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.

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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.