‘Use‘ as defined by FM is: ‘the working of the organism in general, bringing into action the different psycho-physical mechanisms.’
‘Self‘ means your body and your mind. Indivisible.
Example: You are talking to someone, perhaps utilizing hand gestures. Instead of referring to this as the way you talk, it would be more accurate to say, ‘the way you Use Your Self while you are speaking.‘
The Use of the Self, then, is the way I react, with the whole of myself in any given situation.
Explore Use of the Self the next time you are in a conversation. Note your habits as you talk and listen. Do you gesture frequently? How do you indicate you are listening attentively? Do your eyes crinkle up when you smile? Is there a part of you that tenses when in conversation?
No need to change anything. This is the start of being an observer, honing self-awareness, integrating mind with body.
(Mr. Alexander’s book, The Use of the Self, is the one I would recommend you read first, if interested in the Technique as described by its creator. For a general introduction, read Michael Gelb’s, Body Learning.
Bill Conable, Alexander Technique teacher and Ohio State University cello professor for many years, developed Body Mapping. He observed that students moved while playing their cellos according to how they thought they were structured, rather than moving by the anatomical facts of their structure.
His wife, Barbara Conable, also an Alexander Technique teacher, designed a course of study around the body mapping concept, title, ‘What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.’ She trained teachers, called Andover Educators, to disseminate the information. Barbara was adamant that anyone could benefit from Body Mapping, without the traditional hands-on Alexander Technique instruction. An important insistence, especially in this pandemic year of online learning and teaching.
A Barbara quote: ‘the Body Map is one’s self-representation in one’s own brain. If the Body Map is accurate, movement is good. If the Body Map is inaccurate, movement is inefficient and injury-producing.’ In utilizing Body Mapping, we can alleviate the misery of body mis-use. With an accurate body map, we can then choose movement in keeping with our elegant design.
(A cautionary note: We can all go happily down the rabbit hole of anatomical studies, traveling farther down into the many details, at the expense of our inclusive awareness and whole Self coordination. So. having given your thinking, as we do in Body Mapping, to parts, always return to Mr. Alexander’s discovery, the primary coordination of head and spine. )
I’m listening. Monday, at the OSU Dance Department Meet-and-Greet, faculty member Susan Petry encouraged us to be gentle with ourselves and each other as we negotiate a pandemic semester. And at the closing session of a recent Alexander Technique workshop, Bob Lada, professor at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, stated his intention to teach with a quality of gentleness this fall.
What a lovely word. I commend to you the efficacy of simply speaking it, or thinking it, and then noting the changes—–perhaps to your breath, your head/spine, your clenched toes. Gently as we go—–
*In Disney’s 1942 animated film, Bambi and Flower the Skunk become fast friends. Gentle creatures, both.
Poise and Presence. This is how it’s done. Feast your eyes on such beauty and ease. We have for a teacher this exquisite fawn, who was photographed courtesy of the hill’s wildlife camera. And the image will suffice. All energies and time this week have ended up being dedicated to semester preparations, and so I rely on the natural world to provide you and me with some visual inspiration—–
That’s a phrase from Resmaa Menakem,* author of MyGrandmother’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 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.
An angel, perhaps. Or dancers with the legs of goats.
No, I didn’t see either. but only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.
Morning coffee in the garden. Mike and I are about to move inside and get our respective days up and running. We pause, and here comes the hummingbird, whom we had been hoping to see. Settling back into our chairs, a pair of songbirds light in the dogwood which wraps the gazebo’s west side. One of them explores the latticework along the screen, a mere 2 feet from us, the gazebo serving as a blind. Its throat trembles with a melody, and Mike says, ‘If you wait, they will come,’ a twist on a line from Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, he will come.’
And next, three goldfinches. Following their swooping and chirping path above the garden, the moon about to set comes to our attention. Glory be.
Stay long enough today. Practice the Alexander Technique Pause.
Not to beconfused with ‘Take a hike,‘ as in ‘get lost.’ No, this is an invitation to take your lovely Self walking. The Midwest is sweltering on yet another day expected to exceed 90°. Walk anyway.
Early, of course. Not for very long. And kindly, certainly. What do I mean by ‘kindly‘? Consider Use of Self as you walk. Instead of slogging through the humidity, doing battle with the elements, choose to receive the rich scents of a summer morning, the eggshell blue of the sky, the cardinal’s call.
What does all this noticing have to do with the Alexander Technique? Everything. Our inclusive awareness, of Self and Other, is the doorway into ease and comfort. And on a hot summer’s day, a bit of comfort is most welcome.
Continue strollingwith attention to your structure, head moving away from the spine, inviting the spine to lengthen and the torso to widen. You can integrate thought with action, as you ease-fully stroll through the neighborhood, the city street, the park path. A good walk to you—–
It’s Week 5of 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)—-