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Snake Oil

While learning and practicing Alexander Technique, meaning comes all at once from multiple avenues:

  • paying attention to the “how” of what you’re intending,
  •  the thought processes you follow in preparation & during the launch,
  • …and the physical responses that you are actually doing to express these preparations and intentions.
  • Something happens. Maybe it’s something new? New feels a bit odd, but easier.
  • Then reflecting on what happened, why it happened and where and when it can be influenced to happen how you guess is possible.

Alexander Technique came from applying the empirical scientific method to one’s own strategies, ways and intentions. Because its development also answered a need, (it was: better performance) a physical demonstration had to follow so these ephemeral intentions had ways of practicing successes. Plainly, pure intentions of thought are usually too tricky to witness, (in person, without an MRI.) The hypocritical nature of habit that operates in cognitive bias also makes intentions and motives tricky to discern as they fly by.

Those of us who are designing ways to teach A.T. needed to orchestrate a situation so we can perceive how our students’ intention plays out. (Otherwise the teacher can’t help the student not hoodwink themselves.) For this purpose, most of us Alexander teachers use this feedback ideal of physical effortlessness. Our ideal of effortlessness is an experience embedded within the structural mannerism of how people can move – many cultures share it. To the extent any person uses this “mechanical advantage” idea of physical effortlessness as a signal something new happened, their discovery, success and mastery is more likely. They’re also bettering the improvisational skill of tapping the unknown.

When Alexander Technique teachers declare that what they teach isn’t posture control or movement re-education or physical therapy…or musicianship, equestrian connection or better golf swings, this is what they mean.

Form, (which can be any action) isn’t the content. It’s the process behind the curtain that we’re after. Alexander Technique is an extension of thinking skills translated into movement responses. It’s Jungian individuation in action. It’s how you might connect your body-mind to be able to better “walk your talk.” But it’s also how to practice effectively, how to get learning done faster and how to attain transcendent goals of getting better at doing a beloved passion – without being limited by a glass ceiling. 

Neuroscience and cognitive bias exist now. They didn’t when A.T began. That means now, teachers of A.T. are able to steer its original presentation from its former respectable science roots toward the fuzzier marriage of intention and action and still preserve the spirit and respect of its origin.

But – the introduction of the value of A.T. is still tricky. I believe the trickiness is in the sequence of presentation. As sales presenters, if we start with the world of intention, confidence and belief, how are we not much different from being advice columnists? How do you sell something when people don’t know if they want it or not because they don’t know what it is? How can a newbie appreciate how A.T. works before they learn it?

The problem appears to be as if A.T. teachers are selling a kind of snake oil – because what we are selling can be applied so widely!

Without our physical discipline of educating living anatomy, the philosophy of A.T. gets lost in being yet another “thought affects everything” motivational morass. The very real effects that come from practicing A.T. accumulate over time  – but on the front end, these wildly differing beneficial effects are pretty much unbelievable.

So – what differentiates A.T. from being a “snake oil” swindle?

Well, it’s history comes out of the empirical scientific model. To learn to teach it requires years of education (1600 hours.) So there must be some reason people devote their lives to learning something that takes so long to qualify for. It has been around for more than a hundred years. Essentially, others respect it.

But why not accuse that A.T. is merely a pseudo-science? OK, let’s list its offerings…

First, A.T. teaches observation. A.T. teachers are professional observers, noticing factors of movement responses and evident intentions that others miss. This extraordinary skill to spot what is ‘missing’ is part of what makes A.T. teachers remarkable – and also what makes people misunderstand why learning A.T. is valuable. (It also makes people a bit scared of what Alexander teachers can see about them that they miss.) From my knowledge, there are not many ways to learn observing, let alone self observation. (Especially without any religious and/or cultural proscriptions attached.)

Second, A.T. has to offer is it teaches impulse control – without prescribing what is supposed to be done instead beyond physical efficiency. We term it: “inhibition.” The word was selected (before Freud) from biology: how an animal inhibits its natural hungry urges to strategically plan the hunting attack. Other terms that might describe the same A.T. use of the word “inhibition” that have been used in other disciplines are

  • “pausing in order to deliberately choose another response,” (“Going to the balcony” in negotiation skills)
  • “suspension” (David Bohm dialogue)
  • or merely “Considering All Factors,” (Edward de Bono thinking skills.)

Third, Alexander Technique offers that is rare is how to reverse engineer an ingrained habitual physical routine that has become a nuisance. Every other advice about this involves, “do something else.” Imagine there’s another way to side-step what has become a deceptively self-imposed limitation, without giving up a beloved art, hobby, skill or job!

Fourth, A.T. teaches the ability to abstract. The classic method of Alexander’s work was taught very repetitively using a mundane action, (sitting and standing.) Intentions were revealed in the slightest changes of balance anyway, right? Certainly a student couldn’t figure that a “better” way to be sitting and standing was the whole point. Students were left to turning their experience into something useful in other situations. To do this, abstraction of context had to happen.

Just those four points – do you think they read like snake oil?

Snoring Observations

Can a person change their habitual routines  – while sleeping to prevent themselves from snoring? For most, that’s a pretty laughable sense of personal responsibility. It’s one of the odd “features” of Alexander Technique – that we are “responsible” for actions that are innate or autonomous.

Because using Alexander Technique requires awareness, I had assumed that it was not possible to use it when asleep. Sleep is a time when habitual routines have wrested control away from the possibility of conscious control…or so I thought. After some experimenting, now I think differently.

I advise my A.T. students to use their ability to influence their actions when they begin an action. It is the way someone begins an action that “sets the stage” for how it is possible to continue it. To create many “beginnings” is one of the easiest ways to practice and get the benefits of whatever you know about how to use A.T.

But – I had started snoring – when I never did it previously. This is a very common issue affecting sleep quality – but more important, it affects whoever else might be in the same room, (…or maybe in the next room if the snoring is loud enough!)

There are many logical reasons for snoring – a low grade allergy to dust or aging pillows, a reaction to smog, (or VOG in Hawaii, where I live.) There’s the possibility of gaining of weight and the sag of “aging turkey neck.” Maybe even sleeping with too many covers on or not drinking enough water for proper hydration or a low grade indigestion could also be factors.

After having addressed some of these, I wondered if a tendency to react by unnecessarily clearing my throat while asleep could be at fault?  Since when I’m sleeping nobody else exists,  of course “snorgling” seems like a good idea. Can someone have bright ideas while sleeping?

I decided to conduct an experiment, testing how far this A.T. idea of “personal responsibility” would work. Could I use A.T. to address my new snoring problem while asleep or partly asleep?

I couldn’t imagine that projecting suggestions would be effective while sleeping, (we call this “directing” in A.T.) I decided that giving the sleepless, disturbed party permission to poke me when I snored might work as pure animal training.  Fortunately, I fall back asleep easily, so all I needed to do after being alerted was to notice my head was scrunched in some way and undo that. Usually I had managed to scrunch up my throat area, causing my nasal passages to narrow. Undoing that part of my throat cleared the obstruction  – and I’d stop snoring. (Tried the “breath-rite” strips too, but they didn’t particularly solve my tendency to unconsciously tighten my throat.)

Another thing I discovered about my own snoring (that may be useful to others) is that snoring had to do with my jaw relationship to my throat.

It’s pretty much impossible for *me* to snore if my jaw is positioned forward. ( so my lower teeth assume a forward “under-bite” over my top jaw.) This suggests that designing a chin strap that pushes the jaw forward might work for others.  Of course, to use a remedy such as this, you’d have to already have a pretty free or “slack” jaw. I’d already spent a lifetime practicing for this slack-jaw freedom, because my own jaw wasn’t shaped by inherited shape in a very advantageous way.

Sure enough, there’s a “chin strap” product like this! (Of course, it’s ‘way overpriced for what it is. Being too close to a loud snorer makes those who don’t snore completely insane, making them willing to pay any price.)

My confused bedmate could not imagine why I could use this remedy of being woken at some moments and not others. Neither could I. Evidently I needed this “animal training” for around a month before it worked reliably.  Now my tendency to snore can be redirected – without me waking up too much. Not sure if my ability to solve this issue involves any discoveries that would work for anyone else. There are so many reasons for snoring.

(Checking out the chin strap solution might be worthwhile thought – if you do not have an issue with jaw tension.)

Perhaps, we can now add that A.T. can be applied as a remedy for snoring to the long list of advantages where it’s effective?

 

Sensory Dissonance

More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.”

 

Readiness Is All

The Readiness is All

“The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the [movement,] use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience; and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.” – F.M. Alexander

Decades ago, I got to browse a copy of F.M. Alexander’s book that had been given to Marj Barstow. After looking at the many hand-written edits in the book that were made by F. M. after the book was printed, I turned to the first few pages to read what Alexander had dedicated to her, the first graduate of his first teacher training program. Above his signature and dedication to his first graduate, F.M. had written: “THE READINESS IS ALL”.

This quote from Shakespeare has given me many occasions to think about what motivates people to dare to want to tap the unknown.

What gets people in the mood to question their own ways of doing things?

I guess the short answer is that certain conditions for readiness to change need to be in place for different people. More often, challenges to questioning the way one does things can be met with often violent, self-preservation-like resistance that dramatizes habits into having a sense of identity – when these habitual ways of thinking and doing things really don’t add to anything beyond merely being customarily familiar. I’ve learned to become suspicious for the need for change when I would find myself reciting a spirited ritual justification to myself or others. I have begun to accept this question of what “READINESS” means as a virtual question; a type of question that I will often ask with fruitful results.

There must be some general conditions that allow people to dare to face the unknown, a readiness to maybe learn something right now. Certainly, no matter how much anyone knows, there is always something more to learn – if not only how to recall and put into use what is already somewhat known to make it richer and more sophisticated.

What helps me as a learner to be willing to voyage where I’ve never gone yet – and really be willing to take on learning something totally unfamiliar or developing something that was merely a nascent idea? While thinking back to situations where learning became fun, exciting or drew out your fascination… What helped you get ready to take on a challenge?

Perhaps a first condition is to provide safety. Somehow it has to be safe to fall on ones’ face and make mistakes – to do the wrong thing. How can it be OK to ask the wrong question? How can it be not so much of a disaster to try out doing something that will probably not work as intended? Without experience and a sense of safety, nobody can expect themselves to be able to foresee everything going perfectly well. Even if it does happen perfectly the first time through, who can continue from there and continue going forward? (I’ve never seen it happen yet.)

I once had a man on a hitchhiking trip tell me a story about the first time his wife played golf. She hit a “hole in one” in every green on the whole 21-hole course, verified by the caddy and the owner of the golf course who were playing with them both. Unfortunately, his wife opted to never play another game of golf after that splendid success. She was willing to walk into the unknown for only a limited time of the 21-hole course; she thought it wiser to “rest on her laurels” forever after. Her husband declared to me that she didn’t think it was safe for the marriage to handle her being a better (or luckier) golfer than he was!
People love to hear someone’s story about how they began to become interested in their passions; how they started their business, how they came up with a unique idea, how they first applied new information as they discovered it.
Certainly every business has a “back-story” that makes their solution understandable and hopefully desired by a potential customer. Upon hearing a story of challenges like these, following along gets exciting. The learner-investigator asks unique questions that are probably also their own listener’s current questions. I like following someone’s continuity of inquiry without having to do the hard work of making the mistakes and experiencing the frustration that they did. I find myself searching for how my own unique knowledge and abilities could add to their questions, answers and challenges as I follow their progress. Experiencing first-hand what makes someone’s point of view unique can be motivating to learn from and in tandem with them.

For most learners, it’s helpful to have a framework to hang information onto, even if it’s just a list of the number of items or points to expect.

(BTW, this article has about 1800 words. You’re a little less than halfway through it.)

Also what learners often need is some way to correct for time of arrival of this new confusion that is going to be coming in from the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t provide this framework, can the student be expected to build this framework on their own? Many do, but the first time through a learning experience, most students will expect to miss most of what is being delivered. This means much of what is new will be ignored or go unremembered. The student will get to a state of “Too Much Information” overload really fast and the teacher must be alert to this state in their students. Students will have to take a break to integrate new and unusual information has just been delivered, or they may need to tune out and ignore the rest as they chew on a certain new part.

Reverse Learning

Some teachers have found that learning backwards is a splendid way to address this issue – For instance, if what needs to be learned is sequential such as a play, a piece of music or a series of Tai Chi moves, starting at the end and working gradually toward the beginning may work well. Then once the student is able to start at the beginning, they will be working towards what has been practiced the most often.

Flipped Learning

Recognizing this challenge, here’s another way of confronting “information overload” has emerged in traditional classroom teaching of high-content subjects such as chemistry classes. It involves switching the lecture-homework conventions, termed “Flipped Classes.” From a necessity to help students who had to miss class to catch up, teachers hit on the idea of recording their lectures and spending class time tutoring during what was normally spent as homework. Now all students can play classroom lectures as their homework on DVD or .mp3 players. Instead of lectures during class, time is now spent with the teacher doing “homework.” Think about it; who’s the most knowledgeable about the subject and would be best capable of tutoring during the real learning process? What a pleasure it would be for a teacher to actually teach!

Communicative Learning

Perhaps if a lecture format must be used, giving students a chance to indicate where they are losing what the teacher has to say would be handy to have in place. Feedback is most useful when it is in “real time.” Pass out cards to students they can hold up that indicate to the teacher, “I’m lost;” “I get it, go on to the next step before I get bored;” and the most important one: “My brain is now on overload.”
A solution for this was put into place in a large co-housing group – a kind of “condo-mune.” A group of people had to make many construction decisions about the unique ways they were planning for how their unique apartment housing was going to be built. Decision makers were given colored cards, signifying “Agree,” “Block,” and various gray areas, such as: “Disagree but will not block” and “Agree with additional conditions.” There were also “Suggestion” notices that could be combined with other cards that indicated a possible solution idea or other contribution that might enhance the currently nominated decision as it stood.

Illustrated or Story Learning

To make learning easy, the most useful tactic to note is that examples and stories connect former experiences to new ones. For each point you want to teach, find a starting place that is commonly understood and go from there toward what you’d like to illustrate that is unique and unfamiliar. The more examples, the better and faster your students will learn. Think in terms of prerequisites; for instance, if you’re a kid learning about circumference, it’s essential to already have the experience about how long the outside of a circle really is. Sometimes you really need to have the students guess and to take a real string and wrap it around a bottle, your wrist or your neck – were you surprised?

A good teacher will choose examples that interest their particular students; memorable examples that gradually lead their students’ thinking along a path of first-hand discovery. The more of these illustrations there are, the more a splendid teacher will make their students imagine they “already knew” that which most people would consider to be difficult or complicated.
In my first year in college I had a teacher who got me to agree to study Chinese with him since I already knew the content of the class I was enrolled for. After hearing about the way I memorized songs, he selected one very complex Mandarin character three or four times a week and broke each of the parts of the character apart, linking the various written marks that made them into a historical song-story. This not only taught me a whole group of “character families” at the rate of thirty to forty characters a week, but led me on a fanciful and entertaining romp through Chinese historic stories, songs and fables. If you add that up, it meant had I been able to continue, I would have become literate at writing and reading 3,000 characters in less than two years – (an unheard of pace for learning any language, let along that one.)

Learning from an Inspired Teacher

Lastly, if you notice a brilliant teacher in action, don’t be shy to learn whatever it is they love to teach. It will become memorable, no matter what the subject is. You’ll learn much more than content, if you’re paying attention. Probably you’ll learn about patience, about lessons you will be able to apply broadly to lessons of life, and there is the potential to learn about yourself. Hopefully there is the chance you’ll learn something about the way you learn best – and that’s one of the most valuable lessons you can gain from any experience.

“Now be quiet, be still, and allow for it, for the unknown. Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what it will be like.”

– Margaret Goldie, F.M. Alexander’s niece and later teacher of his Technique for 40+ years.

Describing A.T.

We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

Transcendent Goals

This post is related to “Sense of Rightness” previously posted in Aug. 2014. There we discussed some of these issues; we made suggestions how to get past comparing a sense of “rightness” as a standard when attempting to progress from practice.

Here we’re going to bring up and make suggestions that give a better, faster means to progress when your goals are transcendant – such as learning a skill that has the potential to become an art or the intention to learn by having a new experience. In this case, your intention is to discover or progress, (rather than recreate or match some standard you have in mind.) First it will be most useful to clarify your definition of what it is to “progress.” If you’re trying to go somewhere new, the old standards of what you’re looking for will not be in effect. Many situations can benefit from this approach. For instance, everyone has experienced the “plateau effect” in practice – meaning no matter how hard you try, your effort doesn’t lead to much of a change.
Why not apply your usual ideal standards when attempting to progress? The danger in applying specific standards, goals or priorities is you missing what might happen if something new does happen “accidentally on purpose.” Because you’re focused on an activity of matching for an intended result of what feels “right” that has become a standard or priority that you were able to sense and remember, if you apply this comparison of remembered “rightness,” it’s most likely you’ll skip over or entirely miss anything happening that doesn’t match. This new event might look like something strange or funny; perhaps it will be a tiny, insignificant happening that will take development to turn it a significant, meaningful discovery. (It may be only a tiny improvement right now that needs development.)

So – to get out of this trap, you’ll want your intention to have a new experience to agree with your goals on the front end. You’ll also want to come up with a practical way to carry this out, which can be adjusted to the situation if it doesn’t lead to the success you have in mind. Here’s a couple of situations where that would be a handy strategy…

For instance, in a dialogue situation, the intention might be for you with the group to go somewhere new rather than just revisit, repeat or recreate what is already known by any particular group member. You’d want everyone to go somewhere new as a synergistic experience. As a way to carry out going in new directions, how would you proceed? Perhaps instead of using the indirect way of bringing up a subject by quoting authors – participants could speak directly about their own beliefs or values and relate stories about how their values and opinions were formed. Trading personal stories may lead to the discovery of the significance of reinterpreting old experiences in new ways, because each participant can imagine themselves having a similar experience.  The challenge would be to listen to these core experiences of other people, to imagine you have had these experiences…Then anticipate about how these experiences would have affected your own values. Of course, they may come to different conclusions, but that is part of what makes people unique.

Another instance, if you are in a practice situation such as learning an instrument…and your intention is to get and sustain a unique tone all your own using a wind instrument or your own voice. Let’s say your goal was to recognize your own quality of breathing to bring it forward as a unique style as a musician. Your idea about how to carry this out could be to think of an emotionally charged moment in your memory, turn on the recording machine to help you listen, to make sounds and note what happened.

Whatever it is and however your hypothesis about how to carry your goal out, success in each case means that your usual standards (of what is worth your interest when evaluating) must be adjusted to accommodate the new experience’s unique discovery nature. You would want to mark exactly when the novelty you want actually does emerge as a new experience. It may be valuable to describe what these new qualities are, so you can be able to notice them.

I suggest that if your new experience involves movement and gaining a benefit from practicing that your new evaluation for desired results includes the question, “…Was this easier?” Because we know it will feel a bit strange, because of being new.

I suggest that if the new experience involves other people, noting ones’ own reactions will be an indicator that something new happened. Defensiveness, objections, wanting to add or advance the conversation – all of these might be indicators of interest that something new has emerged.

If your example involves other people, handy would be to choose an appropriate means to progress that can be changed by their multiple suggestions. In the example of the David Bohm-style dialogue group above, appropriate would be and activity such as temporary suspension of the directive to “not impose your own agenda on the group.” Another would be to actively refuse to apply the customary ‘matching’ activity. Instead of “matching” for an ideal standard or directive such as “suspend your agenda” – how about… “contrasting” to reveal any differences or something new that happened…?

Some of these options would be to describe the nature of what’s new also helps to spot it soon after it’s happened. The brain has superb recognition capacity. An example of this activity would be to note characteristics such as:

  • feels unfamiliar,
  • cognitive distortion, cognitive bias,
  • a thought which jogs defensiveness or compels you to suddently disagree,
  • something that incites another reaction such as curiosity,
  • makes you suddenly aware of what you didn’t notice previously…

(perhaps – add to this list with your comments?)