What’s itgoing 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.
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.
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—-
‘The first stepin learning how to work on yourself is to observe others. Looking at the world around you with Alexandrian eyes is extremely instructive, and pleasurable too …….and if you search carefully you will find admirable instances of good use around you.
I drawenormous inspiration from looking at….great athletes and dancers and musicians, at animals both wild and domesticated…such models of good use are worth imitating.’
Pedro De Alcantara, Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique
Morning on the hill. Feast your eyes on this elegant form. To know a fawn was lightly treading the meadow around our little cabin as Mike and I slept snug inside is to know there’s astonishing beauty all around us, always. The wild world does provide us with inspiration—-
‘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—-
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.
‘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, ‘stayingwith what engages our attention,’ a primary practice in the Land of AT.