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/

 

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Trajectory

My colleagues and I have been discussing how we have acquired an interesting skill as a by-product of having studied Alexander Technique…

Catching a falling knife, it’s a poor practice. On Wall Street it means to buy on the way down. In a word, don’t. In the kitchen, well, that’s pretty obvious. Don’t try it at home kids—no falling knives—especially, if you’re like me, pretty uncoordinated, at least in the past. Today, I catch falling objects in mid air—no knives yet—with speed and accuracy, the top of a carrot, the very top, a sheet of paper caught in the wind and on its way down, a fork, a spoon, the very edge of wet dish. Now, why this new found aplomb? Unlike the rest of you, I am getting older, reflexes should be slowing down. I can only attribute this new reflexive sangfroid to study of the Alexander Technique. It has radically improved my over all coordination as well. When I go into a squat in class some people gasp. I do too. Crap, I think, just how old do these people think I am? So, study the Alexander Technique, and develop your own super-powers. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Alexander Guy, flying without his pocket protector. Thrilling stuff!
– Alan Bowers, Alexander Technique teacher

I think that I know what has been happening.  Having been the former business owner of a sideline hobby making seed-filled juggling balls from velveteen, I’ve taught over 3500 people to juggle. One of the skills of juggling is judging where the ball is going to land so your hand can be there to catch it. Unbeknownst to most people, you do not have to “keep your eye on the ball” to be able to do this extraordinary skill of being there to catch something… You only need to spot the arc of theATprojectilePath ball in a glance. Otherwise, juggling would not be possible.

It works a bit like this rather scientific-like illustration…

However, there’s more to how this skill ended up in the pocket of those who study Alexander Technique.

Stand up, (you’ve been sitting awhile anyway, haven’t you?) Stick your fingers in your ears. Imagine the top of your spine ending there. Now, look up and feel how your head pivots at the point near where your fingers are pointing to.  Nod forward, as if you’re saying, “Yes.” Then look up again and allow the back of your head to drop down as you face comes up. Really look up, check out the ceiling. Now, nod “Yes” again. Now think about the moment around the tip top of the arc . Can you feel your balance changing in the rest of how your body responds to your head moving across that arc?

Now, isn’t that head nod that changes your balance sort of like the trajectory of an arc that a ball follows?

Like a ball arc, the greatest force that goes forward happens at the top of the arc. With the body’s capacity to move, around the top of the arc is the best time to initiate another action, such as to take a step or move your arms.

My Alexander Technique colleagues and I all agree that the top of the arc as heads are moving at the top of the spine is when it’s easiest for a body to go forward into action. As a group of Alexander Technique teachers, we don’t collectively advise head-nodding every time someone moves! This experiment is a short-cut example that you can try out that may work to illustrate this phenomena that we term, “Primary Control.”

When I teach people to look up and nod their heads, later I am careful to show how it’s practice can become more subtle. Eventually it remains as a “faded signal” of pure imaginative intention, timed at the moment just preceding any action. Faded signaling means in this case that the action of looking up and nodding forward is intentionally faded to the point where the actual movement is only a thought, not any overt action such as looking up and nodding forward as it was for beginners.

You’ll be able to sense this in your own body as your head moves over the point of balance if you’re able to pay attention to subtle changes. If you spot it, your balance will change in a sort of listing movement, (unless you’re so set in your ways that you’re a stalwart against any movement. It’s most obvious to perceive while standing.) The “listing” means you can go into action with a very poised ability to move lightly, as if your capacity to move were the clutch of a car that must be skillfully engaged before the accelerator is applied to “GO.” If you can’t sense this listing, try standing against a wall having your sleeve brushing the wall; perhaps you’ll be able to sense your own body movement as a skin sensation.

So – my theory is that because Alexander Technique teachers are in the business of paying attention to this crucial moment to go into action as a discipline, this is why Alexander Technique teachers have found themselves able to catch falling items without having studied that specific skill.

Their judgment of the arc has become incidentally educated to be able to predict the quality of movement of other items besides the way bodies move, as if by magic.  Good job!!

I was the total klutz when it came to sports involving catching balls. Now, I grab them out of the air. Every time I catch a set of keys, my husband says “How did you do that?” The answer can only be Alexander Technique! – Robbin L. Marcus, Alexander Technique teacher

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

Pedaling up to the stop sign, with my newly repaired 5-speed bike, I was thinking of walking. My legs were tiring fast, even though low gear was finally working. I couldn’t help but think, “Here’s a great time to apply somebody else’s bright ideas. Whatever I’m doing, there’s room for vast improvements before the top of the hill. I think I’ll use Alexander Technique right now.”

WHAT’S GOING ON: WATCH WITHOUT JUDGING
Resisting my urges to adjust and compensate instantly (I’d already tried that) or lashing out at myself for being obviously “out of shape,” (I hadn’t done any real exercise in much too long, which is why I repaired the bike,) I only heard myself panting. I knew the more articulate I could be about myself, the more useful data I’d have to work with and change around. I paid attention again without changing what I was doing. Twenty strokes later, I noticed I was moving in a series of stroke! stroke! encouragements, timed on each pedal’s downswing. Gasping for breath, I was tipping my head back, locking my neck and back to lever my weight against the unsuspecting pedals. You guessed it, the pedals were winning.

HURTLING HEAD FIRST
Eager to apply Alexander’s bright idea that we begin interfering with our innate effectiveness by moving head first, I wondered: Would it be possible, right now on this here hill, to resist my way of locking my neck and back that I thought I must do to avoid falling over? Possibly to definitely convince myself that this was the culprit, I exaggerated the very motion I didn’t want. Yup, I didn’t want to do that. So far, I felt as if I HAD to brace myself in order to apply what I thought was the ample amount of “strength” I imagined would get me up the hill. Did I really have to?

NEW MAY FEEL STRANGE
To see if it would make any difference, I decided to choose the moment I went to stand up on the pedal as the point where I would move as easily as I could head first. I knew I did something different because something unexpected happened. “AHA!”, I realized, “No wonder the muscles in my legs are just getting tighter and tighter”. My mind, with its crazy encouragement regimen of stroke!, is really telling my legs to tighten!, tighten!, without giving them any chance to spring back into their lengthened range of motion. And – the length of my muscles were rapidly losing my resiliency because of what I was doing. No wonder I was getting tired fast.

PARADOX OF STROKE! VERSUS PAUSE.
This discovery suggested the reversal of my timing techniques. I used a more purposeful, and less predictable sense of determination to really carry out the new accent on my timing. I had to re-decide to not let my habit sneak in…while I continued to move in my new way with my head leading. It took another twenty strokes before I could think and move how I wanted. (That isn’t a whole long time, but I had changed my habits like this before and I knew how insistent habits are.)

HERE’S WHY IT WORKED
Pretty soon the stroke! stroke! I’d thought was the only way up the hill turned into rest ~ rest ~ rest, accented on the leg that should be doing just that. Surprise, surprise, paying attention to the pausing rest let the stroking part take care of itself. Wheeeee! I found myself up the hill in no time, through the worst part of the hill was near the top of the uphill curve. It took much less time to think through and do everything, than it did to read it here. The cars passing me didn’t notice me doing anything weird at all, unless, riding all the way up the hill on a heavy 5-speed, was funny. I was, after all, grinning.

Remembering to Wake Up

Kathy In the first post titled, “Sense a Wake-Up” promised were more factors for remembering and recognizing a need to take the reins back from routines and go into action. Here’s more about that.

Significance that is gradual, (that happens in increments or over time) doesn’t seem to register very well on the human sensory system. Humans are much better at the “put out the fire” attitude to get motivation for doing something to address what has been obviously staring them in the face for some time. People slip gradually into decline without noticing because they’re able to ‘get used to’ just about anything.

Since a gradual slippery slope was how it started, it must be possible to slip gradually out of a limitation too, but this slip out needs to happen by deliberate design. One of the obvious tactics to affect change is to create this resolve to change your circumstances on purpose. Then try out  options to find what is most effective. Be persistent if your first ideas don’t work so well.

The ability to comprehend and put together the writing on the wall from a gradual worsening of circumstance seems to be determined by three factors:

First would be the readiness, willingness or resistance of the person who would get the possible benefits from a new experience. Sneaking past a sense of “Danger! Danger!” is one of the techniques that incremental improvement offers. But at some point, you’re going to run into resistance to any change whenever you try to improve things for yourself – so have a strategy ready for dealing with this nuisance of resistance.

Then there’s how open, distracted or habituated the person is starting from. Raw sensory information, (no matter how important!) can be selectively ignored it if it doesn’t obviously match expectations, self-image, the goals, or what the customary state of affairs.

Finally, there is the context, feedback and judgment of how things are happening. It’s an advantage to be able to revise and design as the experiment happens, but do this deliberately and not as a knee-jerk reaction to instant judgments. You’ll want to shape what might be more effective for change as the experiment is being conducted.

Addressing the last factor first, the most important thing to do on the front end is to guarantee safety. Set up the experiment so that the reasons to do so are not going to hurt or embarrass. Find a confidante or group of people who appreciate what you’re attempting to change. It’s hard to go it alone.

There’s a deceptive pitfall in the second factor. The more auto-pilot activities that are in place as habitual routines, the less new sensory information will be available for your ability to sense what is really going on. Nothing will stand out. That disappearance is the whole the point of having a routine – it simplifies what would become overwhelming so new processes can be added together during skill building. Think of when you first learned to drive a car; what was overwhelming at first became commonplace. It’s easier to add something onto the front or back of an established habit than it is to refuse it. But if you need to refuse a habitual reaction, it’s easiest to do this before it gets started in full force.

Unfortunately, that “disappearing” effect is also how the dulling of sensing sensory information happens. If frogs are famous for sensing only that it’s just getting a little bit hotter in the gradually heating stew pot (until it suddenly being too hot to jump out) – why should humans be different?

Perhaps jadedness and unreliability of sensory feedback also depends on how many habits someone has trained themselves to use, tolerate or select from. Especially when having to deal with pain, opposing directives will seem to flood or shut down the sensory system. Humans find it challenging to make a choice from too many options, so paint a black and white picture for yourself to quiet the urge to recite old self-justifications.

One of the strategies for getting a benefit out of gradual improvement is to note literal, incremental progress as if you were doing a research study. Note-taking and other factual documentation will show gradual progress that isn’t obvious through moment to moment sensing. This is very handy when you’re making such long-term changes such as getting skinnier or recovering from a serious injury. Celebration of little milestones is in order!

But if you’re not the “documenting research” type, you’d better get more strategic about resharpening your senses. You can do this by learning the ability to observe yourself, or by using tools or other people that you think are great observers to give you trustworthy feedback.

There are many types of resistances to self-improvement. Sometimes we want something so much that we can’t bear to be disappointed again. Of course, there are many more reasons why we resist doing what is good for us.

Alexander Technique is great because it sneaks under the radar and affects the building blocks of results below the level of what you would imagine should matter. There’s also something Alexander people call “Directing” that is designed to influence the background readiness humans use as a prerequisite for decision-making and going into action.

The action can be as simple as a shake of your head.

Now all you have to do to start is to set up the factual feedback situation or find a great observer, right?

Oh, that’s simple. That’s an Alexander Technique teacher.

 

Sense A Wake-Up

Students have complained that the Alexander Technique is too “mysterious.” Why do we have such trouble really knowing what happens as we get into habits? We can certainly feel the pain of going to far after it’s happened!

Maybe I’m not asking the most useful question. How about: It is possible to use what we can’t sense? If sensory events are taking place underneath our current capacity to sense it, how can we recognize an unfamiliar but meaningful change or sense the fulfillment of a string of gradual successes?

We use what we can’t sense every day. We believe what others tell us about the nature of how things work that we can’t see or understand from inventions and equipment. We are fascinated to gain the enhanced perception technology that inventors have offered humanity; those innovators, artists, authors and entertainers who pique our imagination. The telescope, microscope, cameras, MRI and X-ray; recordings, amplifiers and communication enhancements; maps, programs and models.

But what about our ability to sense ourselves in direct action without all this special equipment? Humanity hasn’t had a hardware update in movement sensory capacity in much too long. Movement is even a tricky thing to describe to ourselves.

Human ability to recognize improvement moment to moment while training sensory ability isn’t very precise by human design. This can be most easily demonstrated when it comes to the sense of establishing muscle memory, orientation and judging weight and effort. As fact, the kinaesthetic sense is taken for granted. It is truly our “sixth sense.” Seeing is believing; feeling seems like fact.

The secret most people don’t understand is all of our senses do not truly give us the facts. They are merely registering relative information that needs interpretation. It’s up to us to interpret what our senses say. Of course, an education can compensate, but where do we get this education? Education for has taught most of us to avoid mistakes at any cost. Putting together how to constructively use our mistakes or our successes is the challenge.

Here’s an educational secret: Human sensation registers differences that are notable as determined by the person who is experiencing it.

Awareness of what appears to be “notable” is skewed by a design feature of being able to adapt. This is a human strength in most situations. Adapting allows humans to habituate anything we can do. Adapting is a brilliant, indispensable advantage; it allows sophisticated skills to be learned by connecting new behaviors together in series as what is known as a behavior chain. Without habituation, it would be overwhelming to execute skills. (Surely you’ve had the experience during learning of: “my brain is full.”)

You’ll learn as you read more of this blog some unusual ways to deal with it that work without special training to improve this situation. Why this happens is an “aha” moment that more likely starts as a mystery. There is also a human sensory software update available that takes focused study over time called Alexander Technique, (also worth learning for other preventative health effects.)

So – the answer is “yes!” You *can* wake up and sharpen your sensory abilities, learn to observe yourself, spot what others miss and make anything that takes practice to learn to go faster. To take the reins back from habit – it takes awareness and the ability to observe yourself in action.

Stay tuned for the next part where more of your questions will be questioned!

Update Instinct

Optical illusions reveal habits of sight
Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, at: http://www.erwinblumenfeld.com/

I’ve been recently reading this book titled, “You Are Now Less Dumb.” It’s a collection of brain science facts and research, put into context and stories by a journalist David McRaney. (Of course you can come by these brain science jewels on TED.com individually, but it’s fruitful for synthesis to read them in synopsis form close together.)

One caveat shows proof how humans resist any change; the conditioned system dramatizes retention of habits to be connected to survival itself. (I’ve been joking for years it’s as if Mr. Habit bureaucrat doesn’t wanna lose his job!) Another study shows how increasing the number of choices stresses our system, justifying the manufacture of habits to handle the overload. For instance, judges and jurors are more forgiving after having eaten lunch, and hand out more punitive sentences at the end of the day when hungry and tired.

It appears that those who study Alexander Technique “swim against the tide” of their cultural conditioning by dealing with self-protective resistance… But – isn’t that why you’re here?

I was musing, “How was A.T. student convinced in the past to subject themselves, (at great cost of stress as evidenced from these facts) to become willing to over-ride their habitual conditioning and increase their capacity for making aware choices?”

Well, focal was the empirical proof of having a new experience of freedom from habit. This was done by the Alexander Technique teacher “blowing the mind” of the student at the first lesson with hands-on guided modeling. I see this as an honored “tradition,” but it also had the unwanted effect of producing student dependence. Nevertheless, mind-blowing mystique was and is an important motive and classic A.T. selling strategy. Once the student has gained the conviction that there are multiple impressionable sensations and mystery advantages to stopping routines of “habitual instinct,” the teacher is recognized as having this special capacity and the student is willing to pay and become dedicated. (This was dedication lasting for a lifetime for some of us who adored Alexander Technique and those who eventually continued training to became teachers.) Unfortunately, this strategy tends to make students dependent on teachers rather than independent learners. (Although it was good strategy to retain students from the point of view of the teacher supporting themselves.)

The opposite of choice is NOT coercion; it is instinct.

 Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we should hesitate to use the word “instinct,” or at minimum be much more careful in using it. Aside from being misunderstood as a ‘design flaw.’ The word “instinct” can be too seductively relegated to be confused with “habits” after the become innate and disappear. The word “instinct” might also stand for the protective and self-preservation resistance of “human nature,” (many of these “human nature” truths have been scientifically to the qualifier of: “True, but only for those people in a certain group that were specifically indoctrinated when young by their cultural motives.”)

 It’s similar to the dangers of using the word “easy” to in a sentence: “Descending into habitual addiction is easy.” I’d rather specifically reserve the “easy” word for a positive experience, with “easy” being the “magic question” used to filter results after experimentation.  Better to say, “seductive” or “tempting” when spelling out how some specific habits are powerful enough to pull us along and make us unaware of really, really bad consequences that accumulate over time. Alexander Technique teachers are really big on avoiding cumulative damage.

 My point is: doesn’t it feel to many if us who experience Alexander Technique in a lesson, as the habits are subtracted, the default coordination that resumes “as if by itself” is “instinctual?”

 Are we really going against “instinct” when we become more willing to take the reins from habit, to learn and adapt with our mindfulness, increasing our capacity to choose without getting tired and stressed from doing so?

 For some of us adults, that’s undoubtedly the challenge, but the younger we are…

Experience and another study confirms the assumption that the younger the person when they began learning anything, the less stress they will encounter in learning what adults would find challenging, (such as the capacity to over-ride the status quo of any conditioned behavior…as expressed in, say, learning to pronounce a new language.)

Addressing my colleagues here,what should also be covered by A.T. classes would be consciously designing flexible habits that can be updated and shaped to changing circumstances. (That’s what the A.T. exercise: Whispered Ah gives acknowledgment to doing.)

Perhaps learning Alexander Technique is a way for adults to return to the learning capacities of youth?

Perhaps this ability to over-ride our conditioning that A.T teaches is one possible means to regain the attitudes of the young and impressionable who are still forming these routines and aren’t settled in them yet so ferociously?

Adults might be able to learn this youthful attitude from their study of Alexander Technique for gaining their “fountain of youth.” All it takes is to be willing to tolerate a bit of stress while they are unraveling the confines of their buried routines.

That’s why F. M. Alexander was so fond of quoting Shakespeare: “The Readiness is All.”

Franis Engel

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

This post is the last part in a series called NAMED. Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. Each letter of the word is a category for each of the steps. 

N…NOTICE On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation 

A…ASK Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013 

M…MOVE Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013 

E…EVALUATE Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th 

D…DIRECT – Today, the final post of the series – avoid training your mistakes, interrupting routines and today’s post is how to clear sensory feedback noise.

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

OK, so let’s say we have connected up the steps of the process to the effortless doing of an action successfully – preventing old nuisance habitual responses. (Please read the previous post if this doesn’t make sense to you yet.) This is preparation for Directing. The steps of the action can now be “actively” thought or said – but without the movement action attached.

Why connect the strategy of “directing” to non-action is in another brain fact. There’s a big signal-to-noise issue between feedback and active movement. To minimize this, it works to slow down the activity (or refuse what is unwanted entirely) and then recite or think a narration as steps for the new, improved process.

If you have been following previous posts – you learned the importance of connecting up these directions using a new way to prepare for action. These new ability to “Direct” are words or thoughts that will substitute for habitual movement preparation before you know you’ve decided to move. What you want to replace are the old preparations that go on in the brain and body responses before the choice to move happens. Directing is intended as a precursor behind the urge to move.

The reason for non-action is to prevent the habitual response from jumping in to answer the urge to “do it.” Replacing habitual preparation for movement with Direction is similar to visualization – only Directing uses a kinesthetic and/or verbal strategy.

Because Directions are done by thinking the steps of what you’re intending to do very deliberately – without doing them – that’s why it’s important to have already connected words to the steps of how you intend to proceed as we learned in our last post. We compose these words in the passive impersonal present tense to avoid any urge for over-doing these suggestions. Here’s an example of what we might say using an example from Alexander Technique :

“The neck frees and the head aims forward and up,

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

Then the new steps can begin that would carry out original goals with new starting point. It will also be possible to do something else instead as a fresh last-moment decision – turning on a dime.

Now – what happens? Probably something below the level of what you can perceive. That’s why Directions are repeated, surrendering the urge for feeling around to verify results. What we’re after is allowing the body to return to it’s resting length so a full range of action is available when we do respond in action. We’d like to be free of conflicted or outdated responses and free to improvise.

After using all the steps of Alexander Technique, when you do act, there is a significant “feeling” that happens. It’s a signature sensation that Alexander Technique teachers offer. With some practice and smart strategic thinking, you’ll be able to do it yourself. It’s this delicious sense of “flow.” Or as it used to be known among Alexander Technique crowd, “Do-Less-Ness.” It’s almost a religious experience, but without the cultural values attached.

What’s after this? You might make a discovery about the nature of you suspended goal. If you want more discoveries, well, do the steps again. Remember how you were NAMED!

  1. Notice
  2. Ask
  3. Move
  4. Evaluate
  5. Direct

 

This is the conclusion of a mini-course. We’ve been using NAMED to help Alexander Technique students remember the entire class content of using the Alexander Technique. Hope you enjoyed it!

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Asking Questions

This post is part of a series called NAMED.  Seeking a way for my students to remember the steps of how to use Alexander Technique, I came up with a simple word they could remember to help jog the steps. The letters of the word stand for each of the steps.

N…notice   This post was published on April 4th. 2013

A…ask    This post explores a bit the “A” part of the mnemonic.”Ask.”

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

This is the stage where you come up with some constructive questions. If you know about forming questions, you probably know that which questions you ask help point you in a direction to possibly get some solutions. Perhaps your questioning could create more pointed ongoing directions that have the potential to make discoveries in some sort of experiment that you would design. Once you have been experimenting, sometimes forming further questions the second time around can put what you’ve recently discovered into practice.

We’re talking here not about coming up with questions that someone knows the answers to, but questions that we might be able to answer with our own experiences. Maybe nobody knows the answers yet!

So- let’s make some observations about what sort of qualities these questions might possess. Open-ended or strategic questions are useful. It’s most useful to form specific questions that don’t really have an immediate answer right now, but might have these specifics after we do something about answering them.

Think strategically about how these questions might be grouped into the design of an experiment that might give you some sort of answer – even if the answer is “no, not that one.” If you’re design of a series of questions doesn’t work to get the results you want, you can always change the questioning the next time through the process once you have more information about what might be a better question to ask.

Some examples of F.M. Alexander’s open-ended, strategic questions would be:


How much of what sort of effort do I really need to use to accomplish my goal?

Can I design a more efficient way to move that uses less effort for a similar effect?

If there were, how and when would this movement start?

Would I be able to sense what I’m doing, or would I need help perceiving this new way of moving? What sort of help would be the most useful?

How can I extend this new way of moving so that it happens for a longer period? How long can I continue moving in this new way?

What strategies can I use to prevent what I don’t want to repeat from happening that gets in the way of moving in this new way, so I can do more of what I do want and less of what I don’t want?

Get back to me on the results of forming your questions!

Continuing the series of NAMED, in our next post, we’re going to explore what might happen when we start to actually do the experimenting with a new way of moving…

 

How to Notice

In my previous post, I threatened to start a series that would offer a new way to remember to use the principles of Alexander Technique. I wanted to make the steps easy to remember. Imagine having a memory tool for spelling out how Alexander Technique can work for you, any time you want to use it!

The word NAMED can be used as a mnemonic for categories that contain some of the principles and sequential steps for using Alexander Technique.

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

This is the first post in the series. It’s about how to Notice

When you notice, you’d be using all of your senses to observe what is really happening as it is happening.

Noticing yourself first will allow you to note when and if a change has happened. From noticing, you’ll also have comparisons to describe incremental progress. Just like in conducting a science experiment, it’s useful to begin with a ‘control’ situation on yourself, so you will know when a change has happened. Having made some observations on the front end, you will have comparisons to describe incremental progress.

Of course, sometimes it’s tricky to observe yourself in action. So, I find it useful to use my suggestions of having categories for directing my attention so I can have at least a few useful observations on the front end for later comparison.

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/coaching-yourself/

Can you add an observational category?

I’d like to sell you on the benefits of paying attention to your own movement. How you prepare to move on the most fundamental level of physical mannerisms determines success and outcome.

Of course, if you haven’t had much practice observing yourself in action during movement, it’s tricky at first. For some people, it helps to use these categories. Paying attention to what you usually take for granted will pay off.

It’s good to do your noticing first, but there’s a common pitfall concerning expectations that you must bear in mind while following this first step. If you make observations while you’re doing what you’ve been doing, it’s likely that you’ll notice your habits.

That’s O.K. – but don’t forget that you haven’t done anything differently – yet.

Evaluating, judging and concluding is the activity that comes after experimenting, not directly after observation. Confronting your own habits that are resistant to change can be discouraging if you’ve tried to change them previously and failed. Habits are pervasive and tricky. They have a sense of self-preservation and self-justification. Noticing something doesn’t mean it changes immediately, or that you “should” already know what to do to change it effectively.

So – because of all these points… Try to resist making a change to instantly ‘correct’ what you may believe has gone ‘wrong.’ Take some time to allow something different to happen. The reason you would suspend your usual remedies for what you notice is to avoid using partial or ineffective solutions that have been tried before.

Just because you’re noticing yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do any adjusting to make it right. How would you know what is “right” if you haven’t done any experimenting yet? If you try to “fix” what you have instantly judged is “objectionable” about what you’re doing – you’re only going to apply solutions that you know. Give that up for a bit in order to find out a possible solution that might work better that you will discover. We’re going to deliberately put aside using former solutions during the experiment.

The purpose of using Alexander Technique is to make a new discovery. It will also help to integrate and actually put into action new discoveries that will more effectively substitute for the habitually ineffective solutions of the past….but you’ll discover how to do that in future posts in a serice during the month of April.

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.

Inhibition is the Map!

Today I was listening to a conversation with Michael Frederick that was recorded as a podcast on Robert Rickover’s blog post about Marj Barstow. I got to the 29 minute point. Here is when the discussion turned to a question a student had asked Marj Barstow in one of the many workshops. “Why don’t you use inhibition when teaching?” Marj answered carefully, “Everything I teach is inhibition.”

What does “inhibition” mean? In a classic sense, inhibition is interrupting what you don’t want to continue to do, so you can do what you want. Alexander Technique students are literally taught to actually stop what they were about to do and pay attention to what they are doing with themselves before resuming action. Marj Barstow had a very different interpretation of the principle of inhibition. She saw it as indirect prevention. I’ve heard her say that inhibition means…

“Inhibition is prevention. Inhibition is any action that prevents you from doing what you don’t want. Inhibition continues within movement; you don’t want to get stiff. A person can change what they’re doing while in action, stopping is not required. Inhibition is positive. Going in the direction you want stops by elimination how you have been going wrong. You can’t commit to going in two directions at once…”

Well, you can try going in both directions at once. Pain is eventually the result, because it pulls everything that is you out of whack. Your poor body will try to accommodate your conflicting commands as best it can, which isn’t best.

Rickover offered an interesting metaphor for what we call inhibition in Alexander Technique to explain the attitude of Marj Barstow about how she expressed it in her work. His metaphor was something like this:

Let’s say that you’re driving and you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. To correct your course, you might make a U-turn, you might come to a complete stop while doing so, or not. By turning around you can retrace your steps to where you lost your way and continue on from there.

I’m going to continue that metaphor… What if you have a map? Alexander Technique the way Marj Barstow taught us was like having a map of principles about human reaction and response. With a map and the ability to observe where you are oriented, you can plot how to get back on course strategically – without having to retrace your steps. The direction you were conditioned to go in your childhood doesn’t matter. You can start from where you are and go the way you want to live your life from this point forward.

The idea of inhibition is interesting. You need inhibition just like you need the presence of mind to remember you did not want to turn down the same road to go home when you don’t want to go home yet. Of course it’s tricky to be aware in moments where you’re not aware. There are steps for suspending what you don’t want and instead doing what you do want.

The first step is self observation. You become aware of how your habits knock you off course. You learn to perceive the habitual pattern and recognize when it will likely kick in. Then you can design and follow a way to carry out a new logistical strategy to stop it. It turns out that brain science says whenever we go into action, we’ve already prepared quite a bit before we know we are choosing to do something. The only choice we have is to interrupt or redirect our preparations. We’ve got 1/64th of a second before we must do what we’ve prepared ourselves to do.

So interrupting habits is a skill that takes timing and awareness. Remember all those things you were sold on being socially unacceptable? You can use them to inhibit your unwanted habits. You want to cheat, lie, outsmart, fool, detour, side-step or preclude the trained, habitual urge you have installed to steer you wrong.

Designing a way that works to inhibit requires careful thinking. When the habit starts is a factor, because once it gets going it’s harder to interrupt. You might have to try different strategies if the first or second or third possibility doesn’t work. Happily, you don’t have to figure out what to do as a replacement once the unwanted routine releases it’s control. Other more constructive solutions will rise to the occasion once the habitual interference is gone.

It takes practice, and it’s sometimes tricky. You’re catching what you can’t normally perceive that’s operating under your radar. Habits are tricky enough to try to preserve the need for themselves, just like bureaucracies. You put your strategic plan into practice in the important moment of choice by practicing doing it in moments when it’s not so important and commonplace.

Of course it sometimes results in strange, even fearful new sensations. The uncertainty of a new direction can be disorienting. But that’s not so much of a problem. You can get the old habit back any time you wish. The habit remains in your “bag of tricks” as an option, but since you’ve worked to allow another more efficient route to get to your destination, the habit doesn’t go into action irresistibly every time you want to get somewhere.

To continue the metaphor, if you use the awareness of inhibition…you’ll have a “new way home” that is more direct, takes less time and costs less energy to get there. It’s like riding on an empty freeway after being in a traffic jam. Wheeeee!

Changing Breath

Lately because I’ve been helping a saxophone player change the way he uses his breathing,  I’ve been noticing how people breath when they talk. Often when someone has a problem during a specialized task, they do a less exaggerated version of the same habit when they are doing less challenging activities, such as talking or walking. This is why your Alexander Technique teachers makes such a big deal about little quirks.

Noticing other people can be used as a means of remembering that NOW! is the best time to practice what you do know how to do for yourself. As humans, we have this tendency to notice what is going on outside of ourselves, without realizing that this moment is an opportunity to make changes for ourselves.

Changing a breathing pattern is actually a very tricky habit to influence.  Ideally, speaking directly after taking a breath, at the top of a breath allows a singer to sing longer, increases resonance, and has many more advantages. In common with my students now, at first I could not even get myself to speak using a full breath intentionally! Motivated by intending to appear less intimidating, I used to limit my own voice by letting out most of my breath and then beginning to make a sound – every time. Having done what I’m advising, I know how tricky and challenging it is to change breathing patterns.

One comfort is that nobody notices a person who is practicing such a different way of speaking, even though it takes a big effort for you to change at first. They do notice increased resonance, the lack of a sense of urgency in your voice, and other interesting improvements. But they have no idea what you’re doing to bring the change about, (so it can remain your little secret.)

For me personally, a habit that was very challenging to learn to undo was closing down the back of my throat on one side, which shut off part of my voice. I had trained myself to shut this part of my voice pre-verbally due to having a rubber band put on my ear as a medical procedure as an infant. So, the reason that habit was tricky to learn to undo was that I used my voice all the time to shape words, so I was constantly reinforcing the wrong thing I did not want to do every time I made a sound.

This gives some insight into the fundamental level of change that is possible using Alexander Technique.

If you had a tool this powerful, what habits about yourself would you change?

What very challenging and persistent habit have you changed and how did you do it?

Substitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfamiliarity Land

Let’s say that the medium is movement, how an intention translates into physical action. The challenge or proof that you’re doing as you intend could be to use less effort, more mechanical advantage, perhaps even an ideal economy of applied physical energy during motion.

Maybe you have a goal in mind, a purpose about why you are wanting to improve the way you move. Now there is also another challenge about how to interrupt one’s own routines.

I’ll explain what I mean by that last sentence. One direction will, theoretically by default, “cancel out” the other. At the moment when you direct your whole self to go physically in one direction, the other possible options are de-selected. You can’t go two places at the same time.

If you try that theory out by putting  a new improvement into action – what happens is your old routines have the power to run interference on the new things that you really want. Your habits do this as if it’s life itself that is at risk. What’s unfamiliar and new is totally threatening to most people. Granted that some people can leap… but in order to leap, they need a complete conviction that they don’t want the old same thing. Another way around that is to go bit by bit to reassure yourself, and the imperative protective alarms never go off. There are obviously more ways to make the unfamiliar less scary too…

It takes a clarity of intent to gather one’s sense of purpose and direct one’s whole self. But, maybe that’s not what it takes. For instance, people used to tell me that I was patient when they saw the detail in my artwork. But for me, in an experience of absorption, an experience of being patience didn’t exist because my attention was fully engaged.

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

But how to practice to train a flexible habit?

Strangely enough, the best route is indirect and paradoxical. It is a brand of surrender or suspension of desire. It even works to use a brand of trickery: refusing to mentally say the “action word” and instead stick to the new steps of what you imagine might improve things. It takes at least sixty-eight times to train a new skill!

As a skill, it turns out that “taking out the complication” of the habitual routines is all that’s necessary. “The goal does itself” as the hindrances or complications are removed. This happening is a strange feeling of effortlessness – something you might need to get used to experiencing.

It’s worth it – you figure that out by doing what you couldn’t do before. The land of unfamiliarity is where all the new discoveries are.