Whitman Revisited*

walt-whitman-391107_640‘Gently, but with undeniable will,

divesting myself of the holds that would hold me…

I am larger, better than I thought,

I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me.

–Walt Whitman, 1856

Did Whitman study the Alexander Technique? You might think so, reading this excerpt from his poem, Song of the Open Road. But no.  Whitman’s words preceded Mr. Alexander’s birth by 13 years. Mr. A. was born in 1869, when Whitman was most likely undertaking yet another revision of his epic work, Leaves of Grass.

Long before Frederick Mathias Alexander (FM) lost his voice performing onstage, years prior to his launching of a self-study which formulated his principles and ideas, Whitman eloquently described the experience of benefiting from Mr. Alexander’s work.  Applying kind and conscious thought to the stopping of ‘the holds that would hold me,‘ mind and body patterns can change, thereby allowing for the emergence of our best selves. ‘Divesting myself of the holds‘ is a key practice of the Alexander Technique, called ‘Inhibition‘ by FM.

Students report, and I concur, it’s a challenge to describe ease and poise in the Self. Thank you, Mr. Whitman, for providing Alexander Technique practitioners a few words worth pondering—–

*see 8/20/19 post here

 

 

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.