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Archive for the ‘thinking skills’ Category

Assumptions

What does Alexander Technique have to do with assumptions?
Rather than replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones, using and learning Alexander Technique frees up how you assume you “must” move.

If you study, what will you be doing?
Beyond the teacher’s selection using the examples of a routine activity such as walking, rising from a chair, or using your voice, other goals of “where else do I apply this?” are often left to the student.

Because the public is literal and goal oriented, Alexander Technique teachers are often urged by marketers to pick a specialty. This special interest is built into the educational process as a niche to attract students. Students later find out they can apply what they learn to any activity and gain additional benefits.

You may not know all about what Alexander Technique is. But if you like to sing or do your favorite hobby…you know you want to enjoy that more often with benefits and insights. Certainly everyone could use more stamina at the end of the day after work and less stress while working. Alexander Technique is also a solution for people with physical movement limitations, if these issues originate or get worse from repetition.

You Were Sold On Reading…
The reason to learn Alexander Technique is sort of like learning to read. Imagine if you didn’t know how to read and you had to be sold on the benefits of reading? Imagine if someone said, “Everyone needs this! You can apply this skill to exploit any interest!” Would you be skeptical? Because, like reading, Alexander Technique is the real deal – but it takes education and commitment…and using it. (Fortunately, it doesn’t take special practice time, but only extra awareness to integrate A.T. into any movements!)

Unlimited Applications – Open-ended Progress
Alexander Technique comes from the performance art field of acting. If you were an actor, being able to assume other postural mannerisms of a portrayed character should be part of your skill – otherwise you are “type-cast” as a “one trick character.”

If your interest was horseback riding, you can imagine how studying your part of the relationship between horse and rider can allow the horse to perform better. Because then your horse doesn’t have to compensate for an imbalanced or fearful rider. Animals “read” your body language, so Alexander Technique helps the animal understand what you mean when you are giving training indicators to them too.

Are you giving examples as a coach or teacher to others? Alexander Technique will make your examples more refined for your students. You’ll find out how to get better at your skill, even if you’ve gone farther at it than anyone else.

Do you talk or must sell yourself as part of your job? You can learn speaking & communication skills that involve body language.

Do you speak a language that’s not your native one? You can minimize an accent and learn new mannerisms that are consistent with your non-native language.

Do you play a musical instrument? You can clear away whatever mannerisms you accidentally retain if you’re always learning to play new tunes – or new instruments, or digital support for your musicianship. Alexander Technique also works to revise the way you learned to hold and practice your instrument that may be self-limiting your progress.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t do any of those things.” But, now that you’ve got some examples, can you imagine how these points would benefit any sport, hobby or skilled work – because all of these benefits involve the study of physical mannerisms…?

What’s your interest? Whatever you enjoy doing or work at doing, you can have more stamina and continue to get better at doing it…once you make the commitment to study and use the Alexander Technique.

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Train Your Courage

Operating Manual 
This Alexander Technique, like the ability to read, is a skill with abstract but unlimited applications. What I mean by “abstract” is it’s designed to be tailored by you to anything you’d like to improve, just as what you read about can be used to benefit any interest.

Alexander Technique is learning how to learn. This involves understanding and using the process of gaining mastery over yourself. You practice on yourself, by updating your mannerisms of movement response.

It’s my job here to sell you on the benefits of moving easier to respond to your goals so you can improve in the short run – AND continue making discoveries that have the potential for unlimited improvement!

“How” Is The Question, Not “What”
Usually the reason why a student wants to do any particular activity isn’t judged by their Alexander Technique teacher.
Of course, some A.T. teachers have their own personal opinions they advocate to their students, (such as avoiding high heels.) But one Alexander Technique teacher specializes in teaching women how to walk in heels without suffering! Usually, your A.T. teacher is only concerned with how you carry out your ideals & goals, not what your values or motives are.
What is sold by all Alexander teachers are a collection of principles, taught using specific examples of easier movement. These principles might be a bit mysterious if you haven’t studied a course of lessons….but they are:

  • mind-body unity
  • self-observation & awareness
  • the power to revise even pervasive, “innate” habits
  • practice design and ways to note and gain cumulative progress as you practice
  • a unique, functional model of self-judgment used to gain conclusions & insights.

Since your mannerisms are present in how you respond and react to what comes at you in every moment, it follows that every move expresses your motives within your mannerisms to some degree or another. Best examples to use for experimenting are those that involve changing physical balance –  you’re trying to get somewhere or do something.  (However, the one exception is whistling;  it is tricky to use as an activity. You must position your lips in a certain habitual way to “get” the sound and can’t really change that around to do it differently.)

Psychological and Philosophical 
Alexander Technique also has similar features and benefits to uncovering assumptions of thinking in the field of psychology. Once you design and train a habitual response, motives can become fused into the response and disappear.  This disappearing act that habits have make it useful to become aware of your original motives. Once these assumptions are revealed, then you can decide what you want to do about them. You can fulfill your motives in alternate ways that don’t contain the design problems of answering short-sighted goals. So if your doctor has said, “Don’t DO that activity that causes you pain,” there is usually an educational way around. Using the Alexander Technique philosophy can offer psychological insights because practical, physical mannerisms have an effect on social interaction and self-image.

Perceptually Relative Effort

Mostly people taught themselves about how they need to move to direct their actions. These “educated guesses” contain assumptions that can be mistaken as to amount of effort. Commonly, effort levels are unnecessarily heavy-handed, because we can over-ride our natural coordination if it’s “important.” We were probably given that capacity by adapting to survival. Putting activities on routine status saves energy. But, habits can become outdated and exaggerated…”Practice Makes Permanent.” You originally trained yourself to move a certain way because your priorities were “important.” You imagined you “needed” to move in a certain way to get your goals when you were using trial and error for a way to learn the required skill or action, which everyone does. So you justified feeling a bit awkward because you assumed your goal had to be done in this way. Repeat doing anything strange more than five times and it won’t feel so awkward.

Keep What’s Innate? Or Update?

As you train yourself effectively, the goal is for the skill to become innate, (no matter how awkward it feels at first.) Just like computer updates, if you do not use continued learning or something like Alexander Technique to update your skills, it’s seductive to forgot what habits you already were doing. You can seductively leave in-force a standing order to continue a habit indefinitely. In these common situations, you can unknowingly move in opposing directions in ways that are stressful on the body long enough to cause pain. Over-riding natural movement capacity against the structure of how humans are designed to move can cause people to unintentionally cause themselves pain. A little education with the operating manual of living anatomy is handy.

Warning! There’s a Cost!

In theory, updating “better” ways should be applied selectively, keeping the best and streamlining the rest. But movement memories seem to be wired together seamlessly. When you’re dealing with revising habits of movement, in the process of figuring out what is going on, you can disorient your sense of balance or even your sense of your own self-image. It can be a very strange sensation. You’re actually carving new brain pathways. It might make your sleepy, but it also might put you into a distress zone. One where you can’t quite make the new ways fly yet, but the old ways feel discomforting too. Retraining an ingrained habit of movement that has disappeared and become innate requires a willingness to tolerate and use unknown or unexplained results. But how does someone get that willingness?

Courage Training
What you are getting that causes strange perceptual sensations are body alarms about experiencing too much freedom. (For some rare people, all their self-preservation alarms might go off at once!) The teacher or situation must reassure a student that nothing dangerous is happening – when really, the unfamiliar *is* exceptionally dangerous. But how else do we learn, if not from the unknown?

A teacher of Alexander Technique, (or a teacher who deals with situations that *are*  factually dangerous) knows ways to make it quite safe so that anyone can feel just a little bit strange. They provide a “safety fall-back” so the old habit is always available if the student needs to retreat.

To want to experiment takes daring and fearlessness or maybe some community support. Of course, some people must train to extend their courage. It’s daring to speak or move easier in spite of fears about what it means to you – (despite not feeling like yourself!) This courage can be a new skill that can be “conditioned” and learned as any other skill.

Really, this odd sensation of effortlessness is weird, but it is the signal you’re heading into new territory. If it has a characteristic of more freedom, then you might be able to make a discovery. That’s a challenge! This new state often doesn’t provide you with words to formulate the new information – that will come later. You cannot decide beforehand what the unknown will be “like.” Each time you’re heading out into new territory.

Of course, the next challenges are to determine the ways to apply discretion and judgment as you select from all those weird, new feelings which results that will help you and which ones to intentionally disregard as random & inconsequential.

We’ll cover that next…

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Snake Oil

While learning and practicing Alexander Technique, meaning comes all at once from multiple avenues:

  • paying attention to the “how” of what you’re intending,
  •  the thought processes you follow in preparation & during the launch,
  • …and the physical responses that you are actually doing to express these preparations and intentions.
  • Something happens. Maybe it’s something new? New feels a bit odd, but easier.
  • Then reflecting on what happened, why it happened and where and when it can be influenced to happen how you guess is possible.

Alexander Technique came from applying the empirical scientific method to one’s own strategies, ways and intentions. Because its development also answered a need, (it was: better performance) a physical demonstration had to follow so these ephemeral intentions had ways of practicing successes. Plainly, pure intentions of thought are usually too tricky to witness, (in person, without an MRI.) The hypocritical nature of habit that operates in cognitive bias also makes intentions and motives tricky to discern as they fly by.

Those of us who are designing ways to teach A.T. needed to orchestrate a situation so we can perceive how our students’ intention plays out. (Otherwise the teacher can’t help the student not hoodwink themselves.) For this purpose, most of us Alexander teachers use this feedback ideal of physical effortlessness. Our ideal of effortlessness is an experience embedded within the structural mannerism of how people can move – many cultures share it. To the extent any person uses this “mechanical advantage” idea of physical effortlessness as a signal something new happened, their discovery, success and mastery is more likely. They’re also bettering the improvisational skill of tapping the unknown.

When Alexander Technique teachers declare that what they teach isn’t posture control or movement re-education or physical therapy…or musicianship, equestrian connection or better golf swings, this is what they mean.

Form, (which can be any action) isn’t the content. It’s the process behind the curtain that we’re after. Alexander Technique is an extension of thinking skills translated into movement responses. It’s Jungian individuation in action. It’s how you might connect your body-mind to be able to better “walk your talk.” But it’s also how to practice effectively, how to get learning done faster and how to attain transcendent goals of getting better at doing a beloved passion – without being limited by a glass ceiling. 

Neuroscience and cognitive bias exist now. They didn’t when A.T began. That means now, teachers of A.T. are able to steer its original presentation from its former respectable science roots toward the fuzzier marriage of intention and action and still preserve the spirit and respect of its origin.

But – the introduction of the value of A.T. is still tricky. I believe the trickiness is in the sequence of presentation. As sales presenters, if we start with the world of intention, confidence and belief, how are we not much different from being advice columnists? How do you sell something when people don’t know if they want it or not because they don’t know what it is? How can a newbie appreciate how A.T. works before they learn it?

The problem appears to be as if A.T. teachers are selling a kind of snake oil – because what we are selling can be applied so widely!

Without our physical discipline of educating living anatomy, the philosophy of A.T. gets lost in being yet another “thought affects everything” motivational morass. The very real effects that come from practicing A.T. accumulate over time  – but on the front end, these wildly differing beneficial effects are pretty much unbelievable.

So – what differentiates A.T. from being a “snake oil” swindle?

Well, it’s history comes out of the empirical scientific model. To learn to teach it requires years of education (1600 hours.) So there must be some reason people devote their lives to learning something that takes so long to qualify for. It has been around for more than a hundred years. Essentially, others respect it.

But why not accuse that A.T. is merely a pseudo-science? OK, let’s list its offerings…

First, A.T. teaches observation. A.T. teachers are professional observers, noticing factors of movement responses and evident intentions that others miss. This extraordinary skill to spot what is ‘missing’ is part of what makes A.T. teachers remarkable – and also what makes people misunderstand why learning A.T. is valuable. (It also makes people a bit scared of what Alexander teachers can see about them that they miss.) From my knowledge, there are not many ways to learn observing, let alone self observation. (Especially without any religious and/or cultural proscriptions attached.)

Second, A.T. has to offer is it teaches impulse control – without prescribing what is supposed to be done instead beyond physical efficiency. We term it: “inhibition.” The word was selected (before Freud) from biology: how an animal inhibits its natural hungry urges to strategically plan the hunting attack. Other terms that might describe the same A.T. use of the word “inhibition” that have been used in other disciplines are

  • “pausing in order to deliberately choose another response,” (“Going to the balcony” in negotiation skills)
  • “suspension” (David Bohm dialogue)
  • or merely “Considering All Factors,” (Edward de Bono thinking skills.)

Third, Alexander Technique offers that is rare is how to reverse engineer an ingrained habitual physical routine that has become a nuisance. Every other advice about this involves, “do something else.” Imagine there’s another way to side-step what has become a deceptively self-imposed limitation, without giving up a beloved art, hobby, skill or job!

Fourth, A.T. teaches the ability to abstract. The classic method of Alexander’s work was taught very repetitively using a mundane action, (sitting and standing.) Intentions were revealed in the slightest changes of balance anyway, right? Certainly a student couldn’t figure that a “better” way to be sitting and standing was the whole point. Students were left to turning their experience into something useful in other situations. To do this, abstraction of context had to happen.

Just those four points – do you think they read like snake oil?

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More than a hundred years ago, a Delsartean-inspired actor who figured out how to regain voice loss named F.M. Alexander noticed a principle of human nature related to movement perception and gave it a term: “debauched kinesthesia.”

A more modern term might be: “Sensory Dissonance.” It is what happens when there is a violation of the brain’s “predictive coding” processes that have been described by neuroscience in the Bayesian model of the brain. This model explains how we can instinctively work out whether there is time to cross the road in front of an approaching car or not. We make a prediction based on past experiences, with these predictions (hopefully) updated “on the fly.” Of course, if our “predictive coding” ability doesn’t match reality, our next reaction will depend on how we deal with being wrong. The confounding, irrational quality that a Sensory Dissonant experience seems to possess is related to points described by the terms: Cognitive Dissonance and Cognitive Bias. Denial is most common; (described in *THIS* collection as the “Confirmation Bias”) and accidents can result. If you haven’t read it yet, I have previously outlined in the first half (in the previous post below) the relationship of Sensory Dissonance to these latter categories.

Why Sensory Dissonance Is Important

Aside from avoiding accidents, many more advantages will come from further consideration of this topic. A most interesting area is performance – when you know how to do something, but can’t reliably do it when needed. Or when doing what you imagine you know how to do doesn’t get you where you want to end up.

What most people do about having experienced Sensory Dissonance after making a “mistake,” is to rearrange themselves back to where they believe they “should” be physically oriented. Returning to whatever you sense was the “normal” state of affairs will feel “right” merely because it is most familiar. Because noting your reactions about Sensory Dissonance may also contain an expression of “Cognitive Dissonance” it probably will also be somewhat uncomfortable. (Maybe not; some have learned to welcome and find excitement in what is unfamiliar and unknown.) There’s a payoff of predictable security to resume what is familiar for most people. Most people will be motivated when noting a mismatch to put themselves “right again.”

But should you? But what if your sense of “right” needs calibrating? What if you feel strange when there hasn’t been a kid on your shoulders or you have not done an experiment pushing your arms against a door frame? (Check out the examples in the *first half* of this article.)

When Sensory Dissonance pops into your awareness, there’s an advantage to purposefully allow yourself to feel “strange” and to take a moment to consider what you’re going to do about it. The experience of Sensory Dissonance is an important pointer. This “strange” feedback reveals previously unknown information about the nature of the real state of affairs that would benefit from your thoughtful consideration of what to do about it. It’s an opportunity, don’t ignore it!

Perceptual dissonance is a signal that something different from the norm has just happened. You have the option to act on having noticed a difference by taking the reins back from habitual routines. This calls for using some awareness, strategic thinking and perhaps serious study to revise the affected routines. Perceptual dissonance gives you valuable feedback about what you have been overdoing that might be unnecessary. Viva la difference!

It would be really crazy if every time you carried a weight for awhile, you wanted to put the weight back on again to avoid feeling Sensory Dissonance. But this is the understandable urge in certain situations.

An example: while swimming. Getting back into the water where it feels relatively “warmer” seems logical when the wind factor on skin makes you feel cold in comparison…until your submerged body temperature really drops to match the temperature of the water. Chattering from the cold, you pretty quickly realize that getting back in the water to “get warm” is a short-sighted solution. However, there are many other situations that don’t offer this obvious feedback of mistakenly having made that short-sighted choice!

Act Wisely on Sensory Dissonance

Next time you feel disoriented, consider what this means. Here is a potential for an insight. Maybe pause and consider what you’d like to do about having received a curious sensation of perceptual dissonance, instead of ignoring it and getting yourself back to where you “feel right.”

By deliberately experimenting with Sensory Dissonance, you’ll realize that human sensory orientation judgment is relative, not absolutely “True.”

For instance, if you often stand with your weight on the ball of your foot or on one foot and something gets you to stand with your weight on your heels or both feet, Sensory Dissonance will make you feel strange as if you are leaning backwards or to the “wrong” side. (Women who routinely wear high heels and walk mostly on the ball of their feet know this sensation.) Getting back into those high heels to feel “normal” or transferring all your weight to the other foot is like getting back into the pool to get warm – a short-sighted solution. But in this situation, there is no feedback like getting cold if you stay in the water to tell you that you chose wrong, (unless your feet or calves eventually start hurting or your knees start crumbling.)

What Sensory Dissonance Is Really Telling You

What you might want to do is to think a bit about the important information that Sensory Dissonance is offering you. It’s really saying that your habitual “normal” has been violated. Did you know you were actively doing something in the opposite direction of what Sensory Dissonance just revealed to you? You didn’t until now. Because of the Sensory Dissonance signal, you now have the option of taking the reins back from your habit by using some awareness and strategic thinking to consider changing some of those habits.

The actor quoted at the beginning of the article has solutions. His “Alexander Technique” method always contain this Sensory Dissonant signal that something different has happened. An Alexander Technique teacher gives experiences in classes and “hands-on guided modeling” that reliably feel as if something mysterious and lighter has happened to your movement coordination. It’s the only answer I know about for sifting out problematic features from previously ingrained habits “on the fly,” addressing performance issues involving postural mannerisms.

Hope this little article will lead you to question what you should do about it when you feel Sensory Dissonance. Surprising dissonant sensations can be used as important pointers to bring to your attention that what you just did, felt or experienced. What just happened was something entirely, originally new and different – for you. Here is something that could benefit from your serious attention and consideration – and maybe even be worth investing in long-term study of Alexander Technique!

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Mistaken traps of logic and thinking skills continue to deceive our human ability for reasoning.

Have you ever run into the terms “Cognitive Dissonance” or “Cognitive Bias”?

This phenomena was first described and researched by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman starting in 1972. They originated the term “Cognitive Bias” to describe how and why people didn’t use rational thinking in making choices. Kahneman received a Noble prize in 2002 related to behavioral economics by later developing his theory into a predictable research heuristic. Their confirmed findings grew into a psychological field, explored by researchers and popularized by authors such as Cordelia Fine, Scott Pious, the writing of Thomas Kida, (Don’t Believe Everything You Think”) Stuart Sutherland, (“Irrationality”) and Kathryn Schulz, (Being Wrong) among many other authors.

OK, so then… Cognitive Bias

This is certainly an important and interesting issue to learn about if you’re sketchy on the subject. Cognitive Bias runs through large scale cultural manipulations in corporate and political power plays, advertising and within business ethics relationships; it’s embedded within education, persuasion and in marketing techniques. It is even a big factor in causing conflicting personal relationship issues.

What I read in this .pdf download (see it yourself the end of this post below) was a handy collection of many factors of mistaken assumptions that were neatly codified into categories with icons. The aim of creating this list was to help the reader learn the surprising extent that cultural and human misconceptions are still a driving cause for irrationality in human behavior. (Which strangely enough, works its deceptions even among smart and educated people like yourself.)

What was my sub-cultural history? I was raised in the culture of the U.S. in the Southern CA region by immigrant parents, (I now reside in Hawaii.) When I traveled to Denmark (where my father was born,) I was surprised to discover that what I assumed were merely my father’s idiosyncratic personal preferences were instead, a reflection of his Danish childhood. Possibly because I had experienced myself as an “alien” (because of a huge need for an extensive study of communication skills,) it led to me rejecting many of the favored attitudes and values of my culture and to study thinking skills, innovation and creative insight of individuation – as well as Alexander Technique.

I was struck with what had been left out of this list. Nowhere did I see the specific observation that a form of dissonance occurs concerning the direct human perception of movement; that overlooked sense of judging relative location, effort and weight. It was interesting to me how some of these Cognitive Bias points seem to be based on built-in perceptual misconceptions, but there was not a separately grouped “Perception” category.

Of course this oversight is understandable. Humans take for granted their perceptual capacities. Factors related to a sense of “touch” have been lumped together with a sense of emotional “feeling.” What most people imagine when you refer to ‘feeling’ is the sensation of being contacted on your skin by something outside of you – or emotions. Rarely do people consider the kinetic sense running inside that shows where limbs are located and judges relative effort that needs to be expended to perform an action. The fact that the word “feeling” is the also same word meaning “an emotional experience” also confuses many useful distinctions even further. Add onto that how tricky it is to describe dancing or other movements in English without inventing specialized terms – and how tricky it is to observe yourself while in action – no wonder!

Try This Perceptual Motion Dissonance Experience
You can experienced this overlooked perceptual motion dissonance with a simple experiment. Stand in a (narrow) doorway and push your arms outward against the door frame for a thirty seconds – (yes, using a stopwatch feature is handy.) Aim your hands toward your sides. When you release and step away from the doorway, your arms will feel as if they are floating upward, even though they are merely hanging at your sides doing nothing. You can also experience a similar movement illusion by hefting a child on your shoulders for a ride. After you get the kid off your shoulders, you’ll feel lighter.

Quite a remarkable movement sensory illusion, isn’t it? But it’s not just a curiosity. The saying, “Seeing is believing” isn’t true anymore, (movies and Photoshop have disproved that axiom long ago!) Somehow still sanctified, our senses about movement make us convinced that what we feel is completely factual – when perceptual feedback is always relative to habitual behaviors. Sensory Dissonance is a factor in self-training a habit involving any collection of sequenced, chained-together behaviors. It’s an important principle to know about and use in reliably possessing any movement skill.

Oh, and if you’d like to study up with that huge list of cognitive biases, the .pdf download of it is here:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/30548590/Cognitive-Biases-A-Visual-Study-Guide
Read on to the second half of this article to get suggestions about suggestions of what to do when you run into this most interesting “Sensory Motion Dissonance.”

 

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Readiness Is All

The Readiness is All

“The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the [movement,] use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience; and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.” – F.M. Alexander

Decades ago, I got to browse a copy of F.M. Alexander’s book that had been given to Marj Barstow. After looking at the many hand-written edits in the book that were made by F. M. after the book was printed, I turned to the first few pages to read what Alexander had dedicated to her, the first graduate of his first teacher training program. Above his signature and dedication to his first graduate, F.M. had written: “THE READINESS IS ALL”.

This quote from Shakespeare has given me many occasions to think about what motivates people to dare to want to tap the unknown.

What gets people in the mood to question their own ways of doing things?

I guess the short answer is that certain conditions for readiness to change need to be in place for different people. More often, challenges to questioning the way one does things can be met with often violent, self-preservation-like resistance that dramatizes habits into having a sense of identity – when these habitual ways of thinking and doing things really don’t add to anything beyond merely being customarily familiar. I’ve learned to become suspicious for the need for change when I would find myself reciting a spirited ritual justification to myself or others. I have begun to accept this question of what “READINESS” means as a virtual question; a type of question that I will often ask with fruitful results.

There must be some general conditions that allow people to dare to face the unknown, a readiness to maybe learn something right now. Certainly, no matter how much anyone knows, there is always something more to learn – if not only how to recall and put into use what is already somewhat known to make it richer and more sophisticated.

What helps me as a learner to be willing to voyage where I’ve never gone yet – and really be willing to take on learning something totally unfamiliar or developing something that was merely a nascent idea? While thinking back to situations where learning became fun, exciting or drew out your fascination… What helped you get ready to take on a challenge?

Perhaps a first condition is to provide safety. Somehow it has to be safe to fall on ones’ face and make mistakes – to do the wrong thing. How can it be OK to ask the wrong question? How can it be not so much of a disaster to try out doing something that will probably not work as intended? Without experience and a sense of safety, nobody can expect themselves to be able to foresee everything going perfectly well. Even if it does happen perfectly the first time through, who can continue from there and continue going forward? (I’ve never seen it happen yet.)

I once had a man on a hitchhiking trip tell me a story about the first time his wife played golf. She hit a “hole in one” in every green on the whole 21-hole course, verified by the caddy and the owner of the golf course who were playing with them both. Unfortunately, his wife opted to never play another game of golf after that splendid success. She was willing to walk into the unknown for only a limited time of the 21-hole course; she thought it wiser to “rest on her laurels” forever after. Her husband declared to me that she didn’t think it was safe for the marriage to handle her being a better (or luckier) golfer than he was!
People love to hear someone’s story about how they began to become interested in their passions; how they started their business, how they came up with a unique idea, how they first applied new information as they discovered it.
Certainly every business has a “back-story” that makes their solution understandable and hopefully desired by a potential customer. Upon hearing a story of challenges like these, following along gets exciting. The learner-investigator asks unique questions that are probably also their own listener’s current questions. I like following someone’s continuity of inquiry without having to do the hard work of making the mistakes and experiencing the frustration that they did. I find myself searching for how my own unique knowledge and abilities could add to their questions, answers and challenges as I follow their progress. Experiencing first-hand what makes someone’s point of view unique can be motivating to learn from and in tandem with them.

For most learners, it’s helpful to have a framework to hang information onto, even if it’s just a list of the number of items or points to expect.

(BTW, this article has about 1800 words. You’re a little less than halfway through it.)

Also what learners often need is some way to correct for time of arrival of this new confusion that is going to be coming in from the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t provide this framework, can the student be expected to build this framework on their own? Many do, but the first time through a learning experience, most students will expect to miss most of what is being delivered. This means much of what is new will be ignored or go unremembered. The student will get to a state of “Too Much Information” overload really fast and the teacher must be alert to this state in their students. Students will have to take a break to integrate new and unusual information has just been delivered, or they may need to tune out and ignore the rest as they chew on a certain new part.

Reverse Learning

Some teachers have found that learning backwards is a splendid way to address this issue – For instance, if what needs to be learned is sequential such as a play, a piece of music or a series of Tai Chi moves, starting at the end and working gradually toward the beginning may work well. Then once the student is able to start at the beginning, they will be working towards what has been practiced the most often.

Flipped Learning

Recognizing this challenge, here’s another way of confronting “information overload” has emerged in traditional classroom teaching of high-content subjects such as chemistry classes. It involves switching the lecture-homework conventions, termed “Flipped Classes.” From a necessity to help students who had to miss class to catch up, teachers hit on the idea of recording their lectures and spending class time tutoring during what was normally spent as homework. Now all students can play classroom lectures as their homework on DVD or .mp3 players. Instead of lectures during class, time is now spent with the teacher doing “homework.” Think about it; who’s the most knowledgeable about the subject and would be best capable of tutoring during the real learning process? What a pleasure it would be for a teacher to actually teach!

Communicative Learning

Perhaps if a lecture format must be used, giving students a chance to indicate where they are losing what the teacher has to say would be handy to have in place. Feedback is most useful when it is in “real time.” Pass out cards to students they can hold up that indicate to the teacher, “I’m lost;” “I get it, go on to the next step before I get bored;” and the most important one: “My brain is now on overload.”
A solution for this was put into place in a large co-housing group – a kind of “condo-mune.” A group of people had to make many construction decisions about the unique ways they were planning for how their unique apartment housing was going to be built. Decision makers were given colored cards, signifying “Agree,” “Block,” and various gray areas, such as: “Disagree but will not block” and “Agree with additional conditions.” There were also “Suggestion” notices that could be combined with other cards that indicated a possible solution idea or other contribution that might enhance the currently nominated decision as it stood.

Illustrated or Story Learning

To make learning easy, the most useful tactic to note is that examples and stories connect former experiences to new ones. For each point you want to teach, find a starting place that is commonly understood and go from there toward what you’d like to illustrate that is unique and unfamiliar. The more examples, the better and faster your students will learn. Think in terms of prerequisites; for instance, if you’re a kid learning about circumference, it’s essential to already have the experience about how long the outside of a circle really is. Sometimes you really need to have the students guess and to take a real string and wrap it around a bottle, your wrist or your neck – were you surprised?

A good teacher will choose examples that interest their particular students; memorable examples that gradually lead their students’ thinking along a path of first-hand discovery. The more of these illustrations there are, the more a splendid teacher will make their students imagine they “already knew” that which most people would consider to be difficult or complicated.
In my first year in college I had a teacher who got me to agree to study Chinese with him since I already knew the content of the class I was enrolled for. After hearing about the way I memorized songs, he selected one very complex Mandarin character three or four times a week and broke each of the parts of the character apart, linking the various written marks that made them into a historical song-story. This not only taught me a whole group of “character families” at the rate of thirty to forty characters a week, but led me on a fanciful and entertaining romp through Chinese historic stories, songs and fables. If you add that up, it meant had I been able to continue, I would have become literate at writing and reading 3,000 characters in less than two years – (an unheard of pace for learning any language, let along that one.)

Learning from an Inspired Teacher

Lastly, if you notice a brilliant teacher in action, don’t be shy to learn whatever it is they love to teach. It will become memorable, no matter what the subject is. You’ll learn much more than content, if you’re paying attention. Probably you’ll learn about patience, about lessons you will be able to apply broadly to lessons of life, and there is the potential to learn about yourself. Hopefully there is the chance you’ll learn something about the way you learn best – and that’s one of the most valuable lessons you can gain from any experience.

“Now be quiet, be still, and allow for it, for the unknown. Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what it will be like.”

– Margaret Goldie, F.M. Alexander’s niece and later teacher of his Technique for 40+ years.

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We who teach A.T. have this tool that allows us to bring to expression our most cherished values. We have a means that bring under our influence the most subtle of indicators that run “under the radar” of our intentions. If that’s not accessing the ability to be “spiritually meaningful,” I’m not sure what is… In fact, I’m kinda proud of my lack of certainty. Hopefully it indicates I’m still capable of learning.

All humans have an “explanation problem,” but it’s especially true in trying to explain why Alexander Technique means so much to those of us who have discovered its value. Our education and familiarity with what we’ve gained from learning A.T. can get in our way of making it accessible to others. For many, noting your passion about something becomes a red flag that they might have to fend off a ranting “true believer.” In fact, almost any scent of marketing scares people away because they are constantly bombarded with so much of it everywhere they turn.

Persuasion seems to be a skill in a standard by itself. Perhaps appealing to the desire people have to help those they know would be a more indirect means?
Maybe the most simple and accessible descriptions might go like this template, where you can fill in the blanks:

You know how you feel when _______?
(think of an example that makes you feel lighter, like carrying a weight for awhile and then putting it down. Or use an example that creates ‘flow’ or being in love; or use a release of pressure that can be created deliberately, such as by pressing your arms outward against a doorway for a whole 30 seconds and then stopping.)
Well, what I can offer is a way to create that and apply it to everything you do. Only it’s different because of the way ___________.
Here are some benefits________.
The reason it works is ________.
Why it’s important and meaningful is because of ____________, and _______.

Here’s an example of filling in these blanks that I told the local librarian…

Learning Alexander Technique is as useful as learning to read. Perhaps think of it as movement literacy. Like reading, you can apply it to deepen any specific subject or goal you happen to become interested in or want to gain benefit through. It’s like getting a benefit through the study of how to practice. Unlike something you do, like practicing a specific somatic discipline like Yoga, you can get its benefits (aside from the time it takes to learn it) without devoting an extra dedicated hour out of your day to specifically practice it. Alexander Technique only demands remembering to use a moment of well-timed extra thought; a bit of awareness, a new intention or imagining an experimental question.
Using Alexander’s Discoveries will improve other factors as well: decision overload, directing attention, gaining better impulse control, expanding perceptual sensitivity, getting a more patient and longer learning capacity, improving practice quality. But the thing it offers that nothing else does is the ability to clear muscle memory nuisances when you’ve learned to unintentionally repeat what you don’t want to do. It gives you the power to change anything about your previous conditioning that you’d rather avoid, such as clearing unnecessary affectations of physical poise, self-image, talent or stamina.
How it works is by learning to quiet and subtract the unnecessary effort going on underneath your “radar.” It’s not substituting a supposed “better way.” on top of a “worse” one that will only need to be later revised. Instead learning A.T. works by subtracting what is unnecessary extra effort so a default physical grace can re-emerge.

What does using Alexander Technique feel like? Let’s say you’ve been carrying a kid on your shoulders for awhile and finally the kid wants to walk by themselves again. You would feel lighter without the kids’ weight, right? So, imagine if you could put down the extra unnecessary effort you are using to make every move that is going on underneath your radar. You’ll feel a similar lightness and ease of motion. Wouldn’t that be worth learning?

Now it’s your turn. How would you describe Alexander Technique to a curious open-minded person?

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