Aug 282016
 

Designers Ray and Charles Eames were desired not for their demonstrated knowledge of a subject, but for their ability to investigate and innovate. This ability is what all my Alexander Technique teachers and colleagues demonstrate, and what studying AT has made possible for me.

It’s so exciting to be able to take on a new activity and have the means to work out what’s going on, and what would make it easier! Not only does applying the principles of the Alexander Technique activate my ability to execute a sport or movement practice–and consistently improve, but seeing what allows for efficiency in an activity clarifies and deepens my understanding of the Technique.

It’s as if I have a key that unlocks the “how-to” of anything: surfing, dancing, running, yoga, Chi Kung. I can see the mechanism; I understand how things are supposed to work, and how they work when they work well. I understand coordination, how when it’s operating at a high level it’s not just effective, it’s beautiful. This is so satisfying and inspiring that I am filled up with enthusiasm, for the particular thing and to “talk shop” about it with anyone who will listen.

 

 

 

 

In these images, and in surfing videos, I can see the active relationship of arms to torso to legs, and the engagement of the eyes in starting the spiralic movement that follows all the way through to the feet and the board. I see how everything plays out to best advantage. Does that mean I can surf?? Not yet, but it means I know how to approach it, involving my whole body and the dynamics that make it work well.

This ability to figure things out is what I aim to inspire in my students. As my teaching matures, I recognize that sharing my realization of how things works is not nearly as much fun as planting seeds in a student’s experience, like hiding Easter eggs, and then waiting with excitement for them to say, “you know what? I figured out that when I don’t stiffen my neck, when I let my limbs move freely off my torso, when I wait just that one extra moment before going into action, everything is easier!” It’s like watching revelation in real time. Pure delight for me.

 

Here’s the article that inspired this post: “Selling Ignorance,” by www.jonathanfields.com

“Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire.” — Richard Saul Wurman on Charles Eames

What if the single biggest thing you have to offer is not what you know about a given subject, but how you approach it?

What if your unique lens, applied to anything in that special way, is your greatest gift?

Take legendary designers, Ray and Charles Eames. The wife-husband team generally committed to projects that took years to complete. Why? They needed to allow for the migration from novice to expert.

They were experts in their process of inquiry and elaboration and creation. But they constantly took on challenges in entirely new fields. Along the way, they’d need to learn about the specific content, materials, products and needs. But what people were really buying and what they were selling was faith in their ability to figure out it on a level most others couldn’t.

That led to a paradigm-shifting volume of output that spanned a mind-boggling diversity of fields. They designed everything from splints for injured World War II soldiers to entire structures, interiors, fabric, exhibits, images, patterns, brands, games, movies and even toys.

Design firm, IDEO, is another powerful example. On the surface, this now legendary design house is just that. A design firm. Thing is, clients don’t come to them because they’ve got expertise in this widget or that. They come to IDEO because they know IDEO is driven by a process that moves them rapidly from ignorance to inquiry and then genius. And IDEO hires people who’ve demonstrated a similar approach to creation in their own endeavors, along with a capacity to apply that process to new challenges. So, at IDEO, you’ll find everyone from classically-trained designers to writer, musicians, entrepreneur-types and beyond. Because it’s more about the lens.

Reflecting back to the quote that opens this piece about the Ray and Charles, the full quote reads:

Sell your expertise and you have a limited repertoire. Sell your ignorance and you have an unlimited repertoire. He was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work.

In other words, they were selling precisely what we’re so often told to see as our greatest flaw.

Thing is…

Ignorance unexplored is the seed of impotence.

But…

Ignorance mined is the seed of innovation.

 

 

Please follow and like us:
Mar 182016
 

There are schools of thought that promote moving from the center of gravity (the center of the pelvis, below the navel), in attempts to correct the tendency to lead with the chest or hips or chin. In various situations that is certainly a most helpful suggestion. But I always affirm that in total, we want the entire physical structure to be coordinated — and so it must include the primary relationship of the head to the spine (of which the pelvis is the root).

Most people have lost an accurate determination of where their head is, in space and in relation to the rest of the body. Your nervous system is wired to, at all costs, prevent your head from hitting the ground, so if you carry your head off-balance, your entire body will tense and brace to prevent you from falling over. An average head weighs TWELVE pounds, so it takes real work to hold it up against gravity when it's off balance. (When allowed to release forward from its pivot point, this weight actually helps your spine lengthen and your body to both stand at ease and mobilize.)

Because in Alexander Technique we are concerned with unifying the organization of mind as well as body, I find it helpful to ask students to consider where they're headed: Where exactly is your head (in space and in preoccupation)? What is its relationship to the rest of you (spine/pelvis, your heart, how you carry out your thoughts)? How are you organizing yourself around it (how do you let its balance on your spine inform your movements, how do you let your intentions lead you)?

Not knowing where their head is (literally and figuratively), most people can't organize themselves around it in a coordinated fashion. They flounder or flail, dragging and pushing various parts of themselves. It's like pushing the caboose to move the train when firing up the engine would move it so much easier…

By nature we then become accustomed to a skewed sense of where the head is, so it takes some creative imagination to have a different experience. This exercise may at first appear to be enormously different from what you believe or sense. I invite you to be a true scientist: Try it out and see, doing your best to suspend your disbelief until you've wholeheartedly acted “as-if” and explored the results.

A high pivot point lengthens the back of the neck

Place an index finger on the side of each cheekbone, halfway bewteen the front corner of your cheekbone or base of your eye socket, and the soft spot in front of your ear. Imagine a bar through your skull connecting these points. Without dropping the bar, tip your head forward-and-up over it. If you do not drop this imagined bar, you'll find the scruff of your neck lengthening as your face drops. Keep it up until you are glancing down from a very high perspective and you'll feel a stretch in the back of your neck. If you tend toward pain between the shoulder blades you may notice immediate relief. Let your shoulder blades drape away from this stretch in your upper spine, without bringing them toward each other in front. If you've been in a slump, keep raising the bar in your mind's eye as you tip your head up and over it, until the lengthening of your spine draws you more upright. Notice that it's not necessary to push from the back, at your lower ribs or pelvis, to bring you into a more upright seated position. If you're standing, you'll notice a different tone come into your legs from pivoting your head around this high imaginary bar.

Is the balance point of your head on your spine between your cheekbones? Not exactly, but there's a distinction between a balance point and a point of movement. In fact the point we've here discerned is called the sella turcica, part of the sphenoid bone, and cradles the pituitary gland. A helpful place leave free and mobile!

Remember that we're interested in exploring a reference point for organization. When you're driving you don't look down at the ground at where you are, you look through the windshield at where you're headed. Notice how organizing yourself into the approaching moment makes for a much smoother ride 🙂

 

Please follow and like us:
Feb 052016
 

So much of our enculturation revolves around the idea that success takes effort, that for anything to happen we have to DO something. No doubt, we like to apply ourselves to a task, to see direct results from our actions, to believe that our effort was indispensable — the critical element to the fulfillment of our wish.

BUT we overdo… we let this attitude get out of hand. It becomes a need to control and a belief that we must control, that we must do something for things to happen. Bring that attitude to the question of “posture” and it leads to all sorts of contortions. We tense, shorten, push, hold, and fix in the attempt to stand up straight, sit comfortably, hold a yoga pose… But those attempts add tension to a system that's already disorganized. What would happen if we explored not doing anything in these situations?

Healthy posture actually requires less work than we're used to thinking it does — because what it requires is a different kind of thinking. Every one of us, as an infant, was motivated to sit up, stand, walk — and our bodies organized themselves accordingly, free from any thoughts of how we “ought” to do it! The human body is magnificently structured for movement. Rather than coaching ourselves to engage certain muscles to stand or move well (strengthen your core! Lift your chest! Tighten your glutes!), it is more appropriate and productive to exert mental engagement, to focus on our conscious response, refrain from interfering with our balancing mechanisms, and trust to the intelligence of the body for the best organization to execute the task at hand.

A student of mine noticed significant changes in his yoga practice after an in-depth exploration of Alexandrian Inhibition. We'd played this game: After some time quieting oneself in semi-supine, think about moving a limb — but then don't. Actively consider the action, and refrain. Persist in this practice for 10-15 minutes, and notice the effects on the body. “Background programs” of tension become highlighted, and switch off. A natural expansion and buoyancy is evoked as the body organizes itself differently when it's given time and space to not do anything. By refraining from immediately responding to an internal (during the game) or external (during yoga class) command to move, my student found that his body reorganized in a way that was different, and better, than what he would have done on his own.

Please follow and like us:
Jun 142015
 

A recent NPR program reported on the work of “posture guru” Esther Gokhale. I received several emails alerting me to this article, and I’m thankful for the chance to clarify both differences between Alexander Technique and Esther’s method, and some misconceptions in her work.

While Esther has some valid observations about contrasts in postural comportment between indigenous or non-industrialized cultures and those living modern lifestyles, I see some serious flaws in her approach.

The lengthened spine Esther calls a J shape is what AT has been advocating for over 100 years.

1. Mimicry and effort versus freedom. Everything Esther recommends is something to do, a remedial activity of effort designed to physically mimic what indigenous people are naturally embodying with ease. While many of her suggestions appear to fix the typical slump and contraction patterns exhibited by Westerners, they are also another example of the Western mentality of believing there is something to do — something that requires effort, to “get it right.” But if you consider the examples she provides of indigenous people with great posture, they are not doing anything to have good posture. These people with open, wide shoulders are not rolling their shoulders back, as she recommends; they are not interfering with the natural, good design of shoulders to be open. Your average Westerner is, in fact, actively rolling their shoulders forward — and until that person learns to STOP doing that, rolling their shoulders back is simply an additional effort on top of the original tension pattern… which explains why most people find they cannot sustain their attempts to take on “good” postural habits. Without alleviating the original conditions of misuse, which is what the Alexander Technique teaches for the kind of sustainable results reported in the British Medical Journal, it’s a struggle to hold the new standard.

2. Making it all physical. Alexander’s insight into what he named The Use of the Self is the mental/emotional component to psychophysical coordination. Unlike us Westerners, these good examples Esther cites are not watching the clock, trying to impress, pressurizing themselves with deadlines or thoughts and attitudes of “having to” get this done, make this happen, get it right… The Alexander Technique works specifically at the juncture of thought and action, body and mind, recognizing that it’s not possible to change one without changing without the other. The Technique supports investigation into, and choice at the deepest level of, our preconceived beliefs and reactions to everything that happens in life. That’s why the Technique is revered by performing artists and especially actors, who need freedom of expression rather than stereotyped responses. The Alexander Technique offers a way to deal effectively with anxiety, fear, and pain, and conditions where good posture is not available – such as for actors playing emotionally and physically contorted characters.

3. Quick fix versus open-ended inquiry. While some consider it a good thing that Esther’s method claims to fix the problems of poor posture, from an Alexander perspective this seems presumptuous: can we really, so quickly, presume to know what’s going on with someone’s “poor posture” — and how to fix it? The Alexander Technique is about removing interference, of getting out of the way so that the intelligence of the body can resolve issues, rather than imposing a predetermined solution to a situation. The Technique looks for what there is to STOP doing — narrowing the shoulders, stiffening the neck, tucking the tail, unbalancing the head, over/under focusing the eyes, exaggerating lift, constraining the breath, tightening / stiffening / pressurizing / depressing… Once we STOP doing all these habits of tension, we liberate the natural buoyancy of the human design and allow it to be upright and mobile according to its design.

4. Primal Posture versus Conscious Awareness. Yes, making changes in your posture affects your attitude. But taking on aspects of “primal posture” falls shy of the (typical) kind of insight that an Alexander student of mind recently reported, where making new choices about how she responded to her own internal pressure freed her up to realize that she didn’t have to worry herself about her son’s new business venture. Don’t you think that relaxed her shoulders more than a roll-back? And was good for him, too??

In sum: if you are misusing yourself in typical Western ways, Esther’s method will show you better patterns of posture and movement, as something you can do. But if you want to challenge and change your thinking, question your preconceptions, engage in a lifelong investigation into the ways we obstruct — and can consciously liberate and embody — our freedom to be present in the moment, call your local Alexander teacher.

 

 

Please follow and like us:
May 162015
 

Some positions within the Dart sequence demonstrated by Judith Muir

I use the Dart Procedures in lessons and classes to help students explore Alexander Technique principles via movement through a variety of positions. Working on myself in this manner has yielded tremendous results in changes to my posture and strength, and are an unending source of revelation about spirals in the body — and the ways we interfere with our natural design.

In anticipation of teaching a 6-week class on the Dart Procedures, I’m quoting *all the text below* from Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link, by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier, teachers of dance as well as AT. You can learn more about their work at www.dancealexandertechnique.com. Click here for a video.

Who was Dart?

Dr. Raymond Dart

Raymond Arthur Dart (1893-1988) was an Australian anthropologist, neuroanatomist, doctor, and educator best known for discovering and naming the Australopithecus africanus, known as the Taung Child. In his book, Adventures with the Missing Link, Dart postulated his discovery to be a missing link between apes and humans because it had features of both, including evidence of upright posture and dental characteristics of a human, along with a small brain and facial attributes of an ape. This discovery, although controversial in the beginning, was eventually given the recognition it deserved. Dart’s work led to significant insights into human evolution, and he is widely recognized now for his major contributions to science and human knowledge.

The Dart sequence

Dart’s experiences with the Alexander Technique began when he sought lessons for his infant son, Galen, who was born premature and suffered from cyanotic attacks, leaving him brain-injured and spastic. Irene Tasker, assistant to F.M. Alexander, worked with Galen for two years, bringing about significant changes to his bite and posture (Murray 2006). Dart was profoundly influenced by Alexander through lessons with Tasker and continued practicing and exploring the technique on his own. Within four years of being introduced to the techinque, Dart had written several papers about what he had learned, including “The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion” in 1946, and “The Attainment of Poise” in 1947. In 1949, Dart had a single lesson with F.M. Alexander himself.

How the Dart Procedures Came About

Joan and Alexander Murray met Raymond Dart in 1967 after twelve years of studying the Alexander Technique. The path that led the Murrays to Dart began when Alex Murray and his Alexander teacher, Walter Carrington, were discussing the role of the jaw in the balance of the head. Carrington recommended that Murray read Dart’s paper, “The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion.” Murray was captivated by the article: it so intrigued him that he copied it out by hand (Dart 1996, xi). In the paper, Dart described a sequence of evolutionary stages, or what he called “the pronograde and ventigrade phases of postural evolution,” which he suggested were useful for the exploration of “posture and poise” and to show the relationship between posture and malocclusion of the jaw (Dart 1996, 106). Alex was fascinated with the links between the Alexander Technique and the postiions described by Dart, and he patiently worked through these postiions on his own, exploring Dart’s writing by physically doing the movements as they were written. Joan and Alex worked together, putting the positions into a sequence and looking to see how the Alexander principles could help in bringing about the best use while doing the movments. This experience gave them new insights into human movement that were completely in line with what they had understood of Alexander’s work.

Developmental Movement: Toward Understanding Alexander’s Principles

Spirals in movement

The Dart Procedures contain a series of positions that, when linked, become a movement sequence that retraces the path of developmental and evolutionary patterns. It is not the movement sequence itself that is important, but the principles implied in each movement segment that provides the vehicle for experimentation. Learning the movements or positions is only the beginning of the journey toward learning about one’s movement patterns. “Working with these procedures will not teach one the Alexander Technique, but patient and intelligent investigation by one with no Alexander experience may still lead to a certain enlightenment by revealing inefficient patterns of movement and helping to discard them. Undertaken with the guidance of a skilled Alexander teacher, they are a constant source of insight and a point of reference in one’s patterns of behavior. One can continually return to these as to Alexander’s ‘positions of mechanical advantage’ in which category they certainly belong” (Murray 1988, 69).

Works cited

Dart, Raymond A. 1996. Skill and Poise. London: STAT.

Murray, Alexander. 1988. “The Dart Procedures.” Direction 1, no. 3: 68-71

———. 2006. “Raymond A. Dart and F.M. Alexander.” AmSAT News 71 (Summer 2006): 16-18.

Nettl-Fiol, Rebecca and Luc Vanier. 2011. Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the missing link. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us: