Discovery Steps

A feature of Alexander Technique is that it teaches the ability to tap the unknown for new information. These points outlined below can be applied generally to any discovery process. In Alexander’s case, his interest was how to learn a new way to speak onstage how he loved to do, despite having learned to unintentionally repeat what brought his performance to a standstill and appeared to actively sabotaging himself by losing his voice.

Exactly how do people handle what is challenging, a bit scary and undefined? What makes people become ready and willing to question their own ways of doing what they do? What are “questions that matter” and how do we learn to form them for ourselves?

  • How Can I Make It Safe?
  • Identify and suspend former conclusions and partial solutions
  • Ridicule self preservation so you can increase your ability to take risks
  • Physical safety – just a bit of “insurance”
  • How Can I Make My Experimenting Memorable?
  • Characteristics of making discoveries about the unknown – so you can recognize them when they happen
  • Using more senses will make learning faster – cross-referencing perceptual senses will help reveal physical assumptions trained unconsciously by repetition
  • Record yourself, keep a journal, use technology, use another person, even just a mirror is useful for feedback on what’s happening
  • How Can I Observe to Perceive What I May Be Missing?
  • Change the speed of the action
  • Description blow-by-blow what’s going on, as it’s happening
  • Humor and paradox are also a feature of discovery; make it laughable
  • What’s a Better Question?
  • Learn the lingo – if you don’t have words for factors, tricky to ask about them
  • Interesting – clueless – many-faceted – there are many flavors of questions
  • How Am I Concluding, and Despite What?
  • Describe what happened that you didn’t think was useful – what’s implied?
  • After describing contractions, objections, go again to “check out” your conclusions
  • Rinse, Wash, Repeat
  • Take breaks, pause.
  • Ask, “What happened before my discovery happened?”
    “What can I do to take this discovery further?”

So – I’m curious what else might work for you to evoke new information or experiences?

 

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Cumulative

One of the central principles of how Alexander Technique works is based on the concept of a domino effect. Small actions, tiny routines pile up and become powerful influences. “You become what you repeat” is one way of expressing this often skipped-over super power to affect change in yourself.

A studied ability to perceive subtle foundation movements is what seems so magical about how an Alexander Technique teacher can pull the rug out from underneath apparently self-caused difficulties.

An example comes from the situation of professional performing musicians. At what age did the musician learn to hold their musical instrument? How big was it – and how big were they as kids when they first learned to make sounds with it? Height might be a factor; certainly hand and arm size; what sort of reach was possible? Put the answers to these questions in perspective, and issues with repetitive pain injury can sometimes be solved with practical ergonomic adjustments.

Because of the power of our self-confirming misconceptions, humans will move the way we imagine that we are able to move. How to approach this bias? We can change this effect through questioning and insight as in the musician example above. We could used hypothesis, comparing by remembering what our situation was like for us in our past. Then we can craft experiments with what we uncover. This might lead us to even better questions, such as: How far across was that goal post area when we first got played in a standard sized soccer field when we were kids? How high was that basketball ring when first learning compared to how tall we are now?

Another way to influence change is to design many different ways to practice whatever we have discovered. If it can be counted, it can be made into a game, right? But be careful what you count, because this focus is what will quickly jump out for us in being priorities.

Another technique for sifting out an unwanted effect from an already learned routine is to slow down. Varying the rate of the activity will reveal formerly unnoticed differences. Once these often crucial differences have been revealed, they can be incorporated into a faster paced action.

Best chance for change needs about three weeks of commitment to install new habits. It takes around seventy repetitions to make a new skill reliable; although after around seven or eight times even the most awkward and strange movements will begin to feel “normal.” Perhaps collect game pieces that symbolize achievements as “rewards?” Logging practices has been shown to be effective.

Even a book has numbered pages that are in sequence, so you can tell how far you’ve gone into the story and when you expect resolution. Imagining there will be a secret revealed at the end or sometimes in the future is an enticement to continue. It’s called “Sunk Cost” when a viewer invests time; that is used in marketing those long-winded video sales presentations.

To wrap up – piled up tiny actions can become exponential. If you’d like to reveal these mysteries, you can go slower, you can examine your foundation assumptions. Once you sense what is happening underneath your assumptions, you can redesign a way to practice your desired new improvements, given you can do partly what you imagine is possible. If you cannot, work on your foundation mannerisms as a whole, ask for help from an observant coach or Alexander Technique teacher. Once you have ways to practice, you will uncover perceptual discoveries. Reflect on these surprising discoveries to put them to best use. This is how you’ll get more benefits from practice as never before – Share those discoveries!

Why Observe?

Key to getting past self-imposed limitations is the ability to interrupt unnecessary habits of going into action.  We’d would do this in preparation for our “best efforts;” so we can investigate if there might be an easier way to proceed, after we put on pause our self-interference. It’s like a re-fresh or re-boot for our strategies of learning – not just this time, but as a revision of a template or a franchise of learning.

But…doesn’t anyone do this as they learn?

It’s tricky to not get distracted by specific content. What results we are able to get because of our methods? Our literal & goal oriented preferences often skips over how method or mannerisms fuels or limits possible results.

It’s not merely all about getting ourselves to substitute some potential improvement we think will work better. Isn’t it sort of a hamster trap to train a supposedly “better” replacement routine, only to find later that what seemed “better” has now become yet another rut that needs addressing? Why not learn a process like Alexander Technique that can be applied to better any workable solution – a process that will not be short-sighted?

OK, let’s say we’re convinced that observing is a good idea.

First, it helps immensely to establish some criteria for successes, so we can recognize improvements on the front end when it might happen unexpectedly. It’s handy to have multiple ways to spot what we want, to recognize potential. We’ll want to know whenever we stumble on something potentially valuable in a nascent form. The reason this is so essential is because if something that happens is really new, it might slip by unnoticed by us, underneath our radar. Plus, we might dismiss it’s usefulness purely because of it’s quality of unfamiliarity.

To recognize and measure potential success, I want to sell you on the value of noting what feels effortless. When we’re after “effortlessness,” (or efficiency) what we are after is subtraction, clearing, to get less, even to get…nothing. When doing new things, carving new pathways in our brain while learning, commonly people experience drawing a blank – and this is a good thing. Blanks are areas where we can learn from.

So, how do we tell the difference between “no results” and less unnecessary effort, which has characteristics that feel like…nothing?  Thinking skills help fill in blanks here.

You can use strategies such as populating establishing observational categories. It’s trickier working bare bones with features that we normally don’t notice when we just ask ourselves, “What did I notice?” With categories, you can go down the list and compare for matches… Categories such as:

  • Qualities – What qualities did my experience have?
  • Priority Sequences – What came first, next and how does time of arrival affect results?
  • Timing – Are there things happening together regularly that determine results?
  • Direction – where am I located? Can I conduct or control the situation?
  • Relationships – How do all factors work together? Best recombination possible?Filling in the blanks from these categories will help you sort out what happened that offered that strange feeling of effortlessness…

Self-observation helps us to notice differences between “before” and “after.” Being able to describe the “before” part is useful. For this to happen, we also need to put on pause the former solutions that have partially worked previously. I like to think of these former solutions as “working titles” hanging on the wall, so they can be suspended temporarily.

Then…we craft a suitable experiment. We conduct our experiment. We observe what happens… Decide how we can use results. Rinse and repeat…

This is some of the writing I’ve been doing on a series about how to get benefits from practice based on the working principles of Alexander Technique. Of course, I fill in the missing siplifications in the above paragraph in future posts.

What do you think? Is it useful so far?

Template For Change

I’d like to tell you how Alexander Technique worked for me to uncover & cope with my own underlying psychological motives and assumptions. This strategy solved a firmly entrenched childhood impasse that was causing me irrational social problems.

I’d like you to take the time to consider this because this same strategy has since worked for myself and other to solve many uncontrollable emotional issues where the source of the emotional motives were hidden or masked.

My own issue was blurting out shocking, hurtful diatribes at an inappropriate time. What sorely needed updating were my outbursts designed in childhood to avoid my wounded feelings of isolation and exclusion. But I didn’t know this on the front end. My childhood solution was such an effective denial that I never felt the original emotion that drove me to design the reaction of “bring out the club” when the polite conversation was fencing at a dinner table. My saying something “shocking” was designed to stop the conversation and avoid feeling my emotions. It worked too well! Without knowing what was behind the reaction, change was unlikely. What was going on was an over-sensitive trigger recognition system that worked splendidly…yet the problem was it was on too much of an over-sensitive, uncontrollable hair-trigger to be at all reasonable…and it was getting worse!

I believe the Alexander Technique is an essential tool to get such answers to such these complex psychological issues. The strategy is something that works on any psychological impasse of self-influencing “bad” behavior:

  • 1. Identify the situations where this objectionable irrationality is happening that involves “jumping to conclusions” that triggers the behavior.
  • 2. Use self-observation to trace back to become aware of oneself the moment before the conclusive, reactive “jump” happens… (Warning! There will be lurking the uncomfortable motive for acting unreasonably, and this emotion will embody a physical postural attitude & will be intense!)
  • 3. Free up that posture connected to the wounded feeling physically using Alexander Technique; breathing or whatever else you think might work. If it doesn’t, find something you can do in that moment that will work.
  • 4. There’s a reason that Alexander Technique was so handy. This discipline allowed me a true physical change of postural expression of this unwanted emotion. What you want to get is an awareness of your reaction that keeps getting triggered to go off in certain situations that will offer you new ways to address the issue & your own objection & drive to change it. If you don’t know how to use Alexander Technique, you might try something different to influence the situation in a more positive and effective manner. (But you will probably have to experiment to find something that truly works.)
  • 5. To design another alternative, identify the positive desire for a solution that contains positive values for everyone, not just the absence of your own suffering.
  • 6. If you trust the people present, announce your motives. If not, try out one of these possible solutions covertly to see if they might work to bring about positive, mature ways to influence your emotionally challenging situation. To the extent you are successful, you’ll be able dispense with the old, inappropriate childish reactions to uncomfortable situations. You may even reveal a talent you didn’t know you had.

Here’s How I Did This:
My first job was to note what situation was going on when I’d blurt out shocking, snide remarks. At first I was so blinded, that I only figured out I’d “done it again” by the comments of people days later. So my job became to catch myself doing it closer to the moment I was about to do what I didn’t really want to do.

Once I questioned whether I needed to use such an intense reaction in obviously inappropriate situations, I found I couldn’t redirect it until I uncovered my motive’s origin. I could temper the effects of what I’d said after the fact, maybe I could hit a “pause” button after I launched into doing it & turn it into a joke…but that didn’t change the problem that kept causing this reaction to come up. The moment before I opened my mouth contained the hidden, denied root of emotion.

To find all this, I had to trace the reaction back to when it started – this is what took some time & practice. How do you pay attention to something that happens when you’re not paying attention? I turned the challenge into a personal, ongoing project.

When I finally got to catch this unwanted reactive habit of mine, at the moment ~before~ doing my habitual solution, what I found was so uncomfortable that it was extremely dismaying to avoid repeating the habitual solution that I did not want to do. My impasse & emotional pain that I was feeling (about being excluded in this case) was expressed in the habitual postural attitude of my body. Oh, was it uncomfortable to hang out there! My body showed me how I felt emotionally with very physical signals of a hole below my rib cage that I sagged to cover.

But I had a tool – Alexander Technique. Without a way. to be able to physically move away from these limitations, I would be stuck feeling these awful, gunky routines of complex historic hurts. I could justify whatever I thought I needed to do to deal with this bad feeling, blaming & inciting others to hurt me further as I lashed out. The additional pain I could create with these hurt reactions made it worth this trouble to change.

Avoiding hurting emotionally would be a completely understandable justification for repeating the habitual remedy that I wanted to update. I suspected that my childhood ways of dealing with this pain was unnecessary, ineffective and an overcompensation for the problem.

Hanging out in the moment feeling these awful feelings, I realized how ANY remedy would be justified if an emotion feels extreme enough. Feeling angry feels more powerful than feeling sad. This would especially be true if a person doesn’t have an effective enough tool for dealing with their “stuff.” (I believe this sort of impasse is what drives people to kill!)

Using Alexander Technique allowed me to pop out of the physical reaction of how I was expressing the emotional hurt and be able to perceive it for what it was – It was the outdated adding together of insults. I could now so easily understand and compassionately forgive myself, (even congratulate myself) for designing such an effective coping mechanism when I was just a kid, even if it was something I needed to change now. Since I could recognize the core motives now for what they were and also how I feel now, I could freshly choose a more global and compassionate way of dealing with all these factors that could take into account other people and not just my own self-involved feelings.

My problem had been I blurted out snide remarks designed to hurtfully shock others who I thought were excluding me from their conversation. My own positive core motive that I could now experience was a burning desire for everyone to be fair, to include everyone present and to nurture feelings of playfulness and belonging together to maybe build something new.

After I described what I positively wanted, I had an idea. I assumed these people weren’t trying to be mean to me on purpose. Maybe I could insert whatever I had to say into the conversation, matching the faster pace… Then slow my own talking speed very slightly and bring the conversation around to gracefully include myself again. Since I was being left out of the conversation accidentally on purpose, the other people accepted me including myself again an all was well.

Strangely enough, this worked. My reaction stopped happening too, once I had an easier way to express how I felt.

In retrospect, I was lucky – my first idea of how to influence the situation worked. But I believe that with so much riding on the outcome, as I used this same process again on other issues – it also worked again. From these successes, I now have the track record and the persistence to keep going with additional possible solutions if the first strategy would not have worked.

Please take my experience and use it for your own purposes as a Template For Change!

Fooling Ourselves

For those who wonder, “What is Alexander Technique?”
Find a narrow door…stand in the doorway. With the back of your hands, palms inward, push outward and count to 30 seconds.
After that, walk away from the doorway and wave your arms around…they will feel light and as if they’re rising by themselves.
Before you put your own explanation on what just happened, imagine this for a bit…

When you pushed, you applied force long enough to “get used to it,” then you stopped using that force…so you experienced the lack of force with your sense of weight in your arms. This sensation is a sensory indicator that you’ve changed something, it doesn’t happen unless something has been changed. This sense of lightness and effortlessness is the indicator you’ll learn to spot as proof you’re using Alexander Technique to undo cumulative, collected unnecessary effort. The tricky part is it will not happen unless you have made a change comparatively big enough to evoke this lightness.

Humans can “get used to” everything! But…what does Alexander Technique have to do with this experiment?

Imagine that you’re about to apply force that isn’t necessary to merely inhabit your body and walk around, talk, lift your arms, etc. Because you do this all the time, you don’t realize you’re applying this force. Preparing to go into action with a certain amount of force present has become “customary effort” that exists in every movement you make.

It is force that you’re not aware of using, so you cannot know that you’re applying it where it doesn’t have any effects you want.

 

Essentially, humans are capable of fooling themselves once they get used to doing whatever they have adapted to do.

 

How can you stop what you cannot tell you’re doing or not?
What way do you proceed to deal with that?

That’s what Alexander Technique answers!

 

Alexander Technique makes unnecessary stress disappear, making whatever you’re doing (or not doing) easier to perform.

Alexander Technique gives you another way to “talk your walk.” You may imagine possibilities and know better, but with A.T. you can actually do as you intend.

 

  • It’s taught using a combination of a few types of education. These include:
  • sharpening impulse control,
  • how to “see” potential movement in other people
  • practical training of fun strategies that undo habitual limitations,
  • animal training applied to humans (sort of like Karen Pryor’s TAGteaching,)
  • some knowledge about living anatomy & cognitive brain science
  • how perception & adapting works in different situations.
  • how innocently deceptive our sensing of “required” effort is and how to sensitize it
  • and in person, hands-on guided modeling shown by a qualified A.T. teacher.All of this is meant to be put into action in a whole package when we do anything we’d like to improve or through gradual, cumulative improvement.

    Using Alexander Technique results in discoveries, epiphanies, intuitive insights and “talent” where we imagined we limited.  (An added benefit for many is regaining lost height!)

Assumptions

What does Alexander Technique have to do with assumptions?
Rather than replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones, using and learning Alexander Technique frees up how you assume you “must” move.

If you study, what will you be doing?
Beyond the teacher’s selection using the examples of a routine activity such as walking, rising from a chair, or using your voice, other goals of “where else do I apply this?” are often left to the student.

Because the public is literal and goal oriented, Alexander Technique teachers are often urged by marketers to pick a specialty. This special interest is built into the educational process as a niche to attract students. Students later find out they can apply what they learn to any activity and gain additional benefits.

You may not know all about what Alexander Technique is. But if you like to sing or do your favorite hobby…you know you want to enjoy that more often with benefits and insights. Certainly everyone could use more stamina at the end of the day after work and less stress while working. Alexander Technique is also a solution for people with physical movement limitations, if these issues originate or get worse from repetition.

You Were Sold On Reading…
The reason to learn Alexander Technique is sort of like learning to read. Imagine if you didn’t know how to read and you had to be sold on the benefits of reading? Imagine if someone said, “Everyone needs this! You can apply this skill to exploit any interest!” Would you be skeptical? Because, like reading, Alexander Technique is the real deal – but it takes education and commitment…and using it. (Fortunately, it doesn’t take special practice time, but only extra awareness to integrate A.T. into any movements!)

Unlimited Applications – Open-ended Progress
Alexander Technique comes from the performance art field of acting. If you were an actor, being able to assume other postural mannerisms of a portrayed character should be part of your skill – otherwise you are “type-cast” as a “one trick character.”

If your interest was horseback riding, you can imagine how studying your part of the relationship between horse and rider can allow the horse to perform better. Because then your horse doesn’t have to compensate for an imbalanced or fearful rider. Animals “read” your body language, so Alexander Technique helps the animal understand what you mean when you are giving training indicators to them too.

Are you giving examples as a coach or teacher to others? Alexander Technique will make your examples more refined for your students. You’ll find out how to get better at your skill, even if you’ve gone farther at it than anyone else.

Do you talk or must sell yourself as part of your job? You can learn speaking & communication skills that involve body language.

Do you speak a language that’s not your native one? You can minimize an accent and learn new mannerisms that are consistent with your non-native language.

Do you play a musical instrument? You can clear away whatever mannerisms you accidentally retain if you’re always learning to play new tunes – or new instruments, or digital support for your musicianship. Alexander Technique also works to revise the way you learned to hold and practice your instrument that may be self-limiting your progress.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t do any of those things.” But, now that you’ve got some examples, can you imagine how these points would benefit any sport, hobby or skilled work – because all of these benefits involve the study of physical mannerisms…?

What’s your interest? Whatever you enjoy doing or work at doing, you can have more stamina and continue to get better at doing it…once you make the commitment to study and use the Alexander Technique.

Train Your Courage

Operating Manual 
This Alexander Technique, like the ability to read, is a skill with abstract but unlimited applications. What I mean by “abstract” is it’s designed to be tailored by you to anything you’d like to improve, just as what you read about can be used to benefit any interest.

Alexander Technique is learning how to learn. This involves understanding and using the process of gaining mastery over yourself. You practice on yourself, by updating your mannerisms of movement response.

It’s my job here to sell you on the benefits of moving easier to respond to your goals so you can improve in the short run – AND continue making discoveries that have the potential for unlimited improvement!

“How” Is The Question, Not “What”
Usually the reason why a student wants to do any particular activity isn’t judged by their Alexander Technique teacher.
Of course, some A.T. teachers have their own personal opinions they advocate to their students, (such as avoiding high heels.) But one Alexander Technique teacher specializes in teaching women how to walk in heels without suffering! Usually, your A.T. teacher is only concerned with how you carry out your ideals & goals, not what your values or motives are.
What is sold by all Alexander teachers are a collection of principles, taught using specific examples of easier movement. These principles might be a bit mysterious if you haven’t studied a course of lessons….but they are:

  • mind-body unity
  • self-observation & awareness
  • the power to revise even pervasive, “innate” habits
  • practice design and ways to note and gain cumulative progress as you practice
  • a unique, functional model of self-judgment used to gain conclusions & insights.

Since your mannerisms are present in how you respond and react to what comes at you in every moment, it follows that every move expresses your motives within your mannerisms to some degree or another. Best examples to use for experimenting are those that involve changing physical balance –  you’re trying to get somewhere or do something.  (However, the one exception is whistling;  it is tricky to use as an activity. You must position your lips in a certain habitual way to “get” the sound and can’t really change that around to do it differently.)

Psychological and Philosophical 
Alexander Technique also has similar features and benefits to uncovering assumptions of thinking in the field of psychology. Once you design and train a habitual response, motives can become fused into the response and disappear.  This disappearing act that habits have make it useful to become aware of your original motives. Once these assumptions are revealed, then you can decide what you want to do about them. You can fulfill your motives in alternate ways that don’t contain the design problems of answering short-sighted goals. So if your doctor has said, “Don’t DO that activity that causes you pain,” there is usually an educational way around. Using the Alexander Technique philosophy can offer psychological insights because practical, physical mannerisms have an effect on social interaction and self-image.

Perceptually Relative Effort

Mostly people taught themselves about how they need to move to direct their actions. These “educated guesses” contain assumptions that can be mistaken as to amount of effort. Commonly, effort levels are unnecessarily heavy-handed, because we can over-ride our natural coordination if it’s “important.” We were probably given that capacity by adapting to survival. Putting activities on routine status saves energy. But, habits can become outdated and exaggerated…”Practice Makes Permanent.” You originally trained yourself to move a certain way because your priorities were “important.” You imagined you “needed” to move in a certain way to get your goals when you were using trial and error for a way to learn the required skill or action, which everyone does. So you justified feeling a bit awkward because you assumed your goal had to be done in this way. Repeat doing anything strange more than five times and it won’t feel so awkward.

Keep What’s Innate? Or Update?

As you train yourself effectively, the goal is for the skill to become innate, (no matter how awkward it feels at first.) Just like computer updates, if you do not use continued learning or something like Alexander Technique to update your skills, it’s seductive to forgot what habits you already were doing. You can seductively leave in-force a standing order to continue a habit indefinitely. In these common situations, you can unknowingly move in opposing directions in ways that are stressful on the body long enough to cause pain. Over-riding natural movement capacity against the structure of how humans are designed to move can cause people to unintentionally cause themselves pain. A little education with the operating manual of living anatomy is handy.

Warning! There’s a Cost!

In theory, updating “better” ways should be applied selectively, keeping the best and streamlining the rest. But movement memories seem to be wired together seamlessly. When you’re dealing with revising habits of movement, in the process of figuring out what is going on, you can disorient your sense of balance or even your sense of your own self-image. It can be a very strange sensation. You’re actually carving new brain pathways. It might make your sleepy, but it also might put you into a distress zone. One where you can’t quite make the new ways fly yet, but the old ways feel discomforting too. Retraining an ingrained habit of movement that has disappeared and become innate requires a willingness to tolerate and use unknown or unexplained results. But how does someone get that willingness?

Courage Training
What you are getting that causes strange perceptual sensations are body alarms about experiencing too much freedom. (For some rare people, all their self-preservation alarms might go off at once!) The teacher or situation must reassure a student that nothing dangerous is happening – when really, the unfamiliar *is* exceptionally dangerous. But how else do we learn, if not from the unknown?

A teacher of Alexander Technique, (or a teacher who deals with situations that *are*  factually dangerous) knows ways to make it quite safe so that anyone can feel just a little bit strange. They provide a “safety fall-back” so the old habit is always available if the student needs to retreat.

To want to experiment takes daring and fearlessness or maybe some community support. Of course, some people must train to extend their courage. It’s daring to speak or move easier in spite of fears about what it means to you – (despite not feeling like yourself!) This courage can be a new skill that can be “conditioned” and learned as any other skill.

Really, this odd sensation of effortlessness is weird, but it is the signal you’re heading into new territory. If it has a characteristic of more freedom, then you might be able to make a discovery. That’s a challenge! This new state often doesn’t provide you with words to formulate the new information – that will come later. You cannot decide beforehand what the unknown will be “like.” Each time you’re heading out into new territory.

Of course, the next challenges are to determine the ways to apply discretion and judgment as you select from all those weird, new feelings which results that will help you and which ones to intentionally disregard as random & inconsequential.

We’ll cover that next…