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?

 

Sensory Dissonance

More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

Dissonance Reveals Bias

Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.” Which is at: https://myhalfof.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/sensory-dissonance/

 

Transcendent Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering to Wake Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Change Denial (part two)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

With the intro from yesterday, now you’re ready to pick and choose from these additional tips, depending on what might apply to your particular situation. This the concluding part of a two-part series.

Next tip:
Evoke your objections to changing on purpose so you can investigate its features and challenge your own assumptions. You would do this by deliberately engaging in an action that is sure to disturb you, and notice the resistances and reactions that come that you would usually want to ignore. Write down your objections and justifications for doing things the old same way. Once you have this list, use thinking skills to question assumptions and find new ways to fulfill the challenge. Don’t worry about it if the items on the list don’t make sense. Lots of feelings don’t make any sense, but they will still have just as much power over your choices.

Here’s another tip: Note the situation where it has happened or might happen again. Then install a reminder for yourself to notice what is happening and remember your reminder to be able to watch yourself do it as it starts to happen. You’ll find that at first you won’t be able to ‘catch yourself’ doing it until it’s done, but gradually, you’ll be able to notice it sooner and sooner in the process. Trace it back to right before it really begins. There will be your emotional reasoning and motive that installed the nuisance habit can be fulfilled in another way.

Questioning and trace the feelings back to its suspected origin is tricky. It will probably take repeated attempts that get closer and closer to the origin of when your habitual solutions that you’d like to change will “go off.” Question your own assumptions about these emotional origins until you actually are able to pay attention to what you feel right before you’re about to do the habitual solution. Don’t think you know it all.

Sometimes we come up with an explanation that’s not what’s happening or is a placeholder or only part of the real origin. Mistaken assumptions about origins and interpretations of them have the power to open up significant new insights. Stay with the unpleasantness the habit was designed to avoid, because there is a big, important reason the habit was installed. When you do find yourself there, it will be very uncomfortable. But we’re designed to cry to relieve stress.

Alternately, you could learn Alexander Technique so you know how to physically move out of feeling bad when you find yourself there. Knowing A.T. will wake up your senses so you can see new ways of providing for your needs when you arrive at that point. The advantage is the solution will work from that point forward, unlike solutions that require practice.

Or, try this solution: If you know what you prefer, do a few other variations that are what you don’t prefer and note your reactions somewhere where you’ll be able to read them later. Once you know what it is you’re willing to work on, wait until you see a chance to change it and jump in feet first to do it.

For example: It’s tricky to tell the difference between a prejudice and a “gut instinct” intuition. I didn’t want to know that I had a prejudice, but I did. I found I had it by questioning some part of me that instantly “wrote off” a person as untrustworthy, which seemed blatantly unreasonable at the time. By this chance I became aware of a prejudice I had toward people who had “wandering eyes.”

I got past this issue for myself by intentionally getting to know a person like this the next time I was introduced, instead of following my innate urge to ignore and avoid them. Getting to know them violated my ‘gut instincts’ but it really helped me to figure out what it was I was responding to in them. I found out that people who had “wandering eyes” weren’t untrustworthy liars.

Of course, for all of these you will forget and catch yourself after the crucial moment passes when you could have caught the habitual reaction. But, that is when to apply those wonderful character traits of patience and forgiveness. This time, you know these admirable character traits are not pulling the wool over your own eyes.

Change Denial (part one)

A “habit of my life” is to not look at what I do not wish to acknowledge. How can I go against the habit and change it if I don’t even notice it?

Mostly everyone acknowledges that self-perception is, at best, challenging – if not impossible. It’s much more common to see what is wrong in the behavior and situations of others than it is to gain perspective on one’s own habits and attitudes. How come it is so challenging to admit that our objections about other people are happening much closer to home in us?

The way most people resolve this issue is to remind themselves that nobody is perfect and apply self- forgiveness and acceptance. While admirable qualities, these strategies are also self-justifications for pulling the wool over our own eyes. There are other ways.

What if there were some real tips and tools that could help us to change specific issues that we don’t want to face about ourselves?

Meet Lynne. She’s got an issue involving self- perception that clearly did not come from any personal failings, (unless you count getting into an accident is a character defect.) She broke her leg skiing and hobbled around for more than a year while she recovered. While she was healing, she needed to protect her injured leg.

Now, according to her doctor, she is all healed. But her problem now is that limping has become part of her usual walk. She has learned to expect pain that never comes, without realizing she’s doing it.

Everywhere Lynne sees people who are twisted and limping and criticizes how old they look. Her friends reassure her, but they are lying to make her feel self-confident because they wonder if the limp that Lynne retains is a character failing on her part.

Meanwhile, Lynne is so impatient to be done with the recovery process. It’s already taken so much time out of her life that she wants to ignore the fact that her accident ever happened. She hates feeling like “damaged goods.”

How can Lynn possibly change what she doesn’t wish to see herself doing?

There are good reasons for denial. Denial is a self-preservation skill. Humans are wired to ignore what is unpleasant and to quickly forget their painful tribulations. We have (what is known from brain science) our RAS. (that’s our Reticulated Activating System. – It’s sort of the dark side of what has been sold as “The Secret” too.)  This allows us to notice whatever we have assigned to our “important” list and to ignore what is not on it.

It is frustrating to notice what could be personal failings when you’re convinced that there’s nothing to be done about them, or ignore solutions are too much trouble. Besides, a show of confidence will get you past tight places most of the time.

There are many other understandable situations that could benefit from asking these question of how to get past a problem that is being denied. What person would want to notice how they’re stressed, prejudiced, narrow-minded, trapped in being a ritualized creature of habit, impatient, angry or out of control? Why…a person who imagines it’s possible to change these things, that’s who!

Are you one of those people?

First, we are going to need some deliberate design skills to get past the side effects of denial. Of course denial exists “for our own good,” so the ability to deny is going to insist and complain if you don’t stick with the denial program. We need to shore up our courage and perhaps get some encouragement from others, because resistance will take us back the status quo.

Some people would rather it be bad and over than have things maybe work out for the better! Waiting in no-man’s land while things sort themselves out is just too unpredictable, unknown and ambiguous. It’s possible to get better at extending patience for what feels odd – because what’s new will always feel strange. 

First Tip: The evidence of this habit you have been intentionally ignoring will be hidden in the slightest mannerism or perception, especially if you habit that you don’t know you’re doing is a physical one. Lynne doesn’t realize she is still limping because she doesn’t intend to limp. Because you’re on the inside of yourself, it is tricky to notice how things are going. Handy to deal with this problem will be using a mirror, recording device or your other senses for feedback to verify you’re not fooling yourself. Or buddy up with someone who is observant but not judgmental – perhaps they have a similar problem they would like your help with.

Lynne was almost out of patience, so evidence of success had better come quickly. But how would Lynne know success if it happened? Luckily someone she respected gave her a recommendation how they were helped. She kept going until she found something that did work. In Lynne’s case, learning Alexander Technique in a classroom situation solved her problem of unintentionally limping, because she got the support of classmates and the teacher. They provided other perceptual means rather than “seeing” to help her notice what is going on as it’s happening. Learning A.T. gave her further improvements too, such as avoiding height loss, gaining grace and awareness without self-consciousness.

If you don’t have a limp like Lynne does, it might work to show yourself this important secret about perception right now by starting with your finger two feet away from your focus of vision and bringing it closer until your finger touches your face. Where did it touch?

Most people will unintentionally bring their finger to one eye because that’s their “dominant” eye. Did you know this eye was dominant? Experimenting is how you learn stuff that’s useful to help the situation. So, the first ingredient is to be willing to experiment.

Practicing is how you train the solution to over- ride the old limitation, once you know what to practice. You need to be careful what you practice, or it will become an unintended habit. This way you avoid the danger of training a new habit that will become unintentionally chained onto the old, so both will be happening at the same time which can pull you in opposite directions!

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

What about if you begin to perceive what you are doing as you are doing it? The most elegant solution is to simply stop doing the old same thing and question the need to design and implement another habit to substitute for the unwanted one. It will feel a bit strange at first, but remember “strange” is the mark of what is genuinely new.

Stay tuned for more tips and experiments about more ways how to change a habit that you don’t want to face in the next installment tomorrow!

Unique

What makes Alexander Technique unique?

Everyone who reads my blog who has experience with A.T, let’s outline whatever you can think of that makes Alexander Technique stand out and be unique. Please add to the list!  It might be something trivial or funny, but that’s OK.

I’ll start with some of my own results, and then I’ll discuss some of the thinking skills that could be applied so you can continue. I have numbered them because you might want to refer to them in your comments.

  • 1. Because A.T. is meant to be coupled with any other action, no extra daily practice hour is required to get its cumulative and immediate benefits.
  • 2. Although the relationship is teacher/student – not therapist/client, the learning process also has a cumulative therapeutic effect until the student learns to bring about this benefit on their own.
  • 3. (You fill in this one with one of your suggestions…)
  • 4. Similar to the ability to think and reason, benefits of being able to update established routines relate to however the interested party applies the skill. (That’s why the list of benefits of learning A.T. sounds like snake oil if you don’t know what it is.)
  • 5. It has the proof of a factual, physical discipline to back up the functionality of it’s philosophical principles; teachers must “walk the talk” in order to do the job of hands-on guided modeling that’s the original core of the pedagogy.
  • Alexander Technique doesn’t merely give lip service to the unity of mind and body – it gives a first-hand demonstration of it as well as a tool to gain its benefits.

OK, now I’ll say a bit about how you could use thinking skills to keep going on this little brainstorming project. We’re going to use a website called http://www.practisethinking.com because it’s very simple and teaches tools by referring to other websites.
For instance, I found there a reference to a tool about how to extract concepts called a “concept fan.” It works like this:
http://www.toolkitforthinking.com/creative-thinking/concept-fan
You’d start by making a list of what occurs to you, and then step back to see if they are all related in some way. The example gives you an idea of how this works. The purpose of doing this is then you’re able to understand an assumption that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Here’s a thinking exercise that’s ever more simple: Read this sentence…and fill in the part after the “because.” I’ve done the first one, but there are many other ways to finish the sentence. What follows the  phrase starting with the word “because..” can mean “cause/effect;” it can also mean “comes from…” It can also mean,”essential ingredient.” Can you think of more implied meanings for the word “because…”? Use them to craft a phrase that answers the sentence.

  • 6. Skills that are sharpened while doing Alexander Technique are considered by those in its field to be the basis of education because……..
  1. movement is the way humans interact with their world, (well, other than sweating…

Hope you enjoyed this practical little ditty on thinking skills applied to Alexander Technique simplifications. Please report back!

Impulse Control

There’s a famous scientific “marshmallow” temptation experiment that was offered to four year olds. Those kids who couldn’t put off getting the marshmallow now in exchange for more marshmallows later didn’t become as successful later in life as the kids who could wait. It’s the issue that makes some schools tell parents their kids need to be on Ritalin.  It’s supposed to be a life skill that all adults have. It’s what adults need to be able to be healthy, to quiet emotions, to prevent a myriad of calamities in life from taking over and to practice getting good at what they love to do.  It’s what all religions attempt to sell to its followers so they can do what’s right.

For those of us who would like to improve themselves, do better and can’t, what exactly is happening? Why is it so hard to control your own impulses?

When you first start trying to use a new way of doing things, your old habits work better, precisely because they are formed and ready to go. A newly acquired skill or supposed “better” way is not ready yet. The new way is going to be unreliable for awhile until you practice it.

It’s sort of like learning to drive a car. If you want to get to the corner store and back when you’re learning to drive a car, it is probably faster to walk. Once you’re more familiar with getting into the car, getting it started and pulling out to the street, etc. it will be faster to use the car. So, practicing your new skill needs to be done in situations where it does not matter if the old habit was more effective or not. (Of course, for additional considerations of saving expense and sitting in traffic, it may still be preferable to walk short distances even when you are familiar with driving.)

Let’s say that you want to work on being less impulsive. You have decided there are priorities that are more important but less urgent, but it seems you most often revert back to the unwanted short-term fulfillment.

The problem seems to be that holding the impulse back when an important impulse event is happening is too challenging. This is what makes it impossible to practice. Any theoretical desire or use of will doesn’t have the comparative intensity to notice and deal with the strength of an insistent, coercive impulse. You’ll just give yourself convincing justifications why you need to do what you have always done, play a blaming game or offer yourself some other lame excuse that you’ll later regret.

Resistance to change is there for a reason – it’s a survival thing. The engagement of strong habitual impulses are justified by survival priority needs. There are usually additional multiple unknown factors that are swamping you that need to be uncovered before they can be changed.

So it is necessary to create a practice environment where it does not matter if you fail or succeed. Lower the stakes of the bet and its consequences, make it safe to fail. You’d want to practice on less important impulses like “I want to scratch a mosquito bite” or “I think I’ll look at that.” Then all the usual learning skills can apply when you fail, because it gives you a way to notice exactly what happens. You can form some interesting questions such as,

  • “How did I feel attempting to resist that impulse; what justifications came up?” “How long did I go before I gave in?”
  • “Why didn’t I recognize in time that here was a chance to resist this impulse?”
  • “What other strategy might work better next time?”
  • “Is my current assumption of what I perceived and why it was happening really true?”

Ultimately you are trying to program a new ability into yourself that can intercept what you don’t really want to do before that short-sighted urge or desire hits you.

Just “doing nothing” works, and using the old adage of “take a breath and count to ten.” If you know Alexander Technique, pausing before you begin to experiment with the way you move as you begin gives a way for something different to happen at the prevention level of physical reaction. You can think a bit before you jump; inserting a creative pause to consider alternate ideas about better ways to go ahead is also a useful strategy. You’d do this by asking if there are more ways to fulfill your goal than what you were going to do to get there. You can always question the reason for having the desire at all.

Probably it would be constructive to make a specific list of less-to-more important impulsive situations to use for practice; varying the list would make things interesting. Then you can’t use the excuse that, “it’s not important that I resist now.” It’s not the specific content of the low-importance impulses that matter when you are in training. What matters is the more abstract ability to consider how to answer uncontrollable urges, in spite of them being inconsequential or not. Having a list (perhaps revised monthly or weekly) would help you become aware when opportunities to practice on your list may occur. You would expand the list into more challenging situations as you progress in being able to resist your resistance.

Eventually it’s hopeful that you probably will not need the list as the skill becomes more reliable at some critical point. (Usually some time after seventy practice sessions.) Some situations will need continuing brilliant tactical and strategic ideas that change as the once-useful ones become ineffective. You will have learned to recognize and choose an “important-but-not-urgent” priority over an “urgent but not important” stimulus. You’ll also be able to uncover your own “core” desires of admirable values and other sterling character traits that had been so immediately distracted by a habitual reactions so as to be invisibly cloaked.

Strangely enough, if you’ve followed these suggestions, what you have just done is very much like you’d do if you were practicing Alexander’s technique.

 

…And all that was pretty interesting, wasn’t it? Going to do anything else about it?

 

 

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Directing by Interrupting Routines

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 is a category for each of the steps.

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

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

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

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

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts – on April 25th: avoid training your mistakes…so today’s post is on: Interrupting Routines. 

 

Directing – Interrupting Routines

A saying from brain science is, “what fires together, wires together.” This same phenomena has a similar description from the field of animal training called,”building behavior chains.”

The individual parts of a skill are joined together as a chain of ingredients.This brings the advantage of first learning a sequence of simpler movements can be practiced individually. They then can be connected together so they will fire off at the order to “go” as one smooth continuum. Think of the timing of a fireworks finale that makes a picture in the sky, and you can appreciate how amazingly complex behavior chains are when combined into common skills such as walking on uneven ground. In fact, navigating uneven ground is one of the complex challenges for artificial intelligence robots.

There are a number of strategies to use if you’re having trouble improving an already trained behavior chain. If you have the sort of motion that needs to have certain qualities separated from “better” qualities, using a very slow speed will frustrate the old habit to wither away, so what is newer and better has a chance to happen.

You can also purposely put the trigger for the behavior chain on cue, and then don’t give the cue. Now go ahead and do the suspended action without feeling prepared. This strategy works with a really insistent habit. Actively refuse to give the order to “go” that encourages the whole “old'” behavior chained routine to fire off. Then you can originate a new firing sequence for the activity in a new way and substitute the new for the old. Or you can indefinitely continue to improvise, while continuing to refuse the old way, never going back to it. The last two are use the strategies of Directing.

Directing nips in the bud a very pervasive habit at its source that is below our level of perception. It’s how to stop doing a routine so deeply trained that you can’t even perceive you are doing in the first place. An example would be changing a speaking mannerism or habitual body language or the way you learned to hold a musical instrument or a tool.

Why does it work?

From brain science, preparation for movement happens a long while before people know they have decided to move. Measured MRI brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation.

This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

In Alexander Technique, we call this  substituting for the precursor of movement preparation to “Inhibit” and “Direct.” To use this strategy of “giving Directions,” takes two steps. First, we connect this “precursor of action” to words – without acting on them. We’re refusing old preparations to act, so it’s a paradoxical sort of an action – preparation to clear the ability to perceive by deliberately not acting, not expecting, not anticipating.

The last step in Directing is explained in the last post, coming tomorrow.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you – perhaps you’d like to get an Alexander Technique lesson from a teacher who can give you a demonstration using your own experiences? It minimizes mistakes to have an Alexander Technique teacher to guide this new connection so signal-to-noise feedback is minimized when you continue from Directing into activity.

 

More about the last step of Clearing Sensory Feedback in the final post of the series of NAMED – a mnemonic which helps students remembering to use all the steps of F.M. Alexander’s Technique.

Directing – Avoid Mistakes

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

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

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

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

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts over the next three days – the first here is about how to avoid training your mistakes…

 

Directing – Avoid repeating mistakes

The Alexander Technique works if you follow the process using NAME – without the “D” on the end. But there are three more very powerful additional tips that work for very difficult habits. They can be remembered by using “D” for “Direction.”  They are: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupt Routines and Clear Feedback.

The word “direct” has a few meanings. In this step, it’s meant to direct yourself – as a conductor would direct a musical orchestra. After getting results using NAME, we use the “D” by Directing to consider and renew the vision of where we’re going. We make suggestions to ourselves what to do about our Evaluations, without repeating the unnecessary routines we just worked to avoid.

Of these points in that previous sentence, the trickiest and most paradoxical is “without activating unnecessary movement routines.”

Here is a brain fact that backs up the value of practicing avoiding habits in this indirect way. Measured brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation. This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

How to practice this indirect paradox of not responding with unnecessary routines? The most well-known strategy is to train a new habit and insert it in the place of the old habit. But even after you train a new habit, you still need to substitute the new routine in place of the old. Sometimes the old habit is too persistent and doesn’t want to let go.

This is because the new habit isn’t as strong as the old behavior. As a fact, it takes repeating something at least five times to begin to practice it. It takes somewhere around seventy times to reliably train and install a new routine. 

As an experiment – cross your arms. Now cross them the opposite way. Usually, one way of crossing your arms will feel a bit odd. It may actually be tricky to do instead of the old habit. Once you’ve been able to do this, now intentionally cross your arms the unusual way, going as slowly as you need to go to have positive experiences and gradually speeding up.

How many times until crossing your arms until the new way began to lose its sense of oddity? These numbers are slightly different for different people; but it’s somewhere between five and ten times when a person has begun to train a new habit. For most people, by the fifth time, any unfamiliar action will lose its sense of strangeness.

Regarding this fact from the other point of view, if you can prevent yourself from repeating a mistake less than five times – then you’re not unintentionally training yourself to repeat your mistakes. Useful fact to know, isn’t it?

Stay tuned for the final two posts in the series of NAMED tomorrow and the next day.
Directing: Interrupt Routines and the conclusion:
Directing: Clear Sensory Feedback… 

Evaluate – Standards and Timing

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

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

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

E…evaluate  This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts!

D…direct

 

What Standards?

Falling short of meeting our standards means they run ahead of our abilities – isn’t that the way it should be? When applying conclusions, it’s constructive to note incremental progress and to re-determine our “north star” headings. How constructive is it to discount incremental progress merely because collectively, tiny improvements fall short of ascending aspirations of potential excellence? Standards and tastes will tend to accelerate and rise ahead of whatever progress has been currently mastered. Especially, artistic standards apply eternally changing social fashions.

Judgment and offering opinions has become so popular of a social pastime that there is a danger that destructive standards will get applied indiscriminately. Danger and the violation of social mores are actively sought out, because the social media has learned that creating drama and intrigue attracts people’s attention.

Devil’s advocacy has become the social acid test that was originally intended to drive improvement, making it “bullet-proof.” However, the ability to generate improvements can shut down when criticisms are applied, which are designed to attack, not build or develop solutions. This is an important reason to apply criticisms after experimentation. Nascent results need potential solutions applied to them. Fledgling ideas and new experiences and skills need to be developed and shaped by vision and aspirations.

When to Evaluate Determines Results

The timing of when to evaluate results determines the ability to note and sort into certain categories of success or failure. Having results is the important part that needs to precede evaluating. If you do the evaluation before you’ve done the experimenting and gotten some sort of result, you’ll most likely notice habitual factors. This is because habits running the show operate as a default condition.

The secret is doing an evaluation after moving differently to experiment is much more likely to lead to making an unexpected discovery. If you cannot verify that you did indeed make a move in a different way, then you can’t expect different results.

The reverse is also true: different results come from doing things using a different way. Uncovering the differences means the results can be repeated. Being a better observer during experimenting will allow these differences and new skills to come forward in further experiments.

Evaluating – For What?

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 – On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

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

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

E…evaluate – This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts!

D…direct – Bonus tips for dealing with difficult challenges, also in three parts…

Evaluating – for What?

We all know how to apply our usual ways of coming to a conclusion. Not as often do we spell out to what standards we’re applying our comparisons. Most of us seldom question the standards’ legitimacy and relevance to our particular unique situation. We assume that we know what we’re doing.

But do we? Is our internal feedback mechanism reliable when it comes to judging movement? Does it represent reality?

Surprisingly, perception is relative. Meaning, perception doesn’t work as if it’s an absolute fact. Sensory perception registers feedback in relationship; it tells you what is going on in relationship to what is “normal.”  This is why in science experiments trouble is taken to establish a basis to which experimental results are compared. This is also why such a surprise occurs as you are hearing your own voice when it has been recorded playing back – or seeing yourself on a video camera. Or why an idea seems as if it’s a good idea sometimes and not other times depending on your attitude.

Let’s say you habitually lean backward and step heel first as you walk. If you change your balance to landing on the balls of your feet and happen to look in a mirror or get the feedback of a video camera, you may be surprised to find yourself more upright when you mistakenly sense you are leaning forwards. Given whatever state you start in, you will only register a change in your orientation or attitude, (attitude in a nautical sense.) Your body sending you the “fact” of absolute location has been a mistake. You’ve gotten “used to” your habitual attitude of expecting your weight to land on your heels first. (Of course, this perception factor would be reversed for other habitual attitudes.)

If we’re going to be able to interpret what has happened during an experiment with moving differently, we need to take this factor into account.

How would we do that? How would someone tell the difference between a valuable new and out-of-the-box experience and a merely different useless random strangeness?

The first thing to do is to suspend the urge to “revert” when you feel a bit strange. When you get some sort of weird, off-balance or unfamiliar feedback, do you tend to want to put yourself back where you were feeling OK? Obviously, it pays to think about it when you experience something new and evaluate with the question in mind.

The secret question is: “Am I using less effort?”

It may be that the new perceptual experience could be used in some way to your advantage. Allow it to continue and describe some of it’s characteristics for a bit and see what happens…

Move

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.”

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

MOVE!
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!

Asking Questions

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

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

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

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Notice

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

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

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

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

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

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

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

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

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

Can you add an observational category?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selling A.T. – continued

This post is a continuing discussion about marketing Alexander Technique, addressed to my colleagues of Alexander Technique.

Jeremy Chance,  in his advice for specific A.T. teachers has suggested that I “find the money” from having gained a following among my peers for the quality of my writing about Alexander Technique.
As colleagues, I believe that all of us trained in Alexander Technique would be best served by teaching each other freely on equal terms. I’ve come to this conclusion after studying with Marj Barstow – in workshops where she was the senior teacher to us all. Once you’ve been trained as a teacher, paying a tribute for continuing education should be over. (Paying for the logistics of getting together is another beast.) So that’s why I haven’t gone down the road toward making money from other Alexander Technique teachers. At least my twenty years of history in writing about A.T. did finally indirectly  inspire a few Alexander teachers to get out there and write! That has been my objective, and it’s been fulfilled.

In my recent exchange with Jeremy Chance, why would I fight his solution of establishing a niche?

Let me mention some of the beginning assumptions. First, I don’t have anything against being in business mode. I’ve started businesses from scratch many times, and specialized in at least one of them. (See other parts of my website.)
What attracts many, many students is often trivial. Later they get a clue. After their issue that attracted them has been solved, they realize there might be more to what happened than merely their own concerns. Some students do stop at the answer to their solution, and that’s OK.

What originally attracted me to A.T. was my curiosity about the mystique of it. I walked into a room full of teacher-trainees, and I saw people who were capable of shifting their conscious awareness.

But I also objected to that attractor, so much that I feel intentionally deceptive using it to attract others. It’s the same reason I don’t want to attract a following as a “guru,” even though I’ve had what could deemed multiple “enlightenment” experiences. Because A.T. was connected to performance and actors, the people who used this attractor also used an exclusive snobbish that I abhorred. In my writing and popularizing Alexander Technique, I aimed to “demystify” to make A.T. to be easy to understand, not increase its elusive mysteries as status symbol actor trade secret that it was when I was attracted to it. At the time I started this impossible task, (1978-1980) nobody was writing or talking about Alexander Technique – except me…even while hitchhiking to get to teacher-training class on Hwy One when my car broke down. It was phenomenal the way my sole efforts transformed the awareness of A.T. in the San Francisco Bay area for other Alexander Technique teacher.

In that era, Alexander Technique was considered elusive – and there was a reason for that. The experience of lessons takes students to the edge of their perceptual capacity to perceive motion and provides an entirely new perceptual assumption. At the time, nobody knew how to talk about that – except me. When I would talk about it, people who had A.T. lessons would say, “What you say and how you write makes sense to me, but would be it make sense to someone who had never had an experience with Alexander Technique?” I thought those comments reflected the exclusive knowledge mind-set of how A.T. had been previously sold.

People in the Alexander Technique field still don’t talk about how doing it shifts your awareness and level of happiness. Probably because that aren’t so many people who don’t want to make a change – (including myself here, apparently.) Instead, A.T. teachers are reduced to declaring about how it works for back pain and other practical niche solutions. For me, selling A.T. by pedalling benefits is turning A.T. into something similar to selling Snake Oil. AT least it makes A.T. sound like Possibly Effective Placebo Snake Oil, which it is not what it is at all.
My question for the plethora of A.T. niche determiners: In the eye of the buyer, what makes your teaching of A.T. different from every old-fashioned brand of Snake Oil? (It’s a wonderful way to get a mission statement out of yourself.)
When I answer my own question: ” I teach A.T. as an intentional experiment to tap the unknown for new discoveries in how intent translates to action.”

You can read Jeremy Chance’s reply to some of my questions [linked] here.

Selling Alexander Technique

Recently, the Alexander Technique community has been treated to an online course in business management. Offered by Jeremy Chance, he’s now in the stage where he’s using real people as examples. Being a classic under-achiever, I volunteered!
http://jeremychance.blogspot.jp/2013/01/w0106-case-studies-franis-engel-in.html
This led to a chat with Jeremy revealing the challenges inherent in my twisted sense of business acumen that I’d like to share with you. We were discussing the selection of a “niche” in marketing.

The psychic core that has you dashing from one thing to another and not sticking with a conscious, constructive plan that could give you the support your brilliance needs. I have a few people like this, and I number myself among them. I was “saved” by getting married at 43 and having two kids – I HAD TO STICK TO SOMETHING. Three other people depended upon me. It seems to me that is the core issue you face – do you agree? Do you have another take? I think that would serve many readers…

Yes, I have another “take.” “Following the tried and true” is a common admonition that hasn’t worked for me.
The drive is obviously in me, because why would I continue to be so dedicated to writing? Writing about subjective experience is tricky; it wasn’t my natural talent. Can I turn my writing skill into a money-making form? Either I need to invent a new form, (such as a Skype workshop series?) or marry some of my skills into a new form that combines what I already have done with A.T. as experimental principles. I’ll have to think about that one. What do I already do as naturally as breathing? (Off the cuff, I’m best at generating ideas designing experiments via telephone workshops.)
My best role model in the A.T. World would be Roy Palmer. His “niche” is “writing e-books about AT in sports.” Roy has defined a large, free ranging area of his interest and continues to publish e-books for each area. Each book is supported by a unique website and other marketing activities that are all similar for every book he publishes.
I have plenty of possible money-making projects that show potential that would support the appearance of students who want to learn A.T. But I just don’t finish them. From Barbara Sher’s advice, I’ve realized perhaps my problem has been a lack of a “buddy” to support and keep me on track.
Anyway – our society is made of specialists who are “known for” what they do. I don’t fit that model because I’m a generalist. I’m an innovator-journalist. Specialization is a fad.

Yeah, because it [niche specialization] works!

True. But I’ve tried to fit into that “specialist” mold in my life. It doesn’t supply fulfilment. Attempting to cram yourself into a mold will result in the you or the mold breaking. I’ve already experienced the break.

I’ve trained for more than one job that involved a lifestyle template that I wasn’t able to tolerate. Yet, the training model and activities themselves were exactly perfect.
Even the energy required to complete teacher-training for A.T. wasn’t sustainable for me – I financially crashed and burned right in the middle of my A.T. Training. Someone my age at that time would have had parents come to their rescue; I didn’t. If it wasn’t for Marj Barstow offering me the trade of writing for her in exchange for her teaching me, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my teacher training.

You can’t do what you don’t know if you keep on doing what you do know!

Except I’ve been there, done that. It was unsustainable for me. In a sense, specialization for me is short-term “end-gaining.” I guess that’s not the case completely. I specialize in my mural sign painting on windows without suffering, because it’s seasonal.

We all have the capacity to over-ride our essential nature in the service of …what? For you it was the needs of your family that convinced you to change. As I said, me having more money is just not enough to convince me to change that nature in myself.  Maybe wanting to communicate the benefit of my experience is – so I’ve been doing that directly. The complication is that people won’t recognize the value of my experience – unless I make them pay for it.


Jeremy, you suggested a mentor – who has knowledge of a similar sort of person who I’m trying to reach. Let’s say my “perfect students” are those multi-talented older women. Barbara Sher sells to this same crowd. I’ll use her “Wish-Obstacle” format.
Wish: To inspire the desire for a need for what I offer that nobody knows they need. Obstacle: people have no frame of reference for what it is I’m able to offer them – how do they get this?
I’ve asked her directly. Barbara Sher said, “Tell a story to show the context.”
  Would story-telling work in place of hands-on, which offers context?

I have a strange idea. Perhaps the answer for me is merely to teach Alexander Technique at cost. I haven’t tried that yet. I’d be willing to see where it leads me. If I’m resisting making money in some way – what is the harm in “give in” to that urge to share what I have to offer at cost? There is no A.T. Teacher who will suffer from me giving inexpensive classes, because I am the only teacher who is teaching on the Big Island right now. Wish: to communicate by using my talent for rapport. Obstacle: lack of respect. People don’t pay attention when a teacher makes learning easy, because the student is not making enough of a [monetary] sacrifice. Your answer?

My continuing interest in writing about A.T. merely comes from believing in A.T. effectiveness and wanting to communicate it. I guess I must ask myself, “Is writing about A.T. without getting paid and having a couple of students a month satisfying enough for it to be all I ever do?”

Inhibition is the Map!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Breath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodical Creativity

Spontaneity & Creativity
Some people imagine there is a canceling effect between planning and spontaneity. Creative writing is an example. Once a writer gets into the state of being a methodical editor, the spontaneity of creative ideas can stop, like a faucet that’s been turned off. How can a writer “turn on” the faucet of creative writing again? It’s a mystery to many who experience “writer’s block.” From my experience, I say that the ability to shift from the creative state to editing mode and back again is a skill that responds to practice.

Observation & Creativity
Of course, it would pay off to be able to pay attention to what is actually happening. How else will you know if something creative has happened? Bear in mind that there are many ways to describe what you think that you’re doing, which may not be what is actually happening.

As a writer, I’ve learned that naming something can be dangerous. Under the heading of “planning” and “methodical” are really effective and astute self-observations, done slowly. This can be practiced by describing the mundane things that actually happen that most people miss – which could be another part of  “methodical.”  Then there is somehow recording what happened – like people do to populate their Facebook pages. Recording what you tried is useful so you don’t have to mistakenly practice unproductive mistakes.

Accidents & Creativity
Pretty much everybody has done something really creative and beyond their abilities in a flash of “accidentally on purpose.” How much time went by until they realized something creative just did happen? Can it be done again, purposefully? Were they paying attention as they did this creative thing so they could know what happened in order to use it productively?  Are there more effective questions that might help being able to repeat a creative accident?

Some Useful Virtual Questions

  • What helps to observe myself – while in action?
  • What’s the challenge for being creative?
  • How can I recognize that something creative just happened?
  • Does creativity have characteristics that will help me spot it when it does happen?
  • How am I going to recognize a partial creative answer when it happens?
  • Does stopping and noting it help a creative action to happen again?

Going Slowly & Creativity
Alexander Technique teachers know that ready-made, habitual solutions preclude creative answers from emerging. So – slowing an action down to a crawl effectively works to interrupt or to stop habitual solutions from jumping in and “helpfully” providing the application of those ready-made answers. It’s easy to mistake slowing down for being “uncreative.” But going slowly is only just that. It’s possible to be very creative and go slow, because it allows the new solution to be implemented.

In practice, you must prove to people that going slow is useful. Because in our culture we have this mistaken assumption that going fast is a sign of quick-witted intelligence and going slowly is a signal of stupidity.

Method & Creativity
There’s a paradox in Alexander Technique – “let’s follow a declared process that will result in an inspirational flash of discovery!”

Stating what you are going to do and then doing it helps unify all of yourself in being pointed toward whole-minded action. Stating what you are about to do forges and practices a coherent, consistent connection between your intent and the factual response to your intent.

Are there certain useful practices or questions you enjoy asking yourself again and again because they result in a flash of creative inspiration?

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.

LOWER AND HIGHER BRAIN FUNCTION

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.

CONNECTING FIBERS: GABA

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 COUNTS – AND WHAT DOESN’T MATTER

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.

HOW GABA FIBERS INTERCEPT FEARFUL REACTIONS

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.”

INSTINCT, PREJUDICE, OPINION, TASTE

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.

WHY GROWING GABA FIBERS IS A GOOD IDEA

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.

BRAIN PLASTICITY

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.

SOME WAYS TO GROW YOUR GABA FIBERS

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.)

PERSISTENCE IS GOLDEN

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.

HOW THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE DOES IT

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.

WHY IMMEDIATELY BEFORE YOU BEGIN IS A GOOD TIME TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

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.

REFUSE THE DOMINANT PARADIGM – PRO-ACTIVELY

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.

“Golf Sense” Book Review

Alexander Technique is the foundation that Roy Palmer uses to present a new way learn about golf in his new book, “Golf Sense”. I’m a fellow Alexander teacher that Roy has asked to review his book.

Golf Sense shows off the tremendous effectiveness of what has been reputed to be the trickiest subject to present in writing – Alexander Technique. For those not familiar with the subject, it is a body learning skill from the performing arts field that teaches mastery, effortlessness & how to undo what gets learned by accident. What makes Alexander Technique different from mere philosophy or other motivational admonishments is that it has a physical discipline based on empirical inquiry that works in the incremental moments of actual performance. Golf Sense discusses “being in the moment” as a state of “Being In The Zone.”

Many other books that integrate Alexander Technique with teaching a specific skill merely introduce; falling short of daring to actually teaching the subject in writing. There are two good reasons for this caution: Alexander teachers offer specific tips about what their students do unintentionally that is tailored to that particular student. Secondly, the teacher physically takes students by hands-on guided motion into how to tap the unknown for new insights, detouring accidental self-imposed limitations as they are happening. Because of these two significant benefits, most writers assume it’s not possible to teach the real Alexander Technique with mere words.

Palmer listened to what readers asked for and complained that was lacking in other Alexander Technique books. In doing so, Palmer has originated multiple practical answers to questions that work to educate the thoughtful student who will actually conduct his advised experiments. He doesn’t shy away from the really challenging mysteries, such as:

How come my game gets inconsistent when I know better?

How come analyzing the previous shot seems to spoil the next shot?

How can I avoid or get rid of the dreaded yips?

Why does analyzing what happened after a shot that did not work seem to spoil the following attempt?

Golf Sense is also a book with a sense of humor. The other sense that Palmer communicates exceptionally well about  is an unconsidered sixth sense. This is the often-ignored perceptual sense about relative effort and spacial orientation that is presumed to be  included in the sense of touch – but is not often discussed.

Palmer presents illustrated examples that communicate from many points of view; the frustrated golfer, the beginner, the pressured performer, the brain scientist, the ruthless competitor, the martial artist, even the consciousness woo-woo. Mysteries that don’t make sense about why you can’t get your golf ball to obey will become clear and reasonable by the time you finish this book, as the title promises.

If you actually conduct Palmer’s suggested exercises, (rather than merely reading this book) pretty much this is the closest you can get to having your own Alexander Technique teacher at your back for the price of a book. It’s not too abstract to substitute almost any other skill involving a ball in the sequence of learning that Roy Palmer presents. Because of this fantastic application for any sport, I would suggest this book for any sportsman who is curious to learn Alexander Technique principles – even if you never want to learn golf!

Is Inhibition in Aikido and Tai Chi?

There are always many roads to a similar destination – Aikido and TaiChi, etc. are two of them that are culturally specific avenues to a similar destination in common with Alexander Technique. In fact, I’ve described the Alexander Technique as “The Westerner’s Zen.”

F.M. Alexander never claimed to have an exclusive ownership trademark on excellent coordination or the path to effortlessness and mastery. He merely figured out how to eliminate a nuisance that he had cultivated and trained into an intended habit by accident.

What made his work rare is that he formed his specific solution of voice recovery into a chain of practical principles that could be abstracted for use in other situations. Inhibition was one of those pivotal principles. Those situations would be the usefulness of freeing unintentional habits of movement response. (Which turned out to be pretty much any situation involving movement! But most valued by people who have found Alexander’s work frees performance talent for unlimited improvement, to refresh remedial lack of movement problems & as a study of consciousness and happiness.)

Put yourself in F.M. Alexander’s shoes – how would you describe what you did, as if nobody had ever described the process of inhibition? It’s a squirrelly, tricky challenge for self-observation AND the use of language to describe what happened. All of these things happen step by step and/or simultaneously all-at-once – very quickly – AND they don’t happen the same every time either.

It was an admirable and stunning success on Alexander’s part to come up with ANY way to describe the abstracted principles so they could be applied to ANY movement. Alexander’s work was a brilliant insight in applying creative thinking ability toward a practical discipline of the proof of thought in action. Other philosophers (and religions!) had some similar ideas – without the practical application and proof their ideas worked because it was assembled into a “law” or “principle” as Alexander developed.

If you have experience with Alexander Technique, here’s your assignment: In your own words, describe in language what inhibition is, without going through the blow-by-blow nuts & bolts of how to do it.

Here is one of my attempts:

Inhibition is prevention of unwanted, nuisance habits of movement that have been trained to disappear while becoming innate. Using inhibition prevents long-standing habits from obliterating a fragile, newly intended potential talent. Inhibition prevents what is previously known best to be stopped or suspended, so an unknown potential may emerge well-formed, be practiced and become another reliable skill.

Do you agree with that definition of inhibition? Stated like that, inhibition sounds like the basis of all educational processes, doesn’t it?

So once you do describe inhibition, it is more obvious that it can be used a stand-alone principle. Inhibition may operate quite independently of Primary Control. (Another important principle of Alexander Technique.) Inhibition can be ANYTHING strategically done to prevent, sidestep, re-direct, fake out, detour, put off, distract, bore (the list is only limited to your creative ability to come up with effective variations) lie, cheat, make fun of, bait & switch, etc. that unwanted, coercive habitual reaction.

What I’m saying is that this ability to do all these inhibitive-style things are so useful, that inhibition is inherent in many, many learning processes. Granted that inhibition is rarely spelled-out; I know of no other description for it. (Rarely it has been called deliberate non-judgment or deliberate suspension of short-sighted goals.) So the fact that inhibition is working the way it does remains buried in the learning process. As long as inhibition is buried in this way, it can’t be used, as such – so I agree with you, Chris – when you say…

Chris writes: “…it may well be possible to become a phenomenally good Aikido or Tai Chi
practitioner without addressing the fundamentals of misuse. ”

Absolutely! Someone who practices can excel at a sport, but effective teaching is a separate skill. Not many teachers know that prevention – inhibitive techniques exist specifically.  But some rare teachers are able to improvise specific solutions for specific students who are having problems and need help overcoming specific issues. This is the value of a good teacher – to obviate difficulty and prevent it.
Teachers in general often don’t know why what they do works, (or why some students have trouble and others excel.) – Of course, we Alexander Technique people do know why some people excel at learning and some don’t, because we have the Alexander Technique as an example and descriptor.

Most people can only think of teaching the way they were taught. They take things literally and thus, may only imitate content in state-specific way. (This statement of generalizing is not intended to be made in a derogatory way. There’s nothing wrong with being a preservationist – it’s an honorable job! We NEED people who preserve accurately!)

However, the challenge here is to think abstractly to apply principles beyond the specific situation where these principles were learned.

So – what I’m saying here is that anybody may use inhibitive strategies – without knowing that these inhibitive techniques are a separate, defined skill/ability. Mostly people do not have a clue that inhibition is the MOST important key to success in many, many situations. This is because, so often, you must stop what you do not want before you can begin to allow what you do want. Most people merely think of the “doing what you want” part. So they are left to wonder why their intention falls short. Usually they imagine it is something wrong with THEM.

Granted, most people probably will not notice their Primary Control is occurring immediately following their ability to inhibit what they do not want. (We A.T. people all know that inability to recognize what is happening occurs because sensory ability shuts down when an automatic habit justifies a cost-of-goal sacrifice.)

But that doesn’t mean a student’s teacher misses noticing what they want for their student that the student does not know. This depends on the teaching style, insight & experience of the particular teacher. With an effective and intuitive Sensei, (or any teacher) who is practiced at timing & reinforcement in training, coupled with an exacting standard of “effortlessness” as a guiding criteria of success – you essentially have exactly the same result as with using Alexander Technique. It is of no difference that it is not named that particular thing and even that the learning process is described differently.

Almost any skill may become an “art” of life with a valuable teacher.

Inhibition is a short-cut. The recommendations of how these other two disciplines are taught (I speak from experience with both of Tai Chi and Aikido) are the long way ’round and require even more dedication and practice than Alexander Technique lessons. All of them work toward the similar objectives of freedom of movement, pleasure of learning, prevention of unnecessary pain and enhancement of longevity.  Despite the way these objectives are described being quite different because of the culture surrounding it, (IMHO) I see more commonalities than differences.

What do you have to say about other disciplines or pastimes that have the ability to ascend to an art, containing philosophical principles or lessons of life?

If A.T. Was A Religion…

Lutz: Alexander Technique as a way to enlightenment without life-time membership and obligations?

Maybe if the challenge of “En-LIGHTEN-ment” is redefined as Levitation Devotions? Now THAT would be a spiritually transcendent goal! [Have got my tongue in cheek rather firmly here, in case the terminally-serious are reading this, who obviously need more indoctrination in levity training.] Wow, the Alexander Technique principle of Directing IS quite a bit like meditation…

Hey, what an idea!

If someone were inclined, here’s how we could consider Alexander Technique to follow the threats and stern admonitions that are the signature characteristics of most religions. Then the Real Questions are… Let’s see…

At the Hellish Penalty of being a Lousy Example to one’s Devotees, umm, Devoted Pupils, (who inevitably will emulate the example’s affectations… ummm… pattern of misuse if presented with it at an unthinkable momentary lapse of Direction.) The Obligatory Dedication to a lifetime of Directing Oneself…will be required.

OF course, we would need to select members of the Upper Caste. They must deal with the inevitable Continuing Rising Standards of excellence and perfection of the transcendent pursuit of Good Use In Every Moment.

We could extend teacher training to a period of ten years, (re-naming it “The Calling in the WORK”) and redefine all currently trained teachers as Devotees Of Passing On The Work. (Then it would be “Spreading the Good Use Work” instead of doing what is now considered in marketing lingo to be “Branding”….)

Since it takes at least one contiguous month to Improve One’s Use and get it to stick, the identification of A.T. into a religion would be the solution of that sticky challenge of having pupils flake out before they are Properly Indoctrinated. Once pupils open the door on expanded perception, they should not be allowed to slam the Doors of Perception shut again.  Merely require pupils to live together for a month-long workshop in order to Study Properly.

Use Of The Self by F.M A. Proclaimed Heavenly Inspired

It’s already convenient that F.M Alexander’s books ARE suitably mystifying so as to require meta-physically book-study groups… requiring Long winded explanations to decipher AND Experts to Interpret TRUE Meanings…

Deification of those unusual teachers who we now consider “Heads Of Training” as spiritually advanced would also be necessary. And if those people refuse, we can always proceed in the Deification Process after their death, when they have nothing to say about it. Then, in order to assemble a Priesthood, we can ascend certain souls to Highly Enlightened. An example is the rumored Alexander teacher who, after having her house robbed, had Scotland Yard dust her home for the fingerprints of the criminal and found no fingerprints of hers on her possessions. (Who was that? Names Please so we can report her to the proper Board of Ascension. Those around her will be so flattered they know her, ah…humbled, that they will accept the award on her behalf.)

Maybe it would be a better idea to require those advanced enough in our Doctrine to tutor a flock by obligation in exchange for their ten-year training. We could cloister them in subsistence housing for another period of ten years (after the first ten years,) at which end they might be be qualified to be deified as Highly Enlightened after death. Hey, at least they would have a job!

Of course, the manner of death would be a factor in Deification, because, the only preferred spiritual enough cause of death is stroke – and THAT is only acceptable after attaining 90+ years old. Preferably after a previous stroke recovery to prove how effective the Deified Candidate can Carve New Brain Pathways in the example of our En-light-end Hero, F.M. Alexander himself.

Gambling at the equine racetrack could be one of our collective gathering places, (taking the place of church Bingo, obviously)…in emulation of F.M. Alexander, Our Founder, of course…

Hmmmm, if Alexander Technique were a religion, then we could consider membership in the professional societies to be tithing!

p.s: AND converting Alexander Technique to being a religion would allow tax write-offs!

Not Merely Sit-Up-Straight School

One way to start teaching about the Alexandrian ideals of “use” is to give people an appreciation of it. I got a suggestion to have people watch each other move and see if they can describe each other’s posture. Compare “good” to “bad” use. Maybe people can learn to spot and admire “good” use, for instance in favorite sports players and young children.

However, there is the problem with this approach. Most people who are unschooled in Alexander Technique will miss the obvious indicators that we Alexandrians have learned to spot at first. How would someone actually learn these indicators of beautiful, effortless motion?

How do you give people who have never thought about this before any idea of WHY the features an Alexander teachers point out are notable ones? At first, they don’t see anything that stands out for them when they look. They can’t understand at all why you’re making a big deal out of it. Certainly most people know that kids move like kids; when they grow up and their bones grow into place, then they look like adults. In the middle they look like truculent teens. So what?

If you show them the differences between Alexandrian ideals of “good” and “bad” use, they will probably see the difference eventually. So what? Will being able to spot those differences be useful to them in improving their own coordination?  Probably these students will assume they now have a new standard to strive for in their old same ways of over-doing. I would say that the Alexander teacher has failed to give their students much of anything useful, other than a reason why they should come back for more lessons.

The challenge as an Alexander teacher is to figure out how to give your pupils a clue how to sense improved use while being on the inside of themselves, without being able to attribute the change to the teacher’s “magic” hands.

The problem as I see it comes from, traditionally, that Alexander Technique has been taught using British standards of culturally implied opposites. Alexander teachers have been trying to teach paradoxes by pointing at what is not there. It would help if A.T. teachers thought more often about how prevailing cultural assumptions are a factor in their teaching skills.

Of course, there are philosophical reasons for using this approach. As a person learns how to prevent the routines that constitute their misuse, the “good” use that is present underneath all those habits and compensations will emerge as if by itself. This mark of “do-less-ness” should be a prominent experience of any Alexander Technique lesson.

Adding to the teacher’s bag of tricks about how to communicate what you, as an A.T. teacher, have to offer is a tremendous advantage. If all you can do as a teacher is to merely point to what is not there, and your students can’t see it in the first place – well – you could use more avenues for communication.

Most people in a state of misuse will just repeat themselves, over and over, when what they are doing does not work. Many Americans have a bad reputation because when they travel abroad and find out the person does not speak English who they want to communicate to, Americans merely talk louder as if the person must be deaf. In the Alexander Technique field, we have a word for this which is “End-gaining.” All mistaken reactions are a form of end-gaining.

However, I think inadvertently, end-gaining is what many A.T. teachers are guilty of doing by not doing enough creative thinking for the benefit of their students about how they can be learning faster and easier. When you’re the teacher, why only mimic the way you have been taught when you teach?

Well, one good reason would be preservation of the purity of what is Alexander’s work. There is certainly enough about Alexander’s Technique that deserves to be preserved. As he stated, F.M. Alexander meant for his line of work to be constantly improved.

Learning time is certainly a feature that could use improvement. The way A.T. has been traditionally taught, pupils are just supposed to get it from a teacher pointing at what they want a pupil to do and indicating…see that? The answer for the pupil might be, “No, I don’t see that. See what?” Then the teacher works with them again. Pointing at their improved use the teacher again asks, “Get this?” The student says “Get what?”

Part of the reason Alexander teachers have so much trouble teaching is that what they have to offer is …NOTHING!!! They are teaching a learning process that results in a lack of effort. The public doesn’t get that this “Nothing” is what is valuable. People want to “DO SOMETHING” to get whatever the benefits are they have been told is possible to get by learning Alexander Technique.

It would be an advantage to work with this assumption rather than against it. Perhaps if a teacher could spell out the steps that contain what TO DO in the positive that actually works for people to learn to sense these things for themselves – then they would learn faster?

How to design these experiments?  That’s where your creative thinking ability comes into play. You need to make it safe to conduct the experiment, so when unpredictable things happen it won’t have a destructive effect. You need to encourage people to laugh, because people are more willing to take on challenges and feel daring & courageous when they are amused and curious. Both teacher and student need to establish a priority of criteria to evaluate their success. Then they can know if their experiments worked or not.

If these experiments do work to improve your student’s use, (certainly a student being able to sense subtle differences in their own use would be a benefit,) the teacher would continue using that approach. If pupils misunderstand the teacher, that strategy would be dropped. More brainstorming for discovering other means to communicate what the teacher has to offer would be in order.

There is no use for blaming pupils for not understanding the teacher. This is the frustration from their teachers that many traditionally trained AT teachers had to endure forty years ago.

So – now we have it defined: the obstacle is that the public will go after their new appreciation of “good” use in the same old ways. How can we as teachers really update these old ways of approaching new means? As teachers we do not want “Good” use to be just a different carrot that learners will lead themselves astray with. How do we teachers change that?

Granted that the Alexander community finds that people nowadays are often motivated to start learning Alexander lessons to address back problems. But does the A.T. community want Alexander Technique to be popularly misunderstood merely as “Sit Up Straight School”?

Can you think of three different and new ways to address this obstacle in communicating Alexander’s discoveries and principles? Can you think of one right now? Anyone can problem solve this challenge. You don’t have to be an Alexander Technique teacher.

One way that I’ve used to help people understand what their pattern of use is seems to work particularly well in a group of actors, but will work with any group. Humor and goofiness is a useful feature of it.

“Type-casting” Have a person who is “it” to walk their “normal” walk in front of the class. Then have the group watch to absorb those qualities. Then ask for multiple volunteers to exaggerate the mannerisms of that walk of the person who is “it” – taken to extremes. It’s quite fun to do and helps people learn what they are doing with their own mannerisms of movement while walking. Interesting because the original mannerisms of the person who is attempting to exaggerate also comes through. Having multiple people do this brings this contrast to light as a feature. People will notice the “on purpose” exaggeration…and there will also be the innate sets of Alexandrian Use underneath what is being purposefully acted out. The more people who volunteer as the exaggerators, the most interesting this gets to watch. This also works great with teens or kids as an A.T. teaching activity – and it’s pretty fun as an ice-breaker that helps explore the subject of self-observation.

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.

Why Are Habits Hard to Change?

It should be possible to recognize a habit – specifically enough to be able to undo it, stop it or substitute a better response. Why is this so challenging?

Within the intention of making a habit useful is the design for habits to become innate by disappearing. Then the next habit can be chained on, to build really complex skills. It’s hard to change what you can’t sense.

Also, the only tools we have for noticing a buried habit on our own is the desire to improve a skill and the ability to notice and ask questions constructively. Questions tip some people into a state of indecision and self-doubt. This is not a very comfortable thing to be doing for many adults, who are used to knowing a little. Spotting hidden assumptions in what is missing is a sophisticated and somewhat rare thinking skill.

Often the results of experimenting are unfamiliar and elusive to notice. We must use the feedback of our own sensory abilities, which may be rusty from disuse or absent from being over-stimulated. We don’t have many constructive examples of wisely and effectively interpreting results.

If things are going OK, what reason is there to mess with trying to improve something that’s not completely broken? People want comfort, and learning is challenging, (even though it’s exciting,) most people want what is predictable – and habits certainly are predictable. People aren’t used to noting gradual progress. In fact, instant and convenient results are preferred. People have to be sold on the value of patience and a desire for lasting results. It’s discouraging when success is not complete and immediate. Most people don’t really know why or how things work when it comes to the way they move. Most people would rather have something that sort of works than nothing at all and once you open the door on new perceptions, you can’t easily close it again. Some are a little superstitious that examining or analyzing will tear apart the wholeness of an ability, like a millipede who began to think about their legs and tripped over themselves. The kinesthetic sense is not even in the list of the five senses!

All these concerns are very good reasons why people find it tricky to change their own habits of movement. Habits are in a sense, addicting. There is a seductive cost to using habits: routines dull the need for noticing subtle distinctions. By using a habitual response, the skill of noticing the feedback of the senses becomes unnecessary and, like any unpracticed skill, it gets rusty.

I’ve practiced this skill quite a bit because I teach Alexander Technique. I have some experience in how to deal with these problems that I’d like to share with you.

A particular strategy that seems to be an effective and fundamental solution for me and my students has been to look for the original decision or thinking strategy behind designing a habit. This approach has the potential to globally change at once the many (physical) features that make up the habitual response. As the original justification or source of the need why the habit was trained is uncovered, you may practice substituting, eliminating or updating specific features. It works best if you practice on trivial points to groom the skills for the important features. This helps you to determine what would really improve things for you, and to dare to do it when the rubber meets the road. A.T. is so useful and unique because it can be used during performance. Using A.T. will steer you somewhere new and creative, allowing you to use your potential on the fly.

Once there, you may change more of the whole response pattern in one fell swoop by making a fresh decision to address the pivotal goal in ways that answer your now more sophisticated concerns and priorities. You now have a new ability to groom, sharpen and shape a “pretty good for Rock’n’Roll” skill. Or perhaps it’s called how to install and train a flexible habit that can be easily updated. Maybe you can now get free of a pervasive, insistent response pattern that always steers you off your best game.

Until you can remember or relearn exactly what that decision was, (and timing is often a factor,) it’s much more complicated to undo and change the many sophisticated and complex responses tied to your buried habitual response – because the habit just “goes off” like a good dog should obey.Changing this or that feature of how to move, as taught by Alexander Technique, seems most useful to bring yourself to face the moment of the original decision or justification for the habit’s existence. Subversively undoing the whole pattern without firing off the habit is what an Alexander teacher can provide their students. Once free of the habit, even only temporarily free, it’s possible to actually sense the moment of exactly what you are doing as you go back into the habit – when before it was all-pervasive and impossible to sense. It’s at this moment when you may kinesthetically or situationally remember what encouraged you to put the habit in place and know part of what happened that you have forgotten.Making sense of what you are facing and being able to interpret the results takes some serious, strategic thinking and trial!

Other ways that I have been able to do this by myself has been to note and watch for the stimulus that encourages me to use the trained response. While paying attention, it paid off to notice the habitual program going off, all the while suspecting if there really is a need for it to be done in this way. My objective is to spot the maybe mystery original decision at the beginning right before the habit engaged. If that happened, the decision was made in the distant past will be obvious; a more elegant solution might be obvious also. I’m then free to try it! I can always get the old response back if it doesn’t work. If I figure that I still need to use the old faithful habit, moving out of the habit after the (supposed) need for it is past is also important to remember.