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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?)

Dare to Ask

How can a teacher get around student’s misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We’re talking about adult learners here – who have already been trained into a lifetime of politeness about how to treat teachers.)

Instead of my lecturing, here’s an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. Her name was Marj Barstow. She was almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people imagined it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything chancy in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, “What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?” Most often you’re laughing, but no daring questions. Humor does loosen up students to take more chances.

The experience of getting a new perceptual assumption is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as personally threatening. In this case, the class was a bit awed and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people’s foundations; her work in dispelling postural movement assumptions could pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with “respect.” This turned out to be a kid-glove sort of childish unquestioning loyalty and lip-service agreement.

This little old lady hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it though. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a “private” lesson with her, with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, “So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?” She wouldn’t go on until someone in the class described it, even if the “victim” was left mutely amazed.

We didn’t know it at the time, but what she was teaching all of us was to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. We were learning what subtle indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. Hopefully that observational ability was going to carry over to observing ourselves while doing something that was important to us.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome. She showed us how these special points were integrated with the whole, normally paced action again.

Hopefully for you, these examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher.
If you’re interested in this teacher’s subject, here’s a short eight minute video about how she discovered her interest in what she taught and some of why she taught the way she did.

The tip I’ll tell you about next surprised me; I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we’d pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn’t understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation.

This is what made me realize that she was asking me permission to single me out in order to put her “on the spot” by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by our class. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different, and she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak.

Essentially, she encouraged me to plant myself for her as a sort of “sacrificial fool” in the forbidden questioning department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I’d fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the two of us immensely. After those questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then start to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.

So if you are a teacher, don’t be above encouraging one of your students to act as a ‘secret planted bomb’ in the classroom!

Certainly – if you’ve got any comments or questions to ask me – please speak up now!

 

 

Sense of “Right”

The alignment of intention to a result is symbolic of integrity. “Walking Your Talk” is impressive. It’s also the way to get mastery from practicing, whether it comes from gradual improvement or insight or a combination. To correct for what happens despite intentions can be measured by various standards and priorities, depending what those priorities about standards are.

But how regularly do we ask ourselves if our sense of “right” is accurate? Human ability to measure itself is at the basis of self-deception, self-justification and even arrogant self-righteousness.

These “evils’ aren’t purely to blame as a fault of character as often as you’d imagine. Instead they are innocently connected to the nature of how humans adapt to build skills.

Think for a minute about how habits are formed. Habits disappear so their routines can become innate so the building blocks of skills may be strung together, so the new part of the skill can be added. This is how humans create reliable behaviors such as complex motor skills. When an external signal of need is recognized by the mind, the habit goes off automatically as a practiced whole, even though it was trained as a sequenced string of responses.

Unfortunately, it is also true for operative nuisance habitual assumptions that can cascade out of control when habits are trained. “What fires together, wires together” is a brain science fact.

The disappearance of sensations when using a habit is another factor. As we’re sifting, measuring or matching what we notice in front of us now, our very real and useful skills that habitually worked previously for us in the past in other contexts will tend to make us miss a sense of our own involvement. For instance, if you spend lots of time with small children simplifying the way you talk, our adult friends might feel insulted!

It’s a commonly recognized phenomena that our emotional investment in our goals influence what we feel is happening. This is part of why people are suspicious or ignore anyone who rants or holds the conviction that they’re “right” from personal experience or belief. We feel we must discount their personal investment.

Our sensory felt sense of us “doing” something to respond (along with how we may skew noticing the results) is hidden from us by the routine we trained that was buried during the learning process. Strangely enough, our having learned a complex skill hid it from our sense of feeling. Hiding the “learned” part is how our habits work to simplify it for us as we’re turning the overwhelmingly complex strings of responses into an automated, whole action. Sensory dampening is the price of simplifying and convenience.

So – how do we get past this feature of having dulled perception because of learning or using skills? What can we do, given our tendency to skip over new occurrences because we tend to match what is expected or desired?

We may resume conscious control by taking back the reins from habitual routines by paying attention to what we would usually ignore. We can sharpen our own relative perceptual capacity too by learning how to “clear the slate” perceptually. Using any mindfulness technique helps with that – as simple as taking a momentary break.

Using something or someone outside of ourselves to cross-reference or measure can also help the ability to spot and verify factual results. Getting ‘truer’ results works more reliably if you cross-pollinate feedback from various sources: various people, shifting perceptions, various points of view, various tools – rather than merely to rely on duplicating the memory of your past ‘felts’ of the standard or priority you wanted to apply. Using other technological feedback sources is valuable too – such as mirrors, video or other recordings, or just using something as mundane as a tape measure.

All these can offer some degree of objectivity to judge the success or failure of our expectations and correcting for the disappearing act that’s the cost of using habits. The ability to confidently question ourselves is a useful part of the ongoing exercise of cultivating an open-minded attitude.

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Trajectory

My colleagues and I have been discussing how we have acquired an interesting skill as a by-product of having studied Alexander Technique…

Catching a falling knife, it’s a poor practice. On Wall Street it means to buy on the way down. In a word, don’t. In the kitchen, well, that’s pretty obvious. Don’t try it at home kids—no falling knives—especially, if you’re like me, pretty uncoordinated, at least in the past. Today, I catch falling objects in mid air—no knives yet—with speed and accuracy, the top of a carrot, the very top, a sheet of paper caught in the wind and on its way down, a fork, a spoon, the very edge of wet dish. Now, why this new found aplomb? Unlike the rest of you, I am getting older, reflexes should be slowing down. I can only attribute this new reflexive sangfroid to study of the Alexander Technique. It has radically improved my over all coordination as well. When I go into a squat in class some people gasp. I do too. Crap, I think, just how old do these people think I am? So, study the Alexander Technique, and develop your own super-powers. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Alexander Guy, flying without his pocket protector. Thrilling stuff!
– Alan Bowers, Alexander Technique teacher

I think that I know what has been happening.  Having been the former business owner of a sideline hobby making seed-filled juggling balls from velveteen, I’ve taught over 3500 people to juggle. One of the skills of juggling is judging where the ball is going to land so your hand can be there to catch it. Unbeknownst to most people, you do not have to “keep your eye on the ball” to be able to do this extraordinary skill of being there to catch something… You only need to spot the arc of theATprojectilePath ball in a glance. Otherwise, juggling would not be possible.

It works a bit like this rather scientific-like illustration…

However, there’s more to how this skill ended up in the pocket of those who study Alexander Technique.

Stand up, (you’ve been sitting awhile anyway, haven’t you?) Stick your fingers in your ears. Imagine the top of your spine ending there. Now, look up and feel how your head pivots at the point near where your fingers are pointing to.  Nod forward, as if you’re saying, “Yes.” Then look up again and allow the back of your head to drop down as you face comes up. Really look up, check out the ceiling. Now, nod “Yes” again. Now think about the moment around the tip top of the arc . Can you feel your balance changing in the rest of how your body responds to your head moving across that arc?

Now, isn’t that head nod that changes your balance sort of like the trajectory of an arc that a ball follows?

Like a ball arc, the greatest force that goes forward happens at the top of the arc. With the body’s capacity to move, around the top of the arc is the best time to initiate another action, such as to take a step or move your arms.

My Alexander Technique colleagues and I all agree that the top of the arc as heads are moving at the top of the spine is when it’s easiest for a body to go forward into action. As a group of Alexander Technique teachers, we don’t collectively advise head-nodding every time someone moves! This experiment is a short-cut example that you can try out that may work to illustrate this phenomena that we term, “Primary Control.”

When I teach people to look up and nod their heads, later I am careful to show how it’s practice can become more subtle. Eventually it remains as a “faded signal” of pure imaginative intention, timed at the moment just preceding any action. Faded signaling means in this case that the action of looking up and nodding forward is intentionally faded to the point where the actual movement is only a thought, not any overt action such as looking up and nodding forward as it was for beginners.

You’ll be able to sense this in your own body as your head moves over the point of balance if you’re able to pay attention to subtle changes. If you spot it, your balance will change in a sort of listing movement, (unless you’re so set in your ways that you’re a stalwart against any movement. It’s most obvious to perceive while standing.) The “listing” means you can go into action with a very poised ability to move lightly, as if your capacity to move were the clutch of a car that must be skillfully engaged before the accelerator is applied to “GO.” If you can’t sense this listing, try standing against a wall having your sleeve brushing the wall; perhaps you’ll be able to sense your own body movement as a skin sensation.

So – my theory is that because Alexander Technique teachers are in the business of paying attention to this crucial moment to go into action as a discipline, this is why Alexander Technique teachers have found themselves able to catch falling items without having studied that specific skill.

Their judgment of the arc has become incidentally educated to be able to predict the quality of movement of other items besides the way bodies move, as if by magic.  Good job!!

I was the total klutz when it came to sports involving catching balls. Now, I grab them out of the air. Every time I catch a set of keys, my husband says “How did you do that?” The answer can only be Alexander Technique! – Robbin L. Marcus, Alexander Technique teacher

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