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!

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Snoring Observations

Can a person change their habitual routines  – while sleeping to prevent themselves from snoring? For most, that’s a pretty laughable sense of personal responsibility. It’s one of the odd “features” of Alexander Technique – that we are “responsible” for actions that are innate or autonomous.

Because using Alexander Technique requires awareness, I had assumed that it was not possible to use it when asleep. Sleep is a time when habitual routines have wrested control away from the possibility of conscious control…or so I thought. After some experimenting, now I think differently.

I advise my A.T. students to use their ability to influence their actions when they begin an action. It is the way someone begins an action that “sets the stage” for how it is possible to continue it. To create many “beginnings” is one of the easiest ways to practice and get the benefits of whatever you know about how to use A.T.

But – I had started snoring – when I never did it previously. This is a very common issue affecting sleep quality – but more important, it affects whoever else might be in the same room, (…or maybe in the next room if the snoring is loud enough!)

There are many logical reasons for snoring – a low grade allergy to dust or aging pillows, a reaction to smog, (or VOG in Hawaii, where I live.) There’s the possibility of gaining of weight and the sag of “aging turkey neck.” Maybe even sleeping with too many covers on or not drinking enough water for proper hydration or a low grade indigestion could also be factors.

After having addressed some of these, I wondered if a tendency to react by unnecessarily clearing my throat while asleep could be at fault?  Since when I’m sleeping nobody else exists,  of course “snorgling” seems like a good idea. Can someone have bright ideas while sleeping?

I decided to conduct an experiment, testing how far this A.T. idea of “personal responsibility” would work. Could I use A.T. to address my new snoring problem while asleep or partly asleep?

I couldn’t imagine that projecting suggestions would be effective while sleeping, (we call this “directing” in A.T.) I decided that giving the sleepless, disturbed party permission to poke me when I snored might work as pure animal training.  Fortunately, I fall back asleep easily, so all I needed to do after being alerted was to notice my head was scrunched in some way and undo that. Usually I had managed to scrunch up my throat area, causing my nasal passages to narrow. Undoing that part of my throat cleared the obstruction  – and I’d stop snoring. (Tried the “breath-rite” strips too, but they didn’t particularly solve my tendency to unconsciously tighten my throat.)

Another thing I discovered about my own snoring (that may be useful to others) is that snoring had to do with my jaw relationship to my throat.

It’s pretty much impossible for *me* to snore if my jaw is positioned forward. ( so my lower teeth assume a forward “under-bite” over my top jaw.) This suggests that designing a chin strap that pushes the jaw forward might work for others.  Of course, to use a remedy such as this, you’d have to already have a pretty free or “slack” jaw. I’d already spent a lifetime practicing for this slack-jaw freedom, because my own jaw wasn’t shaped by inherited shape in a very advantageous way.

Sure enough, there’s a “chin strap” product like this! (Of course, it’s ‘way overpriced for what it is. Being too close to a loud snorer makes those who don’t snore completely insane, making them willing to pay any price.)

My confused bedmate could not imagine why I could use this remedy of being woken at some moments and not others. Neither could I. Evidently I needed this “animal training” for around a month before it worked reliably.  Now my tendency to snore can be redirected – without me waking up too much. Not sure if my ability to solve this issue involves any discoveries that would work for anyone else. There are so many reasons for snoring.

(Checking out the chin strap solution might be worthwhile thought – if you do not have an issue with jaw tension.)

Perhaps, we can now add that A.T. can be applied as a remedy for snoring to the long list of advantages where it’s effective?

 

Trajectory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt Of Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Uphill

Getting Past the Ruts
Getting Past the Ruts

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chairwork

The desire to do something that matters in an enjoyable way seems to be at the core of learning Alexander Technique.  – Jean Louis-Rodrigues in 1982

Today I wanted to write a bit about why “Chairwork” became a classic way of teaching Alexander Technique.  Classically, Alexander Technique was taught to me by having me sit in a chair and stand again over it, over and over and over…for years. The priorities of chair work are to rise from the chair and sit in it again while being effortlessly in balance within any part of the motion.

Now that I am the teacher, I don’t choose to teach using that form as a teaching activity. For me, this was because there are good reasons I discovered later to not repeat anything over and over.  Plus, having the student choose the action was more fun. It matched F.M. Alexander’s motive to make a hobby, art or passion of his possible and to continue learning what he wanted to be doing indefinitely, despite his serious problem issues that came from his own breathing issues and misunderstanding his teachers.

Alexander Technique is an indirect, abstract discipline. It is meant to be applied to whatever you’d like to improve by making anything you’re doing easier to do. For instance, people who are far from being able to look anywhere near “normal” posture can be doing A.T.

One of the misunderstandings that students have with chair work is to mistake the content for the activity, to think Alexander Technique was “sit up straight school.” There is no “ideal posture.” Anyone can do Alexander Technique well, even if they are physically bone-twisted from multiple other injuries or chronic diseases. A.T. teaches how to make happen an intentional response to change oneself. This is usually for the goal of moving effortlessly, but for an actor that priority would be “to be in character.  To do this, we need to use some sort of physical example so it can be shown factually we did as we intended…even if that outward action is lying on the floor to take a break, to solve a maths problem, dig a hole or to gimp across the street while the light is still green.

The classic A.T. teacher’s selection of the action of sitting a chair and standing as the medium for teaching is pretty much arbitrary. It was probably selected from having limited space for teaching originally.  It was preserved as a form for teaching probably because of the tremendous respect of students for their first generation Alexander teachers.

But in fact, any movement will do for an A.T. teaching example. It’s best to choose an action that deals with changing balance. (This is mostly why rising from sitting and sitting in a chair qualifies.) Any action that requires balance to change orientation will exhibit all of the personal strategies involved in movement decision-making on a fundamental and often hidden level of physical coordination. In the tiniest microcosm of movements are the metaphors for the preferences of habit. My favorite staple for teaching using a mundane activity is walking. 

Plus, it’s a useful thing to study sitting in chairs. It’s been scientifically proven that sitting for long periods is hazardous to health. If we can sit actively with poise, grace and stamina, we can do demanding and additional activities with a high degree of repetition without the potential for cumulative injury.

Because of the dangers of the lack of the ability to suspend a goal, having the teacher pick the activity they’re most familiar with is a good thing too. For many reasons, it doesn’t matter what motion that gets chosen as a medium for learning A.T. This is because the action is merely an example, an experiment.

It helps if what you choose as a goal is an activity you don’t care about. This is because then your desire to “attain the goal” won’t be so strong and you’ll be able to practice it without intense desire getting in the way.

But it’s also really useful and fun to pick a very challenging situation for using Alexander Technique. Otherwise, you’ll not know if you will be able to suspend a passionately held goal. You might not know whether or not your intent for excellence may be playing out as you imagine is possible.

Why High Content?

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

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

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

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

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

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