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Archive for May, 2012

Why?

A recent insight in BodyChance’s own marketing mix is to strengthen our message that disqualifies people from coming to us. An Editor of a national magazine here complains that Alexander Technique has no guts, no substance – it’s like learning about air. I understand what he means. It’s why I personally believe some of my students get attracted by table and chair work – it gives them something to do, it supplies form. However the real work is unfathomably empty – that requires courage to pursue. It calls for a willingness to wakefully work to principle. How many people want to do that? So if that’s not what you want – go away. Go find an exercise that keeps you happily ignorant. Mean, isn’t it?
quoted from Jeremy Chance, director of BODYCHANCE that trains teachers and presents Alexander Technique in Japan & internationally

Certainly, Alexander Technique has qualities that make the willingness to study and use it self-selecting. The willingness and readiness to use A.T. takes participation, a readiness to learn and a bit of courage to face the unknown. Although it teaches the ability to extend ambiguity and perceptions, it also takes a bit of tolerance for being clueless and foolish.

In a way, my training in being able to see movement mannerisms in body language is sort of a curse. When I look out at the mass of humanity that I see every day, I cannot help but see how pulled down they all are. Knowing how unnecessary it is for them to be so heavy and how little time it would take for them to gain relief from their pain, given how long they’ve been repeating their self-limiting problems, it just makes me cry inside. I hate waste – and I see a waste of potential in people everywhere. I’d like to save another talented genius.  I see so much genius that rises up in people, despite their limitations. It’s such a sparkle that is so admirable. So I am just floored that everyone doesn’t already know A.T. exists. And if they do know, why wouldn’t they want to learn such a handy tool for their life? Don’t they recognize how essential of a skill it is to clear any routine they’ve habituated so it won’t interfere with whatever they want to do next? People have been hit with so much advertising that they are suspicious of being proselytized if I talk longer than a couple of sentences about what I can offer them. 

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Then I remember when I looked like the woman on the right side and what it was like to be in frustrating pain, carrying around my head, drooping in front of my body, feeling as if my head weighed a ton. I’m remembering having a mystery illness at eighteen years old that doctors could predict how long I would have to endure. If someone is in chronic pain, they’ve mostly likely given up because they’ve usually already tried so many other well-meant but ineffective suggestions from folks they knew who couldn’t provide what they needed. Without relief, now they’re discouraged and resigned. Pain can demand a bitter pill of acceptance, as it gradually drains the body’s ability to physically buffer it.

I have so many questions…

  • Why there isn’t more demand for Alexander Technique teachers? 
  • What is it that makes A.T. so challenging to grasp how it could mitigate, prevent and solve problems connected to cumulative, unintentional, self-imposed stress? 
  • Why is it so difficult for adults to be willing to learn their way out of their limitations? 
  • Why does the survival drama of resistance come up so fast and urgently when presented with logical, workable and practical alternatives that require education, hope and practice – and change? (It can’t only be merely because it means change…Can it?) 
  • Are people really that upset about changing because of their historic human nature, culture and conditioning?

It’s sort of depressing how the answers seem to be rhetorical, when I write these questions out like this. They really are real questions. I hope you can discuss them with me.

OK, so A.T. is not for everyone, just the people who are ready to learn. Get over it!

But I still feel a sense of regretful compassion for the others. I just cannot give up on the idea that I believe it’s my job to offer people who don’t know better that they have an alternative. I can do this because I am flexible, innovative and agile; it’s the demonstration of my skill to be able to change my presentation and teaching ability around to reach those people who need to know another choice exists beyond enduring suffering. Of course they wouldn’t be capable of changing themselves – but I am! 

People want to choose and make their own thing, not yours or F.M. Alexander’s. Who are you to know better? Why bother with convincing those who could care less about what has been valuable to you?

It doesn’t matter that from my perspective, people who resist change have their own logic & value bubbles sewn up so tightly that they resist what I have to offer them. The more out of control someone gets, the more tightly they hold onto the little left that they can control. I’ve seen it in older people time and time again, but it’s a characteristic of people who are upset that they have lost some former capacity that they don’t expect to ever regain. It’s also a characteristic of people who have invested and found answers that are valuable to them that they don’t have enough of a reason to let go of. Loss is a risk. It’s true that most peoples’ ways of doing things that they have worked out to get along in life must be respected. 

In order to teach effectively, I have learned that I must surrender that my student might not understand me, even with my own best efforts to communicate. If I’m not able to surrender my own agenda when teaching, my practice of Alexander Technique suffers in quality of my example to them. It’s not about me – it’s about them. Usually people can only take a bit at a time. I must mete out what I have to offer in bite-sized pieces so it can be chewed and digested. Profound change happens gradually in most people. The unknown has a threatening tolerance limit in most people. Most people need lots of reassurance that it’s OK to not go fast – they are not able to make a huge leap of faith and it’s unreasonable to ask them to do so. 

As time has gone on, I know that I must surrender that I can only help who is motivated to come to me. The apprentice must seek out the mentor…and something of value must be sacrificed in order to make it worthwhile to sit up and pay attention. 

Here is A.T. … a tool to open the door of the unknown, a means to progress in directions that a hopeful, imaginative person can only dream is possible. But nobody can seize this brass ring of opportunity unless they supply the motivation.

It’s a rare person who is ready now to make big strides ahead, to take a talent for the ride it deserves.

It’s a rare person who recognizes an opportunity that staring them in the face… 

I wish things were different. 

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Substitution

I mentioned before how Alexander Technique can be used to help a person who has a specific idea about what they can do that will better their situation, but for some reason or another can’t put their bright new alternate into action. Here’s a bit about how that happens…

Let’s say that the medium is movement, how an intention translates into physical action. Maybe you have a goal in mind, a purpose about why you are wanting to improve the way you move. The challenge or proof that you’re doing as you intend could be to use less effort, more mechanical advantage, perhaps even an ideal economy of applied physical energy during motion. You’ve trained this “better” substitute skill from scratch – for instance, a different tennis swing, a new way of taking a breath during a swimming stroke. Now your challenge is to do the new skill instead of the old faithful routine in the crucial moment.

Now you are ready to confront the challenge about how to interrupt your old routine and put the new one into action.

I’ll explain what I mean by that last sentence. You want to do the new skill and not do the old routine. Going in one direction will, theoretically by default, “cancel out” the other. At the moment when you direct your whole self to go physically in one direction, the other possible options are de-selected. This will happen because, theoretically, you can’t go two places at the same time.

If you try that theory out by putting  a new improvement into action – you will probably attempt to “do” both at the same time. What is likely to happen is your old routines have the power to run interference on the new things that you really want. This happens because, most of the time, when a new part of a skill is added, it’s adding onto the existing skill and not substituted in place of it.

Stopping the old skill is what you want this time, but that’s not how people are usually wired. Depending if the skill is deemed “dangerous” for any reason, your habits are wired to perform the old skill as if it’s life itself that is at risk. What’s unfamiliar and new can be blown all of proportion by a habit as if it’s totally threatening.

Granted that some people can dare to leap… but in order to leap, they need a complete conviction that they don’t want the old same thing. Another way around that is to go bit by bit to reassure yourself, and the imperative protective alarms never go off. There are obviously more ways to make the unfamiliar less scary too…

It takes a clarity of intent to gather one’s sense of purpose and direct one’s whole self. People will say this takes patience; for instance when they see detail or time invested in the quality of a job. But within an experience of absorption, the thought of being patient doesn’t exist. Instead, you want your attention to become become fully engaged at the most important moment. So marking when that moment begins is a great first step.

This ability to direct one’s attention has many qualities – some work with your goals and some don’t so well.  I’m going to suggest you use the one that works that don’t focus on the goal – strangely enough. The admonition to “Just Do It,” will likely activate what is most familiarly trained and ingrained. This works fine once you know exactly how to do what you’re trying to do – like a music conductor who only needs to give the signal for parts of the orchestra to respond at the right time.

Strangely enough, the best route is indirect and paradoxical when attempting to get yourself to do an unfamiliar skill instead of a familiar routine. It is a brand of surrender or suspension of desire for your goal. It even works to use a brand of trickery: refusing to mentally say the “action word” and instead stick to the new steps of the improvement. You aim to have an empty pause before you put the new skill into action. So, find the important moment to pay attention – and stop what you would normally do in that moment.

You might find that inserting this pause takes out the complication of the habitual routines by itself. The pause itself might be all that’s necessary. Right after this refusal to do the routine is when you can insert the newly trained improvement, if it’s needed. Easy does it!  You may even discover in that moment an even simpler improvement. The action that follows will have a whole different quality. The goal you just surrendered may feel as if it is “doing itself” as the hindrances or complications of the old routine are removed. The experience of this happening is sometimes an odd feeling of emptiness. The “effort” you were feeling that you coupled together with the doing of the action was unnecessary, so now you can leave off the training wheels.

Why give up at the crucial moment when you want something bad enough you can taste it?  To do what you couldn’t do before.

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We’re having an interesting conversation on one of the Facebook Alexander Technique groups. Since FB tends to cycle off rather quickly, perhaps having a spot elsewhere for the discussion would encourage it to continue.
Sara’s blog post that we’re discussing is at:
http://www.fine-balance.com/news_and_views/02-05-2012/the_wrestle_with_words_and_meanings_in_the_alexander_work/

Here are some excerpts:

Nick Drengenberg writes:

Sara, I don’t believe something being a system of work makes it finite. It makes it a something though rather than a generalised ineffability, which wouldn’t distinguish AT from any other type of experience. I see the ineffable as a bit of a slippery slope in other words, confusing questions about what’s shareable in our different experiences with what’s specific to a particular type of work, like AT. I agree each of us might experience AT differently, but you quickly lose any way in which AT is different to anything else if it becomes about attempting to share some subjective experience. I don’t think Alexander at root discovered some sort of subjective experience, those will vary for each person who comes to the work. He discovered a quite objective set of relationships between the human body and the world it sits inside. It’s those we should be trying to describe and communicate, and the feelings at each point in that exploration will be full part of the context we’re in. So a feeling of lightness or easiness will suggest a prior tightness or holding, which we can unravel using Alexander’s insights (to discover how and why we were holding), for example. It’d be a dead-end to try to make the lightness or easiness what’s important about that moment, feelings are pointers or indicators to a full context of existing in space in varying states of balance and support.

Yes, as Nick Dregenburg points out, A.T. has a therapeutic effect that is measurable and scientifically reasonable and predictable as a set of principles. In a way A.T. work could be considered an early form of observational brain science. It’s similar to Dr. Edward de Bono’s predictive models, (in “Mechanism of Mind,”) where de Bono came up with models of how thinking works so he could design compensations to stimulate creative insight. F.M Alexander came up with an open-ended, ongoing demonstration that stimulate creative-conscious insight using a bodymind integration.

Sara Solnick replies…

Nick, I don’t think we are talking about quite the same things here. I am not quite sure what you mean by describing AT as a possibly infinite system of work. What I meant was that understanding the depths of AT is not a finite process: it is layered and subtle. The principles are easily stated, as a system if you like, but their extended meaning unfolds only gradually. I do not use the word ineffable in a generalised way as you suggest – what I mean is that there are some things (in my experience at least), the essential nature of which, though apprehended, cannot necessarily be expressed adequately in words – and these can be very specific things. Subjective experience will always be part of one’s understanding of this or any other work – part of the illusion I wish to avoid in writing is that of seeing us as human beings who sit inside, or in any other way separate from, the world – for me, we are inextricably entangled with, and ultimately indistinguishable from, our world – the subjective can never be completely removed, the objective never fully attained. Alexander nevertheless developed a set of principles which can be entertained intellectually without being understood experientially. However, experience and feeling are not irrelevant to our deeper understanding of those principles – they are what promote our developing understanding, and perhaps require us to revise our intellectual formulations along the way… your last sentence seems to be suggesting something similar. But in the final analysis, what all this indicates to me, is how very difficult it is be clearly communicative with the written word alone – which was my point (perhaps misguidedly made by me in a piece of writing!)

Sara Solnick, your point is not misguided. Why this is so is deeply embedded in Alexander’s questioning and experimental foundations. At it’s best and extended toward an art form or life philosophy, A.T. takes people into the unknown, allowing a person to tap on the door of the unknowable and walk through it toward what they don’t know – time and time again. It doesn’t work every single time in a predictable manner because there are so many factors involved in asking for the unknown to reveal itself, but that’s part of it’s attraction of mystique.

Words are frozen, codified meanings. The skill of combining them is an art too – because we’re attempting to get them to say something about our experience that tends to familiarize it into being something we “know.” That’s the definition of being an author-ity.

Using words after an experience of the unknown offers the ability to “tag” for retrieval, which is how the brain works to retrieve memories. But this urge to “have” the unknown as a “thing” sells short the potential of what A.T. really offers. – and I believe this is what Sara Solnick is really hinting at…and why the A.T. community labels the “tagging” urge to be merely end-gaining.

Think about how, when you have an unusual experience, you must be careful who you tell. The telling will be shaped by your relationship to that person’s rapport with you and with the experience itself. Once an experience is in words, people have a tendency to remember what they said, rather than retrieving the raw experience itself in their memory of it. Once expressed in words, usually an experience becomes limited by its description…correct? That’s why we call it End-gaining.

What do you think?

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