Babies

baby-571137_640Best teachers, ever.

Miss Vivi, Extraordinary Guest Lecturer, will visit the OSU Alexander Technique studio today, providing students with the opportunity to observe ease-ful and glorious Use of Self.

She will, merely through being herself and exploring the world of the studio floor, demonstrate the second Alexander Technique ‘Law of Movement,’ as Barbara Conable terms it in her book, Learning the Alexander Technique:

II. In movement, when it’s free, the head leads and the body follows. More particularly, the head leads and the spine follows in sequence.’

The rest of us, to varying degrees, will demonstrate the first Law of Movement, as described by Barbara:

I. Habituated tensing of the muscles of the neck results in a predictable and inevitable tensing of the whole body. Release out of the tensing in the whole must begin with release in the muscles in the neck.

May you find yourself at ease today, practicing non-interference with your inherent balance and support. It’s available to all of us with a return to our beginnings—-

 

                                                                             

 

 

 

Kinesphere

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She has eyes in the back of her head.’

Have yourself a walk-about, and travel as if you did indeed have eyes in the back of your head. Notice what this thinking does for your inclusive awareness. Cultivation of one’s kinesphere* is integral to utilizing the Alexander Technique, and OSU’s AT class recently did so with a practice I call ‘Find Your Six.’

Include the six directions in your thinking as you move through the day: Below, Above, Beside, Beside, Before, Behind. Or, you could call the six directions: Earth, Sky, East, West, North, South.

*kinesphere: the sphere around the body easily reached while standing, and that moves with the person’s trace-form in space, (trace-form being the spatial consequences of our movement), as defined by movement theorist, Rudolf Laban.

Poise

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Poise  (pwäz), n.   v., poised, poising.   —n 1. a state of balance or equilibrium, as from equality or equal distribution of weight; equipoise.   2. dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession.

This one word delights, as it simultaneously addresses both body and mind. From The Use of the Self, Mr. Alexander writes:

‘I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ as separate parts of the same organism…My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ processes in any form of human activity.’

But how? How do we recover mind/body integration, lost by so many of us?

Observe. Inhibit. Direct. Repeat.

That’s Mr. Alexander’s ‘Technique,’ or, as Bruce Fertman writes in Teaching By Hand, Learning By Heart, ‘inquiry.’

‘The Alexander Technique is an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more integration we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.’

Here’s to recovering poise with body/mind integration—–

 

 

Applesauce

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Standing at the kitchen counter, I survey the assembled: crock pot, cutting board and paring knives, a large silver bowl for scraps. A motley pile of apples drains in the colander. Not the beautiful orbs purchased in local orchards this time of year, our farm apples are un-sprayed and untended, leaving them much enjoyed by birds and yes, worms. This means plenty of slicing and dicing around imperfections. But, oh, my. The good bits are so good. Tart and sweet all at once.

With vats of apples to process, I can get ahead of myself. This is known in Alexander Technique parlance as ‘End-Gaining.’ Charging to the finish line, so to speak, with nary a thought for how best to get there.  This means my wrists hurt, the right hand thumb tight and unhappy from an awkward repetitive motion, until I make the choice to notice.

The noticing is termed ‘Inhibition,’ the pause in the midst of habit. Next is ‘Directions.’  Gentle guidance. ‘Let the hand fan outward.’ Ulna and little finger aligned. So simple, this kindness to oneself.

Thank you, Mr. Alexander.

(photo courtesy of pixabay)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting It Right

 

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Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know… let go of the wrong thing, and the right thing does itself.      F. M. Alexander

Me: Alright, Mr. Alexander, I will try. Oops. I mean, I will ‘let go of the wrong thing.’

FM: Yes, and the right thing does itself.

Me: ‘The right thing does itself‘? Does that mean do nothing?

FM: Well, yes, but it doesn’t mean that nothing will happen.

Me:  Is this a zen koan? I’m confused.

FM: If you do what I did, you can discover what I discovered. Explore. Think. Apply thought to use.

(OK, then. Here’s an exploration: Sitting in my desk chair, I observe a thigh grip as I type this imaginary conversation between Mr. Alexander and myself. While quitting with the ‘grip,’ my feet seemingly move of their own accord, sliding back toward the chair legs, thereby relieving the thighs of their grip.)

Me: How was that, Mr. Alexander? Did I get it right?

FM: No. The right thing did itself, which is much different from getting it right. You did not do the right thing. You did not DO. Congratulations.

Dear Readers: Make of your daily life a laboratory, and play with all the possibilities for moving in new ways—-

 

Laundry

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Clothes washed, dried, folded and returned to closets and drawers, all while composing a blog post, writing Pelotonia donation thank you notes, reading student assignments, finishing up today’s class preparations, and making travel plans for a September Pittsburgh trip.

And while a busy day benefits from a few minutes (or more) of Constructive Rest, we cannot remove ourselves from the day’s business for very long. That leaves us with the challenge of being at ease even in the midst of crossing off items on the To-Do List.

This is the very place where the practice of Alexander Technique principles are to be  practiced and applied, right in the middle of it all.

Example:  I’m standing at the open washing machine, trying to get the last little squidge of detergent out of the bottle. To that end (End-Gaining, indeed!), I catch myself leaning my entire body to the side, along with the over-turned bottle, as if shifting my weight will coax out the last dribbles. I’m uncomfortable. This is when I could mentally slap myself on the wrist, but no. Instead, it’s a rueful laugh, and back to weight on both feet.  Now at ease, I can wait for the remains of the detergent bottle to empty.

Learning the Alexander Technique is not about acquiring perfect posture, or flawless Use of Self. No. It’s about observing Self, and either choosing to continue as we are, or to make a new choice for how we wish to respond and react to the present moment.

 

 

 

Whitman

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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

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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—-

Under Duress

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Recovery from Monday’s eye surgery has been slow, thanks to a cold virus exacerbating irritated and swollen eyes, and an allergic reaction to antibiotic ointment. The itch so itchy it’s painful? Here’s what I did to get through the week. Alexander Technique students, you know the Procedures

First, observe habitual response. This week’s responses were a minute-by-minute attempt to get away from unpleasant sensations. Eye drops, dabbing and rubbing of eyes, and a good dose of catastrophic thinking—‘This will never end! I’ll be in misery the rest of my days.’

Having observed responses, Pause. Or Inhibit, if you prefer Mr. Alexander’s terminology. How does one pause when hurting? Watch the discomfort with a dispassionate mind. ‘Oh, yes, there’s a streak of pain along the outer rim of left eye.‘ Noted. Mere observation is often enough to restore a bit of ease and comfort, and so it was for me and my eyes.

Continue with Directions. Having acknowledged that all my attention was with one detail of my physical experience, i.e.–unhappy eyes, I chose a prompt, often ‘Whole body, whole world.‘ With inclusive awareness, I noticed the space around my body, the room in which I was writhing, and the garden beyond, where the stargazer lilies were blooming in profusion.

On several occasions, with this practice, I was able to rest deeply and even to fall asleep. And other times my eyes just itched more, and it was on to the eye drops. Keep in mind, Alexander Technique procedures are not about fixing what’s wrong, but doing what we can to integrate mind with body, in service of greater ease and optimal function.

No need to wait for agony. Perhaps there’s a slight crick in your neck from reading this post. Practice the Procedures!

 

Maybe Tomorrow

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The annual Drama of the Fledglings is underway. This past weekend, it was a tree swallow soon to fledge, but not quite ready.  Her beak opened to bright orange-yellow on each fly-by of the parents. Landing on the box, the pair peered over the edge, chirping to their offspring, offering encouragement, but nothing doing.

On the porch for an afternoon of cloud watching, I  periodically checked on the swallow’s progress through the binoculars. She began to extend farther out of the box opening, her neck lengthening (yes, Alexander Technique students, birds do it, too!) looking up, down, and all around. Still in the nesting box, however.

End-gaining was not in evidence on the hill. Mr. Alexander would be pleased. He observed in himself and his students the common habit of gaining an end, i.e.–striving to achieve a goal, by disregarding how we use ourselves to get there, and mindlessly pushing to complete a task. He was adamant that instead of trying to please, get it right, and get it done, we would benefit greatly from pausing (what he termed Inhibition), and considering the ‘means-whereby‘ any task is best performed. 

The task of flying awaits the young tree swallow. Not responding just yet to the stimulus of cajoling parents, she pauses. She waits. We do ourselves harm when we push through our daily lives, using force of will and grim determination. Try a pause. Be kindly toward yourself in all that is required of you. The swallow will fledge. You will complete your tasks. Maybe tomorrow.