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Natural Awakenings NYC & Long Island

Poise: Motion within Stillness

By Jean McClelland

In the past few issues of Natural Awakenings we’ve been exploring how to move more freely and naturally. Every tool that I’ve shared is designed to keep you fluid, flowing and elastic. We call this being in a state of physiological “poise.” Physiological poise is our body’s timing and coordination. It is our birthright. Think for a moment about what happens when you’re nervous. We often feel “frozen.” Olympic figure skaters know this phenomenon well. Their jitters can overwhelm them, and their legs become heavy and wooden. They call it “losing their legs.” But when they feel at ease, it’s as if they’re floating, and the ice is moving them. 

This month we’ll explore the physical manifestations of stress and how to become present with what is going on in your body. When my students talk about stress and how it affects them, they describe it very perceptively. A guitarist I work with has disabling tendonitis in his shoulders. When I ask him what happens when he starts to play in pain, he says, “I lose my body.” Other words and expressions people use to describe how stress affects them include going down, compressing, tightening, pulling in, grabbing, constricting, collapsing, straining/pushing, fear, shallow and rapid breathing, anxiety and rigidity. Do any of those words or phrases resonate with you?

One of my students suffers from extreme anxiety, and her body is very collapsed. Recently, she realized that her parents constantly lived in “survivor” mode. Thus, she had internalized their fear and was always operating in fight or flight. As she expressed herself, her hands motioned in a downward direction, indicating that she was dragged down by stress rather than moving it up and out of her body. 

Our hand gestures often indicate our unconscious understanding of what is going on in us. When students in my voice class speak about their fear of expression or the tightness in their throats, they always gesture down, but when they describe how they would love to be freer in their self-expression, their hands intuitively flow up. Frederick Matthias Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique, said that if we can stop the wrong thing from happening, the right thing will emerge. Similarly, Carl Jung said that the body-mind has a great drive toward wholeness if we permit it to evolve without stopping it with our habits.

As you contemplate the many ways stress manifests in your body, realize what a powerful tool recognition is. We do not need to be victimized by our stress; we just need to become present with it. That is what helps it to shift. Review some of the tools for stimulating “up” in our bodies from previous issues, and the next time you feel “stressed out,” take a walk and let the earth rise underneath your feet and “move you.” You will glide along in the flow.

Jean McClelland is on the faculty of the Graduate Program in Acting at Columbia University and a guest lecturer in the music department at William Paterson University. She is an AmSAT certified senior teacher of the Alexander Technique and studied with Carl Stough at his Institute for Breathing Coordination. She is one of fewer than a dozen people worldwide personally selected by Stough to teach his work. In addition, she has performed extensively in musical theater and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. She teaches in-person and virtual private lessons and group classes. For more information, visit

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