Discovery Steps

A feature of Alexander Technique is that it teaches the ability to tap the unknown for new information. These points outlined below can be applied generally to any discovery process. In Alexander’s case, his interest was how to learn a new way to speak onstage how he loved to do, despite having learned to unintentionally repeat what brought his performance to a standstill and appeared to actively sabotaging himself by losing his voice.

Exactly how do people handle what is challenging, a bit scary and undefined? What makes people become ready and willing to question their own ways of doing what they do? What are “questions that matter” and how do we learn to form them for ourselves?

  • How Can I Make It Safe?
  • Identify and suspend former conclusions and partial solutions
  • Ridicule self preservation so you can increase your ability to take risks
  • Physical safety – just a bit of “insurance”
  • How Can I Make My Experimenting Memorable?
  • Characteristics of making discoveries about the unknown – so you can recognize them when they happen
  • Using more senses will make learning faster – cross-referencing perceptual senses will help reveal physical assumptions trained unconsciously by repetition
  • Record yourself, keep a journal, use technology, use another person, even just a mirror is useful for feedback on what’s happening
  • How Can I Observe to Perceive What I May Be Missing?
  • Change the speed of the action
  • Description blow-by-blow what’s going on, as it’s happening
  • Humor and paradox are also a feature of discovery; make it laughable
  • What’s a Better Question?
  • Learn the lingo – if you don’t have words for factors, tricky to ask about them
  • Interesting – clueless – many-faceted – there are many flavors of questions
  • How Am I Concluding, and Despite What?
  • Describe what happened that you didn’t think was useful – what’s implied?
  • After describing contractions, objections, go again to “check out” your conclusions
  • Rinse, Wash, Repeat
  • Take breaks, pause.
  • Ask, “What happened before my discovery happened?”
    “What can I do to take this discovery further?”

So – I’m curious what else might work for you to evoke new information or experiences?



Snoring Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The desire to do something that matters in an enjoyable way seems to be at the core of learning Alexander Technique.  – Jean Louis-Rodrigues in 1982

Today I wanted to write a bit about why “Chairwork” became a classic way of teaching Alexander Technique.  Classically, Alexander Technique was taught to me by having me sit in a chair and stand again over it, over and over and over…for years. The priorities of chair work are to rise from the chair and sit in it again while being effortlessly in balance within any part of the motion.

Now that I am the teacher, I don’t choose to teach using that form as a teaching activity. For me, this was because there are good reasons I discovered later to not repeat anything over and over.  Plus, having the student choose the action was more fun. It matched F.M. Alexander’s motive to make a hobby, art or passion of his possible and to continue learning what he wanted to be doing indefinitely, despite his serious problem issues that came from his own breathing issues and misunderstanding his teachers.

Alexander Technique is an indirect, abstract discipline. It is meant to be applied to whatever you’d like to improve by making anything you’re doing easier to do. For instance, people who are far from being able to look anywhere near “normal” posture can be doing A.T.

One of the misunderstandings that students have with chair work is to mistake the content for the activity, to think Alexander Technique was “sit up straight school.” There is no “ideal posture.” Anyone can do Alexander Technique well, even if they are physically bone-twisted from multiple other injuries or chronic diseases. A.T. teaches how to make happen an intentional response to change oneself. This is usually for the goal of moving effortlessly, but for an actor that priority would be “to be in character.  To do this, we need to use some sort of physical example so it can be shown factually we did as we intended…even if that outward action is lying on the floor to take a break, to solve a maths problem, dig a hole or to gimp across the street while the light is still green.

The classic A.T. teacher’s selection of the action of sitting a chair and standing as the medium for teaching is pretty much arbitrary. It was probably selected from having limited space for teaching originally.  It was preserved as a form for teaching probably because of the tremendous respect of students for their first generation Alexander teachers.

But in fact, any movement will do for an A.T. teaching example. It’s best to choose an action that deals with changing balance. (This is mostly why rising from sitting and sitting in a chair qualifies.) Any action that requires balance to change orientation will exhibit all of the personal strategies involved in movement decision-making on a fundamental and often hidden level of physical coordination. In the tiniest microcosm of movements are the metaphors for the preferences of habit. My favorite staple for teaching using a mundane activity is walking. 

Plus, it’s a useful thing to study sitting in chairs. It’s been scientifically proven that sitting for long periods is hazardous to health. If we can sit actively with poise, grace and stamina, we can do demanding and additional activities with a high degree of repetition without the potential for cumulative injury.

Because of the dangers of the lack of the ability to suspend a goal, having the teacher pick the activity they’re most familiar with is a good thing too. For many reasons, it doesn’t matter what motion that gets chosen as a medium for learning A.T. This is because the action is merely an example, an experiment.

It helps if what you choose as a goal is an activity you don’t care about. This is because then your desire to “attain the goal” won’t be so strong and you’ll be able to practice it without intense desire getting in the way.

But it’s also really useful and fun to pick a very challenging situation for using Alexander Technique. Otherwise, you’ll not know if you will be able to suspend a passionately held goal. You might not know whether or not your intent for excellence may be playing out as you imagine is possible.


English doesn’t have a convenient grammatical form to indicate or describe subjective experience. Describing the nature of reality seems to be one of the irresistible assumptions inherent within the structure of English, because there is no tense that expresses “from my point of view” – for instance, the way the Hopi language is structured. Everyone has an opinion that expresses a unique point of view. So this characteristic of language leaves English speakers to decide if and how much someone else is lying if a speaker expresses their point of view as “fact.” It may seem to be obvious fact for the speaker, but that sense of fact might not be shared by the listener.

This is part of makes it tricky to describe the subjective qualities of learning Alexander Technique. There are ways that English has qualifying phrases such as… “It seems to be,” “From my point of view” or “IMHO. ” These are examples that attempt to frame or signal that the speaker knows their certain point of view is going to follow.

 Uncertainty indicated by a writer is regarded by editors as “timid.” Writers will be admonished to come out and dare to make their definitive declarations. Editors will point out that using subjective qualifiers don’t adequately convey the writer’s motive of being certain that their point of view is a valid one. 

When I use the subjective attitude in my writing, it is not meant to be considered a rhetorical point delivered with uncertainty, self-effacement or with tongue-in-cheek. “From my point of view” is not necessarily another way of saying “I haven’t taken a poll or conducted my research properly.”

Instead, I regard using a subjective qualifier as a demonstration of conservatively stating the presence of uncertainty with an attitude of an eternally, questioning open-mindedness. 

When using those qualifiers, there’s always the possibility that a writer’s motive will be misunderstood. One solution to this is society has evolved various ways to assign believable need through specialization, degrees and qualifications that ares supposed to provide recognition – before education has happened. 

Misunderstandings have proliferated about my assuming this subjective point of view in my writing that I would like to clarify. Readers have reacted to my using language in this way by wondering if I’m obligated to talk this way legally. They wonder if I’m avoiding “making legal claims” that could be proved false, resulting in me possibly being sued for making promises I can’t keep by teaching Alexander Technique.

It appears we now have a culture subjected to an onslaught of advertising who suspects the relative truth of what everyone says, no matter their professional qualifications, skills or experience. The only mitigating factors for some decision-makers are consumer reviews and testimonials; a skeptic may even discount those. But when you think about it, a professional organization is merely a bunch of people who have gotten together, established guidelines and are charging membership dues.

In fact, scientific verification exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique. A study was published in Aug. 2008 by the British Medical Journal. This proved that getting an education in F.M. Alexander’s technique works very well to alleviate lower back pain. Other trials have proved various other applications, (Wikipedia has the links.) Because human relationship to intent, reaction and action is essential to every further success, there are unlimited applications. Perhaps it is the abstraction and scope of applications that make Alexander Technique questionable to decide to devote the considerable time, expense and effort to study.

Of course, in many cases suspicion is warranted. Being blind-sided by having too small of a sample to establish “fact” happens even to scientists who rigorously intend otherwise. Researchers recently came out with proof that some of the accepted psychological tests that are supposed to prove truths about human nature were too wide in scope. A case in point is the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma. It turns out this maxim only works within a limited Western capitalistic culture. Results do not match if the same “scientific trials” are conducted among other non-Western cultures. Apparently the “scientifically conducted” findings that the results of these tests are “proof of human nature” appear to be only true within a certain limited cultural group.

However, my use of point of view qualifiers is not motivated by fears of legal battles. In education, results are dependent on the student applying themselves. Has anyone ever heard about how a teacher could be sued for not delivering a benefit that required the student to apply it? 

Big questions remain that concerns both potential students and the teachers who have an investment in convincing the advantages of what they have to offer. Would you like a stab at forming them? Here’s my attempts.,.

  • How does a potential student gain a belief, a conviction enough to make a long-term investment in learning a particular discipline? 
  • How does a person decide before they are certain it will work for them that any solution or benefit others have gained that they are being shown applies to them personally? 


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 series was started on April 4th. 2013

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




Once you’ve got some observations and have asked some questions, it’s time to conduct the experiment.

You’ve probably got some ideas what might be a better way to accomplish the goals you have in mind. What we’re talking about here is how you might move to put these goals into action where the rubber meets the road…how you walk your talk, so to speak.

The usual way to accomplish goals is to become urged on to do so. This is a fine strategy when tiredness or overcoming resistance is a factor. But what if those are not the issue? Does urging help when there there is plenty of motivation, (maybe too much of it) – so much desire to succeed that the person is beginning to overdo, to fall over themselves or freeze up? What happens when there is so much value riding out an outcome? For instance, how can that experienced pool shark miss that “easy” shot merely because of the pressure of it meaning winning a tournament award?

Conducting an experiment means you’ve never done it before. You’re not urging yourself on to keep going, you’re urging yourself to dare to metaphorically jump off a cliff while paying attention.

In order to learn any skill reliably, it takes practice. Practice when the pressure is off, and when the pressure is on you’ll have much more of a chance to put it into action at a crucial moment.

So the first ingredient for conducting an experiment is to make it safe for yourself to take chances. Try to put in place various guarantees on personal safety, social consequences, to take responsibility for other people’s possessions and other concerns you might need to minimize risk or loss. Find the smallest chunk that doesn’t make the alarms go off that engages the habit.

Instead of substituting one “better” set of procedures for a “worse” out-dated ones, I’m going to suggest that you merely stop doing the outdated ones and see what happens. Perhaps you do not need the put in place any other substitutions.

Stopping what you had been doing that was leading you where you did not want to go is the first step – and sometimes the only step needed for improvements to arise spontaneously.

Give it a go!

Endgaining Defined

This is a new word that has been in use by the Alexander Technique community since 1930s, invented by the founder. It describes the expression, “Go for it!” The word also describes the troublesome limitations of using one’s will in the face of a new challenge. The word endgaining describes the irresistible urge to gain an intended goal that activates a habitual response connected to using one’s will.

The word in the Alexander Technique community is most often used to express a lack of success, for a number of reasons. The best example of the issues may be illustrated by the metaphor of a conductor and orchestra. The conductor assumes when they give the direction for a certain musical effect, that the musicians are skilled and practiced enough to do what it takes to make the conductor’s direction to come true. The success of the in-time response to the conductor will be in direct relationship to the amount of practice the musicians have invested in the skill of playing their instrument, what they expect from their familiarity with the music they have prepared to play and their ability to make sense of what the conductor is indicating. A lack of practice will result in a lack of success and a frustrated conductor.

The first issue is the effect of practice and how repetition builds abilities. Endgaining relates to this because the skill that has been practiced the most will jump forward to carry out the imperative direction to “do it” whenever the signal to do an act is given.

The other feature that determines success is motivation or drive, which is popularly expressed in the use of will. A lack of success expressed in the word “endgain” is backed up by brain research. Movement actions have already been prepared to occur before conscious awareness of action happens. Technically, a person prepares to go into action long before that person is aware of their desire to act. Humans have only 1/64th of a second to veto or shape the way they are going to do an action that is already been prepared and is in progress inside of them before it becomes expressed in an overt action.

So – using one’s will power to carry out an intention only works in relationship to how familiar and practiced a person is with the required skills needed. Endgaining means there is a primary motive towards reaching an aim, disregarding the method used to achieve the intended goal.

If we ignore the way we do things, the means we are most familiar to get our goals will happen. If the goal requires a familiar means for success or successively matches similiar skills previously trained, all is well. But a new situation requires a new and unfamiliar means, there might be undesirable consequences. During situations that do not match previously trained skills inappropriate to the situation, pain, illness and injury occur. It will not matter how imperative the need or will to succeed is. An epic fail can still happen in the presence of the most arrogantly successful confidence and drive.

The Alexander Technique demonstrates a process that allows a successful approach to establishing a new means to deal with unfamiliar circumstances.

To be an endgainer when a more effective process is available marks the student as naive. They need more practice in the skill of temporarily suspending their goals to allow the use of unfamiliar means. Without using the new indirect means, our responses will most likely follow the dominant and most often practiced movement patterns. These old routines recreate a series of sense perceptions that feel ‘right’ to us – but they are merely the comfort of doing what we know best. To get an unfamiliar new benefit, we need to stop doing what we have practiced and know how to do. We need to be willing to feel “strange” and take a gamble. We need to suspend the goal and stop our will-to-do that wants to endgain.

So  how do we tell when something notable has happened and that we have indeed stopped endgaining? Effortlessness and lightness are new signals of success.

Stronger Brain Fibers

Alexander Technique lessons give practical influence over impulse control. In this post are some brain research tips involving human reactions and habituated impulses and how they work. Rather than being at the mercy of automated or accidentally learned reactions, listed are some practical experiments and suggestions useful for strengthening the ability to deliberately direct response. These work to compensate for the brain’s design limitations.


The lower reptilian brain that thinks in images is the first part of the brain to mature. This part of the brain drives self-involved imperative survival reactions – such as sex, avoiding danger, protecting family and clan members. This reptilian brain dictates swift and sure reactions that preempt the slower, deliberate and complex reasoning ability in the upper fore brain area. The advantage of the reptilian brain is it takes over, makes a quick and sure decision that sizes up a situation, hopefully in enough time to preserve survival.


What brain scientists called GABA fibers are what connect the higher cognitive reasoning function of the upper brain and the survival-oriented reptilian brain. To start out, these GABA connecting fibers are thin, so the faster reactions of the lower reptilian brain are the default. Maturation of the upper brain occurs starts at around twelve years of age and grows until around twenty-five. This growth can be accelerated by the person’s responses to circumstances – along with which external circumstances exist to test responses from integrating advantages from both brain areas.


What enhances this GABA fiber growth is confronting fear and gaining the ability to differentiate meaning from significant vrs. significant evidence. With experience, the person realizes that most apparently dangerous conditions are, in fact, inconsequential, (and which are, in fact, dangerous.) They learn when to act and when to to calm themselves and not allow their “chain to be yanked” unnecessarily. These connecting GABA fibers bulk up, as muscles do, each time this internal reassurance happens. As specific fears are countermanded by reassurance, the growing bulk of these connecting GABA fiber eventually allows the action of the fore brain to happen at the same time survival measures are being taken. The person learns to fight smarter when fighting is necessary, to be coolly calculating to determine this need. Wisdom and reasoning eventually eliminates the need for desperately trying harder at any cost.

Thinking deliberately in spite of (or in addition to) feelings & impulsive reactions gets easier with practice – even though this foresight takes more time and must be cultivated with accumulated experience. With practice, it’s possible to preempt knee-jerk survival images, fears, interpretations & conclusive suspicions that so effectively run the lower brain entirely.


Each time reaction is refused or redirected, we send a new electrical response along these GABA fibers that connect the two brains. Each new response makes the fibers fatter, as a muscle grows stronger by exercise. Eventually the GABA connectors bulk up and make it easier for us to stop fear impulses entirely. The GABA fibers eventually act like insulators. The GABA fibers can be described in a poetic way as courage – or “grace under fire.”


After some experience, the person learns the differences between a gut instinct, a prejudice and a preference that is merely a customary opinion of personal taste. They learn to “choose their battles wisely.” Of course, they often learn from unfortunate lessons that negative speculation & paranoid suspicions are not always a benefit to one’s long-term survival advantage. The reptile brain functions only with a short-term need to survive now.


Not growing GABA fibers has more than a moral danger of a lack of wisdom. The reptile brain manufactures fears and motives that are sometimes self-fulfilling prophesy. If a person never gets the practice of calming themselves and learns to laugh at their unnecessary fears, this ability to countermand and temper the reptile brain does not mature. The person remains at the mercy of their lower brain. This comes out in the roles of suspecting those who are loyal, complaining and creating troll-like “Drama Queen” situations that force polarization, possessing an intense, manic/depressive, trusting/untrustworthy and unpredictably reactive point of view. Along with this come temptations for undue complaints, a lack of commitment, social manipulativeness or outright self-justified dishonesty or criminal behavior.


Fortunately, this growth toward the maturity of being able to calm oneself can happen at any time in life. The plasticity of the brain can always be reshaped by current usage – and forgiveness. Expressing positive values in action is an effective avenue for change. Keep in mind that because we are talking about growing new brain parts, it takes time and the ability to discern and plot one’s own signs of improvement.


The practice is exercised by refusing to react & self-reassurance. Many means are possible to put this intent to strengthen GABA fibers into action. This may be practiced in many small ways, in fact, the smaller the better. Some of these ways are:

  • by calming ones’ own emotions;
  • by changing any new “inconsequential” habit;
  • by learning a new skill, which demands being forgiving of mistakes;
  • by calming down fear when it arises;
  • by releasing physical tension through exercise, massage or other unifying mind-body practice or discipline;
  • by deciding not to say what will offend;
  • by daring to say what might offend anyway;
  • by deliberately changing your mind before you would normally react to do anything habitual or routine;
  • by being aware that your thoughts are untrue fears and deciding to not take them seriously.
  • by refusing to think about them, using distraction, substitution
  • by thinking about something else or distracting yourself.
  • by being sarcastic when mistakes are made that word the derogatory put-down in a positive light, such as, “that was a really smart thing to do” (instead of cursing, attacking or accusing when a mistake is made.)


If these don’t work, some people get out concerns that are whirling around in their head by

  • using de Bono thinking skills,
  • writing down these thoughts in descriptions,
  • talking about them to a person who is not involved and will not react,
  • making art and allowing symbolic imagery to process them,
  • exercising and doing physical things,
  • doing mundane but productive activities, using them to re-direct your energy with the intent of leaving past, irrelevant concerns in the past where they belong and going in a positive direction –  such as taking a shower or by changing one’s external environment.
  • originating strategic, practical plans to get yourself

Perhaps if these methods do not work in isolation, they might work together in a certain sequence.

Many wise people have advice what will work in this situation; perhaps someone else or a religion will have different advice that will work for you. It’s best if the advice has a simple practice to show the expressed values that are advised. Philosophical advice is not worth much unless there is a practical means to carry out the ideas that cultivate new abilities as a skill.


Using one of the principles from Alexander Technique, physically refusing to react can be practiced during any movement. For instance, before any motion, our body has already prepared to move. If we do not stop it, we will continue and complete the motion. We have only 1/64th of a second to refuse or change this motion as we begin to go into action. If we do not use this time, we lose this time to refuse to react. We must act as we have prepared to act. Once started, a routine is much more difficult to interrupt or re-route than it is to intercept it at the beginning window of opportunity.


Brain science says that whenever you make a move, your expectations have composed themselves into preparing for the move you are about to do long before you know you are going to do it. You can still “veto” this preparation by changing your mind right before you are about to move. You have only 1/64 of a second to change your mind, otherwise you will continue to perform the action in the way you have prepared to do it. Each time you change your mind, you strengthen these GABA fibers between the upper and lower brains by refusing to act habitually.


Practice can occur now. Merely change your mind right before you are about to make a move – any move, such as moving a mouse or typing on the keyboard. Decide to do nothing or to do something unrelated instead of doing it in the usual way. (Plead to your impatient objections that you’re practicing in case of injury. You can say you are interrupting a tiny mannerism that has been identified to be gradually causing you cumulative harm.) You do not even have to determine that an action or idea is “harmful” or potentially harmful. (This is the familiar logic style of of “put-out-the-fire” thinking.) Instead of waiting until something is no longer useful at all to improve it, you can be pro-active.

Understanding Unfamiliarity By Filling In the Blanks

On the Alexander Google list server group, it turns out that I’ve gotten a reputation for being able to explain things that others find difficult. So I thought that I would explain how I can read something that has lots of confusing or unfamiliar words in it and still get something out of what is being said.

My ability to read came at a late age – seven. My parents prevented me from learning to read early because they guessed that my ability to imagine would not have the time to form and express itself if I learned to read too early. This probably was true – at least in my case. The effect as an adult was that I am still able to use words to explain concepts that are not completely connected to language until I consciously make the connection. Images and feelings I have are able to be expressed in other ways besides words.

So, predictably enough, as soon as I learned to read at seven, I was overly eager to try it out on anything and everything that could be read. I could not get enough of reading. At seven I took it upon myself to be regular fan of Ann Landers, an advice columnist who was published on the same page as the comics. I was also reading the many Tarzan novels, by Edgar Rice Boroughs that were in my brother’s room.

There were many words in these books that I did not understand and had never heard anyone use in speech. So I thought quite a bit about what they probably meant as I skipped over them. I looked at how these mystery words functioned in the sentence and attempted to judge their relative importance. If they were qualifying words, well, that was more important than an adverb or a descriptive word of what was happening in a sequence when I could understand some of the other words. I came to realize and invent interesting ways to find out what a word meant besides just asking someone else or looking it up in the dictionary.

For instance, if the word seemed to be a descriptive word, I tried these words out in normal conversation and looked at how grown up people reacted.

Because of this, when I encounter reading that I’d like to do (such as a paper on the Polyvagal theory,) I fall back on using my old tricks. In practice, one of my actual strategies would be that I would mentally leave a “blank” in the spaces where I’d run into a word(s) that had an unknown meaning. Then once I read the sentence, I’d guess what similar or vague words that I actually knew would suffice to belong in the blank spots. Sometimes I would diagram the sentence to distill it down to its most simplistic forms so I could understand what function the words might have to the meaning.

This strategy works really well when you’re doing something like reading F.M. Alexander’s books. I’ll let Catherine Kettrick, who has a degree in linguistics and is also an Alexander Technique teacher from an Alexander school called the Performance School in Seattle, WA, give an example from her website “study guide” section at

To read Alexander’s long sentences with understanding, you have to be willing to go a bit slowly, figure out the subject and verb, see the different clauses and figure out their subjects and verbs, and hold them all in relation to one another til you get to the end of the sentence. To do this, it is helpful to answer the question posed by each clause as you go along. For example, here is the first sentence from the second chapter of The Use of the Self, “Use and Functioning in Relation to Reaction:” “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired, and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanism was so untrustworthy that it led me to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose” (p. 39).

Taking this sentence apart we find “The reader (subject) will notice” (verb). What reader you ask? “The reader who reviews the experiences…” What experiences? “…that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter…” So: “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice…” What? “…that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize…” Realize what? “…that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired…” Here is the end of the first major thought grouping in this paragraph. The “and” is used to mark the division between the two major thoughts in the paragraph. “…and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered… ” Discovered what? (Here comes the second major thought) “…that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanisms was so untrustworthy that it led me…” Led me where? “… to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but…” (Pay attention– “But” signals a contrast–) “…but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose.”

Then again, if you don’t really understand a subject that you want to know more about, you can probably search the web and find someone else who will explain it to you in a way that you can understand. If you still don’t understand it, you can probably find a tutorial about it on YouTube.

Why Did I Do That?

Do people make deliberate choices for negative reasons?

I used to imagine they do. I used to think I did. But as I have come to be able to watch myself in action making decisions and as I have come to watch my students deal with decisions they have made and habits they have put in place, I have changed my mind and no longer assume this is the case. People make choices for positive reasons.

I have come to believe that everyone I’ve ever known chooses an action (or lack of it) because of its positive aspects, not the negative ones.

Now what about those stupid choices?

Some bad ideas are selected because people couldn’t have known what the effect of their actions are over time, or how serious the effects of their actions would be once added up cumulatively. This is a problem addressed by learning one of the secrets of Alexander Technique – once learned, habits commonly disappear from self-perception.

Perhaps the choice doesn’t take crucial things into account that should have been obvious to someone with more experience. Thus the old adage; “Hindsight is 20/20.” These choices show a lack of foresight and information. Sometimes, the ordering of priorities satisfied by the choice are hidden from the person who is choosing, so a little soul-searching would help future choices. Alexander Technique helps remind people to remember to determine their priorities and criteria by becoming more aware of their own multiple priorities and assumptions of their own criteria for success. Determining and knowing one’s goals is crucial to practicing A.T. because of the need to temporarily suspend these goals so experimenting can bring in new information. If these goals are hidden from the person, they will emerge during experimentation.

It is even more common that a person feels as if they “must” make the choice for various justified points or to answer an imperative need. They may be aware that some of the effects of that choice may become negative at some time in the future. They may figure they know what the cost of the choice is, and believe they accept the cost in trade for the benefit. However, as they get closer to the cost, the benefit suddenly pales. So thinking ahead about mitigating time of arrival issues would be wise in these situations.

Related to this circumstance, Alexander Technique offers the ability to pause before choosing a habit or manner of thinking. In this moment of reflection, another choice is possible. This ability to pause and reflect how you are going to do something (called Inhibition in A.T.) allows you to also decide not to do what you realize that you do not want to do.

Sometimes people are aware of the negative aspects of a choice, but must choose between lesser evils. Perhaps they decide the costs are “worth it,” (possibly because sometimes the costs are deferred until “later,” or may not happen at all.) After learning Alexander Technique, a person realizes how often what they do repetitively has a powerful cumulative effect. They also realize that in many cases, they do have other choices. With this information, perhaps they might be encouraged to look elsewhere for more choices before making a choice that cuts off other options.

How much do people really have a choice? In many cases, most adults are a product of their conditioning – their own habits, their environment and their cultural and parental training. As such, it is seldom that people really do have a choice. Alexander Technique gives first-hand experience of how much trouble it is to change and how significant prevention can be, so this encourages compassion for others and patience with oneself.

How often do people examine or realize their options? Choices people automatically make may have negative consequences over time or immediate risks at the time of choosing, but many feel it is the only thing they can do.

Alexander Technique recommends thinking ahead a bit about the effects of choices. It has some wisdom to offer concerning the cumulative effects of what you are going to allow yourself to repeat.

One of the secrets of A.T. is that a circumstance of pure repetition encourages the training a new habit. This habit may be handy and useful – or it may become a nuisance if it goes on too long or becomes too extreme. Of course, a person gets better at whatever they allow themselves to practice – so it pays off in many ways to notice what you are allowing yourself to repeat.

Hands-On, A.T. Style Described

“AT talk seems to not mention what happens when teachers use their hands on people but talks a lot about changing thinking by using thinking. What happens to the teacher and the pupil with the hand contact?”

The answer is – many things. Putting hands-on is a performance art of demonstrated, factual intention being carried into the action of motion on the part of both the teacher and student. The teacher job is using their own ability to actualize Alexander’s principles on themselves as they put their hands on the student.

What actually happens during hands-on are – many things. Most AT teachers continue to originate many, many strategies that work with different people to get their habits out of the way. If one way doesn’t work, they try another. So that is why the so many different styles of how to teach A.T. – and they all work because the principles are principles.

Generally, the greater a teacher’s personal understanding of their own ability to direct their own coordination using AT, the more effective the quality of direction that will come through their hands to their student.

You can prove this the next time you have an Alexander lesson – invite someone else along if you have private lessons. Have that person, not the teacher, put hands-on you like the teacher does and compare and describe the qualities of how it feels. You’ll immediately feel the difference; there will be pulling, heaviness – much physical confusion.

This is why it takes so long to learn to put hands-on with the objective of teaching AT – because a teacher must “walk their talk…” or in a sense, “walk their thought.” A teacher’s objective is to suspend their own ideas about what “should” be done with this student out of the way. This allows the direction to come through their hands, and allows the student to respond in any way they choose. It works much in the same way that an artist suspends “over-control” of their hands in order to allow the image they are looking at to come through their hands into a drawing or painting.

I’m not sure my description above would be appropriate to everyone who teaches A.T. but this is how I experience it myself. I know it does have at least some common agreement; but I’m sure not everyone will agree with my description because everyone comes from a unique micro-culture of implied and expressed meaning.

Why this works is a mystery. Please indulge me and allow me to speculate. Of course, this speculation is from my own experience as a teacher.

I do know that AT teachers often use their hands as merely a backstop so their student can sense the moment they pull themselves out of shape during a movement. Directing timing has much to do with the coaching that goes along with this use of the hands-on.

Actual directing that works from hand-contact: Perhaps the kind that actually making some sort of electrical contact with the students’ body, in a sense, substituting the thought messages as if the student could send lengthening thoughts on their own. That’s just my speculation of course.

Perhaps also hands-on has a sense of empathic ability or sympathy – the kind that encourages people to mirror body language. Just being around someone with much better use than you will encourage you to feel lighter.

Anyway – most AT teachers will not do this speculating, because it’s not very professional and highly subjective to each person who experiences it’s workings.  Most AT teachers never even ask the question “how.”  They are only concerned with that hands-on directing for students does work – to the extent the student’s ability to suspend their habits are able to take a break for a moment. The question of “how” is sort of a moot point, once you can do it as a teacher. You can demonstrate it, so that is “how.”

When you think about it – how does coaching or any teaching process work? Most people arrive at their technique empirically – when they do something that works, they keep doing it. When they try something that doesn’t work, they do something else.

Approaching Pervasive Habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Habits and How to Know What You Desire In Spite of Habit

Alexander Technique addresses the ways people come to notice the need for problem solving. It also has something to say about the ways people deliberately choose and design exactly how they might move to respond – as opposed to the actual content of these thoughts. Sometimes content is important, but only to the extent that some of our choices narrow and prevent other choices. Using a habit and holding certain assumptions may prevent us from perceiving other possibilities that may be more practical and useful to us.

The first thing on the list of Patrick MacDonald’s synopsis of his understanding of the Alexander Technique is learning about the force of habit, how it works to set up habits and how strong habits are in the face of new possibilities. Also implied in recognizing habit is recognizing when a discovery or insight arrives that is not consistent with established habitual ways. The ability to recognize when something new has happened allows us to note and use these new discoveries to our advantage. Part of the difficulty in doing this is that habits prevent new experiences from happening, and the use of habits dulls our innate sensititivy to sense that something new has happened. Use it or lose it!
It seems from this comment of MacDonald’s that humans are set up to see disadvantages first. The nature of a disadvantage is it shows us an objection that “sticks out” or emerges in a gestalt that “rises to the top” of our attention in similar ways that figure/ground relationships emerge in a visual field. In many cases, we only notice that something is wrong because we feel pain or stiffness.

In our Western culture, we tend to pick out the “important” activity or thing that is going on in a visual field rather than notice all the elements in the picture at once. We tend to favor the use of a searchlight instead of a wide beam field of attention. Our culture sells to us the value of immediately determining the goal and ignoring what does not fit the goal. Who gets to determine the goal is not so often questioned, so the question of “by who’s standards are we selecting for?” is more often already determined for us.

So the ability to match for similarities is more prevalent in our culture than the ability to compare and “scan” to reveal important factors that may be determining subtle differences. Desires would tend to disappear as a person accepts outside influences to be the most important ones. As you practice a habit, by selection the opposing activity will die off.  The ability to “scan” and compare is more useful when revealing subtle differences, internal desires, thoughts and ideas that do not fit the priorities of others. If you do not use this ability, it will die down because there is less and less of a need for using it.

This motive comes from how our culture values goal setting. Goal-setting drives an imperative need to install the skill of goal-setting so it can become innate and disappear into our ability to command it as soon as possible. Many people are satisfied after they have successfully installed their first answer to what they have determined the goal is. They do not go on to seek for the next step in learning until something else jumps forward to demand their attention. “Good enough for Rock and Roll” is their philosophy.

Part of the beauty of habits is that we are able to add additional next important steps onto it in a behavior chain. We are able to refine a habit to pick and choose which parts of it we want to retain and which parts do not serve us as we learn to tell crucial difference in quality. The disadvantage is that our standards can escalate as we learn. We cultivate perfectionism and get caught in the bind of not being able to live up to our own standards that go just beyond our own reach.

I have observed that this problem comes from putting our objections before our ability to make a move in a new direction. We use our observations, sense only our habits and become discouraged that nothing new can happen before we have gone anywhere or anything else. Our habits trap us and we do not know how to get free.

It is in our human nature to sense objections and desires that do not fit, and also in our nature to ignore what does not fit or match. Sometimes what “sticks out” needs to be addressed and could benefit from some adjustment, and sometimes it is to our benefit to note them and put them aside, and sometimes merely expressing them is satisfactory. The ability to put an objection aside and the power to choose to do something to accommodate an additional desire – or not – is one of the signs of maturity.

As anyone in a certain situation understands and can become aware of what sorts of characteristics exist to their advantage, it is possible to work within these advantages and have quite a bit of power and influence that will answer their desires. So it pays to know what your desires are as well as how to be patient enough to choose a suitable means to get what you want.

We are rarely taught how many possible ways there are to come to a decision concerning what to do about our personal concerns and desires. This ability to think for ourselves is not to the advantage of those who see the need to control us. Adults want kids to go along with the program of what adults want kids to do. The adult justification for this is kids need to obey because they need to be protected from the consequences about what to do. A kid’s objections, criticisms or urge to rebel against the status quo needs to be controlled for their own benefit and protection. Adults cite the need for this because kids often can’t see ahead to the eventual result of their bad choices, although many kids still retain the ability to sense what they want to do. It’s also within the nature of kids to have a built-in bullshit detector that determines how much adults are trying to protect them so they can go beyond those limits that are imposed by adults. However, by doing this, kids force adults to compensate for their lack of foresight so this is a virtual question that kids and adults are engaged in constantly as the kids mature. Often adults run into a blind spot in the gradual eduation of kids when kids reach the teen years; so this is why a strategy that worked for awhile no longer works indefinitely as circumstances change.

Noting My Style of Writing Down Ideas

Since I’ve been spending time with an eight year old lately, I’m beginning to think about how I would teach her age group Alexander Technique.

Since I’m writing my ideas that follow on the fly from here on out to get them down, I’m going to apologize in advance for the disconnected way these ideas may be presented. The first part of this is far and away my philosophy of why chose certain means to teach more flexible mannerisms of choosing to respond. My own innate way of organizing my thoughts for the purpose of communicating to others requires me to go back and compensate for the time of arrival of my ideas, even choosing which sentence follows the next sentence. My ideas innately usually do not follow a presentation sequence that makes sense to other people when these ideas first emerge, so this may be a little confusing to read. I will do some editing to group my ideas together, but it may not be enough. Please tell me your impressions.

Describing Relationships for Alexander Technique

Describing relationship is an honorable goal, because it is in relationship that AT shines. The structure of English is very tricky to maneuver to articulate relationships. I think misunderstandings come as we try to make a generalization specific as we explain. Getting English to describe relationships is not quite suitable to its natural structure in sequencial sentences. It’s also very tricky to use metaphor or map-like activities to explain AT concepts. In fact, it’s so tricky to use language in concert with AT to explain it at all, that for many, many decades, Alexander teachers did not use language at all! Somewhere in the eighties some teachers began to be able to talk about Alexander Technique… I believe this has mostly been a positive change. It’s an interesting question that since we ultimately agree once we work it out, why do we seem to disagree and misunderstand each other to start with? So it pays to observe there are some built in dead-ends in common usage English when it comes to describing relationships.

Briefly, I’ll give a couple of examples – very common ones of why language makes it tricky to describe A.T. concepts.

The first is the common use of oppposites as examples. In our culture, we have a number of assigned opposites that have been set up for this convenient purpose. However, these are not absolutely factual opposing characteristics, (because they can exist concurrently) these characteristics have merely been defined as opposites by our cultural association & habits.

There is a place for opposites which is in inhibition; as a person makes a particular choice, they may leave behind in the dust all other choices that they could have made. Choice can be done in a way that precludes and prevents all possible other choices.

There is a more process-oriented way of describing this choice-making; by articulating some of the opposing characteristics of how a person’s specific awareness can “stretch” to encompass two ends of the same system working together. In some ways, this is a much better usage of the idea of opposites, because it is much more likely that a choice will also include some of the “opposing” ends of the other possible choices mixed in it. We can be clear to which direction we are intending to go – and we will go there as time passes as we sustain our intentions to do so.

This of this not as exclusive of each other, where you pick one and not the other, but as the extreme ends of the same stick. Much of how MacDonald deplored the degraded usage of the word “concentration” which used to mean a focal point around which other characteristics clustered or supported as compared to the definition that blotted out all other possibilities and held up the one tunnel-visioned ideal.

Another instance, I’ve noticed that concerning relationships, such as those in AT, people often use an “if…then” structure to describe these characteristic relationships. I just did it in my explanation above, disguised as “as…may.” It’s very handy: the motive is the “if…” part sets up a circumstance where “…then” is the case to be saying something about. So, using language in this way, I’m “parting out” and creating a sort of fictitious opposition.

In this structure misunderstanding is likely. Because the “…if” example is often too radical or oppositional. Or the “…if” situation doesn’t have a subject, it is a passive situation that came about somewhat magically. So this is why I tend to shy away from the more literal “if…then” constructions when talking about relationships to illustrate AT concepts. I do this by softening and making more voilitional their construction by using the “as…may” example as a substitute.

Perhaps we are attempting to get a rather mechanistic language of English to describe relationships that are more like Quantum physics than the parts of Neutonian mechanics that has been the paragon of our culture?

An interesting book I’ve been reading on this subject has been: Leadership & the New Science: Learning about Organization from an Orderly Universe by Margaret J. Wheatley. 1992

How is Primary Control Taught?

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

A really interesting link on the web that teaches some of this information in a different way is the flash program at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explaining How Habits Can Be Undone

Lately, I’ve had great success explaining that the Technique is about the behavior chains of building habits, which is how we adapt and learn. Building habits are what makes skill possible. Trouble comes when a person forgets the habit is there, or trains a short-sighted building block of habit, which is a “pitfall” built into adapting & learning. The building blocks of skills are usually designed to disappear and become innate. If things aren’t working out as intended, people assume they need to train themselves to do another thing “opposite” to an already innate habit they forgot that they’re already doing, instead of training themselves to stop. With repeating a nuisance, most people see how handy it would be to stop, but they don’t know the first things about how to stop.

flooded2.jpgPeople also do not realize the problems that old conflicting habits can create over time. People know whatever a person practices, they’ll get better and better at doing. In this case, a person can be practicing unintended habits that pull themselves apart.

A.T. shows a person how they can change the way they practice and learn, as opposed to having to give up any particular troublesome activity. How useful to know how to subtract what is in the way, without habitual conflicts running the show.

So when beginners want to describe A.T., I have them describe it as something that teaches how to uncover and undo innate, out-of-date habits that have turned into self-imposed limitations. Most people who hear that immediately remark how useful that would be to know. There are many innocent situations where a need to unlearn habits becomes obvious:
1. The self-taught who get into doing counter-productive foundation habits from learning without a proper teacher, or a lousy teacher;

2. Those who learn skills or movement compensations with built-in pain, fear or stress from a challenging teacher, situation or skill;

3. Someone with pain who sees the need to train themselves to temporarily compensate for it; after healing, they then find what was intended to be temporary becoming permanent.

4. A kid who never figured out their unique size and shape, or how that shape changes during growth.

I’m sure you can think of more of these situations!

Franis Engel

> — John Coffin wrote:
> > Unfortunately, trying to describe the Technique
> in language the non-student will find attractive is
> an immediate paradox. How do you interesting someone
> in changing something they don’t know exists, and
> whose influence they cannot imagine?
> >
> > John Coffin

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!

Ideas Without Ego, Questioning Motives

Quite a few people imagine that removing a person’s habitual ways of moving amount to the experience of losing the ego. A.T. lessons often result in a feeling of “do-less-ness.” Some people think of that as an experience of egolessness. So somehow they get the idea that Alexander Technique is all about minimizing the ego.

It’s an interesting idea, the possibility of operating without an ego. I’m curious to explore what value does it have to present and communicate without ego attachments? Being able to differentiate between “so and so’s idea” and an idea that has lost any designation as coming from someone can be an exercise in an “objective” sort of intellectual disassociation. As time has gone by, I have come to suspect its usefulness. Used to see its value, but now I don’t imagine it’s particularly useful to think of ideas as standing on their own, although it’s interesting to imagine that this is possible as a curious intellectual entertainment. There is even a word for it: memes. I’m open to it being useful in some way to me. Which means, I’m open to having it mean something more to me personally. But let me tell you how I came to change my mind about this.

For me now, it’s important that someone experienced an idea directly, observed it, thought about it. Because of looking for my motive underneath my desire to remove my habitual mannerisms of talking, I have uncovered my own hope that at least some of us might go somewhere new beyond repeating the same mistakes of human nature is definitely part of what drives me to communicate.

Some of us have held up the value of egolessness being suspended from our David Bohm style Dialogue experience as well as our experiences with Alexander Technique. I’m curious; why is this disassociation of an idea from who it came from is considered valuable?

The way people in the Dialogue I was a part of would express this agreement of the value of idea over ego was to try to talk about ideas without claiming ownership. They might attribute the idea to some author, etc. as if they were not related to the idea personally.

Why they wanted to bring the idea to the group was seldom mentioned, because that would reveal a sort of “ego” or attachment to the outcome of the conversation…which was supposed to also be suspended, according to their interpretation of Dialogue ideas of suspension. So we had this Dialogue for a long time which was every sort of name dropping. Or people would use a little shorthand for mentioning one idea after another by mentioning one author after another as a way to dump out the ideas, as everything went by fast and furiously. It wasn’t very satisfying, because our conversations didn’t go anywhere new. It seemed people were merely holding up one idea, without saying anything much it, and holding it up to another idea. Sometimes they would say how they were different or similar, but if you didn’t know the two ideas that were being compared, it was hard to follow the conversation.

Then we talked about this experience, and eventually agreed we wanted to make the group conversation less of a name-dropping event. So now each person who wanted to mention someone else’s idea would most usefully offered an outline of what the related idea was for those who had not read the book by that particular author. In a way, it was sort of like providing the bibliography during the conversation. So that made us quite practiced at short book reviews, dragging out the dictionary, etc. We learned some history and some author’s ideas who went to the trouble of writing a book, but still – that wasn’t so interesting because it didn’t go anywhere new because the authors were not present to tell us their fore-thinking ideas. It was an information dumping experience that could be sort of interesting, if you preferred learning about the topic in a scolarly way. But that’s all it was.

Finally what we came to was we decided to to just drop the quoting, the book reviewing and dare to claim the idea as ours – where ever it came from. Then from that point, talking about where our values came from became very interesting.

Then we didn’t have to go to some length to separate the “idea” from the person who is forming it. We began to learn from each other why any particular idea was valuable to a particular person and also, why a person who was present would be bringing it to the attention of others now in the group.

We even got to the point where we learned some of the core experiences from where these values sprang. That’s when we began to really appreciate some of the Conative (motive-style) thinking strategies of each of the participants in the Dialogue that were often quite different from our own. The effect of all this was gradually, we completely stopped questioning the validity of whatever someone said, along with many of us stopping the urge to convince, explain or defend ourselves when questioned by the group en masse. This was pretty amazing to see, as it evolved.

Someone said that they began to imagine how each of us was a sort of archetype. So whenever anybody said something, it became  as if the person was representing “me and all those people who think the way I do who have shared in common some of the experiences I have had.” From a conversation about birth order and the psychological points of view it created for people, this even led me to actively search for people who had some of my own rare unique experiences as a child in common with those as I had as the youngest sibling by eight to ten years – and the results were fascinating for me personally.

Yes, leaving out personal pronouns is part of makes what an author says sound authoritative, scholarly and encyclopedic. So no matter what other motive you have for leaving out personal pronouns, authority is the cultural impression you’ll be cultivating by writing or speaking like that. We observed that putting pronouns of “I” into your speaking and writing style reveals personal meaning and motive. Using the “you” pronoun can make people feel that you are ordering them around.

So, now that I’ve said that, related to the effect of the personal pronouns, names, attributes to a person, etc. I’m going to ask a question. What I’ve just written frames this question in a certain way from the fact that it follows sequentially. If I ask, “why do you write so often about a particular idea? Where did the value of that particular idea come from in your past experiences? What does that intent to write without personal pronouns mean for you personally?” What I also want to know is, why do you think I’m asking these personal questions?

I’m not asking this string of questions in any punative way, or with any emotional intent attached to them.  Although I realize asking a string of questions implies anger in some cultures, I can say that am intensely interested to read your answers. It’s pretty easy to flip the motive for suspicion or connection, by not knowing why someone is asking such a string of personal questions like what I just asked.

We ask many questions during Dialogue and while learning Alexander Technique. We might observe that the person we’re asking “favors” using personal pronouns whenever he answers a question, or we might have watched the new habit of someone who is trying to respond differently by using Alexander’s ideas. Our reason for questioning is not to attack. Certainly, that sort of a “personal” question can come from a positional attack with a motive of dissection or discrediting, or from a position of genuine curiosity and interest in who the person is and how they put the world together into thinking the way they do.

With email, it’s difficult to tell the difference because there is no body language to add to meaning along with the question. So that is why I believe that stating motive is helpful in writing, because it frames the intent of why the question is being asked and what the asker is going to do with the information before it is disclosed.

Articulating & Describing Qualities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Feels Wrong Is Probably Pointing at Freedom

>> If every one did AT, there would have been no world war – true or false?>True, But if everyone did any one of a number of things there would be no war.

I don’t agree. I used to think this about Alexander Technique when Iwas in my twenties, but now I have had enough proof to believe otherwise. Alexander Technique does not have any automatic prescription of ideals that indoctrinate the learner. However, this does not count that the student may choose to adopt the ideals of the teacher along with the Technique, since how they are learning is often quite taught one-on-one.

As far as I can tell, the only value judgments that A.T. is selling are reason, efficiency and effortless. Through study of A.T., you’ll find out how much you waste your energy, and learn to redirect it where you want to spend it. Where, why and in the end, exactly how you do want to channel your energy is entirely up to you.

An example from history is the Samurai culture. They were very precise at studying and channeling the efficient use of their energy toward murder and defending their honor as defined by their culture. My opinion on this also comes from getting to know personally almost every person I could who I noticed had “natural” good use through the course of my adult life. Some were ethical, sane people, capable of amazing compassion and wisdom …and some were wordlessly thoughtless in their beautifully poised actions. Seems that a person can still have excellent use, and also still have some conflict inside themselves that they haven’t yet figured out, which could mean…anything. This conflict or incompleteness can be expressed internally or externally in how they interact with others, depending on the person and their problem.

No matter how appropriate a person’s usual excellent coordination of themselves is, they can also still misinterpret external situations to an inappropriate response, for instance, the need for a response of defense. It’s especially rampant when you make someone responsible for other people. They become violently defensive because they second-guess the risk of what it might cost other people if they didn’t, or something like that.

Anyway – this is probably a tangent that’s getting too far off topic. But this misconception that A.T. is so good for so many applications, it must be good for everyone – this is an enthusiasm that many people get about some pastime that impresses them and they find useful. Proselytizing isn’t particularly a productive means to follow, other than to merely share your enthusiasm and give your own testimonial story. Allowing people to choose their own criteria, values and priorities is usually preferable to badgering someone with your idea of what is right, because as we know from our experience with A.T., the means is the content. It’s possible to be, for instance, a fascist about fun, humor or any other positive thing. The way I see it, allowing people to go wrong is such an interesting part of learning. It is also one of the ways I learn from others. How seldom something happens that is really new is so precious; it is understandable that what is new feels so unfamiliar that it’s easy to mistake it for being wrong, when it is really just a signal of a new freedom. If a circumstance of learning or someone different from me didn’t make me experience “wrongness,” how else would I uncover my assumptions that I have been taking for granted?


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.