Why Observe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Is it useful so far?

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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!

Obscure Alexander Technique

Why is the Alexander Technique not that well-known?

Multiple reasons, actually.

First off, students who are introduced to the discipline of Alexander Technique are traditionally not given many words by their teachers to describe what they’re learning. It’s tricky to find words to describe how you are being taken to underneath the edge of your customary perceptual sensitivity levels. A.T. teachers read a students’ subliminal signaling like an open book, but you cannot…because you’re not trained to see it yet.

Also, the ability to tolerate perceptual unfamiliarity is unsettling to most people, but it also fascinates too. Some people are superstitious that if they describe it, the magic will go away. It’s awhile before you can evoke this “magic” on your own.

Second, most students of A.T. are not clear that that they are getting a “How” and not a “What.” As far as I know, there are very few value judgments of content that A.T. teachers are selling. They mostly include how wonderful effortlessness and efficiency are and how strong the power of repetition is. This is one of the nicest features of AT – its lack of cultural value system “requirements” you must accept as a student that most mind/body disciplines demand. Where else can someone learn impulse control without being slapped down?

Also, AT people forget the big thing that makes A.T. different & unique is that it is designed to be used on improvised action. Whereas ALL the other supposedly related methods need that extra practice or therapy hour set aside for their routines & “exercises.” It’s true that if you don’t practice, it won’t work – but practicing A.T. takes only a thinking moment as many times a day as you can muster. This is much less time than, say, going to the dojo or doing yoga every day.

People most commonly assume what they feel is FACT, but it’s not. Human sensory feedback is completely relative, (remember the last time you got out of the water in a breeze and decided to get back in?) Sensory feedback is rampantly misinterpreted by most adults to varying detrimental effects over a person’s lifetime.

Also, A.T. feels strange, because whatever is new feels unfamiliar. Most A.T. teachers downplay the important principle of motor sense amnesia as if it’s merely “special effects” that deserve to be ignored while “sticking to process” is admonished. The fact that kinesthetic sensory capacity is distorted (for MOST people) is a huge selling feature that the public is NOT aware they are missing! Doing A.T. is a completely natural high.

So – those who teach are swimming against a tide of ignorance. The public in general doesn’t know how much they need this education. People have no clue how important it is to stop the eventual and unnecessary physical decline of repeating harmful contortions & unnecessary habits by mistake every time they attempt to teach themselves or perform intended skills. The public only realizes they need something when they feel pain and no other alternative exists. We need to introduce people to A.T. as a tool to rebel against their own conditioning. Perhaps in high school or middle school when rebellion is natural?

When you explain it like this to people, they get more interested and see the usefulness of learning A.T. and how widely it could be applied.

Actually, I shudder to imagine A.T. pushed into the same narrow category with chiropractic or physical therapy now that we have scientific verified proof how A.T. works on lower back pain. (2008 British Medical Journal)

A.T. is so much more handy for generating creative thinking skills, as a spiritual form similar to meditation practice to “actualize your intent.” A.T. improves self-observation & descriptive ability as well as sharpening recognition & awareness; it’s great for learning sophisticated impulse control & how to suspend assumptions & judgments. A.T. works as a template for coaching & studying it frees non-verbal social communication styles beyond childhood & regional upbringing. Plus, where else can someone un-learn what they trained themselves to repeat by mistake? Is there anywhere to learn how to substitute a “better” revision for a procedure a person now does reflexively? Plus, freeing postural conditioning has been documented to strengthen will-power!

I could go on & on…

 

I think the last reason that A.T. is not that well known is that over 3/4 of it’s teachers are women – and women are culturally programmed not to “brag” about their consummate skills, (which are considerable.) There’s some remarkable women in the field. I used to review for STATnews and found a anecdote about how an A.T. teacher needed Scotland Yard to dust her place for fingerprints after she was burglarized. Curiously, none of her own fingerprints were found in her house, because she handled everything she owned with exactly the most delicate amount of effort to do the job.

Anyway, check out this amazing perceptual training ability you can learn that is the real deal. It will improve your will, stamina and ability to get results from practice as well has allow you to avoid many pitfalls of life.

It’s continued to fascinate me for over forty years now….and counting.

 

Transcendent Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Why High Content?

There was a pivotal moment when I decided I needed to write about Alexander Technique.

When I was still a trainee learning to teach Alexander Technique, (1982) I attended a conference that brought together various lineages of A.T. teachers in Ojai, CA. At the end of the conference, the group got together and asked the attendees if anyone had any questions. I did, and I had the nerve to ask my question too. I asked the whole group of teachers, “What are the principles that everyone who is teaching here has in common?”

Probably in an effort to avoid conflict among what was regarded at the time to be different styles of presenting Alexander Technique, all of the teachers dodged the question completely. Essentially they mumbled something about how important the principles were and pretended the question had been answered. For me it hadn’t, because they didn’t spell anything out. I already knew the question was important, that’s why I asked. What I wanted to know was: where’s the real content? Why is it people spend so much time telling you what they are about to say, how important it is, who else thinks it’s important, what it will mean for you, what you can do with it if you retain this vastly important jewel of usefulness… They seem to go on and on without offering a shred of actual content.

Personally, I did not regard these styles of teaching Alexander Technique that was presented at the workshop as being so very different. I could observe many commonalities, but I couldn’t articulate them very well in words at that point. The reason I had trouble with that is Alexander Technique experience tends to take you beyond having words for what you’re experiencing. It’s the lack of classification that is so fascinating about the experience. So much that you don’t want it to have words. That might bring down the experience toward earth, when it seems sort of unfathomable and elusive.

After getting such an unsatisfactory answer, I merely figured that I had to answer my question for myself, and for others.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to learn enough about how to write to write about this particular subject in order to say something that didn’t give the wrong impression.

Well, it’s been a few decades since then. How have I been doing?

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…