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?

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.

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!

Niche of: Vocal Mannerisms

This post is another one of many ongoing 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 make their life, hobbies, work skills and performance abilities better and make your living doing it, feel free to run with these ideas!

Alexander Technique has much to offer those who want to change the way they speak. Not public speakers, (which is an optional niche in itself,) but just regular people who are not performers who want to change the way they speak from day to day forever after.  For the sake of improving at their jobs, to transform the first impressions of others, to be better understood by others.

I originally applied Alexander Technique to changing the way I spoke to solve the challenge of an unusual vocal mannerism. I used to say everything with the up-and-down story-telling modulation tones grown-ups often reserve for speaking with children. (Also I let out my breath before I spoke to make what I was about to say less threatening.) When it was time for a business person to give me money, my up-and-down way of speaking made me appear to be unreliable.

Learning from Alexander Technique the ability to speak in more of a monotone gave me a significant and instant advantage. Those who were about to give me half of my estimate before I started their job began to willingly hand over money to seal the contract. It was a striking success!

So – one market possibility could be body language an elocution for salespeople.

But wait – here’s another even more lucrative market that is slightly related.

Think of all the telemarketers and worldwide customer service representatives in the world with a barely understandable ability to speak English because their thick accent. They have learned what to say, but don’t yet know HOW to say it so they can be understood easily. This training isn’t available to them. All of those people could benefit from a course with you teaching them Alexander Technique to refine their ability to speak English without an accent. (This is especially viable as a livelihood if you speak a second language yourself.)

But it’s also not a bad choice if English is your native language and there is another culture you’d enjoy immersing yourself in. Perhaps if your native language is English, you might have never thought much about how much of an advantage you have over someone who must learn English as a second language.  This niche also has the advantage of the situation of who you get to work with. Working with ESL students is one of the most gratifying and appreciative ways to spend your time, reputed to be on par with the consistent appreciate working with animals can give.

This is a market with tremendous potential. Every company that uses telemarketers wants their service people to succeed. Probably you could make arrangements with the company itself to conduct classes and not worry about spending your time attracting the students directly.

Anyway – two more viable suggestions for someone who teaches Alexander Technique to use as a niche for where to point or how to expand their rare skill of being able to teach F.M. Alexander’s discoveries. Of course, you’ll need to do much more in-depth research to pull off such a thing. But, I hope you’re enjoying these suggestions and would consider making use of one of them.

Please be in contact with me personally if you would like further ideas about how to make your niche work.

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!

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.

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…

 

Selling A.T. – continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translate

If you practice Alexander Technique but haven’t considered writing about it – I wonder if you would consider how, in many ways, translating is the essence of Alexander Technique.  In Alexander Technique, we attempt to sell the value of preventing wasted effort and directing physical energy where it was intended to go. Where to go with what you have learned reflects your own values.

I’d like to encourage those who practice Alexander Technique to write about what they have been doing – or illustrate, mind-map it; sculpt it, craft, sew it, gesture or animate it in a movie. Because what you’re doing and the way you go about it is bound to be interesting.

Alexander Technique expresses thoughtful, intangible intent by embodying it within a distilled, clarified, physical expression. This takes time and commitment, but is also demonstrated in each Alexander Technique lesson with a teacher and each time someone uses Alexander’s principles. In the case of how Alexander Technique has been taught in the past – the physical expression using our own direct movements has been the form. Writing is another form that will point toward the benefits and expresses a commitment to translating learning into other forms.

Anyone who loves what they are doing might elevate it to the state of making it an art. Just translate the medium of expression from movement into ______________ (fill in the blank.) That’s why performers have been attracted to Alexander Technique in the past. The reason for devotion to their art is that it expresses what cannot be said in words.

Of course, content attracts attention – however it’s presented. After having written on the subject of Alexander Technique for thirty years, I’m now exploring how words combined with illustrated pictures as examples could provide even faster communication than words alone. Stay tuned for the results – coming soon!

My virtual challenge is to continue to distill the content of what I’m communicating without shorting the content. I’d like to both simplify and articulate the expansion of the complexity and potential of Alexander Technique.

To orchestrate a learning experience as a teacher, you must find many ways to express in some tangible form “what is inexpressible,” because learners learn in so many different ways. Once expressed in words or an outline, then you can compile, shape or orchestrate the content into (hopefully) many ongoing skilled multi-sensory communication forms.

One of my favorite virtual questions right now is, “How to express and cultivate and inspire people toward the cutting edge of their discovering processes?  Because it seems to me that the willingness to learn is the most important first step.

What’s your favorite virtual question right now?

Methodical Creativity

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

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

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

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

Some Useful Virtual Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Inhibition in Aikido and Tai Chi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is one of my attempts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If A.T. Was A Religion…

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

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

Hey, what an idea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Your Ideas: Illustrations for Captions

I’m illustrating ideas of thinking strategy & perception in some educational writing about Alexander Technique in the form of an e-book.  Useful would be a bunch of ideas how to illustrate abstract concepts in pictures.

As thinking skills are, this subject is a challenge because it is a process. It is similar to how people get seduced by the results rather than becoming impressed with the effectiveness of using the process. A focus on results leads people to brush aside the process that got them there and seize upon the dazzling results. In the case of Alexander Technique, people get distracted by the result of getting better at doing something or recovering the ability to move easier.

The most obvious illustrations of showing pictures of the body from the result of using the process has the potential to seriously misdirect the content of Alexander Technique. The ability to see motion needs to be educated to perceive the level of action being trained. It also needs a relationship to movement, and pictures are two dimensional.

Perhaps the solutions are illustrative videos!

Alexander Technique uses the kinesthetic sense as the arena to train thinking skills. Among other benefits, the Technique helps to eliminate unnecessary habits of movement that were unintentionally trained and are perpetuated by accidental association.

The process leading up to the ability to move & learn easier is the content. The obvious choice of illustrating frozen body positions with photography tends to give potential students the wrong idea, no matter what the quality of the photographs. Readers assume pictures are showing them the examples of the “proper” ways to move so they can copy this proper form and assume the “right” positions. Of course, learning the ability to respond with less effort is a significant and valuable side effect, but when it comes to improving freedom of movement, establishing and copying an ideal is the wrong way to get it.

The act of copying bodily positioning works against learning the process because it encourages going for the results in the “old same way.” The internal experience of the learner is that moving easier will often feel wrong from the inside. This is because the human sense of orientation only gives feedback about changed position relative to the status quo, not absolute fact. What is new and unpracticed can be sensed as strangely unfamiliar and off balance if it is radically different from habituated norms.

Every advertising authority recommends dangling benefits. In Alexander Technique, the benefits are so broad that a list of them ends up sounding like snake oil sales. The process is the content, not the result. But the result is the motive for using the process!

Hope you appreciate the challenge!

Winners will get a free copy of my forth-coming e-book titled “Younger Than Yesterday, Alexander Technique for Fast Learners.”

(Of course, I am assuming that you can understand what these isolated one-liners mean in isolation without having read the rest of the writing. All misunderstandings are valid in this situation!)

Please make suggestions in the comments about pictures, designs and images to illustrate ANY of these different proposed captions. (Suggestions to edit the captions are also appreciated.)

  1. *Muscles are contracted by effort. When you stop forcing them, muscles return to resting length in the “off duty” state. Lengthening a muscle feels like…nothing.
  2. *As multiple goals are added and must be accommodated, being pulled in opposing directions is bound to be conflicting. We get into trouble because we can’t foresee the effect of repeating what we do over time.
  3. *The sense of location, effort & weight is relative, not absolute fact. Because humans adapt, we can get used to just about anything that feels normal, once repeated enough.
  4. *Repetition trains a new habit. Practicing a series of chained behaviors creates a new skill. Be careful what you allow yourself to repeat!
  5. *Effectively trained habits install seamlessly; they disappear and become innate so the habit can be relied upon to work the same way every time.
  6. *For a base-line comparison, show off an authentic example by observing your own habits in action without trying to improve yourself first.
  7. *Get some words for how you’re moving by describing the movement’s direction, sequence, timing and quality.
  8. *Thinking is the first part of movement. You are already preparing to move to respond as soon as you think about it.
  9. *After movement preparation and before going into action, you get a moment of veto power.
  10. *Now that you’ve experienced something new, what do you do to get a repeat performance? (Wanted are more pics of multiple choices. For instance, some ideas we already have are: “say the magic word,” “file folders,” “elephant remembering computer password”, “list-making….” Specific suggestions about how to illustrate these suggestions are great!)
  11. *To duplicate desired results of an experiment: suspend previous ways of getting the goals and follow the sequence of experimenting that worked before. Presto!
  12. *Recognize new information by their unfamiliar, subtle, elusive, disorienting, funny & paradoxical characteristics.
  13. *Refusing, fooling, lying, slowing to a crawl, waiting, distraction, placating, cheating… Anything that works is fair game in using preventative veto power against the coercion of habitual routines!

Understanding Unfamiliarity By Filling In the Blanks

On the Alexander Google list server group, it turns out that I’ve gotten a reputation for being able to explain things that others find difficult. So I thought that I would explain how I can read something that has lots of confusing or unfamiliar words in it and still get something out of what is being said.

My ability to read came at a late age – seven. My parents prevented me from learning to read early because they guessed that my ability to imagine would not have the time to form and express itself if I learned to read too early. This probably was true – at least in my case. The effect as an adult was that I am still able to use words to explain concepts that are not completely connected to language until I consciously make the connection. Images and feelings I have are able to be expressed in other ways besides words.

So, predictably enough, as soon as I learned to read at seven, I was overly eager to try it out on anything and everything that could be read. I could not get enough of reading. At seven I took it upon myself to be regular fan of Ann Landers, an advice columnist who was published on the same page as the comics. I was also reading the many Tarzan novels, by Edgar Rice Boroughs that were in my brother’s room.

There were many words in these books that I did not understand and had never heard anyone use in speech. So I thought quite a bit about what they probably meant as I skipped over them. I looked at how these mystery words functioned in the sentence and attempted to judge their relative importance. If they were qualifying words, well, that was more important than an adverb or a descriptive word of what was happening in a sequence when I could understand some of the other words. I came to realize and invent interesting ways to find out what a word meant besides just asking someone else or looking it up in the dictionary.

For instance, if the word seemed to be a descriptive word, I tried these words out in normal conversation and looked at how grown up people reacted.

Because of this, when I encounter reading that I’d like to do (such as a paper on the Polyvagal theory,) I fall back on using my old tricks. In practice, one of my actual strategies would be that I would mentally leave a “blank” in the spaces where I’d run into a word(s) that had an unknown meaning. Then once I read the sentence, I’d guess what similar or vague words that I actually knew would suffice to belong in the blank spots. Sometimes I would diagram the sentence to distill it down to its most simplistic forms so I could understand what function the words might have to the meaning.

This strategy works really well when you’re doing something like reading F.M. Alexander’s books. I’ll let Catherine Kettrick, who has a degree in linguistics and is also an Alexander Technique teacher from an Alexander school called the Performance School in Seattle, WA, give an example from her website “study guide” section at http://www.performanceshool.org

To read Alexander’s long sentences with understanding, you have to be willing to go a bit slowly, figure out the subject and verb, see the different clauses and figure out their subjects and verbs, and hold them all in relation to one another til you get to the end of the sentence. To do this, it is helpful to answer the question posed by each clause as you go along. For example, here is the first sentence from the second chapter of The Use of the Self, “Use and Functioning in Relation to Reaction:” “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired, and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanism was so untrustworthy that it led me to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose” (p. 39).

Taking this sentence apart we find “The reader (subject) will notice” (verb). What reader you ask? “The reader who reviews the experiences…” What experiences? “…that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter…” So: “The reader who reviews the experiences that I have tried to set down in the previous chapter will notice…” What? “…that at a certain point in my investigation I came to realize…” Realize what? “…that my reaction to a particular stimulus was constantly the opposite of that which I desired…” Here is the end of the first major thought grouping in this paragraph. The “and” is used to mark the division between the two major thoughts in the paragraph. “…and that in my search for the cause of this, I discovered… ” Discovered what? (Here comes the second major thought) “…that my sensory appreciation (feeling) of the use of my mechanisms was so untrustworthy that it led me…” Led me where? “… to react by means of a use of myself which felt right, but…” (Pay attention– “But” signals a contrast–) “…but was, in fact, too often wrong for my purpose.”

Then again, if you don’t really understand a subject that you want to know more about, you can probably search the web and find someone else who will explain it to you in a way that you can understand. If you still don’t understand it, you can probably find a tutorial about it on YouTube.

Recognizing Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching Pervasive Habits

This article was written in response to a question posed on the Alexander Technique Email Discussion Group. Although the question is about piano playing, the issue it raises applies to just about any activity. In this answer, there are some useful suggestions for any student of the Alexander Technique who is working on their own.

I had a series of lessons on Alexander Technique some time ago. Lately I have consider progressing with Alexander and taking out my old books. I’m a piano student and I have noticed that as I play I raise my shoulders a lot or keep them raised all the time. This of course creates tension and eventually pain in the arm. In an effort of becoming aware of this, I realized that I do this all the time. I raise my shoulder when typing, when writing, when speaking at the phone, when eating, when walking, when walking, when reading. What does should raising mean in relation to the primary control and the head-neck unit? How does it is solved? Thanks, Davide

I’m going to offer some (hopefully useful) perspectives about some of the philosophical challenges present in stopping, avoiding or using substitution strategies in your unique situation of having noticed an all-pervasive mannerism.

First, it’s really a great observation that you did notice something so global about your manner of moving entirely on your own. The first thing to do is to realize how much of an achievement that is in itself!

It can be daunting to realize the extent that a habit such as this has crept into your life. Be encouraged that you can change it! Of course, this will definitely take some time. If it were possible to completely stop this habit now, it would take about three weeks before it would “go away.” Unfortunately, this isn’t possible without constant attention and someone or something to offer constant feedback. People seem to have a certain tolerance for experimentation that will be worthwhile to extend. I’m sure you are familiar with this challenge concerning the process of learning new tunes and piano techniques in relation to playing what you have already learned.

Since you have a habit that has crept in everywhere and has become a mannerism, what you may usefully do now is to note slight improvements that may be celebrated right away. Strangely enough, celebrating small successes as if you were a two year old, (such as “how many moments or minutes can I go without intentionally raising my shoulder?”) makes for faster progress than groaning in anguish every time you notice the targeted objectionable shrug. (Most handy for this is a sense of humor.) It’s all too tempting to demonize a habit!

Remember there are many ways for shoulders to be raised – and what we’re after (at least, by using A.T.) is to “free up” the ability of your shoulder to be raised in every way appropriate to a specific situation. You would want to avoid, sidestep or stop the raising of your shoulder in a PARTICULAR, HABITUAL way instead of moving your shoulders uniquely in response to any changing situation.

In fact, in a way it’s useful that you have a predictable, repeating habit. This is very handy because you will want to repeat it in order to make some observations about so you can use it as a starting point. In experimenting, scientists always establish a “control,” meaning, a ground zero. You might want to even write down and date observations to give you a chance to note how much you have changed as you proceed. Perhaps make a video of yourself in action for a starting point comparison?

Asking some questions with observations concerning relative location would be useful. This would be so you may answer with your observations such questions as: How far are you already going with this shoulder-raising? You might want to establish additional criteria of “how far” by measuring distance in relationship to some observable condition.

For instance, how far in relation to your nose as you turn your head to the side? How far would your elbow move if you raise your shoulder in relationship to your leg while sitting down? How are the wrinkles in the neckline of your clothes affected by a particular frozen shrug? Perhaps choosing time-sensitive effects that you could describe would also be useful. …As in how long does it take until your piano playing seems limited and how is this affected by possible experiments aimed toward improvement?

The more of these answers and questions you have to orient yourself, the more useful your evaluations and comparisons will be for you as you make changes designed toward improvement.

You seem to have already answered the question of “Do I need to raise my shoulders?” Obviously not, but maybe that’s an assumption that would be worth asking on a routine basis, even if you cannot answer the question now. Because for some good reason you put the habit in place long ago. As an Alexander teacher, I don’t believe people train routines for themselves without a reason. (It’s just that the need to repeat them can be short-sighted when they can’t be turned off…as in the Disney Sourcerer’s Apprentice cartoon.) It would be handy to know when that happened for you personally. So you could make a different choice at the source, that would be a short-cut bonus answer to your quandry that would pay off big to be able to trace.

Alexander teachers find that timing is an important relationship helps clarity of observation. The questions including “when” are a very useful ones – When do I raise my shoulders? Can I pay attention and observe myself about to raise my shoulder in response to what stimulus? When do I bring my shoulders down? When do I notice my shoulders are up? Can I notice that I have already raised my shoulders sooner?…and so on.

There is a secret in using whatever you have remembered learning in A.T. to improve things for you, and the secret is this: As you observe and describe yourself before you have changed anything about yourself by experimenting with A.T. – you will find your habit. Observing and describing yourself AFTER you have moved or experimented with a new direction using A.T. head/neck relationship or any other experiment – you may find out something new. Simple as that.

Let’s say your original goal is to improve your stamina as you play the piano. You have correctly assumed that a starting point concerning timing would be handy to establish. When does this habit start? When you raise your arm? When you walk over to the piano seat? When you think about playing the piano?

The tricky part about changing habits is often that a gradually escalating standard for success may put the bar higher each time, keeping up with your ability to improve. You seem to have discovered this paradoxical stumbling block. To stop this sneaky perfectionist tendency which can discourage, it’s important to establish and seek what exactly constitutes progress. For this you need observations – VERY specific observations about the nature of the “shoulder-raising.”

Contrary to what you have observed – (since raising your shoulder can be done more or less of a vengeance!) it is possible to work with an intention to lessen the intensity of raising your shoulder less (rather than more) at the piano by working it into your practice time – perhaps each time you put your hands on the keyboard or each time you move your hands to a new location on the keyboard. You could parse for frequency – how often you have the urge to raise your shoulder? Location is also a useful parse: How far you seem to want to raise your shoulders? Then you’d reward yourself for raising with less height and also, sensing yourself doing the raising of your shoulders less often. (Because if it’s the sort of habit you describe, the doing of it is buried within the rest of your piano-playing routines.)

Since you have observed that this shoulder-raising starts during walking and many other common activities, nipping the urge to shoulder-raise in the bud by experimenting with it as you begin to walk or use the phone, etc. would be a useful long-term strategy. Since you’re having a problem with this issue, you won’t know where your shoulders should be. So don’t “put them” somewhere, where you imagine they “should” go. It’s most constructive to just stop interfering with them so much – so often – so far. You’ll know you did that by allowing your shoulders to “feel a little weird” (but easier) by “un-sticking” them and letting them go where they want to go, without settling your shoulders in a certain location.

What I’ve outlined here are merely procedural tips that anyone may use that follow along the lines of some of the principles of Alexander Technique. Hope they’re useful to you and that you can come back to using them often.

Why Are Habits Hard to Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need Some Sources for Quoting – Have ’em?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Teaching Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is Primary Control Taught?

How does a person who is trained to teach Alexander Technique actually show people how to learn Alexander’s principle of “forward and up”? This may only make sense to you if you do already have some experiences with Alexander’s work, but you can also see what happens as you read and try this out for yourself.

A really interesting link on the web that teaches some of this information in a different way is the flash program at: http://www.uprighting.com

First off, I might get a student to tilt their head nodding “yes”, (or sometimes I’ll ask them to slowly look up and back down) while I’ll tell them we’re going to be experimenting with noticing how moving their head affects the rest of their balance. I explain how I’m going to use my hands to “steer” the quality of this motion so they get the idea what I mean directly by joining with my ability to move in easier ways that I can do for myself, introducing the term “guided modeling.” I came up with the idea to do this because I can have a much easier influence on the quality & direction of where and how a student can move if they are already in some sort of motion. This way, I give Direction to a moderately difficult or clueless student who has gotten set as they stand there, waiting for me to “do something” to them.

As they are standing nodding their head “yes,” their balance will most likely “come loose” as their head rounds the top of the arc of the nodding motion. Or if it doesn’t, I can give their body a slight push back and forth in space to exaggerate the increase of ease just at the crucial time to help them notice the more overt ability of their body to move as it is balanced during the top of this arc of nodding forward. Most people are able to notice that it takes much less effort to move their whole body at this moment, once their attention is put to noticing it; it’s a much more rare person who does not.

Then after we do this, I get them to merely think of making the nodding movement forward around the top of the arc of balance by thinking of doing this movement with their head… without actually nodding “yes.” I get them to merely think of agreement and giving themselves the mental suggestion of “yes.”

This shows how purely the thought will most likely make their body “come loose” just as well as intentionally moving to be able to notice it. if it doesn’t, I put hands on and walk them through how to word their thinking. I explain how this is called “faded signaling,” which where you first make a more overt motion and then note the same effect with a much more subtle form of perception and movement. I give the example of a music director or conductor using this ability, giving them the idea their thinking conducts into their ability to move.

I talk about why we focus on such slight motions in AT. It’s because how we influence the sorts of very subtle motions we do automatically that repeat over and over have a cumulative effect on us. These kinds of movements are usually underneath what most people think should matter, but as dripping water will wear down stone, they matter quite a bit over time. This is the essence of “strategic prevention.”

So, at this point I’ve covered what I’m doing with my hands, why I’m doing it and how subtle of a motion we’re talking about; and how and why thought is connected to and influences quality of movement.

Now I’m going to illustrate what to use this sort of thinking for – to go into motion, to initiate it. Sometimes I make my hands into a cradle to illustrate the shape that the skull is in whre it is joined to the neck, (like rounded sled runners,) while I describe the movement of tilting forward and back as the easiest move the head and neck can make. I interpret the advantage of knowing this information to mean that this makes this movement the easiest way to initiate tiniest amount of movement. I might use an illustration of a fern growing in the shape of the beginning of a whip action to sprout if we are moving slowly, or an egret moving its head forward and up out over the water as it is getting ready to see and strike a fish under water. Or Michael Jordan floating up to bag the basketball, Pavorotti singing, or Tiger Woods making a golf shot, or whatever the person can relate to at that point as an example.

Sometimes I have to deal with people closing their eyes. I might have people do an experiment that proves that it is easier to judge location by having them close their eyes and touch their face with their hand. Then have them do the same thing while their head is moving. For the reason that being in motion gives us more information about where we are, it’s easier to touch the point you are aiming at while you are moving. Closing your eyes makes this more difficult, but moving makes it easier.

The two points I attempt to get across is this sort of thinking about movement is a way of initiating movement, and it’s very precise and tiny of a motion – so tiny that only a thought will put the movement into action.

I also have the person looking for the effect of increased ease as the evidence their experimenting worked as they intended…which of course, most people cannot yet sense. But they usually do feel the effect somewhere else in their body; and so they can put together that something is happening differently than the usual.

Then I might show how it is possible to think of this motion rhythmically in the context of walking, expanding just as the foot steps onto the floor and the motion of balance begins to transfer the weight onto the foot. If they can’t handle that yet, I have them merely shift their weight from one foot to the other to understand this dynamic first, and build up to taking a step to walk from there.

I’d love to read how more Alexander teachers teach “forward and up” if they can articulate that sort of thing in words.

Asking Really Great Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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