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Archive for June, 2009

Sensory Amnesia

Sensory perception registers relationship and tells you what is going on in relationship to the norm. Perception is relative, meaning it is not absolute fact. This is why such a surprise occurs as you are hearing your own voice when it has been recorded playing back – or seeing yourself on a video camera.

Let’s say you habitually lean forward, for instance as you walk. For some situational reason, you find yourself re-orienting yourself. If you happen to look in a mirror or get the feedback of a video camera, you may be surprised to find yourself more upright when you mistakenly sensed you are leaning backwards! Given whatever state you are in, you will only register a change in your orientation or attitude, (attitude in a nautical sense,) but not the fact of absolute location.

Sensory distortion is a very strange sensation. Optical illusions are visual examples of this same effect. Rather than merely being entertained, wonder how these things can happen! They exploit elements of perception that people have learned to take for granted.

Another example of this can be experienced in the auditory sense. If you make a short tape loop or CD skip of any voice, and play it over and over again….you’ll at first hear it saying familiar words. Then as your sense of emphasis drifts slightly, the words will recombine into saying something else. If you continue listening, a third and even fourth phrase will emerge. The number of phrases a person hears in variations will increase depending if you are younger.

Most people are not familiar with the idea that auditory illusions exist. So check out this research: http://deutsch.ucsd.edu/psychology/deutsch_research1.php

Perception is built to sense new variations. The conclusions you come to and what you do about it after you sense these novelties is, of course, up to you. In the kinesthetic sense, weird and unfamiliar feedback encourages the reaction to put yourself back where you are habitually located, which is sometimes not to your advantage if new orientation takes less effort.

Obviously, it pays to reflect about what it means and what you are going to do abou it when you experience something new. The first knee-jerk reaction is often not particularly constructive. It’s not your only choice.

The characteristics of what is new are unusual. What is new doesn’t fit, doesn’t match; it feels weird, unclassified. It may be that the new perceptual experience could be used in some way to your advantage. Allow it to continue and describe its characteristics for a bit and see what happens…

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People ask me, “How can I convince someone to study A.T. who I think could benefit from it?”

There are a number of approaches. Make an appeal of benefits, taking into account what is important to the person themselves. The other approach is to relate how Alexander Technique has helped you personally. If they know you, they’ll be impressed.

People do so many unique and confounding things to twist their bodies into strange shapes. This is why many Alexander teachers believe that it’s useless to speculate what could be wrong. Alexander’s technique works to address the root of the issue, but the people need to be present because there is no way to generalize about specific problems. Everyone is a different sort of twisted, although there are common themes. An Alexander teacher would need more of a movie showing in real time the way someone moves, (rather than a photo,) just as a gait laboratory needs someone to be tested in the lab. Quality of motion can be analyzed, but circumstances need to be right for the equipment to work. Many Alexander teachers actually need to put hands-on in order to get this information reliably.

Because Alexander Technique is education, it’s often tricky to show what is going on to the person involved. Everyone is oriented towards a different starting point. Alexander teachers are famous for giving an order for one student to follow, and then rescinding & changing what they just said for another student. This is because everyone responds to commands in different ways. Even if an Alexander teacher can get a student to stop doing what is pulling them out of shape in ways that can be noticed – the way each person can undo that for themselves on the inside can be quite a different route. Often these differences are so subtle as to be unnoticeable to those untrained to spot them. Common experience is: if a person stops doing what they customarily do, they feel strange. Commonly, a shying away from unfamiliarity will make most people immediately pull themselves back into their habit. A tolerance or ability to welcome unfamiliarity is one of the values that an Alexander teacher sells to their students, along with the value of efficiency or effortlessness.

Another surprise to many people, (it is one of the secrets of Alexander Technique) is that kinesthetic information is relative, rather than absolute truth. This means if you change the direction you’re leaning, your perception will only register difference rather than give you the absolute fact of how much or which way you are leaning. Working in front of a mirror to offer proof of what is happening is the most common strategy. But it’s certainly possible, once someone stops doing the things that are pulling them out of shape, for a person to immediately start doing it again. Habits can be instantaneous reactions.

At first you must take the teacher’s word that your senses are off kilter. It’s a hard pill to swallow for some. It’s been a common experience of Alexander teachers that, given enough time, students do experience exactly what is making their bodies hurt or look funny. This is more a question of interpretation of raw sensory data rather than jumping to conclusions of the comparison between ‘weird’ and “normal.” Students have the power to change their reactions with education. Sometimes it is truly a structural problem that A.T. can only mitigate. But most often, the question of how it is possible that a person can improve will be able to be experienced immediately during an Alexander Technique lesson. Given readiness, persistence and motivation, anyone can make those temporary benefits part of their “norm.”

Don’t we have some anecdotal evidence that Alexander Technique makes you more confident and youthfully attractive to the opposite sex? ;o)

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