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…

 

What Made Me Open-minded

How I came to value Alexander Technique

I noticed the difference between adults and kids was stiffness from since before I could remember. Despite resolving as a kid to never “get stiff,” I was only able to avoid a mental brand of stiffness by being open to change in my thinking and attitudes. Probably I first received this “inoculation” for open-mindedness by being the child of an inventor, who was an immigrant in a new culture. He was a wise parent – as was my mom. Aside from their open-minded attitudes, they were able to spend a great deal of time with us as kids.

I am living proof that it’s possible to never lose one’s own curiosity, despite the loss of original childhood-blessed coordination from many uncommonly difficult life experiences.

Physically adapting to circumstances to avoid pain, my having to adapt to a change of height or weight  – all these influences made my own “mis-use” pretty much irresistible. My parents didn’t have particularly good coordination at all. I needed practical ways to express my open-mindedness that worked to make real improvements in my life. If I hadn’t had them, I would probably have bitterly given up, resigning from discouragement and over-sensitivity long ago. Until I got the tools to heal a mind-body split from using the discipline of Alexander Technique, I had little chance of executing a change toward effortlessness in my coordination. “Little chance” meant that I was the victim of a thoughtless but well-intentioned medical procedure that had unforeseen lifelong consequences – as a baby. Doctors thought it was more “kind” to tie off a birth defect gristle on my ear with a rubber band. It caused me as a baby to tense up the side of my neck randomly because the four week experience was an irritant. Only two decades later did doctors realize the procedure was destructive. Children who had had this done developed random back, neck, hip and knee problems when they reached skeletal maturity around seventeen years old.

I am not sure if it was was purely the chance of having experienced, insightful parents that helped me remain open to solutions. Perhaps it was the sad experience of becoming an orphan when I was a teen that led me to reflect and reconsider the effect of my actions. In that era, there was no grief counseling (or depression medication, thankfully!)

My capacity for denial was the only tool I had to cope with grief. Looking back, I wonder if it was a back-handed benefit to be able to so completely shut myself off with denial. Because when I ready to come out of my shell to make a friend, evidently I opened up farther than most people were capable of doing.

I cannot think of any other reason why it was me who had “Peak” consciousness experiences perhaps fifty times over a period of a couple of years. These experiences of a “state of grace” allowed me to be in a “flow” state with effortless posture and energy for days at a time. Without ever having taken mind-altering drugs, I experienced sustained psychedelic effects similar to the effects of magic mushrooms. Because this was the late 1960s psychedelics culture of experimentation, I did not think of my experiences as a sign of insanity – merely a sign of enlightenment.

One of the effects of having had these experiences is I got to embody “flow states.” I noticed the difference between me when I was in these “states of grace” meant my posture improved. For instance, I could run indefinitely without getting tired. I could almost read minds by being able to anticipate where people were going to move next.

But in my everyday life, I didn’t know how to regain the energy I experienced while in these altered states. I had no idea how to evoke these special states – they merely happened to me at unpredictable times. Valuing the beautiful coordination and other characteristics of being in these “flow” states did not stop my physical limitations from showing up at seventeen. Until I discovered Alexander Technique I had the flash of enlightenment, but not the knowledge to “turn back the clock” to youthful effortlessness. Even then, I thought of it as a means to suspend time.

My desire for “flow” experiences did allow me to recognize someone who was practicing Alexander Technique. That one person showed me a whole new world of possibility, Yisrael Kenneth Feldsott. He was training with Giora Pincas and Frank Ottiwell’s ACT teacher-training class for Alexander Technique. I watched Kenny tie his shoe and was completely entranced by the beauty of how he moved.  I thought Kenny’s ability to move beautifully meant he was capable of enlightenment states – and I was right.

What led you to value the ability to walk the pathway you’re on now?

Aphorism

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Control

Using the goal to substitute new improvements to develop his vocal skills, Alexander observed himself. It appeared that his own problems with voice loss starting in a backward and downward movement of his head. He observed that shortening the head back or down creates unecessary tension that affects the entire body and its’ quality of movement. This habitual movement was similar to the movement a turtle can make, in the motion of retracting the head towards the shell.

F. M. Alexander concluded that the orientation of the head in relation to the body determines the quality and successful response of how all other intended bodily motion may occur. The head is a steering key to bodily movement. The head moving away from the body allows the whole body to expand in stature, and to be ready to move easier in any direction.

Alexander observed that once this pattern of head retraction went into action, it was very difficult to influence. So he decided to back up and make the improvement with the first motion that initiated action. He traced the origin of motion to a head movement. He wondered if he could solve his voice loss problem by moving in the opposite direction from his usual habitual preparation as he began to speak. In Alexander’s case, this opposite direction of improvement was slightly away from the body and tipping slightly forward, which he described as “Forward and Up.” This sort of movement counteracted what is now known as a startle reflex.

After coming up with some issues carrying his intentions into action, Alexander found eventually that he could counteract his habit of pulling his head down into his neck. Starting the action in this new way alleviated the pressure on his voice. Counteracting habitual self-imposed limitations provided Alexander insights about the qualities of motion related to his suspended goals of being a better speaker.

The eventual success of Alexander’s hypothesis and the commonality of observing this same pattern in other people led him to establish the importance of the head as an axiom about movement initiation. The head moving away from the body allows the whole body to expand in length. Inspired by Rudolph Magnus idea of central control in animals, Alexander called this principle primary control. Primary control works in action – whether for good or otherwise.

Later, other Alexander Technique teachers used additional terms to encourage and mark the importance of this head movement, because specific descriptions can be an advantage. Alexander’s first graduate of this first training course, Marj Barstow, felt it was important to describe quality of motion as being “delicate” and originated the phrase: “The head moves, and the body follows.”

Most of our habits interfere by superceding the primary control response as a special exception. In most adults, so many special exceptions have been put into place that these pull in opposing directions, often firing off simultaneously. The teacher helps the student to become aware of these routine interfering patterns in order to inhibit them and regain control against conflicting automated habitual responses.

The other special action Alexander found helped to undo the coercive power of routines was to “Direct.” This special term of “Directing” means to suggest the thought of a constructive means without overtly performing the action. Through experimentation, Alexander discovered the fact that movement preparation occurs long before the person is aware they are about to move. This agrees with brain science findings done a hundred years later.

The suggestion of thinking about primary control while moving achieves many advantages. Most important, this ‘Directing” allows a minimal tonus of the neck musculature, so that the head balances freely on top of the spine, rather than locked in a certain position. This freedom of balance allows the torso and spine to respond by slightly expanding. That is exactly how and why Alexander Technique has gained a secret reputation for expanding height in adults and preventing height loss during aging.

This is a reprint of a definition of Primary Control I wrote today for the excellent wiki attended by Lutz at:

http://alextech.wikia.com/wiki/Primary_control#

Respecting Patrick MacDonald’s Legacy

I’ve been lucky to have experienced the late Alexander teacher Patrick MacDonald’s work first-hand a number of times. It was because of my having been connected to (and later a trainee of the teacher-training class of ) Ottiwell/Pincas where MacDonald was a visiting master teacher.  MacDonald was the one to personally determine that I was “ready” for the hands-on part of my training. Before MacDonald, I never knew what forward and up was until I got to experience the rachet-like precision in MacDonald’s ability to direct for me. The presence in his awareness was a pleasure; it inspired complete trust from me.

Possibly because my significant coordination problems began before I learned to walk, I had little resistance to following MacDonald’s clearly indicated Directions, even before I became an A.T. trainee. In my first lesson with MacDonald, (probably my fifth A.T. lesson!) he “took me” much farther than I probably should have been taken. He probably assumed my experience level to be much higher than it was, because of my ability to follow his lead. His mistake was that this ability of mine to follow his Direction reflected in my ability to maintain on my own what he could show me. Sustaining a new coordination beyond ten or fifteen minutes was a skill which I did not possess at the time.

But at the time, I did not want to be the one to set him straight! I wanted to kick out all the stops and go for getting what I could about A.T. on the innate insight level. I had experienced enlightenment before and I had complete faith that further enlightenment was possible.  I considered A.T. to be another form of enlightenment at the time. (As a working description of A.T. for a beginner such as I was, “a form of enlightenment” was not too bad of a description.)

I managed to walk out the door of the hotel after this fifth lesson of mine with Patrick, and as soon as I looked down to the descend the steps – I fell down, unable to balance at all! As I sat there, I reluctantly realized that I had to allow my “old ways” to reassert themselves if I was going to get up again – which of course I didn’t want to do because it seemed as if I was “wasting” the lesson. I had intended to go for a really long walk to see how long I could sustain this new way of moving I’d just been doing for the last 45 min. with this amazing master teacher.

If a Danish teacher had not been there to frog-march me to my car, figuring out how to walk after that confusion would have taken me quite a bit longer…but I probably would have gone for that walk even if I had to crawl down the stairs. Perhaps it was better to have help, I might have hurt myself.  I later decided that perhaps MacDonald removed my coping compensations which was how I had learned to walk as a toddler.  But at 25 years old as I was at the time, a person feels as if they can’t hurt themselves.

Fortunately, I knew enough about what had happened to willingly welcome the strangeness of that paradoxical state. I really wanted to rely on my ability to Direct myself, dammit! I had gotten such a clear experience of what Direction was, I just knew I could sustain it.

Later I realized that I had to write off my experience with MacDonald as being a case of what had happened to me in almost every skill I had ever learned:  I would get a tantalizing flash of inspired genius, and then I would have to traverse the long road like everyone else to actually learn the skill from scratch. At the time I had no idea about how long a way I needed to come, as my misuse was congenital and had been set into place when I learned to walk oddly as a baby while tensing the side of my neck from a medical procedure.

Being able to welcome that experience of being taken “too far” didn’t do much to help me sustain it. It really wasn’t until I stumbled into Marj Barstow’s style of teaching that I was able to sustain my tolerance for such unfamiliarity as I could willingly imagine – and do something with my own sense of knowledge that worked for me to continue learning indefinitely without the help of a teacher.

My own later understanding of the MacDonald style is this: In any art form, (and each style of teaching A.T. is an art form) there are a number of objectives that evolve. In classical AT style, (besides being in concert with FM’s principles,) one of the objectives are to prevent a pupil from moving down on themselves for the period of time the lesson lasts.  The idea is that if a pupil can surrender their own sense of “self-control” and allow the teacher to assume control, the teacher can be trusted to fittingly demonstrate what is desired to be emulated by the student. This is motivated from intending the student to directly experience it in their own coordination first-hand. Then with enough constructive kinesthetic experiences, by the time a student learns to Direct for themselves, (not willfully do them,) the experience of moving easier that they had with the teacher will work a state of “do-less-ness” in the student. That’s how the process from 1.) teacher guided to 2.) student self-initiated movement was meant to be practiced via that style.

This plan didn’t work for me, but at the time I thought it was my own shortcoming and perhaps I merely wasn’t done yet on that plan when I ran into Marj Barstow and learned that language was an important piece of my learning process that needed to be satisfied.

Then, I remembered that these objectives were evolved for a somewhat Victorian and British sensibility of culture and educational style, not an American, Canadian, Australian, etc. Times change and cultures are very different. Just because we all speak a version of English gives the mistaken meaning that we are also able to surpass our cultural conditioning of how meaning and conclusions are arrived at.

In fact, MacDonald style does all this in superb ways – and these “strange” antics you see in his style of working are demonstrations of how primary control can be maintained even under odd circumstances of movements that look as if they might hurt. In a sense the teacher is “proving” to the student that they can do extraordinary, inconceivable movements. I remember one MacDonald-trained woman showing me how I could step up onto the seat of a chair without effort…with my “weaker” leg leading the step. That I could do this was unbelievable and “blew my mind” at the time.

After some experience, I believe this ability to Direct oneself works in relationship to how far you have come and in measure of your willingness to welcome and sustain unfamiliarity. Directing oneself clearly is not based on an absolute state of being entirely free or possessing “good use”. This is why someone who is twistedly shaped can “use themselves well.” This is why MacDonald could complain about how bad his own use was, and why he also could make the mistake of taking me “too far.”  Of course, one’s own standards also rise in relationship to one’s own inability to surpass one’s own standards.

This ability to surpass one’s own conditioning and refuse to habitually react is something which I have found to be quite rare out of the A.T. teaching room, even for those trained in A.T. People would rather be outraged at others for inciting or “making” a reaction happen in them …rather than suspend and reflect that their own reactions have valuable information to offer them personally. June Chadwick’s enlightened attitude I see to be a reflection of the spirit of A.T.

The other issue is one of dominant senses. I suspect the classical A.T. approach which MacDonald people have preserved appeals to a “research”  sensibility. The pieces of information in the MacDonald style are assumed to arrive and make sense gradually as the habit stops its control bit by bit. That was not true for me personally. I would become a sponge if I trusted the source, completely soaking up the information whole, without question, and then deal with the issue of figuring out what to do with it later.

For me, my experience of the MacDonald style was that it was as if a house is being built and the pieces of the construction were arriving haphazardly; then once enough essential pieces are present, they could suddenly “congeal” in a sort of insight that here was a “house” that was being built – by finally being able to perceive what all the pieces were. In a sense, MacDonald builds from the ground up new perceptual assumptions that do not need to have linguistic names.

It turned out that I’m naturally a conceptual learner who must integrate language. This may be partly why, (no matter how innately I could surrender my habit,) the MacDonald model worked for me in a limited way. Learning works much easier and more completely for me to have the idea of a “house” structure in place first in the form of any structure that could be removed later (like training wheels.) Otherwise, I have nowhere to put the (kinesthetic) information that arrives out of sequence. No matter how much information arrived, it couldn’t mean anything to me other than in that specific, literal action. I could not hold it in my awareness in the moment using the process of A.T. Partly this was because there was no process in the way A.T. was taught in that era – there is only present-tense awareness in the interaction between student and teacher. The way it was taught in that style was designed to completely bypass language and respond directly to what was happening in the moment, applied in a codified movement actions between teacher and student. I couldn’t apply this example to other movements except by having a lesson using those movements specifically, (in spite of being quite an abstract thinker by nature.) In a sense, I was at the mercy of a “literal” sort of thinking style that relied on rote animal training, rather than an abstract ability to think for myself…which I knew I had, but was deliberately being put aside during A.T. lessons.

For me it was the paradox of “non-doing” that confused me. In A.T. we’re told that this inability to duplicate the results of lessons is a result of “trying to do” (which I knew wasn’t the case with me, because I could readily suspend my “doing” during a lesson with an innate ability I possessed before I knew what A.T. lessons were.) But I knew there was something missing here for me in how A.T. was being taught, so I was intrigued enough to stick around to figure this out. Mystique was the attraction that kept me interested. The answer (for me) came when Marj Barstow taught that non-doing had a very different quality of action with specific, identifiable characteristics that were very different from habitual back-and-down doing. After Marj Barstow’s point of view, feeling was something that was useful and sometimes offered valuable insight about your suspended goal – once you had, in fact,  made a head/body move in a factually new direction as you clearly intended.

I still believe teaching any skill is a “different strokes for different folks” sort of thing. There may be as many learning styles as there are learners and teachers. There is no doubt of the absolute value of the MacDonald style in itself for others, even given its limitations for application to my own learning style. The preservationists deliver that amazing, tantalizing flash of inspired genius that motivates students to carry through the long road of learning – no matter how long it takes. I gained quite a bit from my education in it and I still admire it as a form. The field of A.T. needs it’s preservationists as well as it’s innovators.

What Attracted Me To Alexander Technique

I’m thinking back at what attracted me to Alexander Technique…a very loooong time ago, in 1976. Strangely enough, it wasn’t to improve my terrible twisted posture, which had to have been a very, very depressing sight in someone who was 23 years old.

I’ve assumed that the spiritual reasons that had motivated me to continue learning Alexander Technique probably wouldn’t motivate others…but maybe that’s my erroneous assumption. So that’s why I’m about share my experience here.

I wasn’t thinking about my terrible posture at all when I got to know this guy as boyfriend material. He was fascinating to me because I thought his easy posture and challenging mind meant he could naturally experience changes of consciousness. To me, this indicated the capacity for enlightenment. It’s true that he moved much lighter and easier than I could – he still does. He was studying Alexander Technique; eventually he was invited to join the teacher training class. I often accompanied him to class, and students there used me as a “body” for their practice lessons.

Still now, I often recall how he would reach up to smooth away the crink in my forehead that I didn’t realize I was doing to myself. For not having that line in my forehead thirty years later, I still quite often feel affectionate gratitude towards him, even though we only spent nearly four years with each other. What a wonderful gift to have given someone!

What convinced me to continue to study and train to teach A.T. on my own and what made it fun was the attraction of being able to change my own consciousness. AT didn’t use the coercion of an Iron Will to affect change, but something else. Mysteriously, indirectly this something else made my analytical ego attachments go away and my sense of wholeness would return.

These all-points-awareness experiences were a signature state of my Alexander Technique lessons. The potential in me that they could evoke was very exciting. Sometimes I’d have a creative flash of insight. Along with a new awareness of my body, my perceptual sensitivity would ever so slightly wake up. Sometimes there would be a leap of new awareness and insights that transformed how I thought about myself, my past and my potential power to choose my actions that I had not previously possessed. My motives to keep learning A. T. were now driven by having a means to address a split I saw between my intentions and how I mostly floundered around to bring about change in my own behavior, talents and my ability to learn.

Later, I realized my whole body was a lot happier too. I wasn’t getting worse and more limited as I got older, but I felt easier, freer. My body unwound, as did my worries and my ability to fall asleep whenever I wanted to sleep.

As I applied the Alexander Technique to learning to sing and continued to observe myself and ask questions, it gave me a significant insight about why I kept half my throat was closed. When I was a baby I had been told that I had been born with a very slight birth defect; my ear gristle grew unattached that would have allowed me to wiggle my ears. In the 1950’s doctors thought the remedy of tying off the gristle with a rubber band was preferable to holding down a squirming child and cutting off the tiny offense. Unfortunately, this choice of treatment trained the baby to tense its neck. Without realizing it, I did this to the side of my neck and also shut off half my voice. Keeping my neck tensed as I learned to walk and talk affected how I grew as a toddler. I unknowingly kept doing this extra tension, accommodating and adapting to the posture it dictated to me.

Everything was fine for me as a child, but as my hips became one piece in my late teens at 17, I began to have a mystery problem with my knee. No doctor could tell me why my knee became damaged when there was no external injury; I had to seek out a third opinion before I could even find a doctor in that era who would admit nobody knew why!

As my hip had become one piece, my body was finally forced to assume the posture of a twisting torque. This was dictated by the tension I customarily trained myself to do as a baby on one side of my head-neck. This continuous reaction had been put into place in that three week period of having an irritating rubber band on my ear as a baby!  There was even a picture of me with this squint on my face as a baby that shows what I had trained myself to do in a constant reaction to this irritant. Of course, as a child, my unformed bones were able to accommodate this tension without affect. But as I grew into an adult, there came a time when the structure must reflect the cause; this time was when my hips matured at 17. Then my knee took the brunt of this posture I had trained myself to do – and forgotten about. After 17 years old, my torqued posture actually stopped the blood flowing to my femur at my knee and caused the bone to crumble – and surgery didn’t help. I still had the limp at 23 until I began to study Alexander Technique. If I hadn’t “stumbled” onto Alexander Technique, I have no doubt that by now I would have had to have my knees replaced before my forties!

All this came clear when I talked to someone else younger who had the same rubber-banding-to-crop done to their ear when they were an infant. They had later been informed by their doctor that this barbaric practice was the cause of many back, neck and hip problems for people that only showed up in their late teens.

So you see, that although I was attracted to Alexander Technique for spiritual reasons, it had a significant benefit for the longevity and quality of my health that was not, at first, apparent to me. With my sights set on a spiritual path, I did not really realize the significance of what it meant to have an operating manual for my coordination. From my point of view, the inside state affected my outside state. I never realized that changing one’s external manner of moving could affect the inside in such a powerful way. But there it is.

Sometimes a person doesn’t know what they have to gain from a course of action until they do it and find out for themselves what they are getting from it. Sometimes this finding out takes time, especially when the course of action involves loss.

When you are giving up something, you know well what you are giving up. What you may have to gain can feel like only a promise; an uncertain elusive conviction of faith or a whisper of potential. Often, you can’t have both – you must choose either the old comforts you know well or the leap of faith; because you can’t go in two directions at once. I have experienced that myself leaping into the unknown feels like a complete willingness to risk everything. In my case, the advantage of learning A.T. was a “noh”-brainer!

I’d love to hear about your story of attraction to studying this Alexander  Technique.

Notes on Teaching Kids

If I were presenting the principles of Alexander Technique to kids, I would start with basic thinking skills of revealing assumptions. I would teach what is an assumption as being a habit of a ground rule in games. I’d outline some basic thinking strategies as strategy in game play. I’d go through some common decision-making processes about the best ways to play a game. After I covered those, I’d go on to how to creatively generate ideas and apply them to problem solving of how to win a game.

As a template, I would probably use the work of Edward de Bono in his CORT thinking skills that he designed to teach children in Venezuela in the 1980s. The first situation that I would set up would be Edward de Bono’s basic thinking strategy of outlining the disadvantages, advantages and interesting ideas that do not fit as three basic sections to help explore a topic.In the case of the kids, I would use how to win at playing a game as the topic. Following the process of Alexander Technique, we would first have to play the game to experience what it would be like to be inside the situation. Then we could observe and think about how and why the winning strategies worked – and what these winning strategies were.

Making a list of this sort involves going through a process of brainstorming and “lateral thinking” activities – a term de Bono coined that has since made it into the dictionary. Lateral thinking would come under the heading of “interesting” ideas that do not fit the other two categories.

Most kids are already familiar with brainstorming, thankfully, even if they do not know what to do with the list of ideas. If not, I could show examples of what is brainstorming; I like to think of it as the ability to make a list to preserve every idea before we decide if we want to do anything about any one idea. So the first skill I’d be teaching would be making the ideas, so we can deliberately choose which idea to act on later from a list of possibilities. Separating the activities of noting ideas without deciding if they are good or bad judgment is teaching suspension – which is a major feature of Alexander Technique.

Many skills build on previous concepts. For instance, we can’t understand circumference until we experience what a circle is and how long it actually takes to go around a circle. Learning has the sound of a surprise, an “aha!” Things do not turn out as we expect when we make discoveries.
From my own observation, when they begin to establish what is criteria for themselves, people favor two major ways of sorting: people tend to match for similarities or people compare to reveal differences. As you direct your line of questioning in each of those two directions, each of these two strategies will give you wildly differing answers. Some of us seem to be wired to notice novelty and also we are motivated to retain the status quo; so each of these two abilities are useful to purposefully be able to use in their respective differing situations. In this teaching situation, we can sort the group of people into two sections depending on whether they think they are kids who like new, exciting experiences or kids who like things to be predictable, easy and comfortable.

It strikes me that playing “red light, green light” would be a fun way to learn these features. For those who do not know about this game; it is where one child stands a ways away from a line of children with their back to them, and the objective is to get close enough to tag the child who is “it.” This child can turn around to spot the line of people moving; they can send anyone who is moving when they turn around back to the starting line further away.

It is a way of getting kids to experience how there are two basic strategies someone can use to win that game. Of course, combining these two means works the best. The two strategies are is to inch forward so gradually that the person cannot see you moving to get closer and closer. The advantage to using this strategy is you can easily stop on a dime each time they turn around to look; because they are moving so much faster than you are, they never notice you are moving. The other is to make a mad dash when the person is not looking and tag them by getting into their blind spot, which is determined by which way they choose to turn around. After the experience of the game was played until these two strategies were revealed, then I would note the mystery advantage of suspending the urge to madly dash for the goal, noting that each strategy has advantages, disadvantages and points of unrelated features that make them curious or interesting.

Then I might ask the kids to make a list for themselves as homework over a few days, “What are the disadvantages of being a kid?” I would have them interview adults, I would have them observe their own reactions to how it feels to be who they are, and I’d have them act out and role play their objections to being kids in the classroom. Essentially, I would have the kids tell to someone else the secret of how they think is the best way to win the game.

It seems to be in our nature to sense disadvantages. To compete in a game structures a very clear priority. So, in some ways, we are wired to notice what does not match – in this case whether we are winning or losing. After we have a list of why it is a disadvantage to be a kid and what are the limitations of childhood compared to being an adult, this list will tell us what the advantages are, point by point. Advantages are much more difficult to reveal than disadvantages. Why is that so? The nature of an advantage is that it is almost as natural as a fish noticing it is in water, so it is tricky to notice what you take for granted.

My motive in asking this question of kids is that the guiding feature of what makes kids different from adults is adults get stiff and tend to resist learning new things; kids learn very fast and are flexible.

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

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

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

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

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

Asking Really Great Questions

As a topic in general, good questioning has many examples in every field. It pays to study the process of questioning as a separate subject, as if you were going to design an FAQ for your skill. Not only can it make you a better learner, but a better teacher.

If you are a teacher, you know there are multiple advantages about encouraging questioning from the start. Questions from a student show a teacher their student’s range and style of thinking. Questions point in the direction of the answers. In fact, questions can imply a limitation of what kind of answers that are possible to find. Better questions open up a rich field of personal discovery.

How do you ask a really good question? How can a teacher encourage learners to ask great questions?

As a student, you can ask any question to get started. Sometimes the first questions that come off the top of your head aren’t the most appropriate, but everyone has to start somewhere. Most teachers understand this.

As a learner, to ask a really juicy question, you first have to listen carefully to learn any “lingo” about the topic. So the best questions to start with are often about the specialized use of terms being used.

The other skill that’s good to develop as a questioner is being able to tell the teacher the best way that you learn by indicating acknowledgment you are following them. It’s useful for the teacher to know when the student is on “over-load, please change tactics now” or “I’ve got it, go on” to the teacher.

At first, even in a private lesson, most students seem to want a teacher to “lecture” them. They want to let the master talk. The teacher saying something to preface or frame a lesson might be appropriate in some cases. But what if the teacher doesn’t really want to go on about the topic; what if they want their student’s involvement from the very beginning?

Some teachers address this desire by doing the asking themselves, and then answering their own questions. They hope that the students will get the idea of what kind of questions to ask and starting to ask questions themselves. However, students can misunderstand that questions posed by the teacher and then answered are merely rhetorical ones; that the teacher is asking these questions to show off their knowledge. The students may imagine that the teacher would never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer to. What to do when the teacher finds that students resort to parroting or restating the teacher’s questions with other motivations such as to gain approval?

Some learners believe some kinds of questions might be insulting or too challenging for the teacher. How can a teacher encourage learners to get past their misconceptions that particular issues, communications or questions are somehow “forbidden” without losing ability of being able to direct the class? Part of being a teacher is the skill of pulling together the attention of the group. There are some assumptions that create problems with encouraging this activity in learners related to respecting the teacher; especially in a large class situation. What to do when students seem to believe that they are being encouraged to deliver certain questions that cross the line of impolitely questioning the ability of the teacher to teach?

It’s very tricky to ask a question that will point in an entirely new direction. Questions can imply that there is one answer, rather than a multiplicity of answers. It’s also easy to think that just because you have come up with an answer to a question – that this one answer is enough of an answer.

Fantastic and personally meaningful questions sometimes need quite a bit of personal experimentation to adequately explore their potential. Sometimes this kind of question can become a sort of “virtual question” that many actions of exploration are continually answering during the course of life.

  • How can you encourage your students to ask really good question of the teacher?
  • How can a teacher get around student’s misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We’re talking about adult learners here.)

Instead of my lecturing, here’s an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. She’s almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people figured it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, “What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?” Most often, laughter, but no daring questions. The humor did have some effect to loosen people up.

The experience of feeling a new perceptual assumption that Alexander Technique delivers is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as frightening or magical. In this case, people were both attracted and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people’s foundations; pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with “respect.” For some people, this turned out to be a kid glove sort of unquestioning loyalty and agreement.

This little old lady named Marj Barstow hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a “private” lesson with her… with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, “So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?” She wouldn’t go on until someone described it.

That’s how she taught us to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. That also taught us to ask ourselves what these indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. It was also how she embarassed people, and then showed them the way out of the crippling emotions of stage fright, embarassment and being completely tongue-tied.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome of what someone was trying to do. Then we learned how to integrate the special points with the whole, normally speeded action again.

These examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher. The one I’ll tell you about next surprised me, because I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we’d pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn’t understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation. This is what made me realize that she was asking my permission to deliberately put her “on the spot” by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by the group of students. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different. I decided that she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak, for the rest of the class.

Essentially, she gave me license to be planted as a sort of “sacrificial fool” in the forbidden questions department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I’d fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the teacher and myself immensely – I felt as if we were conspiring together. After those kind of questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then started to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.

So if you are a teacher, don’t be above encouraging one of your students to act as a ‘secret plant’ in the classroom. Certainly – if you’ve got any comments or questions to ask me – please speak up now!

End-gaining

Today I’m thinking about the “evoke experience” strategy that many people use. This is where someone notes a state of mind by using a phrase or a word the experience evokes. Then they seem to attempt to create a sort of internal filing system or anchor for the experience. When they would like to re-experience what they had experienced before, they say those “magic words” and the state comes back – sort of like a hypnotic suggestion that is designed to trigger this part of their brain to engage and give them the experience, or like a filing system. You might have to say the “incantation” or phrase in a certain sequence, coupled with a motion, etc.

In Alexander Technique, they have a word for this activity – “end-gaining.” Meaning, going for new results with this “evoke” or other habitual strategy, rather than following the newer steps that will actually get you there. It’s something to be avoided, mostly because it doesn’t work so well when applied to new experiences and an unfamilar process.
at the end of Terrace, Bolinas
I’m not making a value judgment on how this works or it’s effectiveness with my next observation. I’ve just noticed that as people use this process and get some results, then they use it in places where it could be wildly useless and somehow they “believe it’s working.” It has the effect of a superstition. They say it can be quite a powerful example of “positive thinking” for them. I think the reason this works so well is there’s actually a part of the brain that begins to do something as soon as you think of it – and this is why visualization works and why you can “practice” doing something by merely thinking about it.

I’ve also watched people do this by telling me what something is “not.” Their idea that if they don’t really say what it is they want, whatever it isn’t will be allowed to happen on its own. Without their specifying exactly what it’s not, they hold it up as a sort of superstition that if they specify it, it will be limited and thus not a surprising enough sort of experience for them.

How I Uncovered My Own Linguistic Assumptions

I wanted to write about the first steps I took to identify with and emulate alternate ways of thinking. I didn’t used to think of making new interpretations of how I put together meaning and raw experience; I learned to do it.

I had stumbled onto Edward De Bono in the library. He wrote “PO – Guide to Creative Thinking. That put me on a path of seeking out those who could think “laterally.” But I didn’t really know what that meant, other than lateral thinkers were laughable. It fascinated me. What made funny stuff funny? Why did I laugh when I discovered something?

As a high school senior, I happened into an independent study class in History. I was assigned to choose an event that had occurred in the civil war; an event important enough and far enough back that it had been included in many history books written since then. My job in this independent study was to compare how each historian had chose to describe the course of events. Because I had read the raw accounts myself, I learned quite a bit about point of view, bias, cultural assumptions, presentation and salesmanship.

I found the Sapir-Whorf theory when I was in college while poking around the library again. Because I could read the words but I couldn’t really understand the book, I decided to base an independent study communication class on it. The book in question was Benjamin Lee Whorf’s book, “Language, Thought & Reality,” where he articulates the cultural conceptual differences between a number of North American indigenous languages in quick succession.  I studied and studied to wrap my brain around the concepts, but I realized that I had to go elsewhere to find a new way to make sense of what Whorf was saying. I figured my inability to understand his writing was because of my pretty much complete cultural bias – although I was fluent in Spanish at the time. I realized that Spanish was still an English-related indo-european language.


So I went out on a sort of “quest” to learn how to get beyond my mono-cultural orientation. I realized that part of changing had to do with uncovering assumptions. So I sought out that activity – even demanded it.

Meanwhile, I also studied with John Lilly, inter-species communicator, and got to attend a workshop by him and even got to hang out in his isolation tank for a few hours.

I eventually stumbled onto “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” which is a bookby Karen Pryor on the art of communicating non-verbally by understanding the art of reinforcement used for training animals. Somehow I knew that training animals was related to the ability to train myself – because I was an animal.

Instead of a term paper, I created this enormous time-line of all the ideas I ran into, in a sort of an associative graph of the process I followed to document how I spent my time exploring for this class. Essentially, I invented mind-mapping. I realized that I had to get out of describing my experiences in a linear way; I had to write without writing the way I was thinking not try to cram my thinking into language.

For my term paper and before computers, I cut up all the pieces of information and rearranged them on the floor in an enormous mind-map connection diagram. With enough practice at stretching my mind around ways of thinking that were unfamiliar and didn’t involve the language I knew, I could finally abstract and explain to others the concepts in Whorf’s book without repeating his words verbatim.

I also trained the feral kittens in the back yard to come into my house and be petted and held. I made art that dealt with shifting perceptual point of view and confusing figure/ground relationships.

And that was just the start of my fascination with Alexander Technique…