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Archive for October, 2013

What makes Alexander Technique unique?

Everyone who reads my blog who has experience with A.T, let’s outline whatever you can think of that makes Alexander Technique stand out and be unique. Please add to the list!  It might be something trivial or funny, but that’s OK.

I’ll start with some of my own results, and then I’ll discuss some of the thinking skills that could be applied so you can continue. I have numbered them because you might want to refer to them in your comments.

  • 1. Because A.T. is meant to be coupled with any other action, no extra daily practice hour is required to get its cumulative and immediate benefits.
  • 2. Although the relationship is teacher/student – not therapist/client, the learning process also has a cumulative therapeutic effect until the student learns to bring about this benefit on their own.
  • 3. (You fill in this one with one of your suggestions…)
  • 4. Similar to the ability to think and reason, benefits of being able to update established routines relate to however the interested party applies the skill. (That’s why the list of benefits of learning A.T. sounds like snake oil if you don’t know what it is.)
  • 5. It has the proof of a factual, physical discipline to back up the functionality of it’s philosophical principles; teachers must “walk the talk” in order to do the job of hands-on guided modeling that’s the original core of the pedagogy.
  • Alexander Technique doesn’t merely give lip service to the unity of mind and body – it gives a first-hand demonstration of it as well as a tool to gain its benefits.

OK, now I’ll say a bit about how you could use thinking skills to keep going on this little brainstorming project. We’re going to use a website called http://www.practisethinking.com because it’s very simple and teaches tools by referring to other websites.
For instance, I found there a reference to a tool about how to extract concepts called a “concept fan.” It works like this:
http://www.toolkitforthinking.com/creative-thinking/concept-fan
You’d start by making a list of what occurs to you, and then step back to see if they are all related in some way. The example gives you an idea of how this works. The purpose of doing this is then you’re able to understand an assumption that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Here’s a thinking exercise that’s ever more simple: Read this sentence…and fill in the part after the “because.” I’ve done the first one, but there are many other ways to finish the sentence. What follows the  phrase starting with the word “because..” can mean “cause/effect;” it can also mean “comes from…” It can also mean,”essential ingredient.” Can you think of more implied meanings for the word “because…”? Use them to craft a phrase that answers the sentence.

  • 6. Skills that are sharpened while doing Alexander Technique are considered by those in its field to be the basis of education because……..
  1. movement is the way humans interact with their world, (well, other than sweating…

Hope you enjoyed this practical little ditty on thinking skills applied to Alexander Technique simplifications. Please report back!

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The desire to do something that matters in an enjoyable way seems to be at the core of learning Alexander Technique.  – Jean Louis-Rodrigues in 1982

Today I wanted to write a bit about why “Chairwork” became a classic way of teaching Alexander Technique.  Classically, Alexander Technique was taught to me by having me sit in a chair and stand again over it, over and over and over…for years. The priorities of chair work are to rise from the chair and sit in it again while being effortlessly in balance within any part of the motion.

Now that I am the teacher, I don’t choose to teach using that form as a teaching activity. For me, this was because there are good reasons I discovered later to not repeat anything over and over.  Plus, having the student choose the action was more fun. It matched F.M. Alexander’s motive to make a hobby, art or passion of his possible and to continue learning what he wanted to be doing indefinitely, despite his serious problem issues that came from his own breathing issues and misunderstanding his teachers.

Alexander Technique is an indirect, abstract discipline. It is meant to be applied to whatever you’d like to improve by making anything you’re doing easier to do. For instance, people who are far from being able to look anywhere near “normal” posture can be doing A.T.

One of the misunderstandings that students have with chair work is to mistake the content for the activity, to think Alexander Technique was “sit up straight school.” There is no “ideal posture.” Anyone can do Alexander Technique well, even if they are physically bone-twisted from multiple other injuries or chronic diseases. A.T. teaches how to make happen an intentional response to change oneself. This is usually for the goal of moving effortlessly, but for an actor that priority would be “to be in character.  To do this, we need to use some sort of physical example so it can be shown factually we did as we intended…even if that outward action is lying on the floor to take a break, to solve a maths problem, dig a hole or to gimp across the street while the light is still green.

The classic A.T. teacher’s selection of the action of sitting a chair and standing as the medium for teaching is pretty much arbitrary. It was probably selected from having limited space for teaching originally.  It was preserved as a form for teaching probably because of the tremendous respect of students for their first generation Alexander teachers.

But in fact, any movement will do for an A.T. teaching example. It’s best to choose an action that deals with changing balance. (This is mostly why rising from sitting and sitting in a chair qualifies.) Any action that requires balance to change orientation will exhibit all of the personal strategies involved in movement decision-making on a fundamental and often hidden level of physical coordination. In the tiniest microcosm of movements are the metaphors for the preferences of habit. My favorite staple for teaching using a mundane activity is walking. 

Plus, it’s a useful thing to study sitting in chairs. It’s been scientifically proven that sitting for long periods is hazardous to health. If we can sit actively with poise, grace and stamina, we can do demanding and additional activities with a high degree of repetition without the potential for cumulative injury.

Because of the dangers of the lack of the ability to suspend a goal, having the teacher pick the activity they’re most familiar with is a good thing too. For many reasons, it doesn’t matter what motion that gets chosen as a medium for learning A.T. This is because the action is merely an example, an experiment.

It helps if what you choose as a goal is an activity you don’t care about. This is because then your desire to “attain the goal” won’t be so strong and you’ll be able to practice it without intense desire getting in the way.

But it’s also really useful and fun to pick a very challenging situation for using Alexander Technique. Otherwise, you’ll not know if you will be able to suspend a passionately held goal. You might not know whether or not your intent for excellence may be playing out as you imagine is possible.

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English doesn’t have a convenient grammatical form to indicate or describe subjective experience. Describing the nature of reality seems to be one of the irresistible assumptions inherent within the structure of English, because there is no tense that expresses “from my point of view” – for instance, the way the Hopi language is structured. Everyone has an opinion that expresses a unique point of view. So this characteristic of language leaves English speakers to decide if and how much someone else is lying if a speaker expresses their point of view as “fact.” It may seem to be obvious fact for the speaker, but that sense of fact might not be shared by the listener.

This is part of makes it tricky to describe the subjective qualities of learning Alexander Technique. There are ways that English has qualifying phrases such as… “It seems to be,” “From my point of view” or “IMHO. ” These are examples that attempt to frame or signal that the speaker knows their certain point of view is going to follow.

 Uncertainty indicated by a writer is regarded by editors as “timid.” Writers will be admonished to come out and dare to make their definitive declarations. Editors will point out that using subjective qualifiers don’t adequately convey the writer’s motive of being certain that their point of view is a valid one. 

When I use the subjective attitude in my writing, it is not meant to be considered a rhetorical point delivered with uncertainty, self-effacement or with tongue-in-cheek. “From my point of view” is not necessarily another way of saying “I haven’t taken a poll or conducted my research properly.”

Instead, I regard using a subjective qualifier as a demonstration of conservatively stating the presence of uncertainty with an attitude of an eternally, questioning open-mindedness. 

When using those qualifiers, there’s always the possibility that a writer’s motive will be misunderstood. One solution to this is society has evolved various ways to assign believable need through specialization, degrees and qualifications that ares supposed to provide recognition – before education has happened. 

Misunderstandings have proliferated about my assuming this subjective point of view in my writing that I would like to clarify. Readers have reacted to my using language in this way by wondering if I’m obligated to talk this way legally. They wonder if I’m avoiding “making legal claims” that could be proved false, resulting in me possibly being sued for making promises I can’t keep by teaching Alexander Technique.

It appears we now have a culture subjected to an onslaught of advertising who suspects the relative truth of what everyone says, no matter their professional qualifications, skills or experience. The only mitigating factors for some decision-makers are consumer reviews and testimonials; a skeptic may even discount those. But when you think about it, a professional organization is merely a bunch of people who have gotten together, established guidelines and are charging membership dues.

In fact, scientific verification exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique. A study was published in Aug. 2008 by the British Medical Journal. This proved that getting an education in F.M. Alexander’s technique works very well to alleviate lower back pain. Other trials have proved various other applications, (Wikipedia has the links.) Because human relationship to intent, reaction and action is essential to every further success, there are unlimited applications. Perhaps it is the abstraction and scope of applications that make Alexander Technique questionable to decide to devote the considerable time, expense and effort to study.

Of course, in many cases suspicion is warranted. Being blind-sided by having too small of a sample to establish “fact” happens even to scientists who rigorously intend otherwise. Researchers recently came out with proof that some of the accepted psychological tests that are supposed to prove truths about human nature were too wide in scope. A case in point is the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma. It turns out this maxim only works within a limited Western capitalistic culture. Results do not match if the same “scientific trials” are conducted among other non-Western cultures. Apparently the “scientifically conducted” findings that the results of these tests are “proof of human nature” appear to be only true within a certain limited cultural group.

However, my use of point of view qualifiers is not motivated by fears of legal battles. In education, results are dependent on the student applying themselves. Has anyone ever heard about how a teacher could be sued for not delivering a benefit that required the student to apply it? 

Big questions remain that concerns both potential students and the teachers who have an investment in convincing the advantages of what they have to offer. Would you like a stab at forming them? Here’s my attempts.,.

  • How does a potential student gain a belief, a conviction enough to make a long-term investment in learning a particular discipline? 
  • How does a person decide before they are certain it will work for them that any solution or benefit others have gained that they are being shown applies to them personally? 

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There’s a famous scientific “marshmallow” temptation experiment that was offered to four year olds. Those kids who couldn’t put off getting the marshmallow now in exchange for more marshmallows later didn’t become as successful later in life as the kids who could wait. It’s the issue that makes some schools tell parents their kids need to be on Ritalin.  It’s supposed to be a life skill that all adults have. It’s what adults need to be able to be healthy, to quiet emotions, to prevent a myriad of calamities in life from taking over and to practice getting good at what they love to do.  It’s what all religions attempt to sell to its followers so they can do what’s right.

For those of us who would like to improve themselves, do better and can’t, what exactly is happening? Why is it so hard to control your own impulses?

When you first start trying to use a new way of doing things, your old habits work better, precisely because they are formed and ready to go. A newly acquired skill or supposed “better” way is not ready yet. The new way is going to be unreliable for awhile until you practice it.

It’s sort of like learning to drive a car. If you want to get to the corner store and back when you’re learning to drive a car, it is probably faster to walk. Once you’re more familiar with getting into the car, getting it started and pulling out to the street, etc. it will be faster to use the car. So, practicing your new skill needs to be done in situations where it does not matter if the old habit was more effective or not. (Of course, for additional considerations of saving expense and sitting in traffic, it may still be preferable to walk short distances even when you are familiar with driving.)

Let’s say that you want to work on being less impulsive. You have decided there are priorities that are more important but less urgent, but it seems you most often revert back to the unwanted short-term fulfillment.

The problem seems to be that holding the impulse back when an important impulse event is happening is too challenging. This is what makes it impossible to practice. Any theoretical desire or use of will doesn’t have the comparative intensity to notice and deal with the strength of an insistent, coercive impulse. You’ll just give yourself convincing justifications why you need to do what you have always done, play a blaming game or offer yourself some other lame excuse that you’ll later regret.

Resistance to change is there for a reason – it’s a survival thing. The engagement of strong habitual impulses are justified by survival priority needs. There are usually additional multiple unknown factors that are swamping you that need to be uncovered before they can be changed.

So it is necessary to create a practice environment where it does not matter if you fail or succeed. Lower the stakes of the bet and its consequences, make it safe to fail. You’d want to practice on less important impulses like “I want to scratch a mosquito bite” or “I think I’ll look at that.” Then all the usual learning skills can apply when you fail, because it gives you a way to notice exactly what happens. You can form some interesting questions such as,

  • “How did I feel attempting to resist that impulse; what justifications came up?” “How long did I go before I gave in?”
  • “Why didn’t I recognize in time that here was a chance to resist this impulse?”
  • “What other strategy might work better next time?”
  • “Is my current assumption of what I perceived and why it was happening really true?”

Ultimately you are trying to program a new ability into yourself that can intercept what you don’t really want to do before that short-sighted urge or desire hits you.

Just “doing nothing” works, and using the old adage of “take a breath and count to ten.” If you know Alexander Technique, pausing before you begin to experiment with the way you move as you begin gives a way for something different to happen at the prevention level of physical reaction. You can think a bit before you jump; inserting a creative pause to consider alternate ideas about better ways to go ahead is also a useful strategy. You’d do this by asking if there are more ways to fulfill your goal than what you were going to do to get there. You can always question the reason for having the desire at all.

Probably it would be constructive to make a specific list of less-to-more important impulsive situations to use for practice; varying the list would make things interesting. Then you can’t use the excuse that, “it’s not important that I resist now.” It’s not the specific content of the low-importance impulses that matter when you are in training. What matters is the more abstract ability to consider how to answer uncontrollable urges, in spite of them being inconsequential or not. Having a list (perhaps revised monthly or weekly) would help you become aware when opportunities to practice on your list may occur. You would expand the list into more challenging situations as you progress in being able to resist your resistance.

Eventually it’s hopeful that you probably will not need the list as the skill becomes more reliable at some critical point. (Usually some time after seventy practice sessions.) Some situations will need continuing brilliant tactical and strategic ideas that change as the once-useful ones become ineffective. You will have learned to recognize and choose an “important-but-not-urgent” priority over an “urgent but not important” stimulus. You’ll also be able to uncover your own “core” desires of admirable values and other sterling character traits that had been so immediately distracted by a habitual reactions so as to be invisibly cloaked.

Strangely enough, if you’ve followed these suggestions, what you have just done is very much like you’d do if you were practicing Alexander’s technique.

 

…And all that was pretty interesting, wasn’t it? Going to do anything else about it?

 

 

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