Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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Entries in inhibition (5)


Practice and Performance

Any musician knows that it takes hours of practice to prepare for a performance. Athletes call it training. Students call it studying.  No matter what, in life’s great activities there is practice, then there is performance. 

These two things feel different. Practicing has elements of exploration, repetition, and incremental growth. Performance is all about adrenaline, trusting your skills, and letting go of fear.

Life is about 90% practice and 10% performance. Practicing the Alexander Technique (AT) is like having the ultimate tool in your arsenal when you need it the most.

The Alexander Technique is a set of skills that allow you to live better in practice and performance. When you learn the skills of the Alexander Technique by taking lessons, you are being guided through the experience by your teacher and then asked to practice these skills at home. I always encourage my students to practice in a quiet, safe environment such as practicing inhibition while lying in Conscious Rest position. This helps to build a strong foundation for the cognitive skills of the Alexander Technique. That way, when “performance” time comes, you have your AT skills at your disposal.

Alexander Technique in performance, what does this mean? Yes, there are daily activities in which AT helps tremendously: driving, working at a computer, and playing a musical instrument. But then there are those moments in life where the heat is on, you are experiencing something very unique, and only have this moment to make it right. For example, a deer runs out in front of your car while you’re driving. In this moment you must react. But how? You may be frozen with fear. Or, you may call upon inhibition to not react in fear, get out of your own way, and allow your body to do the right thing.

Recently, I gave birth for the first time. Leading up to the birth I educated myself about childbirth and did everything I was able to in order to have a healthy pregnancy. I used AT to help my body make room in itself for the growing baby and manage the ten million other changes. I knew I would use AT for the birth, but man, I didn’t know how vital it would be!

Childbirth is life’s ultimate performance.  You have no clue how it’s going to go down! Don’t worry—I will spare you the gory details. But I will share with you that the Alexander Technique was my anchor and I could not have had a successful birth without it.

The Alexander Technique gave me the power to:

  • Not allow fear to dictate my childbirth experience;
  • Free my neck and consciously not let my neck and shoulders do the work (which they so desperately wanted to do);
  • Direct my energy where it was needed at any given time, and let go of the rest;
  • Truly rest when I was able— meaning in the 30 seconds between contractions I was able to stop completely and rest, rather than continue to react to the pain inefficiently;
  • As a result of all this, my endurance increased.

Bottom line, the Alexander Technique allowed me to not react in fear, get out of my own way, and allow my body to do the right thing.

I want to hear from you in the comments below! What ultimate life performance has AT helped you with? Have you had a moment in your life where you wish you had the skills of the AT to help you? Please share your experiences below!


Please Don’t Take a Deep Breath

Our breath is essential to life. Just like digestion, it is an automatic bodily function that we don’t really need to think about. Or do we? When was the last time you thought about your breath: the quality of it, or how it affects your overall well-being?

As with most things, we don’t bring awareness to our breath until something goes wrong. If you’re feeling stressed out, you take a deep breath to attempt to calm yourself. This creates an on/off switch, going from not thinking about it in general to emergency mode when stressed.

Just as breath is essential to life, the overall functioning of our respiratory system is essential to our well-being. I will show you how you can bring awareness to your breath every day in order to create balance.

Try this now:

  1. Sitting quietly, pay attention to your breath right now. Don’t try to change anything. Simply observe. Are you holding your breath? Breathing shallowly or irregularly? If so, continue to just observe without making any changes.
  2. If you notice you are holding your breath, have a conscious thought to stop holding your breath. Just like sending a wish out to yourself, “I wish to not hold my breath.”
  3. Continue having this thought to not hold your breath. After a few moments, notice if anything changes. Your breath may become more frequent, or maybe you take a nice deep inhale without even trying.

This approach is more gentle for your system than the on/off approach of “take a deep breath” that is all too familiar. Think about it: If you are in a state of stress, your body is tight and your breath is held. Then all of a sudden, you are forcing yourself to take a deep inhale. All that tightness in your body caused by the stress is still present and your inhale is forced through the tightness.

The alternative approach described above applies the principles of the Alexander Technique to create a much more gentle response to stress:

  • First, you are bringing awareness to yourself and observing your breath. This is very powerful and gives you a lot of information about your stress reaction.
  • Second, rather than overriding what is happening in your body with action (e.g. taking a deep breath), you are asking to stop holding. This is like hitting the pause button and giving yourself time to create change. By wishing for not holding your breath, you are giving your body an opportunity to rid itself of tightness.
  • The act of undoing and stopping allows the body to recalibrate and return to its natural state of well-being. The breath will follow because steady breathing is an important piece of our natural functioning.

If you are a singer, actor, or wind player you know this all too well. Your craft relies on your breath. But even so, people who are using their breath skillfully can acquire many habits that can create issues with their respiratory functioning. Tightness and tension can very much interfere with and hinder sound quality.

The Alexander Technique offers many tools to create balance and better functioning surrounding your breath. This leads to overall well-being and feeling good!


Unlock Your Body

Habits are really hard to break. This is true of any type of habit, even habits of movement. One of the most common movement habits I see in people is when the body holds itself into place. I call this ‘lock down mode’.

Lock down mode is when your body holds itself in position, and usually feels like this: 

Head back and down

Jaw set 

Neck tight

Shoulders up and narrow

Arms held tight to the body

Knees locked back and hips locked forward

Any of these sound familiar?

Try this now:

Stand up and sit down a few times. Notice how your body moves. Don’t try to change anything, just go about standing and sitting your normal way.

As you come to standing, do you have two stands? I know that sounds crazy, but think about it…when you stand up, do you come to standing and then immediately ‘set yourself’? If so, that means that you are standing twice. There’s the act of standing up and then setting into standing.

This second stand is an example of lock down mode. It may not seem like much, but it is really leaving you no room for change. Lock down mode keeps you in your habitual state. If you experience any type of chronic pain or tension, this is not a great state to be in.

Lock down mode also provides a false sense of security. It’s the body's way of bracing itself against the world. It’s an unconscious defense mechanism—and totally a reaction based in fear.

The Alexander Technique provides powerful tools to get you out of lock down mode.

Here’s how:

1) Bring the mind into the picture

Yes, lock down mode is a physical habit, and as we all know habits are hard to break. When it comes to the body, it’s easy to forget about the mind, but the mind is key to facilitating change. 

Inhibition and Direction are the paramount cognitive skills of the Alexander Technique. The mind piece of mind/body. Inhibition is a way of thinking that sends messages to your body to stop. By inserting a pause not only are you able to stop a habit in its place, you are also giving yourself an opportunity to make a conscious choice about movement. Directing is a way of turning on the part of your brain that orients you in space. By directing you are able to expand and lengthen continuously, which is the exact opposite of lock down mode!

2) Experience Change First Hand

Human touch is tremendously powerful. The Alexander Technique incorporates this powerful tool in a gentle way. When you take a private lessons in the Alexander Technique, the teacher will use gentle hands-on work to help you get unstuck and out of lock down mode. The purpose is two-fold. As Missy Vineyard explains, the teacher’s hands “convey an experience to the students…the student experiences a gentle contact that lightly supports, guides, energizes, expands, and informs how the student moves. Second, the teacher’s hands feel what the student does to his body: how he moves and reacts…” Therefore, the hands-on work in a private lesson is really a conversation between student and teacher. [1]

These powerful tools make the Alexander Technique a unique and powerful practice in which the teacher helps the student come out of lock down mode and into a lighter more expansive way of being.

I want to hear from you! What is your version of lock down mode? Have you experienced the Alexander Technique? If so, how did the power of touch inform your experience? Please leave a comment below.

[1] Vineyard, Missy. How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live. (New York: Marlowe & Company, 2007), 243.


Combat Coping with the Alexander Technique

We all find ways to cope with stress throughout the day. What’s your specialty? A few that come to my mind are:

  • Pretend everything is just fine; meanwhile, your blood is boiling and your jaw is clenched.
  • You are the good worker, always at the ready and working hard all day; meanwhile, your back is killing you and it hurts just to be upright.
  • Your coping mechanism has become such a habit that you don’t even know the difference between your real self and “getting through the day.” Meanwhile, you’re exhausted, at your wit’s end, and possibly have some serious health issues knocking at the door (anxiety, high blood pressure, chronic pain, or worse).

So when is it time to say, “Enough!”? When is it time to take control of the situation, rather than the situation having control over you?

I say the time is now. As in, this moment right now. Even for 30 seconds. Now.

But the question immediately becomes, “HOW?”

That’s where the Alexander Technique comes in. The Alexander Technique is a tool for living. Actually, I will rephrase that. The Alexander Technique is your tool for living. What that means is it gives you actual, real life skills to get through the day. Without coping and—eventually—without chronic pain.

The best part is, it’s all within your reach right now. Try this out:

  1. Bring awareness to yourself. Just check in–what’s going on?
  2. You may become aware of all the sensations that are your coping mechanism: tense muscles, clenched jaw, shallow (or non-existent) breathing, chronic pain… If so, recognize and acknowledge these sensations.
  3. Have a conscious thought to NOT REACT to these sensations. Say to yourself, “I am not reacting to these feelings and sensations I am experiencing.”

Now that you’ve spent 30 seconds or so receiving information about yourself, take 30 seconds to output information by giving yourself these directions:

  1. Think about your feet extending to and connecting with the floor.
  2. Think about your head rising up. Imagine the space above your head and the fact that you have all that space to expand into.
  3. You also have space to expand all over. Take a deep breath and just allow yourself to expand in all directions.
  4. Feet down, head up, back lengthening and widening—it’s all there for you.

Notice a difference? How do you feel after one minute of using these techniques to consciously change your experience of living? Share your experience in the comments below.

This is a brief taste of HOW the Alexander Technique can facilitate positive change in your life.

You deserve to live a life pain-free! It’s all there, right within your reach. The Alexander Technique is simply a tool for you to make it happen.

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques using the Alexander Technique! In the meantime, please share your experience on HOW this brief one-minute experiment changed your day in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!


Stop Stress Immediately: Incorporate These Three Steps

Stress and tension are a part of our daily lives. In fact, it has become the norm in our culture these days. When asked the simple question, “How are you?” a common response is often, “I’ve been so busy! Things have been stressful and crazy!” The stress in our lives creates tension in the body, which can lead to chronic pain.

No matter what type of stress you are under, the tension and pain are very real. Tension and pain are physical symptoms of our stressed out mental state.

I will take this one step further to say that stress is also a symptom. Stress is a mental symptom of our external environment.

So how do we stop this vicious cycle?

The solution lies in choice and conscious thought. When faced with a stress-full experience, situation, or environment follow these steps:

  1. Hit the pause button—before you “freak out” take one second to stop and bring awareness to yourself 
  2. Insert conscious thought—now that you’ve wedged a big old pause in-between your stress and freak out, insert some instructions for yourself by thinking (or saying out loud!), “I am not reacting to this situation.”
  3. Follow through—keep pausing, keep thinking, “I am not reacting…” Continue to bring awareness to yourself and your response to a stress-full situation.

By working on your reaction to stress-full things, you have the opportunity to override your physical reaction to stress. This results in less tension and gaining control over yourself and how you handle stress.

This powerful tool is called INHIBITION in the Alexander Technique. It is a very important step in gaining mastery over your mind and body.

This takes practice! Try it when you’re not stressed out by practicing conscious rest. Then, when you are faced with daily stress, you have a new tool to use.

I’d love to hear from you and how—by following these three steps— you were able to override your stress reaction. Share your experience below in the comments below.