Benefits of Alexander Technique

 

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

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

 

 

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

Cumulative

One of the central principles of how Alexander Technique works is based on the concept of a domino effect. Small actions, (in the form of tiny routines) pile up and become powerful influences. “You become what you repeat” is one way of expressing this often skipped-over super power to both suffer and affect change in yourself.

A studied ability to perceive subtle foundation movements is what seems so magical about how an Alexander Technique teacher can pull the rug out from underneath apparently self-caused difficulties.

An example comes from the situation of professional performing musicians. At what age did the musician learn to hold their musical instrument? How big was it then – and how big were they as kids when they first learned to make sounds with it? Height might be a factor; certainly hand and arm size; what sort of reach was possible? Put the answers to these questions in perspective, and issues with repetitive pain injury can sometimes be solved with immediate practical ergonomic adjustments.

Because of the power of our self-confirming misconceptions, humans will move the way we imagine that we are able to move. How to approach this bias? We can change this effect through questioning and insight as in the musician example above. We could used hypothesis, comparing by remembering what our situation was like for us in our past. Then we can craft experiments with what we uncover. This might lead us to even better questions, such as: How far across was that goal post area when we first got played in a standard sized soccer field when we were kids? How high was that basketball ring when first learning compared to how tall we are now?

Another way to influence change is to design many different ways to practice whatever we have discovered. If it can be counted, it can be made into a game, right? But be careful what you count, because this focus is what will quickly jump out to become priorities.

Another technique for sifting out an unwanted effect from an already learned routine is to slow down. Varying the rate of the activity will reveal formerly unnoticed differences. Once these often crucial differences have been revealed, they can be incorporated into a faster paced action.

Best chance for change needs about three weeks of commitment to install new habits. It takes around seventy repetitions to make a new skill reliable; although after around seven or eight times even the most awkward and strange movements will begin to feel “normal.” Perhaps collect game pieces that symbolize achievements as “rewards?” Logging practices has been shown to be effective, as has practicing just after performance when “mistakes” are fresh in your mind.

To wrap up – piled up tiny actions can become exponential. If you’d like to reveal these mysteries, you can go slower, you can examine your foundation assumptions you can work on practice design. Once you know what is happening underneath your assumptions, you can redesign a way to practice your desired new improvements, given you can partly do what you imagine is possible. If you cannot yet do what you want, you can work on your foundation mannerisms as a whole and you can ask for help from an observant coach or Alexander Technique teacher. Once you have ways to practice, you will uncover perceptual discoveries as well as progress in your goals. Don’t just skip over these perceptual curiosities! Reflect on these surprising discoveries to put them to best use, or you may unintentionally practice mistakes. This is how you’ll get more benefits from practice as never before – Better yet – record and share your discoveries in some way – then the processes you followed will become as valuable as your results.

Template For Change

I’d like to tell you how Alexander Technique worked for me to uncover & cope with my own underlying psychological motives and assumptions. This strategy solved a firmly entrenched childhood impasse that was causing me irrational social problems.

I’d like you to take the time to consider this because this same strategy has since worked for myself and other to solve many uncontrollable emotional issues where the source of the emotional motives were hidden or masked.

My own issue was blurting out shocking, hurtful diatribes at an inappropriate time. What sorely needed updating were my outbursts designed in childhood to avoid my wounded feelings of isolation and exclusion. But I didn’t know this on the front end. My childhood solution was such an effective denial that I never felt the original emotion that drove me to design the reaction of “bring out the club” when the polite conversation was fencing at a dinner table. My saying something “shocking” was designed to stop the conversation and avoid feeling my emotions. It worked too well! Without knowing what was behind the reaction, change was unlikely. What was going on was an over-sensitive trigger recognition system that worked splendidly…yet the problem was it was on too much of an over-sensitive, uncontrollable hair-trigger to be at all reasonable…and it was getting worse!

I believe the Alexander Technique is an essential tool to get such answers to such these complex psychological issues. The strategy is something that works on any psychological impasse of self-influencing “bad” behavior:

  • 1. Identify the situations where this objectionable irrationality is happening that involves “jumping to conclusions” that triggers the behavior.
  • 2. Use self-observation to trace back to become aware of oneself the moment before the conclusive, reactive “jump” happens… (Warning! There will be lurking the uncomfortable motive for acting unreasonably, and this emotion will embody a physical postural attitude & will be intense!)
  • 3. Free up that posture connected to the wounded feeling physically using Alexander Technique; breathing or whatever else you think might work. If it doesn’t, find something you can do in that moment that will work.
  • 4. There’s a reason that Alexander Technique was so handy. This discipline allowed me a true physical change of postural expression of this unwanted emotion. What you want to get is an awareness of your reaction that keeps getting triggered to go off in certain situations that will offer you new ways to address the issue & your own objection & drive to change it. If you don’t know how to use Alexander Technique, you might try something different to influence the situation in a more positive and effective manner. (But you will probably have to experiment to find something that truly works.)
  • 5. To design another alternative, identify the positive desire for a solution that contains positive values for everyone, not just the absence of your own suffering.
  • 6. If you trust the people present, announce your motives. If not, try out one of these possible solutions covertly to see if they might work to bring about positive, mature ways to influence your emotionally challenging situation. To the extent you are successful, you’ll be able dispense with the old, inappropriate childish reactions to uncomfortable situations. You may even reveal a talent you didn’t know you had.

Here’s How I Did This:
My first job was to note what situation was going on when I’d blurt out shocking, snide remarks. At first I was so blinded, that I only figured out I’d “done it again” by the comments of people days later. So my job became to catch myself doing it closer to the moment I was about to do what I didn’t really want to do.

Once I questioned whether I needed to use such an intense reaction in obviously inappropriate situations, I found I couldn’t redirect it until I uncovered my motive’s origin. I could temper the effects of what I’d said after the fact, maybe I could hit a “pause” button after I launched into doing it & turn it into a joke…but that didn’t change the problem that kept causing this reaction to come up. The moment before I opened my mouth contained the hidden, denied root of emotion.

To find all this, I had to trace the reaction back to when it started – this is what took some time & practice. How do you pay attention to something that happens when you’re not paying attention? I turned the challenge into a personal, ongoing project.

When I finally got to catch this unwanted reactive habit of mine, at the moment ~before~ doing my habitual solution, what I found was so uncomfortable that it was extremely dismaying to avoid repeating the habitual solution that I did not want to do. My impasse & emotional pain that I was feeling (about being excluded in this case) was expressed in the habitual postural attitude of my body. Oh, was it uncomfortable to hang out there! My body showed me how I felt emotionally with very physical signals of a hole below my rib cage that I sagged to cover.

But I had a tool – Alexander Technique. Without a way. to be able to physically move away from these limitations, I would be stuck feeling these awful, gunky routines of complex historic hurts. I could justify whatever I thought I needed to do to deal with this bad feeling, blaming & inciting others to hurt me further as I lashed out. The additional pain I could create with these hurt reactions made it worth this trouble to change.

Avoiding hurting emotionally would be a completely understandable justification for repeating the habitual remedy that I wanted to update. I suspected that my childhood ways of dealing with this pain was unnecessary, ineffective and an overcompensation for the problem.

Hanging out in the moment feeling these awful feelings, I realized how ANY remedy would be justified if an emotion feels extreme enough. Feeling angry feels more powerful than feeling sad. This would especially be true if a person doesn’t have an effective enough tool for dealing with their “stuff.” (I believe this sort of impasse is what drives people to kill!)

Using Alexander Technique allowed me to pop out of the physical reaction of how I was expressing the emotional hurt and be able to perceive it for what it was – It was the outdated adding together of insults. I could now so easily understand and compassionately forgive myself, (even congratulate myself) for designing such an effective coping mechanism when I was just a kid, even if it was something I needed to change now. Since I could recognize the core motives now for what they were and also how I feel now, I could freshly choose a more global and compassionate way of dealing with all these factors that could take into account other people and not just my own self-involved feelings.

My problem had been I blurted out snide remarks designed to hurtfully shock others who I thought were excluding me from their conversation. My own positive core motive that I could now experience was a burning desire for everyone to be fair, to include everyone present and to nurture feelings of playfulness and belonging together to maybe build something new.

After I described what I positively wanted, I had an idea. I assumed these people weren’t trying to be mean to me on purpose. Maybe I could insert whatever I had to say into the conversation, matching the faster pace… Then slow my own talking speed very slightly and bring the conversation around to gracefully include myself again. Since I was being left out of the conversation accidentally on purpose, the other people accepted me including myself again an all was well.

Strangely enough, this worked. My reaction stopped happening too, once I had an easier way to express how I felt.

In retrospect, I was lucky – my first idea of how to influence the situation worked. But I believe that with so much riding on the outcome, as I used this same process again on other issues – it also worked again. From these successes, I now have the track record and the persistence to keep going with additional possible solutions if the first strategy would not have worked.

Please take my experience and use it for your own purposes as a Template For Change!

Timing

Let’s say we have put all this energy into learning constructive, new innovations we’d like to do for ourselves. But after spending some time learning, now we could use a way to practice whatever we can do. Designing a way to practice that works to improve gradually is key. We want to reinforce the new, unfamiliar behavior so it develops into a new routine,  so we can say we really “know it.”

But training a new, constructive habit is tricky, because our ways of gaining a new habit might be suspect. Slowness is an important tactic in designing a new habit to better ourselves. We would want to prevent ourselves from repeating what we know we don’t want to do, and this often takes going slowly. To the extent we can avoid doing what we don’t want, then our new routine will not merely be “Good enough for Rock’n’Roll,” It will truly be “Practice Makes Perfect.”
That saying is deceptive because most often, “Practice Makes Permanent.”  We need to be careful of what we allow ourselves to repeat. Best if each repetition is its own mini-experiment. It’s even best if the opportunity to experiment arrives unexpectedly!

  • There is this Aldous Huxley novel titled: “Island” where wild parrots have been taught to randomly squawk, “ATTENTION! Attention! HERE and Now! Here and NOW!”

     

  • What that would be like, to have a suggestion to experiment?
  • What if it happened at unexpected moments?
  • What if I could set up some sort of random notification to use to remember what I know how to do  – so it could happen more often?

So I went looking. I found this cute little app for my smart phone called “Enlighten.” It was made as a meditation timer. But I’ve begun to use it for so many other purposes.  (My phone is Android, but I selected this one from a wealth of others, so I’m sure you’ll find one for yourself if you have another brand of phone.)

Enlighten for android 

This little app for a smart phone is pretty cool because you can type in any sort of random provocation or saying into it. What you typed then re-arrives somewhat unexpectedly as a notification and/or sound.
(Would be great if you could enter in a list of varied provocations into the app, without knowing which one would come up. Also if you could choose the sound. But those aren’t a feature yet.)
Since I like to apply Alexander Technique principles, I set the notification to say:

“A bit freer?”   

This reminds me in unexpected moments to lengthen my whole body and make whatever I’m doing more fluid and fun.

There’s also a “temple bell” sound in the “Enlighten” application that can be set to go off in intervals that’s not very intrusive. For my students, I’d recommend to figure out how long you can sustain your attention and set the timer to go off just beyond it.

It works great! I look around and notice …how this moment is different.

 

Obscure Alexander Technique

Why is the Alexander Technique not that well-known?

Multiple reasons, actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on & on…

 

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

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

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

 

Debt Of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering to Wake Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

Impulse Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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!

Asking Questions

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

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

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

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Notice

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

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

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

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

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

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

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

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

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

Can you add an observational category?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

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

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

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

Recognizing a Discovery

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

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

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

Observation and Awareness

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

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

 Suspend Previous Solutions

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

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

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

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

 Forming Useful Questions

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

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

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

 Clear The Decks for Action

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

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

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

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

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

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

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

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

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

 Practice What You Do Want

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

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

 Attitude and Altitude

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

Changing Breath

Lately because I’ve been helping a saxophone player change the way he uses his breathing,  I’ve been noticing how people breath when they talk. Often when someone has a problem during a specialized task, they do a less exaggerated version of the same habit when they are doing less challenging activities, such as talking or walking. This is why your Alexander Technique teachers makes such a big deal about little quirks.

Noticing other people can be used as a means of remembering that NOW! is the best time to practice what you do know how to do for yourself. As humans, we have this tendency to notice what is going on outside of ourselves, without realizing that this moment is an opportunity to make changes for ourselves.

Changing a breathing pattern is actually a very tricky habit to influence.  Ideally, speaking directly after taking a breath, at the top of a breath allows a singer to sing longer, increases resonance, and has many more advantages. In common with my students now, at first I could not even get myself to speak using a full breath intentionally! Motivated by intending to appear less intimidating, I used to limit my own voice by letting out most of my breath and then beginning to make a sound – every time. Having done what I’m advising, I know how tricky and challenging it is to change breathing patterns.

One comfort is that nobody notices a person who is practicing such a different way of speaking, even though it takes a big effort for you to change at first. They do notice increased resonance, the lack of a sense of urgency in your voice, and other interesting improvements. But they have no idea what you’re doing to bring the change about, (so it can remain your little secret.)

For me personally, a habit that was very challenging to learn to undo was closing down the back of my throat on one side, which shut off part of my voice. I had trained myself to shut this part of my voice pre-verbally due to having a rubber band put on my ear as a medical procedure as an infant. So, the reason that habit was tricky to learn to undo was that I used my voice all the time to shape words, so I was constantly reinforcing the wrong thing I did not want to do every time I made a sound.

This gives some insight into the fundamental level of change that is possible using Alexander Technique.

If you had a tool this powerful, what habits about yourself would you change?

What very challenging and persistent habit have you changed and how did you do it?

Creative Movement

Imagine if there were multiple “escape hatches” for gaining effective new ideas and adopting effective new attitudes… Well, of course there are, right!?

Imagine they are not just ideas, but have a way to practice. You can practice by uncovering assumptions of thought and learning new creative thinking tools that give you ideas. That’s creative thinking. Now imagine you make improvements that better whatever you’d like to apply it to by changing yourself physically to get beyond that has become habitually assumed. That’s Alexander Technique.

The concept of “Attitudes” can possess a mental sense and may also be used in a physical sense. A person’s postural carriage and body language reflects their character and changing internal moods, as well as their intent, unspoken desires and motives. Change the inside thoughts and it will affect the outside. Change the outside mannerisms and the inside will also be affected.

Imagine a sailboat trimmed to catch the wind from a different direction to accommodate prevailing conditions – so the boat can go somewhere. Think of the advantages you could catch, if you could learn to sail yourself to catch those hidden opportunities and ideas that would usually blow over your head and be lost!

So the disadvantage is that there is a learning curve in each of these disciplines. You don’t really know about these advantages until you put in time to study what these tools are and can recognize when is the time to put them into action. They take dedication, discipline and to remember to use their advantages when things matter. Because they both involve education, the participation of the learner is required to gain their benefits.

Edward de Bono has spent his life providing these escapes from conditioned, trapped thinking, as have those people who teach F.M. Alexander’s Technique. How come so few people recognize how valuable creative thinking is? They focus on the result and not the process. How come only very few recognize the value of being able to change or improve the ability to move beyond one’s habitual conditioned responses? Again, they are usually motivated by a desire for the result; they declare the process is so abstract as to be completely mystifying.

But you could hire a creative thinker, but you’d need to recognize the value of their ideas. You could hire an Alexander Technique teacher to describe the qualities of human movement that recommend education – but instead there are expensive Gait Laboratories that are used to justify surgery as a solution.

Another thing in common is what happens when making both of these simple enough to be accessed by anyone. Simplification of either these two open-ended topics risks trivializing their tremendous power they have for improving action.

It appears that both possess a practical means about how to get beyond self-imposed limitations of having assumed the nature of reality from variously different starting points.

Rather than continuing to rant, I’ll give two parallel examples.

Edward de Bono uses the word “perception” to mean purposeful adoption of an attitude or point of view. So he invented a means for people to unite together and reflect a joined attitude by design. For instance, his invention of Six Hat Thinking has a group of people all on the same side of a question, having adopted an agreed point of view, (usually within a larger sequence) of one of the Six Thinking Hats. He called this “parallel thinking.”

While wearing the green creative Thinking Hat, Edward de Bono’s word for one of his tools is called “PO,” used in lateral thinking. How to use the provocation tool of PO is recommended in the word “movement.” This idea of “movement” is an instruction about how to regard what just got proPOsed. You suppose the provocation is absolutely true – and see if you can make observations that would be in effect if it were true. In some ways, it is very much like improvisational theater – Whatever just got proPOsed, the answer is always “yes.” That’s “movement” in a de Bono style creative thinking sense.

Now I’m remembering the past, being in class with Marj Barstow, and she asks, “How do you describe A.T. in one word?” Her idea of that word is “movement.” Marj uses the word “perception” to mean the perception of kinesthesia, which is the ability to internally know where you are located in space and to judge how little effort is really needed to perform a physical action. Her idea of a provocation is a student’s proposed activity or desire to improve something. Observations about the quality, timing, sequence, relationship and direction of movement offer the discoveries that come from experimenting with how to make movements easier. “Intention is already movement,” she declares.

Both A.T and de Bono Thinking assign certain strategies to get beyond one’s own self-imposed limitation that have attitudes and perceptions in common – how to create value by moving away from limitation into unexplored possibility.

Studying Alexander Technique is a valuable answer to an often-ignored need for proactive movement, instead of preserving the status quo of habit. I suspect that de Bono has a similar feeling of frustration when confronted by the prevailing argument culture. What good is the tired use of our prevailing argument culture, when you can design a way through these challenges that will better the whole situation?

Stronger Brain Fibers

Alexander Technique lessons give practical influence over impulse control. In this post are some brain research tips involving human reactions and habituated impulses and how they work. Rather than being at the mercy of automated or accidentally learned reactions, listed are some practical experiments and suggestions useful for strengthening the ability to deliberately direct response. These work to compensate for the brain’s design limitations.

LOWER AND HIGHER BRAIN FUNCTION

The lower reptilian brain that thinks in images is the first part of the brain to mature. This part of the brain drives self-involved imperative survival reactions – such as sex, avoiding danger, protecting family and clan members. This reptilian brain dictates swift and sure reactions that preempt the slower, deliberate and complex reasoning ability in the upper fore brain area. The advantage of the reptilian brain is it takes over, makes a quick and sure decision that sizes up a situation, hopefully in enough time to preserve survival.

CONNECTING FIBERS: GABA

What brain scientists called GABA fibers are what connect the higher cognitive reasoning function of the upper brain and the survival-oriented reptilian brain. To start out, these GABA connecting fibers are thin, so the faster reactions of the lower reptilian brain are the default. Maturation of the upper brain occurs starts at around twelve years of age and grows until around twenty-five. This growth can be accelerated by the person’s responses to circumstances – along with which external circumstances exist to test responses from integrating advantages from both brain areas.

WHAT COUNTS – AND WHAT DOESN’T MATTER

What enhances this GABA fiber growth is confronting fear and gaining the ability to differentiate meaning from significant vrs. significant evidence. With experience, the person realizes that most apparently dangerous conditions are, in fact, inconsequential, (and which are, in fact, dangerous.) They learn when to act and when to to calm themselves and not allow their “chain to be yanked” unnecessarily. These connecting GABA fibers bulk up, as muscles do, each time this internal reassurance happens. As specific fears are countermanded by reassurance, the growing bulk of these connecting GABA fiber eventually allows the action of the fore brain to happen at the same time survival measures are being taken. The person learns to fight smarter when fighting is necessary, to be coolly calculating to determine this need. Wisdom and reasoning eventually eliminates the need for desperately trying harder at any cost.

Thinking deliberately in spite of (or in addition to) feelings & impulsive reactions gets easier with practice – even though this foresight takes more time and must be cultivated with accumulated experience. With practice, it’s possible to preempt knee-jerk survival images, fears, interpretations & conclusive suspicions that so effectively run the lower brain entirely.

HOW GABA FIBERS INTERCEPT FEARFUL REACTIONS

Each time reaction is refused or redirected, we send a new electrical response along these GABA fibers that connect the two brains. Each new response makes the fibers fatter, as a muscle grows stronger by exercise. Eventually the GABA connectors bulk up and make it easier for us to stop fear impulses entirely. The GABA fibers eventually act like insulators. The GABA fibers can be described in a poetic way as courage – or “grace under fire.”

INSTINCT, PREJUDICE, OPINION, TASTE

After some experience, the person learns the differences between a gut instinct, a prejudice and a preference that is merely a customary opinion of personal taste. They learn to “choose their battles wisely.” Of course, they often learn from unfortunate lessons that negative speculation & paranoid suspicions are not always a benefit to one’s long-term survival advantage. The reptile brain functions only with a short-term need to survive now.

WHY GROWING GABA FIBERS IS A GOOD IDEA

Not growing GABA fibers has more than a moral danger of a lack of wisdom. The reptile brain manufactures fears and motives that are sometimes self-fulfilling prophesy. If a person never gets the practice of calming themselves and learns to laugh at their unnecessary fears, this ability to countermand and temper the reptile brain does not mature. The person remains at the mercy of their lower brain. This comes out in the roles of suspecting those who are loyal, complaining and creating troll-like “Drama Queen” situations that force polarization, possessing an intense, manic/depressive, trusting/untrustworthy and unpredictably reactive point of view. Along with this come temptations for undue complaints, a lack of commitment, social manipulativeness or outright self-justified dishonesty or criminal behavior.

BRAIN PLASTICITY

Fortunately, this growth toward the maturity of being able to calm oneself can happen at any time in life. The plasticity of the brain can always be reshaped by current usage – and forgiveness. Expressing positive values in action is an effective avenue for change. Keep in mind that because we are talking about growing new brain parts, it takes time and the ability to discern and plot one’s own signs of improvement.

SOME WAYS TO GROW YOUR GABA FIBERS

The practice is exercised by refusing to react & self-reassurance. Many means are possible to put this intent to strengthen GABA fibers into action. This may be practiced in many small ways, in fact, the smaller the better. Some of these ways are:

  • by calming ones’ own emotions;
  • by changing any new “inconsequential” habit;
  • by learning a new skill, which demands being forgiving of mistakes;
  • by calming down fear when it arises;
  • by releasing physical tension through exercise, massage or other unifying mind-body practice or discipline;
  • by deciding not to say what will offend;
  • by daring to say what might offend anyway;
  • by deliberately changing your mind before you would normally react to do anything habitual or routine;
  • by being aware that your thoughts are untrue fears and deciding to not take them seriously.
  • by refusing to think about them, using distraction, substitution
  • by thinking about something else or distracting yourself.
  • by being sarcastic when mistakes are made that word the derogatory put-down in a positive light, such as, “that was a really smart thing to do” (instead of cursing, attacking or accusing when a mistake is made.)

PERSISTENCE IS GOLDEN

If these don’t work, some people get out concerns that are whirling around in their head by

  • using de Bono thinking skills,
  • writing down these thoughts in descriptions,
  • talking about them to a person who is not involved and will not react,
  • making art and allowing symbolic imagery to process them,
  • exercising and doing physical things,
  • doing mundane but productive activities, using them to re-direct your energy with the intent of leaving past, irrelevant concerns in the past where they belong and going in a positive direction –  such as taking a shower or by changing one’s external environment.
  • originating strategic, practical plans to get yourself

Perhaps if these methods do not work in isolation, they might work together in a certain sequence.

Many wise people have advice what will work in this situation; perhaps someone else or a religion will have different advice that will work for you. It’s best if the advice has a simple practice to show the expressed values that are advised. Philosophical advice is not worth much unless there is a practical means to carry out the ideas that cultivate new abilities as a skill.

HOW THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE DOES IT

Using one of the principles from Alexander Technique, physically refusing to react can be practiced during any movement. For instance, before any motion, our body has already prepared to move. If we do not stop it, we will continue and complete the motion. We have only 1/64th of a second to refuse or change this motion as we begin to go into action. If we do not use this time, we lose this time to refuse to react. We must act as we have prepared to act. Once started, a routine is much more difficult to interrupt or re-route than it is to intercept it at the beginning window of opportunity.

WHY IMMEDIATELY BEFORE YOU BEGIN IS A GOOD TIME TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

Brain science says that whenever you make a move, your expectations have composed themselves into preparing for the move you are about to do long before you know you are going to do it. You can still “veto” this preparation by changing your mind right before you are about to move. You have only 1/64 of a second to change your mind, otherwise you will continue to perform the action in the way you have prepared to do it. Each time you change your mind, you strengthen these GABA fibers between the upper and lower brains by refusing to act habitually.

REFUSE THE DOMINANT PARADIGM – PRO-ACTIVELY

Practice can occur now. Merely change your mind right before you are about to make a move – any move, such as moving a mouse or typing on the keyboard. Decide to do nothing or to do something unrelated instead of doing it in the usual way. (Plead to your impatient objections that you’re practicing in case of injury. You can say you are interrupting a tiny mannerism that has been identified to be gradually causing you cumulative harm.) You do not even have to determine that an action or idea is “harmful” or potentially harmful. (This is the familiar logic style of of “put-out-the-fire” thinking.) Instead of waiting until something is no longer useful at all to improve it, you can be pro-active.

“Golf Sense” Book Review

Alexander Technique is the foundation that Roy Palmer uses to present a new way learn about golf in his new book, “Golf Sense”. I’m a fellow Alexander teacher that Roy has asked to review his book.

Golf Sense shows off the tremendous effectiveness of what has been reputed to be the trickiest subject to present in writing – Alexander Technique. For those not familiar with the subject, it is a body learning skill from the performing arts field that teaches mastery, effortlessness & how to undo what gets learned by accident. What makes Alexander Technique different from mere philosophy or other motivational admonishments is that it has a physical discipline based on empirical inquiry that works in the incremental moments of actual performance. Golf Sense discusses “being in the moment” as a state of “Being In The Zone.”

Many other books that integrate Alexander Technique with teaching a specific skill merely introduce; falling short of daring to actually teaching the subject in writing. There are two good reasons for this caution: Alexander teachers offer specific tips about what their students do unintentionally that is tailored to that particular student. Secondly, the teacher physically takes students by hands-on guided motion into how to tap the unknown for new insights, detouring accidental self-imposed limitations as they are happening. Because of these two significant benefits, most writers assume it’s not possible to teach the real Alexander Technique with mere words.

Palmer listened to what readers asked for and complained that was lacking in other Alexander Technique books. In doing so, Palmer has originated multiple practical answers to questions that work to educate the thoughtful student who will actually conduct his advised experiments. He doesn’t shy away from the really challenging mysteries, such as:

How come my game gets inconsistent when I know better?

How come analyzing the previous shot seems to spoil the next shot?

How can I avoid or get rid of the dreaded yips?

Why does analyzing what happened after a shot that did not work seem to spoil the following attempt?

Golf Sense is also a book with a sense of humor. The other sense that Palmer communicates exceptionally well about  is an unconsidered sixth sense. This is the often-ignored perceptual sense about relative effort and spacial orientation that is presumed to be  included in the sense of touch – but is not often discussed.

Palmer presents illustrated examples that communicate from many points of view; the frustrated golfer, the beginner, the pressured performer, the brain scientist, the ruthless competitor, the martial artist, even the consciousness woo-woo. Mysteries that don’t make sense about why you can’t get your golf ball to obey will become clear and reasonable by the time you finish this book, as the title promises.

If you actually conduct Palmer’s suggested exercises, (rather than merely reading this book) pretty much this is the closest you can get to having your own Alexander Technique teacher at your back for the price of a book. It’s not too abstract to substitute almost any other skill involving a ball in the sequence of learning that Roy Palmer presents. Because of this fantastic application for any sport, I would suggest this book for any sportsman who is curious to learn Alexander Technique principles – even if you never want to learn golf!

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?

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.

Can Alexander Technique help deal with addiction issues?

There is only an indirect connection between Alexander’s ideas and those that specialize in dealing with addiction. Certainly it would be worth exploring, but I don’t personally know any Alexander teachers would seek out working with alcoholics as a group by choice yet. Let me know if you do.

Thinking about the connection between addition and Alexander Technique, what comes to mind is there was a bumper sticker on Marj Barstow’s car that said “Easy Does It.” I think that saying that came from AA, but when I asked about it, she said she came by it purely because of what it said and it didn’t imply that she had a connection to AA. …But you must remember, people who are connected to Alcoholics Anonymous are sworn to uphold privacy for other members, thus the name.

There is a reason that people who studied with Marj Barstow had a reply when asked about how they used Alexander Technique in their own lives – whereas those who were trained in the UK only could think of doing another lesson with their teachers. Marj Barstow made her students think about how people used language – when they were talking and thinking to themselves. She also made you remember how responsible you need to be when you gave orders or directions to other people. She was the first teacher to regard speaking and putting your experience into words as the beginning expression of the first part of mindful action on your own. Marj believed that thought is the first part of movement. Previous to Marj, talking was pretty much ignored as a vehicle of teaching A.T… and even A.T. teachers would merely point at Alexander’s books if you asked any questions about ideas. Marj would answer your intellectual questions if you didn’t pull your head and body down while you asked them. If you did pull down, she’d consider the manner closed and it was time to change the subject until you were ready and willing for the next challenge of doing better at taking on these challenges at another time.

How Far Is Too Far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know how this turns out for you!

Learning Alexander Technique Without A Teacher Can Be Thorny


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

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

Alexander Technique Simplified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noticing Assumptions

What do you do when you notice an assumption?

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

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

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


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

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

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

Qualities of Attention

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

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

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

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

Alexander Technique Compared to Assumptions of Psychology

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