Mar 292017

I’ve become a soccer fan, thanks to my husband. What a pleasure to appreciate such agility, strength, endurance, acrobatics! While watching a game in Bogotá, Colombia, he asked me, “what would the Alexander Technique contribute to soccer?” My first thought was that I would coach the players on one thing to never do: clasp their hands to their head.

We express emotions through the body, and our body language can predispose or initiate emotions. Can you guess the sentiment expressed by these players and coach?





In addition to disappointment (“that shouldn’t have happened”), there can be an element of culpability, of recrimination (“I shouldn’t have done that, I can’t believe I did that”). As much as we operate as if scolding or blaming will “teach” us to “not make that mistake again”, this habit is not at all helpful for improving subsequent performance. Who feels free and inspired to give their wholehearted best after such punishment? In fact my husband had long-ago intuited this: While coaching his young son to play soccer, he forbade the boy to ever clutch at his head if he missed a shot. His rationale matched mine: If you don’t demonstrate the self-reproach and despair expressed in this gesture, you won’t practice the associated beliefs. (I’ve since met this young man, and he took the lesson to heart: he doesn’t get upset about anything!)

It’s interesting to note that not all players respond to a mistake by putting hands to their head. Everyone goofs, misses, forgets. What’s it like to simply acknowledge that, as a thing that happens, and move on? I’d like to measure the effect on players and fans of giving up this expression of aggravation, disbelief, condemnation. I realize my suggestion calls into question how seriously fútbol fans take their national pastime, but… once again, we get to choose: habit, or freedom? Let’s use the game as an excuse to marvel at athleticism and sportsmanship, and not get hung up on how it’s “supposed” to go!

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Mar 122015

In this week’s class at NYS3, we considered these questions:

What is habit? What are the qualities of habit? How do we recognize when habit is operating? How can we respond to habit? What’s possible when we assert CHOICE in the face of habit?

What is meant by “direction”? How do we engage (with) the directions specified by F.M. Alexander?

What’s in-between a) recognizing habit, and c) directing ourselves?

The phrase “one after the other and all together” indicates the interrelatedness of the phases involved in activating choice.

imageWe start by recognizing habit (or even just presuming it’s operating, since likely it is!).

Habit is characterized not only by a sense of the familiar, but by “checking out” or an absence of presence, a sense that we “already know” and therefore don’t need to pay attention or be curious; we’re running on autopilot. Once we recognize that habit is operating, we can discontinue giving consent to the continuation of habit (whether it be a mental attitude or a postural coordination or muscular tightening) — by saying “no”, or pausing, or believing that it’s possible to say no to habit. That’s taking a foot off the accelerator, so that there’s room to un-do the patterns associated with habit.

Un-doing is a sort of re-routing of energy, calling it back from unnecessary places and intending for it to go other places. These intentions or “gentle wishes” are what we mean by Directing. Trying to “do” anything, like re-position parts or even tell the psychophysical system what it ought to do, is all just more of the same: Habit, thinking we already know, masquerading as “getting it right.”

Effective Directing is a matter of Allowing. We’ve managed to identify reliable trends in that allowing — when we say “no” to stiffening the neck, the head releases forward-and-up; when the torso isn’t shortened and narrowed, it lengthens and widens; when the hips are not held, the knees go forward-and-away. But we can’t receive these benefits by trying to do anything about them. Directing is more like rolling out the welcome mat than it is strong-arming your guests through the door 🙂

Will the circuitous nature of Awareness-Inhibition-Direction create conditions for ongoing improvement or ongoing deterioration? The desirable result will depend on how we make our choices, with an attitude of allowing, with clarity in our body’s anatomy, and with the layering of experiences that give us a glimpse of a new way of working. The more we activate good Direction by being aware and inhibiting, the more quickly we’re aware (before habit gets too far gone), the less mess there is to un-do, and the closer we become to realizing our true potential.

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Apr 152014

I've been taking vision lessons with a Bates Method practitioner since last September. Having worn glasses for 32 years, “elation” describes what I feel as flashes of clear vision come more and more frequently. While I certainly believed in theory that my eyesight could improve, my past solo attempts yielded no results. Now that I've been working with a teacher I can see why: Not wearing glasses is not the same as learning how to SEE without them. However much I wanted to see clearly, thought about it, talked about it, proselytized the sense of it, I hadn't actually stepped into the reality of actions that would bring about my desired result until I started taking vision lessons.

Once I started having flashes of clearer vision, it was easier to notice the conditions under which I reach for my glasses: being in a hurry, feeling out of place, concerned, annoyed or frustrated, or wanting to be efficient and “get things done.” Lucky for me, my Bates Method teacher is also my Alexander Technique student, and like all good students he teaches me about what I'm teaching him! The lure of old habits — of thought and mood, as much as habits of movement — is powerful. I know the value of stopping to pause, consider, assess, and choose a new response, but hearing it reflected back to me is an incredible gift.

I've made giant strides in negotiating my vision habits. But a particularly challenging one has been noticing how comfortable I am with things being fuzzy.

I don't like this fuzziness, but I'm used to it. I see this pattern in my students, as I recall my own process of studying Alexander Technique. We get used to being uncomfortable. Ornery, encumbered, pressured, tense — these states feel normal, customary. It's how we know ourselves. To let go of these familiar ways of being requires letting go of fundamental ways we self-identify. In short, to give up the perceived validity and necessity of being in pain, being constrained, being limited requires that we give up who we know ourselves to be.

What does it take to be willing to be someone, some way other than what/who we already know and (despite our wishful thinking, or perhaps because of it) expect ourselves to continue to be?

For some it is the unbearability of the status quo; pain is a powerful motivator for change… but it's not the level of pain but one's unwillingness to continue tolerating it that initiates change. Analagous to boiled frogs,* people can accustom themselves to inordinate amounts of discomfort.

There's no question that this stage is an uncomfortable one. Or maybe it's only uncomfortable when I notice how it conflicts with my practiced patterns of self-belief. If I follow Sherlock Holmes' admonition, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”, then the remedy is in disbelief! When I stop perpetuating my old beliefs, I find evidence for new ones.

To shift my experience of seeing clearly, I've had to practice anticipating differently, thinking of myself as someone who CAN and DOES see well without glasses. This inspired me to go back to ground zero, spending more time with the most basic vision practices. Deliberately chosen beliefs and inspired action lead to desirable results, and I can happily report that my progress is clear and satisfying!

*A frog placed in a pot of tepid water will continually adjust its body temperature if the pot is slowly heated to a boil – boiling the frog in the process.


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