For those of you in the path of The Great Eastern Brood, a few tips for working and playing outdoors in the company of a billion cicadas from Cincinnati AT teacher Claire Rechnitzer

Alexander walking

Approaching Cicadas with Good Use

I have always enjoyed teaching the Alexander Technique outdoors. It affords an opportunity to figure out good use* while walking, running, or just experiencing the great outdoors as our stimulus-du-jour. But now, just as being vaccinated has made me feel comfortable enough to resume in-person, hands-on teaching – we’re getting hit with another plague. Cicadas! A minor inconvenience compared to the coronavirus, but still – the imminent emergence of Brood X is not something I’m looking forward to. That said, I’m not about to let a billion or so bugs keep me indoors, so I looked for some advice online and found several tips, scattered amongst the numerous cicada-info sources. Here are some of the more sensible ones, along with my own AT spin for making the most of them.   

Time your Excursions: Cicadas are most active when it’s sunny and warm. Plan to be out at dawn or dusk, and take advantage of cooler or overcast days. Who says avoidance can’t be a strategy for realizing constructive, conscious control? 

Get Over the Ick Factor: Most people think these loud, red-eyed kamikazes are kinda gross. But, as they don’t bite, sting or carry disease, there’s no real reason to fear them. Try getting used to them. Look at pictures online, close-ups too! Go outside for a deliberate encounter – wear pants, long sleaves and a hat if it makes you more comfortable and then find some to look at closely or even let them land on you. You may not like them any better, but it might help mitigate some of the queasiness – and the tension-inducing cringing, wincing, and shuddering that goes with it. 

Protect Yourself: Depending on distance, duration and intensity, you may not need to be wearing a mask outdoors, but in the face of cicadas – you may just want to. That and a pair of Jackie O-sized sunglasses can help keep the little buggers out of your face. A recent article in Popular Mechanics (of all places!) recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat under trees to protect you from cicada-wee (sorry for just upping the aforementioned ick-factor), and one of my neighbors suggested carrying a tennis racket to swat them out of the way. To me that sounds a little on the overkill side, but I may reconsider mid-May which is when Brood X is expected to reach full volume. If the buzz is too much for you, cut the cacophony with earphones or try to appreciate the sound for the love song it is. (Who says you can’t be both a cynic and anthropomorphizer?)

Duck with Decorum: The sudden action of balking, shrinking or recoiling can make us brace and torque in ways that can cause or aggravate musculoskeletal pain, or trigger a loss of balance.   Of course, we are wired to flinch from anything that’s about to hit us, especially in the face, but despite being an involuntary reflex – martial artists, sharp shooters, and other professionals can and do train to prevent even the slightest wince.  Most of us don’t need that level of skill to contend with an erratic cicada. A little practice can go a long way towards maintaining equilibrium in the face of arthropod projectiles.  Try these maneuvers a few times before you go out:

  • Practice shielding your face by drawing your forearm(s) towards you, without raising your shoulders, leaning back or shortening your stature. That way you won’t risk pinching your neck or lower back. 
  • Avert with a step. Push off the ball of the foot opposite of the direction you are turning to, shifting weight to the other leg as you swing to the side. Think of going forward and up as you turn away, instead of screwing down into your knees. (Ouch!) 
  • Adopt a position of mechanical advantage. Bob forwards by hinging at your knees and hips instead of buckling or curling your shoulders and upper back. This may feel like getting into the cicada’s space, but sometimes that’s the best way to blow your opponent off the mat. Speaking of blowing, extra points for exhaling while you’re at it, and… 

Breath: As I recall from my last encounter with cyclical cicada emergences (a 13-year brood, 2014?), it was the sickening stench of cicada carcasses that got me more than the deafening drone. It’s perfectly normal to momentarily hold our breath when passing anything malodorous, but when spending 20 minutes or more sweeping bug bodies off the back deck or front walkway, it’s all too easy to inadvertently resort to shallow, minimal breathing. If you find yourself doing that, try getting out of tunnel-vision mode – notice peripheries and the horizon, and take a few deliberate, full breaths. A Fisherman’s Friend lozenge might be helpful (and as some of my students know, it’s kind of fun and informative practicing a Whispered Ah after sucking one!).

Finally, keep in mind keep in mind that unlike the novel coronavirus, cicadas are entirely predictable. They’ll be gone with plenty of summer weather left to enjoy, so if you have to – you can decide to wait them out indoors. After 2020, I’m pretty sure no one needs any practice tips for that. 

*Terms in bold italics have particular meaning to Alexander Technique practitioners. Those of you who are not familiar with them and would like more info are welcome to contact me. 

Claire Rechnitzer

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