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June's Interview with Hope Martin

Hope Martin will be co-teaching the upcoming Embodied Listening Workshop with David Rome on March 4 - 6th at the Shambhala Center in Chicago. 

Hope has taught the Alexander Technique for 30 years, trains Alexander teachers at the American Center for the Alexander Technique, and operates Hope Martin Studio in New York City. She is a Meditation instructor and a Focusing trainer. 

She has also been Pema Chodron's cook and attendant for over 20 years.  Read this article about Hope's work

June Tanoue: I think it's wonderful that there will be combination of a body practice - Alexander Technique - with the practice of Focusing.   What can we expect when we take your upcoming workshop with David Rome on Embodied Listening?

Hope Martin: In the program there will be some time to meditate. During those practice sessions I will quietly go around the room doing hands-on work with each participant, helping them find more balance, ease and non-striving in the practice and a fuller experience of their bodies.  

David and I divide the rest of the time between Alexander classes and Focusing sessions. The program is highly experiential within a safe and nurturing container.

Participants will learn about themselves and their responses. They will learn to settle their nervous systems, to stop trying so hard, to befriend themselves and to contact their body's wisdom operating beneath their habits and their
conceptual mind. 

June: Would you basically tell us what the Alexander Technique is?

Hope:  The Alexander Technique teaches us to notice how we live in our bodies and to become sensitive to unconscious postural and movement patterns that interfere with our innate poise, ease and equilibrium. Our habits are always expressing themselves but they are below our radar, even though we may live with the result of them: chronic pain, tight shoulders, etc.  

Alexander is not a series of exercises, but rather a re-education of the body and mind, based on awareness. Our birthright is to be upright, expansive, resilient and open. Throughout our lives, we develop habits that interfere with these qualities. Getting to know our habits and learning to let go of the constriction and holding allows a reorganization of the body-mind which is natural, light, expansive, yet grounded. 

It is a sophisticated approach. Instead of doing more, we're encouraged to let go of what we're doing that gets in our way. The basis of it is to learn to stop trying to change, which always results in working hard and pushing. Pushing does not result in the freedom we are after. So there's an emphasis on letting the nervous system rest, getting to know our habits and then letting them unwind through an indirect approach that is initiated by the re-balance of the head on the spine. 

When we get out of the way, we access the balanced organization that is inherent in our human design; we access our postural reflexes.  If we constantly push, we never find true change. We just substitute one habit (the heavy, slumpy habit) for another (the rigid stiff habit). 

If we employ habits to change habits we stay stuck in known outcomes. The approach is training for all aspects of our lives - creative pursuits, relationships, our jobs, our meditation practice!

June:  You specialize in teaching your work to meditators. Why? 

Hope:  I love teaching the Alexander Technique to meditators and helping them get more balanced on their cushions. The process brings tremendous ease to sitting. 

The view is similar to meditation: Alexander teaches us to be aware of how we interfere with our inherent organization, and how to access the ease and openness that is already there underneath the holding patterns. 

Similarly in meditation we notice how we interfere with our inherent capacity to be awake and fully present and we train in returning to that state again and again. Meditators are easy to work with. They are ripe for tuning into their body/mind connection and tend to have a lot of sensitivity because they are used to being with themselves and watching their own process. 

Applying Alexander to meditation deepens the practice. When you're upright, supported and at ease, you have direct contact with your life in the present moment. Our tendency to sink and be preoccupied with our thoughts, or to be overly rigid and held in our practice, is a way of interfering with this fluid, dynamic presence. 

When you come back to the present moment with an awareness of letting go of holding patterns and inviting the balance and ease of your body, there is subtle flow and movement that expresses being alive and that invites a personal, direct experience of impermanence.  By not fixing or freezing experience, you are present right now.   

June:  What is it about this practice that attracted you to it?

Hope:  I discovered the practice by auspicious coincidence in a life drawing class in art school in my early twenties. I took some Alexander lessons and was amazed by how profound the work was for me. I really needed to enter my body, to let my nervous system settle and find the ground underneath me.

For the first time in my life I was getting to know myself. The body orientation is what made meditation possible for me when I discovered it ten years later. I needed to find the trustworthiness of my own experience and this was a means for doing that in a gentle form that spoke to me.     

 

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302