Archive for March, 2009

One way to start teaching about the Alexandrian ideals of “use” is to give people an appreciation of it. I got a suggestion to have people watch each other move and see if they can describe each other’s posture. Compare “good” to “bad” use. Maybe people can learn to spot and admire “good” use, for instance in favorite sports players and young children.

However, there is the problem with this approach. Most people who are unschooled in Alexander Technique will miss the obvious indicators that we Alexandrians have learned to spot at first. How would someone actually learn these indicators of beautiful, effortless motion?

How do you give people who have never thought about this before any idea of WHY the features an Alexander teachers point out are notable ones? At first, they don’t see anything that stands out for them when they look. They can’t understand at all why you’re making a big deal out of it. Certainly most people know that kids move like kids; when they grow up and their bones grow into place, then they look like adults. In the middle they look like truculent teens. So what?

If you show them the differences between Alexandrian ideals of “good” and “bad” use, they will probably see the difference eventually. So what? Will being able to spot those differences be useful to them in improving their own coordination?  Probably these students will assume they now have a new standard to strive for in their old same ways of over-doing. I would say that the Alexander teacher has failed to give their students much of anything useful, other than a reason why they should come back for more lessons.

The challenge as an Alexander teacher is to figure out how to give your pupils a clue how to sense improved use while being on the inside of themselves, without being able to attribute the change to the teacher’s “magic” hands.

The problem as I see it comes from, traditionally, that Alexander Technique has been taught using British standards of culturally implied opposites. Alexander teachers have been trying to teach paradoxes by pointing at what is not there. It would help if A.T. teachers thought more often about how prevailing cultural assumptions are a factor in their teaching skills.

Of course, there are philosophical reasons for using this approach. As a person learns how to prevent the routines that constitute their misuse, the “good” use that is present underneath all those habits and compensations will emerge as if by itself. This mark of “do-less-ness” should be a prominent experience of any Alexander Technique lesson.

Adding to the teacher’s bag of tricks about how to communicate what you, as an A.T. teacher, have to offer is a tremendous advantage. If all you can do as a teacher is to merely point to what is not there, and your students can’t see it in the first place – well – you could use more avenues for communication.

Most people in a state of misuse will just repeat themselves, over and over, when what they are doing does not work. Many Americans have a bad reputation because when they travel abroad and find out the person does not speak English who they want to communicate to, Americans merely talk louder as if the person must be deaf. In the Alexander Technique field, we have a word for this which is “End-gaining.” All mistaken reactions are a form of end-gaining.

However, I think inadvertently, end-gaining is what many A.T. teachers are guilty of doing by not doing enough creative thinking for the benefit of their students about how they can be learning faster and easier. When you’re the teacher, why only mimic the way you have been taught when you teach?

Well, one good reason would be preservation of the purity of what is Alexander’s work. There is certainly enough about Alexander’s Technique that deserves to be preserved. As he stated, F.M. Alexander meant for his line of work to be constantly improved.

Learning time is certainly a feature that could use improvement. The way A.T. has been traditionally taught, pupils are just supposed to get it from a teacher pointing at what they want a pupil to do and indicating…see that? The answer for the pupil might be, “No, I don’t see that. See what?” Then the teacher works with them again. Pointing at their improved use the teacher again asks, “Get this?” The student says “Get what?”

Part of the reason Alexander teachers have so much trouble teaching is that what they have to offer is …NOTHING!!! They are teaching a learning process that results in a lack of effort. The public doesn’t get that this “Nothing” is what is valuable. People want to “DO SOMETHING” to get whatever the benefits are they have been told is possible to get by learning Alexander Technique.

It would be an advantage to work with this assumption rather than against it. Perhaps if a teacher could spell out the steps that contain what TO DO in the positive that actually works for people to learn to sense these things for themselves – then they would learn faster?

How to design these experiments?  That’s where your creative thinking ability comes into play. You need to make it safe to conduct the experiment, so when unpredictable things happen it won’t have a destructive effect. You need to encourage people to laugh, because people are more willing to take on challenges and feel daring & courageous when they are amused and curious. Both teacher and student need to establish a priority of criteria to evaluate their success. Then they can know if their experiments worked or not.

If these experiments do work to improve your student’s use, (certainly a student being able to sense subtle differences in their own use would be a benefit,) the teacher would continue using that approach. If pupils misunderstand the teacher, that strategy would be dropped. More brainstorming for discovering other means to communicate what the teacher has to offer would be in order.

There is no use for blaming pupils for not understanding the teacher. This is the frustration from their teachers that many traditionally trained AT teachers had to endure forty years ago.

So – now we have it defined: the obstacle is that the public will go after their new appreciation of “good” use in the same old ways. How can we as teachers really update these old ways of approaching new means? As teachers we do not want “Good” use to be just a different carrot that learners will lead themselves astray with. How do we teachers change that?

Granted that the Alexander community finds that people nowadays are often motivated to start learning Alexander lessons to address back problems. But does the A.T. community want Alexander Technique to be popularly misunderstood merely as “Sit Up Straight School”?

Can you think of three different and new ways to address this obstacle in communicating Alexander’s discoveries and principles? Can you think of one right now? Anyone can problem solve this challenge. You don’t have to be an Alexander Technique teacher.

One way that I’ve used to help people understand what their pattern of use is seems to work particularly well in a group of actors, but will work with any group. Humor and goofiness is a useful feature of it.

“Type-casting” Have a person who is “it” to walk their “normal” walk in front of the class. Then have the group watch to absorb those qualities. Then ask for multiple volunteers to exaggerate the mannerisms of that walk of the person who is “it” – taken to extremes. It’s quite fun to do and helps people learn what they are doing with their own mannerisms of movement while walking. Interesting because the original mannerisms of the person who is attempting to exaggerate also comes through. Having multiple people do this brings this contrast to light as a feature. People will notice the “on purpose” exaggeration…and there will also be the innate sets of Alexandrian Use underneath what is being purposefully acted out. The more people who volunteer as the exaggerators, the most interesting this gets to watch. This also works great with teens or kids as an A.T. teaching activity – and it’s pretty fun as an ice-breaker that helps explore the subject of self-observation.

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In schools these days, kids are being graded depending on if they are wrong or right. Many times this has to do with how well they read the mind of the teacher – not if they responded to the question. In my era of education, it was O.K. to misunderstand the question – it was the response that mattered, not the content of the response. Now students get graded on whether they understood the question itself!

Guess that it’s an advantage to understand the intent of the questioner. Then your boss doesn’t get mad because they told you to do something inarticulately. But where is the creative misunderstanding that generates new solutions?

How can adults imagine they are preparing kids for the future by not allowing creative responses that often come from misunderstanding the nature of the question?

In practicing Alexander Technique, we deliberately make a point of putting aside sorting for wrong and right. This is because a person can only sort for wrong or right based on what they know. Sometimes we call that intention to avoid “right & wrong” as a deliberate act or prevention or suspension. If we do not stop automatic urges to conform and “do the right thing,” then nothing new has a chance to happen.

In using and learning Alexander Technique, exploring and noting what is new that might happen is the point. We want to put off coming to a conclusion before we’ve gotten more information. How much information is enough? Enough to use in some way. What we’re after is to have some new experiences so there are many interesting pieces of perceptual information availble to interpret with. We note the ones that don’t fit our previous experiences more carefully than what is expected. We like to think about what has happened that was unexpected. We would come to conclusions about the new information as a separate action from experimenting.

Generally, the idea is that, so you can have more freedom, you must move. The directions you can move in are somewhere different from the other direction your habit wants to take you when you curl up, twist, collapse or tighten. Sometimes you find that this “somewhere different” is also a habit – so you choose a different response or motion. We’ve learned from Alexander Technique that more room to move is created if the motion starts headfirst – so you can experiment with that.

Given the pervasive quality of sensory distortion that getting used to states of being gives us, we know that a person registers kinetic changes rather than a state of being. This means that as you improve your freedom of motion, you’ll feel a “catch” where you are stopping the motion. So if you feel yourself moving the most from your ribs, then it is probably your ribs that are the most tight and set by your habits. As you undo the habit, something must move – so include whatever has jumped out at you that seems to be stuck with your intention to move again. Eventually you’ll be able to do this more often for yourself with only a thought and a very subtle opening out in response to your intention.

Everyone sets themselves into their habits a little differently – but, as you noticed, there are common themes of misuse. Get familar with your “themes of misuse.” Practice forgiveness. Appreciate the reasons you know about for doing what you do. Acknowledge that in some way, this misuse of yours must have answered a need in the past. It’s still appropriate at some times, nothing is “bad”. Over time a habit can “go bad because repeating anything can swing to extremes. Things get “bad” if you stay stuck in them. To the extent that you can come “unstuck,” then you will not suffer any possibly extreme, painful effects. Of course, as you can move easier in general, then you will be better off over time. Of course, we get better at whatever we practice. So practice what you want to do. Minimize and leave behind what you don’t want.

Try laying down on your back with your knees up on something comfortable and talk yourself through your experiments about freeing motion and see what happens. If you then notice another part of yourself getting stiff – see if you can stop that by including the stiff part of yourself into your slow motion experiments.

Once you start re-distributing your dynamic capacity for movement, the tendency is to try to “keep” yourself in that “better” position. You can hurt yourself doing that, so it’s better to go back into your habit and then move out of it again, doing what you did before… and describe what happens. Then rest before you try it again.

Try taking yourself into an action with that new way of moving as a beginning to start the movement. Think of this new way of unfolding as a way to “launch yourself” into motion. You can tell what happened by the quality of the motion – the sound of your voice – how heavy your feet hit the floor, etc.

So – the next time you’re experimenting like this – ask yourself, “what happened before I noticed this?” …and, “what did I do just before that?” and keep asking the questions…as far back as your awareness was awake enough to sense or remember. Your memory will get better – and, since habits are usually so repetitive, you’ll be able to trace your attention back to what you did, further and further.

The ability to sustain your perceptive attention is key. Leave out ‘trying’ to ‘make’ yourself do something you already have in mind. When you consider it, you don’t really know what will happen as you move toward freedom. You don’t know how far you’ll go, you don’t know what the effects might be. You don’t know what your experimenting is going to tell you – it may be something you’ve never noticed before.You merely can ask questions – move in a new direction – with easy qualities, with new timing, perhaps in new sequences, and then find out what happened and describe it to yourself.

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