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Learning how to usefully self-direct yourself in an effective way is one of the most important skills an Alexander Technique student acquires from lessons in the Technique.  It is, to use the title of F. M. Alexander’s second book, truly what “Constructive Conscious Control” is all about.

And to borrow from the title of Alexander’s third book,* self-directing is what enables you to improve the quality of your use of of yourself – how you use your physical mechanism as you go through your day’s activities.  Sitting, standing, walking, driving, sitting at a desk, cooking, singing, sports…whatever you do.

Learning how to effectively direct yourself is a skill that does take a bit of experimentation and practice. Alexander Technique directions themselves are incredibly simple.  But we humans often like to take something simple and make it more complex, for example by analyzing or judging, or trying to make it happen, or getting caught up in the results of our self-directing.

(If you’re not familiar with Alexander Technique directions this is a good place to learn about them: New Developments in Alexander Technique Directions In particular, I suggest listening to: Effective ways to use Alexander Technique Directions and to: A Brief History of Alexander Technique Directions)

The rewards of learning how to drop all that extra stuff is well worth the investment.  It allows you to go through life without unconsciously creating restrictions in your body.

And that makes you’re life a lot easier, and a lot more fun!

I’ve always been intrigued by the Alexander Technique self-directing process and how it can be improved.  In particular, I’ve wondered if its possible to expand, or lengthen, the use of directions without adding the kind of effort or chatter that prevents them being effective.

Effective Direction Extension – that’s what I wanted!

Recently I’ve been reading Eckart Tolle’s** book, The Power of Now, and came upon this simple exercise:

Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.”  Then become very alert and wait for the next thought.  Be like a cat watching a mouse hole.  What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole?  Try it now.

Try it for yourself right now.

You might find that another thought doesn’t appear right away.

I started experimenting with following my self-directions with Tolle’s question. I then use the little “thoughtless” gap that appears to re-introduce my original direction, or another direction, followed again, of course, by the “I wonder” thought.  This procedure allows me to effortlessly repeat a direction, or switch to a new direction, for a much longer time than I had in the past.

If you’d like to experiment give it a try. The process can be continued for as long as you like. Personally, I find that after a few minutes I get a little bored with it.

But not so bored that I can’t easily be drawn to repeat the process.

I’ve also experimented with some of my students (both in-person and distance learning) and it seems to be helpful for them as well.

So, once again, I’ve enlisted my colleague Imogen Ragone to explore the process herself in a short video session:

Extending and Amplifying Alexander Technique Directions - YouTube

Let me know what you discover, below and/or on Facebook.

* Alexander’s third book is titled The Use of the Self.

** You can listen to an OnBeing interview by Krista Tippett with Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now

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When I started reading The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle I was puzzled by what seemed to be a negative view of the human mind, and of thinking.

As an Alexander Technique teacher it’s always seemed to me that our ability to direct our thinking in a useful way is what really lies at the heart of the work.  After all, isn’t “Man’s Supreme Inheritance” – the title of F. M. Alexander’s first book – basically our potential to use our mind to change the circumstances of our lives?

And isn’t that also what he means by the title of his second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual*?

And as the late Marjorie Barstow, the first person to graduate from Alexander’s first teacher training course liked to say: “People think this is bodywork.  But, really, it’s brainwork.”

So why on earth is this writer, who so many people deeply respect, intent on trashing thinking, and the thinking mechanism?

It took me a little while to realize it wasn’t the mind itself he objected to – it was our identification with it.  That’s what causes thoughts to become compulsive – and destructive.

As he writes:

Then the mind is using you.  You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don’t even know that you are it’s slave. It’s almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself…

You have probably come across “mad” people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves.  Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other “normal” people do, except that you don’t do it out loud.  The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on.  The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing of imagining future situations.

In other words, taking you out of the present moment, the only place in which your mind can actually be helpful to you.

As he says, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly”. And:

Your mind is an instrument, a tool.  It is there to be used for a specific task, and when that task is completed, you lay it down.  As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful.

So really Tolle is not against useful thinking – perhaps we could call that constructive conscious thinking…or even constructive conscious control.  He’s concerned with our tendency to settle into useless and harmful mental rant patterns.  Destructive unconscious control, as it were.

I believe Alexander was on to this in his many condemnations of what he called “mind-wandering”. To take just one example from Constructive Conscious Control:

…in the sphere of learning something and learning to do something, the shortcoming most frequently recognized is that known as “mind-wandering.”

Now there exists a close connection between the shortcoming which is recognized as “mind-wandering” and the shortcoming which manifests itself as a seriously weakened response to a stimulus to an act (or acts) of self-preservation. – page 13

It seems to me that Alexander’s “mind wandering” is pretty much the same as Tolle’s “identification with the mind”.

Tolle has a lot of practical advice about weakening, and ultimately releasing, that pattern but that’s perhaps a topic for another blog. But this will give you some idea of the approach he takes:

The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity – the thinker.  Knowing this enables you to observe the entity.  The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.

I believe that “higher level of consciousness” is, in Alexander’s words, “our supreme inheritance”.

And for me, an Alexanderian approach to moving towards my own “supreme inheritance” is to use simple, effective, easily-testable, in the moment self-directions such as “my neck is free”, “I’m free”, or “I’m not compressing myself”.**

I’d love to hear your experiences, and your thoughts, on this.  Please post them below and/or on Facebook.

***

*British Alexander Technique teacher Hilary King has a nice definition of Constructive Conscious Control.

**You can learn more about Alexander Technique directions here: New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing

As you might expect, Country Music songs frequently address the issue of poor thinking leading to disastrous results.  Here’s a nice example:

Thinkin' Problem - YouTube

And here’s a more hopeful song:

We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds , George Jones & Melba Montgomery , 1963 - YouTube

Brain Image Copyright : lightwise
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Ever since I started teaching the Alexander Technique nearly 40 years ago, I’ve wondered why some students stop taking lessons after the first one or two – despite experiencing significant improvements in their posture and the way they move. Changes they and their friends and family have noticed.

It’s a small percentage of students, but included my 3rd student! Fortunately I was prepared for this by Paul Collins, one of the Directors of my teacher training course in London.

“The point when real change starts to happen is a dangerous one.  That’s when some of your students will just disappear.” He said that to a group of us trainees, without giving any explanation.

Over the years I’ve asked many other teachers if they’ve had the same kind of experience and almost all said “yes”.

My obsession with this question eventually led me to do a podcast interview for the Alexander Technique Podcast with Mark Josefsberg, an Alexander teacher in New York City.  I had come up with a list of 4 or 5 possible explanations and we discussed them all in our interview titled Why Do Some Students Take One Or Two Lessons And Then Quit Even Though They And Others Have Noticed Major Benefits which you can listen to here:

https://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/291274-why-do-some-students-take-one-or-two-lessons-and-then-quit-even-though-they-and-others-have-noticed-major-benefits.mp3

Recently I’ve been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and was struck by something he wrote which is closely related to one of my possible explanations – but now stands out for me as an aspect I had not fully considered.

Here’s what he wrote:

The ego’s needs are endless.  It feels vulnerable and threatened and so lives in a state of fear and want.  Once you know how the basic dysfunction operates, there is no need to explore all its countless manifestations, no need to make it into a complex personal problem.  The ego, of course, loves that.  It is always seeking for something to attach itself to in order to uphold and strengthen its illusory sense of self, and it will readily attach itself to your problems.  This is why, for so many people, a large part of their sense of self is intimately connected with their problems.  Once this has happened, the last thing they want is to become free of them; that would mean loss of self.  There can be a great deal of unconscious ego investment in pain and suffering. (Emphasis mine)

What I take from this is that if an Alexander Technique student is indeed “intimately connected with their problems”, and those are the very problems are why he or she came for lessons – well as a teacher you may have a serious challenge on your hands.

And your student might well disappear as soon as it’s clear that the Alexander process is working for them.

I’d love to hear of other teachers’ experiences with this phenomenon and any thoughts on how best to deal with it.  Please leave your comments below and/or on Facebook.

Image Copyright : Leslie Banks

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A recent article in the New York Times, When the Bully is the Boss, explores the effects that a bullying leader has on organizations. Not surprisingly, it turns out bullying doesn’t really lead to better productivity:

…the vast majority of findings point to the same conclusion: Bullying bosses tend to undermine their own teams. Morale and company loyalty plunge, tardiness increases and sick days are more frequent.

Productivity may rise in the short term…But over time the performance of the staff or team deteriorates, and people quit.

And yet, bullies often continue to be promoted.

Which seems nonsensical, but as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I suspect this has something to do with our false notions of how to manage ourselves – carried over into the wider world.

It’s a common belief that if our bodies need improving, a good general way to do that is by increasing the amount, or the intensity, of our exercise routine.

If we’re trying to improve a particular skill, the solution is to study harder, practice longer, push ourselves harder.

More quantity, in other words.

What’s missing is the quality factor. The manner in which we do those exercises, that extra study, the longer practice.

Push ourselves harder to make ourselves better.

Which makes as much sense as fixing a car that not running well by taking it out to the Interstate for a 75 miles an hour drive.  (Or the Autobahn for 100 plus miles per hour!)

Revving up the activity of a defective mechanism – or a poorly functioning individual – does nothing to improve the situation.

It just destroys the machine.

And reinforces a person’s harmful habits, and drives them in more deeply.

It’s a kind of self-bullying that can easily carry over into the rest of our lives, including our workplace relationships.  And if we happen to be the boss…well heaven help our subordinates!

F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, learned from years of self-observation and teaching others that forceful thoughts or actions are usually ineffective at producing useful change.

What works, he discovered, are well-thought strategies of thought that are brought to bear on ourselves with a minimum of mental force or effort.  As he said: “Talk to the body gently and it will do anything.”

Or, as Marjorie Barstow, the first person to graduate from his first teacher training course in the early 1930’s used to say: “Don’t be pushy with your thinking.”

I believe that general rule applies to all our interactions.  Talk and behave towards others as you would like them to talk and behave towards you, and everyone will be happier and, in a workplace environment, more productive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below and/or on Facebook.

Bullying Image Copyright : Валерий Качаев

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I’ve just started reading Eckart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now.  It’s somewhat of a spiritual classic and has been recommended to me by several people over the years.

This is not a book review, but let me begin by saying I can already see why it is so highly regarded, and recommend it highly.

I was immediately struck by Alexander Technique resonances that show up almost right away, especially Tolle’s emphasis on pausing as a way of being in the present moment – not caught up in memories of past events or speculation about future possibilities.

Alexander teachers and students will likely see an obvious parallel to the fundamental Alexandrian concept of Inhibition.*  However, just how we can effectively inhibit is a pretty contentious issue in the Alexander world, and I don’t want to get into that debate here.

But the usefulness of pausing, or even just consciously slowing down, is something most of us can agree on.

One of the reasons I like this book so much is that Tolle actually inserts his own pause symbol every page or two, after important concepts are introduced.  As he writes:

The pause symbol after certain passages is a suggestion that you might want to stop reading for a moment, become still, and feel the experience of the truth of what has just been said.

Such a simple concept – and yet so powerful!  I found it totally changed the way I read the book and they way I processed what I was reading. And that helped me get a much deeper understanding of what he was saying and how to make use of that understanding.

It certainly made me realize that I probably would do well to pause more frequently, and for longer periods of time, when explaining Alexander Technique principles to my students.  I do tend to get a little over enthusiastic about the Technique and can be guilty of trying to cram too much information into a lesson!

More generally, it’s easy to fall into the habit of speaking or reading aloud on any topic too quickly and not leave enough time for the audience to process what you’re saying.  The short video at the bottom of this page shows a short Alexander Technique lesson that addresses this issue.

And even more generally, it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing anything without giving yourself a chance to do it with a little mindfulness.

That mindfulness could allow you to do it in a more efficient, less harmful, way.

Or even nudge you away from from doing it at all if, upon reflection, it would likely produce harmful consequences.

***

If you have read Tolle’s books, or watched any of his many YouTube videos, have you also seen parallels to Alexander’s ideas?  Have they helped you to effectively use Alexander self-directions and/or have Alexander Technique directions helped you to implement Tolle’s ideas into your life? Please leave your comments below or on Facebook.

***

*Here’s a short definition of Alexander Technique Inhibition by London Alexander Technique teacher Hilary King:

In the Alexander Technique, the term refers to a process which one can learn within AT lessons, in which a person consciously chooses to stop or inhibit a habitual reaction to a stimulus. This allows the individual a moment’s pause, in which to choose whether or not to respond to the stimulus and if so, how to perform an action in response.

As Alexander stated:

‘all those who wish to change something in themselves must learn… to inhibit their immediate reaction to any stimulus to gain a desired end’ – Use of the Self

Here’s a nice article about different kinds of pauses, and their benefits: The Power of a Pause

And here’s the short video mentioned above featuring the late Marjorie Barstow showing the benefits of slowing down to a student who is reading to an audience.

Alexander Technique with Marjorie Barstow - Reading - YouTube

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In the beginning was the word – The Bible

The ear is the avenue to the heart – Voltaire

The ear builds, organizes and nourishes the nervous system – Dr. Alfred Tomatis

Tone, pitch, rhythm, harmony – these are among the many terms that can describe the condition of our bodies as well as the quality of sounds we make and hear. Our language is permeated with words and expressions that suggest a deep primal connection between sound and body.

It was F. Matthias Alexander’s desire to improve his voice which led to the far reaching discoveries we now know as the Alexander Technique.

Some fifty years after Alexander’s pioneering work, a French medical doctor, Alfred Tomatis, began investigating the cause of hearing difficulties in his patients. His studies have led to a number of revolutionary new discoveries about previously unknown functions of the ear and the therapeutic effects of sound. He also developed a practical method of enhancing listening skills.

Both Alexander and Tomatis were initially interested in improving sound quality; one with its production, the other with its reception. Today, both the Alexander Technique and the Tomatis Method are recognized as having an extraordinarily wide range of beneficial effects – physical, mental and even spiritual – which extend well beyond the original motivation of their developers.

Their inherent transformation power springs in large measure from their being based on close, practical observations of our relationship with sound, one of the most fundamental aspects of our existence. We live in a veritable “sea of sound”, with our brain receiving far more stimuli, both external and internal, from our ears that from any other organ.

Dr. Tomatis believed the human ear’s primary function is to transform sound energy into an electrical cortical charge which the brain then distributes throughout the body, toning up the entire neuromuscular system.

His method consists of a sensory stimulation program in which the individual listens to electronically modified and filtered sounds through headsets. The content is either music (Mozart and Gregorian chants primarily), the mother’s voice, or the individual’s own voice. The sound is modified by a device called the Electronic Ear. By means of filters, amplifiers and a sophisticated gating mechanism the sound is reshaped and presented to the ears in rapidly alternating forms.

Dr. Tomatis’ early investigations led to the discovery that the human voice can only produce sounds which the ears can hear. The two organs are part of the same neurological loop and a change in the response of one shows up immediately in the other. This has been repeatedly verified by medical investigators and has been named the “Tomatis Effect” by the French Academy of Science and Medicine.

This discovery is very significant for teachers and students of the Alexander Technique because it suggests that Alexander’s work on himself in front of the mirror may have been at least as important in its effect on his capacity to listen as it was on his ability to speak.

Reinforcing this hypothesis is Dr. Tomatis’ finding that in order to hear very high pitched sounds, our body must adopt what he calls a “listening posture”. From my own experience with Tomatis’ work, and my observations of others who have been exposed to it, this corresponds precisely to the Alexander Technique concept of “good use” – neck free, head releasing forward and up with the whole body following.

Midway between the ears where your head rests on top of your spine – a location closely associated with Alexander’s idea of “primary control”. And of course ears have long been known for their importance in maintaining our balance. So it’s not surprising that the commonly reported benefits of the Tomatis Method include improvements in voice quality, posture, co-ordination, balance and general well being similar to some of those experienced by students of the Alexander Technique.

There are many other fascinating parallel between the Tomatis Method and the Alexander Technique. Both are well worth investigating by anyone interested in exploring the links between the mind and body.

If you’ve had experience with the Tomatis Method and the Alexander Technique, please leave your comments below and/or on Facebook.

Only a very brave mouse makes nest in a cat’s ear – Earl Derr Biggens

***

Here’s a nice podcast episode from the TED Radio Hour about the importance of learning how to listen: How Can We All Listen Better

You can listen to the episode here:

Image Copyright : woodoo007

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Where are you?

How would you answer that question?

You might say something like: “I’m in a pretty good place at the moment.” Or “I’m living in wonderful community.” Or even: “I’m in love!”

But perhaps, especially if you’re a Country Music lover, something more like: “I’m in the doghouse now.”  Or “I used to be in Hillbilly Heaven, but now I’m stuck in Honky Tonk Hell.”  There’s often a clear sense that being in a bad place is something will go on forever: “I’ve been in prison 18 years and I still got life to go.”*

On the other hand, if you’re one of a growing group of neuroscientists who believe there is absolutely no evidence of any objective reality at all, and that everything you see, think, hear etc. is a product of your consciousness, then the answer might be: “I’m nowhere because there is no actual ‘place’ to be.”

And if you’re just an ordinary person, perhaps standing in line at the coffee shop waiting for your morning latte, you might say: “I’m 3 feet from the counter, reading this weird blog post about finding the body!”

If you’re a teacher or student of the Alexander Technique, your answer might involve location, but perhaps in an unorthodox way.  Jennifer Roig-Fraincoli, an Alexander teacher in Cincinnatti, finds it useful to think: “I’m at the center of the universe.”  This can bring forth some new ways of thinking designed to improve your posture and coordination. (You can listen to a podcast about her idea here.)

Many Alexander Technique people like to talk about the importance of “being in your body.”

But this raises an interesting question: “Where exactly are the outer surfaces of this body I want to be inside of?”  And equally important: “Where do I think they are located?”  And is there any possibility that I have those surfaces mapped incorrectly? Could I think they are somewhere they are not?

It’s an important line of self-questioning because if there is a mis-match between my belief about the location of the outer perimeter of my self and the reality of it’s location, it’s almost certain that the messages I give myself about how I stand, sit and move are producing posture and movement results that are inefficient, and potentially harmful.

My colleague John Macy, an Alexander Technique teacher and physical therapist in Omaha, Nebraska has been thinking about these sorts of questions a lot.  We’ve worked together to come up with simple ways of determining if you have a mis-match of the sort described above and, if so, some easy ways to correct it.

Another colleague, Imogen Ragone, an Alexander Technique teacher in Wilmington, Delaware kindly agreed to help me with a little YouTube video demonstrating some of these ways and how they can enhance the ease with which you go through life.

This video – seen below – is a bit of an experiment and we value your feedback, and accounts of your experiences using the ideas in the video.  If there is demand for it, we will produce other follow up videos.  Please leave your comments and suggestions on YouTube and/or below and on Facebook.

Where are you located in space? An Alexander Technique exploration. - YouTube

*Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, The King of Tears, gives a fascinating analysis of this characteristic of country music. Here’s the actual song by Stonewall Jackson (no, not the Civil War general!) from which this particular example of pure, never ending, country music misery is taken:

Life To Go - Stonewall Jackson - 1959 - YouTube

Thanks to Anne Kennedy Rickover – my Blog Title Guru – for the title of this blog, and for the idea of using a detective image.

Detective Image Copyright : Andrea De Martin

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I recently listened to an On Being podcast titled When the Market is Our Only Language in which Krista Tippitt interviewed Anand Giridharadas, a journalist and writer.  Here’s the official description of podcast:

We Americans revere the creation of wealth. Anand Giridharadas wants us to examine this and how it shapes our life together. This is a challenging conversation but a generative one: about the implicit moral equations behind a notion like “win-win” — and the moral compromises in a cultural consensus we’ve reached, without reflecting on it, about what and who can save us.

Anand has been a featured speaker at think tanks like the Aspen Institute, where the super-rich and super-powerful come together to, as he puts it,  “talk very sincerely about what was going on in the world today, how could you make a difference, how could you start a project to help….what we were doing in coming together in this way was genuinely trying to help, genuinely talking about these problems, genuinely creating action and programs and thousands of little initiatives to help people.”

But after spending a fair amount of time in that rarefied world, his perspective changed: “…in some deeper way, the whole thing, actually, I started to realize, was a conservative exercise in protecting the system that kept us on top.”

He had come to see that the problems these wealthy men and women sincerely wanted to solve were actually direct consequences of their own actions.  Because they, like many of us, were caught up in the process of maximizing income and wealth, they were not able to see that these maximizing decisions had harmful effects on other people, on vital institutions and indeed on the very future of our planet.

An obvious solution for them would be to stop creating those kinds of problems, but that’s not really the kind of thinking most of those people are willing to do.  As Anand says, “…the only acceptable forms of social change are the forms of social change that also kick something back upstairs — language like ‘doing well by doing good,’ which, again, is like, ‘The only conditions under which I’m willing to do good is under which I would also do well.'”

He also says: “Sometimes, on the darker corners of the internet, it’s imagined that rich people are all sitting in a room making these horrible, evil schemes. And part of what I found was that a lot of these folks are incredibly decent and upholding an incredibly indecent system. And the way you get from one side of the river to the other, from those decent people to the indecent system, is the bridge of faulty assumptions and weird myths and bad ideas that have managed to really rise to the fore and conquer a lot of our culture.”

My first reaction, as a former economist, was that what he was saying made perfect sense. And I was a little taken aback that I had never thought about it in those terms before.

My second reaction, this time as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, was that these good, rich and powerful people were clearly in the same sort of boat as the rest of us – although a much bigger one! The Alexander Technique is a process of learning how to become aware of habits of mind and body, and how to make useful changes in those habits. Anyone who has had experience with it knows that we often have our own “faulty assumptions and weird myths” about ourselves, and those faulty assumptions can cause harmful tensions in ourselves while doing basic activities like sitting, standing, speaking, and walking. They can also compromise the quality of our decision making process.

If the rich people at the Aspen Institute want to improve the world, but are really just repairing the deck chairs on the Titanic, we often try to improve our functioning by taking up some new activity – a yoga or exercise class for example – while ignoring dis-functional habits of posture, movement and thinking that are allowed to continue lurking in the background, undermining the quality of our lives and our efforts to improve it.

Our personal situation might seem trivial in scope compared to the actions of the super-rich who, after all, are making decisions that directly affect millions of people. However the harmful way we use ourselves has implications far greater than we imagine.  As John Dewey, America’s most famous philosopher and the “Father of American Education” – and a student of F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique pointed out:

“In the present state of the world, it is evident that the control we have gained of physical energies, heat, light, electricity, etc., without having first secured control of our use of ourselves is a perilous affair. Without the control of our use of ourselves, our use of other things is blind; it may lead to anything. If there can be developed a technique which will enable individuals really to secure the right use of themselves, then the factor upon which depends the final use of all other forms of energy will be brought under control. Mr. Alexander has evolved this technique.” – From Dewey’s introduction to Use of the Self, Alexander’s third book, originally published in 1932)

Looking at the world today, it’s pretty clear that Dewey’s prediction nearly a hundred years ago has played out in some pretty terrible ways.

To me, the message here is that whether we’re super rich and powerful, or part of the other 99%, we have a responsibility to take as close, and as unbiased, look as possible at the assumptions that guide our life.  If we don’t, our actions may continue, in Dewey’s words,  “to lead to anything” and future “anythings” may be much worse than we could ever have imagined.

***

As it happens, while writing this blog, I stumbled onto an article about Ellwood, a small town 60 miles south of Chicago that has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Because of it’s location, it was the perfect place to build gigantic warehouses and transportation connections to serve the country’s consumer economy. In just a few years the town has became the largest inland port in North America.

It all sounded good for the local economy at first, but in fact the traffic became a nightmare, roads needed constant maintenance, and the city government was plunged into a financial crisis, in part because it had agreed to tax incentives for the new facilities.

To add insult to injury, virtually no new local jobs were created within the town itself.  The article’s title, “How Ellwood, Illinois (population 2200) Became a Vital Hub of America’s Consumer Economy. And it’s Hell” says it all.

Ellwood represents a perfect example of what Anand was talking about. The people who attend the Aspen Institute might support projects that would help the kinds of problems faced by the people of Ellwood. But those problems were actually created by people like themselves, in their blind pursuit of wealth.

Image Copyright : Aleksandar Varbenov

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I’m always experimenting with new Alexander Technique self-directions and the other day I came up with this one: “I am not constricting myself” – a variant of the more frequently used “I am not compressing myself”.  Both of these are Negative Directions, and for both the Freedom Direction version could be “I am free”.

Alexander Technique directions, and the Technique more generally, provide a powerful way to avoid creating excess tension in response to external events.

You can learn more about Alexander Technique self-directions from this episode of the Alexander Technique Podcast:

https://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/271700-a-brief-history-of-alexander-technique-directions.mp3

Like other directions, this new direction can also be applied to specific parts or regions of your body.  For example: “I am not constricting my neck, or “….my face” or “…my feet” – the list of possibilities is limitless.

I decided to learn a little about the animal whose very name refers to constriction: the dreaded Boa Constrictor.  I discovered that contrary to popular belief, Boas are not usually dangerous for humans and they don’t actually squeeze so hard that their prey stops breathing right away.  Rather it kills by constricting it’s victim just enough to shut off blood flow to the brain and heart.

We humans sometimes act as though we were a self-constricting species. We’re prone to tighten our bodies in all sorts of harmful ways that interfere with our natural functioning.

This is nothing new.  Sure, there’s a lot going on in today’s high-stress situations, excessive use of video screens etc. that can be a stimulus to self-constrict.  But we’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  The Bible, for example, has many references to self-constricting: stiffening the neck, hardening the heart and so on. In one particularly scathing rebuke, God says: “I am planning such a misfortune against this clan that you will not be able to free your necks from it. You will not be able to walk erect.” – Micah 2, verse 3

Unlike the Boa’s victims, we don’t usually die from all this harmful self-inflicted tension. But it certainly gets in our way, and can lead to severe and chronic pain, poor posture and the like.

And unlike the Boa’s victims – rodents, lizards, mice and the like, who are painfully aware they are being constricted – we often have no idea that we are doing this to ourselves. The effects of our habits of self-constricting have become so deeply ingrained that they have often come to feel normal.

One of the reasons I sometimes prefer to use the word constricting instead of compressing in a self-direction is that, for me at least, it conveys more the idea of an action originating from within us that we’d like to stop.  I also like the word because those self-constricting patterns are often exceedingly complex and, again for me, the word compressing implies a little less complexity.

If you’d like, try some constricting directions for yourself and see how they compare to their compressing direction counterparts, or other Alexander directions you are using. Please let me know, below and on Facebook, what you discover.  And if you are not clear just how to use an Alexander direction effectively, this podcast, also from the Body Learning Podcast, may be helpful:

https://bodylearning.buzzsprout.com/382/136406-effective-ways-to-use-alexander-technique-directions.mp3

***

American Country Music dwells a lot on self-inflicted tension in its many forms. Here the Late Great Hank Williams learns that modern medicine is often powerless to help:

LOW DOWN BLUES by HANK WILLIAMS - YouTube

Boa image Copyright : 3quarks

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Years ago I had a good friend who whose job it was to visit bookstores on behalf of a major publisher and convince the owners to stock the publisher’s new books on their shelves.  This was in the 1980s and early 1990s – pre-Amazon. Amazing as it may seem now, back then lots of people actually read books, and would go to their local bookstore to explore the latest offerings!

Later my friend became a Feldenkrais Practitioner and we would often discuss the challenges we faced in promoting our type of work – I had already become a teacher of the Alexander Technique – given it’s unique nature.

My friend told me that one of the lessons she learned during her publisher representative days was that she should always be able to answer this question from a store owner about a book: “What shelf would it go on?”

For many new books, the answer was obvious. Shelves had titles like History, Art, Fiction (which had sub-categories like Westerns, Science Fiction etc), Travel, Biographies and the like which were easy fits for many books.

But if she didn’t have a good answer for a book whose shelf wasn’t obvious, the owner or buyer would pass it up no matter how interesting it might seem.  Space was limited and with limited shelf space, a book that couldn’t easily be categorized was too risky.

As she went about marketing her Feldenkrais work, she took that lesson to heart and made sure she had some possible “shelf” categories to describe her work.

I think you can guess where I’m going with this.  The Alexander Technique isn’t likely to have its own shelf in one of the few remaining bookstores, although it might be at home in the the Self-Help or Personal Development shelves.  It does have its own “shelf” on the web – as does everything and everyone – but a very small and obscure one, facing a huge amount of competition.

In recent years, it’s become so small, as a proportion of all web activity, that Google no longer bothers to provide analytics for it.*

If a typical bookstore back in the day was too small for the Technique, today’s web is way too big!

On the other hand, as Alexander teacher Niall Kelley has pointed on several occasions (twice at American Society of the Alexander Technique meetings) there are categories that have a large and growing “shelf” on Google. He argues that these are all categories we can legitimately attach ourselves to.**

The categories suggested by Niall include Mindfulness, Back Pain, Posture and Stress, among others. The Technique can certainly be considered a specific form of mindfulness. It has a long track record and several medical and scientific studies showing it can help with back pain.  And a lot of teachers and students see it as a way to improve posture and reduce stress.***

Needless to say the shelf size of categories like Reaction to Stimuli, Primary Control and Use have an even smaller shelf than Alexander Technique.  From a purely marketing point of view, there’s not much point attaching to them!

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, what categories have you attached yourself to, and why?

If you’re an Alexander Technique student, did a particular category lead you you to take Alexander lessons?

If you’re hearing about the Alexander Technique for the first time, what category is most likely to get you to learn more about it and perhaps even take a lesson?

I’d love to hear your answers. Please post your answers below and/or on Facebook.

___

*Alexander Technique searches have declined sharply as a share of total searches. In absolute numbers, after growing sharply in the early days of the web, for the past 15 plus years the number of Alexander searches has grown very slowly.

** Click here to download Niall’s presentation.  Click here to download the slideshow that goes with it.

*** How can you attach yourself to these categories? The easiest way is to mention them by name on your website, blog posts etc.  Google will find and remember these listings almost instantly and it then becomes more likely that people interested in them will discover the Alexander Technique when they do a search for those topics.

There is one Alexander teacher who makes it a point to declare that the Alexander Technique is not about posture. Many teachers, myself included, believe he is incorrect but oddly enough his mention of “posture” actually increases the interconnection!  Google is fantastic at finding and connecting, not so great at understanding!

Image Copyright 123rf.com: donatas1205

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