Obscure Alexander Technique

Why is the Alexander Technique not that well-known?

Multiple reasons, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on & on…

 

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

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

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

 

Chairwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Made Me Open-minded

How I came to value Alexander Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attractiveness

Learning A.T.  made an interesting change in my sense of my own attractiveness. At the time this happened for me, I was attending daily teacher-training classes. I was learning to see postural expressions of qualities of thought and mannerisms of character in other people. I suddenly realized that others had been seeing and responding to my own postural attitudes too!

Even if they didn’t know what my body language meant in as much detail as I was learning, I had to admit that my own body language expressed who I was on the inside of me – not just my external appearance. As I realized that people were probably responding to what was expressed inside my internal character and sense of self, (as well as the fact that I was a tall, young woman at that time,) my whole picture of attracting attention from men I needed to consider in this new light. Even if these guys who wolf-whistled at me were not conscious how they could discern this information of attractiveness, that didn’t matter. I had to give them credit, whether they knew exactly what it was about me that was attracting their attention or not. I realized they were noticing how I was acting as I walked down the street – where my attention went, how I walked and moved. As I understood that, I began to be able to “turn it off” and on – so that when I did not want to attract attention, I could control being available. The broadcasting of attractiveness and charisma can be deliberate, not accidental.

I don’t think that most men really know what it’s like to get unwanted sexual attention from strangers. Perhaps if a guy is hetrosexual and finds himself getting sexual attention from homosexual men, it is a bit similar. Pretty much, every young woman must figure out how to deal with getting this attention from an early age, and it’s difficult. My strategy was to wear baggy clothes and hide as best I could, but it did not really work. Knowing more about what and how my body language projects the way I am inside made a big change for me concerning this challenge. Getting this sexual attention that I was forced to deal with because of being born in the culture was difficult for me. But with this new insight, it suddenly became an insight. I realized that attention from strangers was happening because of how I moved, how I paid attention, instead of it being an accident of birth and physical appearance. For me at the time, it was quite a turnaround.

Aphorism

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

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

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

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

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

Primary Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Literal to Concept

Language is an encyclopedia of ignorance. Words and concepts become established at a period of relative ignorance – which each period must be, compared to the subsequent period. Once the perceptions and concepts are frozen into the permanence of language, they control and limit our thinking on any subject because we are forced to use those concepts. – “I Am Right – You Are Wrong” by Edward de Bono, one of his 80+ books on creative thinking

How do you go about extracting concepts from literal experiences that are “stuck” into a already-assembled package?

Decades ago, before I had really learned to write, I was assigned the job of describing Marj Barstow’s new innovations about teaching Alexander Technique to groups. It was quite a difficult job for many reasons. Learning Alexander Technique occurred on many levels for a student – everyone was located along a continuum of the learning process – but this process of learning the subject was not linear…and everyone followed a different pathway.

To complicate this, my teacher was also quite literal, very specific and a superb editor. She was so much of an editor, she couldn’t write for herself. There was something wrong with everything because it didn’t contain the whole. So my job became to write, write, write and allow her to cut up whatever I had written to shreds…and go back and write some more, undaunted. To complicate matters, nobody else but the founder had written about his own driving conceptual & innovative principles, although everyone acknowledged their importance who had experienced the power of his teaching. It was a little like daring to describe what nobody else would touch.

Since I knew that compiling was a much easier job than the simplifying of concepts that I really needed, I started out by collecting selected “impressions” my teacher’s students had written to her. There were interesting quotes from people that I selected, assembled and grouped so they “flowed” in topic. The sequence of the topics were arranged to match my teacher’s introductory presentation sequence – because they had to posses some sequence. At the time, it seemed to be an arbitrary selection of deciding what quote should follow the next. The learning process and application of the skills of Alexander Technique was so subjectively circular. What organization would be best for introductory teaching?

My attempts were widely distributed among her students for feedback. The acknowledgment came back from her more experienced students: the sequence I stumbled on was the same one they had been effectively using in action to teach others. So, now I had a sequence to present content (that I had arranged so “arbitrarily”) and it had turned out to be in agreement with what others who did not write had learned.

Now I was ready to write a “concept synopsis” where each topic changed into the next. To simulate the out-of-sequence form of learning, I split the conceptual chapter headings from the raw quotes and added some experiments for examples. The idea of a tri-sectioned book emerged to allow the information to be read out of sequence as well as in sequence.

the cookbook style thing, divided in three separate books bound together into one book was funny to read in practice. It frustrated people who wanted to read it in sequence.

So – that was how I took one very complex subject that didn’t have a conceptual organization and simplified it.

Hope that my story from my experience in Alexander Technique inspires for you how to extract concepts from literal experiences and express them successfully in words.

Respecting Patrick MacDonald’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Attracted Me To Alexander Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need Some Sources for Quoting – Have ’em?

For an article I would like to write on Alexander Technique, I need some footnotes and quotes from reputable scientific or book sources, as well as quotes from books that have been written on Alexander Technique.
My library has been packed away in storage in Calif. since I assummed my books would only be ruined if I brought them to the tropical wet climate where I am now. Unfortunately I assumed this information would be available on the internet if I needed it…but now that I need it and am looking for it, it’s not available.

In particular, I remember some time past in the STAT newsletter there was a report of a scientific finding about porters in India, who carry weight on their backs for a living (in “monkey” because the ability to carry more weight means more pay.) These porters were x-rayed (I believe this report was made by a chiropractor) to determine the condition of their spines at 40 as a group; the extraordinary finding was that 3/4 of them had no spinal degrading that starts in pretty much all westerners after age 18. I wanted to be able to verify in this article I’m writing that our bodies may be used in challenging ways without wearing out, to the extent we are motivated to use our potentially most efficient physical coordination following structural advantages. Of course, it’s an advantage to carry more weight if you use your body efficiently.

I’m also interested in a finding about how adults studying Alexander Technique may gain up to an inch of height. I know that we’ve discussed that happened to many people here anecdotally, but has anyone heard of this hypothesis being part of a “real” study?

…and I’m also looking for the exact source mentioned in Gelb’s books about John V. Basmajian’s work at Emory University where Basmajian connected electrodes in people’s forearms to an occilliscope and an audio amp. The finding was that most people were able to train themselves to play complex rhythms &, once connected to tone, even play specific tunes, without the audio channel present once learned – merely by thinking about these tunes. I thought this was a verification that Directing works the way A.T. teachers intend it via it’s recommended use in Alexander Technique.

Also, is there any statement in some book of how long it took Alexander to form his Technique and that F.M. did, in fact, discover or invent the use of direction, Primary Control, inhibition, debauched sensory appreciation & his ideas about the force of habit?
I’m assumming that the best sources would be tracking down the first mentions of these things that were verified by other fields of science that post-date Alexander’s writings about it. I know about Coghill verifying primary control in invertebrates; but does anyone have other sources at hand?

You may also assume that I’m probably indefinitely looking for such sources to add to my own collection of such, even though a long time may have passed since my asking here.

If you have these sources handy in your own collection, I’d be most happy to list your work on this as a source in the article. I know that http://www.alexandertechnique.com has been a great resource, with links and articles that I have saved. Thanks, Robert Rickover!

Addiction and Emotional Reactions

When I first began to study AT, I was living with a person who was in Frank Ottiwell and Giora Pinkas’ first training course named Kenneth Feld. Kenny used to live in Chicago and had lessons with Goddard Binkley; Kenny told me that Binkley dealt with addiction, anger, etc. by encouraging students to shout reactive phrases while he worked on them with A.T. I assumed it was so the student could refuse the reaction while they were doing the activity, but later I realized that doing this uncovered assumptions for the student about emotion at an alarming rate! At the time, I thought that Binkley wanted his students to shout the words emphatically without the associative reaction behind them, but I wasn’t sure. So I decided to try this some time.

When another visiting AT teacher came out to Bolinas to visit us, all of decided to try this idea out. The way it transformed the point of view of the emotion sort of sucked the obcession out of the act and made the shouting devoid of the usual emotional motives, content or certainty of righteousness in a way that must be experienced to really be believed.

Since the comments shouted out in this manner were entirely void of the stimulus for becoming angered, hurt, self righteous or defensive, many questions from experimenting in this way followed.

What am I up to here and how does it work?

I seem to be making a jump into reacting despite there being no external stimulus; when does this jump happen and what is going on with my wanting to do it?

Is there an assumption I am making underneath the sudden need for the reaction?

Do I know where, the history or why this particular reaction come from in me? Do I need to know the history first in order to trace it back to when it happens and sense what is going on with me there at that moment?
It was also sort of a scary experiment; freeing up the expression of reactive anger, for instance, made a person seem to those witnessing as really, really crazy and unpredictable and actually angry. As in acting, there were many other things going on that nobody could guess at, proving that there is no way to determine projections without checking with the person who is their own only authority on the subject. You can often witness how most people have some part of their reactions under control, even though the anger is poking through uncontrolled. Take away that degree of control by providing ways to free expression as Alexander Technique provides, and the power of the raw emotion comes out first.

This practice allowed me to “show my anger” when I had deemed it to be effective for a certain communicative purpose without being trapped by the loop of the emotion itself shutting down my abilities to problem solve and observe on the fly. I was now also able to drop the anger at a moment’s choice.

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

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

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

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

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

Asking Really Great Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are A.T. teacher trainings 3 years long?

Why are A.T. teacher training courses 1600 + hours?

I believe the time sequence was set at the first round of training courses by F. M. Alexander himself. When he accepted his first round of trainees, he didn’t know how long they would require to learn what he had to offer. The first graduate was Marj Barstow, who set the limit for the fastest learner because she already had great natural coodination as a dance teacher when she joined Alexander’s first training course. (I’ve seen movies of her from that time.)

Basically, to practice and teach A.T. takes so long to learn because of how habits of self-preservation seem to need to be soothed from their necessity to freak out when these habits discover something completely new that transforms the status quo, and sometimes completely eliminates the need for the somewhat self-important habit to be there at all. It’s a sort of backlash feature built in to protect the species from going to far, too fast and risking all with disasterous results. Dryly put, it seems to work for learners similar to bureaucracy, which can so completely take on a life of its own as soon as bureaucrazies are created.

Perhaps evolutionary wise, the people who preferred safety and security had the chance to pass on their genes alot more commonly than those who took chances and learned faster.

I believe that the most effective way to learn AT is to attend an every day residential workshop intensive that lasts more than three weeks and offers attendees at least a mini-lesson every day. I have read that somehow the three week period is a golden duration of time that significantly breaks the urge to repeat the cycle of habitual repetition. I do not believe that an AT workshop exists that lasts that long now since 1996? when Marj Barstow has died who used to offer them. Her legacy of the many students who she trained to continue her approach still do a summer workshop, but the duration only a fraction of what it used to
be. Given the results of this study about how long it takes to form new habits, I think this length of time of classes is important to respect.

Franis Engel


   

Opening Up Conclusions About Luck & Timing

The assumptions of cause and effect have some crucial factors that would change “luck” and create “coincidence.” What most people regard as “bad luck” in a brand of fate can be a functional superstition – which is sort of a pre-conclusion with a mystery means or function that self-selects to reinforce it’s proof.

I’ve noticed that superstition is a sort of associative self-training process, where the person can’t imagine how they caused the effect. So they just remember that when they did THIS, something else happened that they wanted, etc. Just try to walk by a trash can and not look in when yesterday you found money in it serendipidously.

In a social arena, the mystery means can be a cluelessness about what a person could possibly be doing that encourages others to treat them in a certain way. It’s a disconnect between personal intent and how social events tend to continue once they are put into motion.

A social example of holding an unconsciously pained expression on your face will encourage manipluators to zero in on you. This may give you a belief that you have a fateful tendency to pick the wrong people to befriend who fatefully later turn out to be nasty.

Or, perhaps your desire to be attracted to people who “like to play the edge” or “enjoy fun” leads you astray without you realizing it, making it easier for you to impulsively go along with a bad idea because you have agreement. (One of the proven social factors is that a group can make a much worse drastic mistake than less people alone.) This disconnect can also occur compared to the way the world works – Nature doesn’t care about you personally, and can kill you just the same if you’re in the wrong place trying to play with it.

My other observation is about coincidence and recognizing opportunity. If someone has a schedule, they are less likely to notice unusual events that could be opportunties…because they can’t deviate from their plans to check out these coincidental opportunities anyway.

That’s why so many people are young, they have life-shaping adventures. Once a person opens up, it leaves room for unexpected things to happen. Possibilities for coincidental connections exist out in the world all the time, and most people walk blithely by them and never notice. Older people can’t recognize as many spontaneously changing patterns because they’ve trained themselves to adapt and usually don’t know how to undo things. So it usually takes time and significant personal insight to undo limitations and find the ways you’re contributing to them that you’re unaware of. For me, believability in the characters in a story or movie comes from watching this process.

I’ve found that by sharpening my attention and asking good virtual questions, I can open up a specific, desired opportunity for myself much quicker than most people. This makes me seem wildly resourceful, but it is what anyone can emulate by example. It’s amazing to ask yourself whenever you have a moment to talk to a stranger, “How can I find what we might have to offer each other in the time we have now?”

If you don’t recognize “a diamond in the rough” for what it could be, then it can never begin to be it’s potential. You have to notice a “turn of fate” is happening long enough to grab it out of the mud and clean it off and use it. If you don’t make yourself available, opportunities will pass you by.

The thing about evoking pattern recognition advantages is to do some strategic thinking beforehand. This thinking is often determined by motivation, so it’s good to know your criteria. Obviously, desire needs to be coupled with awareness so you can have an opportunity. If you are asking the related and pertinent questions for yourself and tell others about what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to be able to recognize “fateful signs” when they pop out in front of you. If you don’t, they won’t happen. So – by putting yourself into a “flux” situation, (such as hitchiking, traveling, & the other environments where the wild card opportunities are,) you make it more likely that the opportunity you want can happen.

My point is that what conclusion someone comes to about their fate or coincidence is determined partly by motives, (the why) and also by when they are motivated to make a conclusion.

Don’t forget the factor of the different ways that someone can culturally interpret meaning and come to a conclusion for themselves. For instance, when a person is in a bad way, they are more likely to feel cursed rather than after enough sleep, food, etc. It’s often better to decide that the process isn’t done yet and this is not the time to come to a conclusion – or to make a sort of working conclusion.

Naturally Beautiful Use

Rarely, some grownups have “full Alexander ease” in every
move they make, without studying Alexander Technique
or ever knowing about it.

balineseheadbalance.jpg

I’ve developed an eye for spotting those people. They stand out like beacons in a crowd for me, well, especially if they’re carrying something on their heads. I make a point of getting to know them, if they’ll let me and if I can.

However, being able to do something for yourself, and being able to teach someone else how to do it for themselves is a separate skill. Most of those people with beautiful innate effortlessness have no idea why other people do not have as easy of a time learning to do things as they do. They can make lousy teachers.

I have watched some people with great natural use go
into the A.T. training program. Their biggest challenges
were to learn how to communicate and to use their
attention, observation & compassion. It was still a long
learning process for them to become teachers – even
though they had “great hands” from the start.

Some of the best A.T. teachers that I’ve had lessons
from or worked with were those who were wounded or
misused themselves and recovered. These teachers had
much motivation, appreciation and compassion about the
issues involved in traveling toward mastering their “use.”
Some had to come a long way into becoming more
functional, perhaps much farther than another trainee who
starts teacher training without being in pain from “misuse.”

A.T. is not a perfected bone structure ideal or ideal
formula of “how to move.” AT is about how to move toward
ways that are easier for you from wherever you are now at.
Someone with twisted bone structure can still do that well
enough to teach. A.T. has been taught from a wheelchair.
Otherwise, professional associations for A.T. would only
allow teachers to join who were a “perfect example” of
an ideal physical specimen.

For some, standards of excellence increase in relation
to percieved differences as you improve. That’s why
teachers often discuss how far they have come and some
deplore how far they have yet to go. Turns out that
it doesn’t matter if people never arrive at the
transcendant goal of improving their use absolutely
because, the important part is they’re on the path.

What’s wrong with making statement like, “I’ve learned
that?” Does that statement necessarily imply an end to
learning? How would you know the relative truth of
that statement if you haven’t met in person whoever
said that?

Good use isn’t all that rare to spot, once you learn
to notice it. The other day I had to be driving slow
past someone squatting on a construction road worksite
who was measuring something. I watched this worker
come up off his heels from the ground to standing in
the most beautiful way – and squat down again. He must
have done that move a hundred times a day. He found
the easiest way to do it on his own.

Was it in Direction magazine that I read about the men
who work as porters in India who work 10 hr. days in
constant “monkey?” Some chiropractor did x-rays of
these men in this profession and found that most of
them had no spinal degrading that starts in Westerners
after age 18 – even though these porters were over forty!

It’s very rare in our society that people would want
to and do sustain good use in how they move – but some
people can do just that, whether they learn it or do
it naturally.

Articulating & Describing Qualities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Alexander Technique Is Hard To Describe

In choosing your approach for describing A.T., it is worth keeping in mind that many smart people were educationally trained in debate tactics, tactics which often appeal to contradictions of logic toward expose’. Confronted with an entirely new idea or invention, there are many contradicting ways that people will categorically ignore or suspect the value of something entirely new. So it pays to consider how you can avoid or detour these common defenses. It would also be handy to figure ways to do that without stooping to using debate tactics
yourself.I have found that if you take for granted that people are capable of understanding you, they will tend to rise to the occasion. One way is to cut to the chase and clearly define in a “bottom line” way what makes AT unique. Doing this may avoid categorical matching, usually motivated from trying to familiarize new information so it can be retrieved later.

I find that most definitions of A.T. merely talk about what it can do for certain people. Popular articles explore why a particular group of people would want to do it, or these articles might use a biographical format. Suggesting possible uses will not identify what makes A.T. unique, and character portraits can be brushed off as warm and fuzzy biographical style arketing. The myriad of A.T. benefits can be pretty unbelievable. Of course, the most common way is to tell Alexander’s story or your own, using a testimonial format.

Then difficulty in describing A.T. can also come from a confusion about what exactly is being taught, because of the lack of form and generalized application possible. If you say, “Alexander Technique is a format for learning, experimenting and undoing useless habits of movement.” If people are thinking they will be asking, “Who determines what is useless and what should be preserved?”

Let’s try this definition: “A.T. hows an easier way of forming and carrying any intention into action, applied to any field you wantto refine, learn more about or a capacity you want to recover that you have lost.” This sort of description is tricky for people to wrap their mind around because it is so abstract.

Because intangible intentions can only be witnessed in outward action, in AT we use the form of movement to observe what and how means are expressed. Since the content of AT is an intangible learning process that can be
applied to any action, it confuses people. People mistake outer form for inner content. They think AT is an actor’s technique, a golf thing, a singer’s method, for musicians who get hurt or recovery from injury, etc.

The fact that AT is taught tacitly makes it a challenge to describe. AT teachers take pupils beyond words and assumptions over the edge of their dulled senses into a new perceptual capacity. For a trained eye, the evidence of intent can be witnessed in the slightest postural movement. The insensitive student can’t tell what the AT teacher got them to do that made them feel so much freer. Thus, they may regard the AT teacher to be a magician or to have hoodwinked them. (Tricking their habit is probably what happened.)

The way A.T. used to be taught worked against it being easy to talk about. Historically, A.T. was taught by building a new situational challenge in an artificially arbitrary context, which was sitting and standing from a chair. By crafting a skill from scratch using a goal that had little meaning to the student, the chair situation was designed to encourage the suspension of goals and striving for results. During chair work, the teacher would offer a unique script of the meanings of what makes up constructive experimentation, with unique perceptual interpretations of the significance of the cumulative effects of tiny physical patterns of movement. Or put more simply, Alexandrian chair work is best at showing the bad news of what all those little habits will add up to if allowed to continue. Also it shows the good news of how freedom, subtlety and effortlessness works so much easier. Then the student practices choosing between the new and the old and the idea is the student learns to sustain a tolerance for the new ways and prefer them over their old ways. In practice, guided modeling works very slowly to give the person being modeled any idea what is exactly happening. They are sort of being trained as if an animal, without knowing why they are doing the new behavior, underneath their conscious control of themselves.

The Activity model uses the goal of the action itself and its value to the student, evoking the pressures of performance in a group situation. The drive to discover and coordinate more sophisticated improvements related to a hobby or activity is a powerful motivator for thinking of using AT at any particular moment. This form trains students to see subtle and elusive differences that the teacher uses to coach evaluating the results of their experimenting. It’s also great at teaching principles in action, because you get to learn how to see so many different people learn in the group situation.

There can be as many variations of forms of learning as there are qualified teachers, because AT teachers are trained to problem solve unique applications by applying Alexander’s principles. What these principles are usually need to be physically experienced to fully understand their significance. However, if you talk about some of these principles by explaining some of the unique definitions of special words use in A.T., newcomers will sometimes recognize that they have never heard anyone talk about these topics before.

Alexander Technique Compared to Assumptions of Psychology

I believe that much of AT does share some similar effects with psychology. The psychological field aims for the effect of being free from problematic patterns of thinking, as does AT. This is often done by offering talking perspectives about the self through learning about others who shared our circumstances, which does happen in AT classes. AT uses a very different, more physical means than the talking & study cures of psychology. The catharsis of the many differing psychological techniques indirectly aim to affect and renew our autonomy and self-image. Experiencing ATaffects self-image immediately and irrefutably.As far as I know, it is only AT that specializes in self-improvement using the somatic process that can be applied in the moment; AT teaches effortlessness in an immediate, physical manner of moving. To get the psychological benefits of AT, someone doesn’t have to dredge up the past or apply the current fads to see if they apply – a person’s unfinished issues will surface as they change how they express their intentions. The often unfortunate reasons outdated habits were installed in the first place gradually become resolved in physical freedom and refreshed perceptual capacity. It is also true that AT may reveal contradictions between motives that could require a more professional psychological solution.
The most unique thing about AT is that studying it frees up outdated core perceptual assumptions that are
expressed in restricted movement, no matter how ingrained these assumptions once were. In that way, AT
is a very psychological discipline that addresses the whole person, but from the somatic direction. Change
the physical expression, make movement easier, and the even mysterious inward emotional compensations will be revealed. Of course, then it’s always your choice to continue, stop them, fulfill them in other ways rather than the habitual way or get more professional ideas what to do about your issues.
Psychology differs in one important distinction from Alexander’s work. Much of psychology is based on the idea of catharsis.Many psychological approaches assume that if you dive into and thoroughly explore some issue of yours, it no long has a hold on you. Alexander Technique is based on prevention: as you are doing more of what you want to do, by a process of elimination, you can’t be doing what you do not want to be doing because you can’t go in both directions at once. With A.T. you learn to leave what you do not want behind you while you get on with doing what you do want.

How I Uncovered My Own Linguistic Assumptions

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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