"JUST USE YOUR HEAD"
WRITTEN AND COMPILED BY FRANIS ENGEL
Copyright 1995, Franis Engel
Discovery in Motion
Please Do Not Reproduce
Without Prior Written Approval
Table of Contents
WHAT IS ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE?
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Mastery of an art, task or sport is appreciated as being beautiful even by those of us not trained in its field. The use of effortlessness in performance is competitively proven. Attaining mastery is the result of gradual, sustainable and well-directed effort ...and usually something mysteriously called talent.
Many of the best in their field have a lucky gift in common: a superb capacity to make their body do what they want it to do. Someone being talented means having a sensitive capacity for rapid, unlimited improvement. Those who don't have this capacity fail to improve at some threshold, usually mysteriously self-imposed. For most of us in our western culture, this capacity is often lost quite early. Many of us try too hard, and this often exaggerates our problems. How to return to our innate coodination and learning capacity that was lost, one that perhaps was extensively forgotten?
FREDERICK MATHIAS ALEXANDER
This writing is about a man named F. M. Alexander. He is a little known innovator of how to use effortlessness. His discoveries, carried on around the turn of the century, directly influenced holistic body work and psychological theories developed by others onwards of fifty years later and counting.
Alexander used certain facets of behaviorism before they were outlined, tested or even known as a theory. He also created some still useful strategies about the nature of changing habits that defy any self-help category, still mostly unknown today.
He was originally motivated by a hypothesis that he was unknowingly making himself lose his voice on-stage. He experimented on himself, finding how to redirect subtle patterns of innate repetitive overcompensating. These physical mannerisms he wanted to change were often self-deceptive. He had to use a mirror and other verifications that he was indeed employing his thoroughly original and effective strategies.
ALEXANDER'S DISCOVERIES: HIS TECHNIQUE
Alexander discovered that all unnecessary tension begins with limiting head motion. He originally called this principle Primary Control. Technically, this means all creatures with a head and a spine initiate motion with a very slight head lenghthening. It's biological operation in vertebrates was later scientifically established.
After much experimentation, Alexander found a way to teach others. He gave very slight manual indications, often imperceptable. In behavioralistic training terminology, this was later termed faded signaling. He found he could convey much of what he meant to teach by guiding motion or modeling, timing the suggestions to the instant before the learner would usually overdo. Alexander's Technique is for those who find themselves at a plateau of learning for whatever reason, or those who just want less tension in their body. This technique accelerates learning by extending your tolerance of the unfamiliar. These special suggestions steer energy toward your original purpose, and detours effort you previously assumed to be essential. These often new movements have a quality, and a direction. They can be timed within an often complex sequence of movements. They integrate into the learning and performance of any art, task or skill. They can also be useful remedially.
Alexander Technique is a straightforward process. A student is asked to choose a task that could use more freedom of movement. The teacher's job is to move along, showing by example and modeling how to integrate a subtle physical head release that is a key to improve coordination. How to integrate it's motion with the rest of the action is also taught until you can do it yourself. As you learn how your muscle habits operate, you discover how you can lengthen and improve your poise within any goal. This kind of experimenting allows you to respond easier and more efficiently to your thoughts and intentions. It's that simple.
Students have exclaimed that this is too easy. They are right. Ease is the signal that you are experiencing new ways of moving without unnecessary extra effort. It makes sense that as you stop fighting your unnecessary tensions, your senses have a chance to become sharper.
A discovery often emerges now that tells you about the temporarily suspended goal. At times, your new discovery may metaphorically revolutionize how you fulfill any desire. Also included are specific tactics on how to get past the almost absolute control of particularly insistent reactions seemingly impossible to avoid.
Many people who wrote the comments and quotes in this book will show you in what situations you can use the Alexander Technique. You'll find that it's inspiring and also fun.
I had a misconception for a long time about what was first shown to me in my first lesson. I thought it was a definite place to go: an end toward which I should strive. Now I begin to see that the Alexander Technique is just a process for eliminating habits; a move to eliminate tension. It is not a model to copy. It is a way, a realization of change and growth. Likewise, the feelings from one lesson cannot be made over or copied onto the next. In that sense they evade capture. However, those feelings spring anew when thoughts are constructively applied using this process.
From a workshop journal: I've been playing a shell game with myself, against my assumption of the effort required for activity. I've been displacing effort instead of eliminating it. I've been looking for the feeling I'm used to, trying to feel something as it is happening. Until today I never really accepted that directing one's energy practically feels like nothing. I wanted to experience something, dammit! Well, today I've experienced it, and what I experienced is the feeling of nothing.
The teacher jokes she's teaching nothing; maybe the joke is on us. Maybe we have all had too much of something.
ADAPTATION DISAPPEARS HABITS:
Habits develop from our ability to adapt. Adaptation is one of the ways your nervous system filters what it is going to let you notice. Repeat anything for a short time, and a part of you will decide you don't need to concern yourself with it. You'll be able to ignore it, and still respond to it, like it's automatic. What your senses tell you will dull increasingly, as you gradually adjust to a constant level of familiar excitement.
If you can remember first learning to drive a car or some other complex skill,wasn't it overwhelming at first? It quickly became routine, because of the blessings of adaptation.
ADAPTING WORKS WITH ANY SENSE
In listening, a tape loop or broken record of a short, repetitve spoken phrase will cause your brain to adapt and vary the word's accent. Like the game, "telephone," suddenly that tape loop says another word, even though you may be convinced that a machine is doing the repeating! Depending how young you are, the phrase will continue to change to a number of meanings. Now you know a fun game to play with a skipping CD of a voice.
Adaptation functions in all our senses. Optical illusions are a visual example of how adaptation fools the eye's depth perception. How long after the first bite of your dinner can you remember to continue to taste the strength of a flavor? How long can you sniff a fragrance before the scent disappears? Keep rubbing a patch on your arm, and after a while the nerves on your skin will become numb.
THE KINESTHETIC SENSE
Now how does adapting relate and influence your sense of yourself moving in space? As with the other senses, your kinesthetic sense (of musclular effort, balance & location) will filter out repetitive signals.
Maybe a slight muscle soreness encourages you to compensate to limit mobility, as you temporarily protect yourself so you can heal. Your autonomic nervous system quickly takes over the protection job for you. It takes about three days for the new habit to form. Unless you go through a successful re-learning period, that means even after you are healed, you usually will still "favor" the injury. Your naturally sensitive kinesthetic mechanism, (whose job it is to determine effort) is from now on over-loaded with contraction messages from the injury.
ADAPTED TENSION PLUS EFFORT EQUALS TOO MUCH
It follows that you would misjudge that adding more effort to make a motion is required, through no fault of your own. Your conscious orders for action perhaps contradict or increase the taken-for-granted messages you are already sending. Once in this dilemma, it doesn't matter how hard you are trying. You may try repeatedly, but your judgment only gets you only where you already know how to go.
JADED DEBAUCHERY PROBABLE
We are our senses; we must use them for how to adjust, improve or make any movement. In proportion to how much protection that we have gotten used to, our senses could be seriously deceiving us!
BEING STUCK IS THE CULPRIT
Our judgment about necessary effort is shaped (or warped) by whatever we do that's most familiar or repetitive. You could imitate someone else's protective slump and get their habitual tension without ever being injured.
ALEXANDER'S IMPROVEMENTS ON TRIAL AND ERROR
Alexander believed that we must first must have some direct perceptual experience that success is personally possible. Having this, you become willing to tolerate the frustration and unfamiliarity of experimenting. His Technique shows you what you will be able to do before you can do it.
Fortunately most of us have muddled along by trying repeatedly as opposed to harder. The rare and lucky people who have kept their original balance and coordination often can't explain why or how they do so well at trial and error compared to the rest of us. Trial and error will work eventually, and others offer encouragement and example. If your usual strategies happen to work with the process of learning the skill; or to that lucky degree your senses are unspoiled by over-compensation, you succeed. If not, "A crooked man walks a crooked mile."
The way out of the dilemma (sometimes called a learning disablilty) is to first be willing to experiment and face feeling "wrong." Then to have some process to use that gives you a sense that you are improving. Over time you gain a larger and more patient perspective by comparing your learning style and your improvements over a longer period of time.
If we do experiment as Alexander did, we can learn to move in a direction that releases the pressure on our body. Moving in this new direction and subtlety feels strange at first, even wrong. As we do, our dulled sensory equipment tells us more, and becomes sharper and more reliable.
FREEDOM, EASE AND TOLERANCE OF UNKNOWNS
What advantages come from a willingness to tolerate a little unfamiliarity? The news way feel freer. How easily you can move becomes your new measure of success. How tolerant you are of the unknown is how fast you learn.
From a letter sent after a workshop to the teacher a student writes; It is clearer to me than ever before why I shouldn't try to feel for a position that is I judge is right. I will just repeat my habit that way. What I want to notice is where I am, or what I am doing. Then I sense a delicate, easy move throughout my whole body. Then I go headfirst, in whatever direction that takes me out of my habitual posture or fixation.
I now appreciate better why you tell your students that there is no harm in slumping, so long as they realize they are doing it and know that they can take themselves out of it, whenever they decide they want to move. "Have a good flop," used to seem to be a dangerous, if not heretical, piece of advice coming from an Alexander teacher. However, following it can help me to get out of a trying-to-be-right attitude where I get glassy-eyed and fixed.
A teacher says: You can't feel a movement before you make it. If you keep thinking back into the past, you can't be in the present to change it.
The difference that the lessons are making is that I'm beginning to watch the amount of wiggling I do while singing. I understand now that these motions are needless and they do not really represent the looseness or release that could help my voice, otherwise I'd hear it. I can still stay just as tense, even though I am wiggling fast and furiously.
In a letter to a fellow teacher: Feeling good seems to feel like nothing-an absence of effort. Easy feelings are so pleasurable they seem elusive, like a long book that ended and was after all, only fiction. We recognize pain and react, often grossly overcompensating. All of us can describe our miseries in gory detail. How often do we apply the same descriptive ability to our pleasures and successes? Often great feelings slip by unnoticed and we forgo describing their pleasures because of their subtle, elusive nature. Can you remember the last compliment you received? I used to be afraid to do anything else when things were going well, because I didn't know why. It was like a supersition, I didn't want it to stop. I realized I did stop it sometimes by not believing I had anything to do with it happening. Now I have a more sophisticated idea of how many kinds of doing there are. Also, I'm getting better at being attentive without interrupting what I am doing, kind of like waking up just enough to enjoy what you are dreaming.
I heard my friend say yesterday that she doesn't get a rush anymore or get high during a lesson, but instead notices certain qualitative changes in herself. Thinking about this has turned into my personal definition of the difference between the term "constructive thinking" and "feeling around" for what feels habitual. First, I really am a confirmed and incorrigible "feeler". I cope with new kinesthetic experiences either by enjoying them, or by rebelling and deciding I don't understand at all. During the last two weeks I have noticed the addition of an ability to assess my feelings. It's an objective standard that intervenes when I feel as I have moved six feet up, some little part of me that knows my neck is not being lengthened out of all reasonable human proportion, when my neck is sure that it is being misused. Can this be "constructive thinking?" My kinesthetic impressions haven't been replaced. They are as vivid as ever, nor have I ceased to enjoy them. I am not at their mercy anymore, that's all. That little objectivity, existing at the same time as my feelings, puts me in control and perspective.
EXPERIMENTS: IMPROVE THE RELIABILITY OF YOUR SENSES
When asked to become aware of their ability to balance themselves, one of the more common reaction people will have is closing their eyes. Stand on one foot with your eyes open. After you are balanced, then close your eyes. How does this affect your balance?
Let's walk and observe our balance. Can you observe the way your friend walks and then imitate what you see by walking the same way, without exaggerating? Can someone who is watching describe the difference between the original and your imitation? What happens when they imitate your walk? Who is better at imitating than the other? What characteristics did your friend pick to imitate in your walk? What kind of character would that kind of walk portray in a film? What does this tell you about what you do with yourself while walking?
PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONING: POSTPONING JUDGMENT
Here is an account of experimenting using Alexander's Technique.
I enjoyed learning to juggle. As soon as I began showing off my tricks that I had practiced to my friends, I ran into an odd phenomenon. If someone said the words, "That's great," I would drop all the balls. It happened so predictably that I began to work it into an act. I gave those balls shy personalities who couldn't accept those two magic words, because I had to compensate for dropping them. I would tell people to say the magic words, and drop the balls on cue because I had no choice!
CONSTRUCTIVE SELF OBSERVATION
When the compliment came, I could not resist trying to second guess what I did to deserve it. I noticed I had a peculiar habit of dropping my mouth open just as I tried to project my attention into the point of view of my admirers. It probably added to the humor of my histrionics, but was the start of a kind of freeze reaction that limited my range of motion. I made all kinds of random observations about my dilemma. Gradually I had enough data to fulfill not dropping the balls so often.
A TWO - FACED HABIT
It seems I was confusing two attitudes, and that these sides or moods had postural equivalents. They appeared to exclude each other when they occurred. One made many sensitive distinctions, and the other decided what the distinctions meant.
One side of me generated new ideas; liked chaos, silliness, ambiguity and unrelated nonsense. It was unconcerned about following plans because it spontaneously brought up what was forgotten. It could differentiate subtle characteristics, as well as create uniquely useful relationships between non-sequiturs. It was also the side I had to use to juggle.
The other attitude ordered chaotic patterns, related experiences, compared suitable options, and eliminated extraneous additions. It decided what I was going to ignore, and how I was going to use the information I had gained with my other side. It worked as the editor, the curious detached observer and final judge. Also, it would interfere at a crucial moment, as though it were asking, "Wow, how did I do that?" That's when I would drop the balls.
How could I prevent the observer side from butting in at the last moment, when it made me drop the balls? I knew what I wanted to do; prevent the freeze pattern that I noticed started with opening my mouth. Implementing this goal was more complicated, because it happened so fast and reflexively. And I had to be able to add it into my juggling.
I believed that F.M. Alexander's problem changing his voice was essentially the same as mine. I had to try a number of experiments in a number of different situations that put me under pressure as he had done. I used a process that Alexander used, called Re-decision. (More about this in section five, page eighteen.)
What I could do that worked the most often was indirect. I had a signal that my mouth was about to drop open: it was when I began to lower my head into my neck. My jaw drop happened an instant before. It physically made me pull my right shoulder in, which had everything to do with how I threw the balls.
When I preventitively interrupted my neck dropping gesture rhythmically, it stopped my organizing, judging and editing reactions from overtaking my attention. I fooled my habit of lowering my head into not happening as a game of strategy, rather than shutting my mouth when my jaw dropped open.
WAS I THE NAGGER OR THE QUESTIONER?
At the moment when I successfully interrupted my habit before doing what I didn't want, I had an insight about what I had been doing internally with my thinking. I had been confusing positively asked questions and observations with negatively pre-judging myself. In the process I would jump into the shoes of my audience for a moment to imagine how they judge me. The difference was the tone of voice that I used to talk to myself.
I use my questioning ability constructively now. I wonder how I could do, as if each time I juggle were a first-time experience. I don't worry too much about not being able to do what I have done before.
I know that my trepidation is a signal something new is arriving. I welcome not knowing exactly what will happen, even though I may know ways I can go about it. Having a curious attitude keeps me from judging myself prematurely. Then I take care to deliberately move in a novel way for my answer. Only then, do I allow my judgments to decide about how I am going to use the discoveries or new skills that had resulted.
For instance, I would ask myself beforehand, "I wonder if I can continue with my neck being free while I start this throw behind my back?" If I managed to do it even partially, I lay on the self-praise as if I were a two-year-old, like my teacher suggested. It was an improvement over what I used to do: exclaim "Arrrgh! I DID that, again?" after I dropped the balls.
Separating the sensing side from the judging side helped me to interchange them with more fluidity. As I knew which one I was letting myself use, I gained the advantages of each attitude without being limited by the disadvantages of using one when the other was more appropriate.
COMMUNICATION WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION
My investigations also made a change in my self-image. I no longer hold the secret opinion that performing is bragging or showing off. Showing off now means to me what we all have done as children; to call attention to ourselves and disappoint the audience. People forgive and indulge a performer because personal experience can turn into a brilliant universal one. If I want to avoid appearing immodest, pretentious, or authoritarian, I don't have to efface myself. I know now that without being an authority, I can just have something to communicate.
Class notes: Thinking is motion, but can you continue what you begin to intend, and how much of youself can you include in that motion?
It is clearer to me than ever before why I shouldn't try to feel for a position that is I judge is right. I will just repeat my habit that way. What I want to notice is where I am, or what I am doing. Then I sense a delicate, easy move throughout my whole body. Then I go headfirst, in whatever direction that takes me out of my habitual posture or fixation.
What had happened to me at my lesson? I had always been able to trust using my empathetic second guessing about what people wanted me to do. This time I wondered what I could do that would please my teacher.
I followed the suggestion my Alexander teacher was giving himself, as if I were he. Any other time I would have lost awareness of myself for a moment. This time my attention expanded. I could feel the decision my teacher was making to unleash the freedom from habit in his own body. When I followed his cues, he made me feel that I was kinesthetically x-raying myself, as if I were a life-size moving video. I moved so differently that the rest of my body and conditioning freed up.
Afterwards I left the lesson and bounded down five flights of stairs. I felt my perception drastically changed. My feet were flying down the stairs without jolts or break in motion, three steps at a time. I could feel the air part around my body as I moved through it, as though swimming. My linear thinking and talking to myself were absent. As I opened the door past the watchmaker's store, the area below my collarbone was breathing & flapping like a lapel.
Though I'd walked this path every day for the last year, things looked as if I'd hadn't seen them before. The familar street had transformed into a movie-like palette assembled to artistically communicate the significance of a compelling mystery drama. The part of me who watched fused with the scene of the street. The traffic became a musical score, narrating the butcher walking into the market, shouldering a side of meat. He walked in slow motion. I could anticipate where he would commit himself to move next, seeing the set in his body like an after-image on a time-sequence photo. I felt like I was my own private movie, directing and casting the score as I walked.
I was hoping to slip along unnoticed, but a guy in a car wolf-whistled at me. I was determined not to react. Thinking about it, I realized that people must respond to how I move, without consciously knowing what attracts them. Maybe the whistle is really complimenting my character, rather than just my obvious appearance. I guess I can't get upset when I get wolf-whistled at by a strange man ever again. Who am I to know how much of my character someone can see in the way I walk? I certainly am beginning to see character expressed in subtle postural motions as I never have. Attractiveness may have had nothing to do with how I look, but something to do with how I move as I walk. Aside from any special knowledge about posture and character, I certainly do appear animated and responsive to anyone who cares to notice.
It's striking that one moment of willingness can potentially bring on such an unworldly sense of perceptual experiences. Is this kind of warp in perceptual self-discovery waiting for me at any time? Is it really there for me to find whenever I'm willing to face the unknown and just move differently?
HEAD MOVES, BODY FOLLOWS:
Thinking is a movement. When you think, you are sending electrically and chemically generated impulses to your cells. Usually these messages go on automatically in your nervous system. Is there an advantage in bothering to make such messages conscious? You learn to use a tool because it helps you accomplish your goal. You have your own reasons for experimenting. Those reasons are up to you to choose.
What are the conditions of an experiment we might do on our own movements? Even though we may have an adequate way to respond and move, perhaps we'd like to improve. We have learned that repetition could have dulled our ability to feel the messages our brain has been sending our muscles. We want to regain any dulled sensitivity, so our sense of what we think we are doing is closer to what we really want to do. We are ready and willing to face the unknown. We have a safe environment so that we can suspend the justifications that compel us. Perhaps a challenge similar to what we face when our habits react uncontrollably would be useful to stage for the experimentation. We will use effortlessness as our measure of success in our experiments.
We pick an action and demonstrate it to ourselves. We have a fair description of the goals we would like to pursue. Now, how are we going to go about getting there in an entirely different way? Where and when would be a useful place and time to make a change?
START HEAD FIRST
Our heads initate movement. It's quality of movement determines our influence over all other responses and motions that follow.
This is a fact for all of us with heads and spines. The first glimmer of motion the head makes works like a steering mechanism for the rest of the body. Our body must follow our head since it's attached, wherever and however it goes, for limitation or freedom. We can improve the quality of all our other responses, by learning to consciously free our habits and rely on this innate subtle capacity to initiate and follow motion.
WHAT KIND OF MOTION?
What's a quality of motion that could help us prevent misdirected habits? Moving headfirst in a slow, smooth way will make it easier for more of our body to pick up an effortless quality and follow it. Later, when our habits aren't so overpowering, we can move fast and easy.
DO IT WHEN?
It seems to be easier to observe ourselves by choosing a brief, specific time. If we think of doing things differently at the start of an action, we will detour much of our difficulty that may occur. We learn to continue using it as our new sense of control becomes familiar.
WHAT DIRECTION CAN HEADS MOVE?
Flexibility, coordination and sensory information will increase as we move our whole head slightly away from our body. Improving the way our head starts moving can undo our unnecessary tension. The rest of our body instantly picks up the easier path and quality of its improved range of motion.
IF NEW FEELS STRANGE, HOW IS USEFULNESS JUDGED?
If we run into an unusual easy feeling, then we know we did something new. Ease is our new measure of success, rather than effort. The more experiments we do, the more comparisons we will have to observe, describe and compare with our habitual ways. As you experiment again be sure to evaluate in it's most useful sequence: after experimenting. Then do it again.
HOW CAN THE RESULTS BE USEFUL?
The more descriptive we are, the more we get that's useful. The point of the experiment was to find out something new, and carry it into motion. It is up to each one of us to use the new information of that discovery. Who knows? We might even get to enjoy unfamiliarity.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO LEARN?
Like any skill or process, the more you think of doing it, the easier and more pleasurable it becomes. The more you are willing to challenge yourself, the faster you learn it. Some persistent habits take years to fully address, but practice doesn't take extra time, only extra thinking. Question your mannerisms and make even the most dull and boring time you spend more fun and productive.
Quoted during classes, a teacher talks; Where is up? Up is your head lengthening away from your body. It holds true in any direction you may be in, even up-side-down. Now don't think that movement I've just shown you is some position that you can hold, because what I'm showing you is not a position, it's a relationship. It's related to the process of the constructive thinking we used to get there. You want to get there for yourself? Think back on how we did it together, and do it that way again. It will work for you.
Someone asks in the first day of classes: "What is the role of feelings? If I'm improving my senses, when should I rely on them, and when am I trying to hang onto them?" I knew the teacher would go back to the original process: Find out where you are, so you know where you are starting from. You decide you don't want to be limited by what you've always done before. You'd like to find out something new. To do that, you move your head first and you find out how much of your body can follow along in the same way.
Your perceptions improve then, because you've allow your body more physical freedom. Sometimes it's funny, or odd. After you have made that move in a new direction and with your improved senses operating, only then do you use them to find out what has happened. Success, failure, or a mix of both, you discovered something about yourself. Your senses tell you what you observed. Then you take that information and make another move with what you learned, and use it to improve again. That's what Alexander did.
One of the best conversations I had in the classes was talking to one of your co-teachers. One of the singers asked him about his conception of "Forward and Up"; the directions that Alexander taught to replace conditioning. He said the way most people talked about moving headfirst implied an end to the action. People said within themselves, essentially, "Forward and up and arrive, now I did it." That way they could easily over-stretched themselves into stiffness.
He pointed out the reason to use this technique is to give yourself a chance to open up your attention to a kind of sensitivity that elicits the unexpected. You need the information from it, so use it. After you have moved, assume whatever you got to be what you think it is. Then, act on it and improve again, with another experiment.
He reminded us that it is possible to repeatedly notice a quality of continual motion at the top of your spine. There doesn't have to be an end to the act of experimenting with forward and up. The thought doesn't have to be translated into words. It's a pulse, a renewal. As long as your awareness continues, movement can continue. It also follows that as soon as your attention lags, your old habit may sneak back in. Could we develop a strategy to increase our stamina for paying attention?
As we hear our teacher say, who wants to have to consciously think of your head and body all the time? So after you know the technique it's just a matter of how long your attention can continue. How often do you remember to return to the here and now? How often can you use a larger focus that integrates a goal in the real world with your inner awareness? How much unfamiliarity can you really tolerate?
EXPERIMENTS: WITH YOUR HEAD, NECK & BODY
This may work to get you to sense "Head Moves, Body Follows" that all of us have been writing about in this book. It is just an experiment. Don't be discouraged if it doesn't work on you, if you don't notice anything special or different. Your senses may need some training to notice it! Many believe that this experience of moving beyond your sensory assumptions is impossible to create except with the direct manual guidance and encouragement of a teacher. I believe that some of us do this kind of moving naturally without knowing what it is in isolated situations, perhaps during martial arts practice or other beloved artistic discipline. Certainly we can appreciate this kind of elegant coordination watching sports. Unfortunately, lucky few have escaped the tense postural conditioning of our culture. Often those few take their successes for luck and never know why things are so difficult for others.
Alexander originally discovered this whole thing by experimenting on himself. Having the help of a teacher is a time-saver; it took Alexander about ten years to figure out how to do this while he practiced speaking and performing in front of a mirror!
Ready to conduct some experiments about head movements? Have you ever thought of how your head moves? Find out what ways you can move your head. Describe them. Before you move any other part of your body, can you move your head independently? Can you move your head without moving your shoulders? What happens when you do something to answer these questions?
It is fascinating to find out how much your habits may have fooled your senses by asking someone else to watch you. Do they see you doing the same action that you think you are doing? In case your friends like to tease you, you may want a consensus, a mirror, or better yet, a video camera!
Try another experiment; Many people will tip their chin up in the air when they think they might move their head up. If you slowly tilt your chin in the air, what happens at the back of your head? Imagine if you did that all the time to yourself! You'd make it hard for your neck and shoulders to move.
(This part works better if you aren't leaning against something.) Now, you probably want to tilt your head forward, because you know moving your chin down again will make you feel less pressure. As you slowly move over the axis of your balance to tilt your head forward again, your neck or body may wobble when it comes loose. That's the start of the motion we want you to know more about.
However, if you tilt your head all the way forward too fast, your voice might start to scratch, because your chin ends up on your chest. That is forward and down. Imagine being there all the time, ouch, your poor voice.
We are looking for a moment at the top of the arc of the motion, when your head moves over your body and your neck muscles very slightly come free. Did you sense an uncurling or wobbling effect when your body "came loose"? If you did, that is a little example of the motion of "Head Moves, Body Follows."
If you didn't, try again and experiment with sensing the momentary freeing sensation. It is very slight. Imagine the effect on your body of repeating that slight freedom instead of pulling yourself down.
If you read on to the end, this is it. Now that you have read the whole experiment, you might try it. From tipping your chin in the air, see if you can sense the upward motion as you begin to tilt your head forward.
Now that you've done all that, it's not really necessary to tilt your head forward and back to make this head freeing movement occur. This is just a way to write about "Head Moves, Body Follows". In fact, just thinking about it once you know what this move is can make it happen.
Now that you have done the experiment, nod yes, and then just think, (without doing the motion) about nodding yes. Sense any releasing in the back of your neck? If so, that is the quality of the subtle motion everyone is talking about in this writing. You can incorporate the advantages of this very slight lenghtening effect on yourself just by thinking about it, while doing just about everything else, without any head nodding or wobbling.
If you can't sense any differences, sometimes suspending the "feeling for result" will work to sharpen your ability to sense of the effect of your new thinking strategies. Take that experiment of "nodding yes" and then "thinking yes" into some action and then describe the results.
If this still doesn't work - you need an Alexander teacher! Obviously anyone would get better at following and continuing to start motion in this way with practice.
RE-DECIDING GIVES YOU POWER TO CHOOSE
Re-decision is a special strategy discovered by Alexander. It's a deliberate ploy, used by you when you want to stop doing something that steers you where you don't want to go.
RE - DECISION IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF INHIBITING
Alexander used the word inhibition to describe the process of Re-decision. He meant the word how it was defined before Freud gave the word it's common psychological connotation we use today. To Alexander, inhibition meant to interrupt or postpone an instinctual urge, as in when an animal temporarily ignores its habitual hunger urges and strategically stalls for a well-timed moment to leap for its prey.
SUBVERT THE SUB-DOMINANT HABIT
You employ Re-decision so that a change you want to make has a chance to happen. Re-decision is for when you know how you want things to go, but you just can't get yourself to do what you know is possible. It is invaluable when you mean to gain one goal but get another, when you find yourself repeating the same mistakes.
Here is a example of Re-decision used by a classically trained Alexander teacher: "In a few minutes I am going to ask you to raise your left hand. When I do that, I want you to refuse to raise your hand, because I want you to prevent yourself from getting ready to move it. While you are deciding not to raise your hand, I will slightly give you direction of what it is like to raise your hand without doing it the usual way you know best. You may feel as if you are moving without doing it."
Re-decision can create a paradoxical sense of "do-less-ness," even without someone helping you with Alexander's other important principle; Head moves, Body follows. (This means freeing your head and neck improves all other responses.) Re-decision is a principle that works on its own.
HOW IT WORKS
After demonstrating some task that you would like to improve, you might ask yourself, "When do I start to do what I don't want to do?" The kind of question you ask points your attention to what you might consider for an answer. Inquiring when the misdirection starts is an invaluable strategy, since the way you begin action structures how things tend to continue. Be attentive to whether, or when you start to stiffen your body as you start to do the task. It may be as soon as you think of doing it! Notice moments when you think, "There is a right way to do this," and, "If I try harder it has to work."
FIND - THE - LEADER
Now you think you have found the start when things go wrong. The next question after that is, "Do I really have to move this way, or is there an easier way to do this?" Consider how you lead the quality of what will follow. That fact may suggest questions like: "When do I start to limit my range of motion?"
Even if you don't know how to move your head so that your body easily follows, I'll bet that you do have some idea on how you could move to improve your task. Describe the steps of your improvement in intricate detail to yourself, preferably out loud, as articulately as you can.
You may have to repeat the way you move while doing your task a number of times, so that you have enough of an example for a comparison. Can you just observe yourself without making any improvements yet? For this time, postpone using the remedies you already know that partly or temporarily have acted as solutions. Make it safe to demonstrate and the whole example. How can you make an opening for something different to happen? Get ready for possibly feeling unfamiliar.
Now you have a control, the way you do the action now; and how you would like to do it: your hypothesis of improvement. We are going to try easier, and now we'll experiment to see if or how actually doing that hypothesis improves the qualities of action. Moving in this new way can often feel a bit wrong, so get ready for the unfamiliar.
HERE COMES THE FUN STUFF
You get to act out a paradox. You tell yourself you aren't going to perform or do the goal that you are trying to work on, you are just going to stick to the baby steps of the new process. The process you have chosen isn't necessarily going to add up to your goal, but you may get there "accidently on purpose." The final step is just as you are about to succeed, you must change your mind and decide to do something unrelated to your goal.
For example, as a ball is approaching you in practice, you tell yourself that you still have time to change your mind and do anything BUT your original goal. (Perhaps your habit is to bat the ball into the same area of the field.) You might say to yourself, "I'm not going to 'bat the ball.' I'm sticking to these steps, and instead, I might move backwards, or wink my eye at the crucial moment of action. "
WHY CHANGE YOUR MIND ON THE EVE OF SUCCESS?
Why would you want to change your goal and substitute an entirely unrelated action? This is a tactic, used just to interrupt a strong, overwhelming need to get habitually set and stiff in your old way. Of course, you can still go ahead and do things that old way, if needed. You can have the "old you" back any time.
As that ball is approaching again, you may notice this time that you aren't set in your usual habits. While your habits are absent, you take that momentary chance to follow the new process completely. Maybe your new process worked to get you more of what you want. Maybe you need more good ideas. The point is that you want to break a strong habitual urge to gain your goal in the old groove that has led you wrong so many times until now.
The next step is to indulge your original goals. Then intermittently, you go back and forth from your habitual goal, to any motion entirely unrelated to your goal. After a few experiments like this, you get comfortable with making last moment choices.
Sometimes, when your habits are more insistent, you must be more strategic. You need to practice doing this process a number of times, in increasingly difficult situations that stir problematic reactions. Some people even use Re-decision in the ultimate pressure of performance situations. Those who believe performers are showing what they already know see this immediacy as the ultimate in daring. In long hours of practice however, those interested in the potential of what they might be able to do have convinced themselves. Re-decision brings out the kind of potential ultimately desired in performance; the risk and challenge of the opportunity in each moment.
Re-decision is this: telling your habitual urges that get set in a certain way that nothing is about to happen. Then, risk using the new, unfamiliar and easier steps that you believe will work better. Observe and describe whatever happens next. Learn and use it in the next challenge. That's it.
EXPERIMENTS: COMMANDING & ALEXANDER'S DIRECTIONS
THE TEACHER TOLD ME TO
How do you know that you are doing what a teacher means you to do, or that what you want to do is really turning out how you intend? This question is not necessarily to be answered with your idea of ethics about right and wrong. Instead ask yourself how much, of what kind of attempts are enough before you are convinced that the information gained is valuable enough for you? What makes you discouraged and want to stop experimenting? How does the length of your attention span, mood or feelings of hunger count during learning? What are your criteria for deciding what is important to you? Make your own list of what makes things important for you.
HOW READY FOR WHAT'S NEW DO YOU GET?
Find at least three answers to this question: What gets you in the mood to learn something that is a new perceptual adventure? Decide what is the best possible situation for you to be willing to risk learning.
TALK & LISTEN; FRAMING COMMANDS
When you tell yourself how and what to do, how do you phrase the words you use to give yourself the command? How does the exact wording of a command have to do with the quality of response you are likely to get from yourself or others?
Examine carefully any figures of speech that you use, and the assumptions that may be connected to them, cultural or personal. What influence might those figures of speech be having on the way your commands to yourself or others are carried out?
Here is an experiment about what and how you say when you give directions to yourself: First, talk to yourself about how you comprehend what you read now. What tone of voice do you hear inside you? Can you change your tone of voice into another tone of voice? How do you react when you change your tone to whining, excited, secretive or complimenting? Listen to how advertising voices as well as the way other teachers talk that you like and dislike. Can you describe how they use language that makes the difference in positive and negative tones of voices? Now describe other, more subtle tones of voicing in people around you. What qualitites do they use well that you enjoy hearing in their tone of voice?
How do different styles of talking invite you to respond? Which tone of voice might you be more attracted to try on others, and for what reasons? Considering your own voice, what would your favorite, habitual or most often used approach be most appropriate for what kind of situations?
A command is a direct request for a particular response. It takes for granted that there is a "right" answer, something that the person replying indicates is known by their compliance or performance. Commands are usually worded so that they easily elicit a particular response that the commander has in mind. Orchestras and drill teams are trained to give responses on cue.
Psychologists describe a part of the brain that is incapable of qualifying information; it only uses images, without any positive or negative language attached. For example, if you command yourself to be careful and not fall, that part of your brain will get the image of falling and fear. If you tell yourself to walk calmly and pay attention to secure footholds, the image created is one of skillfully skirting an adventurous opportunity.
Alexander decided to use a process of repeatedly suggesting to himself, the new procedures that he wanted to use. He did this to counteract the years of suggestion, direction and command his habitual reactions had embedded intp him.
Many people have a dominant sense. F.M.'s dominant sense was probably auditory. If so, changing the way he talked to himself would have been crucial. Repeatedly seeing yourself doing a successful skill over and over is effective for those of us who are visually oriented. Repeatedly going through the motions of such skills would help those who are tactile oriented.
Alexander's problems came partially from misunderstanding his teacher's metaphors of instruction. He created his bad habits on purpose, by training himself to over-act for dramatic effect because he imagined that was what was required for those effects. Perhaps performing Shakespeare without microphones exaggerated already present subtle misuses in his speaking voice and posture. As a blues singer becomes famous for a gravel voice, and then cultivates that trademark to the detriment of a once-sensitive throat, Alexander cultivated trademarks of exaggerated speaking style that went against his structural capacity and made him lose his voice onstage. Later he learned to do demanding ways of using his voice without hurting himself.
By saying what he called his 'Directions' to himself, he made it more likely that he would genuinely improve the way he used himself over time. He was "Directing Himself" long before the invention of re-programming or visualization, living proof that his experiments worked. His directions were different from a chant, mantra or hypnotic trance, in that they stirred a present reminder of his opportunity to choose beyond habit. They incorporated his discoveries of both Head Moves, Body Follows, and Re-Decision. Want to know what he said to himself?
"Let the neck be free, to allow the head to move forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, to allow the knees to move forward from the hips, to continue while performing the next action, and maybe I'll choose to do something else at the last moment."
EVALUATING & END-GAINING:
Because a simplified version of something new might be easier to understand, in this culture we often use imagery to describe experience. For the lack of a direct example happening now, we draw parallels about the way a figurative idea functions in theory. The idea's character and attributes are described and then related to how the real situation might go under similar circumstances. How do allegory, models, metaphors and analogies relate to communication? Let's review what makes them all different.
IT JUST FEELS LIKE A METAPHOR
A metaphor means combining an idea or object with, or in place of another, suggesting a juxtapositioning, comparison or likeness. People tend to spontaneously come up with metaphors after a new insight. Their minds are drawing a familiar association between known and unknown. For a learner, forming what's unfamiliar into any verbal description makes it easier to remember. Putting an experience into your own words is a first step toward abstraction and recall, second-nature to many.
An analogy implies a similarity in function, effects, or circumstances. Models can be seen as deliberately created analogies. They are often purposely selected to coincide as specifically as possible to the actual function or behavior of what is being studied. Made as specific as possible, a model would still would be a mystery to someone who doesn't have a similar frame of reference.
Allegory is supposed to illustrate moral or ethical lessons using stories, with characters in similar situation to our own. Again communicating this way can be made more obscure by variables of symbols interpreted differently by history, myth or culture.
A HELIUM BALLOON TIED TO THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD
Cliché metaphors, analogies or allegories can give a false illusion that something significant has been communicated. The user has no way of knowing what personal meaning a listener might have understood. This is how Alexander misunderstood his instructors. To communicate to someone else, use your metaphor and you'll get varied results. Those unfamilar with how you formed those abstracts may nod, but may still only repeat your words without any clue to what you really meant.
ONE AFTER ANOTHER, ALL TOGETHER
An example of someone practiced at articulately and usefully describing the effect of a movement might be, "As I started walking, my head moved easily away from my body, and then my body moved sporadically along with it." Notice that the description contains a direction and mentions a quality. It also describes timing and sequence. These are helpful categories of movement description to compare against for later additional experimental results.
CREATE YOUR OWN REFERENCE MATERIAL
It is an advantage to train yourself to describe movement articulately, using these categories. You can alter what you are doing next and know what is changing. The more articulate and specific the model or description, the more useful the data, when it is re-examined and interpreted later. You learn how to say what is happening, as it occurs.
THE WORD FOR IT IS NOT IT
For this reason, most Alexander teachers often avoid using their own personal metaphors when teaching, and encourage their students whenever possible to use their own bodies as models for the examples. Because most teachers are interested in teaching descriptive ability, they encourage students to think up their words for their own experiences.
Misguided students have been known to get over-impressed with the sensations of the new experience. They mistakenly try to recreate or hold onto the past metaphor itself, or whatever image they abstracted from the experience, as if they could call it back. Alexander called this problem End-gaining. He defined it as going directly for the feeling, goal or image you want. Skipping a process like this activates our most habitual response, often the view of our bodies moving in a sequence of frozen positions.
It's the teacher's job to persuade students to follow the original process that encouraged their new abilities to emerge. Alexander's name for sticking to this unfamiliar and desirable process, (as opposed to "End-gaining") was using your "Means-whereby". Over time, using your new means is the little difference that makes a big difference.
Some Quotes: EXPERIMENTS FOR THE EXPERIENCED
Do you have experience with lessons in Alexander Technique? How have you ever described what you learned to someone else? What would be some effective questions that someone else could ask you to gain the benefit of what you have experienced? Want to come up with your own description of Alexander Technique? Use your own answers to these three questions to put together your own definitions;
In less than five words, what is it? (A way, a process, a method of...)
In a short phrase, how does it work? (By paying attention, changing your habits, questioning yourself, moving differently...)
In a simple phrase, how can using it benefit you? (So that you can do more with less, improve your game, change your accent when you talk...)
Combine the answers to the last three questions, so that they make a few sentences, such as: It's a learning process of questioning yourself, that helps you do more with less. It's a way of moving differently that helps you improve your game.
Alexander Technique is
that works by
so that you can
Can you make different sentences, for talking to different people?
My first experience with Alexander Technique came from a teacher training class. I was brought there by my best friend who was a trainee. There, I heard students discussing and evaluating each other for their clarity, curiosity, flexibility, timing, consistency, and willingness to experiment. Apparently, the mistakes the learner made were the teacher's challenge and responsibility. I was impressed that the head teachers wanted the student teacher to be an example worthy of emulating. As I watched, I saw no cult secrets or fears that things were being revealed to my uninitiated eyes.
At first I thought that losing one's habit amounted to giving up one's individuality. Then I started meeting the influx of visiting teachers whose reputations and anecdotes always preceded them. They were characters! Each of them had their own repertoire of variously unexpected ploys to sidestep, stall, refuse, trick, detour, sweet talk, shock, persuade, fool, intimidate, reason, confront, or sneak around your insistent habits. How they undermined the contractions in your closed-circuit perceptual habit was fair game, as long as they didn't give you the wrong idea about Alexander's principles. They all seem to think moving your body is where your perceptual assumptions come from, and that it is their job to give you new ways to do it.
A teacher traditionally trained other teachers only after seven years of teaching experience. Training courses span three years or more, and can be attended daily. Often teacher-trainees aren't allowed to assume the role of student teacher until their ability to pay attention to their own coordination has been sufficiently developed. This can take as long as six months of daily lessons. A trainee's challenge is no less than finding a way around their worst, most insidious physical limits. Trainees have to be able to use the process consistently on themselves before beginning any real teaching.
To be a teacher of this kind of self discipline takes a willingness to admit and act on the fact that your work is not something that can ever be known. Yet, every time you use the process, you do find out more. The process is a verb, an action in continual motion, changing and improving each time it's used. Our ability to learn grows in direct proportion to sensitivity, the ability to observe, and our willingness to ask the next question.
I'm in the car and riding curve after curve. My teacher and I are on our way to go to a master class together. While driving, she talks about the way people learn. She says learning doesn't take place until it's grounded in a perceptual experience. Only then can it be abstracted and applied in a new situation. To build, you need some prior familiarity as a foundation.
For instance, you can't be expected to think about a "cylinder" unless you have grasped the concept of "circle." When you meet something new, you compare it to whatever category you know in your former experience. Learning takes place when your presumptions of familiarity jump to attention. Things aren't turning out as expected!
She talks about an example of what the circumference of a can is, in relation to its height. ...Guess? Then take a string and wrap it around the can and compare it to the length of the can. ...Surprised? Learning has a sound, a surprised breath, a smile, a sheepish grin.
A trainee writes about teaching to her teacher; I'm constantly relearning how sensitive and totally aware I must be of myself, before I teach by touching anyone, if it's to be of any real value. I was continually having to monitor myself, affirming that I am most important, in a very unselfish way. With my own self-observation comes my perception of the pupils' habitual sets and downward pulls. The next step I find the most precious, touch without intent. I got insight into why I touch the person I'm teaching, how my initial point of contact conveys intent. If I'm to convey the positive direction I want to communicate, I can't let my own habits get in the way.
An experienced teacher writes: After watching Alexander lessons for some time, I now have a clearer understanding of how an Alexander teacher teaches us what direction UP is, for our heads and our whole bodies. The teacher points the way and the student gives consent or agrees to move in the new direction. I believe this is the most effective way to communicate Alexander's discovery, rather than the pupil being manipulated into a position without regard for his experience and understanding.
A beginner at the Technique writes; My habits try to protect me by saying four things: "This is a specific, realistic response, not a habitual pattern!" " I know I'm my body is acting out of proportion to reality, but I can't help it." "You're right, my reactions are unreasonable. I've tried before to stop, and I failed, so I've given up, and you must be criticizing me." "I'm ashamed that I haven't been able to stop. I'd rather not notice that I'm such a slave to it. Please don't remind me about it."
Instead you secretly tell me that I'm pulling my head down, or, how do you say it? "Now are you good and comfy?" I'm not expected to be anything else! I'm not to blame because I ended up with such painful, terrible posture.
I guess we all have our own challenges. Where do you get your patience and compassion? How can you not get discouraged when your teaching makes an obvious difference to everyone else watching, and the person you're working with still says," I just want to get down here, (they tense up) and pull myself down to play this part (or do this step) the way I think it SHOULD be done" when you can hear the results sound and feel worse? Your answer is for them to not to stay pulled down there, to move out of it when they're done.
I guess you must have really given up any attachment to how much your students understand you. Did you do that because you found trying to help somebody got in the way of the clarity of your communication? Do all Alexander teachers do this? How do you know when somebody is ready for what you have to offer? May you can't tell just how ready we are. Maybe you approach any one of us with the readiness that perhaps this time, we could be ripe to understand and use everything you have ever had to offer. So you seem to make yourself present enough to give it to us any time. I admire that style.
APPLYING PRINCIPLES IN STORIES & JOURNALS
FAUX PAS: THE SOCIAL BLUNDER
I had unpredictable urges to blurt out aptly shocking remarks, before I realized their socially devastating effects. I didn't know why I did it. I reasoned, my outbursts must have some understandable origin, but the automatic quality of my retorts erased any feeling of what the true emotion was. Censoring myself was the obvious solution, but the harder I tried not to offend, the more often I was misunderstood. So much for repression, when I couldn't feel why I was having the problem.
As I began describing characteristics, I began to regard the habit as funny instead of tragic. I broke the ice in groups as the sacrificial fool, people remembered me, and blatant honesty weeded out potential enemies. Aside from making the best of my slip-ups after the fact, I realized I would find out more if I could know how I felt, before I did it. Then maybe I could choose a different way to deal with the feeling.
How could I become aware of saying something that only happened when I was not paying attention? I pinpointed the repeated situations where my retorts were most likely to pop out. As I could resist criticizing myself, I did manage to detect it happening sooner. I could have been satisfied with my new ability to turn my troublesome little snips into jokes or stutters, but the challenge became a game.
One day I caught myself before I slipped. I was stunned. Here, inside my ribcage, was the feeling of a giant gap I had to slump to protect, along with the hidden emotion! I was afraid I was being prejudged and unfairly excluded by people who were important to me because I had no contributions to a talk going on without me. Being the baby of a family where my siblings were about ten years older explained my reactions. At least I felt justified, though a tad out of date.
HEAD MOVES, BODY FOLLOWS, ALEXANDER STYLE
Now, even though I knew why, I still wanted to say something, anything ludicrous. Blurting to shock had been my automatic and only remedy. I still felt trapped in my habit at my impasse. Then it dawned on me that I knew how to physically move out of my collapse, using what I knew would improve my flexibility: Move head first slightly away from my body, and follow the initiation of motion with the rest of me.
I knew I'd really done as I'd intended because I could breathe easier. It took a number of attempts, and then, I saw no wonder I had been over-reacting! I saw the conversation going so fast at the table that I couldn't talk fast enough. If it was a game of bad manners, my outrageous outbursts won every time. But it was out of place for me to bring out a club when everyone else was fencing politely with spoons.
NEW FEELS STRANGE
With my new perspective, I ventured a different approach. I put in short comments whenever I could. When I could make a three word sentence, I spoke with longer pauses, slowing my own breathing. By the time I got to say a six-word sentence, there was a conversation going at the dinner table instead of a race. I was pleased that it all happened so gracefully. I learned that I couldn't attribute to malice what I could forgive as unawareness. I found what had once been a nuisance, had now turned to my advantage.
I now have an uncanny ability to say something complimentary, in a way that is too specific to brush aside. I got over a fear of saying the wrong thing. This leaves me skilled enough to mention potentially insulting remarks so tactfully, that now not only am I forgiven, but actually warmly received. Now one way I identify a trusted friend is how candid someone dares be with me. How willing are they to question their own emotional assumptions in a personally threatening situation?
I had always had trouble with my crawl stroke. Everyone else always looked so happy doing laps; for me it was excruciating. Another swimmer confided, "Water gets in your ears because of the way you tilt your head as you swim." As I got in the pool the next day, I decided to notice when I got water in my ears. It was when I did the crawl stroke, right as I took a breath. I figured that there must be a way to do the crawl stroke without tilting my head that particular way.
THE HABITUAL GASP
It proved to be quite a challenge. I felt as if I had to pull my head out of the water in a certain way for fear I couldn't get enough air. I had to prove to myself that I wouldn't drown if I didn't get a breath. I resolved to first move my head differently, and not be concerned if I could breathe or not, ...even to not expect to get any air on that particular stroke. I had to go back to the side of the pool each time, clarify my thinking to give myself a new start.
As soon as I could move differently and take a breath if I wanted or not, my stroke changed dramatically. I felt the surface of the water against my face. I knew how much or how little I needed to bring my face around to the side. But I couldn't do it the new way for more than two or three strokes before my old fear of not getting enough air would return.
FORTUITOUS DISCOVERY OF THE TRIGGER
By coincidence, the next time I went swimming I had cut my hair. With longer hair, I couldn't stop myself from trying to sling my hair out of my face, even though I "knew" my hair couldn't prevent me from breathing with an open mouth. With shorter hair I didn't have to deal with the fear reaction of getting no air. Now I could swim all the way across the pool in the new way. As time went on and my hair grew longer, the old habit didn't return.
WHAT I LEARNED
I can't tell what the advantages of a new course of action are until afterwards. When I am in the throes of a challenge, all I know is what I have to give something up to let the new way happen. I don't know any of the new way's advantages yet. In hindsight, it's easy to trace a logical line back from all the advantages I've discovered. In foresight, I have no idea where or what the advantages are before I've learned to gain pleasure and payoffs from a new way. If I just repeat the reasoning that goes with justifying the usefulness and practicality of the old way, I'll never try what's new. It seems that I have to convince myself to act on the intuitive "maybe" more often. I tell myself how it may be more worth the risk than I can ever know from where I am now.
ANOTHER TRUE STORY: BIKE RIDING UPHILL
Pedaling up to the stop sign, with my newly repaired klunky bike, I was thinking of walking. My legs were tiring fast, even though low gear was finally working. I couldn't help but think, "Here's a great time to apply somebody else's bright ideas. Whatever I'm doing, there's room for vast improvements before the top of the hill. I think I'll use Alexander Technique right now."
WHAT'S GOING ON: WATCH WITHOUT JUDGING
Resisting my urges to adjust and compensate instantly (I'd already tried that) or lashing out at myself for being obviously "out of shape," (I hadn't done anything all winter except cut wood,) I only heard myself panting. I knew the more articulate I could be about myself, the more useful data I'd have to work with and change around. I paid attention again. ...Twenty pedals around later, I noticed I was moving in a series of stroke! stroke! encouragements, timed on each pedal's downswing. Gasping for breath, I was tipping my head back, locking my neck and back to lever my weight against the unsuspecting pedals. And, you guessed it, the pedals were still winning.
HURTLING HEAD FIRST
Eager to apply Alexander's bright idea that we begin interfering with our innate effectiveness by moving head first, I wondered: Would it be possible, right now on this here hill, to resist my favorite way of locking up my neck and back? Possibly to definitely convince myself that this was the culprit, I exaggerated the very motion I didn't want. Ouch, I didn't want to do that. So far, I felt as if I had to brace myself in order to apply what I thought was the most ample amount of "strength" I imagined would get me up the hill. Did I really have to?
NEW MAY FEEL STRANGE
To see if it would make any difference, I decided to choose the moment I went to stand up on the pedal as the point where I would move as easily as I could head first. I knew I did something different because something unexpected happened. "AHA!", I realized, "No wonder the muscles in my legs are just getting tighter and tighter". My mind, with its crazy encouragement regimen of "stroke!, "is really telling my legs to "tighten!, tighten!," without giving them any chance to spring back into their longer range of motion.
PARADOX OF STROKE! VERSUS PAUSE.
This discovery suggested the reversal of my timing techniques. I used a more purposeful and less predictable determination to really carry out the new accent on when I timed my effort. I had to Re-decide to not let my habit sneak in, to choose to continue to move in my new way with my head leading. It took another twenty strokes before I could think and move how I wanted. That isn't a very long time, but I had changed my habits like this before.
Pretty soon the "stroke! stroke!" I'd thought was the only way up the hill turned into "rest, rest, rest," accented on the side of the leg that should be doing just that. Surprisingly, paying attention to the pausing "rest" let the "stroking" part take care of itself. I found myself up the hill in no time, through the worst part of the hill near the top of the uphill curve. It took much less time to think through and do everything, than it did to read it here. The cars passing me didn't notice me doing anything weird at all, unless, riding all the way up the hill on a heavy 5-speed, was funny. I was, after all, grinning at my new discovery.
WHERE TO FIND TEACHERS OF ALEXANDER'S TECHNIQUE
Look first at periodicals in your local advertising area. Often Alexander teachers list with other alternative health disciplines even though AT is considered to be education by those in the field. Check your local phone book under Alexander Technique, Holistic or Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. Also check headings in publications under self improvement or adult learning. Many Alexander teachers are affliated with the music or theatre departments of local colleges or state universities. Often teachers list under their own name or the name of their business which may be called the Center Of..., with the name of your city as its first name, or have another first word that is more difficult to locate.
If there are no teachers listed in your area, many teachers like myself are open to traveling to a workshop in your area. Write or call a teacher listed nearest you for more information on how to arrange for a workshop in your area.
This booklet is an abreviated version of a textbook using a similar organization. This larger version includes many more stories and quotes from over three hundred contributors. If you would like to be on our mailing list or order copies of this booklet or the textbook, send your address to us and we will be glad to send you an order blank.
Franis Engel also collects quotes and stories about your Alexander Technique learning experiences, to include them in future writing and website. Please write!