Outward Manner of Moving Affects Internal Change

Yesterday, I got to be a substitute teacher for a class of singers who were part of a workshop that included Alexander Technique. In common with most A.T. teachers, I agree that to be able to use A.T. principles for oneself after only a few lessons is very, very unusual. It usually takes at least ten private lessons to gain an appreciation, and most commonly, up to forty private lessons to be able to use the discipline confidently. This is because of the tricky nature of so many of our habits. My challenge was to present Alexander Technique in an hour and a half!

Got the idea of using the action of nodding “Yes” as an activity to illustrate what the motion of “Forward” is in the Alexander Technique lexicon of – “Forward and Up.”  Saw an additional value in using this action partly because of a study I read about in a book called “The Tipping Point.” In this book, Gladwell surmised that receptivity to an idea (even one at odds with the personal interests of the subject) is more often accepted if someone is told to act and move as if they do agree. I saw this study as proof that external mannerisms connect with internal thought processes, whether people are aware of it or not. It seems to verify that change works from the outside in, as well as from the inside out.

It also made sense to me that doing this head nodding was a useful activity to illustrate how the almost unnoticed “accident” happening in nearly everyone almost of a very slight compensation for balance could act as a way of effortlessly launching any more overt motion or intention. I used the example of how a car’s clutch is used to start the car moving, noting how slipping the clutch will wear out the mechanisms prematurely.

Wouldn’t want to make it difficult for the resident A.T. teacher, having to deal with all this head waggling I had the class doing! However, the experiment seemed to be mostly a success, undoubtedly because it was a very intelligent group who seemed to be quite excellent at paying attention. From the comments they made, it seemed many of them had the ability to abstract A.T. principles from specific examples. They seemed to realize that we were using an overt motion as a beginning training-wheel; as children are first learning to write are taught with large motions of fat chalk before they are expected to gain the digital control of using smaller writing instruments.

One woman in particular had a very impressive and disciplined concentration of thinking ability that I could see would allow her to continue to rapidly grasp A.T. strategies. (I hope she can continue with A.T. study.) She had been instructed, along with the group, that during this “head nodding” motion, she was to watch for the tendency of her body to “come loose” as her head rounded the top of the arc of the apex of a “tipping” point of balance. As she experimented with my help with hands-on, she naturally chunked down the nodding movement of her head into ratchet-like increments, extending the mechanical metaphor of gently letting out the clutch to start motion. I believe that this thinking strategy was an expression of her attention seeking in each increment for the tipping point to occur. What a splendid idea that was!

Working with her, I was immediately struck how a sense of rhythm would be very handy in using one’s power to choose beyond habit. The more choice moments are created during a motion, the more choices become available. This process of incrementally pausing during a motion turns out to be very handy. In fact, pausing to re-decide against habit during motion is codified into A.T. as way to practice it, in a term called “inhibition.”

Selecting a rhythmic moment during a motion to add in the suggestion of “head moves, body follows” would be very useful. Perhaps focusing on teaching a sense of rhythm or timing would make progress learning A.T. faster? Maybe the effect of playing a metronome or music in the background to the pace of a skill would enhance learning ability? Perhaps the crucial moments of choice would be marked by the rhythmic beat instead of be slipping away in a blur of goal attainment.

It also got me thinking of the teaching style of Patrick MacDonald, who used to have the nickname of “The Mechanic.” It was not until I had lessons with MacDonald that I really experienced the meaning of the directions of both forward and up. With his hands on my head and neck, he also directed movement in increments; each motion was very clearly, forward…and then up, forward, then up; like clockwork.

It was fascinating, the common thread between MacDonald’s sophisticated body of hands-on work that had evolved during his whole lifetime and this singer’s first insight of how to use her attention in one of her first few Alexander lessons she was having with me.

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