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 ofAlexander 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.
‘Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know… let go of the wrong thing, and theright 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—-
Poise and Presence is three years old. With the exception of a hiatus in 2018, weekly posts have been the norm. Readers appreciate knowing there will be a little something from Poise and Presence on a regular basis, and the routine of getting a post ready each week provides me with an on-going opportunity to practice Constructive Use.Three Alexander Technique principles are required: Awareness,Inhibition,Direction.
First, I cultivate an awareness of my physical self, a kinesthetic sense of what it is like at any given moment to be living in a body. Secondly, having noted I am more than a mind, I practice Inhibition, which requires me to pause, observe a habit of use, and see what might emerge if I just quit doing what I habitually do to write a post, (i.e.—pull legs back and under the chair, applying undue pressure to my toe joints, contract my arms in toward my torso, thereby reducing my width and diminishing breathing capacity.)
Having activated my kinesthetic sense, pausing/stopping to note a habit of use, I can then give my Self what Mr. Alexander termed Directions. His: ‘I allow my head to moveforward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’ Mine: ‘long spine,’ or ‘length and width.’
This is Constructive Use of the Self, a way of thinking in activity which benefits our well-being. And when you find yourself with a few unscheduled minutes, I recommend Constructive Rest. It’s the practice of resting thoughtfully, altering our relationship to gravity by lying down in semi-supine, lengthening and widening.
Constructive Use AND Constructive Rest are essential components of an Alexander Technique practice. Take your pick!
True confession time. I am a teacher of the Alexander Technique, and I have poor use of Self at the office computer. Pulling down the longer I type and read and scroll, I catch myself correcting with what I call ‘The Puff’— jutting out the chest, resulting in an over-arch of the spine. It’s an archaic understanding of what it means to be upright, a hold-over from my pre-Alexander days of life in a body.
In addition,my feet invariably will cross at the ankles and my legs draw back under the chair, applying excess pressure to the toes in contact with the floor. Unaware of this for a length of time, and, voila! Toe cramps.
As a long-time Alexander Technique student, and now teacher, I have not been ‘fixed.’ The AT study and teacher-training merely (and profoundly) provided me with the ‘means-whereby’ to coordinate mind and body in service of ease and poise. And this is an essential distinction for anyone interested in the Technique. We do not study to perfect ourselves, we study and practice to give our selves choices and options.
Quick fix?Nope. Useful tools for the business of being in a body? Yes.