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?

 

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!

Timing

Let’s say we have put all this energy into learning constructive, new innovations we’d like to do for ourselves. But after spending some time learning, now we could use a way to practice whatever we can do. Designing a way to practice that works to improve gradually is key. We want to reinforce the new, unfamiliar behavior so it develops into a new routine,  so we can say we really “know it.”

But training a new, constructive habit is tricky, because our ways of gaining a new habit might be suspect. Slowness is an important tactic in designing a new habit to better ourselves. We would want to prevent ourselves from repeating what we know we don’t want to do, and this often takes going slowly. To the extent we can avoid doing what we don’t want, then our new routine will not merely be “Good enough for Rock’n’Roll,” It will truly be “Practice Makes Perfect.”
That saying is deceptive because most often, “Practice Makes Permanent.”  We need to be careful of what we allow ourselves to repeat. Best if each repetition is its own mini-experiment. It’s even best if the opportunity to experiment arrives unexpectedly!

  • There is this Aldous Huxley novel titled: “Island” where wild parrots have been taught to randomly squawk, “ATTENTION! Attention! HERE and Now! Here and NOW!”

     

  • What that would be like, to have a suggestion to experiment?
  • What if it happened at unexpected moments?
  • What if I could set up some sort of random notification to use to remember what I know how to do  – so it could happen more often?

So I went looking. I found this cute little app for my smart phone called “Enlighten.” It was made as a meditation timer. But I’ve begun to use it for so many other purposes.  (My phone is Android, but I selected this one from a wealth of others, so I’m sure you’ll find one for yourself if you have another brand of phone.)

Enlighten for android 

This little app for a smart phone is pretty cool because you can type in any sort of random provocation or saying into it. What you typed then re-arrives somewhat unexpectedly as a notification and/or sound.
(Would be great if you could enter in a list of varied provocations into the app, without knowing which one would come up. Also if you could choose the sound. But those aren’t a feature yet.)
Since I like to apply Alexander Technique principles, I set the notification to say:

“A bit freer?”   

This reminds me in unexpected moments to lengthen my whole body and make whatever I’m doing more fluid and fun.

There’s also a “temple bell” sound in the “Enlighten” application that can be set to go off in intervals that’s not very intrusive. For my students, I’d recommend to figure out how long you can sustain your attention and set the timer to go off just beyond it.

It works great! I look around and notice …how this moment is different.

 

Snoring Observations

Can a person change their habitual routines  – while sleeping to prevent themselves from snoring? For most, that’s a pretty laughable sense of personal responsibility. It’s one of the odd “features” of Alexander Technique – that we are “responsible” for actions that are innate or autonomous.

Because using Alexander Technique requires awareness, I had assumed that it was not possible to use it when asleep. Sleep is a time when habitual routines have wrested control away from the possibility of conscious control…or so I thought. After some experimenting, now I think differently.

I advise my A.T. students to use their ability to influence their actions when they begin an action. It is the way someone begins an action that “sets the stage” for how it is possible to continue it. To create many “beginnings” is one of the easiest ways to practice and get the benefits of whatever you know about how to use A.T.

But – I had started snoring – when I never did it previously. This is a very common issue affecting sleep quality – but more important, it affects whoever else might be in the same room, (…or maybe in the next room if the snoring is loud enough!)

There are many logical reasons for snoring – a low grade allergy to dust or aging pillows, a reaction to smog, (or VOG in Hawaii, where I live.) There’s the possibility of gaining of weight and the sag of “aging turkey neck.” Maybe even sleeping with too many covers on or not drinking enough water for proper hydration or a low grade indigestion could also be factors.

After having addressed some of these, I wondered if a tendency to react by unnecessarily clearing my throat while asleep could be at fault?  Since when I’m sleeping nobody else exists,  of course “snorgling” seems like a good idea. Can someone have bright ideas while sleeping?

I decided to conduct an experiment, testing how far this A.T. idea of “personal responsibility” would work. Could I use A.T. to address my new snoring problem while asleep or partly asleep?

I couldn’t imagine that projecting suggestions would be effective while sleeping, (we call this “directing” in A.T.) I decided that giving the sleepless, disturbed party permission to poke me when I snored might work as pure animal training.  Fortunately, I fall back asleep easily, so all I needed to do after being alerted was to notice my head was scrunched in some way and undo that. Usually I had managed to scrunch up my throat area, causing my nasal passages to narrow. Undoing that part of my throat cleared the obstruction  – and I’d stop snoring. (Tried the “breath-rite” strips too, but they didn’t particularly solve my tendency to unconsciously tighten my throat.)

Another thing I discovered about my own snoring (that may be useful to others) is that snoring had to do with my jaw relationship to my throat.

It’s pretty much impossible for *me* to snore if my jaw is positioned forward. ( so my lower teeth assume a forward “under-bite” over my top jaw.) This suggests that designing a chin strap that pushes the jaw forward might work for others.  Of course, to use a remedy such as this, you’d have to already have a pretty free or “slack” jaw. I’d already spent a lifetime practicing for this slack-jaw freedom, because my own jaw wasn’t shaped by inherited shape in a very advantageous way.

Sure enough, there’s a “chin strap” product like this! (Of course, it’s ‘way overpriced for what it is. Being too close to a loud snorer makes those who don’t snore completely insane, making them willing to pay any price.)

My confused bedmate could not imagine why I could use this remedy of being woken at some moments and not others. Neither could I. Evidently I needed this “animal training” for around a month before it worked reliably.  Now my tendency to snore can be redirected – without me waking up too much. Not sure if my ability to solve this issue involves any discoveries that would work for anyone else. There are so many reasons for snoring.

(Checking out the chin strap solution might be worthwhile thought – if you do not have an issue with jaw tension.)

Perhaps, we can now add that A.T. can be applied as a remedy for snoring to the long list of advantages where it’s effective?

 

Sensory Dissonance

More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

Dissonance Reveals Bias

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.” Which is at: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/sensory-dissonance/

 

Describing A.T.

We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

Transcendent Goals

This post is related to “Sense of Rightness” previously posted in Aug. 2014. There we discussed some of these issues; we made suggestions how to get past comparing a sense of “rightness” as a standard when attempting to progress from practice.

Here we’re going to bring up and make suggestions that give a better, faster means to progress when your goals are transcendant – such as learning a skill that has the potential to become an art or the intention to learn by having a new experience. In this case, your intention is to discover or progress, (rather than recreate or match some standard you have in mind.) First it will be most useful to clarify your definition of what it is to “progress.” If you’re trying to go somewhere new, the old standards of what you’re looking for will not be in effect. Many situations can benefit from this approach. For instance, everyone has experienced the “plateau effect” in practice – meaning no matter how hard you try, your effort doesn’t lead to much of a change.
Why not apply your usual ideal standards when attempting to progress? The danger in applying specific standards, goals or priorities is you missing what might happen if something new does happen “accidentally on purpose.” Because you’re focused on an activity of matching for an intended result of what feels “right” that has become a standard or priority that you were able to sense and remember, if you apply this comparison of remembered “rightness,” it’s most likely you’ll skip over or entirely miss anything happening that doesn’t match. This new event might look like something strange or funny; perhaps it will be a tiny, insignificant happening that will take development to turn it a significant, meaningful discovery. (It may be only a tiny improvement right now that needs development.)

So – to get out of this trap, you’ll want your intention to have a new experience to agree with your goals on the front end. You’ll also want to come up with a practical way to carry this out, which can be adjusted to the situation if it doesn’t lead to the success you have in mind. Here’s a couple of situations where that would be a handy strategy…

For instance, in a dialogue situation, the intention might be for you with the group to go somewhere new rather than just revisit, repeat or recreate what is already known by any particular group member. You’d want everyone to go somewhere new as a synergistic experience. As a way to carry out going in new directions, how would you proceed? Perhaps instead of using the indirect way of bringing up a subject by quoting authors – participants could speak directly about their own beliefs or values and relate stories about how their values and opinions were formed. Trading personal stories may lead to the discovery of the significance of reinterpreting old experiences in new ways, because each participant can imagine themselves having a similar experience.  The challenge would be to listen to these core experiences of other people, to imagine you have had these experiences…Then anticipate about how these experiences would have affected your own values. Of course, they may come to different conclusions, but that is part of what makes people unique.

Another instance, if you are in a practice situation such as learning an instrument…and your intention is to get and sustain a unique tone all your own using a wind instrument or your own voice. Let’s say your goal was to recognize your own quality of breathing to bring it forward as a unique style as a musician. Your idea about how to carry this out could be to think of an emotionally charged moment in your memory, turn on the recording machine to help you listen, to make sounds and note what happened.

Whatever it is and however your hypothesis about how to carry your goal out, success in each case means that your usual standards (of what is worth your interest when evaluating) must be adjusted to accommodate the new experience’s unique discovery nature. You would want to mark exactly when the novelty you want actually does emerge as a new experience. It may be valuable to describe what these new qualities are, so you can be able to notice them.

I suggest that if your new experience involves movement and gaining a benefit from practicing that your new evaluation for desired results includes the question, “…Was this easier?” Because we know it will feel a bit strange, because of being new.

I suggest that if the new experience involves other people, noting ones’ own reactions will be an indicator that something new happened. Defensiveness, objections, wanting to add or advance the conversation – all of these might be indicators of interest that something new has emerged.

If your example involves other people, handy would be to choose an appropriate means to progress that can be changed by their multiple suggestions. In the example of the David Bohm-style dialogue group above, appropriate would be and activity such as temporary suspension of the directive to “not impose your own agenda on the group.” Another would be to actively refuse to apply the customary ‘matching’ activity. Instead of “matching” for an ideal standard or directive such as “suspend your agenda” – how about… “contrasting” to reveal any differences or something new that happened…?

Some of these options would be to describe the nature of what’s new also helps to spot it soon after it’s happened. The brain has superb recognition capacity. An example of this activity would be to note characteristics such as:

  • feels unfamiliar,
  • cognitive distortion, cognitive bias,
  • a thought which jogs defensiveness or compels you to suddently disagree,
  • something that incites another reaction such as curiosity,
  • makes you suddenly aware of what you didn’t notice previously…

(perhaps – add to this list with your comments?)

Debt Of Gratitude

As a young person, I felt my ability to change myself around to adapt to others and the situation was objectionable. It was as if I was presenting myself dishonestly because I had no predictable, consistent persona to present consistently to everyone. Thankfully, I ran into a mentor who was much older with this same talent. He considered my “problem” to be a talent that was the mark of good teaching. Because of his opinion, I resisted settling on adopting a consistent way of presenting myself to the world. After observing how other people reacted to him, I found out that people weren’t really paying attention to inconsistencies of character anyway. They were mostly self-centered on their own concerns. (At least my young adult age group at the time was like that.)

Evidently what I went though wasn’t uncommon. Young people tend to feel a need to decide on what and how they’re going to present themselves to the world. Ritualized postural gestures are definitely one means young people “settle on” to carry this out.

As adults, teachers and mentors, we should target teens and young adults to help them influence each other about what is considered “cool.” This would detour the origin of how people get themselves stuck into postural contortions they can’t undo later. Of course, this means that we will need to know how to surpass the way that we get stuck into contortions we can’t get away from doing! For that life skill, Alexander Technique is the way to go.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to a compassionate boyfriend who used to reach over without a word and smooth away the gesture on my brow. I had developed this knitted-brow gesture to show concern when I spoke to others and did it far too often. If he hadn’t done such a sweet thing so often for me, I would have never known I was doing it to myself long enough to change it. At sixty as I look at my face now without the common care-lines of those my age, I sing his praises for the wonderful expression of caring he extended to me at exactly the time it counted.

I offer these stories from my own life as a way anyone can provide valuable feedback for those who are close to them, inspired by the principles of Alexander Technique. Of course you would do so with their consent and encouragement. I would encourage you to use an expression of compassionate action in a gesture as the best way to carry this out, because merely saying something can too easily become an admonishment of criticism. An affectionate gesture can also be done in polite company and is (usually) socially considered to be appropriate among family members and best friends. We don’t know exactly when we’re doing these things to ourselves – and that’s the sort of invaluable feedback that you can provide to your loved ones.

Change Denial (part two)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

With the intro from yesterday, now you’re ready to pick and choose from these additional tips, depending on what might apply to your particular situation. This the concluding part of a two-part series.

Next tip:
Evoke your objections to changing on purpose so you can investigate its features and challenge your own assumptions. You would do this by deliberately engaging in an action that is sure to disturb you, and notice the resistances and reactions that come that you would usually want to ignore. Write down your objections and justifications for doing things the old same way. Once you have this list, use thinking skills to question assumptions and find new ways to fulfill the challenge. Don’t worry about it if the items on the list don’t make sense. Lots of feelings don’t make any sense, but they will still have just as much power over your choices.

Here’s another tip: Note the situation where it has happened or might happen again. Then install a reminder for yourself to notice what is happening and remember your reminder to be able to watch yourself do it as it starts to happen. You’ll find that at first you won’t be able to ‘catch yourself’ doing it until it’s done, but gradually, you’ll be able to notice it sooner and sooner in the process. Trace it back to right before it really begins. There will be your emotional reasoning and motive that installed the nuisance habit can be fulfilled in another way.

Questioning and trace the feelings back to its suspected origin is tricky. It will probably take repeated attempts that get closer and closer to the origin of when your habitual solutions that you’d like to change will “go off.” Question your own assumptions about these emotional origins until you actually are able to pay attention to what you feel right before you’re about to do the habitual solution. Don’t think you know it all.

Sometimes we come up with an explanation that’s not what’s happening or is a placeholder or only part of the real origin. Mistaken assumptions about origins and interpretations of them have the power to open up significant new insights. Stay with the unpleasantness the habit was designed to avoid, because there is a big, important reason the habit was installed. When you do find yourself there, it will be very uncomfortable. But we’re designed to cry to relieve stress.

Alternately, you could learn Alexander Technique so you know how to physically move out of feeling bad when you find yourself there. Knowing A.T. will wake up your senses so you can see new ways of providing for your needs when you arrive at that point. The advantage is the solution will work from that point forward, unlike solutions that require practice.

Or, try this solution: If you know what you prefer, do a few other variations that are what you don’t prefer and note your reactions somewhere where you’ll be able to read them later. Once you know what it is you’re willing to work on, wait until you see a chance to change it and jump in feet first to do it.

For example: It’s tricky to tell the difference between a prejudice and a “gut instinct” intuition. I didn’t want to know that I had a prejudice, but I did. I found I had it by questioning some part of me that instantly “wrote off” a person as untrustworthy, which seemed blatantly unreasonable at the time. By this chance I became aware of a prejudice I had toward people who had “wandering eyes.”

I got past this issue for myself by intentionally getting to know a person like this the next time I was introduced, instead of following my innate urge to ignore and avoid them. Getting to know them violated my ‘gut instincts’ but it really helped me to figure out what it was I was responding to in them. I found out that people who had “wandering eyes” weren’t untrustworthy liars.

Of course, for all of these you will forget and catch yourself after the crucial moment passes when you could have caught the habitual reaction. But, that is when to apply those wonderful character traits of patience and forgiveness. This time, you know these admirable character traits are not pulling the wool over your own eyes.

Change Denial (part one)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

Mostly everyone acknowledges that self-perception is, at best, challenging – if not impossible. It’s much more common to see what is wrong in the behavior and situations of others than it is to gain perspective on one’s own habits and attitudes. How come it is so challenging to admit that our objections about other people are happening much closer to home in us?

The way most people resolve this issue is to remind themselves that nobody is perfect and apply self- forgiveness and acceptance. While admirable qualities, these strategies are also self-justifications for pulling the wool over our own eyes. There are other ways.

What if there were some real tips and tools that could help us to change specific issues that we don’t want to face about ourselves?

Meet Lynne. She’s got an issue involving self- perception that clearly did not come from any personal failings, (unless you count getting into an accident is a character defect.) She broke her leg skiing and hobbled around for more than a year while she recovered. While she was healing, she needed to protect her injured leg.

Now, according to her doctor, she is all healed. But her problem now is that limping has become part of her usual walk. She has learned to expect pain that never comes, without realizing she’s doing it.

Everywhere Lynne sees people who are twisted and limping and criticizes how old they look. Her friends reassure her, but they are lying to make her feel self-confident because they wonder if the limp that Lynne retains is a character failing on her part.

Meanwhile, Lynne is so impatient to be done with the recovery process. It’s already taken so much time out of her life that she wants to ignore the fact that her accident ever happened. She hates feeling like “damaged goods.”

How can Lynn possibly change what she doesn’t wish to see herself doing?

There are good reasons for denial. Denial is a self-preservation skill. Humans are wired to ignore what is unpleasant and to quickly forget their painful tribulations. We have (what is known from brain science) our RAS. (that’s our Reticulated Activating System. – It’s sort of the dark side of what has been sold as “The Secret” too.)  This allows us to notice whatever we have assigned to our “important” list and to ignore what is not on it.

It is frustrating to notice what could be personal failings when you’re convinced that there’s nothing to be done about them, or ignore solutions are too much trouble. Besides, a show of confidence will get you past tight places most of the time.

There are many other understandable situations that could benefit from asking these question of how to get past a problem that is being denied. What person would want to notice how they’re stressed, prejudiced, narrow-minded, trapped in being a ritualized creature of habit, impatient, angry or out of control? Why…a person who imagines it’s possible to change these things, that’s who!

Are you one of those people?

First, we are going to need some deliberate design skills to get past the side effects of denial. Of course denial exists “for our own good,” so the ability to deny is going to insist and complain if you don’t stick with the denial program. We need to shore up our courage and perhaps get some encouragement from others, because resistance will take us back the status quo.

Some people would rather it be bad and over than have things maybe work out for the better! Waiting in no-man’s land while things sort themselves out is just too unpredictable, unknown and ambiguous. It’s possible to get better at extending patience for what feels odd – because what’s new will always feel strange. 

First Tip: The evidence of this habit you have been intentionally ignoring will be hidden in the slightest mannerism or perception, especially if you habit that you don’t know you’re doing is a physical one. Lynne doesn’t realize she is still limping because she doesn’t intend to limp. Because you’re on the inside of yourself, it is tricky to notice how things are going. Handy to deal with this problem will be using a mirror, recording device or your other senses for feedback to verify you’re not fooling yourself. Or buddy up with someone who is observant but not judgmental – perhaps they have a similar problem they would like your help with.

Lynne was almost out of patience, so evidence of success had better come quickly. But how would Lynne know success if it happened? Luckily someone she respected gave her a recommendation how they were helped. She kept going until she found something that did work. In Lynne’s case, learning Alexander Technique in a classroom situation solved her problem of unintentionally limping, because she got the support of classmates and the teacher. They provided other perceptual means rather than “seeing” to help her notice what is going on as it’s happening. Learning A.T. gave her further improvements too, such as avoiding height loss, gaining grace and awareness without self-consciousness.

If you don’t have a limp like Lynne does, it might work to show yourself this important secret about perception right now by starting with your finger two feet away from your focus of vision and bringing it closer until your finger touches your face. Where did it touch?

Most people will unintentionally bring their finger to one eye because that’s their “dominant” eye. Did you know this eye was dominant? Experimenting is how you learn stuff that’s useful to help the situation. So, the first ingredient is to be willing to experiment.

Practicing is how you train the solution to over- ride the old limitation, once you know what to practice. You need to be careful what you practice, or it will become an unintended habit. This way you avoid the danger of training a new habit that will become unintentionally chained onto the old, so both will be happening at the same time which can pull you in opposite directions!

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What about if you begin to perceive what you are doing as you are doing it? The most elegant solution is to simply stop doing the old same thing and question the need to design and implement another habit to substitute for the unwanted one. It will feel a bit strange at first, but remember “strange” is the mark of what is genuinely new.

Stay tuned for more tips and experiments about more ways how to change a habit that you don’t want to face in the next installment tomorrow!

Niche of: Vocal Mannerisms

This post is another one of many ongoing suggestions for those Alexander Technique teachers who want to find their niche. These are ideas for someone trained in Alexander Technique to consider making an ongoing topic for their life’s work. If you are an Alexander Technique teacher who is searching to specialize with a unique group of people to help them learn how to make their life, hobbies, work skills and performance abilities better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

Alexander Technique has much to offer those who want to change the way they speak. Not public speakers, (which is an optional niche in itself,) but just regular people who are not performers who want to change the way they speak from day to day forever after.  For the sake of improving at their jobs, to transform the first impressions of others, to be better understood by others.

I originally applied Alexander Technique to changing the way I spoke to solve the challenge of an unusual vocal mannerism. I used to say everything with the up-and-down story-telling modulation tones grown-ups often reserve for speaking with children. (Also I let out my breath before I spoke to make what I was about to say less threatening.) When it was time for a business person to give me money, my up-and-down way of speaking made me appear to be unreliable.

Learning from Alexander Technique the ability to speak in more of a monotone gave me a significant and instant advantage. Those who were about to give me half of my estimate before I started their job began to willingly hand over money to seal the contract. It was a striking success!

So – one market possibility could be body language an elocution for salespeople.

But wait – here’s another even more lucrative market that is slightly related.

Think of all the telemarketers and worldwide customer service representatives in the world with a barely understandable ability to speak English because their thick accent. They have learned what to say, but don’t yet know HOW to say it so they can be understood easily. This training isn’t available to them. All of those people could benefit from a course with you teaching them Alexander Technique to refine their ability to speak English without an accent. (This is especially viable as a livelihood if you speak a second language yourself.)

But it’s also not a bad choice if English is your native language and there is another culture you’d enjoy immersing yourself in. Perhaps if your native language is English, you might have never thought much about how much of an advantage you have over someone who must learn English as a second language.  This niche also has the advantage of the situation of who you get to work with. Working with ESL students is one of the most gratifying and appreciative ways to spend your time, reputed to be on par with the consistent appreciate working with animals can give.

This is a market with tremendous potential. Every company that uses telemarketers wants their service people to succeed. Probably you could make arrangements with the company itself to conduct classes and not worry about spending your time attracting the students directly.

Anyway – two more viable suggestions for someone who teaches Alexander Technique to use as a niche for where to point or how to expand their rare skill of being able to teach F.M. Alexander’s discoveries. Of course, you’ll need to do much more in-depth research to pull off such a thing. But, I hope you’re enjoying these suggestions and would consider making use of one of them.

Please be in contact with me personally if you would like further ideas about how to make your niche work.

Niche of: Activism

This post will be hopefully one of many suggestions for those Alexander Technique teachers who want to find their niche. These are ideas for someone trained in Alexander Technique to consider making an ongoing topic for their life’s work. If you are an Alexander Technique teacher who is searching to specialize with a unique group of people to help them learn how to be better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

This week, here’s a video of a woman speaking on a social justice topic, about ethics and true responsibility for working as an authority. In content, it’s one of the best piece of inspirational activism speeches that I’ve ever come across. However, the speaker’s presentation and speaking skills could use help.

There are many reasons that someone needs to specialize in teaching Alexander Technique to this group of people who are speakers.

  • Appeals for ethics should not be merely an Internet fad on a video.
  • Persuasiveness ability hits the heart of the source of every social service livelihood, sense of duty, community participation and personal ethic.
  • Learning speaking ability should be more commonly offered, as it listed as the number one fear of the highest percentage.
  • Imagine the person who comes to the end of their rope from the disappointments of being an activist saying, “Well, at least I learned Alexander Technique from all of that.”

Isn’t there an Alexander Technique teacher in each country who could address the challenges of supporting activists? Out there must be at least one Alexander Technique teacher who could devote their life to specializing in helping regular citizens with a burning desire for social justice to become better at doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Alexander Technique

Recently, the Alexander Technique community has been treated to an online course in business management. Offered by Jeremy Chance, he’s now in the stage where he’s using real people as examples. Being a classic under-achiever, I volunteered!
http://jeremychance.blogspot.jp/2013/01/w0106-case-studies-franis-engel-in.html
This led to a chat with Jeremy revealing the challenges inherent in my twisted sense of business acumen that I’d like to share with you. We were discussing the selection of a “niche” in marketing.

The psychic core that has you dashing from one thing to another and not sticking with a conscious, constructive plan that could give you the support your brilliance needs. I have a few people like this, and I number myself among them. I was “saved” by getting married at 43 and having two kids – I HAD TO STICK TO SOMETHING. Three other people depended upon me. It seems to me that is the core issue you face – do you agree? Do you have another take? I think that would serve many readers…

Yes, I have another “take.” “Following the tried and true” is a common admonition that hasn’t worked for me.
The drive is obviously in me, because why would I continue to be so dedicated to writing? Writing about subjective experience is tricky; it wasn’t my natural talent. Can I turn my writing skill into a money-making form? Either I need to invent a new form, (such as a Skype workshop series?) or marry some of my skills into a new form that combines what I already have done with A.T. as experimental principles. I’ll have to think about that one. What do I already do as naturally as breathing? (Off the cuff, I’m best at generating ideas designing experiments via telephone workshops.)
My best role model in the A.T. World would be Roy Palmer. His “niche” is “writing e-books about AT in sports.” Roy has defined a large, free ranging area of his interest and continues to publish e-books for each area. Each book is supported by a unique website and other marketing activities that are all similar for every book he publishes.
I have plenty of possible money-making projects that show potential that would support the appearance of students who want to learn A.T. But I just don’t finish them. From Barbara Sher’s advice, I’ve realized perhaps my problem has been a lack of a “buddy” to support and keep me on track.
Anyway – our society is made of specialists who are “known for” what they do. I don’t fit that model because I’m a generalist. I’m an innovator-journalist. Specialization is a fad.

Yeah, because it [niche specialization] works!

True. But I’ve tried to fit into that “specialist” mold in my life. It doesn’t supply fulfilment. Attempting to cram yourself into a mold will result in the you or the mold breaking. I’ve already experienced the break.

I’ve trained for more than one job that involved a lifestyle template that I wasn’t able to tolerate. Yet, the training model and activities themselves were exactly perfect.
Even the energy required to complete teacher-training for A.T. wasn’t sustainable for me – I financially crashed and burned right in the middle of my A.T. Training. Someone my age at that time would have had parents come to their rescue; I didn’t. If it wasn’t for Marj Barstow offering me the trade of writing for her in exchange for her teaching me, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my teacher training.

You can’t do what you don’t know if you keep on doing what you do know!

Except I’ve been there, done that. It was unsustainable for me. In a sense, specialization for me is short-term “end-gaining.” I guess that’s not the case completely. I specialize in my mural sign painting on windows without suffering, because it’s seasonal.

We all have the capacity to over-ride our essential nature in the service of …what? For you it was the needs of your family that convinced you to change. As I said, me having more money is just not enough to convince me to change that nature in myself.  Maybe wanting to communicate the benefit of my experience is – so I’ve been doing that directly. The complication is that people won’t recognize the value of my experience – unless I make them pay for it.


Jeremy, you suggested a mentor – who has knowledge of a similar sort of person who I’m trying to reach. Let’s say my “perfect students” are those multi-talented older women. Barbara Sher sells to this same crowd. I’ll use her “Wish-Obstacle” format.
Wish: To inspire the desire for a need for what I offer that nobody knows they need. Obstacle: people have no frame of reference for what it is I’m able to offer them – how do they get this?
I’ve asked her directly. Barbara Sher said, “Tell a story to show the context.”
  Would story-telling work in place of hands-on, which offers context?

I have a strange idea. Perhaps the answer for me is merely to teach Alexander Technique at cost. I haven’t tried that yet. I’d be willing to see where it leads me. If I’m resisting making money in some way – what is the harm in “give in” to that urge to share what I have to offer at cost? There is no A.T. Teacher who will suffer from me giving inexpensive classes, because I am the only teacher who is teaching on the Big Island right now. Wish: to communicate by using my talent for rapport. Obstacle: lack of respect. People don’t pay attention when a teacher makes learning easy, because the student is not making enough of a [monetary] sacrifice. Your answer?

My continuing interest in writing about A.T. merely comes from believing in A.T. effectiveness and wanting to communicate it. I guess I must ask myself, “Is writing about A.T. without getting paid and having a couple of students a month satisfying enough for it to be all I ever do?”

Translate

If you practice Alexander Technique but haven’t considered writing about it – I wonder if you would consider how, in many ways, translating is the essence of Alexander Technique.  In Alexander Technique, we attempt to sell the value of preventing wasted effort and directing physical energy where it was intended to go. Where to go with what you have learned reflects your own values.

I’d like to encourage those who practice Alexander Technique to write about what they have been doing – or illustrate, mind-map it; sculpt it, craft, sew it, gesture or animate it in a movie. Because what you’re doing and the way you go about it is bound to be interesting.

Alexander Technique expresses thoughtful, intangible intent by embodying it within a distilled, clarified, physical expression. This takes time and commitment, but is also demonstrated in each Alexander Technique lesson with a teacher and each time someone uses Alexander’s principles. In the case of how Alexander Technique has been taught in the past – the physical expression using our own direct movements has been the form. Writing is another form that will point toward the benefits and expresses a commitment to translating learning into other forms.

Anyone who loves what they are doing might elevate it to the state of making it an art. Just translate the medium of expression from movement into ______________ (fill in the blank.) That’s why performers have been attracted to Alexander Technique in the past. The reason for devotion to their art is that it expresses what cannot be said in words.

Of course, content attracts attention – however it’s presented. After having written on the subject of Alexander Technique for thirty years, I’m now exploring how words combined with illustrated pictures as examples could provide even faster communication than words alone. Stay tuned for the results – coming soon!

My virtual challenge is to continue to distill the content of what I’m communicating without shorting the content. I’d like to both simplify and articulate the expansion of the complexity and potential of Alexander Technique.

To orchestrate a learning experience as a teacher, you must find many ways to express in some tangible form “what is inexpressible,” because learners learn in so many different ways. Once expressed in words or an outline, then you can compile, shape or orchestrate the content into (hopefully) many ongoing skilled multi-sensory communication forms.

One of my favorite virtual questions right now is, “How to express and cultivate and inspire people toward the cutting edge of their discovering processes?  Because it seems to me that the willingness to learn is the most important first step.

What’s your favorite virtual question right now?

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

Everyone who practices acts as their own coach. Coaching ourselves is a foundational skill in education that allows us to know how to constructively practice and improve. This is why Alexander Technique teachers say that their work is the basis of education – it’s about how to clear the way for practice.

The points outlined here are circular. It doesn’t matter much where you enter the circle – it’s more important that you go around it repeatedly. Circularity seems to be a characteristic of practice. Of course, each of these could be written about at length – but I just want to outline them here so you have a map for them all.

Let’s say you’d like to improve the way you do an art, sport or skill, or you just physically want to move easier. What are the ingredients of being a good coach to yourself? What are the skills you would you need to study if you want to continuously improve?

Recognizing a Discovery

First you need the ability to prioritize your values about what improvement means to you so you can recognize it when it happens. This involves knowing what direction is away from what you don’t want – or alternately having some ideal about what you do want that you can move towards. Sometimes these desires are misguided, naive or misinformed, so we’ll need to be open to revisions as we progress. The most important ingredient is a willingness to “go boldly where you haven’t gone before.”

It also pays off to spell out the nature of what a discovery is. Spelling out the content of what might get discovered is a great motivation to take the many required risks. But having a little description of the process of discovering itself will be valuable because it will help to recognize a discovery so it doesn’t slip away unnoticed.

Discoveries are a surprise – they often make us laugh. Insights often collapse assumptions we may not have known we had. Discoveries often occur in spite of what we expect. It’s easy to miss a discovery, because it doesn’t fit in with what we know. (Please spell out more of these points about the nature of discovering for yourself.)

Observation and Awareness

The most important ingredient at gaining a skill is self-observation. This is related to awareness of the nature of perception. You can’t make a discovery if you aren’t able to observe it as it is happening. You need to sharpen up your perceptive awareness.

When you first observe yourself as you move, usually people are at a loss for descriptions. It works the best if you have some categories to stimulate the ability to observe; such as describing qualities, timing, relationship, sequences, directions. (Or provide your own categories.) What you want to do is to first note your habits. Don’t be discouraged, because nothing new will happen until you conduct the experiment. Now that we know our habits, we will know what to suspend as we move towards a more effective way.

 Suspend Previous Solutions

Usually, we have an idea what we have done before that has partially worked to address our objections, difficulties or issues. We will now want to recognize the power of previously trained solutions that will probably have already disappeared as they became habits. If we seem to have to re-apply a partial solution indefinitely, how come our previous solutions aren’t resulting in gradual progress?

An example of this is in feeling physically uncomfortable. You might wiggle and squirm, but it only seems to make the uncomfortableness move to another part of your body. Most people just endlessly wiggle again and figure there’s nothing better that can be done about it. But there is!

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

The next ingredient is designing what to do about what you have observed. Now that we know the pattern or situation from having used our observation skills, it’s time to deliberately consider what to do about it. A coach can be a master at what you want to learn and even a superb observer, but their advice about how to address the issues can be unsuitable for your situation. So this is a step that must be separately considered.

 Forming Useful Questions

When does the problem really start? Is there a point in time when we start to go wrong? To change something about ourselves, we could create a “starting point” for experimenting to focus our attention and ability to notice.

Please form some questions for yourself, such as these. Is there a key point or timing that will influence or redirect the whole experience toward a more positive outcome? Can we create a desirable cascade effect?

In Alexander Technique the key point for responding easier by moving is the head-neck relationship. Free the head at the neck and the whole spine will follow the head and lengthen – and every other intention to do everything else will happen easier.

 Clear The Decks for Action

There’s a useful technique (commonly used in advertising) contained within repetition. It’s wonderful to remember when changing our own conditioning because it’s so devilishly delightful to use. Remember all those bad things that social pressure has taught children not to do? These are things such as lying, cheating, stealing, feigning, faking, passive aggression…? There is a constructive time to fool, lie, subvert or trick. It’s when we want to stop our habits as a preventative, strategic tactic.

The challenge is to get our habitual reactions to give up control, so we can discover if a particular habit is unnecessary…and maybe it’s a nuisance.

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

We tend to want to design a replacement habit that we imagine is “better,” and ignore the effort of undoing a habit. This is because habits are designed to disappear when successfully installed. We don’t sense we’re doing the habit, although we may remember training it. It’s tricky to get rid of what you can’t perceive is there.

Our challenge is to avoid training a “better” habit because it could be a mere band-aid, one that merely patches up a nuisance habit. Even if we figure that a better way is possible from the examples of other people, we need to design a way to get there from our starting point we’re in now.

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

Most of us know repetition is powerful – especially when the media and advertisers know how repeating insidiously infiltrates attitudes. Most people don’t consider prevention to be as powerful. But it is – it’s as powerful as an accumulated habit adds up when practiced. A child with a charmed start in life can go farther when their natural talents are never discouraged.

This means we want to take care to avoid repeating what we do not want to train ourselves to do. We want to avoid training unnecessary habits. Suspending or stopping partial or nuisance answers can be enough of an solution. Our body will re-organize itself to carry out our intention in a better way once the unnecessary coercive habit are gone. Allowing ourselves to “re-orient” without interference by subtracting what is unnecessary is powerful. This is when we get insights and discoveries that we couldn’t have previously imagined.

Mostly everyone who is learning a skill does a bit of what they don’t want to do as they are learning what they do want to do. So we need a way to discover the “perfect insight” realizing the potential of what we can do, and how to do that from the beginning so we can jump over common pitfalls. That’s the power of prevention. Or we need ways to refine our evolving skill, turning away from what we don’t want and heading towards a lodestar goal.

 Practice What You Do Want

That’s why people hire coaches and teachers – to avoid common pitfalls. Or perhaps words don’t work so well to adequately describe what they want to learn. Find someone who does what you want to do, so you can soak up what you want to learn from a direct example. After removing unnecessary habits, you may need to constructively train a new habit to allow reliable performance. Now you’re ready to know what to actively do.

In this situation, a number of actions are constructive – please add your ideas. Recognizing a constructive example when you see it is useful. Helpful also is to use your trained ability to notice the teacher’s example and compare it to what you’re doing as you imitate the example. It might work to “Fake it ’til you make it.” It’s also helpful as you experiment to recognize and chart cumulative progress.

 Attitude and Altitude

As you gain proficiency, the definition of success will tend to rise higher as your standards become more refined and educated. You may always be behind the curve, just as a person will always feel limited by habits before they’ve made a move in a new direction. However, this also means that no matter wherever you are on the learning curve, at least you’re on your way to becoming a master of a discipline with a passion. If you have the urge to continue in a new direction, perhaps finding the common thread or lodestone of your multiple interests is the next challenge. Now that you know the benefits, hopefully you’ll continue to open up to possible new discoveries indefinitely. Patience and self-forgiveness are transcendent virtues – as is continuing curiosity.

Methodical Creativity

Spontaneity & Creativity
Some people imagine there is a canceling effect between planning and spontaneity. Creative writing is an example. Once a writer gets into the state of being a methodical editor, the spontaneity of creative ideas can stop, like a faucet that’s been turned off. How can a writer “turn on” the faucet of creative writing again? It’s a mystery to many who experience “writer’s block.” From my experience, I say that the ability to shift from the creative state to editing mode and back again is a skill that responds to practice.

Observation & Creativity
Of course, it would pay off to be able to pay attention to what is actually happening. How else will you know if something creative has happened? Bear in mind that there are many ways to describe what you think that you’re doing, which may not be what is actually happening.

As a writer, I’ve learned that naming something can be dangerous. Under the heading of “planning” and “methodical” are really effective and astute self-observations, done slowly. This can be practiced by describing the mundane things that actually happen that most people miss – which could be another part of  “methodical.”  Then there is somehow recording what happened – like people do to populate their Facebook pages. Recording what you tried is useful so you don’t have to mistakenly practice unproductive mistakes.

Accidents & Creativity
Pretty much everybody has done something really creative and beyond their abilities in a flash of “accidentally on purpose.” How much time went by until they realized something creative just did happen? Can it be done again, purposefully? Were they paying attention as they did this creative thing so they could know what happened in order to use it productively?  Are there more effective questions that might help being able to repeat a creative accident?

Some Useful Virtual Questions

  • What helps to observe myself – while in action?
  • What’s the challenge for being creative?
  • How can I recognize that something creative just happened?
  • Does creativity have characteristics that will help me spot it when it does happen?
  • How am I going to recognize a partial creative answer when it happens?
  • Does stopping and noting it help a creative action to happen again?

Going Slowly & Creativity
Alexander Technique teachers know that ready-made, habitual solutions preclude creative answers from emerging. So – slowing an action down to a crawl effectively works to interrupt or to stop habitual solutions from jumping in and “helpfully” providing the application of those ready-made answers. It’s easy to mistake slowing down for being “uncreative.” But going slowly is only just that. It’s possible to be very creative and go slow, because it allows the new solution to be implemented.

In practice, you must prove to people that going slow is useful. Because in our culture we have this mistaken assumption that going fast is a sign of quick-witted intelligence and going slowly is a signal of stupidity.

Method & Creativity
There’s a paradox in Alexander Technique – “let’s follow a declared process that will result in an inspirational flash of discovery!”

Stating what you are going to do and then doing it helps unify all of yourself in being pointed toward whole-minded action. Stating what you are about to do forges and practices a coherent, consistent connection between your intent and the factual response to your intent.

Are there certain useful practices or questions you enjoy asking yourself again and again because they result in a flash of creative inspiration?

Aphorism

Let go of the wrong thing, and the right thing does itself.          – F.M. Alexander

This Zen-like aphorism doesn’t make much sense until it’s been experienced. It says something about the effect of a strategy used during Alexander Technique practice.

This functional strategy is clearing out unnecessary routines, and then noticing what happens. An easier way to go ahead has a chance to run the show, once the interference is gone. But this useful, easier way doesn’t always come forward reliably. This is because unintended “helpful” interferences tend to jump back into control.

The experience of suspending customary routines and patiently noticing what is going on afterward is a skill that takes practice. The default ease of the Primary Control principle that can emerge is not another trainable habit replacement. Instead, the move a person can make without routines is always a slightly different attentive response. The advantage is it’s a response that can be most appropriately tailored to the suspended goal at hand – and this can indirectly result in a discovery, a consolidating insight or a sense of Flow.

To tolerate this lack of predictability, a student could use a bit of reassurance that “there is a method to the madness.” It is OK to hang out and pay attention, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

“Golf Sense” Book Review

Alexander Technique is the foundation that Roy Palmer uses to present a new way learn about golf in his new book, “Golf Sense”. I’m a fellow Alexander teacher that Roy has asked to review his book.

Golf Sense shows off the tremendous effectiveness of what has been reputed to be the trickiest subject to present in writing – Alexander Technique. For those not familiar with the subject, it is a body learning skill from the performing arts field that teaches mastery, effortlessness & how to undo what gets learned by accident. What makes Alexander Technique different from mere philosophy or other motivational admonishments is that it has a physical discipline based on empirical inquiry that works in the incremental moments of actual performance. Golf Sense discusses “being in the moment” as a state of “Being In The Zone.”

Many other books that integrate Alexander Technique with teaching a specific skill merely introduce; falling short of daring to actually teaching the subject in writing. There are two good reasons for this caution: Alexander teachers offer specific tips about what their students do unintentionally that is tailored to that particular student. Secondly, the teacher physically takes students by hands-on guided motion into how to tap the unknown for new insights, detouring accidental self-imposed limitations as they are happening. Because of these two significant benefits, most writers assume it’s not possible to teach the real Alexander Technique with mere words.

Palmer listened to what readers asked for and complained that was lacking in other Alexander Technique books. In doing so, Palmer has originated multiple practical answers to questions that work to educate the thoughtful student who will actually conduct his advised experiments. He doesn’t shy away from the really challenging mysteries, such as:

How come my game gets inconsistent when I know better?

How come analyzing the previous shot seems to spoil the next shot?

How can I avoid or get rid of the dreaded yips?

Why does analyzing what happened after a shot that did not work seem to spoil the following attempt?

Golf Sense is also a book with a sense of humor. The other sense that Palmer communicates exceptionally well about  is an unconsidered sixth sense. This is the often-ignored perceptual sense about relative effort and spacial orientation that is presumed to be  included in the sense of touch – but is not often discussed.

Palmer presents illustrated examples that communicate from many points of view; the frustrated golfer, the beginner, the pressured performer, the brain scientist, the ruthless competitor, the martial artist, even the consciousness woo-woo. Mysteries that don’t make sense about why you can’t get your golf ball to obey will become clear and reasonable by the time you finish this book, as the title promises.

If you actually conduct Palmer’s suggested exercises, (rather than merely reading this book) pretty much this is the closest you can get to having your own Alexander Technique teacher at your back for the price of a book. It’s not too abstract to substitute almost any other skill involving a ball in the sequence of learning that Roy Palmer presents. Because of this fantastic application for any sport, I would suggest this book for any sportsman who is curious to learn Alexander Technique principles – even if you never want to learn golf!

What to Do If You Get That Twang of Pain

It’s a pretty common thing as people get older to feel aches and pains. What isn’t very common is to know what it means when unexpected things seem to be going wrong with your muscles.

When an injury is about to happen, your body will send you a very handy,  immediate warning that you are about to hurt yourself. This warning is a pull a strain or the start of a cramp, or a sudden feeling of awkwardness or grinding in your body. If you notice this message and you can respond to it by immediately stopping whatever you were doing, you will avoid hurting yourself worse.

Many people believe that these twanging messages mean that the pain has already happened and the injury is already a done deal, so they ignore it. If one of these things happens to you, it will pay off big to act immediately.

For instance, if you are carrying something, and you feel a twang of pain, do not continue carrying that thing! Put it down right then without taking another step. Of course, if you are carrying it with someone else you would tell them that you need to pay attention to the twang that just happened. If it’s a situation where you’re about to fall from losing your balance or it is your ankle that is starting to twist, just fold that knee and sit down on the ground – a skinned knee or bruises heal much faster than a sprain.

It turns out that the bulk of muscle damage of our bodies occurs just after this twang of warning. This twanging really means that something is about to go wrong – it hasn’t yet, for the most part. If you stop right then and lay or sit down to allow yourself to be free of the weight or whatever was going on when the twang occured, whatever injury that was about to happen will be significantly minimized. Taking a moment to rest immediately will pay off. You may find that there is a little bit of injury present once you take the time to check out what has happened to you. If you return to the activity, that injury may get worse. So it’s wise to take a break and do something else for awhile.

Bigger and very real injuries happen by NOT listening and acting immediately to stop whatever you were doing if a painful twang of warning signals to you that something is going wrong about how you’re using your body.

So now that you know that this twang of pain is a warning that can be helpful – the only trick is to learn to make a joke of it so your friends don’t think you’re being wimpy! Taking care of your body to help it last as long as possible is wisdom in action.

Teaching Kids Abstract Thinking

Most kids are familiar with how things they want to do a certain way will sometimes happen as if by magic. But it can be very tricky for them to figure out how to duplicate what they want to happen again.

To rouse interest when presenting Alexander Technique principles to kids, using any action a kid is interested in will make learning fun. Use balancing or cumulative skills (- such as learning to throw a ball, hit a ball with a bat, or riding a bike) for illustrating F.M. Alexander’s principles.

Kids are learning machines anyway, so they are very fun to work with – but keep lessons short; perhaps ten to fifteen minutes. Showing them some tips about how to experiment so their experimenting goes faster and is more effective will be very useful to them.

As you teach, bear in mind that kids are not able to abstract principles into different situations, unless they are specifically taught how to do so in those situations. Kids are naturally literal thinkers. Helping kids become lateral (sideways creative) thinkers is a challenge. It’s up to the teacher to carry the thread of meaning and relationship from many specifically different activities. Draw the similarities between them for the kids.

Guess there are a quite a few grownups who could use this approach as well!

Also find that for kids a little older, say beyond 6 years old, it’s helpful to be using stories in familiar movies and fairy tales to illustrate teaching points. For instance, in the Fantasia Disney movie about Mickey Mouse who figures out how to do the magic spell with the brooms. The spell really gets out of control when Mickey doesn’t know how to undo it. This story can help kids understand the nature of training themselves to do a repeated habitual order that gets out of control when they can’t cancel it. In Alexander Technique, we call this distorted sensory appreciation, (otherwise known as debauchery.)

This helps teach the secret that if you have already taught yourself how to do something, it will take a little extra skill and time to unteach the old thing you already know. Habits are tricky and “relative” – meaning habits likely to tell you information about where you are and what you are doing with your body that isn’t really true!

Once taught a four year old about how much extra energy is required to compensate for balance and how he can adapt to anything by spinning him on an office chair. How dizzy it feels to stop spinning is a great situation to illustrate a number of points. How come grownups get so stiff thinking they are going to fall down when they’re not really falling?

I like to encourage kids to avoid becoming stiff like adults are, and to regard their natural flexibility as something valuable. Along this idea, it’s handy to ask such questions like “How do adults get stiff when they start out as kids, who are so flexible?” Of course, part of the answer is that grownups expect to be right, and kids expect to be wrong – so kids are more willing to experiment than most grownups. Also great to encourage kids to model the grownups around them who have better natural good use, so the kid doesn’t pick up postural sets from the grownups that they admire that are too extreme.

Most of the challenges for many kids that age, depending on the kid, is fear; they like predictability rather than facing the unknown. Doing what you are scared to do or what’s really new feels sometimes really weird, but exciting. So giving fun experiences that outline which sort of experimenting has the feelings of a fun kind of weird. Most important to illustrate is how can a kid make it safe to try something risky while they’re experimenting?
When they have just accidentally done a new thing, sometimes I’ll ask kids questions such as: how many times do you need to do that the way you wanted before you can do it anytime you want? That teaches them patience and persistence, if they know that they need to do something four or five times before they know it – or maybe it takes them six times before it doesn’t feel so strange. Also teach them incubation learning – to stop for a moment when they do something that impresses them so it can “sink in.”

A fun concept to play with is that muscles are similar to springs in that muscles return to their natural shape when you take the pressure off of them.  For this experiment, it’s handy to have a huge exercise ball, a trampoline or a pogo-springs stick.

Love to hear more suggestions about how to teach Alexander Technique concepts to kids. Have any?

Improvisationally Applied Alexander Technique

As teachers of Alexander Technique, it is very deceptive for us to take for granted the assumptions implicit in the teaching environments in which we originally learned. It is sometimes after we graduate and begin to teach beginners that these assumptions come to light. Obviously, it pays big to examine assumptions, making what we have to offer clearer and easier to understand for us and all our students.

Alexander Technique is most commonly misunderstood because of it is meant to be improvisationally applied. There are no forms or prescriptive exercises that constitute what A.T. is.

For example, Tai Chi or Yoga have certain specific motions that someone can point to that can be considered to constitute the discipline that are practiced and perfected over time. Alexander Technique does not (with one exception, the Whispered Ahh.)

After some examples, a beginning pupil of A.T. can very easily misunderstand that what they are being shown is a prescriptive form of perfect posture or complex body of “correct” movements that are supposed to be remembered, copied or learned. This problematic misunderstanding is reinforced by an A.T. custom; the one activity in particular taught in teacher training schools that many teachers fall back on when they are left to choose an activity as an example. This action is most often rising and sitting in a chair. This choice of activity was possibly so routinely made because the space available in which lessons were historically taught was often limited in the UK where A.T. originated.

I must agree that exclusively using “chair work” certainly would understandably give a learner that first mistaken impression that A.T. is “sit up straight school.” This is why I feel that if chair work is selected, it’s very important to also work with another activity of specific interest to the student, preferably chosen by the student. If the activity is chosen by the teacher, then the logic and criteria used for choosing a specific action should be explained to the student(s).

In theory, A.T. is meant to be used as a way of initiating motion and applying experimentation while doing any form of movement the user believes may benefit from bringing some attention and freedom to it. While it doesn’t matter which motion is selected, I believe two categories of actions should always be selected from; the first, a most global, routine and common action. The second selection should be another action that is meaningful and valuable to the particular student who is learning it.

Approaching Pervasive Habits

This article was written in response to a question posed on the Alexander Technique Email Discussion Group. Although the question is about piano playing, the issue it raises applies to just about any activity. In this answer, there are some useful suggestions for any student of the Alexander Technique who is working on their own.

I had a series of lessons on Alexander Technique some time ago. Lately I have consider progressing with Alexander and taking out my old books. I’m a piano student and I have noticed that as I play I raise my shoulders a lot or keep them raised all the time. This of course creates tension and eventually pain in the arm. In an effort of becoming aware of this, I realized that I do this all the time. I raise my shoulder when typing, when writing, when speaking at the phone, when eating, when walking, when walking, when reading. What does should raising mean in relation to the primary control and the head-neck unit? How does it is solved? Thanks, Davide

I’m going to offer some (hopefully useful) perspectives about some of the philosophical challenges present in stopping, avoiding or using substitution strategies in your unique situation of having noticed an all-pervasive mannerism.

First, it’s really a great observation that you did notice something so global about your manner of moving entirely on your own. The first thing to do is to realize how much of an achievement that is in itself!

It can be daunting to realize the extent that a habit such as this has crept into your life. Be encouraged that you can change it! Of course, this will definitely take some time. If it were possible to completely stop this habit now, it would take about three weeks before it would “go away.” Unfortunately, this isn’t possible without constant attention and someone or something to offer constant feedback. People seem to have a certain tolerance for experimentation that will be worthwhile to extend. I’m sure you are familiar with this challenge concerning the process of learning new tunes and piano techniques in relation to playing what you have already learned.

Since you have a habit that has crept in everywhere and has become a mannerism, what you may usefully do now is to note slight improvements that may be celebrated right away. Strangely enough, celebrating small successes as if you were a two year old, (such as “how many moments or minutes can I go without intentionally raising my shoulder?”) makes for faster progress than groaning in anguish every time you notice the targeted objectionable shrug. (Most handy for this is a sense of humor.) It’s all too tempting to demonize a habit!

Remember there are many ways for shoulders to be raised – and what we’re after (at least, by using A.T.) is to “free up” the ability of your shoulder to be raised in every way appropriate to a specific situation. You would want to avoid, sidestep or stop the raising of your shoulder in a PARTICULAR, HABITUAL way instead of moving your shoulders uniquely in response to any changing situation.

In fact, in a way it’s useful that you have a predictable, repeating habit. This is very handy because you will want to repeat it in order to make some observations about so you can use it as a starting point. In experimenting, scientists always establish a “control,” meaning, a ground zero. You might want to even write down and date observations to give you a chance to note how much you have changed as you proceed. Perhaps make a video of yourself in action for a starting point comparison?

Asking some questions with observations concerning relative location would be useful. This would be so you may answer with your observations such questions as: How far are you already going with this shoulder-raising? You might want to establish additional criteria of “how far” by measuring distance in relationship to some observable condition.

For instance, how far in relation to your nose as you turn your head to the side? How far would your elbow move if you raise your shoulder in relationship to your leg while sitting down? How are the wrinkles in the neckline of your clothes affected by a particular frozen shrug? Perhaps choosing time-sensitive effects that you could describe would also be useful. …As in how long does it take until your piano playing seems limited and how is this affected by possible experiments aimed toward improvement?

The more of these answers and questions you have to orient yourself, the more useful your evaluations and comparisons will be for you as you make changes designed toward improvement.

You seem to have already answered the question of “Do I need to raise my shoulders?” Obviously not, but maybe that’s an assumption that would be worth asking on a routine basis, even if you cannot answer the question now. Because for some good reason you put the habit in place long ago. As an Alexander teacher, I don’t believe people train routines for themselves without a reason. (It’s just that the need to repeat them can be short-sighted when they can’t be turned off…as in the Disney Sourcerer’s Apprentice cartoon.) It would be handy to know when that happened for you personally. So you could make a different choice at the source, that would be a short-cut bonus answer to your quandry that would pay off big to be able to trace.

Alexander teachers find that timing is an important relationship helps clarity of observation. The questions including “when” are a very useful ones – When do I raise my shoulders? Can I pay attention and observe myself about to raise my shoulder in response to what stimulus? When do I bring my shoulders down? When do I notice my shoulders are up? Can I notice that I have already raised my shoulders sooner?…and so on.

There is a secret in using whatever you have remembered learning in A.T. to improve things for you, and the secret is this: As you observe and describe yourself before you have changed anything about yourself by experimenting with A.T. – you will find your habit. Observing and describing yourself AFTER you have moved or experimented with a new direction using A.T. head/neck relationship or any other experiment – you may find out something new. Simple as that.

Let’s say your original goal is to improve your stamina as you play the piano. You have correctly assumed that a starting point concerning timing would be handy to establish. When does this habit start? When you raise your arm? When you walk over to the piano seat? When you think about playing the piano?

The tricky part about changing habits is often that a gradually escalating standard for success may put the bar higher each time, keeping up with your ability to improve. You seem to have discovered this paradoxical stumbling block. To stop this sneaky perfectionist tendency which can discourage, it’s important to establish and seek what exactly constitutes progress. For this you need observations – VERY specific observations about the nature of the “shoulder-raising.”

Contrary to what you have observed – (since raising your shoulder can be done more or less of a vengeance!) it is possible to work with an intention to lessen the intensity of raising your shoulder less (rather than more) at the piano by working it into your practice time – perhaps each time you put your hands on the keyboard or each time you move your hands to a new location on the keyboard. You could parse for frequency – how often you have the urge to raise your shoulder? Location is also a useful parse: How far you seem to want to raise your shoulders? Then you’d reward yourself for raising with less height and also, sensing yourself doing the raising of your shoulders less often. (Because if it’s the sort of habit you describe, the doing of it is buried within the rest of your piano-playing routines.)

Since you have observed that this shoulder-raising starts during walking and many other common activities, nipping the urge to shoulder-raise in the bud by experimenting with it as you begin to walk or use the phone, etc. would be a useful long-term strategy. Since you’re having a problem with this issue, you won’t know where your shoulders should be. So don’t “put them” somewhere, where you imagine they “should” go. It’s most constructive to just stop interfering with them so much – so often – so far. You’ll know you did that by allowing your shoulders to “feel a little weird” (but easier) by “un-sticking” them and letting them go where they want to go, without settling your shoulders in a certain location.

What I’ve outlined here are merely procedural tips that anyone may use that follow along the lines of some of the principles of Alexander Technique. Hope they’re useful to you and that you can come back to using them often.

How is Primary Control Taught?

How does a person who is trained to teach Alexander Technique actually show people how to learn Alexander’s principle of “forward and up”? This may only make sense to you if you do already have some experiences with Alexander’s work, but you can also see what happens as you read and try this out for yourself.

A really interesting link on the web that teaches some of this information in a different way is the flash program at: http://www.uprighting.com

First off, I might get a student to tilt their head nodding “yes”, (or sometimes I’ll ask them to slowly look up and back down) while I’ll tell them we’re going to be experimenting with noticing how moving their head affects the rest of their balance. I explain how I’m going to use my hands to “steer” the quality of this motion so they get the idea what I mean directly by joining with my ability to move in easier ways that I can do for myself, introducing the term “guided modeling.” I came up with the idea to do this because I can have a much easier influence on the quality & direction of where and how a student can move if they are already in some sort of motion. This way, I give Direction to a moderately difficult or clueless student who has gotten set as they stand there, waiting for me to “do something” to them.

As they are standing nodding their head “yes,” their balance will most likely “come loose” as their head rounds the top of the arc of the nodding motion. Or if it doesn’t, I can give their body a slight push back and forth in space to exaggerate the increase of ease just at the crucial time to help them notice the more overt ability of their body to move as it is balanced during the top of this arc of nodding forward. Most people are able to notice that it takes much less effort to move their whole body at this moment, once their attention is put to noticing it; it’s a much more rare person who does not.

Then after we do this, I get them to merely think of making the nodding movement forward around the top of the arc of balance by thinking of doing this movement with their head… without actually nodding “yes.” I get them to merely think of agreement and giving themselves the mental suggestion of “yes.”

This shows how purely the thought will most likely make their body “come loose” just as well as intentionally moving to be able to notice it. if it doesn’t, I put hands on and walk them through how to word their thinking. I explain how this is called “faded signaling,” which where you first make a more overt motion and then note the same effect with a much more subtle form of perception and movement. I give the example of a music director or conductor using this ability, giving them the idea their thinking conducts into their ability to move.

I talk about why we focus on such slight motions in AT. It’s because how we influence the sorts of very subtle motions we do automatically that repeat over and over have a cumulative effect on us. These kinds of movements are usually underneath what most people think should matter, but as dripping water will wear down stone, they matter quite a bit over time. This is the essence of “strategic prevention.”

So, at this point I’ve covered what I’m doing with my hands, why I’m doing it and how subtle of a motion we’re talking about; and how and why thought is connected to and influences quality of movement.

Now I’m going to illustrate what to use this sort of thinking for – to go into motion, to initiate it. Sometimes I make my hands into a cradle to illustrate the shape that the skull is in whre it is joined to the neck, (like rounded sled runners,) while I describe the movement of tilting forward and back as the easiest move the head and neck can make. I interpret the advantage of knowing this information to mean that this makes this movement the easiest way to initiate tiniest amount of movement. I might use an illustration of a fern growing in the shape of the beginning of a whip action to sprout if we are moving slowly, or an egret moving its head forward and up out over the water as it is getting ready to see and strike a fish under water. Or Michael Jordan floating up to bag the basketball, Pavorotti singing, or Tiger Woods making a golf shot, or whatever the person can relate to at that point as an example.

Sometimes I have to deal with people closing their eyes. I might have people do an experiment that proves that it is easier to judge location by having them close their eyes and touch their face with their hand. Then have them do the same thing while their head is moving. For the reason that being in motion gives us more information about where we are, it’s easier to touch the point you are aiming at while you are moving. Closing your eyes makes this more difficult, but moving makes it easier.

The two points I attempt to get across is this sort of thinking about movement is a way of initiating movement, and it’s very precise and tiny of a motion – so tiny that only a thought will put the movement into action.

I also have the person looking for the effect of increased ease as the evidence their experimenting worked as they intended…which of course, most people cannot yet sense. But they usually do feel the effect somewhere else in their body; and so they can put together that something is happening differently than the usual.

Then I might show how it is possible to think of this motion rhythmically in the context of walking, expanding just as the foot steps onto the floor and the motion of balance begins to transfer the weight onto the foot. If they can’t handle that yet, I have them merely shift their weight from one foot to the other to understand this dynamic first, and build up to taking a step to walk from there.

I’d love to read how more Alexander teachers teach “forward and up” if they can articulate that sort of thing in words.

Class on A.T. in Kamuela, Hawaii starts Sep.24-Oct.8,’07!

This old guy in the picture here is the guy who invented Alexander Technique. Mr. Frederick Matthias Alexander was his “Nicholas name.” Merely the initials “F. M.” was his nickname.

In these past few weeks, I managed to make it down to Hilo, (about an hour and a half drive) to trade work with the only other Alexander Technique teacher I have met on the Big Island named Michael Joeseph. His work with me was very much like Patrick MacDonald’s work (MacDonald was one of the last students of Alexander’s, he was nicknamed “the mechanic.”) Michael Joeseph had never actually met either character, having been trained after the death of both of them, but one of Michael’s other talents was in mechanical engineering. Because of this, it is very curious to me to experience how the quality of Alexander’s work is being passed on so accurately.

I’m happy to announce that near the end of the month starting on Monday evening Sept. 24th at 6pm and continuing on Thurs at the same time and place, I am teaching ten twice weekly classes on Alexander’s principles through www.waimeaeducation.com The classes are a real deal if you have never studied Alexander Technique before for reasons of the cost of private lessons which cost from $65 – $100 each; these introductory classes are only $10. each! Because Alexander Technique takes some time to learn, required attendance is for at least three weeks of class, (six classes.) So for less of the cost of one private lesson, you can get six classes in Alexander Technique! What a deal!

If you have any questions about the classes and ended up here, please feel free to ask your questions in the comments section. I’ll come up with some answers, we can put them together and we’ll see if they work for you!

How Far Is Too Far?

Morning yoga routine. Had a realization that I may have been
holding my body in a tense position for many years. Tried to
concentrate on relaxing as I went about the day. Noticed when I
did that, I could feel stretches much more keenly. As I said, I
have a lot of work to do in this department.

Obviously you have realized that learning how to undo what you ave probably been doing to yourself for a long time is a process that will take some time to undo, as you’ve figured out. I can offer some hints about how to proceed faster and safeguard common mistakes.

This hint is based on the fact that proprioception of the body is a relative sense. Meaning, you will feel a change in relationship to whatever and wherever you have been, rather than any factual truth of where are you and what is happening. So in the light of that, when you feel yourself out of balance and you make a change to “improve” things, you must be careful to evaluate on the basis of the question: “Is it easier now?”

The other tip that you may find even more useful is how to interpret the feelings of “stretches” you describe. I do not know what exactly is happening for you here from your comment, so you’ll have to be the judge of this yourself! Tricky for me to tell how to interpret what you say you are feeling without being there with you – which is a key element in working out what might be constructive to do about it!

I do know that as my students begin to unwind their habitual twistednesses, they may begin to feel areas where they didn’t know they were holding and tensing. Is this what you’re experiencing? What often happens when someone successfully lessens the tension and holding for some part of themselves in piecemeal, is they will feel some other part of themselves that is not easily moving along because that part of the body will complain further down. Is this the “stretch” you are talking about?

If so, the remedy would be to include that part of your body just below where you notice “stretching” because you are leaving parts of yourself behind in the thought and intention of the moves you are doing. The ‘stretch’ is there because you are not moving that part of you along with the rest of you. You’ll know you succeeded because you’ll feel easier, or you’ll feel a complaint somewhere else in your body! Which again, is an indicator you’re not moving part of yourself along with your original intention, etc. It make take quite a few repetitions of this clarified intention for it to have an effect, because you may also not be able to acertain if you did what you intended or not. So repeating the intention is the way to go – and feeling easier and sometimes a little strange or unfamiliar is the indicator that you are succeeding.

Or, are you commenting how during the act of yoga that you could feel the yoga movement stretches much more? It is true that by paying attention to your quality of movement throughout the day, you will enhance your ability to pay attention when you also focus on your movements in a special time set aside to do so.

However, again the same principle works well: If you feel a stretching somewhere in your body during a yoga move, this is an indicator that you are leaving behind some part of your body in the context of the yoga movement you are attempting. If you do the yoga movement in as the form was intended, (the interpretation of the form will obviously depend on the skill and observation of the yoga teacher with whom you are studying,) it will feel as if you are “doing nothing” special. Masters of a skill make it look easy, right?

In fact, if you do feel “stretching,” sometimes you are feeling muscle fibers breaking! I can’t say this because I don’t know how far you are taking yourself during yoga and if it is ‘too far,’ (and some yoga teachers will encourage students to go too far which I know to be counter-productive,) but generally, you should not go as far as you can push yourself, but only as far as you can move without pushing. It works best to figure how far that is, and back off and clarify what you want to do; and then experiment to see how easily you can do the yoga motion in question. You’ll notice that you can move farther and enhance flexibility over time more constructively that way than pushing and pulling against yourself and resisting – and damaging muscle fibers and then having to recover from the damage you caused yourself.

Let me know how this turns out for you!

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

Part of the challenge is to notice what you usually do. An indicator of something that is “sticking out” that may eventually become some sort of problem is a signal. Usually when people notice this, it more often means they must “shore up” or “justify” the need for their conclusion or assumption, reinforcing the circle and reapplying their “remedies” that are really keeping the circular problem in place.

Because their focus is on the content as being more important, they cannot see the larger picture of how they are caught in a repeating pattern. They only experience that some part of the pattern is working in the ways they intend, when it is really an out-of-control pattern that MUST repeat whether the person wants it whenever the trigger is pressed for the habit to “go off.” I would say that there are “endorphin squirts” that occur in pressing the trigger originally, but often the experience of the squirting may not register any more because it, too has become habitual.

If you take away the need, I believe our systems “self correct”. You do not have to “do” anything but experience the lack of need, then just wait and watch yourself. What happens next will tell you quite a bit about everything you have been experiencing. If you just get the familiar justifications for your habits, just stop again and wait. Each time you stop, your senses will wake up a little more as you take the next layer of the habitual assumption off. It seems that people are naturally sensitive underneath layers of habits.
That’s why stopping yourself when you would have normally started talking is such an effective technique in a David Bohm style Dialogue group – or in any conversation. Listening will tell you more than talking, for obvious reasons. You merely interrrupt yourself right when you found a need to say something and watch what happens in yourself. As you question your motive of wanting to talk, there will be usually be feelings and needs underneath the assumptions that could be a surprise to you.

So if you don’t know what these feelings are or they don’t surface because they are the submerged part of the iceberg, you can find out what they are by stopping yourself from going into the habit repeatedly. My experience has told me that there is often more than one need/motive/justification. Sometimes these are tricky to uncover, because the remedy of the assumption is trying to cover it up by answering the need. So this is where your own persistence comes in. You put yourself in a situation where this issue comes up again and again, without getting discouraged – and you watch what happens in yourself each time you notice the old same reaction.

Articulating & Describing Qualities

I’ve always had the ability to observe. At 16, I was invited into a inventor’s problem solving ‘club’ after I untangled a fisherman’s line at Sunset Cliffs in the dark. With a flashlight, I carefully observed the mass of tangled line for about five minutes and then pulled one thread; the whole mess came untangled from that one thread I noticed was the problem. That thankful fisherman was a member of a “Think Tank” who conscripted my participation. My function in that inventor’s group was easy for me to fulfill; they used me to figure out how to present and explain what they were inventing by answering some of my questions as they told me about their inventions.

From that experience, and others, I realized that articulating properties and describing qualities is the stuff that you want to do when you’re problem solving. Too often our assumptions are clumped up into concepts or conclusions that we don’t remember ever deciding. It can be tricky to extract the original observations that led to the assumptions, especially if they were accepted from someone else’s conclusion in the distant past. It’s tricky to be so caught up in the sequences you followed that you can’t abstract or simplify them. Or you can’t go in the other direction to analyse and break apart to discover or describe the crucial factors and say what they mean for other people.

Of course, the more flexible you are at discovering what you are leaving out, the more you don’t need those other people who are good at other strategies to fill in where you are weak by using your innate assumptions. However, a group of people are invaluable for this reason, because there seems to be always something valuable that you didn’t think of yourself.

Suspension functions as a precursor to analysis for me and that’s why it’s so often valuable. Suspension is a sort of subtraction process where I wipe the slate of my mind clean and act “As If” I’m starting over, without some level of my conclusions about results. I imagine suspension as sort of an onion, where I can undo ever more complex levels of assumptions as far down as I want to go. Often it’s not useful to start all the way back at square one – I usually need some level of functional assumption to be practical.
F. M. Alexander, originator of Alexander TechniqueSometimes I use a stepping stone to generate results in problem solving – some sort of way to break up my preconceptions and loosen up my attachment to gaining results – and then put the results together. For instance I find that reversing sequences is strange enough to get me to think about something differently enough. Essentially to mix up my thinking, I often would experiment with what I consider to be direction, qualities, sequences, timing of whatever I was dealing with.

In service of teaching Alexander Technique, I’ve made up those four categories that are useful for describing observations and I’m often struck with how they can be broadly applied as I so often do.

In A.T. we’re dealing with observing motion – and as the teacher I would try and get someone to use them in a sentence as they described their own motion. (They can be used in any order)

  • Qualities, (after describing them, what sort of value of quality do we prefer to apply and why prefer it? This is a sort of making of a hypothesis or question that helps us to have something to pay attention to when it changes.)
  • Direction, (once we describe where we are, where do we want to go or what to do? Essentially, this helps to describe purposes or relative location.)
  • Sequence, (how does priorty-making influence relative value, and how can grouping concepts influence results? This involves suspending expected results and crafting how the act of reasoning, constructing or adding or subtracting influences results.)
  • Timing (after we’ve experimented some, spotting crucial factors that are valuable to pay attention to one after the other. These are our functionally bright ideas and when exactly to use them.)

Anyway, I love creative thinking and articulating how it can work easier. I imagine that the world could also benefit from the articulation of plain old functional thinking also. This sort of thinking is fore-thought! Otherwise known as strategic thinking to allow you to go in an entirely new direction!

Why Alexander Technique Is Hard To Describe

In choosing your approach for describing A.T., it is worth keeping in mind that many smart people were educationally trained in debate tactics, tactics which often appeal to contradictions of logic toward expose’. Confronted with an entirely new idea or invention, there are many contradicting ways that people will categorically ignore or suspect the value of something entirely new. So it pays to consider how you can avoid or detour these common defenses. It would also be handy to figure ways to do that without stooping to using debate tactics
yourself.I have found that if you take for granted that people are capable of understanding you, they will tend to rise to the occasion. One way is to cut to the chase and clearly define in a “bottom line” way what makes AT unique. Doing this may avoid categorical matching, usually motivated from trying to familiarize new information so it can be retrieved later.

I find that most definitions of A.T. merely talk about what it can do for certain people. Popular articles explore why a particular group of people would want to do it, or these articles might use a biographical format. Suggesting possible uses will not identify what makes A.T. unique, and character portraits can be brushed off as warm and fuzzy biographical style arketing. The myriad of A.T. benefits can be pretty unbelievable. Of course, the most common way is to tell Alexander’s story or your own, using a testimonial format.

Then difficulty in describing A.T. can also come from a confusion about what exactly is being taught, because of the lack of form and generalized application possible. If you say, “Alexander Technique is a format for learning, experimenting and undoing useless habits of movement.” If people are thinking they will be asking, “Who determines what is useless and what should be preserved?”

Let’s try this definition: “A.T. hows an easier way of forming and carrying any intention into action, applied to any field you wantto refine, learn more about or a capacity you want to recover that you have lost.” This sort of description is tricky for people to wrap their mind around because it is so abstract.

Because intangible intentions can only be witnessed in outward action, in AT we use the form of movement to observe what and how means are expressed. Since the content of AT is an intangible learning process that can be
applied to any action, it confuses people. People mistake outer form for inner content. They think AT is an actor’s technique, a golf thing, a singer’s method, for musicians who get hurt or recovery from injury, etc.

The fact that AT is taught tacitly makes it a challenge to describe. AT teachers take pupils beyond words and assumptions over the edge of their dulled senses into a new perceptual capacity. For a trained eye, the evidence of intent can be witnessed in the slightest postural movement. The insensitive student can’t tell what the AT teacher got them to do that made them feel so much freer. Thus, they may regard the AT teacher to be a magician or to have hoodwinked them. (Tricking their habit is probably what happened.)

The way A.T. used to be taught worked against it being easy to talk about. Historically, A.T. was taught by building a new situational challenge in an artificially arbitrary context, which was sitting and standing from a chair. By crafting a skill from scratch using a goal that had little meaning to the student, the chair situation was designed to encourage the suspension of goals and striving for results. During chair work, the teacher would offer a unique script of the meanings of what makes up constructive experimentation, with unique perceptual interpretations of the significance of the cumulative effects of tiny physical patterns of movement. Or put more simply, Alexandrian chair work is best at showing the bad news of what all those little habits will add up to if allowed to continue. Also it shows the good news of how freedom, subtlety and effortlessness works so much easier. Then the student practices choosing between the new and the old and the idea is the student learns to sustain a tolerance for the new ways and prefer them over their old ways. In practice, guided modeling works very slowly to give the person being modeled any idea what is exactly happening. They are sort of being trained as if an animal, without knowing why they are doing the new behavior, underneath their conscious control of themselves.

The Activity model uses the goal of the action itself and its value to the student, evoking the pressures of performance in a group situation. The drive to discover and coordinate more sophisticated improvements related to a hobby or activity is a powerful motivator for thinking of using AT at any particular moment. This form trains students to see subtle and elusive differences that the teacher uses to coach evaluating the results of their experimenting. It’s also great at teaching principles in action, because you get to learn how to see so many different people learn in the group situation.

There can be as many variations of forms of learning as there are qualified teachers, because AT teachers are trained to problem solve unique applications by applying Alexander’s principles. What these principles are usually need to be physically experienced to fully understand their significance. However, if you talk about some of these principles by explaining some of the unique definitions of special words use in A.T., newcomers will sometimes recognize that they have never heard anyone talk about these topics before.