. When one is taught AT it can be “reminded” to send the head forward and up, which will look completely different, and much more “natural” as if the runner was “born to run.”
AT running workshops provide real knowledge for helping to improve running. I would encourage anyone who wishes to take up running to work with an AT practitioner to avoid injury, and gain better fitness.
We have only touched upon a few of the activities that AT can benefit. You can learn more here.