The Fred and Far Friday Feature celebrates powerful women from our sisterhood who share their magic with the world in unique and inspiring ways. This week, I am proud to share Deena Odelle Hyatt, also known as DeenaOH, a Body Mindfulness & Dynamic Posture Specialist. I've had the tremendous gift of working with her personally to shift my relationship with my body and mind, and now I'm grateful to share her with you.
In addition to this interview, Deena and I will be collaborating on a Self Care September Challenge that will give you the opportunity to work with Deena for four weeks, with an emphasis on Awareness, Balance, Commitment and Desire. I hope you'll join me for this transformative experience. Click here for all the details.
You’re an Alexander Technique Teacher. What is the Alexander Method?
Alexander Technique is the practice of holistic self-awareness, and was created by FM Alexander in the 19th century. It is mindfulness in motion where we sharpen the skill of being present in body and mind and learn the nature of our habits, physically and mentally. This knowledge helps us identify and undo harmful habits so we get back to the natural coordination and embodied presence we had as children. This process-oriented work is about how we respond to stimulus, and teaches us how to bring unconscious reactions up to our consciousness awareness so we can introduce choice and therefore change.
Fully Certified Alexander Technique Teachers train for at least 1600 hours
(3 and ½ years). We use both hands-on and verbal guidance to essentially teach students how to get out of their own way. Alexander Technique has both a set of principles and procedures to help students learn their own art of self-care.
It's interesting because I've found a lot of people lumping The Alexander Technique into “new age” type movements, perhaps because Alexander teachers also talk about the mind/body connection. However, it originated at the end of the 19th century.
FM Alexander, who was born in 1869 in Tasmania, Australia, founded the technique in the early 1890s. He was a Shakespearean actor, orator, and elocutionist. Unfortunately, Alexander began to suffer from hoarseness and sometimes after a performance could hardly speak. After consultations and advice from doctors and voice trainers did not gain him any insights, he began a process of self-examination with mirrors into his speaking habits to see if he could determine the cause. He did a lot of stimulus and response experimentation to figure out his reaction patterns and found ways that he was habitually distorting his head / neck / back relationship.
With time, he found that by using “conscious control” of actions, by inhibiting wrong movements rather than trying to “do” correct ones, his vocal and longstanding respiratory problems vanished. He started teaching others the technique and soon doctors were sending him asthma and tuberculous patients as he became known as “The Breathing Man.”
John Dewey, the acclaimed educator and philosopher — and also a proponent of the Alexander Technique — describes what Alexander meant by inhibition and reconditioning as “empowering the person to take responsibility for his or her potential.” When you allow yourself to stop, you are no longer enslaved by your automatic reaction to external stimuli. Now you have a choice to change, what Alexander calls “vital freedom in thought and action.”
Once you commit to working on yourself — you'll always find new ways to improve. Like peeling an onion, there are so many layers and it's an incredible process to remove one layer and reveal another layer. Self-improvement is a life-long journey.
View this post on Instagram
Here’s a photo story about my “posture” journey — tried to find photos to compare and contrast. I’m sure even the pedestrian eye can see at least a subtle shift. the reality was a radical change not just in how I carried myself, where I held myself, but a transformation of self. Because mind and body are connected, so you also have to shift you’re thinking to get out of bad habits of “misuse” aka (compression, collapse, shortening of certain muscles). ————————————————————————————— Couldn’t find that many really good pictures from pre-2008 when I started studying, partially because we got iPhones with nicer cameras and I got more real portraits. Still, I threw in examples of how I responded to a stimuli (writing, reading, singing) with different ways of carrying myself. Have you ever noticed how you hold your pizza slice, a cup, your steering wheel? Most injuries don’t come out of the blue, it’s an accumulation of misuse over time. And in the same way, most problems are reversible, if you take the time to unlearn the harmful habits. ———————————————————————————- I’m living proof. I thought I was doomed to have chronic pain for the rest of my life. And the craziest part, I didn’t know why. Neither did doctors. Now I look and I’m like OUCH!! What was I doing?!? I thankfully worked through it and past it. Studying Alexander Technique was the main way in conjunction with acupunture, dance, yoga, walking. Point is, for three years I was lost in pain but really it was many many many years in the making before the pain even began. Start paying attention now. Nows always a good time to start. First step is to tell yourself you’re not stuck. 💪💞〰️ ✨✨✨ __________________________________\ #mindbodygrace #alexandertechnique #posture #mindinmotion #mindfulness #mindfulmovement #thealexandertechnique #mindbodysoul #mindbodyspirit #mindbodyconnection #transformationtuesday #transformation #journey #selfimprovement
What inspired you to become a Alexander Technique Teacher?
It was a matter of survival. When I began studying the Alexander Technique it was to get myself back in working order. I didn’t know I would become an Alexander teacher or work in wellness. At the time I was a musician and performance artist living in Austin, Texas and teaching at School For The Blind and Visually Impaired. I had somehow managed to graduate college despite three years of chronic pain, but I was not in a good mental space and I was definitely stuck in victim mode.
I had already been through three years of “mysterious” chronic pain -- affecting the use of my right arm and hand. I was actually trying to learn how to write with my left hand. They had diagnosed me with “thoracic outlet syndrome,” but seemed to have no idea why it may have happened. They prescribed pain killers, and surgery: to remove my first rib and part of my scalene (a set of three muscles in your neck).
I soon came to realize why my rib was out of place: since I was pushing my head out, I didn't have the support of my back for my arms, and I was overusing my scalene. The scalene muscle kept shortening and shortening, and since it's attached to the first rib, it kept pulling it and pulling my rib out of place. I could have done the Alexander work and got myself back in better coordination, lessening all the pulling and shortening and encouraging the lengthening and widening, and slowly the rib would have gone back to place, but I got a useless surgery instead.
As I began practicing the Alexander Technique, the windows of pain would get smaller, then I'd get myself in a jam again, under stress, but the amount of time it took me to recover from the jams became shorter and shorter. It took about six months to be free from chronic pain completely. I was feeling better and more empowered, but knew I had a long way to go. Recognizing there was still so much “undoing” to learn, I joined the teacher training. Habits are hard to unravel so studying five days out of the week certainly helped. I finished my certification under Marian Goldberg and graduated in four years. An indirect benefit: my Alexander practice also helped me with my voice as a singer and voice actor. I’ve also learned new ways to handle the pressures of performing.
Additionally I did Vipassana, a lot of therapy and many of the lessons of meditation and mindfulness are also present in the Alexander work. It's funny to call it “work” because essentially you're learning how to do less, but sometimes non-doing is just as hard when you're used to overdoing.
2008 / 2014: Note the dramatic shift in my shoulder slope, midback, and where my jaw line sits.
Posture is increasingly becoming something we all struggle with. How is our posture impacting our mental health, and how does aligning it change that?
The first thing I have to address is the misconception around posture. Posture is not a position you hold, it isn’t that you need to learn “how to have a good posture” in some sort of fixed way. Posture is dynamic, it is about the *relationship* of the head, neck and back, and the whole body together in unison. Posture is also not just about the body, because, as we come to learn with the work, the body is not separate from the mind. There’s a reason those idioms exist such as “sticking your neck out there” for someone or “feeling down” or when you’re “feeling up.” Posture is also a state of mind. The Alexander Technique isn’t about teaching you how to “hold yourself” -- you don’t even need to “learn” good posture. If you are able-bodied, you were born with an innate sense of how to move and be: a natural coordination.
There is an alarming amount of research showing the harm caused by sitting for long periods of time, that is first and foremost what needs to be addressed. We are not designed to stay still for 8 hours straight, we are built to move. The goal of every modality I know of -- from acupuncture to massage to yoga -- is to make sure you’re not getting stuck and to address this stagnation.
Poor posture negatively affects our circulation and oxygenation because of compression. If we are not getting proper blood flow and oxygen to the brain, this also affects our productivity and the ability to think clearly. I’ve had countless experiences with students after a session expressing a change of mind or a change of heart, something about opening up in this way also affects how we think and feel.
My goal is to help cultivate the mindset it takes to manage and overcome everyday stresses as well as deeper traumas, which includes prioritizing how we use their body when we work. I am on a mission to help people understand that the mind + body are connected, and to stop disconnecting, so they can thrive in the vitality they had when they were a kid. This work is process-oriented. This work is always about meeting yourself where you are in the moment, without judgement, and moving from there. Progress isn’t linear, and it is always possible.
Tell me about your company name, Mind Body Grace. What does Grace mean to you, and why is it important?
There are two ways I think of grace in this work. The easiest way is to think of someone who's graceful. This work allows you to move with more grace, more ease, a certain elegant effortlessness, because so much of the work is learning how to do so much less, and allow so much more. How to trust the innate knowing.
This brings me to Grace with a capital G. I am helping people connect body and mind, or even changing their understanding of what "body" is. When I think of the SELF I think of an integration of mind and body and also "Grace." For some this may be spirit, God, source, energy, the universe, the higher self -- it comes in many names but what it is isn't known exactly. However I do believe there is a deep knowing within us that is aware of this entity beyond us, that is also a part of us, and we are a part of.
The way it shows up in the work is the things we can't control, the things beyond our control. We can work on things mentally or physically, and then there's something we can't "work" on but we can believe in. This Grace can help us, it can release us, it can revive us, it can conspire on our behalf.
You work with a broad range of people. Is there a common trend you see among women?
The opposite of MANSPREADING! I see a lot of women making themselves smaller.
View this post on Instagram
MANSPREAD MONDAY: A fairly common habit I see in womxn is bringing the knees together, making ourselves smaller. Essentially this is the opposite of #manspreading — . . In this first slide you see her sitting for the first time without going strongly into that old habit, after about 10 minutes of hands-on and verbal instruction. What you will see in this sequence (scroll right) is some key learning moments @visitmurmur #murmurmoments . . ———— . Aside from the spiritual consequences of this confining posturing, it doesn’t help the already delicate relationship between the knees and hips. So ladies, let your knees be hip width apart (if you’re not wearing a pencil skirt). Don’t be afraid to take up space and be at your full height too! #womensempowerment . . —- . . 𝗝𝗼𝗶𝗻 𝗺𝗲 𝘁𝗼𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗿𝗼𝘄 𝗻𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗶𝗻 𝗗𝗖 𝘁𝗼 𝗮𝗱𝗱𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗽𝗼𝘀𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲 𝗲𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗰𝘁𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗮𝘆 𝘄𝗲 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝘂𝗽 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗹𝗱. . 𝗟𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗢𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝘀 𝗚𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗿𝘆 𝟲𝗽𝗺 𝗳𝗿𝗲𝗲 𝘁𝗮𝗹𝗸, 𝗱𝗲𝗺𝗼𝗻𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻, 𝗤&𝗔. 𝗪𝗼𝗿𝗸𝘀𝗵𝗼𝗽 𝘁𝗼 𝗳𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗼𝘄 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗽𝗮𝗶𝗱 𝗽𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗶𝗰𝗶𝗽𝗮𝗻𝘁𝘀. . 𝗜𝗻𝗳𝗼 𝗼𝗻 𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗹 𝗲𝗮𝘀𝘁 𝗰𝗼𝗮𝘀𝘁 𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗿: 𝗠𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗕𝗼𝗱𝘆𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗰𝗲.𝗰𝗼𝗺/𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁
What does it mean to “be in your body?”
There are so many ways to answer this question and that's because there are so many ways to think of what “body” means. I think we have a problem because we think it’s separate from the mind and hopefully we will experience a paradigm shift around the way we think of our Self. Much like we used to think the sun revolves around the earth. To be in your body is to be in your Whole Self. We experience suffering because of separation.
Is there a roadblock you had to overcome to get where you are today? How did you do it?
I hit roadblocks all the time, still. What I love about the work is that it’s never done, and it’s never a burden because we can choose to always be learning and growing. We must live and accept our imperfections and still work towards change, knowing that there will always be stress and strife to overcome.
When’s the last time you had to be super brave?
When taking care of my mother through cancer, I had to be brave constantly. She ended up dying, may she rest in peace, after three years of battling colon cancer that spread to her lung and liver. The time by her side was precious. It was heart-wrenching, and I had to put aside my struggles and be a positive force for her. We savored every little thing. It was so difficult but so rewarding and beautiful. Everyday demanded bravery for her, for me and for my dad and brother.
What is something you’re willing to be vulnerable about with us?
My freshman year of college I was raped by someone I loved. This is hard for people to understand sometimes, thinking it’s always a stranger in the alleyway, but statistics show it’s often people we know and trust. It was such a process to come to terms with this type of coercion. I had disconnected from my body and didn’t even realize it. I had to reunite with my whole self. Now, I have found pleasure again and I am a very sensual person. I am empowered and enjoy sex, and I marvel at the beauty of my body. This took therapy, and all the body-centered work described above.
What is your favorite way of expressing yourself?
Right now, dancing is my favorite expression! I feel that it’s also a way to connect with my mom, who loved to dance, too. It used to be more poetry and before that music.
View this post on Instagram
Truth is I’ve been a bit stuck so I’m challenging myself to dance for at least 5 minutes a day. #leoseason 🔥 Oops, I should use a different word other than “challenge” right now huh? I am ... *inspiring* myself to dance at least 5 minutes a day. One way to address / build a habit is to start small, bite sized palatable. I’ve been getting so overwhelmed easily these day’s especially. It’s certainly a sign of that anxiety / depression combo when I feel paralyzed by overwhelm. Breaking habits down into small doable goals is helping me get through all this uncertainty. And connecting plant life is helping me a lot too. What’s helping you get through? Sending you all much love. In alignment, Deena 🌹 #danceeveryday #danceanyway #danceanywhichway #thepoetryofmotion #movementmedicine
How do you practice self-love and self-care on a weekly basis?
I’m really into mindful walking and have a dog (Bunny), so that helps. I also have a way that I pray to whatever is outside of me and my understanding. I try to uphold certain promises to myself which include: daily movement, alignment & balance work, 5 minutes of dancing, as well as 20 minutes of “proprioceptive” writing (a ritual of exploring your thoughts in writing with curiosity and empathy while listening to the same song each time and lighting a candle). Taking baths or going in the ocean is also really important; I really crave water immersion to reset.
Also, it’s important to take time to “do nothing.” In Alexander Technique, we have constructive rest which is the practice of non-doing. Lao Tzu describes it, “let things come as they arise, and go as they disappear. Don’t interfere. Don’t do…anything. Let. Allow. Be content. Be free. Be in awe of the spontaneous order (the way things are), as everything just falls into place.”
Can you share one story about a client’s transformation through your work together that showcases why you get fulfillment out of the worn you do?
I had one student, Taleen Kali, she’s a rockstar, poet and yogi-- and she said I can share her story. After our third session she exclaimed that she could finally breathe and said, “it feels like a corset was removed.” We continued to work and she then told me she was finally comfortable dating, she said she had a new confidence in her body which translated to finally inviting someone new in. This wasn’t a goal or anything when we started but an indirect effect of the work. Then, I started noticing how much more creative output she was having. When she originally came to me she had expressed feeling stuck, not just in her body but also in her career. After a few weeks of our work, she was outpouring zines and music and carrying herself with such grace. I was in awe.
What does choosing yourself mean to you?
We cannot give from an empty cup and I love giving. Just as I aspire to wealth so that I can be more generous, I believe in interconnectedness and that suffering comes from separation. Choosing yourself means your Whole Self, not just trying to be “physically fit” or “mentally smart” -- but knowing that you are powerful as an integrated Whole. To choose your Whole Self is to prioritize facing unconscious things that are holding you down. To prioritize learning and growth and love, so that you have something to give and are able to connect with others from a place of Wholeness. It’s the classic plane scenario, you must put your oxygen mask on first before placing it on your child.
What do you love most about yourself?
My ability to be vulnerable and strong, and also playful.
What is your advice to your 10 year-old self?
You can say no to anyone you want to say no to for any reason you wish.
No is power.
What is your message for our sisterhood?
You are Whole. You are Connected & Supported.
You are Empowered. You have innate Wisdom. You have The Time.
You are in charge, but you are not in control of everything.
You have a choice and how you chose to focus your time and energy will help you flow with all that is beyond your control.
Finish these sentences:
Women should: take their time.
Women can: be imperfect.
Women will: rise.
I am: not alone. I am inspiring. I am whole.
View this post on Instagram
New moon feeling fresh fighting off that weird ass mucky funkjunk with smooth moves 🌹 “Times is weird these days,” as John Maus says. Unless you’re a billionaire, most all your plans have come to a halt anyways— what’s your pivot? How we adapt is fascinating. Dip deep and align with your true values. Two values I hold true is: the purpose of PLAY and the power of being PRESENT 🔥 ————- #playday #valueassessment #powersuits #noshirt #essentialism #powerofplay #bigleoenergy