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!

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?

Stories Show Need

For decades of my life I have specialized in adopting rather unpopular and sometimes “outdated” as well as completely new “cutting edge” ideas about ways of doing things. The value that attracts me has been that well-placed effort has a greater benefit and it is of greater benefit than a massive amount of misdirected effort. Less of doing what a person does not want will creatively provide a person with more of what they do want – as an effortless byproduct. This is especially true when small tendencies add up cumulatively over time.

These ideas of how to carry out my values of “doing less, more selectively brings more benefit” seems to be tricky to present to others for various reasons. Many other topics also posses this same challenge. Of course, this challenge of how “less is more” is at odds with the prevailing values of my American culture.
The value of timing a small effort, rather than offering a huge effort in an untimely way is an extremely interesting topic to explore. The interesting part is how to determine what is the appropriate time? It also has ramifications for the health of the planet, etc. The American ideals of “more and more is better and better” is going to have to undergo a significant change, if environmental concerns are going to be successfully addressed.

There are some factors in tactfully introducing an unpopular subject. It is handy to have foreknowledge of the various debate tactics people tend to use to dismiss the validity of your topic that you’d like people to value and/or take advantage of. With their mistaken assumptions about what something IS, people tend to want to fit what is unfamiliar into something familiar that they already know.

One of these debate tactics of dismissal is to say, “Oh, that old thing. We’ve already considered it. ” (Of course a rebuttal might be, “Perhaps there is a reason why that old thing hasn’t already gone away? Because people find it useful after all this time. So perhaps you mistakenly dismissed it before you learned enough about it to discern it’s value?”) Another categorization tactic: “That idea is exactly like this other thing…”

People when they find something new, they want to familiarize it. Perhaps having names for these debate tactics in a list would help us dispense with having to grapple with them over and over again? The debate model is an overused one. There are so many other thinking skills available than debate argument, such as lateral thinking.

OK, so HOW do you address uncovering problems that people may not want to know they have? How do you delicately and tactfully open “a can of worms” for people? Part of the reason people shrink back from admitting they have a particular problem is that they would not know how to solve it if they did acknowledge it!

When it comes to new processes, new ways of thinking, new ways of considering perception, new ideas, new inventions, these problems are common in presenting nearly everything unique, interesting and novel. These issues are also present in formerly useful practices and/or skills that were historically passed up, ignored and possibly forgotten. People might want to resurrect these “tried and true” solutions when the supposedly “better” improvement turns out to have unforeseen drawbacks.

So, I asked a very successful speaker how to deal with it. She’s Barbara Sher. She is a career counselor and speaker with multiple books under her belt in print for thirty years who now writing another book going into depth about the various reasons why certain unique groups of people do not figure out how to become a success. What she is describing as various ways of dealing with “resistance” sounds quite a bit like “inhibition.”

Her advice to me about presenting unusual topics was simple. The key presenting the solutions to unusual problems is to tell stories about why someone would need what I had to offer. These stories would illustrate why someone would want to bother to learn new ways of dealing with what has been more expediently dismissed or ignored. These stories would be about the often forgotten ways how people answered questions and designed solutions that were somewhat short-sighted at a time when they did not know what else to do.  Now circumstances have changed that encouraged new ways of doing things. Of course, eventually these “improvements” that are being designed now will also need to change.

These funny situations would illustrate universal human quandaries and paradoxes. You tell these stories and everyone laughs or cries or both. They can be self-deprecating stories or about other people who struggled and lost. But the common thread, which you spell out are that people dismissed any possibility of changing these problems because they assumed “there wasn’t a solution anyway.”

Then you offer your solutions that specifically addresses the problem. This creates hope for people that possibly there is a way out (or a return to previously valued ways) for the people listening. Their frustration level is not as great as they imagined at first, because if others have succeeded, so can they.

My story comes from a playground of my distant past when I was raising someone else’s six year old. The kid had done a pretty amazing series of moves on the monkey bar built on the side of a swing, sliding down to twisting into a wonderfully elegant twisting dismount from the swing. I had seen his antics, but he wanted to show his dad, who missed his pretty cool trick. Of course, when his dad was watching, the trick the boy had done the first time didn’t work out the same way. The poor kid was quite confused and embarassed. He had just done the trick once, why could he not do it again?

So – I’m collecting stories now. Little stories. Let me know if you have a good one.

Wright or Rong?

In schools these days, kids are being graded depending on if they are wrong or right. Many times this has to do with how well they read the mind of the teacher – not if they responded to the question. In my era of education, it was O.K. to misunderstand the question – it was the response that mattered, not the content of the response. Now students get graded on whether they understood the question itself!

Guess that it’s an advantage to understand the intent of the questioner. Then your boss doesn’t get mad because they told you to do something inarticulately. But where is the creative misunderstanding that generates new solutions?

How can adults imagine they are preparing kids for the future by not allowing creative responses that often come from misunderstanding the nature of the question?

In practicing Alexander Technique, we deliberately make a point of putting aside sorting for wrong and right. This is because a person can only sort for wrong or right based on what they know. Sometimes we call that intention to avoid “right & wrong” as a deliberate act or prevention or suspension. If we do not stop automatic urges to conform and “do the right thing,” then nothing new has a chance to happen.

In using and learning Alexander Technique, exploring and noting what is new that might happen is the point. We want to put off coming to a conclusion before we’ve gotten more information. How much information is enough? Enough to use in some way. What we’re after is to have some new experiences so there are many interesting pieces of perceptual information availble to interpret with. We note the ones that don’t fit our previous experiences more carefully than what is expected. We like to think about what has happened that was unexpected. We would come to conclusions about the new information as a separate action from experimenting.

Generally, the idea is that, so you can have more freedom, you must move. The directions you can move in are somewhere different from the other direction your habit wants to take you when you curl up, twist, collapse or tighten. Sometimes you find that this “somewhere different” is also a habit – so you choose a different response or motion. We’ve learned from Alexander Technique that more room to move is created if the motion starts headfirst – so you can experiment with that.

Given the pervasive quality of sensory distortion that getting used to states of being gives us, we know that a person registers kinetic changes rather than a state of being. This means that as you improve your freedom of motion, you’ll feel a “catch” where you are stopping the motion. So if you feel yourself moving the most from your ribs, then it is probably your ribs that are the most tight and set by your habits. As you undo the habit, something must move – so include whatever has jumped out at you that seems to be stuck with your intention to move again. Eventually you’ll be able to do this more often for yourself with only a thought and a very subtle opening out in response to your intention.

Everyone sets themselves into their habits a little differently – but, as you noticed, there are common themes of misuse. Get familar with your “themes of misuse.” Practice forgiveness. Appreciate the reasons you know about for doing what you do. Acknowledge that in some way, this misuse of yours must have answered a need in the past. It’s still appropriate at some times, nothing is “bad”. Over time a habit can “go bad because repeating anything can swing to extremes. Things get “bad” if you stay stuck in them. To the extent that you can come “unstuck,” then you will not suffer any possibly extreme, painful effects. Of course, as you can move easier in general, then you will be better off over time. Of course, we get better at whatever we practice. So practice what you want to do. Minimize and leave behind what you don’t want.

Try laying down on your back with your knees up on something comfortable and talk yourself through your experiments about freeing motion and see what happens. If you then notice another part of yourself getting stiff – see if you can stop that by including the stiff part of yourself into your slow motion experiments.

Once you start re-distributing your dynamic capacity for movement, the tendency is to try to “keep” yourself in that “better” position. You can hurt yourself doing that, so it’s better to go back into your habit and then move out of it again, doing what you did before… and describe what happens. Then rest before you try it again.

Try taking yourself into an action with that new way of moving as a beginning to start the movement. Think of this new way of unfolding as a way to “launch yourself” into motion. You can tell what happened by the quality of the motion – the sound of your voice – how heavy your feet hit the floor, etc.

So – the next time you’re experimenting like this – ask yourself, “what happened before I noticed this?” …and, “what did I do just before that?” and keep asking the questions…as far back as your awareness was awake enough to sense or remember. Your memory will get better – and, since habits are usually so repetitive, you’ll be able to trace your attention back to what you did, further and further.

The ability to sustain your perceptive attention is key. Leave out ‘trying’ to ‘make’ yourself do something you already have in mind. When you consider it, you don’t really know what will happen as you move toward freedom. You don’t know how far you’ll go, you don’t know what the effects might be. You don’t know what your experimenting is going to tell you – it may be something you’ve never noticed before.You merely can ask questions – move in a new direction – with easy qualities, with new timing, perhaps in new sequences, and then find out what happened and describe it to yourself.

From Wikipedia.org discussion pages…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflexes & Appropriateness

Reflexes are very handy. They are ready-made programs designed to deal with the recognition of the “need” for them. Reflexes are the ability to train skills, in essence, when chained together. The brain is superb at recognizing, but when the recognition comes, you can fire off these chains of skills and get amazing skills to happen.

The brain is superb at recognition. In fact, it’s tricky to suspend this recognition “talent” when I am facing something completely unique. I have to compensate for the time of arrival of what is new because my brain wants it to be, perform or do something I already know – or something “like” what I already know. The more I know, the more there is a need for getting these things I know out of the way so I can respond instead of react to unique circumstances.

Knowing this makes me understand how someone could say “is any
(psychological) reflex useful?”

Uniqueness is sort of delicate, unnoticable, fragile and elusive – because of those characteristics, a really new experience or new information is easy to miss. I believe that insight occurs when you note a new experience and begin to think about what that could mean for you.

Reflexes will go off conditioned by previous experience. If the situation
externally is similar to what you have experienced it before, you will succeed. There is always the possibility of a cross-over; that a skill acquired in one area will possibly apply to another new area.

If not, you’re gambling on that your previous experience will hopefully
apply. If the situation is definitely not applicable to your habitual reflex – you’ll fail, or not do so well.

So to my thinking, the problem isn’t the reaction – it’s the skill of
determining appropriateness and the possible need for experimentation. These determinations are based on sharpness of perception – Think that’s why we hold up proprioception as a important concept. Proprioception is shaped by perception that is becoming adapted to repetitious stimuli. It’s our responsibility to “refresh” our proprioception.

Some Good Questions

I love “good” questions that refresh my thinking, such as:

What timing? What direction does it go? What qualities does it have? What does sequence have to do with it?

What fits? What matches? What contrasts might reveal distinctions? What do the distinctions do, how do they function?

What functions are going on and how can I describe them? What are the factors? What actions are a priority in sequence?  What operates this way and why does it work like that? What point, what need does this function fulfill? How will the meaning I assign affect certain actions and outcomes? What does this action result in over time?
…All this and more questions make learning richly fascinating.

Questions Answered from answerbag

Is there any evidence–scientific, not anecdotal–that the Alexander Technique works for people experiencing back pain?

Check out some of the references on Wikipedia.org in the Alexander Technique article there. See also the Society of Alexander Technique Teachers website, where this research is collected that is being done or has been done. http://www.stat.org.uk/pages/research.htm
The short answer is not enough research exists. At this point, there are related studies which supports its effectiveness for back pain issues. A.T. is commonly applied for that purpose, (among others,) in the UK. The skills of describing the qualities and functions of bodily movement that Alexander teachers possess are corroborated in gait research lab measurements. If someone who is considering A.T. for back pain was dismayed by the lack of its proof, perhaps taking their prospective teacher to a gait research lab would convince.

Alexander Technique specializes in learning to undo overcompensation. It addresses how people tend to make up habits to adapt to repeating circumstances, which so commonly lack foresight of cumulative effects. When compared to surgery or other “solutions” offered by the traditional medical community, a course of twenty to forty lessons is a bargain. However, it does take an educational commitment; it won’t work if you don’t practice it.

The medical community tends to describe and name back problems without knowing their cause. In some cases, A.T. has successfully reversed back problems – the problems that are due to what A.T. teachers term “misuse” of the body. It is possible to get the benefits of A.T. even though your bones are structurally malformed, because A.T. principles work no matter what the present situation is. In deformities, A.T. principles may only mitigate issues, but these slight improvements can mean significant differences to the student.

I have personally just witnessed an Alexander teacher’s x-ray who had to have the last vertebrae of his tail bone removed due to it being crushed in a car accident. The anticipated collapse of the vertebrae above it has not occurred, and inevitably with it, serious pain and back problems have also not happened. His doctors do not want to hear why this is the case, which the victim believes is due to his practice of Alexander Technique. This is yet another anecdotal evidence in support of the effectiveness of A.T. that will not be recorded. I’d be happy to put you in touch with this person, and you may see his x-ray and hear his story.

Outward Manner of Moving Affects Internal Change

Yesterday, I got to be a substitute teacher for a class of singers who were part of a workshop that included Alexander Technique. In common with most A.T. teachers, I agree that to be able to use A.T. principles for oneself after only a few lessons is very, very unusual. It usually takes at least ten private lessons to gain an appreciation, and most commonly, up to forty private lessons to be able to use the discipline confidently. This is because of the tricky nature of so many of our habits. My challenge was to present Alexander Technique in an hour and a half!

Got the idea of using the action of nodding “Yes” as an activity to illustrate what the motion of “Forward” is in the Alexander Technique lexicon of – “Forward and Up.”  Saw an additional value in using this action partly because of a study I read about in a book called “The Tipping Point.” In this book, Gladwell surmised that receptivity to an idea (even one at odds with the personal interests of the subject) is more often accepted if someone is told to act and move as if they do agree. I saw this study as proof that external mannerisms connect with internal thought processes, whether people are aware of it or not. It seems to verify that change works from the outside in, as well as from the inside out.

It also made sense to me that doing this head nodding was a useful activity to illustrate how the almost unnoticed “accident” happening in nearly everyone almost of a very slight compensation for balance could act as a way of effortlessly launching any more overt motion or intention. I used the example of how a car’s clutch is used to start the car moving, noting how slipping the clutch will wear out the mechanisms prematurely.

Wouldn’t want to make it difficult for the resident A.T. teacher, having to deal with all this head waggling I had the class doing! However, the experiment seemed to be mostly a success, undoubtedly because it was a very intelligent group who seemed to be quite excellent at paying attention. From the comments they made, it seemed many of them had the ability to abstract A.T. principles from specific examples. They seemed to realize that we were using an overt motion as a beginning training-wheel; as children are first learning to write are taught with large motions of fat chalk before they are expected to gain the digital control of using smaller writing instruments.

One woman in particular had a very impressive and disciplined concentration of thinking ability that I could see would allow her to continue to rapidly grasp A.T. strategies. (I hope she can continue with A.T. study.) She had been instructed, along with the group, that during this “head nodding” motion, she was to watch for the tendency of her body to “come loose” as her head rounded the top of the arc of the apex of a “tipping” point of balance. As she experimented with my help with hands-on, she naturally chunked down the nodding movement of her head into ratchet-like increments, extending the mechanical metaphor of gently letting out the clutch to start motion. I believe that this thinking strategy was an expression of her attention seeking in each increment for the tipping point to occur. What a splendid idea that was!

Working with her, I was immediately struck how a sense of rhythm would be very handy in using one’s power to choose beyond habit. The more choice moments are created during a motion, the more choices become available. This process of incrementally pausing during a motion turns out to be very handy. In fact, pausing to re-decide against habit during motion is codified into A.T. as way to practice it, in a term called “inhibition.”

Selecting a rhythmic moment during a motion to add in the suggestion of “head moves, body follows” would be very useful. Perhaps focusing on teaching a sense of rhythm or timing would make progress learning A.T. faster? Maybe the effect of playing a metronome or music in the background to the pace of a skill would enhance learning ability? Perhaps the crucial moments of choice would be marked by the rhythmic beat instead of be slipping away in a blur of goal attainment.

It also got me thinking of the teaching style of Patrick MacDonald, who used to have the nickname of “The Mechanic.” It was not until I had lessons with MacDonald that I really experienced the meaning of the directions of both forward and up. With his hands on my head and neck, he also directed movement in increments; each motion was very clearly, forward…and then up, forward, then up; like clockwork.

It was fascinating, the common thread between MacDonald’s sophisticated body of hands-on work that had evolved during his whole lifetime and this singer’s first insight of how to use her attention in one of her first few Alexander lessons she was having with me.

What Attracted Me To Alexander Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

New Alexander Class Starting Feb. 25th 2008

I’m happy to announce a new Alexander Technique class through through www.waimeaeducation.com that will be starting soon. It’s starting near the end of this month on Monday evening February 25th at 6pm and continuing on Thurs evening at the same time for three weeks – six classes. These classes are a real deal if you have never studied Alexander Technique before for reasons of the cost of private lessons which cost from $65 – $100 each; these introductory classes are only $10. each! Because Alexander Technique takes some time to learn, required attendance is for at least three weeks of class, (six classes.) So for less of the cost of one private lesson, you can get six classes in Alexander Technique! What a deal!

The location is in Kamuela, Hawaii, (in a town with two names because the “real” name of Waimea gets confused with a Waimea on the island of Oahu.) The Waimea Education building is across Mamalahoa Hwy. from the Parker Ranch Square main entrance.

This class is specially designed for seniors and their possible needs and pacing. If you have any questions about the classes, please feel free to ask your questions in the comments section. I’ll come up with some answers and we can put them together…just like last time.

Addiction and Emotional Reactions

When I first began to study AT, I was living with a person who was in Frank Ottiwell and Giora Pinkas’ first training course named Kenneth Feld. Kenny used to live in Chicago and had lessons with Goddard Binkley; Kenny told me that Binkley dealt with addiction, anger, etc. by encouraging students to shout reactive phrases while he worked on them with A.T. I assumed it was so the student could refuse the reaction while they were doing the activity, but later I realized that doing this uncovered assumptions for the student about emotion at an alarming rate! At the time, I thought that Binkley wanted his students to shout the words emphatically without the associative reaction behind them, but I wasn’t sure. So I decided to try this some time.

When another visiting AT teacher came out to Bolinas to visit us, all of decided to try this idea out. The way it transformed the point of view of the emotion sort of sucked the obcession out of the act and made the shouting devoid of the usual emotional motives, content or certainty of righteousness in a way that must be experienced to really be believed.

Since the comments shouted out in this manner were entirely void of the stimulus for becoming angered, hurt, self righteous or defensive, many questions from experimenting in this way followed.

What am I up to here and how does it work?

I seem to be making a jump into reacting despite there being no external stimulus; when does this jump happen and what is going on with my wanting to do it?

Is there an assumption I am making underneath the sudden need for the reaction?

Do I know where, the history or why this particular reaction come from in me? Do I need to know the history first in order to trace it back to when it happens and sense what is going on with me there at that moment?
It was also sort of a scary experiment; freeing up the expression of reactive anger, for instance, made a person seem to those witnessing as really, really crazy and unpredictable and actually angry. As in acting, there were many other things going on that nobody could guess at, proving that there is no way to determine projections without checking with the person who is their own only authority on the subject. You can often witness how most people have some part of their reactions under control, even though the anger is poking through uncontrolled. Take away that degree of control by providing ways to free expression as Alexander Technique provides, and the power of the raw emotion comes out first.

This practice allowed me to “show my anger” when I had deemed it to be effective for a certain communicative purpose without being trapped by the loop of the emotion itself shutting down my abilities to problem solve and observe on the fly. I was now also able to drop the anger at a moment’s choice.

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.

Explaining How Habits Can Be Undone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franis Engel

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

Asking Really Great Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are A.T. teacher trainings 3 years long?

Why are A.T. teacher training courses 1600 + hours?

I believe the time sequence was set at the first round of training courses by F. M. Alexander himself. When he accepted his first round of trainees, he didn’t know how long they would require to learn what he had to offer. The first graduate was Marj Barstow, who set the limit for the fastest learner because she already had great natural coodination as a dance teacher when she joined Alexander’s first training course. (I’ve seen movies of her from that time.)

Basically, to practice and teach A.T. takes so long to learn because of how habits of self-preservation seem to need to be soothed from their necessity to freak out when these habits discover something completely new that transforms the status quo, and sometimes completely eliminates the need for the somewhat self-important habit to be there at all. It’s a sort of backlash feature built in to protect the species from going to far, too fast and risking all with disasterous results. Dryly put, it seems to work for learners similar to bureaucracy, which can so completely take on a life of its own as soon as bureaucrazies are created.

Perhaps evolutionary wise, the people who preferred safety and security had the chance to pass on their genes alot more commonly than those who took chances and learned faster.

I believe that the most effective way to learn AT is to attend an every day residential workshop intensive that lasts more than three weeks and offers attendees at least a mini-lesson every day. I have read that somehow the three week period is a golden duration of time that significantly breaks the urge to repeat the cycle of habitual repetition. I do not believe that an AT workshop exists that lasts that long now since 1996? when Marj Barstow has died who used to offer them. Her legacy of the many students who she trained to continue her approach still do a summer workshop, but the duration only a fraction of what it used to
be. Given the results of this study about how long it takes to form new habits, I think this length of time of classes is important to respect.

Franis Engel


   

Be Specific

Many AT teachers find it’s important to carefully say what you mean when you are giving yourself any sort of directives. This is because you will do what you tell yourself to do. It also means that you can mistakenly tell yourself to do what you do not want to be doing!

I have heard that this phenomena comes from an ancient part of the reptilian brain that does not receive linguistic qualifiers. So if you state that you do not want to do this thing, your brain gets the image message of doing it, despite you qualifying your intentions by saying “do not.”

In that way, it’s very good advice to be positive, without any Polly-Anna or self delusion involved. If you state what you are about to do in the positive sense rather than saying it in the negative, you have a much better chance of fulfilling your objectives for many logical and empirical reasons. As you outline for yourself what you are doing, you are being specific about the steps involved, planning strategies and providing for damage control only if necessary.

If you tell people your positive motives for your actions, you’re more likely to get cooperation. When people don’t understand why you’re doing something mysterious to them, their small-minded negative suspicions are probably being justified by self-preservation.

I believe it’s an assumption of advanced educational debate techniques, art critics, news and dramatic presentations that objectivity must always be negatively critical to be valuable and valid. You will find that it is much easier to tear something apart by focusing on a derogatory feature than it is to create options and move out of personal limitations. By some people, going for positive, easy progress is defined by our culture as “trite” or “lucky,” depending on the subculture. I think this is because it is no surprise that you get whatever you practice. If you take it upon yourself to restate negatively defined objectives in the positive as I’ve recommended above, you’ll notice that just doing this much takes a certain deliberate creative ability that is sometimes tricky to muster up in the light of how you feel at the time. Intense emotions make it a challenge to be creative. Some people find it tricky to switch from editor to artist or inventor and back again.

Perhaps it would be useful to take away the value judgment elements from the assessment processing if you suspect there is something wrong with you? Leaving out the value of whether you “like” something or not that seems to be happening is useful because then you are not sorting or matching for preference, defining your criteria for success or defining your priorities (or self delusion) while you are making observations. Let the evaluation period be a different stage from the observation time. If you are making observations before you have made any changes, then it is likely all you will be able to observe is your habits and what you do not want. If you decide whether you “like” what happened after you have made a change or run an experiment for yourself, then you have more of a chance to have something new happen.

So rather than “good” and “bad” use, think about your desired criteria: which is exactly what brings about “easier” effortlessness. As you see “difficult” use around you (which is so much more common than “easy” use,) noticing people’s coordination of any sort can be a reminder to remember to use A.T. in gratitude. Such as, “wow, I can see how that person is so down, I’m so glad that I know how to move out of that example!” Then as you know enough to
recognize “easy” natural use, (rare as it is!) the elegance in that person’s use stands out like a spotlight is on them amidst a crowd of confusion.

Is there too much “Polly-Anna” in that strategy for you? How about: “Although I see difficult strain in many people, I guess I can’t shut the door on knowing better now that I’ve opened it, so I may as well move easier now myself.”

Naturally Beautiful Use

Rarely, some grownups have “full Alexander ease” in every
move they make, without studying Alexander Technique
or ever knowing about it.

balineseheadbalance.jpg

I’ve developed an eye for spotting those people. They stand out like beacons in a crowd for me, well, especially if they’re carrying something on their heads. I make a point of getting to know them, if they’ll let me and if I can.

However, being able to do something for yourself, and being able to teach someone else how to do it for themselves is a separate skill. Most of those people with beautiful innate effortlessness have no idea why other people do not have as easy of a time learning to do things as they do. They can make lousy teachers.

I have watched some people with great natural use go
into the A.T. training program. Their biggest challenges
were to learn how to communicate and to use their
attention, observation & compassion. It was still a long
learning process for them to become teachers – even
though they had “great hands” from the start.

Some of the best A.T. teachers that I’ve had lessons
from or worked with were those who were wounded or
misused themselves and recovered. These teachers had
much motivation, appreciation and compassion about the
issues involved in traveling toward mastering their “use.”
Some had to come a long way into becoming more
functional, perhaps much farther than another trainee who
starts teacher training without being in pain from “misuse.”

A.T. is not a perfected bone structure ideal or ideal
formula of “how to move.” AT is about how to move toward
ways that are easier for you from wherever you are now at.
Someone with twisted bone structure can still do that well
enough to teach. A.T. has been taught from a wheelchair.
Otherwise, professional associations for A.T. would only
allow teachers to join who were a “perfect example” of
an ideal physical specimen.

For some, standards of excellence increase in relation
to percieved differences as you improve. That’s why
teachers often discuss how far they have come and some
deplore how far they have yet to go. Turns out that
it doesn’t matter if people never arrive at the
transcendant goal of improving their use absolutely
because, the important part is they’re on the path.

What’s wrong with making statement like, “I’ve learned
that?” Does that statement necessarily imply an end to
learning? How would you know the relative truth of
that statement if you haven’t met in person whoever
said that?

Good use isn’t all that rare to spot, once you learn
to notice it. The other day I had to be driving slow
past someone squatting on a construction road worksite
who was measuring something. I watched this worker
come up off his heels from the ground to standing in
the most beautiful way – and squat down again. He must
have done that move a hundred times a day. He found
the easiest way to do it on his own.

Was it in Direction magazine that I read about the men
who work as porters in India who work 10 hr. days in
constant “monkey?” Some chiropractor did x-rays of
these men in this profession and found that most of
them had no spinal degrading that starts in Westerners
after age 18 – even though these porters were over forty!

It’s very rare in our society that people would want
to and do sustain good use in how they move – but some
people can do just that, whether they learn it or do
it naturally.

Articulating & Describing Qualities

I’ve always had the ability to observe. At 16, I was invited into a inventor’s problem solving ‘club’ after I untangled a fisherman’s line at Sunset Cliffs in the dark. With a flashlight, I carefully observed the mass of tangled line for about five minutes and then pulled one thread; the whole mess came untangled from that one thread I noticed was the problem. That thankful fisherman was a member of a “Think Tank” who conscripted my participation. My function in that inventor’s group was easy for me to fulfill; they used me to figure out how to present and explain what they were inventing by answering some of my questions as they told me about their inventions.

From that experience, and others, I realized that articulating properties and describing qualities is the stuff that you want to do when you’re problem solving. Too often our assumptions are clumped up into concepts or conclusions that we don’t remember ever deciding. It can be tricky to extract the original observations that led to the assumptions, especially if they were accepted from someone else’s conclusion in the distant past. It’s tricky to be so caught up in the sequences you followed that you can’t abstract or simplify them. Or you can’t go in the other direction to analyse and break apart to discover or describe the crucial factors and say what they mean for other people.

Of course, the more flexible you are at discovering what you are leaving out, the more you don’t need those other people who are good at other strategies to fill in where you are weak by using your innate assumptions. However, a group of people are invaluable for this reason, because there seems to be always something valuable that you didn’t think of yourself.

Suspension functions as a precursor to analysis for me and that’s why it’s so often valuable. Suspension is a sort of subtraction process where I wipe the slate of my mind clean and act “As If” I’m starting over, without some level of my conclusions about results. I imagine suspension as sort of an onion, where I can undo ever more complex levels of assumptions as far down as I want to go. Often it’s not useful to start all the way back at square one – I usually need some level of functional assumption to be practical.
F. M. Alexander, originator of Alexander TechniqueSometimes I use a stepping stone to generate results in problem solving – some sort of way to break up my preconceptions and loosen up my attachment to gaining results – and then put the results together. For instance I find that reversing sequences is strange enough to get me to think about something differently enough. Essentially to mix up my thinking, I often would experiment with what I consider to be direction, qualities, sequences, timing of whatever I was dealing with.

In service of teaching Alexander Technique, I’ve made up those four categories that are useful for describing observations and I’m often struck with how they can be broadly applied as I so often do.

In A.T. we’re dealing with observing motion – and as the teacher I would try and get someone to use them in a sentence as they described their own motion. (They can be used in any order)

  • Qualities, (after describing them, what sort of value of quality do we prefer to apply and why prefer it? This is a sort of making of a hypothesis or question that helps us to have something to pay attention to when it changes.)
  • Direction, (once we describe where we are, where do we want to go or what to do? Essentially, this helps to describe purposes or relative location.)
  • Sequence, (how does priorty-making influence relative value, and how can grouping concepts influence results? This involves suspending expected results and crafting how the act of reasoning, constructing or adding or subtracting influences results.)
  • Timing (after we’ve experimented some, spotting crucial factors that are valuable to pay attention to one after the other. These are our functionally bright ideas and when exactly to use them.)

Anyway, I love creative thinking and articulating how it can work easier. I imagine that the world could also benefit from the articulation of plain old functional thinking also. This sort of thinking is fore-thought! Otherwise known as strategic thinking to allow you to go in an entirely new direction!

Why Alexander Technique Is Hard To Describe

In choosing your approach for describing A.T., it is worth keeping in mind that many smart people were educationally trained in debate tactics, tactics which often appeal to contradictions of logic toward expose’. Confronted with an entirely new idea or invention, there are many contradicting ways that people will categorically ignore or suspect the value of something entirely new. So it pays to consider how you can avoid or detour these common defenses. It would also be handy to figure ways to do that without stooping to using debate tactics
yourself.I have found that if you take for granted that people are capable of understanding you, they will tend to rise to the occasion. One way is to cut to the chase and clearly define in a “bottom line” way what makes AT unique. Doing this may avoid categorical matching, usually motivated from trying to familiarize new information so it can be retrieved later.

I find that most definitions of A.T. merely talk about what it can do for certain people. Popular articles explore why a particular group of people would want to do it, or these articles might use a biographical format. Suggesting possible uses will not identify what makes A.T. unique, and character portraits can be brushed off as warm and fuzzy biographical style arketing. The myriad of A.T. benefits can be pretty unbelievable. Of course, the most common way is to tell Alexander’s story or your own, using a testimonial format.

Then difficulty in describing A.T. can also come from a confusion about what exactly is being taught, because of the lack of form and generalized application possible. If you say, “Alexander Technique is a format for learning, experimenting and undoing useless habits of movement.” If people are thinking they will be asking, “Who determines what is useless and what should be preserved?”

Let’s try this definition: “A.T. hows an easier way of forming and carrying any intention into action, applied to any field you wantto refine, learn more about or a capacity you want to recover that you have lost.” This sort of description is tricky for people to wrap their mind around because it is so abstract.

Because intangible intentions can only be witnessed in outward action, in AT we use the form of movement to observe what and how means are expressed. Since the content of AT is an intangible learning process that can be
applied to any action, it confuses people. People mistake outer form for inner content. They think AT is an actor’s technique, a golf thing, a singer’s method, for musicians who get hurt or recovery from injury, etc.

The fact that AT is taught tacitly makes it a challenge to describe. AT teachers take pupils beyond words and assumptions over the edge of their dulled senses into a new perceptual capacity. For a trained eye, the evidence of intent can be witnessed in the slightest postural movement. The insensitive student can’t tell what the AT teacher got them to do that made them feel so much freer. Thus, they may regard the AT teacher to be a magician or to have hoodwinked them. (Tricking their habit is probably what happened.)

The way A.T. used to be taught worked against it being easy to talk about. Historically, A.T. was taught by building a new situational challenge in an artificially arbitrary context, which was sitting and standing from a chair. By crafting a skill from scratch using a goal that had little meaning to the student, the chair situation was designed to encourage the suspension of goals and striving for results. During chair work, the teacher would offer a unique script of the meanings of what makes up constructive experimentation, with unique perceptual interpretations of the significance of the cumulative effects of tiny physical patterns of movement. Or put more simply, Alexandrian chair work is best at showing the bad news of what all those little habits will add up to if allowed to continue. Also it shows the good news of how freedom, subtlety and effortlessness works so much easier. Then the student practices choosing between the new and the old and the idea is the student learns to sustain a tolerance for the new ways and prefer them over their old ways. In practice, guided modeling works very slowly to give the person being modeled any idea what is exactly happening. They are sort of being trained as if an animal, without knowing why they are doing the new behavior, underneath their conscious control of themselves.

The Activity model uses the goal of the action itself and its value to the student, evoking the pressures of performance in a group situation. The drive to discover and coordinate more sophisticated improvements related to a hobby or activity is a powerful motivator for thinking of using AT at any particular moment. This form trains students to see subtle and elusive differences that the teacher uses to coach evaluating the results of their experimenting. It’s also great at teaching principles in action, because you get to learn how to see so many different people learn in the group situation.

There can be as many variations of forms of learning as there are qualified teachers, because AT teachers are trained to problem solve unique applications by applying Alexander’s principles. What these principles are usually need to be physically experienced to fully understand their significance. However, if you talk about some of these principles by explaining some of the unique definitions of special words use in A.T., newcomers will sometimes recognize that they have never heard anyone talk about these topics before.

If Everyone Did Alexander Technique…

I have often wondered if a very personal division of the self cannot help but reflect an internal war. There was a time when I wondered if everyone practiced Alexander Technique, which is a discipline that helps heal the splits in those who practice it, would there would have been no war in some situations? Because AT teaches a person to insert a pause of self-control over their knee-jerk reactive assumptions – couldn’t that have an effect on the world for peace? But if everyone did any one of a number of things differently, there would not have been a war.

Now that I have checked out my hypothesis, I have had enough proof to surmise that Alexander Technique doesn’t have any automatic prescriptive ideals that indoctrinate the learner. As far as I can tell, the only value judgment that Alexander teachers are providing is the benefit of effortless. Through the study of that, you’ll find out how much you waste your energy, and learn to redirect it where you want to spend it. However, where and why you do want to channel your energy is entirely up to you.

An example from historic culture is the Samurai; they were very precise at studying and channeling the efficient use of their energy toward defense and war.

My opinion also comes from getting to know personally almost everyone I could who I noticed had Alexandrian natural good use through the course of my adult life. Some were ethical, sane people, capable of amazing compassion, …and some were not. Some were really mentally twisted far over on the other end of the scale. Seems that a person can still have excellent Alexandrian “use,” and also still have some conflict inside themselves that they haven’t yet figured out which could mean…anything.

People can also still misinterpret external situations to require defending themselves, no matter how well their usual “sane” interpretation of other stimulus works. It’s especially rampant when you make someone responsible for other people, because someone can so easily second-guess the risk of what it might cost other people if they didn’t act – or what other people would require them to do in service.

This seems to be a common “what if” that many people have about their favorite enthusiam, thinking it’s so good for everything and everyone. People have to find out for themselves, but how else will they know if they don’t hear your enthusiasm? All you can do is hold the thing up, show them how it works and see if they can recognize that it could be good for them.

How I Uncovered My Own Linguistic Assumptions

I wanted to write about the first steps I took to identify with and emulate alternate ways of thinking. I didn’t used to think of making new interpretations of how I put together meaning and raw experience; I learned to do it.

I had stumbled onto Edward De Bono in the library. He wrote “PO – Guide to Creative Thinking. That put me on a path of seeking out those who could think “laterally.” But I didn’t really know what that meant, other than lateral thinkers were laughable. It fascinated me. What made funny stuff funny? Why did I laugh when I discovered something?

As a high school senior, I happened into an independent study class in History. I was assigned to choose an event that had occurred in the civil war; an event important enough and far enough back that it had been included in many history books written since then. My job in this independent study was to compare how each historian had chose to describe the course of events. Because I had read the raw accounts myself, I learned quite a bit about point of view, bias, cultural assumptions, presentation and salesmanship.

I found the Sapir-Whorf theory when I was in college while poking around the library again. Because I could read the words but I couldn’t really understand the book, I decided to base an independent study communication class on it. The book in question was Benjamin Lee Whorf’s book, “Language, Thought & Reality,” where he articulates the cultural conceptual differences between a number of North American indigenous languages in quick succession.  I studied and studied to wrap my brain around the concepts, but I realized that I had to go elsewhere to find a new way to make sense of what Whorf was saying. I figured my inability to understand his writing was because of my pretty much complete cultural bias – although I was fluent in Spanish at the time. I realized that Spanish was still an English-related indo-european language.


So I went out on a sort of “quest” to learn how to get beyond my mono-cultural orientation. I realized that part of changing had to do with uncovering assumptions. So I sought out that activity – even demanded it.

Meanwhile, I also studied with John Lilly, inter-species communicator, and got to attend a workshop by him and even got to hang out in his isolation tank for a few hours.

I eventually stumbled onto “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” which is a bookby Karen Pryor on the art of communicating non-verbally by understanding the art of reinforcement used for training animals. Somehow I knew that training animals was related to the ability to train myself – because I was an animal.

Instead of a term paper, I created this enormous time-line of all the ideas I ran into, in a sort of an associative graph of the process I followed to document how I spent my time exploring for this class. Essentially, I invented mind-mapping. I realized that I had to get out of describing my experiences in a linear way; I had to write without writing the way I was thinking not try to cram my thinking into language.

For my term paper and before computers, I cut up all the pieces of information and rearranged them on the floor in an enormous mind-map connection diagram. With enough practice at stretching my mind around ways of thinking that were unfamiliar and didn’t involve the language I knew, I could finally abstract and explain to others the concepts in Whorf’s book without repeating his words verbatim.

I also trained the feral kittens in the back yard to come into my house and be petted and held. I made art that dealt with shifting perceptual point of view and confusing figure/ground relationships.

And that was just the start of my fascination with Alexander Technique…