If I thought this might be my last Autumn…..

IMG_1476


Written after hearing that a very dear friend has secondary lung and bone cancer….

I would drink in the reds and russets of the leaves by the river on my morning walks

And revel in the incandescent light

Burning through the morning mist-

I would savour the damp earth fungus scents

And eat blackberries, blood stained

And apples, crisp from the tree, and stolen plums from the neighbour’s garden.IMG_1585

I would get up and climb a mountain, go rowing, play tennis – revel in the power of my limbs – if they worked.

I would tell all my loved ones that they were just that – loved – dearly and deeply

I would tell those who had blessed me how much it meant to me,

And let those who had influenced and changed my life know what part they had played in the canvas of my life, and

How their gifts had passed from them to me and onto many others, like the ripples

Of a stone tossed into the water.

IMG_1570

 I would ask forgiveness of those whom I had hurt

And set the record straight where misunderstandings had occurred.

I would plant….

Trees and roses and jasmine and honeysuckle..

And spring bulbs to celebrate the continuation of life after death,

And so that someone might be blessed by the rich scent of rose, or the dappled shade of a tree, the miracle of colour after a grey winter..

And maybe think of me, and grieve and be glad for my loss and my life.

I would paint pictures and write stories and poems for my daughter

That tell her important things I would like her to know

And give her wings to soar, glide and divebomb through this life-

And letters for her special occasions – graduation, marriage?,children?

So that she would deeply understand that

love does not end with deathIMG_1604

 I would make huge collages of our years together

And make great memories from our great memories…

 I would notice the little things about her every day

And let her know how beautiful she is, body and soul,

And how much she is loved and will always be loved,

And pray that she will be able to take that love and know that she is deeply worthy of being loved, of connection.. 

IMG_1699And if I had no energy, I would ask her to sit with me by the fire and read to me,

Or listen to heartbreakingly beautiful music,

And watch our favourite films.

 I would stop sweating the small stuff!

I would speak kindly to the fear that rises with me on waking

And know that I have faced my biggest fears and survived them.

 And if I had any energy left, I would try and change the world, to leave it a better IMG_1756place…………………………………………………

 But who knows our allotted span of days?

And if that is what I would do, maybe now is a good time to start!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive Thoughts for the Day/Alexander Technique Tips for the Novice Rower

IMG_2194

A calm September morning full of the promise of a glorious early Autumn day..

I stopped at the park on the way to York Rowing Club to do some stretching and Qi Gong. As my breathing slowed and deepened, I drank in the glowing golds and russets of the first Autumn leaves and quietened my irrational fear of getting out on the river in a single scull for only the third time ever, but the first time in four months.

I had just started rowing at the beginning of summer (and getting back to tennis, swimming and Ceroc), when I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and several operations put paid to any form of exercise for a while.

It’s September, and a challenging month for me. After a couple of years in York, I am beginning to build a reputation for my work, but my main source of income is still York University Music Department, and for the students, it is still summer vacation.

For everyone else, it is a new year and subscriptions are due and I am having a mental argument with myself about doing things that take time and cost money, rather than that earn it.

I chose self belief, and to follow the advice I had read recently:

“If you want to double your income, treble your learning”

As well as something I learned years ago:

“It’s not the things you do that you regret, it’s the things you don’t do” – actually that has also got me into all sorts of trouble, so not necessarily to be followed slavishly, but it seemed reasonable to apply it under these circumstances!

I have had an absolutely wonderful morning on the river. I have exercised by cycling and rowing, I have returned home feeling the elation of  both exercise and the completion of a new and challenging task. I am sure that I will accomplish as much this afternoon as I would have done had I given myself the whole day for development, planning and administration of my business.

So here are my positive life thoughts from my morning:

1.  Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.

I don’t know why I felt so anxious about rowing today. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in my life in various boats/kayaks/canoes/sailing dinghies and I love swimming (though not in the Ouse River, preferably). Something to do with expectation maybe, as I had done well in my first two times out on the river, but was not feeling confident of being able to reproduce that today.

I countered this by making sure I was in the best shape for success – stretching, meditative movement, breathing, and a practise session on the rowing machine.

Then I showed up, felt the fear and did it anyway, and of course, guess what? As soon as I was on the water, using my Alexander Principles (tips to follow), I felt fine! Exactly the same thing happened when I went back to skiing after six years, only that time I put it off for a day, and felt physically ill by the time I got myself onto the slopes – then had to deal with the frustration of wasting an afternoon’s skiing for no good reason…. sound familiar? If not, you’re lucky!

2. If you are feeling down, get out of the house and exercise/meet people for a boundaried amount of time in order to shift gear mentally and return to your tasks reinvigorated.

I appreciate this may not apply universally or all the time. But as I have to motivate my entire life and work myself, I found after moving here that it did me the power of good to get out and make sure I knew the world was carrying on around me, to breathe in the balm of nature and the river.  And when occasionally I wonder if I am going to be able to keep making this all work by myself,  I find it’s a sound strategy to employ.

3. Say yes to life.

It’s amazing how simple this is – and how powerful. So when there is a choice – just say yes and see what happens.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”  Goethe

ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TIPS FOR THE NOVICE ROWER

1. As with many practical skills, the first key to success is your mind. Was going to use the term mindset, but it is flexibility of thought that translates into flexibility of action.

2.Keep flexibility of eyes. Fixed vision often translates directly into fixed musculature. Maintaining the use of peripheral vision (check out my other blogs if you don’t know what this is!) maintains fluidity that is essential for smooth sculling.

3. Maintaining a constant relationship of head neck and back (Primary control in Alexander Technique Jargon) contributes positively to a smooth rowing action. In other words, don’t stiffen your neck, and conversely don’t let your neck bend backwards as you throw your hands and move forward in the seat. (Apologies to any serious rowers if my rowing jargon is not yet up to speed!)

4. BREATHE! This may seem obvious, but in my many years of working with people, I find that most people who are anxious hold their breath, only allowing minimal respiration. Of course, once you are rowing well, and competitively, you will have to breathe, but when starting out, and being tentative, it is not such an obvious requirement.

I have found it true that if one is tense it is impossible to breathe freely, and the corollary, if one is breathing freely, it is impossible to tense!

5. Be Brave!

Life Lessons from Basketball

LIFE LESSONS FROM BASKETBALL

Yesterday my daughter played her first ever basketball match and she played a blinder! I was able to channel all my competitiveness and enthusiasm for the game through her without having to move a muscle or expend a kilojoule!

As she pelted up and down the court, defending to the death, and finding space to shoot baskets on the attack, I swelled and swelled with maternal pride! The crowning moment came when she had been fouled and had to take a free shot. She looked consternated, balanced the ball awkwardly in one hand (not two, as any basketballer would tell you to do), did a sort of grunting heave ho……

And the ball sailed neatly straight into the basket!

While I was watching all this, my coaching brain was turning all the attributes I watched her display, into lessons I need to learn for myself!  

1. BE PREPARED

She got up at 7am this morning in order to practise her flute before we went, and she made sure she had her kit clean and ready the night before.

‘FAILING TO PLAN IS PLANNING TO FAIL’

LIFE LESSON

By thinking ahead, being clear about her goals, and fully prepared, she was able to fully enjoy the day.

2. BE FLEXIBLE

Basketball switches at lightning speed from defence to attack and back again. Both are equally important in winning a game. The first game I watched (not my daughter’s team), they managed to get the ball and attack, but however many times they got to the scoring end of the pitch, they just couldn’t seem to find the basket! Your team needs shooters to win a game. However, my daughter is a demon in defence, and even though she is new to the game, and hasn’t fully mastered dribbling at speed, or shooting on the move, she marked her man as though he were Peter Pan and she his shadow.  Peter Pan happened to be one of the most dangerous players on the field, but once she glued herself to him, he was almost out of the game.

LIFE LESSON

Know when to attack and create space to make an opening and seize the opportunities available to you, and when to defend your territory. Be flexible to switch between the two.

3.BE WILLING TO TRY, MAKE MISTAKES, AND POSSIBLY MAKE A FOOL OF YOURSELF

In practise sessions, I noticed that my daughter was not really willing to have a go at shooting, as she didn’t believe she was any good at it. Whenever she received the ball, her instinct was to get rid of it as fast as she could! But when it came to the match, her competitive instinct came to the fore, and she was willing to take the risk, and take the shot. She scored a significant number of baskets!

 LIFE LESSON

 ‘If you want to succeed, double your failure rate’. CEO, IBM

That’s right, double your failure rate! That really does mean failing twice as often as you have doing up to now. We learn by doing, by taking risks, showing up and trying. It applies to all of life, not just shooting baskets!

4.LEARN HOW TO MAXIMISE AND UTILISE THE SKILLS OF YOUR WHOLE TEAM.

My daughter and her friend were the novices on the team. I have noticed in practise, that the more experienced players often don’t pass to them, as they want to win – even though they are only practising with their own potential team mates! How can anyone learn unless they are given the ball to try something? And how does it help you win matches if you are only utilising half your team?

Some of the good players weren’t at the match, and so in the first game, my daughter and her friend, who are both tall, freed themselves to be near the basket, were passed balls by their team mates, and shot some useful baskets. So those who were good at dribbling, dribbled and those who were tall, but less good at dribbling, shot! Good use of resources.

In the last game, don’t know what had happened, but I heard one of the older students comment that they weren’t being passed the ball, and I noticed that they had gone from utilising the whole team to passing between the experienced players, but guess what? It was the only match they lost! And it only took a couple of players to have lost their oomph, for the defence to breakdown, and for them to go from leading to losing in three minutes!

 LIFE LESSON

‘You are only as strong as the weakest link.’

 When working in a team, take time to build the skills of the whole team. Play and work smart – play to people’s strengths and look out for the skills and qualities of each team member.

 5.AGGRESSION AND COMPETITIVENESS  CAN BE USEFUL, BUT ONLY IF THEY ARE UNDER YOUR CONTROL, AND NOT CONTROLLING YOU!

Basketball is one of those sports where there is a fair amount of on-court gamesmanship. And according to many sources, including tennisracquets.com, many other sports including tennis itself require that you display sportsmanship. Assertiveness is definitely an advantage, but competitiveness and a spot of aggression can come in handy when someone is trying to steal the ball from you! But control is the key! It is the difference between a brilliant block and a foul – between saving a few points or giving them away on a plate. And if my memory serves me correctly, sometimes one just needs to stand still because if you are in the way but not moving, I don’t think it is possible to foul, but it is sometimes possible to prevent a shot being taken.

 LIFE LESSON

 Self control is the key to harnessing competitiveness, assertiveness and even aggression to use them for achieving our goals. Lose control and we can lose the game!

 6. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN TO SEE OBSTACLES, OPPORTUNITIES & HELP AVAILABLE ALONG THE WAY

When you have made a brilliant steal and are making a break for the far end of the court, it is sometimes easy to be so focused that you don’t see the obstacles (the opposition) or the help (your team- mate standing under the basket) available. Sometimes sheer determination or the thrill of going for glory means we miss the help available AND the basket! Sometimes it’s better to be the person who made the brilliant pass that set up the basket, rather than the person who hogged the ball and missed the points!

 LIFE LESSON

 When working or playing in the team, often the WIN-WIN situation is the one where we accept the skills and help of others in the team and go for the overall win, rather than going for solo glory and more probable downfall.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Steps to Creating New Habits

FIVE STEPS TO CHANGING HABITS

 Changing habits can be simple, but unfortunately simple does not mean easy! However, by following these five steps, you WILL  achieve change!

1. INTENTION

 Form and maintain a clear of intention of the outcome you wish to achieve. This intention will provide the energy and direction required to proceed, and to overcome apparent obstacles.

 In order to really ‘see’ the obstacles in our path, we must be willing to truly look, and this can sometimes be a challenge to the ego, which feels less threatened by ignorance!

 

  1. AWARENESS

 Awaken, sharpen and refine your awareness of your habits. The tricky thing here is that habits are by their very nature subconscious. So you need an accurate ‘mirror’ or feedback system to highlight what is currently hidden. Engage your creativity, ingenuity, and all your senses to find ways of increasing the multi-sensory information you are giving yourself in order to improve this awareness.

 If you were walking in the mountains with a map, but were lost, the map would be useless unless you could first locate y

our current position. The same is true of ourselves and our habits.

 Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ pro-pree-o-sep-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

images 

 The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating the unconscious aspects of proprioception.

 Because of the unconscious nature of habit, it is most useful at the outset to enlist the assistance of an objective third party(teacher) who can give both accurate feedback, and hopefully (if correctly trained) assist you to achieve the desired outcome.

In the absence of such a teacher, or in between teaching sessions, video can be a useful tool. Proprioceptive senses are challenged to engage in a process without immediate visual feedback, and then this is checked against the visual and auditory feedback provided by the (good quality) video.

 A mirror is a poor third best, as it does not develop the proprioceptive sense.

 If you are dealing with a mental or emotional habit, then it is helpful to understand the triggers to that habit. Again, ideally with trained assistance, or without if it is possible, you can use your ingenuity and creativity to recreate those triggers in a safe environment so that you can practise becoming aware of your responses. Body and breath are useful tools here, as it is often said that ‘The Body speaks the Mind’.

Many responses to an ‘emotional’ trigger will show up in your physicality, for example anxiety producing sweaty palms, shortening of breath and tightening of the the stomach muscles.

For those of you interested in the neuroscience of why?, the following link about the amygdala may be of interest.

The Amygdala in 5 Minutes | Joseph LeDoux | Big Think

We begin to understand that we are indivisible ‘selves’. So as our awareness expands, we often notice that our habits we would term ‘physical’ , for instance a tightening of the breath in singing, can have ‘emotional’ triggers or components, eg fear of failure.

In order to have accurate awareness we need to keep reconnecting to our INTENTION. WIthout accurate awareness, we can just practise different, unhelpful habits! Without connecting to our INTENTION, we can create further pressure, which then creates further tension, and undermines our best efforts for change!

 

  1. PAUSE

 In order to change a response to a stimulus, we need to make the unconscious, conscious. In order to do this, it is usually imperative to create a pause, be it ever so infinitesimal, in order to prevent the unconscious, habitual response from occurring.

Breath is often a very useful first port of call. I have found it to be true that it is impossible to breathe freely while maintaining tension, and conversely, to maintain tension while breathing freely. As much (though not all) of our inappropriate response to stimulus involves excessive tension, awareness of breath, and use of conscious breath, can be a very helpful way of creating this pause.

  1. CONSCIOUS INSTRUCTIONS/INVITATIONS/DIRECTIONS

Having succeeded in becoming aware of our unhelpful habit or response to stimulus, and created the pause necessary to prevent responding in our habitual way, we use our conscious mind to give an instruction/invitation to the body and mind to respond in a new and chosen way. The efficacy of this new instruction will depend to some extent on the effect and depth of the old habit. Neuroscience teaches us that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway (in other words, to allow a new habit to become unconscious), but 3000 repetitions to break an old habit!

Which leads us to the fifth step –

  1. REPEAT!

We need to repeat this entire process. We maintain our intention, engage our awareness, create a pause between the stimulus and response, and continue to give the conscious instruction to ourselves which creates the new habit.

FM Alexander (founder of the Alexander Technique – a powerful method for changing unhelpful habits) said that ‘If we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing will do itself. Sounds simple and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy!

Very often, our desire to achieve a particular result can make us forget the steps necessary to achieve it. This creates a pressure which usually involves more tension, and undermines the process necessary to achieve the result!

 POST SCRIPT FROM MY EXPERIENCE

We humans are complicated! While we may outwardly assert that we wish to change a particular habit, we may notice that when it comes down to it, we strenuously resist taking the steps which our logical minds know we require to make those changes. In such instances, we may need help to delve more deeply into why we are resisting. In my experience, it is almost inevitably a result of some fear that we have not yet recognised or acknowledged. It may take considerable patience and compassion for ourselves as well as courage, to uncover the fear which limits our ability to perform and to connect with others as we would wish. It is also still true I believe, that by applying these five steps to the different layers of the problem, we can find a way to change!

Acknowledgement:

This article was inspired by a workshop given by Alex Ashworth at York University.

Alongside a flourishing career as a soloist, Alex is currently Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music and visiting professor at various (unpronounceable) institutions in Iceland in addition to teaching singing in the Music Department at York University.

Alexander Ashworth Baritone – Home

Forward Momentum – using peripheral vision

Learning from nature

As I rock hopped along a river bank, looking for a short cut across to the hill on the far side, I was reminded of how hard I find it to trust my footing on uneven rocks, and how that tends to make me look at my feet, and move very gingerly, taking time to test my footing on each rock.

While that sounds a sensible approach, in practice, it doesn’t work very well! One of the most helpful aspects of moving across uneven and potentially wobbly surfaces, is forward motion. That forward motion counteracts the potential for overbalancing when stepping on a rock which is either slippery or insecure. However, it takes some courage to commit to that forward motion, and more importantly, takes the use of our peripheral vision.

Walter Carrington, a pupil of FM Alexander, and famous teacher of the Alexander Technique, used to say that where the eyes lead, the body follows. When the eyes fix and focus on a single object, the body tends to tense, and if that object is on the ground, the body tends to lose any upward or forward energy. It follows then, that if the ground proves insecure, the body is not well placed to deal with the vitally necessary adjustments.

With the use of peripheral vision, which takes in the broader landscape, the body remains flexible, upright, and alert, and well placed for dealing with unexpected crises. I often do an interesting experiment with clients regarding the use of peripheral vision. I stand behind them as close as possible with my arms out to the front on either side of their head. Asking them to look ahead, and not move their eyes, I slowly move my hands apart, asking them to let me know when they can no longer see my hands. Usually my hands are almost 180 degrees to their head before they are unable to see them! That means, that without moving our eyes AT ALL, we have the facility to see everything in the hemisphere in front of us! How many of us actually use that facility?

Applying it to rock hopping, or to walking in general, I find it fascinating that most people walking on uneven ground watch the ground immediately in front of their feet. I would invite you to experiment with walking looking ahead of you, and consciously engaging peripheral vision, this time in the vertical plane, so that you are allowing your eyes to take in what’s ahead, but also everywhere from your feet forward. The brain is easily able to process all this information, and I think you may be pleasantly surprised at how easily you are able to navigate difficult terrain, and to make any adjustments necessary to compensate for loose rocks and uneven ground!

I have memories of my time in Africa when a boyfriend and I had gone on his off-road motorbike up into the hills and had encountered basically a road of boulders. I was terrified, clinging onto him, and making him inch forward at snail’s pace. Eventually he lost control of the bike, being unable to hold its weight at such a slow pace, and we came a cropper (fortunately not serious!). Being very bright, he proceeded to explain to me the physics of why I really needed to let him get some speed, and reluctantly I agreed. Suffice to say we completed the rest of the journey without mishap!

From the coaching perspective, it is also useful to remember to keep looking ahead, while taking in your surroundings, and not to get bogged down in difficult circumstances. It is important to remain flexible, both in mind and body, and to realise that although something can seem frightening and unsafe, that moving forward with care and flexibility can get us through times and situations that at first sight can seem  insurmountable.

 

This Business of Coaching

In the film ‘You’ve got Mail’, the character Joe Fox of Fox Books goes to visit Kathleen Kelly of the Independent Book Store ‘The Shop Around the Corner’, to tell her that forcing her to close her store was ‘not Personal, it was Business’.  Her reply ran something along these lines:  ‘What do you mean it was not personal? It was personal to me. And whatever anything else is, it ought to BEGIN by being personal.’

The World of Business likes to think of itself as being very Left Brain focussed – analytical, detailed. However, recent Neuroscience suggests that our world is focussing too much on the Left Brain, and ignoring the Right Brain at its peril – losing the bigger picture, creativity and spontaneity. It also suggests that rather than decision making being a critical, analytical process, our decisions are most often driven by emotion, thereby giving some explanation as to why a judge listening to a difficult case, is far more likely to return a positive verdict after lunch, when his hunger is satisfied, than he is before lunch when his hunger is dictating how his brain is focussed.

While many companies claim to award contracts on the basis of variables such as pricing and skill sets, the truth may often be that they felt more comfortable and relaxed with one set of providers than another, even if, on paper, their bid was less palatable than some of those rejected.

In the Business of Coaching, various labels are now bandied about, such as ‘Business Coaching, Executive Coaching, Performance Coaching’. I would argue that these are merely labels, and that the principles of coaching remain the same whether dealing with a High Flying Business Executive who is dealing with multi-faceted business issues, or a mother who wants to know how to motivate her children to help clean the house!

Every Business Executive is as much a person as is a mother who has chosen to stay at home to support her children, or student who is dealing with the challenges of moving from home to University, or office worker who doesn’t know how to deal with a co-worker whom he finds irritating.

A business decision made by an Executive who feels threatened or under pressure, could be very different from made by that same person if he/she was feeling confident and supported – both in home life and business. This fact underlines the value of coaching, be it labelled ‘Executive’, ‘Performance’, ‘Business’ or simply ‘Coaching’.

The process of coaching seeks to assist the client or coachee, to be able to work through issues and ‘problems’ (or opportunities, if you are feeling positive and optimistic), to be able to operate from a place of quiet self assurance and confidence,which enables him/her to make decisions that will be most appropriate and useful for him/herself, rather than making decisions that will make him/her feel safe and better about him/herself, but ones which perhaps do not benefit the business that he/she is in.

Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, notes that really good leaders often have a lower IQ than their team, but score highly on EQ (Emotional Intelligence).

Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence are:*

  • Self Awareness:  the ability to realistically ‘see’ ourselves and  be aware of our goals, beliefs, values, drivers, ‘rules’ (our ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’) and our self-talk (both positive and negative)
  • Self-regulation:  trustworthiness, integrity, confidence, walks the talk
  • Motivation:  self and others, optimistic, inspirational, passionate
  • Empathy: awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns
  • Social Skills: strong listening and & communication skills, manages conflict, centred, trusts others and ‘open’.

* copyright: D.Barnard, www.relationaldynamics1st.co.uk

Businesses are beginning to recognise the value of a Coaching style of leadership, which usually reflects high emotional intelligence.  Coaching assists in the development of Emotional Intelligence, as defined above and can enable Executives to manage more effectively, and Managers to develop more efficient, empowered and happier teams.

This of course, does no harm to the bottom line!

 

 

Enhancing Performance and Wellbeing