A Settled Body

 

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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?*

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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—-

 

 

Zoom

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It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.’

Gianpiero Petriglieri’s* tweet precisely encapsulates my experience teaching on-line Alexander Technique. Prior to the pandemic, the students and I met in a spacious dance studio, cultivating presence with small group engagement, conversation, and movement explorations.

Then, boom. Zoom-Time. Hands-on guidance was replaced with the tap, tap, tapping of fingerpads on the keyboard, and the clicking computer mouse. Students relied solely on their thinking and individual experimentation to improve Use of the Self. I can happily report, they quickly qualified as advanced practitioners of the Technique, ‘advanced’ being defined as able to apply the principles of Inhibition and Direction.

Online learning. Ideal? No. Our delicate and carefully crafted web of connections required proximity, and that we did not have in a Zoom Room. We were at a distance too great. The two-dimensional world of Zoom meant being ‘in the constant absence of each other’s presence,‘ a fatiguing endeavor. Possible? Yes, thanks to a splendid group, and to the initial in-person classes.

To my students, a big ‘thank you’ for your generosity of spirit, willingness to show up on-line and explore what was possible, your faithfulness in maintaining the weekly written assignments, and your sacrifices for the Greater Good, as you Sheltered-in-Place, upending so much—research projects, finances, jobs, and more. I am wishing you well.

*author, speaker, professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires)

 

Fraught

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fraught  (frôt),  adj.   1. involving; full of; accompanied by (usually fol. by with); an undertaking fraught with danger.  2. Archaic. filled or laden (with): ships fraught with precious wares.   n. 3. Scot. a load, cargo, freight (of a ship). (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language)

An OSU Alexander Technique student wrote in his weekly essay, ‘Although I awake gritting my teeth some mornings, I try to find rest and inhibit my fraught.’  Both an adjective and a noun,  ‘fraught‘ conveys much of its meaning simply by sound—-the fricative ‘f,’ the sigh of the ‘ô’ and the percussive ‘t.’ It’s a tone poem, a miniature musical composition, all in one-syllable.

And evocative of life at present. The ships of our lives are indeed fraught, loaded down with the cargo of disruption, anxieties, loss, illness. However we can lighten the load, even just a bit, will give us a ship that travels more readily and lightly through uncharted waters.

Thank you, Max, for the gift of this word at just the right moment. And a big thanks to every student whose life has been turned upside down with the closing of schools and universities. Your individual sacrifices for the greater good have not gone unnoticed. I, for one, am grateful. As Dr. Amy Acton said in Ohio’s daily COVID-19 news conference, our efforts to stay at home and observe physical distancing are making a difference.

 

Checking In

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OSU online classes begin next Monday. Over the weekend, I greatly appreciated colleagues Mio Morales and Jennifer Roig-Francoli, who hosted webinars for those of us who are new to online instruction. With 96 in attendance, an international gathering of Alexander Technique teachers, it was a heart-warming time to provide each other support, mostly by simply being present to one another.

How is your life changing? Write and let me know.

Be safe. Be well——I’ll close with a few words sent to my students last week: ‘I am holding you in my AT-teacher-hands, with gentle guidance at the meeting of head and spine. Give yourself a moment for returning to ease and freedom.’

(a Lake Cowan lotus, photographed from my kayak)

Enjoy the Ride

 

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 ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.’

The first written record of this adage is found in an 1840 Thomas H. Palmer Teacher’s Manual. It was popularized in song lyrics by British writer, W. E. Hickson (1803-1870). OSU Alexander Technique students were asked to re-write this time-honored advice, with Mr. Alexander’s principles and practices in mind.

If at first you don’t succeed,

  • you need Constructive Rest.
  • try it differently.
  • remind yourself, the waist is fake-news!
  • correct your body map.
  • release tension and then try again.
  • find another way and know it’s okay.
  • do less.
  • take a lap, or maybe a nap.
  • try it in Monkey.
  • enjoy the ride.

Thanks to: (Sasha, Sara, Garrett), (Srinija, Demetra, Kai), (Jade, Jacob, Max) and (Edie, Alexa, Megan, Yang).

 

 

Season’s Greetings

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The semester wraps this week, and it’s a return to the rest of life. With the holiday season upon us, that’s good timing. To all the blog’s readers, I wish for you refreshment and restoration during the month of December. May your hearts (and bodies!) be light, and may you know the beauty of your existence on this one-and-only earth.

Best wishes for the holidays, and I will write again in the new year of 2020—–

Babies

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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—-

 

                                                                             

 

 

 

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.