What’s It?*

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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

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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—-

 

 

Bending

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It’s Week 5 of my online Alexander Technique course pilot, and this week’s Thinking-in-Activity lesson is Bending. To begin, let’s find our middles. A standard habit of thought is to consider the ‘middle’ of the body to be somewhere around the belly button. Nope. Re-mapping is required if this is how you think about middle.

The mid-place of our body’s structure is at the hip joints. Now that’s another body mapping challenge, as we often think of the iliac crest as our hips. Nope. They form the pelvis, and the pelvic bowl. Keep going. Hip joints are further down.

The best way to find hip is to stand with thumbs along the crease that forms when you lift your leg up from the knee, like a prancing horse. That’s the locale of the hips, and believe it or not, it is also the mid-point of your body. Legs/feet  are the same length as head/torso.

Now, back to bending. We bend, most efficiently, ease-fully, and comfortably, when we move from the hips, NOT the imaginary waist. We are multi-jointed and move at joints. Hips, knees, ankles.

Drop a pen on the floor and before picking it up, employ Alexander Technique thinking: Observe Self. (Note your impulse to pick up the pen, without thought.) Inhibit/Pause. (Don’t pick it up. Just stand there.) And finally, Direct: ‘I move back with the pelvis, and forward/over with the head/spine.’

Here’s to healthy and happy bending (see youngsters above)—-

 

 

A Hundred Whiles Ago

Leo is on his way to my house, with sister, Vivi, and their mamma. We will play in the garden all morning, and his 4-year-old-Self, along with my 63-year-old-Self, will delight in games of hide-n-seek, stories to read, and adventures with The Tuesday Morning Friends. (see above photos)

And so life under a pandemic’s terms continues. I have always cherished these playdates, but this spring and summer, they have become a primary event of each week. Life simplifies. What was I doing before that was so important? Seeing friends, meeting up with students, being social. Writing. Preparing for OSU classes. Life is quieter now.

With the exception of weekly jaunts to the farm, travel stopped. A godson’s graduation, a visit to my sister, a trip out west, gone. My OSU teaching contract has not renewed due to the pandemic’s financial toll on the university.  Much has been lost.

Gained? Peace. Ease. At yesterday’s Alexander Technique Online class, I found my pace and speech slowing as I directed the participants through an Inhibition practice.  A colleague responded, ‘The timing was just right. It gave us the time we needed.’

Playdate Postscript: Leo and I were trying to figure out how long it had been since the dinosaurs were last given their baths. We couldn’t decide, until Leo said, ‘It was a hundred whiles ago.’ Yes. That.

Wishing for youa hundred whiles’; all the time you need and more. Riches of the best kind—–

 

 

Mutual Regard

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Walking along the north perimeter lane, I stop at the sight of a warbler pair, nestled side-by-side on a low-lying tree branch. We regard each other in the quiet, a light breeze between us.

The warblers are well-versed in physical distancing, and we could learn a thing or two from them. Appearing comfortable and at ease, they are also vigilant to my presence, and when I do finally step forward, they twitter lightly, lifting off their perch.

They received me. I had been seen; regarded. This moment brought to mind a long-ago Alexander Technique lesson Mike had with Barbara. He was deeply moved by her presence, and the way in which she received him with respect and calm attention, just as the warblers did with me along the fencerow last week.

Thank you, wee warblers. Thank you, Barbara.

 

 

 

Trying

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‘Part of my difficulty is that I am always trying to be right. I must stop this trying to be right, for immediately when I try to be right, I do things wrong  (i.e., in the old way that feels right).  I must cease this trying to be right.’

That’s Goddard Binkley, in The Expanding Self, a memoir of Binkley’s Alexander Technique training. His journal entry continues:

Inhibit this tendency (to try and to be right) and I shall then be free to project the guiding orders, that is to direct my neck to be free, and my head to go forward and up. Moreover, if I can inhibit this tendency, which is so overwhelming, to try and be right, I can then allow nature to assert itself.’

Yes. That. What he said. Quit with the trying. That’s all this Alexander Technique teacher has to say. Just stop with trying so hard. Often the trying has produced the physical tensions and misuse, and merely stopping will be enough to restore ease and poise.

 

Truth

 

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thanks, pixabay! ulna and radius——

Truth-telling. Not enough of that in this present political age. Since I’m not in control of our society’s unleashed lying habits, I’m proposing to start here:

Be honest with myself.

Hmmm. As in, a long, hard look in the mirror?  What I see there these days is my mortality.

You too can stare death in the face with a read of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. It is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, but I found it to be bracing and yes, refreshing.  Death is acknowledged. No lies. No subterfuge.

My Alexander Technique teaching studio has two skeletons in daily use, along with multiple anatomy tomes.  Some students are uncomfortable with considering the bones beneath their flesh, and a bit of light-hearted cajoling is required for a engaged lesson of curiosity about the body and its structure.

Facing the truth of death and decay is to embrace living. In a death-denying and truth-negating culture, this can be a radical practice. Let’s begin with some courageous honesty all around, and who knows, we could be contributing to a new cultural norm; telling the truth!

 

 

 

 

Standing Still

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thrush, photo courtesy of pixabay

With new walking poles in hand, I traipse through the pine woods on an enchanted April morning. Meandering over the animal trails, I eventually pause in a small forest opening, catching a glimpse of a thrush hiding in low branches, waiting me out.

How often do we get to be face-to-face with a bird? That’s what happened next.  He studied me carefully, decided I was no threat, and continued his routine, hopping along the pine needle carpet, his beady black eyes intent.

Let’s redefine what it might mean to stand still. When I’m teaching choristers, they are encouraged to observe the support of their feet.  From there, they can let the body move ever so slightly in a figure-eight pattern.  These micro-movements prevent fatigue and fainting, both a hazard for choral singers who often stand in place for long periods of time.

Standing still in this lively way brought so much more of the world to my notice.  On leaving the forest opening by the same path, I now saw spring beauties, the bleached jawbone of a woods creature, a wooly-worm, and heard a deer snort nearby.  None of these wonders were in my field of attention on arrival.

Whether bird watching, singing, or waiting in line at the grocery, remind yourself that standing still can bring the world to you, and does not require freezing in place. May a few moments of lively stillness be yours today—-

 

 

Rumi Wisdom

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For my colleagues as we launch the academic year—–

You are the only faithful student you have.

All the others leave eventually.

Have you been making yourself shallow with making others eminent?

Just remember, when you’re in union, you don’t have to fear that you’ll be drained.

The command comes to speak, and you feel the ocean moving through you.

Then comes, “Be Silent,” as when the rain stops,

And the trees in the orchard begin to draw moisture up into themselves.

Rumi

Teaching is perceived as a ‘giving’profession involving a transmission of knowledge, from teacher to student.  Give, give, give.  There’s no better way to exhaust myself than to give, give, give.  However, if I am the student and my student is a student, ah, there’s the chance for engaged learning, shared problem-solving, the asking of “What if?” instead of, “Let me tell you what I know.”

“All others leave eventually.”  How true.  If I am a skilled teacher my students leave sooner rather than later. Students are suppose to learn and leave.  My first responsibility is to myself, not to my student.   This responsibility to self is an essential component of how Alexander Technique teachers are trained.  Teachers are required to tend to their own good use first and foremost.

Teaching is a balancing act, requiring the teacher to be the expert, the one who knows something the student might not, while meeting the student at a location of mutual exploration.  A teacher can squeeze the life out of a lesson with the need to assert oneself and be in control.  Teaching requires gently holding knowledge in one hand, and ‘I don’t know/let’s find out’ in the other.

The lesson is a partnership.  Here’s to participating with curiosity and questioning!  A rewarding academic year to all students and teachers recently returned to their hallowed halls—–