A Settled Body

 

watercolour-1321799_640

That’s a phrase from Resmaa Menakem,* author of My Grandmother’s Hands. Merely speaking these lovely words——–‘a settled body‘——- finds me resting back into the chair, no longer leaning forward as if preparing for a dive into the computer screen.

As participants in a pandemic and citizens of a country rife with systemic racism, Americans are experiencing ‘collective trauma,‘ a phrase used by the Dance Department Chair during a recent online meeting in describing the faculty, staff, and students. I concur.

Now what? For starters, settling the body. And so we shall, bi-weekly in Alexander Technique class. With settled bodies, vitality is more readily available, and action can be taken with conviction, whether it be to make oneself a cold brew, to engage in activism, or to get that course assignment started.

For Settling: Notice the places of contact between you and any surfaces. Right now, that’s my right heel on smooth wood floor, backs of thighs and sit bones on the chair cushion, the left hand palm resting on the keyboard, all fingerpads in contact with the keys. Eyeglasses can be felt on the bridge of my nose.

I’m settled. That was easy.

It isn’t always. And when it isn’t, be kind and patient with yourself. There’s no end-goal to achieve; even a slight shift in perception and kinesthetic experience is enough to calm, and yes, settle.

*Menachem is a social worker/trauma specialist in Minneapolis, MN. His work is based on the premise that racism affects not only the mind, but is embedded in our bodies. The Alexander Technique being a somatic endeavor, AT teachers are meeting in study groups to explore his ideas for healing and change.

(Thanks to Stephan Schweihofer for the use of his watercolor, courtesy of Pixabay)

 

 

 

What’s It?*

question-mark-2405205_640

What’s it going to be? A report on last week’s Alexander Technique workshop? (It was wonderful to be with colleagues from around the world. Thank you, Bob Lada, Debi Adams, and Tommy Thompson, organizers/presenters of, In the Company of Support.) Dismay at fellow citizens ignoring the pandemic? Missing summer vacation(s)? Preparing OSU course?

Questions. They are featured in the semester’s first presentation. What do I say about the question mark? ‘We will cultivate a spirit of inquiry, in the fine tradition of Frederick Mathias Alexander.‘ I add that it’s not so much about finding the ‘right’ answer or the ‘perfect’ posture, and more about exploration and discovery.

Well. I sure have lots of questions going into fall semester. Will the students be challenged by online delivery of the course material? Can we build the community which I consider to be essential for the learning of the Alexander Technique? Will OSU remain free from virus infections and subsequent shut-downs, or will we be confined to online-instruction-only within a couple weeks? (That’s the prediction of several colleagues—)

To all who are anticipating the return to school—-teachers, students, parents, and support staff, I send my best wishes for your safety and for the negotiating of this uncharted territory.

*And with a nod to Mrs. Whatsit, that remarkable creature found in Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time. If only we could all fly away on Mrs. Whatsit’s back, as did Charles Wallace, Meg and Calvin.

 

The Space Between

yellow-1437792_640

Dear OSU Students: We have yet to meet. I am preparing a place for us—-a place to be, to learn, to explore the Alexander Technique. And yes, we will do so online, in Flatland. Looking forward to meeting you there soon, Diana McC.

This week, it’s online meetings with Alexander Technique colleagues, as we negotiate the parameters of online teaching/learning.  Asked to gaze softly on the little squares holding colleagues’ faces, my eyes fill with tears. Relieved to be with them figuring this out, compassion for the world in a pandemic, affection. I learned the Technique in community, and a recurring theme of yesterday’s workshop was how to create fellow-feeling, safety and support online, so that our new students, too, can learn in connection to others.

Much of Alexander Technique teacher training is about giving students the space they need, learning not ‘to fix,‘ but ‘to be with‘ and assist in the student’s discovery of  body/mind integration. We spend countless hours learning how to teach with our hands, which for me, was mostly about learning how to be with my students by not imposing my will, my agenda, my Teacher-Self onto them.

How about re-writing My-Story-of-the-Pandemic, suggested by Tommy Thompson in the opening workshop session?  Instead of giving my attention and energy to the confinements of online AT teaching, I might consider the space between us as a gift, an opportunity allowing for self-discovery and change, both for the students and myself.

Yes, the space between—-here is where we begin—-

 

 

Rest

deer-crossing-2079620_640

A doe has been in the back garden since yesterday afternoon, her front hooves tucked under her like a cat, her ears trimmed in black rotating like the disks of an observatory. Her eyes are dark and luminous, ringed with long thick black eyelashes. Why she is there, I do not know.

With dear friend Paula at the house for afternoon tea, we mused on the deer settled in the asters. Is she near death, about to give birth (wrong season), hit by a car? As we wrapped up our visit, Paula said, ‘Maybe she will rest and be alright.’

Calling the Ohio Wildlife Center for help, they requested photographs for an assessment of the doe’s condition. All agreed her coat is healthy, her face lovely and alert. Thinking perhaps a hip was dislocated in a possible encounter with a car, it was explained to me deer will recuperate, or attempt to, with a long period of rest.

There’s been a lot of resting going on in Alexander Technique class, too. Each session begins with Constructive Rest. It’s week ten of the semester—an operetta was performed by several AT students over the weekend, dancers are preparing for their upcoming concert, and academic demands are high for all.

To each of us today, those with two legs and those with four, rest well and be restored.

 

Whitman

fingers-2029662_640

My OSU predecessor had this advice for the first week of classes:

Inhibit like crazy.’

To those unfamiliar with Alexander-Technique-Speak, that advice may sound crazy indeed. I received it as a nugget of wisdom, and Dale’s three words echoed a Walt Whitman quote I happened across recently, an excerpt from his poem, Song of Myself:

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it…..I witness and I wait.’

Witness? Wait? I have teaching goals to achieve, knowledge to impart, so much that needs to be said and done. Nope. Wait, Diana. Be a witness. And as Dale went on to say, it’s in the teacher’s inhibiting, (i.e.-waiting, witnessing), that the student can engage in self-discovery. It’s where real learning happens. The teacher creates the conditions for explorations, and the rest is up to the student.

In FM Alexander’s experience, ‘inhibition’ came to mean the conscious decision not to direct a process toward a given end.’

That’s Pamela Payne Lewis, from her 1980 Carnegie-Mellon University dissertation, The Alexander Technique: Its Relevance for Singers and Teachers of Singing. As a young teacher, I received extensive training in the very task of directing a process toward a given end. And then in mid-life came my Alexander teacher-training coursework, which was devoted not to the achieving of goals, but to the means-whereby all wishes, wants, and goals could be pursued.

An essential component of teaching the Alexander Technique well, the practice of inhibition has on-going application for living a life well, too. And so I will grasp the steering wheel lightly as I commute through crowded city streets, inhibiting contraction and grip in response to the traffic, until eventually and surely, I find myself strolling into the hallowed halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New

colorful-1254541_640

The scent of a brand-new book, the anticipation of new colleagues and new students, the considering of new ideas, the adoption of new routines. A soon-to-begin academic year is all about newness.  In preparation, I’ve been reading Cathy Madden’s, Teaching the Alexander Technique: Active Pathways to Integrative Practice, and found this question:

How can I teach in such a way that the Alexander Technique process sustains and restores cooperation with our natural design in service of what we do?’

I am fond of saying, ‘When I’ve learned everything there is to learn, it will be time to do something else.’ So far, the exploration of the Alexander Technique has kept my curiosity piqued and my interest keen. That’s about 35 years worth, ever since I slipped on my apartment building’s ice-covered steps, landing on a concrete edge, right on the lumbar spine. Always running a few minutes late in the morning, I was dashing out the door to get myself to Duxberry Arts Alternative School. Colleague and Dance teacher, Loren Bucek, suggested I try Alexander Technique lessons to assist with my recovery. Little did I know a life-long study had just begun.

I’m still asking questions, and appreciate Madden’s question for herself as she teaches. It’s a fine method of formulating a lesson, a workshop, a class. F.M. Alexander launched his vocal problems analysis with the posing of question after question. Asking, observing, choosing, assessing. It’s this spirit of inquiry that fuels the learning of the Technique, and if you have a curiosity about his process, I can recommend his small tome, The Use of the Self. First published in 1932, it was reissued in 2001 by Orion Books, Ltd. The first chapter is titled, ‘Evolution of a Technique,’ and although reading Mr. Alexander can be slow-going, it’s worth your investment of time. And OSU students, there is a copy in the stacks of the Music/Dance Library. I set eyes on it this very day, and it awaits you! Please note, do not wear white into the stacks, as you will emerge dust-covered and dirty.  I did. Just a heads-up—-

Wishing for all students and teachers a year of questions asked and answers found—-

Staying Put

education-3617221_640

Learning about something, staying with what engages our attention, staying beyond the naming of it, is like the layering of sediment.’

Susan Hand Shetterly, Settled in the Wild: Notes From the Edge of Town

An Alexander Technique class to plan, syllabus to outline, course requirements to determine. With a 14 week semester and two classes each week, I’m hopeful the students and I will have plenty of time for ‘staying beyond the naming of it,’ adding multiple layers to the sediment of our Alexander Technique study and practice.

Shetterly uses ‘staying’ twice in one sentence, so it must be important. I can’t imagine it’s an oversight. In editing my food memoir, I’m keen to locate words or phrases used more than once. Just yesterday, I caught ‘have always figured‘ in two essays. Not ok!

Why twice?  Certainly, for emphasis. It’s good advice. When singers were discouraged, or struggling with a new skill, I encouraged them to get through the challenging phase by ‘staying with‘ their daily practice routines and the weekly lesson.

And so this Alexander Technique teacher and her students will stay put. We will show up at the studio door two days a week, learn AT principles, practice AT procedures, ‘staying with what engages our attention,’ a primary practice in the Land of AT.

Here’s to the approaching academic year—-