Benefits of Alexander Technique

 

I suspect that once you read this, it will make Alexander Technique sound like snake oil. But think about it for a moment. Imagine if you could get a user manual that would sharpen your own fallible human perception while providing easier movement. Wouldn’t that be a useful foundation for the unlimited learning of anything skill you’d want to do?
It’s tricky to put Alexander Technique into words, but here are some ways to describe it…

  •  Learn living anatomy and effortless control of freer movement. By uncovering what’s in your way that you have forgetfully only gotten used to doing.
  •  Learn to refresh muscle memory, so you can respond to what’s new instead of reacting with the old same thing.
  •  Gain insight, impulse control, evoke flow, & speed up training & practice time
  •  See where someone is going to move next, (great for being behind a video camera.)
  •  Get more benefits & discoveries from practicing your favorite skill by using effortlessness. Experience a signature feeling of a “flow or lightness” during lessons and practice.
  •  Find out how to learn new tricks, even when you feel like you’re an old dog. Find out how to get better at what you love, even if you’ve given up on it!
  •  Uncover strange, new abilities and senses that you never knew you had – by freeing your perceptual assumptions.
  •  Sharpen impulse control, go beyond conditioned reactions and assumptions and set aside negativity – all by making a physical movement in an easier way.
  •  Get a first-hand experience of directed body-mind unity, “flow,” a peak experience!
  • Aside from time it takes to learn, benefits of Alexander Technique carry into any other activity. To use it, you “direct” yourself differently; no special practice hour once you know the skill because it combines with every action.

 

 

Six lessons will get you a taste, and usually in less than thirty lessons you can have a useful skill for life.  Sign up for and experience an Alexander Technique lesson series or workshop today!

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.

 

Sensory Dissonance

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

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

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

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

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

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

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

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

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

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

Dissonance Reveals Bias

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

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

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

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Describing A.T.

We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

State-Specific

There’s an important factor in learning and practicing that I’d like to bring to your attention. The scientific description is called state-specific learning. What that means is the content of what gets learned will be tied to the literal circumstance where you learn it. Context is important.

State-Specific learning is so effective that it’s actually used in animal training to solve behavior problems. If your dog is digging holes in your garden, you would deliberately train the behavior of digging on purpose while you’re located somewhere else (such as at the beach.) Then don’t give the command for the dog to dig at your house. The dog gets the idea that it’s only in sand that digging gets your approval, so there’s no use in making holes in the garden at home anymore because that results in your disapproval. You would turn the unwanted action into a command and then it has meaning when you don’t give the cue.

Most teachers assume that if you are an adult learner, you have the capacity to abstract what you are learning in their classroom or lessons in order to apply it to other instances that importantly similar. The factor of State-Specific learning works against this possibility. It’s a leap to abstract what has been learned; just because people can abstract, WILL they abstract? It’s an act of intelligence to notice the possibility to apply what was learned elsewhere exactly when this similarity of knowledge could be quite useful in this specific circumstance that’s a bit different. The ability to abstract takes observation, lateral thinking skills, memory and presence of mind. That’s why it’s important to directly consider the ability to abstract and apply what just was learned and to discuss the capacity to do so with your students if you’re a teacher.

For instance, I just published a story on my blog about how thinking about the lengthening phase of a motion while riding a bike helped me to refresh my range of motion in my leg strength while riding uphill. The comment of a reader who didn’t understand the abstract generalization of my message was, “I’ll do that the next time I ride a bike.”

“But that idea of using the lag in a phase is useful generally during any routine!!” I declared. “If you choose a ‘slack’ moment when you are gathering your energy to focus on in a cyclical phase, the other part (when you’re applying effort) will take care of itself in an easier and less stressed way.”

Unless you point to that concept specifically, it’s not a guarantee that people will make the abstract connection on their own.

So to do that now – (let’s say you’re reading stuff on the computer, right?)  You would observe routines that you do while in that activity, and choose one that isn’t imperative – so you can design a ‘resting’ moment into it that could offer a slight renewal for increased stamina over the long term. For instance, how about when you move your hands from the keyboard to the mouse or touchpad? (Or if you’re on another device, the time when you pick up your hand to use your finger to interact with the screen.) Why not use that moment to look away from the screen for a moment, perhaps look up and blink and momentarily rest your eyes and slightly turn your head. This only takes a moment, right?

By doing something like this, you’ll begin to be able to apply whatever you learn in one situation to other situations that do matter to you personally. Now that you understand whatever you experience can be applied elsewhere abstractly, you will be providing for the  limitations of State-Specific concerning anything you already know.

Can you think now of an insight or significant discovery you made that would be handy if it could be applied elsewhere?

 

Trajectory

My colleagues and I have been discussing how we have acquired an interesting skill as a by-product of having studied Alexander Technique…

Catching a falling knife, it’s a poor practice. On Wall Street it means to buy on the way down. In a word, don’t. In the kitchen, well, that’s pretty obvious. Don’t try it at home kids—no falling knives—especially, if you’re like me, pretty uncoordinated, at least in the past. Today, I catch falling objects in mid air—no knives yet—with speed and accuracy, the top of a carrot, the very top, a sheet of paper caught in the wind and on its way down, a fork, a spoon, the very edge of wet dish. Now, why this new found aplomb? Unlike the rest of you, I am getting older, reflexes should be slowing down. I can only attribute this new reflexive sangfroid to study of the Alexander Technique. It has radically improved my over all coordination as well. When I go into a squat in class some people gasp. I do too. Crap, I think, just how old do these people think I am? So, study the Alexander Technique, and develop your own super-powers. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Alexander Guy, flying without his pocket protector. Thrilling stuff!
– Alan Bowers, Alexander Technique teacher

I think that I know what has been happening.  Having been the former business owner of a sideline hobby making seed-filled juggling balls from velveteen, I’ve taught over 3500 people to juggle. One of the skills of juggling is judging where the ball is going to land so your hand can be there to catch it. Unbeknownst to most people, you do not have to “keep your eye on the ball” to be able to do this extraordinary skill of being there to catch something… You only need to spot the arc of theATprojectilePath ball in a glance. Otherwise, juggling would not be possible.

It works a bit like this rather scientific-like illustration…

However, there’s more to how this skill ended up in the pocket of those who study Alexander Technique.

Stand up, (you’ve been sitting awhile anyway, haven’t you?) Stick your fingers in your ears. Imagine the top of your spine ending there. Now, look up and feel how your head pivots at the point near where your fingers are pointing to.  Nod forward, as if you’re saying, “Yes.” Then look up again and allow the back of your head to drop down as you face comes up. Really look up, check out the ceiling. Now, nod “Yes” again. Now think about the moment around the tip top of the arc . Can you feel your balance changing in the rest of how your body responds to your head moving across that arc?

Now, isn’t that head nod that changes your balance sort of like the trajectory of an arc that a ball follows?

Like a ball arc, the greatest force that goes forward happens at the top of the arc. With the body’s capacity to move, around the top of the arc is the best time to initiate another action, such as to take a step or move your arms.

My Alexander Technique colleagues and I all agree that the top of the arc as heads are moving at the top of the spine is when it’s easiest for a body to go forward into action. As a group of Alexander Technique teachers, we don’t collectively advise head-nodding every time someone moves! This experiment is a short-cut example that you can try out that may work to illustrate this phenomena that we term, “Primary Control.”

When I teach people to look up and nod their heads, later I am careful to show how it’s practice can become more subtle. Eventually it remains as a “faded signal” of pure imaginative intention, timed at the moment just preceding any action. Faded signaling means in this case that the action of looking up and nodding forward is intentionally faded to the point where the actual movement is only a thought, not any overt action such as looking up and nodding forward as it was for beginners.

You’ll be able to sense this in your own body as your head moves over the point of balance if you’re able to pay attention to subtle changes. If you spot it, your balance will change in a sort of listing movement, (unless you’re so set in your ways that you’re a stalwart against any movement. It’s most obvious to perceive while standing.) The “listing” means you can go into action with a very poised ability to move lightly, as if your capacity to move were the clutch of a car that must be skillfully engaged before the accelerator is applied to “GO.” If you can’t sense this listing, try standing against a wall having your sleeve brushing the wall; perhaps you’ll be able to sense your own body movement as a skin sensation.

So – my theory is that because Alexander Technique teachers are in the business of paying attention to this crucial moment to go into action as a discipline, this is why Alexander Technique teachers have found themselves able to catch falling items without having studied that specific skill.

Their judgment of the arc has become incidentally educated to be able to predict the quality of movement of other items besides the way bodies move, as if by magic.  Good job!!

I was the total klutz when it came to sports involving catching balls. Now, I grab them out of the air. Every time I catch a set of keys, my husband says “How did you do that?” The answer can only be Alexander Technique! – Robbin L. Marcus, Alexander Technique teacher

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.

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

Pedaling up to the stop sign, with my newly repaired 5-speed bike, I was thinking of walking. My legs were tiring fast, even though low gear was finally working. I couldn’t help but think, “Here’s a great time to apply somebody else’s bright ideas. Whatever I’m doing, there’s room for vast improvements before the top of the hill. I think I’ll use Alexander Technique right now.”

WHAT’S GOING ON: WATCH WITHOUT JUDGING
Resisting my urges to adjust and compensate instantly (I’d already tried that) or lashing out at myself for being obviously “out of shape,” (I hadn’t done any real exercise in much too long, which is why I repaired the bike,) I only heard myself panting. I knew the more articulate I could be about myself, the more useful data I’d have to work with and change around. I paid attention again without changing what I was doing. Twenty strokes later, I noticed I was moving in a series of stroke! stroke! encouragements, timed on each pedal’s downswing. Gasping for breath, I was tipping my head back, locking my neck and back to lever my weight against the unsuspecting pedals. You guessed it, the pedals were winning.

HURTLING HEAD FIRST
Eager to apply Alexander’s bright idea that we begin interfering with our innate effectiveness by moving head first, I wondered: Would it be possible, right now on this here hill, to resist my way of locking my neck and back that I thought I must do to avoid falling over? Possibly to definitely convince myself that this was the culprit, I exaggerated the very motion I didn’t want. Yup, I didn’t want to do that. So far, I felt as if I HAD to brace myself in order to apply what I thought was the ample amount of “strength” I imagined would get me up the hill. Did I really have to?

NEW MAY FEEL STRANGE
To see if it would make any difference, I decided to choose the moment I went to stand up on the pedal as the point where I would move as easily as I could head first. I knew I did something different because something unexpected happened. “AHA!”, I realized, “No wonder the muscles in my legs are just getting tighter and tighter”. My mind, with its crazy encouragement regimen of stroke!, is really telling my legs to tighten!, tighten!, without giving them any chance to spring back into their lengthened range of motion. And – the length of my muscles were rapidly losing my resiliency because of what I was doing. No wonder I was getting tired fast.

PARADOX OF STROKE! VERSUS PAUSE.
This discovery suggested the reversal of my timing techniques. I used a more purposeful, and less predictable sense of determination to really carry out the new accent on my timing. I had to re-decide to not let my habit sneak in…while I continued to move in my new way with my head leading. It took another twenty strokes before I could think and move how I wanted. (That isn’t a whole long time, but I had changed my habits like this before and I knew how insistent habits are.)

HERE’S WHY IT WORKED
Pretty soon the stroke! stroke! I’d thought was the only way up the hill turned into rest ~ rest ~ rest, accented on the leg that should be doing just that. Surprise, surprise, paying attention to the pausing rest let the stroking part take care of itself. Wheeeee! I found myself up the hill in no time, through the worst part of the hill was near the top of the uphill curve. It took much less time to think through and do everything, than it did to read it here. The cars passing me didn’t notice me doing anything weird at all, unless, riding all the way up the hill on a heavy 5-speed, was funny. I was, after all, grinning.

Remembering to Wake Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sense A Wake-Up

Students have complained that the Alexander Technique is too “mysterious.” Why do we have such trouble really knowing what happens as we get into habits? We can certainly feel the pain of going to far after it’s happened!

Maybe I’m not asking the most useful question. How about: It is possible to use what we can’t sense? If sensory events are taking place underneath our current capacity to sense it, how can we recognize an unfamiliar but meaningful change or sense the fulfillment of a string of gradual successes?

We use what we can’t sense every day. We believe what others tell us about the nature of how things work that we can’t see or understand from inventions and equipment. We are fascinated to gain the enhanced perception technology that inventors have offered humanity; those innovators, artists, authors and entertainers who pique our imagination. The telescope, microscope, cameras, MRI and X-ray; recordings, amplifiers and communication enhancements; maps, programs and models.

But what about our ability to sense ourselves in direct action without all this special equipment? Humanity hasn’t had a hardware update in movement sensory capacity in much too long. Movement is even a tricky thing to describe to ourselves.

Human ability to recognize improvement moment to moment while training sensory ability isn’t very precise by human design. This can be most easily demonstrated when it comes to the sense of establishing muscle memory, orientation and judging weight and effort. As fact, the kinaesthetic sense is taken for granted. It is truly our “sixth sense.” Seeing is believing; feeling seems like fact.

The secret most people don’t understand is all of our senses do not truly give us the facts. They are merely registering relative information that needs interpretation. It’s up to us to interpret what our senses say. Of course, an education can compensate, but where do we get this education? Education for has taught most of us to avoid mistakes at any cost. Putting together how to constructively use our mistakes or our successes is the challenge.

Here’s an educational secret: Human sensation registers differences that are notable as determined by the person who is experiencing it.

Awareness of what appears to be “notable” is skewed by a design feature of being able to adapt. This is a human strength in most situations. Adapting allows humans to habituate anything we can do. Adapting is a brilliant, indispensable advantage; it allows sophisticated skills to be learned by connecting new behaviors together in series as what is known as a behavior chain. Without habituation, it would be overwhelming to execute skills. (Surely you’ve had the experience during learning of: “my brain is full.”)

You’ll learn as you read more of this blog some unusual ways to deal with it that work without special training to improve this situation. Why this happens is an “aha” moment that more likely starts as a mystery. There is also a human sensory software update available that takes focused study over time called Alexander Technique, (also worth learning for other preventative health effects.)

So – the answer is “yes!” You *can* wake up and sharpen your sensory abilities, learn to observe yourself, spot what others miss and make anything that takes practice to learn to go faster. To take the reins back from habit – it takes awareness and the ability to observe yourself in action.

Stay tuned for the next part where more of your questions will be questioned!

Change Denial (part two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change Denial (part one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you one of those people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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

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

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.

Impulse Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Why High Content?

There was a pivotal moment when I decided I needed to write about Alexander Technique.

When I was still a trainee learning to teach Alexander Technique, (1982) I attended a conference that brought together various lineages of A.T. teachers in Ojai, CA. At the end of the conference, the group got together and asked the attendees if anyone had any questions. I did, and I had the nerve to ask my question too. I asked the whole group of teachers, “What are the principles that everyone who is teaching here has in common?”

Probably in an effort to avoid conflict among what was regarded at the time to be different styles of presenting Alexander Technique, all of the teachers dodged the question completely. Essentially they mumbled something about how important the principles were and pretended the question had been answered. For me it hadn’t, because they didn’t spell anything out. I already knew the question was important, that’s why I asked. What I wanted to know was: where’s the real content? Why is it people spend so much time telling you what they are about to say, how important it is, who else thinks it’s important, what it will mean for you, what you can do with it if you retain this vastly important jewel of usefulness… They seem to go on and on without offering a shred of actual content.

Personally, I did not regard these styles of teaching Alexander Technique that was presented at the workshop as being so very different. I could observe many commonalities, but I couldn’t articulate them very well in words at that point. The reason I had trouble with that is Alexander Technique experience tends to take you beyond having words for what you’re experiencing. It’s the lack of classification that is so fascinating about the experience. So much that you don’t want it to have words. That might bring down the experience toward earth, when it seems sort of unfathomable and elusive.

After getting such an unsatisfactory answer, I merely figured that I had to answer my question for myself, and for others.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to learn enough about how to write to write about this particular subject in order to say something that didn’t give the wrong impression.

Well, it’s been a few decades since then. How have I been doing?

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Directing by Interrupting Routines

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Directing – Interrupting Routines

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Directing – Avoid Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Directing – Avoid repeating mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluate Conclusions

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

N…notice – Started on April 4th, 2012, with points for self-observation

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

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

E…evaluate – This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts: For What Purposes? Standards and Timing  and this post on evaluating conclusions

D…direct – also a three part explanation: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupting Routines and Clearing Sensory Feedback

Evaluate the Conclusions

Once results are obtained after conclusions are made, it’s tempting to file them away so they can be recalled using familiar retrieval memory skills. We will attempt to “evoke” the results with such techniques as repeating “magic words” or sorting. It makes sense to the brain that content and information that we “know” works in this manner, with producing the “right answer.” After all, schooling groomed this memory retrieval process during our education.

Performance ability is a different animal. Because many unique situational factors and chains of skills that got built must be taken into account as we perform, the process followed will determine our success. It’s not a matter of memory, but a matter of training.
Follow an old process, and you’ll get familiar results. For new results, we must follow the newer processes – and this  takes courage to do what’s unfamiliar and time for training and practice of a new way when the new process is an unfamiliar one. To build a bridge between our old knowledge and our new experience so we can remember it, we need to note similarities – without discounting the uniqueness of the new experience.

It also takes a strange ability for abstraction and paradox.  The “how” seems too abstract to repeat, because the discovery was so…funny. But what makes us laugh at not being able to “get it” when it seems so obvious now –  that is the pathway to new and exciting territory.

Evaluate – Standards and Timing

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

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

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

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

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

D…direct

 

What Standards?

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

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

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

When to Evaluate Determines Results

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

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

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

Evaluating – For What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluating – for What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asking Questions

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

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

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

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Notice

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

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

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

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

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

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

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

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

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

Can you add an observational category?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAMED

I’m always seeking out new ways to help my students remember to use Alexander Technique.

Check out this new way to remember to use the principles of Alexander Technique that makes it easy to remember. Imagine having a memory jog mnemonic  for spelling out how Alexander Technique can work for you, any time you want to use it. After all, what good is a tool if you can’t find it or remember that it exists when you need to have it?

O.K….So… What’s pretty much one of the first things that happened to you? You got NAMED. The word NAMED can be used as a mnemonic for categories that contain some of the principles and sequential steps for using Alexander Technique.

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

In case you don’t know what the content of these above steps are, we’ll be saying a bit about them in the coming days…

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

Everyone who practices acts as their own coach. Coaching ourselves is a foundational skill in education that allows us to know how to constructively practice and improve. This is why Alexander Technique teachers say that their work is the basis of education – it’s about how to clear the way for practice.

The points outlined here are circular. It doesn’t matter much where you enter the circle – it’s more important that you go around it repeatedly. Circularity seems to be a characteristic of practice. Of course, each of these could be written about at length – but I just want to outline them here so you have a map for them all.

Let’s say you’d like to improve the way you do an art, sport or skill, or you just physically want to move easier. What are the ingredients of being a good coach to yourself? What are the skills you would you need to study if you want to continuously improve?

Recognizing a Discovery

First you need the ability to prioritize your values about what improvement means to you so you can recognize it when it happens. This involves knowing what direction is away from what you don’t want – or alternately having some ideal about what you do want that you can move towards. Sometimes these desires are misguided, naive or misinformed, so we’ll need to be open to revisions as we progress. The most important ingredient is a willingness to “go boldly where you haven’t gone before.”

It also pays off to spell out the nature of what a discovery is. Spelling out the content of what might get discovered is a great motivation to take the many required risks. But having a little description of the process of discovering itself will be valuable because it will help to recognize a discovery so it doesn’t slip away unnoticed.

Discoveries are a surprise – they often make us laugh. Insights often collapse assumptions we may not have known we had. Discoveries often occur in spite of what we expect. It’s easy to miss a discovery, because it doesn’t fit in with what we know. (Please spell out more of these points about the nature of discovering for yourself.)

Observation and Awareness

The most important ingredient at gaining a skill is self-observation. This is related to awareness of the nature of perception. You can’t make a discovery if you aren’t able to observe it as it is happening. You need to sharpen up your perceptive awareness.

When you first observe yourself as you move, usually people are at a loss for descriptions. It works the best if you have some categories to stimulate the ability to observe; such as describing qualities, timing, relationship, sequences, directions. (Or provide your own categories.) What you want to do is to first note your habits. Don’t be discouraged, because nothing new will happen until you conduct the experiment. Now that we know our habits, we will know what to suspend as we move towards a more effective way.

 Suspend Previous Solutions

Usually, we have an idea what we have done before that has partially worked to address our objections, difficulties or issues. We will now want to recognize the power of previously trained solutions that will probably have already disappeared as they became habits. If we seem to have to re-apply a partial solution indefinitely, how come our previous solutions aren’t resulting in gradual progress?

An example of this is in feeling physically uncomfortable. You might wiggle and squirm, but it only seems to make the uncomfortableness move to another part of your body. Most people just endlessly wiggle again and figure there’s nothing better that can be done about it. But there is!

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

The next ingredient is designing what to do about what you have observed. Now that we know the pattern or situation from having used our observation skills, it’s time to deliberately consider what to do about it. A coach can be a master at what you want to learn and even a superb observer, but their advice about how to address the issues can be unsuitable for your situation. So this is a step that must be separately considered.

 Forming Useful Questions

When does the problem really start? Is there a point in time when we start to go wrong? To change something about ourselves, we could create a “starting point” for experimenting to focus our attention and ability to notice.

Please form some questions for yourself, such as these. Is there a key point or timing that will influence or redirect the whole experience toward a more positive outcome? Can we create a desirable cascade effect?

In Alexander Technique the key point for responding easier by moving is the head-neck relationship. Free the head at the neck and the whole spine will follow the head and lengthen – and every other intention to do everything else will happen easier.

 Clear The Decks for Action

There’s a useful technique (commonly used in advertising) contained within repetition. It’s wonderful to remember when changing our own conditioning because it’s so devilishly delightful to use. Remember all those bad things that social pressure has taught children not to do? These are things such as lying, cheating, stealing, feigning, faking, passive aggression…? There is a constructive time to fool, lie, subvert or trick. It’s when we want to stop our habits as a preventative, strategic tactic.

The challenge is to get our habitual reactions to give up control, so we can discover if a particular habit is unnecessary…and maybe it’s a nuisance.

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

We tend to want to design a replacement habit that we imagine is “better,” and ignore the effort of undoing a habit. This is because habits are designed to disappear when successfully installed. We don’t sense we’re doing the habit, although we may remember training it. It’s tricky to get rid of what you can’t perceive is there.

Our challenge is to avoid training a “better” habit because it could be a mere band-aid, one that merely patches up a nuisance habit. Even if we figure that a better way is possible from the examples of other people, we need to design a way to get there from our starting point we’re in now.

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

Most of us know repetition is powerful – especially when the media and advertisers know how repeating insidiously infiltrates attitudes. Most people don’t consider prevention to be as powerful. But it is – it’s as powerful as an accumulated habit adds up when practiced. A child with a charmed start in life can go farther when their natural talents are never discouraged.

This means we want to take care to avoid repeating what we do not want to train ourselves to do. We want to avoid training unnecessary habits. Suspending or stopping partial or nuisance answers can be enough of an solution. Our body will re-organize itself to carry out our intention in a better way once the unnecessary coercive habit are gone. Allowing ourselves to “re-orient” without interference by subtracting what is unnecessary is powerful. This is when we get insights and discoveries that we couldn’t have previously imagined.

Mostly everyone who is learning a skill does a bit of what they don’t want to do as they are learning what they do want to do. So we need a way to discover the “perfect insight” realizing the potential of what we can do, and how to do that from the beginning so we can jump over common pitfalls. That’s the power of prevention. Or we need ways to refine our evolving skill, turning away from what we don’t want and heading towards a lodestar goal.

 Practice What You Do Want

That’s why people hire coaches and teachers – to avoid common pitfalls. Or perhaps words don’t work so well to adequately describe what they want to learn. Find someone who does what you want to do, so you can soak up what you want to learn from a direct example. After removing unnecessary habits, you may need to constructively train a new habit to allow reliable performance. Now you’re ready to know what to actively do.

In this situation, a number of actions are constructive – please add your ideas. Recognizing a constructive example when you see it is useful. Helpful also is to use your trained ability to notice the teacher’s example and compare it to what you’re doing as you imitate the example. It might work to “Fake it ’til you make it.” It’s also helpful as you experiment to recognize and chart cumulative progress.

 Attitude and Altitude

As you gain proficiency, the definition of success will tend to rise higher as your standards become more refined and educated. You may always be behind the curve, just as a person will always feel limited by habits before they’ve made a move in a new direction. However, this also means that no matter wherever you are on the learning curve, at least you’re on your way to becoming a master of a discipline with a passion. If you have the urge to continue in a new direction, perhaps finding the common thread or lodestone of your multiple interests is the next challenge. Now that you know the benefits, hopefully you’ll continue to open up to possible new discoveries indefinitely. Patience and self-forgiveness are transcendent virtues – as is continuing curiosity.

Endgaining Defined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Doing

Non-doing: what Alexander Technique teachers call it when someone is able to perform an action without their own habitual routines being in the way. The term “non-doing” is a word used in the Alexander Technique lexicon to describe an experience that is quite common during an Alexander Technique lesson – an effortlessness feeling of doing something without overcompensating. Non-doing is also a special paradoxical non-action strategy used to evoke and sustain the effortlessness or “flow state”of improved coordination.

A student will experience hints of the ability for non-doing by following the guidance of an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands-on coaching. This sensation of physical lightness is a signature result of Alexander Technique lessons. With some paradoxical practice regimens, it is possible to sustain the experience of  non-action as a reliable ongoing exploration without an Alexander Technique teacher being present to coach it hands-on.

How to engage in this ability to experience a significant reduction of unnecessary effort will probably be different from the way you’ve learned nearly anything else. It involves subtracting rather than adding, thus the term non-action. It is a strategic use of the self that will involve new perceptions, self-observation, thinking proactively and a large dose of courage for experimentation.

Usually when someone is attempting to improve their skill at performance or become free from pain, (the top two goals of people who begin study at Alexander Technique,) they have in mind certain improvements they want to do that are supposed to be better replacements for those unwanted routines that they do not want to do. Certainly, training a new routine that replaces an old routine is an accepted strategy for improvement. To put this “better” into practice, a person still has to choose the less practiced non-dominant new skill that may have recently been deliberately trained as a replacement – which can be tricky given certain conditions. Alexander Technique addresses such challenges, going even further.

These tricky “certain conditions” are often hiding underneath a person’s ability to perceive what they are doing with themselves. These include postural mannerisms that unintentionally cause back pain or to retain a speaking accent, unintended perceptual assumptions or attitudes, performance anxieties, or when improvements involving will power or practice will go no further. All these tricky challenges respond to learning the skill of non-doing that Alexander Technique offers.

The way this works is what is paradoxical or strategic about it. The first step is to leave off the replacement routine; it’s deliberately suspended. Instead, a person actively refuses the habitual solution or routine they assume needs to happen as a new sort of preparation to go into action. Alexander Technique people call this to inhibit or to not-do. Curiously, what happens when the dominant default habitual interference is deliberately refused (without specifying a replacement routine,) is a sensation of unpredictable effortlessness or do-less-ness – or flow. The default integration of a little bit of nothing into one’s action is paradoxically surprising.  Apparently, we’ve been doing much more of something unnecessary without realizing it.

Not-doing this gives an experience that is quite real and not an intellectual exercise at all. You must try it – it’s fascinating. It’s a bit like pulling the rug out from under yourself. Sometimes, it feels as if you are jumping off a cliff because habits tend to dramatize their own necessity. But there you are – non-doing the very thing you just declared that you weren’t going to do…and to not-do the action this way indeed feels as if it’s an entirely different animal.

Have any stories or suggestions about how to evoke flow states of non-doing that you have experienced yourself?

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.