Debt Of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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.

Easy Conditioning

Conditioning is establishing a program or routine to solve an anticipated routine situation. A question or problem is repeating that seems to require a solution. Using conditioning, the solution is automating a series of actions chained together in sequence. This is termed a “behavior chain.” As the situational routine itself, (the trigger) is recognized, the conditioned routine jumps into play by firing off a previously prepared routine for action. Performing reliably a previously established behavior in response to a “trigger” or stimulus, this describes as a person having been conditioned – or simply someone who has learned to do something.

Being conditioned describes a habitual, static state. The solution of conditioning is often a hope for predictability and certainty. Certainty is the ability to anticipate what is already known. the assumption is that what is known will work to answer this particular need. Conditioning is the answer in a quest for a final solution. Training a conditioned response to answer a need imagines is guessing that this need will remain constant. The objective is to create and practice a conditioned skill before it is needed. It is also used to provide a reliable response for varied practical reasons or uses.

Most people believe that conditioning is necessary because people guess habits are necessary to take care of repeating circumstances. This training happens for everyone, almost automatically, because it is part of how people make sense of how they expect the world to affect them. It’s the human condition to want to adapt. Conditioning is usually the first answer to a human need to adapt to prevailing circumstances. It’s so simple to do – all that is required is repetitive practice.

Thus, being conditioned is regarded to be an advantage. It’s knowing how to do something. A conditioned response is designed to repeat the same way when a stimulus, (the external “need”) is recognized. Recognizing an external situation is the trigger that is experienced as a “need” or indicator that the conditioned response is now supposed to follow it.

In behavioral conditioning and training, the term for rewarding a success is called reinforcement. Reinforcement may be  punitive if it shapes what is to be avoided. Reinforcements are actions used to communicate and simulate consequence beyond words by using actions, images or direct experience. Generally, it is most effective if the ratio of positive reward is at least five times greater that of negative reinforcement.

Who or what circumstance has done this conditioning is not stated, but it is implied. The motive of why there is a need for a particular conditioned routine is not usually examined. Needs seem to be “obvious.” The need for a conditioned response is not often considered, because adding another habitually conditioned routine is so expedient. It only requires a bit of practicing. However, because only repetition is required, developing an “accidental” conditioned response is dangerously likely. Setting into place unnecessary routines learned by accident (along with what is intended) is the limitation of conditioning.

There is another big hole that is most often missing from most people’s “bag of tricks” concerning the training of new skills. It is the zero state of ‘being at ease’. This would be a resting state in between activating one trigger and the next.

Problems come when this capacity for having a ‘resting state’ becomes polluted with too many directives that are “running the background” as a state of being. The person has adapted so often, that they no longer sense how far out of shape they may be pulling themselves. To the extent people continue to train conditioned behaviors, (adding more and more objectives to our repertoire,) bodies become pulled in opposing directions. An indicator that motor sensory distortion is happening are issues with balance, or when all triggers fire off at once, the person is a panic to “do something.” Or we find ourselves offering conditioned responses that have little to do with what might be appropriate for the situation at hand.

Learning Alexander Technique gives people the capacity to return to ‘ground zero’ at will. It is possible to practice ‘undoing’ all conditioning by remembering to pause and learning to lengthen one’s physical stature on purpose. A person can learn to decides to refuse to do anything. They learn to return the muscles that have been previously been busy responding to multiple important habitual directives to a state of lengthened rest. Being ‘at ease’ will allow a clearing out of all conditioned responses that might not be appropriate for carrying out the next intention, before action begins.

This pausing or stopping will work in favor of conditioned responses, as well as helping the discovery process. Having this intentionally set up starting point of being able to be “at ease” is a tremendous advantage.

It is because habits tend to become innate that such an advantage is so startlingly effective. By design, a conditioned response is supposed to disappear so that it runs in the background as a computer program would. Habits are designed to be able to be called into usage, just as a program exists in a computer’s RAM just in case it’s need to run is recognized.

Considering the design of a routine is also good use of forethought. Time frames, purposes, goals and motives are useful to determine. It would be an advantage to have trained a way to undo the routine, or revise it if parts of the routine if they later become problematic. Forethought during training could provide for a flexible, more easily refined or updated conditioning process in the setup phase.

Learning the Alexander Technique is one way to give yourself the ability to be ‘at ease.’ Then the act of training a new conditioned response can be successful, without training “accidental” and unnecessary habits at the same time.

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.

Giving Up

It’s tricky to perceive what’s going on with thought and actions, because everything happens at once – and fast.

You have done it a million times. The most familiar way to suspend what you do not want is to do something else. Fire off another cue and change the channel. Time to go on to the next thing.  Once people get a cue, their urge to respond to it is very strong – hopefully strong enough to face down continuing to do the previous routine.  Brrrrring, the phone rings. Pooof! Stimulus for new behavior. A person can be SCREAMING; their phone rings and suddenly, this tiny, sweet, polite “Hello” voice comes out. They were trained by the bell to offer a new behavior. This is the mind’s superb recognition system in action.

People know that changing from one action to another works. The thinking strategy here is to install a new habit to take the place of the old one, and fire off the next trigger.

But – what happens when the previous state of mind gets in the way of the next? It acts like a problem with inertia – hard to start the ball rolling, and hard to stop it. The person picks up the phone call and they growl at the caller on the phone instead of being civilized. Even though the person on the phone doesn’t deserve it or they may take the insult personally, the previous mood or attitude of the person who answered runs over into the next activity. The poor caller is guilty by association of their bad timing.

This spill-over also happens quite innocently when training oneself to do a skill.  There is learning the intended skill… Also comes extra, unnecessary things done during the training process. These get accidentally get trained into the skill along with what is intended.

So, self-control would be handy, but too much control can be too heavy-handed. In the tiny moments most people witness themselves doing what they don’t want to do, they immediately change what they’re doing as a reaction to the witnessing. They want to “fix things” immediately – fix whatever is happening that they deem is “Wrong or Bad”.

Policing yourself is firing off the behavior of self-judgment. This is what most people call “to be inhibited.” The act of policing oneself irresistibly pops out as what is unwanted or don’t like is noted. Policing oneself works, but it stops everything indefinitely. The dam is held back until it bursts or pops off like the opening a soft drink that’s been shaken. The issue becomes a vicious circle.

I like tell another story about my own sweet mother – she could not get a photo of herself that really looked like her. Each time the camera came out, she would compose her face into an uncharacteristic expression to “get her picture taken.” Something about looking in the mirror would have the same effect. She would compose her face or her posture in a funny, uncharacteristic way. It was a sort of self-consciousness many people get today when they are filmed or during public speaking. One day I tricked her into thinking I wasn’t ready to snap her picture. Finally there was a photo of herself that she liked.

How to get past the vicious circle of assuming the only choice you have is to train and switch?

F.M. Alexander invented the idea. What he invented is a method of subtraction. Rather than adding a new behavior and firing that off to replace what it is you don’t want, merely subtract what is unnecessary.

This approach is particularly effective when one triggered behavior can’t stop the next – they run together. As in when the person who answers the phone punishes the caller by growling – who has no idea what is in progress.

So, now you’re wondering, how can the habitual routine be merely disengaged or stopped? It turns out, that a little unnoticed action of change can fly “under the radar” of the unwanted, coercive reaction. The trick is finding this something to detour the unwanted habitual reaction. It’s a design problem, finding this something. Alexander teachers specialize in being great observers to find such a thing for you. But you can do a bit of it yourself by being sneaky with your habits. Use a low-stress activity, one that makes little difference. Reassure the old habit that nothing terrible is happening. Then do the steps you imagine will get you where you want to go, bit by bit. As you unlock the skill of suspending a routine and as you practice this ability, that trickery can be used as a training tool for the ability to change routines during more important situations.

When you want to suspend a habitual routine, that’s the time to use all those nasty things you have been told that you must never do. You want to lie, cheat, fake it out, make it wait, slap it down, tickle it, distract it, etc. That’s the time to be devious. Your ability to rebel, veto, buck the system, subvert the dominant paradigm… this is what will work best on re-routing a conditioned set or routine. It’s very difficult to directly fight routines that have crystallized into habits once they get going. But you can tease them into submission by fooling them, lying to them, sneaking around them. It works best if you can catch them the moment before they go into action. The best time to do this is right before the routines get started.

The first practice of learning this skill is something most people can do. It is to refuse to do the act of self-judgment. Can you sense and witness yourself without changing or “trying to fix” what you usually do to fix the problem?

It is possible to both watch yourself do what you are doing AND also allow the event to occur anyway without your interference of self-judgment. With practice, it becomes even more possible. Perhaps it is so difficult to do such a thing because nobody has ever thought of asking people to do it. Asking in a way that worked. They ran into self-consciousness, which is a form of self-judgment, and they give up.

The funny part here is giving up is exactly what works. Giving up the self-judgment works.

Recognizing Meaning

How would a person recognize for their own benefit a larger important change or fulfilment that may be taking place moment-by-moment? This skill seems to be related to the ability to select important points that is most commonly used in today’s culture as the ability to tell an interesting story. For instance, a movie will be made up of important scenes that drive the storytelling forward.

How would a person gain the skill of correcting for time of arrival for the important pieces of the puzzle that could be creating personal meanings? It’s curious how some people feel they must tell each and every detail of their experience exactly as it happened, while others seem to possess the ability to select for important points that stand out and make personal meaning universal, artistic and fascinating.

I’m interested in how and why this can happen. It’s probably in the brain, the way we’re wired or trained. Certainly the ability could be practiced and/or learned, as I have come to learn it myself. I used to be a blow-by-blow storyteller, and now I’m not – ah, so much. At least I think I’m not as long-winded as I used to be.

It seems to me that the moment-to-moment ability to recognize change isn’t very precise. People need more practice at self observation. In some people, their sensory ability only feels differences that are significant – and notable as determined by the person experiencing it. In others, the original sequence is paramount, and they seemingly can’t do it any other way.

Significance that is gradual, (change that happens over time) doesn’t seem to register very well on the sensory system. Alexander teachers prefer gradual progress because it tends to sneak underneath habits without making their routines trigger. Meaning or specialness seems to be determined by the relative sensitivity of the person experiencing it; also a factor seems to be how “jaded” a person has become to sensory information. So, in learning Alexander Technique, a student is asked to endure that which is boring, when the personal significance for the student is really adding up to something that is exciting!

F.M. Alexander used to call this phenomena of “jadedness” Debauchery – which to him described how the usage of a habit encourages a dulling and eventual shut down of sensory discriminatory ability. This word is now an old word that has fallen out of modern usage. It was used to describe someone who has lost all joy of life and has descended into bitterness, sarcasm and possibly, addiction. Modern researchers today term the same principle in the field of behaviorism “sensory adaptation.” Besides “jaded,” young people use terms such as “burn-out” to describe a similar state.

Perhaps the level of unreliability depends on how many habits someone has trained themselves to deal with that are suffering from burn-out. Opposing habitual directives seem to flood or shut down the whole sensory system. Of course, the more habitual and automatic the programs in place that have been trained over time, the less new sensory information is actually available to be sensed. This is why things become so boring and depressing. If frogs can die without noticing it’s just getting a little bit hotter in the eventually boiling pot – why should humans be that much different?

Notes on Teaching Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

Part of the challenge is to notice what you usually do. An indicator of something that is “sticking out” that may eventually become some sort of problem is a signal. Usually when people notice this, it more often means they must “shore up” or “justify” the need for their conclusion or assumption, reinforcing the circle and reapplying their “remedies” that are really keeping the circular problem in place.

Because their focus is on the content as being more important, they cannot see the larger picture of how they are caught in a repeating pattern. They only experience that some part of the pattern is working in the ways they intend, when it is really an out-of-control pattern that MUST repeat whether the person wants it whenever the trigger is pressed for the habit to “go off.” I would say that there are “endorphin squirts” that occur in pressing the trigger originally, but often the experience of the squirting may not register any more because it, too has become habitual.

If you take away the need, I believe our systems “self correct”. You do not have to “do” anything but experience the lack of need, then just wait and watch yourself. What happens next will tell you quite a bit about everything you have been experiencing. If you just get the familiar justifications for your habits, just stop again and wait. Each time you stop, your senses will wake up a little more as you take the next layer of the habitual assumption off. It seems that people are naturally sensitive underneath layers of habits.
That’s why stopping yourself when you would have normally started talking is such an effective technique in a David Bohm style Dialogue group – or in any conversation. Listening will tell you more than talking, for obvious reasons. You merely interrrupt yourself right when you found a need to say something and watch what happens in yourself. As you question your motive of wanting to talk, there will be usually be feelings and needs underneath the assumptions that could be a surprise to you.

So if you don’t know what these feelings are or they don’t surface because they are the submerged part of the iceberg, you can find out what they are by stopping yourself from going into the habit repeatedly. My experience has told me that there is often more than one need/motive/justification. Sometimes these are tricky to uncover, because the remedy of the assumption is trying to cover it up by answering the need. So this is where your own persistence comes in. You put yourself in a situation where this issue comes up again and again, without getting discouraged – and you watch what happens in yourself each time you notice the old same reaction.

Be Specific

Many AT teachers find it’s important to carefully say what you mean when you are giving yourself any sort of directives. This is because you will do what you tell yourself to do. It also means that you can mistakenly tell yourself to do what you do not want to be doing!

I have heard that this phenomena comes from an ancient part of the reptilian brain that does not receive linguistic qualifiers. So if you state that you do not want to do this thing, your brain gets the image message of doing it, despite you qualifying your intentions by saying “do not.”

In that way, it’s very good advice to be positive, without any Polly-Anna or self delusion involved. If you state what you are about to do in the positive sense rather than saying it in the negative, you have a much better chance of fulfilling your objectives for many logical and empirical reasons. As you outline for yourself what you are doing, you are being specific about the steps involved, planning strategies and providing for damage control only if necessary.

If you tell people your positive motives for your actions, you’re more likely to get cooperation. When people don’t understand why you’re doing something mysterious to them, their small-minded negative suspicions are probably being justified by self-preservation.

I believe it’s an assumption of advanced educational debate techniques, art critics, news and dramatic presentations that objectivity must always be negatively critical to be valuable and valid. You will find that it is much easier to tear something apart by focusing on a derogatory feature than it is to create options and move out of personal limitations. By some people, going for positive, easy progress is defined by our culture as “trite” or “lucky,” depending on the subculture. I think this is because it is no surprise that you get whatever you practice. If you take it upon yourself to restate negatively defined objectives in the positive as I’ve recommended above, you’ll notice that just doing this much takes a certain deliberate creative ability that is sometimes tricky to muster up in the light of how you feel at the time. Intense emotions make it a challenge to be creative. Some people find it tricky to switch from editor to artist or inventor and back again.

Perhaps it would be useful to take away the value judgment elements from the assessment processing if you suspect there is something wrong with you? Leaving out the value of whether you “like” something or not that seems to be happening is useful because then you are not sorting or matching for preference, defining your criteria for success or defining your priorities (or self delusion) while you are making observations. Let the evaluation period be a different stage from the observation time. If you are making observations before you have made any changes, then it is likely all you will be able to observe is your habits and what you do not want. If you decide whether you “like” what happened after you have made a change or run an experiment for yourself, then you have more of a chance to have something new happen.

So rather than “good” and “bad” use, think about your desired criteria: which is exactly what brings about “easier” effortlessness. As you see “difficult” use around you (which is so much more common than “easy” use,) noticing people’s coordination of any sort can be a reminder to remember to use A.T. in gratitude. Such as, “wow, I can see how that person is so down, I’m so glad that I know how to move out of that example!” Then as you know enough to
recognize “easy” natural use, (rare as it is!) the elegance in that person’s use stands out like a spotlight is on them amidst a crowd of confusion.

Is there too much “Polly-Anna” in that strategy for you? How about: “Although I see difficult strain in many people, I guess I can’t shut the door on knowing better now that I’ve opened it, so I may as well move easier now myself.”

Noticing Assumptions

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

Part of the challenge is to notice what you usually do. An indicator of something that is “sticking out” that may eventually become some sort of problem is a signal. Usually when people notice this, it more often means they must “shore up” or “justify” the need for their conclusion or assumption, reinforcing the circle and reapplying their “remedies” that are really keeping the circular problem in place.

Because their focus is on the content as being more important, they cannot see the larger picture of how they are caught in a repeating pattern. They only experience that some part of the pattern is working in the ways they intend, when it is really an out-of-control pattern that MUST repeat whether the person wants it whenever the trigger is pressed for the habit to “go off.” I would say that there are “endorphin squirts” that occur in pressing the trigger originally, but often the experience of the squirting may not register any more because it, too has become habitual.

If you take away the need, I believe our systems “self correct”. You do not have to “do” anything but experience the lack of need, then just wait and watch yourself. What happens next will tell you quite a bit about everything you have been experiencing. If you just get the familiar justifications for your habits, just stop again and wait. Each time you stop, your senses will wake up a little more as you take the next layer of the habitual assumption off. It seems that people are naturally sensitive underneath layers of habits.


That’s why stopping yourself when you would have normally started talking is such an effective technique in Dialogue – or in any conversation. Listening will tell you more than talking, for obvious reasons. You merely interrrupt yourself right when you found a need to say something and watch what happens in yourself. You question your motive of wanting to talk, because there will be usually be feelings and needs underneath the assumptions.

So if you don’t know what these feelings are or they don’t surface because they are the submerged part of the iceberg, you can find out what they are by stopping yourself from going into the habit repeatedly. My experience has told me that there is often more than one need/motive/justification. Sometimes these are tricky to uncover, because the remedy of the assumption is trying to cover it up by answering the need. So this is where persistence comes in. You put yourself in a situation where this issue comes up again and again – and you watch what happens in yourself each time you notice the reaction. Watch without berating yourself, without getting upset, just watch and see how soon you can see the conditions that are really contributing to the habit staying in place.

More characteristics of how to notice assumptions – or more ‘techniques’ of what to do when you do notice these assumptions? Tammy here, who is an Alexander student of mine has a rare ability to update her assumptions.

Qualities of Attention

Part of what you are practicing with learning Alexander Technique is a new way of using your attention and thinking. If you remember back, it was a little overwhelming when you first learned to blow a now-favorite musical instrument or when you learned to drive a car. As you practice, new ways become much easier to sustain, no matter how strange it felt when you began.

write down your wishes and leave them hereMost people favor a certain way of using their attention and exaggerate it because it is the only attention style they know. There are many variations on applying attention. Perhaps now your attention works somewhat like a searchlight or field glasses – whatever you direct your attention to takes up all the capacity you have. If that were the case, a great deal of effort would be required to redirect this kind of all-absorbing attention. The same would be true of having a butterfly-like attention span of only a few moments. Your ability to appropriate the quality of your attention is stuck – no matter what the pattern it’s stuck in.

The brand of attention that the use of A.T. cultivates could be described as a widening of the field of what is going on at one time; a multi-tasking ability. You also learn to shift your attention lightly, easily and precisely. These are qualities that most people find unusual.

Secretly, there are also more effective and strategic moments for when to apply the process of A.T. rather than just generally whenever you can remember to do it. Some people find that a little thought to making what you’re doing easier is best applied before intending to act. Try experimenting as you start moving and during pauses as you continue doing the action. The preventive strategy behind this works because once a habit starts and assumes full control, it is more difficult to stop it. So the way you start what you are doing determines how you are able to continue doing it.

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!