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Archive for September, 2007

Describing relationship is an honorable goal, because it is in relationship that AT shines. The structure of English is very tricky to maneuver to articulate relationships. I think misunderstandings come as we try to make a generalization specific as we explain. Getting English to describe relationships is not quite suitable to its natural structure in sequencial sentences. It’s also very tricky to use metaphor or map-like activities to explain AT concepts. In fact, it’s so tricky to use language in concert with AT to explain it at all, that for many, many decades, Alexander teachers did not use language at all! Somewhere in the eighties some teachers began to be able to talk about Alexander Technique… I believe this has mostly been a positive change. It’s an interesting question that since we ultimately agree once we work it out, why do we seem to disagree and misunderstand each other to start with? So it pays to observe there are some built in dead-ends in common usage English when it comes to describing relationships.

Briefly, I’ll give a couple of examples – very common ones of why language makes it tricky to describe A.T. concepts.

The first is the common use of oppposites as examples. In our culture, we have a number of assigned opposites that have been set up for this convenient purpose. However, these are not absolutely factual opposing characteristics, (because they can exist concurrently) these characteristics have merely been defined as opposites by our cultural association & habits.

There is a place for opposites which is in inhibition; as a person makes a particular choice, they may leave behind in the dust all other choices that they could have made. Choice can be done in a way that precludes and prevents all possible other choices.

There is a more process-oriented way of describing this choice-making; by articulating some of the opposing characteristics of how a person’s specific awareness can “stretch” to encompass two ends of the same system working together. In some ways, this is a much better usage of the idea of opposites, because it is much more likely that a choice will also include some of the “opposing” ends of the other possible choices mixed in it. We can be clear to which direction we are intending to go – and we will go there as time passes as we sustain our intentions to do so.

This of this not as exclusive of each other, where you pick one and not the other, but as the extreme ends of the same stick. Much of how MacDonald deplored the degraded usage of the word “concentration” which used to mean a focal point around which other characteristics clustered or supported as compared to the definition that blotted out all other possibilities and held up the one tunnel-visioned ideal.

Another instance, I’ve noticed that concerning relationships, such as those in AT, people often use an “if…then” structure to describe these characteristic relationships. I just did it in my explanation above, disguised as “as…may.” It’s very handy: the motive is the “if…” part sets up a circumstance where “…then” is the case to be saying something about. So, using language in this way, I’m “parting out” and creating a sort of fictitious opposition.

In this structure misunderstanding is likely. Because the “…if” example is often too radical or oppositional. Or the “…if” situation doesn’t have a subject, it is a passive situation that came about somewhat magically. So this is why I tend to shy away from the more literal “if…then” constructions when talking about relationships to illustrate AT concepts. I do this by softening and making more voilitional their construction by using the “as…may” example as a substitute.

Perhaps we are attempting to get a rather mechanistic language of English to describe relationships that are more like Quantum physics than the parts of Neutonian mechanics that has been the paragon of our culture?

An interesting book I’ve been reading on this subject has been: Leadership & the New Science: Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe by Margaret J. Wheatley. 1992

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An idea of “ultimate responsibility” in Alexander Technique fascinates me. It strikes me that this idea of how Alexander regards responsibility makes his work unique. Wondering about this assumption is interesting, because most assumptions are the act of intentionally setting up a given characteristic. Assumptions work like axioms; they branch off and lead down a very specific pathways of action, pre-empting all others.

It seems Alexander jumped to an assumption involving a person’s ability to direct their own actions. This assumption states the person is ultimately responsible for what he does, no matter how it feels internally after routines have been adopted and feel as natural as breathing. In Alexander’s world, there is no subconscious, only divided consciousness or undivided wholeness. Sometimes I wonder if this is one of F.M. Alexander’s mistakes.

We do not really know all of the sophisticated responses that are put into motion in a single order we have given ourselves. Because humans are adaptable, we forget the routines we have installed or been conditioned to repeat as the “standing orders” from our past experience. Are we meant to know the ways they are carried out? Alexander thought we should know, that we need to bring our choices into awareness, but I am not so sure.

To undo the order, it seems more efficient to trace it back to its origin and change it there, rather than to piecemeal the change directly by messing with the whole system. In some ways, it’s tempting to mess with the system as you become capable of doing so. But all these adjustments are merely compensations, …until you find the originating order and the subsequent directives. You would usually only want to bother because these directives have not worked so well to solve the problem, or the circumstances have changed. Once you find these directives, then you may update them and choose different ways of responding, …and the habit is completely and totally transformed; no looking back. This is where an ideal of “insight” or even “enlightenment” comes from – which I believe is deserved.

I wonder why Alexander did not put together that we are always falling and always uprighting our bodies; I guess he did, but he didn’t spell this one out very specifically either. I imagine by the time someone was able to gain this secret for themselves, their coordination was so completely re-sensitized that it was a moot point.

For this reason, I think this assumption of “ultimate responsibility” is very much worth exploring.

How are we responsible for the ways we respond to a desire? How does knowing and responding to a desire work in particular, in me?

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How does a person who is trained to teach Alexander Technique actually show people how to learn Alexander’s principle of “forward and up”? This may only make sense to you if you do already have some experiences with Alexander’s work, but you can also see what happens as you read and try this out for yourself.

A really interesting link on the web that teaches some of this information in a different way is the flash program at: http://www.uprighting.com

First off, I might get a student to tilt their head nodding “yes”, (or sometimes I’ll ask them to slowly look up and back down) while I’ll tell them we’re going to be experimenting with noticing how moving their head affects the rest of their balance. I explain how I’m going to use my hands to “steer” the quality of this motion so they get the idea what I mean directly by joining with my ability to move in easier ways that I can do for myself, introducing the term “guided modeling.” I came up with the idea to do this because I can have a much easier influence on the quality & direction of where and how a student can move if they are already in some sort of motion. This way, I give Direction to a moderately difficult or clueless student who has gotten set as they stand there, waiting for me to “do something” to them.

As they are standing nodding their head “yes,” their balance will most likely “come loose” as their head rounds the top of the arc of the nodding motion. Or if it doesn’t, I can give their body a slight push back and forth in space to exaggerate the increase of ease just at the crucial time to help them notice the more overt ability of their body to move as it is balanced during the top of this arc of nodding forward. Most people are able to notice that it takes much less effort to move their whole body at this moment, once their attention is put to noticing it; it’s a much more rare person who does not.

Then after we do this, I get them to merely think of making the nodding movement forward around the top of the arc of balance by thinking of doing this movement with their head… without actually nodding “yes.” I get them to merely think of agreement and giving themselves the mental suggestion of “yes.”

This shows how purely the thought will most likely make their body “come loose” just as well as intentionally moving to be able to notice it. if it doesn’t, I put hands on and walk them through how to word their thinking. I explain how this is called “faded signaling,” which where you first make a more overt motion and then note the same effect with a much more subtle form of perception and movement. I give the example of a music director or conductor using this ability, giving them the idea their thinking conducts into their ability to move.

I talk about why we focus on such slight motions in AT. It’s because how we influence the sorts of very subtle motions we do automatically that repeat over and over have a cumulative effect on us. These kinds of movements are usually underneath what most people think should matter, but as dripping water will wear down stone, they matter quite a bit over time. This is the essence of “strategic prevention.”

So, at this point I’ve covered what I’m doing with my hands, why I’m doing it and how subtle of a motion we’re talking about; and how and why thought is connected to and influences quality of movement.

Now I’m going to illustrate what to use this sort of thinking for – to go into motion, to initiate it. Sometimes I make my hands into a cradle to illustrate the shape that the skull is in whre it is joined to the neck, (like rounded sled runners,) while I describe the movement of tilting forward and back as the easiest move the head and neck can make. I interpret the advantage of knowing this information to mean that this makes this movement the easiest way to initiate tiniest amount of movement. I might use an illustration of a fern growing in the shape of the beginning of a whip action to sprout if we are moving slowly, or an egret moving its head forward and up out over the water as it is getting ready to see and strike a fish under water. Or Michael Jordan floating up to bag the basketball, Pavorotti singing, or Tiger Woods making a golf shot, or whatever the person can relate to at that point as an example.

Sometimes I have to deal with people closing their eyes. I might have people do an experiment that proves that it is easier to judge location by having them close their eyes and touch their face with their hand. Then have them do the same thing while their head is moving. For the reason that being in motion gives us more information about where we are, it’s easier to touch the point you are aiming at while you are moving. Closing your eyes makes this more difficult, but moving makes it easier.

The two points I attempt to get across is this sort of thinking about movement is a way of initiating movement, and it’s very precise and tiny of a motion – so tiny that only a thought will put the movement into action.

I also have the person looking for the effect of increased ease as the evidence their experimenting worked as they intended…which of course, most people cannot yet sense. But they usually do feel the effect somewhere else in their body; and so they can put together that something is happening differently than the usual.

Then I might show how it is possible to think of this motion rhythmically in the context of walking, expanding just as the foot steps onto the floor and the motion of balance begins to transfer the weight onto the foot. If they can’t handle that yet, I have them merely shift their weight from one foot to the other to understand this dynamic first, and build up to taking a step to walk from there.

I’d love to read how more Alexander teachers teach “forward and up” if they can articulate that sort of thing in words.

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Lately, I’ve had great success explaining that the Technique is about the behavior chains of building habits, which is how we adapt and learn. Building habits are what makes skill possible. Trouble comes when a person forgets the habit is there, or trains a short-sighted building block of habit, which is a “pitfall” built into adapting & learning. The building blocks of skills are usually designed to disappear and become innate. If things aren’t working out as intended, people assume they need to train themselves to do another thing “opposite” to an already innate habit they forgot that they’re already doing, instead of training themselves to stop. With repeating a nuisance, most people see how handy it would be to stop, but they don’t know the first things about how to stop.

flooded2.jpgPeople also do not realize the problems that old conflicting habits can create over time. People know whatever a person practices, they’ll get better and better at doing. In this case, a person can be practicing unintended habits that pull themselves apart.

A.T. shows a person how they can change the way they practice and learn, as opposed to having to give up any particular troublesome activity. How useful to know how to subtract what is in the way, without habitual conflicts running the show.

So when beginners want to describe A.T., I have them describe it as something that teaches how to uncover and undo innate, out-of-date habits that have turned into self-imposed limitations. Most people who hear that immediately remark how useful that would be to know. There are many innocent situations where a need to unlearn habits becomes obvious:
1. The self-taught who get into doing counter-productive foundation habits from learning without a proper teacher, or a lousy teacher;

2. Those who learn skills or movement compensations with built-in pain, fear or stress from a challenging teacher, situation or skill;

3. Someone with pain who sees the need to train themselves to temporarily compensate for it; after healing, they then find what was intended to be temporary becoming permanent.

4. A kid who never figured out their unique size and shape, or how that shape changes during growth.

I’m sure you can think of more of these situations!

Franis Engel

>
> — John Coffin wrote:
>
> > Unfortunately, trying to describe the Technique
> in language the non-student will find attractive is
> an immediate paradox. How do you interesting someone
> in changing something they don’t know exists, and
> whose influence they cannot imagine?
> >
> > John Coffin

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This old guy in the picture here is the guy who invented Alexander Technique. Mr. Frederick Matthias Alexander was his “Nicholas name.” Merely the initials “F. M.” was his nickname.

In these past few weeks, I managed to make it down to Hilo, (about an hour and a half drive) to trade work with the only other Alexander Technique teacher I have met on the Big Island named Michael Joeseph. His work with me was very much like Patrick MacDonald’s work (MacDonald was one of the last students of Alexander’s, he was nicknamed “the mechanic.”) Michael Joeseph had never actually met either character, having been trained after the death of both of them, but one of Michael’s other talents was in mechanical engineering. Because of this, it is very curious to me to experience how the quality of Alexander’s work is being passed on so accurately.

I’m happy to announce that near the end of the month starting on Monday evening Sept. 24th at 6pm and continuing on Thurs at the same time and place, I am teaching ten twice weekly classes on Alexander’s principles through www.waimeaeducation.com The classes are a real deal if you have never studied Alexander Technique before for reasons of the cost of private lessons which cost from $65 – $100 each; these introductory classes are only $10. each! Because Alexander Technique takes some time to learn, required attendance is for at least three weeks of class, (six classes.) So for less of the cost of one private lesson, you can get six classes in Alexander Technique! What a deal!

If you have any questions about the classes and ended up here, please feel free to ask your questions in the comments section. I’ll come up with some answers, we can put them together and we’ll see if they work for you!

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Morning yoga routine. Had a realization that I may have been
holding my body in a tense position for many years. Tried to
concentrate on relaxing as I went about the day. Noticed when I
did that, I could feel stretches much more keenly. As I said, I
have a lot of work to do in this department.

Obviously you have realized that learning how to undo what you ave probably been doing to yourself for a long time is a process that will take some time to undo, as you’ve figured out. I can offer some hints about how to proceed faster and safeguard common mistakes.

This hint is based on the fact that proprioception of the body is a relative sense. Meaning, you will feel a change in relationship to whatever and wherever you have been, rather than any factual truth of where are you and what is happening. So in the light of that, when you feel yourself out of balance and you make a change to “improve” things, you must be careful to evaluate on the basis of the question: “Is it easier now?”

The other tip that you may find even more useful is how to interpret the feelings of “stretches” you describe. I do not know what exactly is happening for you here from your comment, so you’ll have to be the judge of this yourself! Tricky for me to tell how to interpret what you say you are feeling without being there with you – which is a key element in working out what might be constructive to do about it!

I do know that as my students begin to unwind their habitual twistednesses, they may begin to feel areas where they didn’t know they were holding and tensing. Is this what you’re experiencing? What often happens when someone successfully lessens the tension and holding for some part of themselves in piecemeal, is they will feel some other part of themselves that is not easily moving along because that part of the body will complain further down. Is this the “stretch” you are talking about?

If so, the remedy would be to include that part of your body just below where you notice “stretching” because you are leaving parts of yourself behind in the thought and intention of the moves you are doing. The ‘stretch’ is there because you are not moving that part of you along with the rest of you. You’ll know you succeeded because you’ll feel easier, or you’ll feel a complaint somewhere else in your body! Which again, is an indicator you’re not moving part of yourself along with your original intention, etc. It make take quite a few repetitions of this clarified intention for it to have an effect, because you may also not be able to acertain if you did what you intended or not. So repeating the intention is the way to go – and feeling easier and sometimes a little strange or unfamiliar is the indicator that you are succeeding.

Or, are you commenting how during the act of yoga that you could feel the yoga movement stretches much more? It is true that by paying attention to your quality of movement throughout the day, you will enhance your ability to pay attention when you also focus on your movements in a special time set aside to do so.

However, again the same principle works well: If you feel a stretching somewhere in your body during a yoga move, this is an indicator that you are leaving behind some part of your body in the context of the yoga movement you are attempting. If you do the yoga movement in as the form was intended, (the interpretation of the form will obviously depend on the skill and observation of the yoga teacher with whom you are studying,) it will feel as if you are “doing nothing” special. Masters of a skill make it look easy, right?

In fact, if you do feel “stretching,” sometimes you are feeling muscle fibers breaking! I can’t say this because I don’t know how far you are taking yourself during yoga and if it is ‘too far,’ (and some yoga teachers will encourage students to go too far which I know to be counter-productive,) but generally, you should not go as far as you can push yourself, but only as far as you can move without pushing. It works best to figure how far that is, and back off and clarify what you want to do; and then experiment to see how easily you can do the yoga motion in question. You’ll notice that you can move farther and enhance flexibility over time more constructively that way than pushing and pulling against yourself and resisting – and damaging muscle fibers and then having to recover from the damage you caused yourself.

Let me know how this turns out for you!

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As a topic in general, good questioning has many examples in every field. It pays to study the process of questioning as a separate subject, as if you were going to design an FAQ for your skill. Not only can it make you a better learner, but a better teacher.

If you are a teacher, you know there are multiple advantages about encouraging questioning from the start. Questions from a student show a teacher their student’s range and style of thinking. Questions point in the direction of the answers. In fact, questions can imply a limitation of what kind of answers that are possible to find. Better questions open up a rich field of personal discovery.

How do you ask a really good question? How can a teacher encourage learners to ask great questions?

As a student, you can ask any question to get started. Sometimes the first questions that come off the top of your head aren’t the most appropriate, but everyone has to start somewhere. Most teachers understand this.

As a learner, to ask a really juicy question, you first have to listen carefully to learn any “lingo” about the topic. So the best questions to start with are often about the specialized use of terms being used.

The other skill that’s good to develop as a questioner is being able to tell the teacher the best way that you learn by indicating acknowledgment you are following them. It’s useful for the teacher to know when the student is on “over-load, please change tactics now” or “I’ve got it, go on” to the teacher.

At first, even in a private lesson, most students seem to want a teacher to “lecture” them. They want to let the master talk. The teacher saying something to preface or frame a lesson might be appropriate in some cases. But what if the teacher doesn’t really want to go on about the topic; what if they want their student’s involvement from the very beginning?

Some teachers address this desire by doing the asking themselves, and then answering their own questions. They hope that the students will get the idea of what kind of questions to ask and starting to ask questions themselves. However, students can misunderstand that questions posed by the teacher and then answered are merely rhetorical ones; that the teacher is asking these questions to show off their knowledge. The students may imagine that the teacher would never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer to. What to do when the teacher finds that students resort to parroting or restating the teacher’s questions with other motivations such as to gain approval?

Some learners believe some kinds of questions might be insulting or too challenging for the teacher. How can a teacher encourage learners to get past their misconceptions that particular issues, communications or questions are somehow “forbidden” without losing ability of being able to direct the class? Part of being a teacher is the skill of pulling together the attention of the group. There are some assumptions that create problems with encouraging this activity in learners related to respecting the teacher; especially in a large class situation. What to do when students seem to believe that they are being encouraged to deliver certain questions that cross the line of impolitely questioning the ability of the teacher to teach?

It’s very tricky to ask a question that will point in an entirely new direction. Questions can imply that there is one answer, rather than a multiplicity of answers. It’s also easy to think that just because you have come up with an answer to a question – that this one answer is enough of an answer.

Fantastic and personally meaningful questions sometimes need quite a bit of personal experimentation to adequately explore their potential. Sometimes this kind of question can become a sort of “virtual question” that many actions of exploration are continually answering during the course of life.

  • How can you encourage your students to ask really good question of the teacher?
  • 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.)

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. She’s 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 figured it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything 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, laughter, but no daring questions. The humor did have some effect to loosen people up.

The experience of feeling a new perceptual assumption that Alexander Technique delivers is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as frightening or magical. In this case, people were both attracted and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people’s foundations; pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with “respect.” For some people, this turned out to be a kid glove sort of unquestioning loyalty and agreement.

This little old lady named Marj Barstow hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it. 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 described it.

That’s how she taught us to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. That also taught us to ask ourselves what these indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. It was also how she embarassed people, and then showed them the way out of the crippling emotions of stage fright, embarassment and being completely tongue-tied.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome of what someone was trying to do. Then we learned how to integrate the special points with the whole, normally speeded action again.

These examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher. The one I’ll tell you about next surprised me, because 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 my permission to deliberately put her “on the spot” by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by the group of students. 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. I decided that she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak, for the rest of the class.

Essentially, she gave me license to be planted as a sort of “sacrificial fool” in the forbidden questions 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 teacher and myself immensely – I felt as if we were conspiring together. After those kind of questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then started 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 plant’ in the classroom. Certainly – if you’ve got any comments or questions to ask me – please speak up now!

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