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.

Abstracting For Kids

Rumor has it that kids don’t grasp abstract thought until they’re older. At a young age, the ability to do so is supposed to be undeveloped.

Grown-ups who are supposed to be capable of abstraction also seem to have trouble recognizing it is happening too. Trot out abstract art, for instance; many adults haven’t a clue how to decipher the intent of an abstract artist. Some of the secret questions to answer when looking at art is to imagine,”Why would someone do this?” “What state would a person need to maintain to do this?” But these questions are missing for most adults because they have been trained in school to answer questions and not formulate them.

But there’s another reason people aren’t commonly able to perceive abstract means. They get dazzled by “valuable” content. They’re so fixed on the content of what happened when they were experimenting or thinking creatively that they lightly skip over any awareness of what they did to get what they wanted. One of the most common questions students wonder about after an Alexander Technique teacher gives them a hands-on guided modeling turn is, “How did you do that to me?”

Meet my two young students. They are sisters, eight and ten years old. Their parents and Hula teacher want them to learn better posture. As their teacher, I imagined that the grammatical structure of language that mostly every kid masters before age three or four has got to be abstract enough to certify them being able to do so. These two kids double qualify as great students because they also speak Japanese flawlessly.

Imagine these kids to be sort of like an Artificial Intelligence that don’t have enough context to abstract yet. As their teacher, I have to figure out what that experience is and provide it for them. Abstract (in our case of learning Alexander Technique) means the underlying process, principles or events that are supposed to be inside the process of how the wanted result happened. They can’t use what I teach them unless they understand how to apply it. 

So – what is the most important first-hand experience that these kids might be missing that I would commonly assume every adult already has?

I thought back to my stepson playing on a swing at four years old, discovering an amazing twist and whirl. Then when he got his dad’s attention, he was so disappointed that he couldn’t repeat his previous success for his dad to see him doing. Then I realized something: Kids only have trial and error to train themselves to learn something physical, and the likelihood of repeating a new success is tiny. No wonder learning a physical trick is so frustrating next to pushing buttons on a video game!

So that meant I first had to teach these kids how to train themselves.

For kids, (for all of us, really) any missing link of abstraction can be taught through storytelling. Kids need a context, and these contexts need to be built by example or illustration in ways they can identify with the characters in a story. In order to imagine a motive, you must be able to put yourself in a situation where that motive makes sense. If people are going to read minds and use what the brain science people call “mirror neurons,” they need some familiarity with situations that people experience. So how could I orchestrate a context for learning how to train?

I had one kid pretend they were a very smart animal and the other kid was the trainer. They used a clap for signaling successes – no talking. We had great fun training each other to do odd things. The kids also learned how to be clear, kind to themselves and use the important elements of training such as taking care with timing to reinforce the right behavior, preventing the animal from learning the wrong things and celebrating successes. Now when learning new skills, they understood that they were both the animal and the trainer. (Thanks to Karen Pryor.)

Then we went through, very fast, activities that were complex: juggling, learning dance steps for Hula class, singing, playing the piano and doing gymnastic moves at a super-fast rate. They learned key concepts of improving their coordination that Alexander Technique has to offer for their ability to move freely. Because of having played the Training Game, they could perceive how what they had learned about training themselves could be used in many different situations.

These two girls didn’t have any problem learning abstract concepts in only eight lessons.  AND – it was great fun for them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Niche of: Activism

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluate – Standards and Timing

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

N…notice  On April 4th, 2012, starting with points about self-observation

A…ask  Explored the “A” part of the mnemonic – on April 6th, 2013

 M…move    Read more about experimental moves on April 11th, 2013

E…evaluate  This post explores how to get results from interpreting our experimenting – in three parts!

D…direct

 

What Standards?

Falling short of meeting our standards means they run ahead of our abilities – isn’t that the way it should be? When applying conclusions, it’s constructive to note incremental progress and to re-determine our “north star” headings. How constructive is it to discount incremental progress merely because collectively, tiny improvements fall short of ascending aspirations of potential excellence? Standards and tastes will tend to accelerate and rise ahead of whatever progress has been currently mastered. Especially, artistic standards apply eternally changing social fashions.

Judgment and offering opinions has become so popular of a social pastime that there is a danger that destructive standards will get applied indiscriminately. Danger and the violation of social mores are actively sought out, because the social media has learned that creating drama and intrigue attracts people’s attention.

Devil’s advocacy has become the social acid test that was originally intended to drive improvement, making it “bullet-proof.” However, the ability to generate improvements can shut down when criticisms are applied, which are designed to attack, not build or develop solutions. This is an important reason to apply criticisms after experimentation. Nascent results need potential solutions applied to them. Fledgling ideas and new experiences and skills need to be developed and shaped by vision and aspirations.

When to Evaluate Determines Results

The timing of when to evaluate results determines the ability to note and sort into certain categories of success or failure. Having results is the important part that needs to precede evaluating. If you do the evaluation before you’ve done the experimenting and gotten some sort of result, you’ll most likely notice habitual factors. This is because habits running the show operate as a default condition.

The secret is doing an evaluation after moving differently to experiment is much more likely to lead to making an unexpected discovery. If you cannot verify that you did indeed make a move in a different way, then you can’t expect different results.

The reverse is also true: different results come from doing things using a different way. Uncovering the differences means the results can be repeated. Being a better observer during experimenting will allow these differences and new skills to come forward in further experiments.

Asking Questions

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

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

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

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

 

Ask

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Notice

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

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

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

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

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

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

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

Learn the five observational categories elsewhere on this blog…

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

Can you add an observational category?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NAMED

I’m always seeking out new ways to help my students remember to use Alexander Technique.

Check out this new way to remember to use the principles of Alexander Technique that makes it easy to remember. Imagine having a memory jog mnemonic  for spelling out how Alexander Technique can work for you, any time you want to use it. After all, what good is a tool if you can’t find it or remember that it exists when you need to have it?

O.K….So… What’s pretty much one of the first things that happened to you? You got NAMED. The word NAMED can be used as a mnemonic for categories that contain some of the principles and sequential steps for using Alexander Technique.

N…notice

A…ask

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

In case you don’t know what the content of these above steps are, we’ll be saying a bit about them in the coming days…

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

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

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

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

Recognizing a Discovery

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

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

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

Observation and Awareness

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

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

 Suspend Previous Solutions

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

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

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

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

 Forming Useful Questions

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

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

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

 Clear The Decks for Action

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

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

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

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

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

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

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

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

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

 Practice What You Do Want

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

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

 Attitude and Altitude

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

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.

Not Merely Sit-Up-Straight School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Kids Abstract Thinking

Most kids are familiar with how things they want to do a certain way will sometimes happen as if by magic. But it can be very tricky for them to figure out how to duplicate what they want to happen again.

To rouse interest when presenting Alexander Technique principles to kids, using any action a kid is interested in will make learning fun. Use balancing or cumulative skills (- such as learning to throw a ball, hit a ball with a bat, or riding a bike) for illustrating F.M. Alexander’s principles.

Kids are learning machines anyway, so they are very fun to work with – but keep lessons short; perhaps ten to fifteen minutes. Showing them some tips about how to experiment so their experimenting goes faster and is more effective will be very useful to them.

As you teach, bear in mind that kids are not able to abstract principles into different situations, unless they are specifically taught how to do so in those situations. Kids are naturally literal thinkers. Helping kids become lateral (sideways creative) thinkers is a challenge. It’s up to the teacher to carry the thread of meaning and relationship from many specifically different activities. Draw the similarities between them for the kids.

Guess there are a quite a few grownups who could use this approach as well!

Also find that for kids a little older, say beyond 6 years old, it’s helpful to be using stories in familiar movies and fairy tales to illustrate teaching points. For instance, in the Fantasia Disney movie about Mickey Mouse who figures out how to do the magic spell with the brooms. The spell really gets out of control when Mickey doesn’t know how to undo it. This story can help kids understand the nature of training themselves to do a repeated habitual order that gets out of control when they can’t cancel it. In Alexander Technique, we call this distorted sensory appreciation, (otherwise known as debauchery.)

This helps teach the secret that if you have already taught yourself how to do something, it will take a little extra skill and time to unteach the old thing you already know. Habits are tricky and “relative” – meaning habits likely to tell you information about where you are and what you are doing with your body that isn’t really true!

Once taught a four year old about how much extra energy is required to compensate for balance and how he can adapt to anything by spinning him on an office chair. How dizzy it feels to stop spinning is a great situation to illustrate a number of points. How come grownups get so stiff thinking they are going to fall down when they’re not really falling?

I like to encourage kids to avoid becoming stiff like adults are, and to regard their natural flexibility as something valuable. Along this idea, it’s handy to ask such questions like “How do adults get stiff when they start out as kids, who are so flexible?” Of course, part of the answer is that grownups expect to be right, and kids expect to be wrong – so kids are more willing to experiment than most grownups. Also great to encourage kids to model the grownups around them who have better natural good use, so the kid doesn’t pick up postural sets from the grownups that they admire that are too extreme.

Most of the challenges for many kids that age, depending on the kid, is fear; they like predictability rather than facing the unknown. Doing what you are scared to do or what’s really new feels sometimes really weird, but exciting. So giving fun experiences that outline which sort of experimenting has the feelings of a fun kind of weird. Most important to illustrate is how can a kid make it safe to try something risky while they’re experimenting?
When they have just accidentally done a new thing, sometimes I’ll ask kids questions such as: how many times do you need to do that the way you wanted before you can do it anytime you want? That teaches them patience and persistence, if they know that they need to do something four or five times before they know it – or maybe it takes them six times before it doesn’t feel so strange. Also teach them incubation learning – to stop for a moment when they do something that impresses them so it can “sink in.”

A fun concept to play with is that muscles are similar to springs in that muscles return to their natural shape when you take the pressure off of them.  For this experiment, it’s handy to have a huge exercise ball, a trampoline or a pogo-springs stick.

Love to hear more suggestions about how to teach Alexander Technique concepts to kids. Have any?