What Attracted Me To Alexander Technique

I'm thinking back at what attracted me to Alexander Technique...a really loooong time ago, in 1976. Strangely enough, it wasn't to improve my terrible twisted posture, which was very, very depressing sight.

I wasn't thinking about my posture when I got to know this guy as boyfriend material at 23 who was studying AT. I got to know him because I thought easy posture meant he was creative or maybe could experience
enlightenment! It's true he moved much lighter and easier than me. I can remember how he would reach up to smooth away the crink in my forehead that I didn't realize I was doing to myself.

What convinced me to do AT and made it fun was the attraction of being able to change my consciousness. AT didn't use the coersion of will, but something else mysteriously indirect that made whole my analytic ego attachments. The all-points-awareness experiences were exciting. Sometimes I'd have a creative flash of insight. My perceptual sensitivity woke up, along with the awareness of my body. My motives to keep learning were driven by having a way to address a split I recognized between my intention and how I mostly floundered to bring about learning or change. Later, I realized my whole self was a lot happier too.

When I applied the Alexander Technique to learning to sing, it gave me a significant insight about why I kept half my throat was closed. I knew that when I was a baby, I had an ear gristle cropped off by rubber banding, (in the 1950's doctors were so thoughtless.) This punishment trained me as a baby to tense up the side of my neck - which affected how I learned to walk as a toddler because I unknowingly kept it tense. Of course, all hell broke loose when my hips became one piece in my late teens...nobody could tell me why. I developed a mystery limp at 17 with no injury to start it, but now that I knew the Alexander Technique principles, it suddenly made sense. All this came clear when I talked to someone else who had the same banding-to-crop done to their ear when they were a baby, with different disasterous results of back problems. My tourqued posture actually stopped bloodflow to my femur at my knee and caused the bone to crumble - surgery didn't help. I still had the limp at 23 until I began to study Alexander Technique. If I hadn't, I have no doubt that by now I would not have knees.

I've assummed that what motivated me to continue learning AT, probably wouldn't motivate others, because my experience was so unique...but maybe that's an erroneous assumption.

David Bohm & F.M. Alexander Liked to Think

David Bohm's later solutions are curious parallels to Alexander Techique, but they seem to come from a completely different orientation. Bohm asked different question to start himself out on his investigations. David Bohm did not know about Alexander Technique, although he lived in London.

Bohm advocates Dialogue in a group of ten to thirty people as a remedy to address the problem he defines as a lack of proprioception within thought - and as an extension of that, the problem of how likely it is to assign meaning unreliably. (Thus Bohm acknowledges sensory unreliability, but he applies it to unreliability of thought itself.)

After learning about Dialogue, I would say that Bohm came up with some similar principles to Alexander Technique, only he applied them in terms of a social arena where people interact.

During a Dialogue group, Bohm recommends that participants suspend their conclusions and judgments about each other and build on what others are thinking about instead of debating or looking for flaws. Bohm's idea he calls Suspension functions quite a bit like Alexander's concept of Inhibition, only related directly to thinking processes during group interaction.

During a Dialogue group, one's assumptions (often completely hidden) are constructively revealed by noting one's reactions to what or how other people are talking. While exploring subjects that are improvised on the spot, these and other recommended techniques allow insight to happen unexpectedly as the group goes somewhere new together.

I've been a member of an in-person Dialogue group for the last ten years; and I'm also a member of an online list server with former contemporaries of Bohm.

I'm so struck with exploring the many similarities between Alexander Technique and Bohm's ideas of Dialogue. That's why I started this particular blog.

Why Defend Routines?

On the subject of why people defend their cultivated routines, I thought you might enjoy a quote from
David Bohm,(physicist/philosopher) from his writing, "On Creativity" p. 24:

"And the key is, as I have indicated, to be continually aware of and alert to the basically mechanical reactions that are always causing us to "go to sleep" again and again...

Just what are these reactions? This is to complex a question to be gone into in detail here. But, roughly, it can be said that the root of the trouble can be found in the confusion between what is really creative and the mechanical continuation of the results of past conditioning. For example, each person will note that, either tacitly or explicitly, he is according extremely great importance and value to certain comforts, pleasures, stimulating sources of a "tingling" sense of excitement and euphoria, secure and satisfying routines of life, actions that are necessary to his feeling of being an accepted and worthwhile sort of person, and various other mental responses that are felt to be of a supreme degree of psychological significance. Indeed, such responses often seem so basic to the psyche that one feels that he cannot bear to have them seriously disturbed. Even more, it may often appear that they are inseparable parts of one's "very self," so that all the creative possibilities of the mind would depend on first seeing to it that they are in a right order (as all one's physical actions depend on obtaining an adequate supply of the right kind of food). However, closer observation shows that the continuation of these responses is not really necessary for happiness and creation, and that, on the contrary, they are actually nothing but mechanical results of past conditioning, being in fact the principal barriers to real joy and creativity." - David Bohm

Changing Persistent, Maddening Habits

Changing a persistent, unconscious habit is one of the most difficult things that a
grown-up can do. Most adults have little patience and capacity for such an undertaking, and as such, are strongly motivated to accept things the way they are and even make up reasons for actively working to keep things the same.

Take for instance changing an all-pervasive habit such as a facial tic. In a situation as this, the reasons why a person would want to make this change would not be fully experienced until the change had been made.

The main problem in influencing this mannerism is it seems to repeat itself automatically without registering that anything has intentionally happened. People around someone with a facial tic would try to ignore it also and never bring up the uncontrollable characteristic of it, even though it's distracting to remember to disregard the tic as a meaningless gesture. If the person with the problem was a woman and she thought of designing a strategic feedback of the event for herself, perhaps braiding her hair so a strand hung down over her face would help her feel a new
sensation as her face rubbed against the braid. This way she could be aware right before she was beginning to start the habitual expression and thus be able to begin to interrupt herself doing it.

Also an important point of improvement would be her response to unsuccessful prevention of the action. Changing an action such as this would be discouraging at first if she didn't appreciate how many times her body/mind had practiced this activity and how difficult the challenge really is. The most likely outcome of her experiments would be that her will to do differently would be quite unsuccessful at first. She would be very lucky to have even partial success. This would be because after not very long, she would tend to disregard her strategic indicator!

Habits are extremely tricky and coersive. Their complete and utter invasiveness is justified by a very strong sense of self-preservation gone wild. They have everything to do with you - because you designed them to address some intention of yours, or you let them run wild and legislate how you are spending your energy without doing anything about how your habits affect you.

I'm saying this from my own experiences at changing the way I would breathe and speak - which was challenging in a very similar all-pervasive way. The greatest moment comes when you suddenly realize or remember the intention that was usually lost in the past when you installed the habit.

It comes as an insight as you're staying with yourself moment to moment. Sometimes it's such a complete insight that the need for the habits drops away instantly. My insight concerning the way I'd learned to talk was that somehow as a child who did not want to seem threatening, I learned to take a breath, let it out and then start talking on the most tiniest bit of air possible. In spite of the insight, it still took me some very attentive work over a two year period before I could take the first free breath of my life without unnecessary pressure and force...and then let it out while I began to talk, no big deal, over and over again like most people with beautiful voices can talk.

Losing Capacity = Desparate Control

I used to take care of older seniors. Yesterday I visited a friend of mine who is doing a similar job.

It struck me how many of the concerns of the seniors I took care of then were connected to losing some sort of their physical capacity. I didn't see that until now. Being physically limited was something that happened to me when I was still a teen and nowhere near the end of my life. Comparing how seniors seem so possessive and controlling, I knew well that my limited situation as a teen was a situational attitude and not a result of "getting old." When they lose capacity to make themselves happy, people seem to want to draw the world in which they have control tighter and tighter until they MUST have their way because it's their house, or some other justification. I'm beginning to think that the reason people feel this way because they're losing their capacity to do what they love. Not that they're getting old - it's just a situational set of emotions that occur when you lose the capacity to do what used to make you happy.

Strikes me also as paradoxical how most of the features of what money has to offer is more privacy. When people get old they want company more than privacy.

Creativity is Compulsory?

Many people's creative drive might be considered compulsory - but because it's creative rather than destructive, it's not a disorder.

I see the assumption that "the solution must be intense so as to combat the problem's intensity" to be an expression of the mistake of "from extreme to extreme." I think the reason it's so common of an assumption is from a cultural history of implied opposites. The implied opposite of something you abhor with a vengeance people assume seems to be something you passionately love - rather than just stopping the problem.

That assumption is wrong, as F.M. Alexander discovered, among others. If you use those extremes, you'll miss what your twisted senses have learned to ignore as being of no consequence. To find something you love to do, it works better to notice what comes easily & naturally to you that you find yourself doing without effort.

For Alexander to find that out involved going through a paradoxical process he taught himself to perform by building new assumptions. Fortunately, his solutions of how to go from "repair" to "ease" turned out to work for others who might be in his situation. I imagine that any 'techniques' us teachers of AT come up with from our own experience can only add to Alexander's - and those who share our circumstances will benefit from them.

Marj Barstow's (Alexander's first graduate) opinion on this was, to the extent you factually went in the direction you intended to go, what you didn't want was left behind by default. So - Marj said that prevention works with less effort than repair - just like in maintaining cars.

From that conversation, I have since regarded many of Alexander's techniques, such as his specialized way of using inhibition, to be on the order of "repair." Sometimes people's problems need these "repairs." I did at times when I became injured and couldn't help but train myself to cope with pain by limiting movement while I was recovering. Those examples are what make Alexander's work useful for anyone from any starting point. I don't think you need to use all the tools if what the problem is will respond to some of the tools.

Decades ago, I was at Marj Barstow's workshop sitting next to a new attendee who was a jazz trumpet player. For his third lesson, I suggested that he bring his horn up and play a little; and compare how connected he felt to what he played after he worked with Marj's suggestions.

The comment the musician made after the lesson was that he'd always assumed that the vastly improved connection he felt then was always going to happen in the context of improvisation, and never playing alone. Now in this lesson, here it was, seemingly on call all by itself.

Is Awareness Remembering?

I'm really curious how people find out they are inappropriately be reacting rather than using their creative potential. The danger is your habits can surround you with their convictions of self-defining identity. You can get used to your habits so completely that they disappear into your identity. If you try to move or do things differently, it will feel so unfamiliar that it will feel as if it's "not you" and so you won't allow yourself to continue doing what is easier on you, but only what feels familiar. Your habitual identiry which seems to be tied to self-preservation may rebel against what feels unfamiliar and try to resume control to protect you.

It's a built-in design flaw of adapting. That's the intention when we design habits, adapt to circumstances and learn - that the new abilties become innate and can be used as second-nature. It becomes a problem as we add habit onto habit because we can pull ourselves in opposite directions. It causes people to get physically twisted up and age faster, stresses their systems.

The ways around it that I know don't necessarily involve "awareness" on the front end. They involve deliberately disassembling the habits. In fact, it seems to work best to not have a new habit in mind to replace what you are intentionally disassembling, but just remove what seems to be in the way that is outdated. It takes a willingness to experiment and to feel wierd.

If you use your observation/awareness with the intention to undo the habit BEFORE you have made any changes to actually stop the habit, you will only notice your habit, or nothing special because your sensitivity to the habits has disappeared. Turns out, rather than 'awareness' it's more of a timing challenge.

You can use the sensual world to give you feedback about what you are doing. Noticing when you are doing the old same thing will help you remember that you wanted to respond differently. I guess that's where the awareness comes in, remembering to notice. Most people only notice their objectives, their vanity, no consideration of their means, only their intention.

Say you know what your habits are, then you make a change deliberately away from them, THEN if you use your observation/awareness, you're more likely to notice something new at that point. Then you get the awareness insights.

You will usually sense differences in comparison to whatever you have been doing when you stop doing it and sometimes these differences will feel really paradoxical and positively strange. Descriptive ability is a skill factor in carrying through by not letting the habit resume control - it's usually when you can describe differences that you can know what is happening in fact.

Usually it takes practice to sustain existence without the old habits. I think of awareness being more of a sensory effect, and a sort of wisdom of how to intepret the results of your experimenting when you feel wierd and unfamiliar after making a significant change.

What Makes A Good Question?

As a topic in general, good questioning has many examples in every field. It pays to study the process of questioning as a separate subject, as if you were going to design an FAQ for your skill. Not only can it make you a better learner, but a better teacher.

If you are a teacher, you know there are multiple advantages about encouraging questioning from the start. Questions from a student show a teacher their student's range and style of thinking. Questions point in the direction of the answers. In fact, questions can imply a limitation of what kind of answers that are possible to find. Better questions open up a rich field of personal discovery.

How do you ask a really good question?

As a student, you can ask any question to get started. Sometimes the first questions that come off the top of your head aren't the most appropriate, but everyone has to start somewhere. Most teachers understand this.

As a learner, to ask a really juicy question, you have to listen carefully to learn any "lingo" about the topic. So the best questions to start with are often about the specialized use of words you hear your master teacher using.

The other skill that's good to develop as a questioner is indicating "over-load, please change tactics now" or "I've got it, go on" to the teacher. There are some assumptions that create problems with encouraging this activity in learners; especially in a group situation. Some learners believe these kinds of questions are insulting to the teacher.

How can a teacher encourage learners to get past their misconceptions that particular issues, communications or questions are somehow "forbidden"?

At first, even in a private lesson, most students seem to want a teacher to "lecture" them. They want to let the master talk. The teacher saying something to preface a lesson might be appropriate in some cases. But what if the teacher doesn't really want to go on about the topic; what if they want their student's involvement from the very beginning?

Some teachers address this hurdle by doing the asking themselves, and then answering. They hope that the students will get the idea of what kind of questions to ask. What to do when the teacher finds that students resort to parroting or restating the teacher's questions with other motivations such as to gain approval?

It's easy for the students to misunderstand that questions posed by the teacher and then answered are merely rhetorical ones; that the teacher is asking these questions to show off their knowledge. The students may imagine that the teacher would never ask a question that they don't already know the answer to.

It's very difficult to ask a question that will point in a new direction. Questions can imply that there is one answer, rather than a multiplicity of answers. It's also easy to think that just because you have come up with an answer to a question - that this one answer is enough of an answer.

Fantastic and personally meaningful questions sometimes need quite a bit of personal experimentation to adequately explore their potential... Sometimes this kind of question can become a sort of "virtual question" that many actions of exploration are continually answering during the course of life...

How can you encourage your students to ask really good question of you, to be a masterful teacher?

How can a teacher get around student's misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We're talking about adult learners here - who have already been trained into a lifetime of habits about how to treat teachers.)

Instead of my lecturing, here's an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. She's almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people figured it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, "What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?" Most often, laughter, but no daring questions. The humor did have some effect to loosen people up.

The experience of getting a new perceptual assumption is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as personally frightening. In this case, they were intimidated. This little old lady could shake people's foundations; pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with "respect." This turned out to be a kid glove sort of childish unquestioning loyalty and agreement.

This little old lady hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it though. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a "private" lesson with her... with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, "So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?" She wouldn't go on until someone described it.

That's how she taught us to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. That also taught us to ask ourselves what these indications meant in each specific situation with each different person.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome. Then we learned how to integrate the special points with the whole, normally speeded action again.

These examples of techniques to encourage questions are,(or should be) commonplace to any teacher. The one I'll tell you about next surprised me because I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we'd pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn't understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation.

This is what made me realize that she was asking me to put her "on the spot" by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by the group of students. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different, and she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak.

Essentially, she gave me license to be planted as a sort of "sacrificial fool" in the forbidden questioning department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I'd fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the two of us immensely. After those kind of questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then started to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.


So if you are a teacher, don't be above encouraging one of your students to act as a 'secret plant' in the classroom! Certainly - if you've got any comments or questions to ask me - please speak up now!

Learning Styles

I really enjoy the idea that a certain dominant sensory preference can create an attitude. These points of perceptual preference involve differing ways of processing information as well as learning style.

Particularly I stumbled on this idea when I noticed how people who were auditory tend to process information in sequences similar to language. I noticed that this particular person tended to regard any verbal reminders as nagging but would tolerate reading reminders and act on them without protest. I found that really curious - and wondered how I could use that observation for myself.

My friend Jacques was the person who gave me the idea that most people tend to go only part way through a process of learning and stop. Only some people who are very interested become motivated to go into all the possible means of mastering a particular subject, the rest are satisfied with "well enough."

I noticed my own learning generally went in predictable sequential stages.

When I first encountered an interesting subject or skill I would seem to want to absorb it indiscriminately - as if I were a multi-perceptual sponge. Sometimes beforehand I would go to the trouble of carefully determining and selecting the "best" examples possible because I knew how I tended to indiscriminately open myself.

If it would be a physical skill, I would let the physical circumstances be my guide; I would get very curious about how I could open myself to all of the necessary factors at once without consciously knowing much about what those factors actually were. I found myself pretending I already knew how to do it and acting as if I could already do it well.

The results were surprisingly successful, in a sort of "beginner's luck" way. Of course, there was no expectation of what success meant; so I was free to experiment completely and to not apply judgment. As soon as judgment or expectation came in, I had to go back to square one and learn as anyone might after a tantalizing "flash" of brilliant integration.

Then I tend to want to communicate something in order to form a general structure; putting the crucial factors into words that can be communicated would give it a voice for my own thoughts to have some organization. Of course, it's best to be feeding back the structure to someone who knows more about the subject so they might offer constructive suggestions and important factors that I will inevitably leave out from inexperience. A good listener who knows what I'm trying to do and can help with that can be difficult to find. The physical world is sometimes easier to use for this purpose.

Once I have a structure to hang everything on that I might have created by talking about it, then all the specific information can come in without regard for time of arrival and I'll hopefully be able to retain it. I use the structure to sort the information to put "like" with "like" in a very general way.

Ideally, the information will reorganize itself into its own intrinsic structure that is suggested by its own nature...and suddenly - sometimes I'll have an "epiphany" and get it all of a sudden if my structure matched the topic, but that only happens luckily. If that is so, I'll go back into the 'beginner's mind' state of the first absorbing stage and sort of repeat my process to gain more and more information.

Sometimes I'll go back to the "beginner's luck" stage and try out my "better" ideas to see how they work in a series of experiments in a safe "practice" situation. I do this to observe and use what I've gathered. At that point it helps me to remember that I'm still a novice and none of this "counts." Expectation is what works against me at this stage and experimentation helps me to improve.

So more generally my stages of learning were to first absorb; then create a framework; once I had the frame work I'd gather conscious, purposeful information of defining the crucial factors; then I'd put the factors into steps with the recognition of appropriate context and practice them with regard to timing, etc.

I think the sometimes the subjects by their nature do not naturally "fit" the preferred learning style the person has worked out for themselves. This mismatch would tend to determine which sorts of topics a person would find easy; other less suitable subjects that would be best learned in different sequences or learning steps would be experienced as being difficult to learn.

For this reason I'm interested in learning other processes that people use. One thing that I've noticed is that learning is done in many, many different ways.

Any comments about the way that you've noticed that you learn best?

Results From One Alexander Lesson

William, thanks so much for the wonderful endorsement for my work with Alexander Technique. The work of any Alexander teacher is a bit mysterious because we're trained to reveal factors that determine effortless or unnecessary compensating below the person's level of being able to perceive it.

I'm amazed that William learned so many useful points about such a difficult subject as how to influence habitual posture with just one with me. I think that the principles of my work go really well with many of Bohm's observations about proprioception. Unfortunately, even though Bohm was in London and there were many Alexander teachers in London, at that time AT teachers didn't talk much about their work.

I've written a very complete encyclopedia type explanation of Alexander Technique - how and why it works, it's history, etc. at wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Technique

However, all the theories you can read won't tell you much about yourself without some "hands-on" work from an Alexander teacher. If possible, I recommend you join a class. Seeing other people in the act of changing themselves gives you quite a bit more information about how perception
works than a private lesson, IMHO.

The main advantage of AT over other disciplines that say they address the same questions is, aside from the time spent learning, the time to practice it can occur while you're doing anything else...so no special practice hours are required- only extra thought to how you're doing whatever you want to make easier. Also, AT specializes in the strange paradoxes involved when you try changing your posture - because it involves changing perception.

K wrote:
> > ...
> > For some reason I developed habits of slouching since
> > i was very young. People (boyfriend, volunteer lady
> > who comes into the office to help out, etc) always try
> > to poke me in the back or yank on my shoulders thinking
> > that helps, chiding "stand up straight"....yet that is just
> > causing tension i feel. Every since i learned about being
> > aware of the breath a couple years ago I have been more
> > aware of tension and body posture, etc. Now I am in
> > general more aware more of the time than every,
> > constantly relaxing and aligning. It feels like a process -
> > i cant simply stand up straight once and for all it seems.
> Hi K,
> Have you talked to Franis about this posture thing? I also had this tendency of "sloughing", as you call it. She is on this list and I once met her in Woodstock, NY a few years ago. She has this what i call "magic touch". I don't know how she did it but she just touched me at the shoulder and that did it. She may or may not have explained it to me, I don't remember, but somehow I became aware that I was using energy pulling myself down.

> Any attempt to straighten up was trying to overcome the tension that was pulling me down. In effect, this situation amounted to two currents of energy; one pulling me down, and the other trying to straighten up. The two currents just canceled each other and the result is exhaustion. As I said, I don't know how she did it, but she made me feel that this is what I was doing. Her
point was not to try to straighten up but simply to stop pulling yourself down. When you stop pulling yourself down then you automatically relax into an upright posture. No energy is needed to walk upright; on the contrary it feels good and relaxed to walk upright. Pulling yourself down [may have been] an instinctive response to feeling humiliated but you may have forgotten what the humiliation was about. In any case, it [why you have bad posture] is probably no longer relevant...