Niche of: Vocal Mannerisms

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

Alexander Technique has much to offer those who want to change the way they speak. Not public speakers, (which is an optional niche in itself,) but just regular people who are not performers who want to change the way they speak from day to day forever after.  For the sake of improving at their jobs, to transform the first impressions of others, to be better understood by others.

I originally applied Alexander Technique to changing the way I spoke to solve the challenge of an unusual vocal mannerism. I used to say everything with the up-and-down story-telling modulation tones grown-ups often reserve for speaking with children. (Also I let out my breath before I spoke to make what I was about to say less threatening.) When it was time for a business person to give me money, my up-and-down way of speaking made me appear to be unreliable.

Learning from Alexander Technique the ability to speak in more of a monotone gave me a significant and instant advantage. Those who were about to give me half of my estimate before I started their job began to willingly hand over money to seal the contract. It was a striking success!

So – one market possibility could be body language an elocution for salespeople.

But wait – here’s another even more lucrative market that is slightly related.

Think of all the telemarketers and worldwide customer service representatives in the world with a barely understandable ability to speak English because their thick accent. They have learned what to say, but don’t yet know HOW to say it so they can be understood easily. This training isn’t available to them. All of those people could benefit from a course with you teaching them Alexander Technique to refine their ability to speak English without an accent. (This is especially viable as a livelihood if you speak a second language yourself.)

But it’s also not a bad choice if English is your native language and there is another culture you’d enjoy immersing yourself in. Perhaps if your native language is English, you might have never thought much about how much of an advantage you have over someone who must learn English as a second language.  This niche also has the advantage of the situation of who you get to work with. Working with ESL students is one of the most gratifying and appreciative ways to spend your time, reputed to be on par with the consistent appreciate working with animals can give.

This is a market with tremendous potential. Every company that uses telemarketers wants their service people to succeed. Probably you could make arrangements with the company itself to conduct classes and not worry about spending your time attracting the students directly.

Anyway – two more viable suggestions for someone who teaches Alexander Technique to use as a niche for where to point or how to expand their rare skill of being able to teach F.M. Alexander’s discoveries. Of course, you’ll need to do much more in-depth research to pull off such a thing. But, I hope you’re enjoying these suggestions and would consider making use of one of them.

Please be in contact with me personally if you would like further ideas about how to make your niche work.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique

What makes Alexander Technique unique?

Everyone who reads my blog who has experience with A.T, let’s outline whatever you can think of that makes Alexander Technique stand out and be unique. Please add to the list!  It might be something trivial or funny, but that’s OK.

I’ll start with some of my own results, and then I’ll discuss some of the thinking skills that could be applied so you can continue. I have numbered them because you might want to refer to them in your comments.

  • 1. Because A.T. is meant to be coupled with any other action, no extra daily practice hour is required to get its cumulative and immediate benefits.
  • 2. Although the relationship is teacher/student – not therapist/client, the learning process also has a cumulative therapeutic effect until the student learns to bring about this benefit on their own.
  • 3. (You fill in this one with one of your suggestions…)
  • 4. Similar to the ability to think and reason, benefits of being able to update established routines relate to however the interested party applies the skill. (That’s why the list of benefits of learning A.T. sounds like snake oil if you don’t know what it is.)
  • 5. It has the proof of a factual, physical discipline to back up the functionality of it’s philosophical principles; teachers must “walk the talk” in order to do the job of hands-on guided modeling that’s the original core of the pedagogy.
  • Alexander Technique doesn’t merely give lip service to the unity of mind and body – it gives a first-hand demonstration of it as well as a tool to gain its benefits.

OK, now I’ll say a bit about how you could use thinking skills to keep going on this little brainstorming project. We’re going to use a website called http://www.practisethinking.com because it’s very simple and teaches tools by referring to other websites.
For instance, I found there a reference to a tool about how to extract concepts called a “concept fan.” It works like this:
http://www.toolkitforthinking.com/creative-thinking/concept-fan
You’d start by making a list of what occurs to you, and then step back to see if they are all related in some way. The example gives you an idea of how this works. The purpose of doing this is then you’re able to understand an assumption that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Here’s a thinking exercise that’s ever more simple: Read this sentence…and fill in the part after the “because.” I’ve done the first one, but there are many other ways to finish the sentence. What follows the  phrase starting with the word “because..” can mean “cause/effect;” it can also mean “comes from…” It can also mean,”essential ingredient.” Can you think of more implied meanings for the word “because…”? Use them to craft a phrase that answers the sentence.

  • 6. Skills that are sharpened while doing Alexander Technique are considered by those in its field to be the basis of education because……..
  1. movement is the way humans interact with their world, (well, other than sweating…

Hope you enjoyed this practical little ditty on thinking skills applied to Alexander Technique simplifications. Please report back!

Chairwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believability

English doesn’t have a convenient grammatical form to indicate or describe subjective experience. Describing the nature of reality seems to be one of the irresistible assumptions inherent within the structure of English, because there is no tense that expresses “from my point of view” – for instance, the way the Hopi language is structured. Everyone has an opinion that expresses a unique point of view. So this characteristic of language leaves English speakers to decide if and how much someone else is lying if a speaker expresses their point of view as “fact.” It may seem to be obvious fact for the speaker, but that sense of fact might not be shared by the listener.

This is part of makes it tricky to describe the subjective qualities of learning Alexander Technique. There are ways that English has qualifying phrases such as… “It seems to be,” “From my point of view” or “IMHO. ” These are examples that attempt to frame or signal that the speaker knows their certain point of view is going to follow.

 Uncertainty indicated by a writer is regarded by editors as “timid.” Writers will be admonished to come out and dare to make their definitive declarations. Editors will point out that using subjective qualifiers don’t adequately convey the writer’s motive of being certain that their point of view is a valid one. 

When I use the subjective attitude in my writing, it is not meant to be considered a rhetorical point delivered with uncertainty, self-effacement or with tongue-in-cheek. “From my point of view” is not necessarily another way of saying “I haven’t taken a poll or conducted my research properly.”

Instead, I regard using a subjective qualifier as a demonstration of conservatively stating the presence of uncertainty with an attitude of an eternally, questioning open-mindedness. 

When using those qualifiers, there’s always the possibility that a writer’s motive will be misunderstood. One solution to this is society has evolved various ways to assign believable need through specialization, degrees and qualifications that ares supposed to provide recognition – before education has happened. 

Misunderstandings have proliferated about my assuming this subjective point of view in my writing that I would like to clarify. Readers have reacted to my using language in this way by wondering if I’m obligated to talk this way legally. They wonder if I’m avoiding “making legal claims” that could be proved false, resulting in me possibly being sued for making promises I can’t keep by teaching Alexander Technique.

It appears we now have a culture subjected to an onslaught of advertising who suspects the relative truth of what everyone says, no matter their professional qualifications, skills or experience. The only mitigating factors for some decision-makers are consumer reviews and testimonials; a skeptic may even discount those. But when you think about it, a professional organization is merely a bunch of people who have gotten together, established guidelines and are charging membership dues.

In fact, scientific verification exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique. A study was published in Aug. 2008 by the British Medical Journal. This proved that getting an education in F.M. Alexander’s technique works very well to alleviate lower back pain. Other trials have proved various other applications, (Wikipedia has the links.) Because human relationship to intent, reaction and action is essential to every further success, there are unlimited applications. Perhaps it is the abstraction and scope of applications that make Alexander Technique questionable to decide to devote the considerable time, expense and effort to study.

Of course, in many cases suspicion is warranted. Being blind-sided by having too small of a sample to establish “fact” happens even to scientists who rigorously intend otherwise. Researchers recently came out with proof that some of the accepted psychological tests that are supposed to prove truths about human nature were too wide in scope. A case in point is the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma. It turns out this maxim only works within a limited Western capitalistic culture. Results do not match if the same “scientific trials” are conducted among other non-Western cultures. Apparently the “scientifically conducted” findings that the results of these tests are “proof of human nature” appear to be only true within a certain limited cultural group.

However, my use of point of view qualifiers is not motivated by fears of legal battles. In education, results are dependent on the student applying themselves. Has anyone ever heard about how a teacher could be sued for not delivering a benefit that required the student to apply it? 

Big questions remain that concerns both potential students and the teachers who have an investment in convincing the advantages of what they have to offer. Would you like a stab at forming them? Here’s my attempts.,.

  • How does a potential student gain a belief, a conviction enough to make a long-term investment in learning a particular discipline? 
  • How does a person decide before they are certain it will work for them that any solution or benefit others have gained that they are being shown applies to them personally? 

Impulse Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Sensory Illusion

You’ve heard of optical illusions? This is a proprioceptive illusion!

I love neuroscience research facts.  Check out this little article about how the brain interprets where fingers are located in spacial orientation:
http://is.gd/idllch

This tidbit seems at first like mere random curiosity, but it’s actually a very important little piece of the puzzle for our human operating manual. It shows us how our senses give us us relative sensory feedback that is not truthfully factual. What that means for all of us is because of our human ability to adapt, what is far from normal can become commonplace without our realizing what is happening. You can be doing something to yourself that is potentially painful now or intermittently; it may culminate toward chronic pain as it becomes exaggerated over time. Because your brain can be fooled by the relative nature involved in judging spacial awareness like what is happening in this Fake Finger Illusion, it’s very likely that you will not know that a potentially bad thing is happening to you.

When the article says “the human brain uses sensory signals from what we see and feel to maintain and update an internal representation of the body…” Alexander Technique teachers call this “body-mapping.” If you move with a body map that doesn’t match the way things really are, there’s a cost if it goes on or if you’re asking yourself to do things that directly go against and physically conflict with your misconception. We’ve learned that adults tend to forget they can move in every possible way; they get stuck in harmful repetitive patterns without realizing what’s happening.

Alexander Technique teachers are like human gait labs. They can see in the habitual ways a person moves the potential for long-term, cumulative damage. It’s a good idea to get checked out to see if you’re one of these people who would benefit from some preventative education to deter future problems.

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, there is a fun and memorable way to demonstrate this A.T. principle of sensory illusions in your classes and to your private students. I collect these little ways to entertain and teach my students about motor sensory distortion. F. M. Alexander used to call it “debauched kinesthesia.”

It’s a pretty common feature of lessons in Alexander Technique. If someone moves in a way that leaves out their habitual routines at the level of innate posture reflex, they will commonly feel disoriented, strange and their spacial awareness will be reporting back signals of alarm or gross distortion. A look in a mirror will prove otherwise. This alarm motivates most people to return to doing their habits to “feel right” again. It doesn’t matter to the person’s distorted sensory feedback that this sort of “right” could be terribly wrong. It matches the brain’s expectations, so supposedly “all is well.”

You can have an experience right now of this illusion without the special equipment used in the research lab. It takes two people. Just have them put their hands together, their palm of the same sided hands (two rights or two lefts) to the back of the other person’s hand. Then one person takes their other two fingers of their free hand and runs their fingers along either side of the fingers that are joined together, from palm to fingertip. The sensation of expecting to feel the other side of your own finger will be so strong that it’s offset location that the other person’s finger creates will create a strange sensation.

Try this with a friend and be amazed at the first-hand experience of “debauched kinesthesia” – or motor sensory distortion.

Why High Content?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head Moves

English is tricky when it comes to describing relative movement orientation. On this blog and if you have had Alexander Technique lessons, you’ve heard people mention something called “primary control.” Another name for it is, “Forward and Up.” Still another tag line for the same idea might be, “Head moves, body follows.”

So, what do all these mean? How could there be such different words pointing to the same quality of movement?

I’ve had the benefits of lessons with Patrick MacDonald. He had a nickname, “The Mechanic.” It wasn’t until I had a lesson with Patrick MacDonald that I understood what these words meant, because until then undoing the fixing of my neck was just a floating sensation without me knowing which way my head was going. Hopefully I can offer examples here to clarify what “head forward and up” actually means – without the benefit of having an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands to show you.

Let’s use two simple examples. “Head forward” means the first part of the the sort of movement that happens if someone is tipping their hat, as in nodding “yes.” “Head back” is that part of the same nod that happens as someone looks up, and the back of their head tips downward. Both motions involve changing the relationship of the head to the top of the spine, which can be pointed to by putting your fingers in your ears.

You can try this fingers in the ears thing, using the “yes” motion to indicate to yourself where the fulcrum of motion really is. Leave your fingers as the pointer in your ears and moving your head will allow you to hear if your head rubs against your fingers. The least sound indicates your pointing to the fulcrum. For some people, it’s a bit behind their ear openings and for others, a bit in front or below.

Of course, heads can move in many ways. “Head forward and back in space” means changing the orientation whether the head hangs out on front of the body or moves to end up more in line with the body. Here’s an example of a dance tutorial that illustrates it: http://youtu.be/rZcTrfvyLJc
The first half this video shows, “head forward in space” (in this dance move, the shoulders then move to catch up with the head) and then as the dancer reverses, “head back in space.” (The last half of the video become more complex and doesn’t apply.)

“Up” is always in relationship to yourself – as in “above yourself.”

Simple enough? Now if you tried something like this, let’s talk about the quality of movement you’d want to be using. The quality of the movement you want is easy and effortless, not full of conflict and pushiness.

Hope that helps!

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

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

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

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

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

E…EVALUATE Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th 

D…DIRECT – Today, the final post of the series – avoid training your mistakes, interrupting routines and today’s post is how to clear sensory feedback noise.

Directing – Clearing Sensory Feedback

OK, so let’s say we have connected up the steps of the process to the effortless doing of an action successfully – preventing old nuisance habitual responses. (Please read the previous post if this doesn’t make sense to you yet.) This is preparation for Directing. The steps of the action can now be “actively” thought or said – but without the movement action attached.

Why connect the strategy of “directing” to non-action is in another brain fact. There’s a big signal-to-noise issue between feedback and active movement. To minimize this, it works to slow down the activity (or refuse what is unwanted entirely) and then recite or think a narration as steps for the new, improved process.

If you have been following previous posts – you learned the importance of connecting up these directions using a new way to prepare for action. These new ability to “Direct” are words or thoughts that will substitute for habitual movement preparation before you know you’ve decided to move. What you want to replace are the old preparations that go on in the brain and body responses before the choice to move happens. Directing is intended as a precursor behind the urge to move.

The reason for non-action is to prevent the habitual response from jumping in to answer the urge to “do it.” Replacing habitual preparation for movement with Direction is similar to visualization – only Directing uses a kinesthetic and/or verbal strategy.

Because Directions are done by thinking the steps of what you’re intending to do very deliberately – without doing them – that’s why it’s important to have already connected words to the steps of how you intend to proceed as we learned in our last post. We compose these words in the passive impersonal present tense to avoid any urge for over-doing these suggestions. Here’s an example of what we might say using an example from Alexander Technique :

“The neck frees and the head aims forward and up,

while the torso lengthens and widens.

Then the knees go forward and away… “

 

Then the new steps can begin that would carry out original goals with new starting point. It will also be possible to do something else instead as a fresh last-moment decision – turning on a dime.

Now – what happens? Probably something below the level of what you can perceive. That’s why Directions are repeated, surrendering the urge for feeling around to verify results. What we’re after is allowing the body to return to it’s resting length so a full range of action is available when we do respond in action. We’d like to be free of conflicted or outdated responses and free to improvise.

After using all the steps of Alexander Technique, when you do act, there is a significant “feeling” that happens. It’s a signature sensation that Alexander Technique teachers offer. With some practice and smart strategic thinking, you’ll be able to do it yourself. It’s this delicious sense of “flow.” Or as it used to be known among Alexander Technique crowd, “Do-Less-Ness.” It’s almost a religious experience, but without the cultural values attached.

What’s after this? You might make a discovery about the nature of you suspended goal. If you want more discoveries, well, do the steps again. Remember how you were NAMED!

  1. Notice
  2. Ask
  3. Move
  4. Evaluate
  5. Direct

 

This is the conclusion of a mini-course. We’ve been using NAMED to help Alexander Technique students remember the entire class content of using the Alexander Technique. Hope you enjoyed it!

 

 Happy Experimenting!

Directing by Interrupting Routines

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 is a category for each of the steps.

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

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

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

E…EVALUATE  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and make conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts – on April 25th: avoid training your mistakes…so today’s post is on: Interrupting Routines. 

 

Directing – Interrupting Routines

A saying from brain science is, “what fires together, wires together.” This same phenomena has a similar description from the field of animal training called,”building behavior chains.”

The individual parts of a skill are joined together as a chain of ingredients.This brings the advantage of first learning a sequence of simpler movements can be practiced individually. They then can be connected together so they will fire off at the order to “go” as one smooth continuum. Think of the timing of a fireworks finale that makes a picture in the sky, and you can appreciate how amazingly complex behavior chains are when combined into common skills such as walking on uneven ground. In fact, navigating uneven ground is one of the complex challenges for artificial intelligence robots.

There are a number of strategies to use if you’re having trouble improving an already trained behavior chain. If you have the sort of motion that needs to have certain qualities separated from “better” qualities, using a very slow speed will frustrate the old habit to wither away, so what is newer and better has a chance to happen.

You can also purposely put the trigger for the behavior chain on cue, and then don’t give the cue. Now go ahead and do the suspended action without feeling prepared. This strategy works with a really insistent habit. Actively refuse to give the order to “go” that encourages the whole “old'” behavior chained routine to fire off. Then you can originate a new firing sequence for the activity in a new way and substitute the new for the old. Or you can indefinitely continue to improvise, while continuing to refuse the old way, never going back to it. The last two are use the strategies of Directing.

Directing nips in the bud a very pervasive habit at its source that is below our level of perception. It’s how to stop doing a routine so deeply trained that you can’t even perceive you are doing in the first place. An example would be changing a speaking mannerism or habitual body language or the way you learned to hold a musical instrument or a tool.

Why does it work?

From brain science, preparation for movement happens a long while before people know they have decided to move. Measured MRI brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation.

This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

In Alexander Technique, we call this  substituting for the precursor of movement preparation to “Inhibit” and “Direct.” To use this strategy of “giving Directions,” takes two steps. First, we connect this “precursor of action” to words – without acting on them. We’re refusing old preparations to act, so it’s a paradoxical sort of an action – preparation to clear the ability to perceive by deliberately not acting, not expecting, not anticipating.

The last step in Directing is explained in the last post, coming tomorrow.

If this doesn’t make any sense to you – perhaps you’d like to get an Alexander Technique lesson from a teacher who can give you a demonstration using your own experiences? It minimizes mistakes to have an Alexander Technique teacher to guide this new connection so signal-to-noise feedback is minimized when you continue from Directing into activity.

 

More about the last step of Clearing Sensory Feedback in the final post of the series of NAMED – a mnemonic which helps students remembering to use all the steps of F.M. Alexander’s Technique.

Directing – Avoid Mistakes

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  Exploring how to regard purposes, standards and timing and how to get conclusions – in three parts on April 14th, 15th, and 16th

D…DIRECT –  Again, in three parts over the next three days – the first here is about how to avoid training your mistakes…

 

Directing – Avoid repeating mistakes

The Alexander Technique works if you follow the process using NAME – without the “D” on the end. But there are three more very powerful additional tips that work for very difficult habits. They can be remembered by using “D” for “Direction.”  They are: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupt Routines and Clear Feedback.

The word “direct” has a few meanings. In this step, it’s meant to direct yourself – as a conductor would direct a musical orchestra. After getting results using NAME, we use the “D” by Directing to consider and renew the vision of where we’re going. We make suggestions to ourselves what to do about our Evaluations, without repeating the unnecessary routines we just worked to avoid.

Of these points in that previous sentence, the trickiest and most paradoxical is “without activating unnecessary movement routines.”

Here is a brain fact that backs up the value of practicing avoiding habits in this indirect way. Measured brain activity shows that humans are in preparation for a specific activity a long while before they know they have decided to act on it. There is only 1/64th of a second available to change, refuse or redirect the way we have been preparing to respond without being aware of this preparation. This matches what F.M. Alexander observed when he tried to change his own speech problems. Humans don’t have “free will.” Instead, we have “free won’t.”

How to practice this indirect paradox of not responding with unnecessary routines? The most well-known strategy is to train a new habit and insert it in the place of the old habit. But even after you train a new habit, you still need to substitute the new routine in place of the old. Sometimes the old habit is too persistent and doesn’t want to let go.

This is because the new habit isn’t as strong as the old behavior. As a fact, it takes repeating something at least five times to begin to practice it. It takes somewhere around seventy times to reliably train and install a new routine. 

As an experiment – cross your arms. Now cross them the opposite way. Usually, one way of crossing your arms will feel a bit odd. It may actually be tricky to do instead of the old habit. Once you’ve been able to do this, now intentionally cross your arms the unusual way, going as slowly as you need to go to have positive experiences and gradually speeding up.

How many times until crossing your arms until the new way began to lose its sense of oddity? These numbers are slightly different for different people; but it’s somewhere between five and ten times when a person has begun to train a new habit. For most people, by the fifth time, any unfamiliar action will lose its sense of strangeness.

Regarding this fact from the other point of view, if you can prevent yourself from repeating a mistake less than five times – then you’re not unintentionally training yourself to repeat your mistakes. Useful fact to know, isn’t it?

Stay tuned for the final two posts in the series of NAMED tomorrow and the next day.
Directing: Interrupt Routines and the conclusion:
Directing: Clear Sensory Feedback… 

Evaluate Conclusions

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 – Started on April 4th, 2012, with points for 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: For What Purposes? Standards and Timing  and this post on evaluating conclusions

D…direct – also a three part explanation: Avoid Mistakes, Interrupting Routines and Clearing Sensory Feedback

Evaluate the Conclusions

Once results are obtained after conclusions are made, it’s tempting to file them away so they can be recalled using familiar retrieval memory skills. We will attempt to “evoke” the results with such techniques as repeating “magic words” or sorting. It makes sense to the brain that content and information that we “know” works in this manner, with producing the “right answer.” After all, schooling groomed this memory retrieval process during our education.

Performance ability is a different animal. Because many unique situational factors and chains of skills that got built must be taken into account as we perform, the process followed will determine our success. It’s not a matter of memory, but a matter of training.
Follow an old process, and you’ll get familiar results. For new results, we must follow the newer processes – and this  takes courage to do what’s unfamiliar and time for training and practice of a new way when the new process is an unfamiliar one. To build a bridge between our old knowledge and our new experience so we can remember it, we need to note similarities – without discounting the uniqueness of the new experience.

It also takes a strange ability for abstraction and paradox.  The “how” seems too abstract to repeat, because the discovery was so…funny. But what makes us laugh at not being able to “get it” when it seems so obvious now –  that is the pathway to new and exciting territory.

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.

Evaluating – For What?

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 – Bonus tips for dealing with difficult challenges, also in three parts…

Evaluating – for What?

We all know how to apply our usual ways of coming to a conclusion. Not as often do we spell out to what standards we’re applying our comparisons. Most of us seldom question the standards’ legitimacy and relevance to our particular unique situation. We assume that we know what we’re doing.

But do we? Is our internal feedback mechanism reliable when it comes to judging movement? Does it represent reality?

Surprisingly, perception is relative. Meaning, perception doesn’t work as if it’s an absolute fact. Sensory perception registers feedback in relationship; it tells you what is going on in relationship to what is “normal.”  This is why in science experiments trouble is taken to establish a basis to which experimental results are compared. This is also why such a surprise occurs as you are hearing your own voice when it has been recorded playing back – or seeing yourself on a video camera. Or why an idea seems as if it’s a good idea sometimes and not other times depending on your attitude.

Let’s say you habitually lean backward and step heel first as you walk. If you change your balance to landing on the balls of your feet and happen to look in a mirror or get the feedback of a video camera, you may be surprised to find yourself more upright when you mistakenly sense you are leaning forwards. Given whatever state you start in, you will only register a change in your orientation or attitude, (attitude in a nautical sense.) Your body sending you the “fact” of absolute location has been a mistake. You’ve gotten “used to” your habitual attitude of expecting your weight to land on your heels first. (Of course, this perception factor would be reversed for other habitual attitudes.)

If we’re going to be able to interpret what has happened during an experiment with moving differently, we need to take this factor into account.

How would we do that? How would someone tell the difference between a valuable new and out-of-the-box experience and a merely different useless random strangeness?

The first thing to do is to suspend the urge to “revert” when you feel a bit strange. When you get some sort of weird, off-balance or unfamiliar feedback, do you tend to want to put yourself back where you were feeling OK? Obviously, it pays to think about it when you experience something new and evaluate with the question in mind.

The secret question is: “Am I using less effort?”

It may be that the new perceptual experience could be used in some way to your advantage. Allow it to continue and describe some of it’s characteristics for a bit and see what happens…

Move

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 series was started on April 4th. 2013

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

M…move

E…evaluate

D…direct

MOVE!
Once you’ve got some observations and have asked some questions, it’s time to conduct the experiment.

You’ve probably got some ideas what might be a better way to accomplish the goals you have in mind. What we’re talking about here is how you might move to put these goals into action where the rubber meets the road…how you walk your talk, so to speak.

The usual way to accomplish goals is to become urged on to do so. This is a fine strategy when tiredness or overcoming resistance is a factor. But what if those are not the issue? Does urging help when there there is plenty of motivation, (maybe too much of it) – so much desire to succeed that the person is beginning to overdo, to fall over themselves or freeze up? What happens when there is so much value riding out an outcome? For instance, how can that experienced pool shark miss that “easy” shot merely because of the pressure of it meaning winning a tournament award?

Conducting an experiment means you’ve never done it before. You’re not urging yourself on to keep going, you’re urging yourself to dare to metaphorically jump off a cliff while paying attention.

In order to learn any skill reliably, it takes practice. Practice when the pressure is off, and when the pressure is on you’ll have much more of a chance to put it into action at a crucial moment.

So the first ingredient for conducting an experiment is to make it safe for yourself to take chances. Try to put in place various guarantees on personal safety, social consequences, to take responsibility for other people’s possessions and other concerns you might need to minimize risk or loss. Find the smallest chunk that doesn’t make the alarms go off that engages the habit.

Instead of substituting one “better” set of procedures for a “worse” out-dated ones, I’m going to suggest that you merely stop doing the outdated ones and see what happens. Perhaps you do not need the put in place any other substitutions.

Stopping what you had been doing that was leading you where you did not want to go is the first step – and sometimes the only step needed for improvements to arise spontaneously.

Give it a go!

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…

What Made Me Open-minded

How I came to value Alexander Technique

I noticed the difference between adults and kids was stiffness from since before I could remember. Despite resolving as a kid to never “get stiff,” I was only able to avoid a mental brand of stiffness by being open to change in my thinking and attitudes. Probably I first received this “inoculation” for open-mindedness by being the child of an inventor, who was an immigrant in a new culture. He was a wise parent – as was my mom. Aside from their open-minded attitudes, they were able to spend a great deal of time with us as kids.

I am living proof that it’s possible to never lose one’s own curiosity, despite the loss of original childhood-blessed coordination from many uncommonly difficult life experiences.

Physically adapting to circumstances to avoid pain, my having to adapt to a change of height or weight  – all these influences made my own “mis-use” pretty much irresistible. My parents didn’t have particularly good coordination at all. I needed practical ways to express my open-mindedness that worked to make real improvements in my life. If I hadn’t had them, I would probably have bitterly given up, resigning from discouragement and over-sensitivity long ago. Until I got the tools to heal a mind-body split from using the discipline of Alexander Technique, I had little chance of executing a change toward effortlessness in my coordination. “Little chance” meant that I was the victim of a thoughtless but well-intentioned medical procedure that had unforeseen lifelong consequences – as a baby. Doctors thought it was more “kind” to tie off a birth defect gristle on my ear with a rubber band. It caused me as a baby to tense up the side of my neck randomly because the four week experience was an irritant. Only two decades later did doctors realize the procedure was destructive. Children who had had this done developed random back, neck, hip and knee problems when they reached skeletal maturity around seventeen years old.

I am not sure if it was was purely the chance of having experienced, insightful parents that helped me remain open to solutions. Perhaps it was the sad experience of becoming an orphan when I was a teen that led me to reflect and reconsider the effect of my actions. In that era, there was no grief counseling (or depression medication, thankfully!)

My capacity for denial was the only tool I had to cope with grief. Looking back, I wonder if it was a back-handed benefit to be able to so completely shut myself off with denial. Because when I ready to come out of my shell to make a friend, evidently I opened up farther than most people were capable of doing.

I cannot think of any other reason why it was me who had “Peak” consciousness experiences perhaps fifty times over a period of a couple of years. These experiences of a “state of grace” allowed me to be in a “flow” state with effortless posture and energy for days at a time. Without ever having taken mind-altering drugs, I experienced sustained psychedelic effects similar to the effects of magic mushrooms. Because this was the late 1960s psychedelics culture of experimentation, I did not think of my experiences as a sign of insanity – merely a sign of enlightenment.

One of the effects of having had these experiences is I got to embody “flow states.” I noticed the difference between me when I was in these “states of grace” meant my posture improved. For instance, I could run indefinitely without getting tired. I could almost read minds by being able to anticipate where people were going to move next.

But in my everyday life, I didn’t know how to regain the energy I experienced while in these altered states. I had no idea how to evoke these special states – they merely happened to me at unpredictable times. Valuing the beautiful coordination and other characteristics of being in these “flow” states did not stop my physical limitations from showing up at seventeen. Until I discovered Alexander Technique I had the flash of enlightenment, but not the knowledge to “turn back the clock” to youthful effortlessness. Even then, I thought of it as a means to suspend time.

My desire for “flow” experiences did allow me to recognize someone who was practicing Alexander Technique. That one person showed me a whole new world of possibility, Yisrael Kenneth Feldsott. He was training with Giora Pincas and Frank Ottiwell’s ACT teacher-training class for Alexander Technique. I watched Kenny tie his shoe and was completely entranced by the beauty of how he moved.  I thought Kenny’s ability to move beautifully meant he was capable of enlightenment states – and I was right.

What led you to value the ability to walk the pathway you’re on now?

Why Buy A.T.?

So – let’s take a lesson from someone professional about “attractors” of why people buy and how they define what they want.

According to Sally Hogshead, people become fascinated and buy for certain reasons. Let’s relate these to Alexander Technique…

  • Mystique (because A.T. satisfies curiosity or spiritual purpose)
  • Emotional passion (because A.T. recovers a hobby or skill that was lost)
  • Power, command and authority (because A.T. makes the uncontrolled controllable)
  • Rebellion and vice – (because A.T. surpasses knee-jerk conditioned responses)
  • Prestige and social approval (because A.T. provides a means to fame for performers)
  • Trust and belonging (because it allows membership, body learning and longevity)
  • Fear and alarm (because it solves urgent or distressing mystery problems)

Let’s try another approach. Let’s be bold and declare exactly what we, as teachers of Alexander Technique, do have to offer people. What do you have to offer others from your own personal story? For instance, I’ve been using A.T. to avoid a knee replacement since I’ve been in my early twenties, which has given me high level of personal compassion for those who have been dealing with ongoing painful medical mysteries. Because I taught myself I can teach someone to juggle who is truly a klutz – someone who doesn’t even know how to throw. I can teach pool- billiard shooters, because shooting 8-ball was the first skill I used A.T. to learn from scratch. Having done it myself, I’ve taught myself how to change the way I spoke – complete with how I breathe as I talked. I can teach singers because I used A.T. to learn singing and playing the piano at the same time.
That’s a few of my unique perspectives.
An Alexander Technique teacher can:

  • perceive a student’s subtle repeating body language patterns in a flash of insight with sharp observation that isn’t judgemental about the content of a student’s values.
  • Design specific examples that express and teach abstract concepts. If you teach something, I can offer you originally designed lessons that integrate A.T. principles in your specialization
  • Teach students to observe themselves, in action, as they are doing something, below their usual levels of awareness. (Where else can students learn self-observation?)
  • Because I encourage questioning and constantly articulate WHY I’m teaching the way I do, my students become autonomous quickly and use their freedom to make their own discoveries that brings out their creative abilities and hidden skills.
  • Rather than subjecting a student to prepared course material, private lessons grasp a student’s alternative viewpoint, perspective and idiosyncratic concerns. Meaning: private lessons are tailored to unusual mixtures of learning styles.
  • have the ability to merge paradoxical extremes into practical, usable factors. This means that the movement the doctor said you should not do anymore will become possible, given directed, patient practice. Alexander Technique teachers are a living human gait laboratory.
  • Students learn to size up the situation perceptively and become able to take constructive action instead of wasting their efforts at self-improvement.

Please tell me about your strengths as an Alexander Technique teacher (or the amazing things Alexander Technique teachers can do or have done in your presence!) in our Facebook discussions – or whatever comes up for you from what I’ve written here and I’ll address what we discuss in future posts. If enough interest in generated, perhaps we can start a Facebook page where students can talk about how interesting their Alexander Technique teachers are and the insights they offer.

Selling A.T. – continued

This post is a continuing discussion about marketing Alexander Technique, addressed to my colleagues of Alexander Technique.

Jeremy Chance,  in his advice for specific A.T. teachers has suggested that I “find the money” from having gained a following among my peers for the quality of my writing about Alexander Technique.
As colleagues, I believe that all of us trained in Alexander Technique would be best served by teaching each other freely on equal terms. I’ve come to this conclusion after studying with Marj Barstow – in workshops where she was the senior teacher to us all. Once you’ve been trained as a teacher, paying a tribute for continuing education should be over. (Paying for the logistics of getting together is another beast.) So that’s why I haven’t gone down the road toward making money from other Alexander Technique teachers. At least my twenty years of history in writing about A.T. did finally indirectly  inspire a few Alexander teachers to get out there and write! That has been my objective, and it’s been fulfilled.

In my recent exchange with Jeremy Chance, why would I fight his solution of establishing a niche?

Let me mention some of the beginning assumptions. First, I don’t have anything against being in business mode. I’ve started businesses from scratch many times, and specialized in at least one of them. (See other parts of my website.)
What attracts many, many students is often trivial. Later they get a clue. After their issue that attracted them has been solved, they realize there might be more to what happened than merely their own concerns. Some students do stop at the answer to their solution, and that’s OK.

What originally attracted me to A.T. was my curiosity about the mystique of it. I walked into a room full of teacher-trainees, and I saw people who were capable of shifting their conscious awareness.

But I also objected to that attractor, so much that I feel intentionally deceptive using it to attract others. It’s the same reason I don’t want to attract a following as a “guru,” even though I’ve had what could deemed multiple “enlightenment” experiences. Because A.T. was connected to performance and actors, the people who used this attractor also used an exclusive snobbish that I abhorred. In my writing and popularizing Alexander Technique, I aimed to “demystify” to make A.T. to be easy to understand, not increase its elusive mysteries as status symbol actor trade secret that it was when I was attracted to it. At the time I started this impossible task, (1978-1980) nobody was writing or talking about Alexander Technique – except me…even while hitchhiking to get to teacher-training class on Hwy One when my car broke down. It was phenomenal the way my sole efforts transformed the awareness of A.T. in the San Francisco Bay area for other Alexander Technique teacher.

In that era, Alexander Technique was considered elusive – and there was a reason for that. The experience of lessons takes students to the edge of their perceptual capacity to perceive motion and provides an entirely new perceptual assumption. At the time, nobody knew how to talk about that – except me. When I would talk about it, people who had A.T. lessons would say, “What you say and how you write makes sense to me, but would be it make sense to someone who had never had an experience with Alexander Technique?” I thought those comments reflected the exclusive knowledge mind-set of how A.T. had been previously sold.

People in the Alexander Technique field still don’t talk about how doing it shifts your awareness and level of happiness. Probably because that aren’t so many people who don’t want to make a change – (including myself here, apparently.) Instead, A.T. teachers are reduced to declaring about how it works for back pain and other practical niche solutions. For me, selling A.T. by pedalling benefits is turning A.T. into something similar to selling Snake Oil. AT least it makes A.T. sound like Possibly Effective Placebo Snake Oil, which it is not what it is at all.
My question for the plethora of A.T. niche determiners: In the eye of the buyer, what makes your teaching of A.T. different from every old-fashioned brand of Snake Oil? (It’s a wonderful way to get a mission statement out of yourself.)
When I answer my own question: ” I teach A.T. as an intentional experiment to tap the unknown for new discoveries in how intent translates to action.”

You can read Jeremy Chance’s reply to some of my questions [linked] here.

Selling Alexander Technique

Recently, the Alexander Technique community has been treated to an online course in business management. Offered by Jeremy Chance, he’s now in the stage where he’s using real people as examples. Being a classic under-achiever, I volunteered!
http://jeremychance.blogspot.jp/2013/01/w0106-case-studies-franis-engel-in.html
This led to a chat with Jeremy revealing the challenges inherent in my twisted sense of business acumen that I’d like to share with you. We were discussing the selection of a “niche” in marketing.

The psychic core that has you dashing from one thing to another and not sticking with a conscious, constructive plan that could give you the support your brilliance needs. I have a few people like this, and I number myself among them. I was “saved” by getting married at 43 and having two kids – I HAD TO STICK TO SOMETHING. Three other people depended upon me. It seems to me that is the core issue you face – do you agree? Do you have another take? I think that would serve many readers…

Yes, I have another “take.” “Following the tried and true” is a common admonition that hasn’t worked for me.
The drive is obviously in me, because why would I continue to be so dedicated to writing? Writing about subjective experience is tricky; it wasn’t my natural talent. Can I turn my writing skill into a money-making form? Either I need to invent a new form, (such as a Skype workshop series?) or marry some of my skills into a new form that combines what I already have done with A.T. as experimental principles. I’ll have to think about that one. What do I already do as naturally as breathing? (Off the cuff, I’m best at generating ideas designing experiments via telephone workshops.)
My best role model in the A.T. World would be Roy Palmer. His “niche” is “writing e-books about AT in sports.” Roy has defined a large, free ranging area of his interest and continues to publish e-books for each area. Each book is supported by a unique website and other marketing activities that are all similar for every book he publishes.
I have plenty of possible money-making projects that show potential that would support the appearance of students who want to learn A.T. But I just don’t finish them. From Barbara Sher’s advice, I’ve realized perhaps my problem has been a lack of a “buddy” to support and keep me on track.
Anyway – our society is made of specialists who are “known for” what they do. I don’t fit that model because I’m a generalist. I’m an innovator-journalist. Specialization is a fad.

Yeah, because it [niche specialization] works!

True. But I’ve tried to fit into that “specialist” mold in my life. It doesn’t supply fulfilment. Attempting to cram yourself into a mold will result in the you or the mold breaking. I’ve already experienced the break.

I’ve trained for more than one job that involved a lifestyle template that I wasn’t able to tolerate. Yet, the training model and activities themselves were exactly perfect.
Even the energy required to complete teacher-training for A.T. wasn’t sustainable for me – I financially crashed and burned right in the middle of my A.T. Training. Someone my age at that time would have had parents come to their rescue; I didn’t. If it wasn’t for Marj Barstow offering me the trade of writing for her in exchange for her teaching me, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my teacher training.

You can’t do what you don’t know if you keep on doing what you do know!

Except I’ve been there, done that. It was unsustainable for me. In a sense, specialization for me is short-term “end-gaining.” I guess that’s not the case completely. I specialize in my mural sign painting on windows without suffering, because it’s seasonal.

We all have the capacity to over-ride our essential nature in the service of …what? For you it was the needs of your family that convinced you to change. As I said, me having more money is just not enough to convince me to change that nature in myself.  Maybe wanting to communicate the benefit of my experience is – so I’ve been doing that directly. The complication is that people won’t recognize the value of my experience – unless I make them pay for it.


Jeremy, you suggested a mentor – who has knowledge of a similar sort of person who I’m trying to reach. Let’s say my “perfect students” are those multi-talented older women. Barbara Sher sells to this same crowd. I’ll use her “Wish-Obstacle” format.
Wish: To inspire the desire for a need for what I offer that nobody knows they need. Obstacle: people have no frame of reference for what it is I’m able to offer them – how do they get this?
I’ve asked her directly. Barbara Sher said, “Tell a story to show the context.”
  Would story-telling work in place of hands-on, which offers context?

I have a strange idea. Perhaps the answer for me is merely to teach Alexander Technique at cost. I haven’t tried that yet. I’d be willing to see where it leads me. If I’m resisting making money in some way – what is the harm in “give in” to that urge to share what I have to offer at cost? There is no A.T. Teacher who will suffer from me giving inexpensive classes, because I am the only teacher who is teaching on the Big Island right now. Wish: to communicate by using my talent for rapport. Obstacle: lack of respect. People don’t pay attention when a teacher makes learning easy, because the student is not making enough of a [monetary] sacrifice. Your answer?

My continuing interest in writing about A.T. merely comes from believing in A.T. effectiveness and wanting to communicate it. I guess I must ask myself, “Is writing about A.T. without getting paid and having a couple of students a month satisfying enough for it to be all I ever do?”

Translate

If you practice Alexander Technique but haven’t considered writing about it – I wonder if you would consider how, in many ways, translating is the essence of Alexander Technique.  In Alexander Technique, we attempt to sell the value of preventing wasted effort and directing physical energy where it was intended to go. Where to go with what you have learned reflects your own values.

I’d like to encourage those who practice Alexander Technique to write about what they have been doing – or illustrate, mind-map it; sculpt it, craft, sew it, gesture or animate it in a movie. Because what you’re doing and the way you go about it is bound to be interesting.

Alexander Technique expresses thoughtful, intangible intent by embodying it within a distilled, clarified, physical expression. This takes time and commitment, but is also demonstrated in each Alexander Technique lesson with a teacher and each time someone uses Alexander’s principles. In the case of how Alexander Technique has been taught in the past – the physical expression using our own direct movements has been the form. Writing is another form that will point toward the benefits and expresses a commitment to translating learning into other forms.

Anyone who loves what they are doing might elevate it to the state of making it an art. Just translate the medium of expression from movement into ______________ (fill in the blank.) That’s why performers have been attracted to Alexander Technique in the past. The reason for devotion to their art is that it expresses what cannot be said in words.

Of course, content attracts attention – however it’s presented. After having written on the subject of Alexander Technique for thirty years, I’m now exploring how words combined with illustrated pictures as examples could provide even faster communication than words alone. Stay tuned for the results – coming soon!

My virtual challenge is to continue to distill the content of what I’m communicating without shorting the content. I’d like to both simplify and articulate the expansion of the complexity and potential of Alexander Technique.

To orchestrate a learning experience as a teacher, you must find many ways to express in some tangible form “what is inexpressible,” because learners learn in so many different ways. Once expressed in words or an outline, then you can compile, shape or orchestrate the content into (hopefully) many ongoing skilled multi-sensory communication forms.

One of my favorite virtual questions right now is, “How to express and cultivate and inspire people toward the cutting edge of their discovering processes?  Because it seems to me that the willingness to learn is the most important first step.

What’s your favorite virtual question right now?

Coaching Yourself

Ten Points for Coaching Yourself

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

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

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

Recognizing a Discovery

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

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

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

Observation and Awareness

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

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

 Suspend Previous Solutions

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

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

The Custom Design of Answers, Solutions and Remedies

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

 Forming Useful Questions

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

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

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

 Clear The Decks for Action

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

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

First Subtract What’s Unnecessary

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

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

Prevent What We Don’t Want From Happening

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

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

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

 Practice What You Do Want

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

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

 Attitude and Altitude

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

Inhibition is the Map!

Today I was listening to a conversation with Michael Frederick that was recorded as a podcast on Robert Rickover’s blog post about Marj Barstow. I got to the 29 minute point. Here is when the discussion turned to a question a student had asked Marj Barstow in one of the many workshops. “Why don’t you use inhibition when teaching?” Marj answered carefully, “Everything I teach is inhibition.”

What does “inhibition” mean? In a classic sense, inhibition is interrupting what you don’t want to continue to do, so you can do what you want. Alexander Technique students are literally taught to actually stop what they were about to do and pay attention to what they are doing with themselves before resuming action. Marj Barstow had a very different interpretation of the principle of inhibition. She saw it as indirect prevention. I’ve heard her say that inhibition means…

“Inhibition is prevention. Inhibition is any action that prevents you from doing what you don’t want. Inhibition continues within movement; you don’t want to get stiff. A person can change what they’re doing while in action, stopping is not required. Inhibition is positive. Going in the direction you want stops by elimination how you have been going wrong. You can’t commit to going in two directions at once…”

Well, you can try going in both directions at once. Pain is eventually the result, because it pulls everything that is you out of whack. Your poor body will try to accommodate your conflicting commands as best it can, which isn’t best.

Rickover offered an interesting metaphor for what we call inhibition in Alexander Technique to explain the attitude of Marj Barstow about how she expressed it in her work. His metaphor was something like this:

Let’s say that you’re driving and you realize you’ve gone the wrong way. To correct your course, you might make a U-turn, you might come to a complete stop while doing so, or not. By turning around you can retrace your steps to where you lost your way and continue on from there.

I’m going to continue that metaphor… What if you have a map? Alexander Technique the way Marj Barstow taught us was like having a map of principles about human reaction and response. With a map and the ability to observe where you are oriented, you can plot how to get back on course strategically – without having to retrace your steps. The direction you were conditioned to go in your childhood doesn’t matter. You can start from where you are and go the way you want to live your life from this point forward.

The idea of inhibition is interesting. You need inhibition just like you need the presence of mind to remember you did not want to turn down the same road to go home when you don’t want to go home yet. Of course it’s tricky to be aware in moments where you’re not aware. There are steps for suspending what you don’t want and instead doing what you do want.

The first step is self observation. You become aware of how your habits knock you off course. You learn to perceive the habitual pattern and recognize when it will likely kick in. Then you can design and follow a way to carry out a new logistical strategy to stop it. It turns out that brain science says whenever we go into action, we’ve already prepared quite a bit before we know we are choosing to do something. The only choice we have is to interrupt or redirect our preparations. We’ve got 1/64th of a second before we must do what we’ve prepared ourselves to do.

So interrupting habits is a skill that takes timing and awareness. Remember all those things you were sold on being socially unacceptable? You can use them to inhibit your unwanted habits. You want to cheat, lie, outsmart, fool, detour, side-step or preclude the trained, habitual urge you have installed to steer you wrong.

Designing a way that works to inhibit requires careful thinking. When the habit starts is a factor, because once it gets going it’s harder to interrupt. You might have to try different strategies if the first or second or third possibility doesn’t work. Happily, you don’t have to figure out what to do as a replacement once the unwanted routine releases it’s control. Other more constructive solutions will rise to the occasion once the habitual interference is gone.

It takes practice, and it’s sometimes tricky. You’re catching what you can’t normally perceive that’s operating under your radar. Habits are tricky enough to try to preserve the need for themselves, just like bureaucracies. You put your strategic plan into practice in the important moment of choice by practicing doing it in moments when it’s not so important and commonplace.

Of course it sometimes results in strange, even fearful new sensations. The uncertainty of a new direction can be disorienting. But that’s not so much of a problem. You can get the old habit back any time you wish. The habit remains in your “bag of tricks” as an option, but since you’ve worked to allow another more efficient route to get to your destination, the habit doesn’t go into action irresistibly every time you want to get somewhere.

To continue the metaphor, if you use the awareness of inhibition…you’ll have a “new way home” that is more direct, takes less time and costs less energy to get there. It’s like riding on an empty freeway after being in a traffic jam. Wheeeee!

Endgaining Defined

This is a new word that has been in use by the Alexander Technique community since 1930s, invented by the founder. It describes the expression, “Go for it!” The word also describes the troublesome limitations of using one’s will in the face of a new challenge. The word endgaining describes the irresistible urge to gain an intended goal that activates a habitual response connected to using one’s will.

The word in the Alexander Technique community is most often used to express a lack of success, for a number of reasons. The best example of the issues may be illustrated by the metaphor of a conductor and orchestra. The conductor assumes when they give the direction for a certain musical effect, that the musicians are skilled and practiced enough to do what it takes to make the conductor’s direction to come true. The success of the in-time response to the conductor will be in direct relationship to the amount of practice the musicians have invested in the skill of playing their instrument, what they expect from their familiarity with the music they have prepared to play and their ability to make sense of what the conductor is indicating. A lack of practice will result in a lack of success and a frustrated conductor.

The first issue is the effect of practice and how repetition builds abilities. Endgaining relates to this because the skill that has been practiced the most will jump forward to carry out the imperative direction to “do it” whenever the signal to do an act is given.

The other feature that determines success is motivation or drive, which is popularly expressed in the use of will. A lack of success expressed in the word “endgain” is backed up by brain research. Movement actions have already been prepared to occur before conscious awareness of action happens. Technically, a person prepares to go into action long before that person is aware of their desire to act. Humans have only 1/64th of a second to veto or shape the way they are going to do an action that is already been prepared and is in progress inside of them before it becomes expressed in an overt action.

So – using one’s will power to carry out an intention only works in relationship to how familiar and practiced a person is with the required skills needed. Endgaining means there is a primary motive towards reaching an aim, disregarding the method used to achieve the intended goal.

If we ignore the way we do things, the means we are most familiar to get our goals will happen. If the goal requires a familiar means for success or successively matches similiar skills previously trained, all is well. But a new situation requires a new and unfamiliar means, there might be undesirable consequences. During situations that do not match previously trained skills inappropriate to the situation, pain, illness and injury occur. It will not matter how imperative the need or will to succeed is. An epic fail can still happen in the presence of the most arrogantly successful confidence and drive.

The Alexander Technique demonstrates a process that allows a successful approach to establishing a new means to deal with unfamiliar circumstances.

To be an endgainer when a more effective process is available marks the student as naive. They need more practice in the skill of temporarily suspending their goals to allow the use of unfamiliar means. Without using the new indirect means, our responses will most likely follow the dominant and most often practiced movement patterns. These old routines recreate a series of sense perceptions that feel ‘right’ to us – but they are merely the comfort of doing what we know best. To get an unfamiliar new benefit, we need to stop doing what we have practiced and know how to do. We need to be willing to feel “strange” and take a gamble. We need to suspend the goal and stop our will-to-do that wants to endgain.

So  how do we tell when something notable has happened and that we have indeed stopped endgaining? Effortlessness and lightness are new signals of success.

Changing Breath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

A recent insight in BodyChance’s own marketing mix is to strengthen our message that disqualifies people from coming to us. An Editor of a national magazine here complains that Alexander Technique has no guts, no substance – it’s like learning about air. I understand what he means. It’s why I personally believe some of my students get attracted by table and chair work – it gives them something to do, it supplies form. However the real work is unfathomably empty – that requires courage to pursue. It calls for a willingness to wakefully work to principle. How many people want to do that? So if that’s not what you want – go away. Go find an exercise that keeps you happily ignorant. Mean, isn’t it?
quoted from Jeremy Chance, director of BODYCHANCE that trains teachers and presents Alexander Technique in Japan & internationally

Certainly, Alexander Technique has qualities that make the willingness to study and use it self-selecting. The willingness and readiness to use A.T. takes participation, a readiness to learn and a bit of courage to face the unknown. Although it teaches the ability to extend ambiguity and perceptions, it also takes a bit of tolerance for being clueless and foolish.

In a way, my training in being able to see movement mannerisms in body language is sort of a curse. When I look out at the mass of humanity that I see every day, I cannot help but see how pulled down they all are. Knowing how unnecessary it is for them to be so heavy and how little time it would take for them to gain relief from their pain, given how long they’ve been repeating their self-limiting problems, it just makes me cry inside. I hate waste – and I see a waste of potential in people everywhere. I’d like to save another talented genius.  I see so much genius that rises up in people, despite their limitations. It’s such a sparkle that is so admirable. So I am just floored that everyone doesn’t already know A.T. exists. And if they do know, why wouldn’t they want to learn such a handy tool for their life? Don’t they recognize how essential of a skill it is to clear any routine they’ve habituated so it won’t interfere with whatever they want to do next? People have been hit with so much advertising that they are suspicious of being proselytized if I talk longer than a couple of sentences about what I can offer them. 

Image

Then I remember when I looked like the woman on the right side and what it was like to be in frustrating pain, carrying around my head, drooping in front of my body, feeling as if my head weighed a ton. I’m remembering having a mystery illness at eighteen years old that doctors could predict how long I would have to endure. If someone is in chronic pain, they’ve mostly likely given up because they’ve usually already tried so many other well-meant but ineffective suggestions from folks they knew who couldn’t provide what they needed. Without relief, now they’re discouraged and resigned. Pain can demand a bitter pill of acceptance, as it gradually drains the body’s ability to physically buffer it.

I have so many questions…

  • Why there isn’t more demand for Alexander Technique teachers? 
  • What is it that makes A.T. so challenging to grasp how it could mitigate, prevent and solve problems connected to cumulative, unintentional, self-imposed stress? 
  • Why is it so difficult for adults to be willing to learn their way out of their limitations? 
  • Why does the survival drama of resistance come up so fast and urgently when presented with logical, workable and practical alternatives that require education, hope and practice – and change? (It can’t only be merely because it means change…Can it?) 
  • Are people really that upset about changing because of their historic human nature, culture and conditioning?

It’s sort of depressing how the answers seem to be rhetorical, when I write these questions out like this. They really are real questions. I hope you can discuss them with me.

OK, so A.T. is not for everyone, just the people who are ready to learn. Get over it!

But I still feel a sense of regretful compassion for the others. I just cannot give up on the idea that I believe it’s my job to offer people who don’t know better that they have an alternative. I can do this because I am flexible, innovative and agile; it’s the demonstration of my skill to be able to change my presentation and teaching ability around to reach those people who need to know another choice exists beyond enduring suffering. Of course they wouldn’t be capable of changing themselves – but I am! 

People want to choose and make their own thing, not yours or F.M. Alexander’s. Who are you to know better? Why bother with convincing those who could care less about what has been valuable to you?

It doesn’t matter that from my perspective, people who resist change have their own logic & value bubbles sewn up so tightly that they resist what I have to offer them. The more out of control someone gets, the more tightly they hold onto the little left that they can control. I’ve seen it in older people time and time again, but it’s a characteristic of people who are upset that they have lost some former capacity that they don’t expect to ever regain. It’s also a characteristic of people who have invested and found answers that are valuable to them that they don’t have enough of a reason to let go of. Loss is a risk. It’s true that most peoples’ ways of doing things that they have worked out to get along in life must be respected. 

In order to teach effectively, I have learned that I must surrender that my student might not understand me, even with my own best efforts to communicate. If I’m not able to surrender my own agenda when teaching, my practice of Alexander Technique suffers in quality of my example to them. It’s not about me – it’s about them. Usually people can only take a bit at a time. I must mete out what I have to offer in bite-sized pieces so it can be chewed and digested. Profound change happens gradually in most people. The unknown has a threatening tolerance limit in most people. Most people need lots of reassurance that it’s OK to not go fast – they are not able to make a huge leap of faith and it’s unreasonable to ask them to do so. 

As time has gone on, I know that I must surrender that I can only help who is motivated to come to me. The apprentice must seek out the mentor…and something of value must be sacrificed in order to make it worthwhile to sit up and pay attention. 

Here is A.T. … a tool to open the door of the unknown, a means to progress in directions that a hopeful, imaginative person can only dream is possible. But nobody can seize this brass ring of opportunity unless they supply the motivation.

It’s a rare person who is ready now to make big strides ahead, to take a talent for the ride it deserves.

It’s a rare person who recognizes an opportunity that staring them in the face… 

I wish things were different.