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!

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.

Update Instinct

Optical illusions reveal habits of sight
Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld, at: http://www.erwinblumenfeld.com/

I’ve been recently reading this book titled, “You Are Now Less Dumb.” It’s a collection of brain science facts and research, put into context and stories by a journalist David McRaney. (Of course you can come by these brain science jewels on TED.com individually, but it’s fruitful for synthesis to read them in synopsis form close together.)

One caveat shows proof how humans resist any change; the conditioned system dramatizes retention of habits to be connected to survival itself. (I’ve been joking for years it’s as if Mr. Habit bureaucrat doesn’t wanna lose his job!) Another study shows how increasing the number of choices stresses our system, justifying the manufacture of habits to handle the overload. For instance, judges and jurors are more forgiving after having eaten lunch, and hand out more punitive sentences at the end of the day when hungry and tired.

It appears that those who study Alexander Technique “swim against the tide” of their cultural conditioning by dealing with self-protective resistance… But – isn’t that why you’re here?

I was musing, “How was A.T. student convinced in the past to subject themselves, (at great cost of stress as evidenced from these facts) to become willing to over-ride their habitual conditioning and increase their capacity for making aware choices?”

Well, focal was the empirical proof of having a new experience of freedom from habit. This was done by the Alexander Technique teacher “blowing the mind” of the student at the first lesson with hands-on guided modeling. I see this as an honored “tradition,” but it also had the unwanted effect of producing student dependence. Nevertheless, mind-blowing mystique was and is an important motive and classic A.T. selling strategy. Once the student has gained the conviction that there are multiple impressionable sensations and mystery advantages to stopping routines of “habitual instinct,” the teacher is recognized as having this special capacity and the student is willing to pay and become dedicated. (This was dedication lasting for a lifetime for some of us who adored Alexander Technique and those who eventually continued training to became teachers.) Unfortunately, this strategy tends to make students dependent on teachers rather than independent learners. (Although it was good strategy to retain students from the point of view of the teacher supporting themselves.)

The opposite of choice is NOT coercion; it is instinct.

 Gets you thinking, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we should hesitate to use the word “instinct,” or at minimum be much more careful in using it. Aside from being misunderstood as a ‘design flaw.’ The word “instinct” can be too seductively relegated to be confused with “habits” after the become innate and disappear. The word “instinct” might also stand for the protective and self-preservation resistance of “human nature,” (many of these “human nature” truths have been scientifically to the qualifier of: “True, but only for those people in a certain group that were specifically indoctrinated when young by their cultural motives.”)

 It’s similar to the dangers of using the word “easy” to in a sentence: “Descending into habitual addiction is easy.” I’d rather specifically reserve the “easy” word for a positive experience, with “easy” being the “magic question” used to filter results after experimentation.  Better to say, “seductive” or “tempting” when spelling out how some specific habits are powerful enough to pull us along and make us unaware of really, really bad consequences that accumulate over time. Alexander Technique teachers are really big on avoiding cumulative damage.

 My point is: doesn’t it feel to many if us who experience Alexander Technique in a lesson, as the habits are subtracted, the default coordination that resumes “as if by itself” is “instinctual?”

 Are we really going against “instinct” when we become more willing to take the reins from habit, to learn and adapt with our mindfulness, increasing our capacity to choose without getting tired and stressed from doing so?

 For some of us adults, that’s undoubtedly the challenge, but the younger we are…

Experience and another study confirms the assumption that the younger the person when they began learning anything, the less stress they will encounter in learning what adults would find challenging, (such as the capacity to over-ride the status quo of any conditioned behavior…as expressed in, say, learning to pronounce a new language.)

Addressing my colleagues here,what should also be covered by A.T. classes would be consciously designing flexible habits that can be updated and shaped to changing circumstances. (That’s what the A.T. exercise: Whispered Ah gives acknowledgment to doing.)

Perhaps learning Alexander Technique is a way for adults to return to the learning capacities of youth?

Perhaps this ability to over-ride our conditioning that A.T teaches is one possible means to regain the attitudes of the young and impressionable who are still forming these routines and aren’t settled in them yet so ferociously?

Adults might be able to learn this youthful attitude from their study of Alexander Technique for gaining their “fountain of youth.” All it takes is to be willing to tolerate a bit of stress while they are unraveling the confines of their buried routines.

That’s why F. M. Alexander was so fond of quoting Shakespeare: “The Readiness is All.”

Franis Engel

Niche of: Activism

This post will be hopefully one of many suggestions for those Alexander Technique teachers who want to find their niche. These are ideas for someone trained in Alexander Technique to consider making an ongoing topic for their life’s work. If you are an Alexander Technique teacher who is searching to specialize with a unique group of people to help them learn how to be better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

This week, here’s a video of a woman speaking on a social justice topic, about ethics and true responsibility for working as an authority. In content, it’s one of the best piece of inspirational activism speeches that I’ve ever come across. However, the speaker’s presentation and speaking skills could use help.

There are many reasons that someone needs to specialize in teaching Alexander Technique to this group of people who are speakers.

  • Appeals for ethics should not be merely an Internet fad on a video.
  • Persuasiveness ability hits the heart of the source of every social service livelihood, sense of duty, community participation and personal ethic.
  • Learning speaking ability should be more commonly offered, as it listed as the number one fear of the highest percentage.
  • Imagine the person who comes to the end of their rope from the disappointments of being an activist saying, “Well, at least I learned Alexander Technique from all of that.”

Isn’t there an Alexander Technique teacher in each country who could address the challenges of supporting activists? Out there must be at least one Alexander Technique teacher who could devote their life to specializing in helping regular citizens with a burning desire for social justice to become better at doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inhibition is the Map!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Literal to Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Merely Sit-Up-Straight School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Wikipedia.org discussion pages…

I’ve been maintaining the Wikipedia.org  website featuring Alexander Technique for some years now. Right now, it’s got a pretty interesting and rather encyclopedic tone. Anyone may edit Wikipedia, so people discuss what is on there on what is known as the “talk page.” What follows is some of the more recent discussion from that page, with my comment included below.

== Summary not explained == the line as well as improve other conditions related to overcompensation appears in the summary at the top, but nowhere else is overcompensation referred to or explained. —Preceding [[Wikipedia:Signatures|unsigned]] comment added by [[User:Stillflame|Stillflame]] ([[User talk:Stillflame|talk]] • [[Special:Contributions/Stillflame|contribs]]) 16:57, 3 September 2008 (UTC)

:Good point. I’ve changed the use of this jargon term to the more general “physical habits” to make it more understandable.–[[User:Vannin|Vannin]] ([[User talk:Vannin|talk]]) 16:04, 4 October 2008 (UTC)

Perhaps the term “compensatory movement strategies for avoiding pain” should be substituted instead of your more general term, Vannin? It means when a person designs a work-around strategy of how to go about moving to accomplish their goals in order to avoid pain in the moment or to avoid further anticipated cumulative pain.

Also Vannin asked: “Also, please explain why movement to demonstrate its principles” differs from exercise.”

The reason for not using the word “exercise” is merely that using the word does not work to bring about in their student’s response what Alexander teachers are teaching. It creates misconceptions for their students that later need to be cleared up.

Exercises are done to be repeated at will with certain intended goals. The problem is that repetition sets up a new habit, which is against the intent of A.T. The challenge is to subtract current ongoing habits, not to put a new habit into place.

What is recommended is exploring quality, direction, sequence and timing of movement in the moment, rather than thinking of what you are doing as an exercise. So even though you may be paradoxically following a procedure to invoke discovery, it doesn’t work to anticipate results before they occur.

Let me know if that sounds like “jargon” OK?

What to Do If You Get That Twang of Pain

It’s a pretty common thing as people get older to feel aches and pains. What isn’t very common is to know what it means when unexpected things seem to be going wrong with your muscles.

When an injury is about to happen, your body will send you a very handy,  immediate warning that you are about to hurt yourself. This warning is a pull a strain or the start of a cramp, or a sudden feeling of awkwardness or grinding in your body. If you notice this message and you can respond to it by immediately stopping whatever you were doing, you will avoid hurting yourself worse.

Many people believe that these twanging messages mean that the pain has already happened and the injury is already a done deal, so they ignore it. If one of these things happens to you, it will pay off big to act immediately.

For instance, if you are carrying something, and you feel a twang of pain, do not continue carrying that thing! Put it down right then without taking another step. Of course, if you are carrying it with someone else you would tell them that you need to pay attention to the twang that just happened. If it’s a situation where you’re about to fall from losing your balance or it is your ankle that is starting to twist, just fold that knee and sit down on the ground – a skinned knee or bruises heal much faster than a sprain.

It turns out that the bulk of muscle damage of our bodies occurs just after this twang of warning. This twanging really means that something is about to go wrong – it hasn’t yet, for the most part. If you stop right then and lay or sit down to allow yourself to be free of the weight or whatever was going on when the twang occured, whatever injury that was about to happen will be significantly minimized. Taking a moment to rest immediately will pay off. You may find that there is a little bit of injury present once you take the time to check out what has happened to you. If you return to the activity, that injury may get worse. So it’s wise to take a break and do something else for awhile.

Bigger and very real injuries happen by NOT listening and acting immediately to stop whatever you were doing if a painful twang of warning signals to you that something is going wrong about how you’re using your body.

So now that you know that this twang of pain is a warning that can be helpful – the only trick is to learn to make a joke of it so your friends don’t think you’re being wimpy! Taking care of your body to help it last as long as possible is wisdom in action.

What Attracted Me To Alexander Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Habits Hard to Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explaining How Habits Can Be Undone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franis Engel

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

How Far Is Too Far?

Morning yoga routine. Had a realization that I may have been
holding my body in a tense position for many years. Tried to
concentrate on relaxing as I went about the day. Noticed when I
did that, I could feel stretches much more keenly. As I said, I
have a lot of work to do in this department.

Obviously you have realized that learning how to undo what you ave probably been doing to yourself for a long time is a process that will take some time to undo, as you’ve figured out. I can offer some hints about how to proceed faster and safeguard common mistakes.

This hint is based on the fact that proprioception of the body is a relative sense. Meaning, you will feel a change in relationship to whatever and wherever you have been, rather than any factual truth of where are you and what is happening. So in the light of that, when you feel yourself out of balance and you make a change to “improve” things, you must be careful to evaluate on the basis of the question: “Is it easier now?”

The other tip that you may find even more useful is how to interpret the feelings of “stretches” you describe. I do not know what exactly is happening for you here from your comment, so you’ll have to be the judge of this yourself! Tricky for me to tell how to interpret what you say you are feeling without being there with you – which is a key element in working out what might be constructive to do about it!

I do know that as my students begin to unwind their habitual twistednesses, they may begin to feel areas where they didn’t know they were holding and tensing. Is this what you’re experiencing? What often happens when someone successfully lessens the tension and holding for some part of themselves in piecemeal, is they will feel some other part of themselves that is not easily moving along because that part of the body will complain further down. Is this the “stretch” you are talking about?

If so, the remedy would be to include that part of your body just below where you notice “stretching” because you are leaving parts of yourself behind in the thought and intention of the moves you are doing. The ‘stretch’ is there because you are not moving that part of you along with the rest of you. You’ll know you succeeded because you’ll feel easier, or you’ll feel a complaint somewhere else in your body! Which again, is an indicator you’re not moving part of yourself along with your original intention, etc. It make take quite a few repetitions of this clarified intention for it to have an effect, because you may also not be able to acertain if you did what you intended or not. So repeating the intention is the way to go – and feeling easier and sometimes a little strange or unfamiliar is the indicator that you are succeeding.

Or, are you commenting how during the act of yoga that you could feel the yoga movement stretches much more? It is true that by paying attention to your quality of movement throughout the day, you will enhance your ability to pay attention when you also focus on your movements in a special time set aside to do so.

However, again the same principle works well: If you feel a stretching somewhere in your body during a yoga move, this is an indicator that you are leaving behind some part of your body in the context of the yoga movement you are attempting. If you do the yoga movement in as the form was intended, (the interpretation of the form will obviously depend on the skill and observation of the yoga teacher with whom you are studying,) it will feel as if you are “doing nothing” special. Masters of a skill make it look easy, right?

In fact, if you do feel “stretching,” sometimes you are feeling muscle fibers breaking! I can’t say this because I don’t know how far you are taking yourself during yoga and if it is ‘too far,’ (and some yoga teachers will encourage students to go too far which I know to be counter-productive,) but generally, you should not go as far as you can push yourself, but only as far as you can move without pushing. It works best to figure how far that is, and back off and clarify what you want to do; and then experiment to see how easily you can do the yoga motion in question. You’ll notice that you can move farther and enhance flexibility over time more constructively that way than pushing and pulling against yourself and resisting – and damaging muscle fibers and then having to recover from the damage you caused yourself.

Let me know how this turns out for you!

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

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

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

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

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

Learning Alexander Technique Without A Teacher Can Be Thorny


People write to me and ask how they could learn Alexander Technique on their own. You can always learn some on your own, but it is much faster to use an Alexander teacher, or any teacher, for that matter. By working with the Alexander principles, you can improve your own ability to observe yourself. The going will be slow – so be patient and persistent with yourself because habits can be fast, tricky and insidious.

In addition to some of the other resources mentioned on the alextech list, I’ve got some resources on my website that might be useful to the two of you. In particular, see “ideas” about what some of the principles are and how they work may be of use.

Alexander Technique Simplified

Without a teacher, you may not be able to figure out what to do about what you notice about yourself – your situation if you haven’t had any example of where to go to create a new possibility. Knowing that, you can experiment.

Generally, when working by yourself without a teacher, you want to avoid crafting more habits, (even if you think they are “better” ones.) Instead, just subtract what you can perceive you may be doing that could be unnecessary. These changes might involve moving, but try to detour adjusting yourself to where you think is a “good” place for your body to be. Instead let yourself move, allow or discover where you might want to go to move away from what you know you don’t want. If you have a sucess, go back to the steps that got you there – rather than trying to recreate or re-live the success.

The other problem without a teacher is deciding on how you’re going to measure success. Sometimes you can be doing better, but because of an inability to sense differences that might create an improvement, you get stuck. Principles of AT suggest a new possibility: Measure the results of your experimenting by asking yourself, “is what I just did easier?” The reason this question is best is because what is new and easier can feel a little strange when you have gotten used to overdoing. Since you want to reduce what is unnecessary, less and less overdoing is what you want, so you want to get ready for feeling odd and ask yourself if this sort of odd is easier.

For what to use for experimentation, use the tiniest preparations of movement, as what you do when you begin to lift your instrument to play or as you being to think about moving. Create a definite starting point. Learn to describe what is happening rather than to decide whether you “like” the results or not.

Let the activity, or a mirror, or a recording, or another perceptual cross reference tell you what you are really doing. Such as on the flute, the quality of the start of the sound or how the pads’ sound as they go up and down, or the new angle, etc. Or in walking, the sound of your feet, notice where your eyes are in relation to your stomach, etc.

When I began to study Alexander Technique, I was working a very repetitive manufacturing job that I could only do for five hours a day before exhaustion made me stop. Taking a five minute break every hour by merely laying down semi-supine, (whether I needed it or not,) immediately improved my ability to work to seven or eight hours. So taking a regular five-minute break is something you can do right away that may help you. In fact, just moving directly from semi-supine into holding your flute or doing whatever activity you want to improve may give you some valuable information about how you don’t have to curl yourself up. (For those who don’t know, semi-supine means laying on your back with your knees up. Or you can lie with your feet supported on a chair while your back is a flat surface.)

Perhaps you may also learn a bit from an encyclopedia article I wrote on Alexander Technique? on Wikipedia…

Noticing Assumptions

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Opening Up Conclusions About Luck & Timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Feels Wrong Is Probably Pointing at Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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