How Bad Is The “P” Word?

header“P” – as in Posture.

In a previous blog, What Is The Alexander Technique?,  I wrote about the curious reluctance of many of us Alexander Technique teachers to actually say what the Technique is.  Another odd feature of our profession is the ongoing, sometimes heated, debate about whether the Technique is, or is not, a method of posture improvement.

Why is this the case?

After all, posture improvement is one of the main reasons students take Alexander lessons.  Indeed, when the Technique is mentioned in conversation, most people have no idea what it is, but typically a few will say something like “it has something to do with posture.”  And many Alexander Technique students will mention improvements in their posture as one of it’s most important benefits.

In my own case, I started taking lessons out of a general curiosity, but within a couple of lessons I noticed a dramatic improvement in my posture.  Within the first month, my height increased my almost an inch which, rightly or wrongly, I identified with continuing posture improvement.  I was so amazed that I continued with lessons for a couple of years and then went to England to take a 3-year course to become an Alexander Technique teacher.

I can think of two reasons some teachers are opposed to using the word “posture”, which I’ll list below.  But – full disclosure – I personally have absolutely no hesitation in telling people the Alexander Technique is about posture.

1: Many people think of posture as a fixed position, something they have to create by lifting themselves up and then holding themselves in the new “correct” manner.

But of course we’re living creatures, and as long as we’re alive we’re in constant flux. And even if there were a “correct” position at any point in time, it would cease to be “correct” a split second later.

Alexander Technique teachers are quite rightly concerned that perspective students will confuse a static view of posture with what the Technique teachers can actually help them achieve: an easy, dynamic, and upright way of sitting, standing and moving.  The word “posture” for us is a verb, not a noun.

2:  Another reason why some teachers don’t like to connect the Alexander Technique with posture is that there are a lot of other profound benefits one can get from Alexander Technique lessons such as improvements in breathing, pain reduction, ability to be comfortable in stressful situations – the list goes on and on – and teachrs don’t want to limit the way people think about the process.

On the other hand, I believe there are at least two reasons why it’s makes good sense to connect the Technique with posture:

1: Posture is getting a lot of press these days and much of it correctly connects poor posture with a variety of ailments – “text posture” with neck pain, for example. Also, while there are still plenty of posture articles and programs that promote a retrograde view of posture, offering suggestions like “pull your shoulders back” or “sit up straight,” we’re increasingly seeing more dynamic views of good posture that dovetail nicely with Alexander Technique principles.

A potential student may indeed have a “faulty” idea of what posture is all about, but it’s not really doing him or her a service by saying our work isn’t really about improving it. A student who has a few lessons will almost certainly come to a new realization about posture on their own.

I had a good friend who worked for years as a publisher’s representative.  Her job was to visit book stores and convince them to order new titles. One of the first questions the owner would ask if the answer wasn’t obvious was: “What shelf would it go on?”  When I described the Alexander Technique to her (in a very different way than I do today!) she said she’d have a hard time thinking of an appropriate shelf for an Alexander book, making it likely it wouldn’t be purchased.

People often need an existing category in which to slot a new idea, even if only temporarily.  It’s part of our job to provide that category and for many potential students “posture” is an ideal “shelf.”

2: While much of the scientific and medical research about the Technique addresses it’s effectiveness in pain reduction and specific performance issues, there is also a considerable amount of recent research showing the Technique’s positive effect of postural tone.  In some ways, this line of research is the most interesting of all since unlike most other studies, it is based on precisely measured quantitative effects, not self-reported qualitative effects.  You can learn more about this exciting new line of research here: Alexander Joins the Neuro-Zone

It’s also worth noting that F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique,  used the words “posture” and “postures” almost 50 times in his books.

As I indicated above, while I understand some teachers’ reluctance to talk about posture, I’m firmly in the “pro-posture” camp.

What are your thoughts on this? Can you think of additional arguments on either side of the debate? Please leave your comments below and/or on Facebook.

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You can listen to several podcasts about posture and the Alexander Technique here: Alexander Technique Podcast – Posture

The Posture Page also has information about Posture and the Alexander Technique

New York City Alexander Technique teacher Karen Krueger has two nice articles on posture and the Alexander Technique: Spreading The Word, Even If The Word Is “Posture” and Standing Up Straight Can Be Just As Bad As Slouching

Stuck In The Middle With You: Your Neck

When our children were in middle school, my wife and I would attend “Classroom Visit Night” at the start of each term. This involved going to all their classes in the same order they did during the school day, and for about 10 minutes each teacher would talk about the class and answer questions.

One evening, we were in a General Science class with a middle-aged teacher who appeared to be compressing his head down onto his neck with an extraordinary amount of pressure. (OK – a dirty little secret about Alexander Technique teachers: We do take notice of that kind of thing, especially when it’s extreme, even when we’re not “on the job.” And as much as we try not to make judgements – well, sometimes we do.)

At one point in his talk, he talked about students who weren’t doing well in class but, who in his opinion, “had a good head on their shoulders”, and who he would try to help do better. Just as he said that, his neck became even a little more compressed!

That phrase was new to me at the time and I remember thinking about it a lot afterwords. I’ve since learned it’s a fairly common idiom used to describe someone who is intelligent, sensible and has common sense. But it seemed to me that using phrase had an adverse effect of the teacher, certainly in the moment, but quite likely over time as well.

As you can easily see by looking at anybody (or yourself in a mirror, or the image above) there is a significant distance between the support point of your head and the top of shoulders.

As Barbara Conable, an Alexander Technique teacher and one of the developers of Body Mapping points out, there is a kind of “law of human behavior” that states that when there is a difference between the actual physical situation in your body and your perception of that situation, it’s the perception that always wins out.

This does not mean your faulty perception will change the underlying physical reality, but it does mean you will attempt to stand, sit and move in accordance with that false perception. And that will typically involve creating harmful excess tension.

I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks. – Steve Martin

Would you like to test this for yourself?

First, locate the 2 little groves on your skull that are located just underneath your ear lobes, putting a finger tip lightly on each one. Midway between your two finger tips is the top of your spine. That’s where your head is actually supported.

Spend a few seconds with your fingers there so you can start getting a good sense of it’s location – which for most people is quite surprising.

Next, put your hands on top of your shoulders and spend a few seconds there as well.

Now, imagine your head is resting on the top of your spine and then shift to imagining it’s resting on top of your shoulders. Switch back and forth a few times.

What did you notice? Does one conception seem to make you heaver and more compressed than the other?

You might also try taking the “my head is on top of my spine” conception with you as you take a little walk around the room. Then, while continuing to walk, shift over to “my head is on top of my shoulders” and notice what happens to your walk. Again, switch back and forth a few times.

(This experiment will work best if you walk on a hard surface, wearing shoes. A creaky wooden floor is ideal as it will give you auditory feedback about how lightly, or heavily, your feet arrive at the floor as you switch back and forth.)

What did you notice? And what does that tell you about the usefulness of having a correct perception of your structural reality? And, what does it tell you about the implications of using a phrase that goes against that reality?

Man is the head of the family, woman the neck that turns the head. – Chinese Proverb

I’d love to hear about your experience. Please post them below and/or on Facebook.

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Another, somewhat related, example of an unfortunate use of words that can produce harmful consequences can be found in the common American phrase “Ready, set, go” to start a race as opposed to the much better British version “Ready, steady, go.” And then there is Toronto’s “Sick Kid’s Hospital” – which I believe was based on the name of a London hospital. And, of course, Head & Shoulders shampoo, a popular American brand. Perhaps these will be the subject of another blog…

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What Is The Alexander Technique?

It’s a question that Alexander Technique teachers get all the time and, oddly, it’s frequently met with a hesitant response that suggests the teacher isn’t totally comfortable providing an answer.

Why is this?

There are probably several reasons, but I believe the main one is that the Technique has an approach to human functioning, and how to improve it, that doesn’t fit well with the way most people think.  Alexander teachers tend to inhabit their own verbal and mental ecosystem and it can be a challenge for us to step away from it to provide useful explanations to people on the outside.

Over the years I’ve found the very best descriptions of the Technique come from Alexander Technique students. They are often able to describe what they have learned in a fresh way, one not conditioned by Alexander jargon.

This is especially true for students who are journalists and non-fiction writers, people who make their living by explaining unfamiliar ideas in ways a general audience can grasp.

Maud Newton falls squarely into that category. I recently came upon a wonderful blog post of her’s, I, Rodent – Humanized mice and mousy humans. It’s a fascinating read and ends with this account of her Alexander Technique experience:

For a couple years I’ve been studying the Alexander Technique. I started because I had bad posture and a racing overanxious brain and nothing else I’d tried until then (apart from psychotherapy) had helped much with either.

The Alexander Technique is difficult to describe, but it can teach you to reduce unnecessary tension by becoming aware of your habits, of things that have come to seem inherent to an activity but aren’t really. For example, thinking doesn’t actually entail clenching your jaw or wrinkling your forehead, even if you always do those things when you’re concentrating. Sitting doesn’t need to involve swinging your arms. Texting doesn’t have to induce hunching.

Something you can do to try to train yourself out of habits like these is to tell yourself things like, “I am not sitting down,” even as you sit down, and see what happens. Or tell yourself, “thinking is not a jaw activity,” or even, “I don’t have a jaw.”

I’m describing it poorly, but the Alexander Technique has acquainted me with so many knotty places in myself that I can work with more easily now. One that remains mysterious is just below my chest, between my heart and my gut. It’s a spot that always feels kinked.

“Sometimes it helps to imagine what it feels like to be inside there,” my teacher said recently.

I’ve learned to take these suggestions seriously and when I got home later I tried feeling my way into the spot. It was hard like a walnut on the outside. The thunder of my heartbeat reverberated all around. Prying open the nut, I found a small brown mouse, trembling and uncertain, its whiskers twitching. It was braced to hamster-wheel. It expected to be disavowed. It’s okay, little mouse, I thought, and the kink loosened slightly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this description and, if you’re a student of the Technique and have one of your own, please share it below and/or on Facebook.

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Just after writing this blog, I learned about the tragic death of Alan Rickman, the English actor and director, best known for his film performances as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series. Rickman was a student of the Alexander Technique and here are a couple of his descriptions of the work that illustrate the theme of this blog:

With the best of intentions, the job of acting can become a display of accumulated bad habits, trapped instincts and blocked energies. Working with the Alexander Technique to untangle the wires has given me sightings of another way; mind and body, work and life together. Real imaginative freedom.

Using the Alexander Technique empowers me and gives me a balanced sense of tension rather than relying on creating tension to do something in order to produce a sound or an act that is preconceived. I realized that I cannot control a set of circumstances outside of myself so I can go on a journey relying on the state of mind and body that the Alexander Technique gives me.

RIP Alan.

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Change Your Tune

I once assisted the late Marjorie Barstow on a teaching trip to a large mid-western university where she gave classes in the Alexander Technique to Music Department faculty and students.

In one class, a professor asked for help playing the trumpet.  He was clearly a talented musician, but he was adding quite a bit of unnecessary tension to his body when he played.  Indeed, even before he began to play, just picking up the instrument seemed to trigger a good deal of that tension.

As Marj worked with him, a lot of his tension dropped away and the quality of his playing improved dramatically.  So much so that even I – a somewhat tone deaf non-musician – could easily hear the change.

Marj would occasionally stop and ask him what he noticed.  His reply was always something like: “I feel so much easier, and I can tell the sound is better but…”  The words following the “but” were phrases like “…it doesn’t feel right” or “…I’m sure I’ll lose this right away” or “…I can never do this on my own”

On and on he went and each time Marj said nothing and resumed helping him with a bit more playing. Then, after about his 5th negative thought, out of her mouth popped the phrase, “You better change your tune!”

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

It happened so fast, so softly, and so unexpectedly, that I don’t think most of the people in the room consciously noticed it.  Certainly not the professor, who seemed very briefly to be in a state of severe mental confusion.  But after than, he started playing again, with no help from Marj, in a way that incorporated much of what she had shown him.

And the next day, when she worked with him, there was not a trace of his earlier negative thinking.  He had “changed his tune.”

I asked Marj about what she had said but, as I expected, she had no memory of it although she agreed he had made a significant change in his thinking and playing.

Marj, who at that point had been thinking about and experimenting with F. Matthias Alexander’s discoveries for nearly 70 years, would insert powerful transformative phrases – little zingers, really – that seemed to come out of nowhere and which would re-direct a student’s thinking in a useful way. For the most part they they went unnoticed at a conscious level.*

How did she do this?  Who knows, but I guess if you’ve immersed yourself in a field of study for as long as Marj, you develop the skill of spontaneously intervening in just the right way and in just the right time to help the person you’re working with.

I’m now at about 35 years teaching experience and I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised at what I say or do during a lesson.

I’m hoping this will become a more frequent experience over the next 35 years!

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, have you had similar experiences? Please leave your comments below, or on Facebook.

And if you’ve not had Alexander Technique lessons, and want to start the new year by changing your tune, you can locate a teacher here: How to Find a Teacher of the Alexander Technique

*Anyone familiar with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) watching Marj would find many examples of classic NLP interventions.  This is not surprising given that many of those interventions were based on extremely detailed, second-by-second observations of therapists who were known to be extremely effective, often in rather orthodox ways.  Marj, while not a therapist, would have made a perfect subject for the early NLP researchers.

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What is Our Supreme Inheritance?

Answer #1: It’s the title – almost! – of F. Matthias Alexander’s first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance – originally published in 1910 and republished in an expanded version in 1918 with an added sub-title, Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization and an introduction by the American educator and philosopher John Dewey.

Answer #2: Our supreme inheritance is our ability to use our mind to make conscious choices about how we function as we go through life.

Alexander was the originator of the Alexander Technique and his book, the first of four*, lays out his theory that “the great phase in man’s advancement is that in which he passes from subconscious to conscious control of his own mind and body.”

I also particularly love this quote from Alexander:

OK, you may be thinking, this all sounds good, but lots of other systems, religions, philosophies etc make similar promises.  What’s special about Alexander and his Technique?

Let’s start with Alexander the man.  He was born on the island of Tasmania in 1869 where he grew up in very humble circumstances, and with almost no formal education, before moving to the mainland of Australia.

Back then Tasmania was a violent semi-penal colony. Both of Alexander’s parents were children of convicts deported from England. It’s inhabitants were generally looked down upon by other Australians, in somewhat the same way that Australians were looked down upon at the time by many people in England. Tasmania was at the far edge of the British empire, socially and geographically – not at all the popular bucolic vacation spot it has become today!

And yet…Alexander moved to London in 1904 with letters of recommendation from prominent physicians and within a few years became quite well known in theatrical, and even some upper class social, circles as a man with a remarkable talent in helping people improve their physical functioning.  He acquired the nickname “The Breathing Man” because of his ability to improve his students’ respiratory functioning.

It’s hard to conceive of a modern equivalent.  For England today, perhaps a sheep farmer living in the FaIkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean hopping on a boat to London to share a new philosophical insight which attracts immediate attention in academic circles.  For America, maybe an impoverished Aleut-Eskimo fisherman from one of tiny Islands spread out in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Siberia, flying to New York to display his exciting new paintings which captivate the art world and lead to a new artistic style.

Alexander obviously had charisma. And talent. And the kind of Australian pluck that later converted a penal colony into the Land of Oz. But equally important, I think, is the fact that his teaching was to a large extent focused on physical functioning, even though it had powerful effects far beyond that.

The kinds of improved physical functioning that Alexander was able to help his students achieve is relatively easy for both the student and his or her friends and family to notice.  Especially when, as was often the case, the improvements happened fairly quickly, often after just a few lessons.

That is still true today. The Alexander Technique has a huge advantage over many other self-improvement programs because it’s effects are often nearly immediate and highly visible and sensible. That, coupled with Alexander’s insight that there is no real separation between “body” and “mind” means that Alexander’s work can be appreciated on multiple levels.

The Technique’s effectiveness can be readily tested: a simple thought like “I am free,” properly self delivered, can fairly easily be shown to bring about an in-the-moment improvement in physical functioning. See, for example, Throw it Away! and The Shockingly Easy Way To Improve Your Posture – And The Way You Do Everything You Do.

For me, that’s one of the most distinctive and appealing features of the Alexander Technique.  You don’t have to wait weeks, months, years or a lifetime to verify it’s effectiveness.  Once you learn a few basics. your “leap of faith” need only take a few seconds.

And for you, the reader, if you haven’t already explored the Alexander Technique, perhaps this will encourage to you do so, and claim your own personal Supreme Inheritance.

* You can order Alexander’s books from the Alexander Technique Bookstore

The Shockingly Easy Method To Improve Your Posture – And The Way You Do Everything You Do

14461458_s It is natural for our bodies to work efficiently – Patrick Macdonald.

MacDonald was one of the first people trained to be an Alexander Technique teacher, in the early 1930s,  and his observation was based on over 50 year’s experience teaching the Technique.

Our physical structure is perfectly adapted for our life on the surface of earth, with it’s array of forces operating on us 24/7 – gravity, support, atmospheric pressure (the result of gravity), light, heat etc.*

We are most definitely not paying the price for having an upright posture – as some have suggested – to explain the high incidence of common physical maladies, such as back or neck pain. We are, as MacDonald suggests, designed to to move freely, in balance, with minimum effort.

Our problems often occur when we misuse ourselves by unconsciously creating harmful habits of posture and movement.  As the old comic book character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

The Alexander Technique is largely concerned with bringing these harmful patterns to light and learning how to let go of them.

Beyond our amazing physical structure, there is another aspect of ourselves which very few people seem to be aware of: Our innate desire to sit, stand and move more efficiently.

This desire on our part to improve – or perhaps it could be called an extremely strong bias – is what makes the Alexander Technique work so well for so many people.  How else to explain the striking benefits in physical functioning so many people experience after having only a few short lessons.

One of the easiest ways you can experience this inherent desire to improve is to experiment with the use of a paradoxical “negative” Alexander Technique direction.  We’ll use walking as a framework for you to engage in a bit of easy self-exploration.

Here’s your assignment: With your shoes on, and using a wooden floor or perhaps a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk, take a very short walk and think to yourself, softly and lightly, the phrase “I am not walking.”  Then, as you continue walking, throw that thought away for a few steps, and then bring it back for a few steps. Keep the time frame for any one experiment to under 20-30 seconds. (A noisy wooden floor, is ideal for this kind of experiment because it gives you direct auditory feedback on the heaviness of your footfalls.)

This will NOT work well if you’re doing any of the following:

  1. Concentrating on the direction.
  2. Trying to keep the direction instead of accepting the likelihood you will forget it and then, when you notice you’ve forgotten it, gently bringing it back.
  3. Trying in any way to make the direction happen.  Your only job is to have a light, but definite, intent.
  4. Thinking a different thought – for example “This is crazy, of course I’m walking!”
  5. Getting drawn into the effects of your direction at the expense of the direction itself during the experiment.  The time to be interested in results is when the experiment is over.

(A great deal more information on Alexander Technique directions, and how to use them, can be found at New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing.)

What did you notice?  If you’re not sure, repeat the experiment and put a little attention to how your feet arrive at the floor – the amount of pressure you feel in the soles of your feet and the amount of sound they make as you walk, thinking the direction, throwing it away, and bringing the direction back.

There’s a very good chance you walking got a bit lighter and more fluid and when you used that direction and when you threw the thought away, and just walked “normally”, you were a bit heavier, perhaps making more noise with your feet.

What’s going on here?

When you say “I’m not walking” you’re effectively telling your body something like: “Don’t walk the way you usually do – your idea of what walking is – and find a different way to walk.”  But that’s way too long a phrase for your mind to process, so it’s best to shorten it to “I’m not walking.”

The fact that a very light thought changes the way your whole body functions is pretty amazing in itself.

But even more startling is that the change is always for the better. After all, your body could logically do what you ask by creating a worse way of walking. But in my experience, and the experience of many other teachers and their students, that never happens!

You can do this same sort of experiment with any activity.  For example: “I am not speaking” as you speak, “I am not lying down” as you lie in your bed, and “I am not breathing” as air flows into and out of your lungs.

Let me know what you discover, and your thoughts on why the change brought about by this kind of direction is always for the better.  Please leave comments below, or post them on Facebook.

*You can learn more about these forces, and how they effect us, here: Gravity Support and Freedom, and the Alexander Technique.

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The Posture of Power – Part 2

26049155_sIn my last blog, The Posture of Power, I wrote about politicians and televangelists – two of my favorite groups to observe. I love to watch them because they generally have pretty good posture and use of their their bodies. And because they’re frequently on display for us to observe – particularly for those of us living in America right now!

Members of both groups also tend to be good public speakers.

Not surprising, given that their job is to convince their listeners to support them, either with votes or money.

Of course there are exceptions and we have a nice example right now in the person of Jeb Bush – or JEB!, as his campaign posters call him.

Bush is, in his opponent and nemesis Donald Trump’s words, a “low energy guy” and it’s pretty easy to see this when he speaks.

A recent article in the Toronto Star, ‘Jeb’s Dead’: Why the Bush campaign is nearly over, cites several Republican operatives on Bush’s speaking ability.  My favorite came from one Buddy Burkheardt, the Republican chairman in Knox County, Tennessee who said: “I think Jeb has a good message. I don’t think he’s the orator to get that message to the people…I think he’s saying the right words, but…”

So what can someone who needs to be able to speak more effectively – Bush, or other candidates, or actors, or singers, or people like you and me – do to in order to accomplish this?

Well, F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique was an orator who had to perform in very difficult situations – large recital halls, rowdy audiences, no PA system – in late 19th Century Australia.

Alexander had a good message to deliver (mostly sections from Shakespeare’s plays) but a flawed method of delivering it.

He had considerable talent, but he unconsciously got in his own way, primarily by tightening his neck, which had the effect of blocking the full expression of his vocal abilities.  Eventually, after a few years of diligent self-observation and self-experimentation, he discovered a way to release that harmful tension. He went on to develop a teaching method that’s been used for well over a century.

Although Alexander’s Technique has a long history of helping people improve their speaking and singing voices – and is taught at many major theater schools – there is no scientific study that specifically addresses this connection.

It’s difficult to imagine how such a study could be done. But – the next best thing! – there is a recent large-scale medical study from the UK which shows that lessons in the Alexander Technique is an effective way to lessen neck pain.  You can read all about it here.

As my colleague Alan Bowers points on in a recent blog post:

“It’s not just a neck, it’s your throat!.. Sufferers from neck pain, constriction of the throat, the Alexander Technique may be your answer.”

Amen, Alan!

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The Posture of Power

Since discovering the Alexander Technique many years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the posture and movement patterns I observe in others.

When I see someone that appears to have a dysfunctional pattern, I ask myself: “How are they doing that?” and “Is it possible I’m doing something like that – or perhaps something that’s the opposite of what I see?”

When I see someone who stands, sits and moves with ease – Fred Astaire is one of my favorites – I ask the same sort of questions.

Early on I developed a special interest in two groups of people, both of which it seemed to me to have generally better use of themselves than the general public.

The first group is politicians. It all started one evening while channel surfing on a cold winter evening in Toronto. I stumbled onto the local community access channel which was streaming a Metro Toronto City Council debate. The topic of the debate – sidewalk repairs in an outer burb – held no interest for me, but I noticed that almost all the speakers had what I would characterize as free necks and jaws when they spoke.

I expanded my observation to broadcasts of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, The British Parliament, and speeches on the floor of the US Congress – and to politicians generally.

I saw very few examples of what Alexander Technique teachers would call “poor use”.

Over time I came to realize that an aspiring politician who tenses his neck and jaw while speaking is not likely to be seen as an authoritative figure, and so probably won’t be a politician for long.

A little like an aspiring acrobat who tenses his neck while walking a high-wire. In both cases there is a sort of natural selection process that ensures that most successful politicians (and acrobats) will have good posture and movement patterns.*

As I said, there are some exceptions.  In my view, Jimmy Carter was one, and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Bernie Sanders. I’m including a short video from a 1980 Regan-Carter presidential debate in which Carter’s manner of speaking contrasts strongly with Ronald Regan’s.

The second group – and, no, I’m not especially proud of my fascination with this! – is American televangelists.  I find myself mesmerized by their deportment, and their ability to raise millions of dollars from their audience.

My all-time favorite is Jimmy Swaggart** and I’ve included an excerpt from one of his broadcasts below.  It was recorded after the first of his several falls from grace – in this case stemming from his involvement with prostitutes and drugs.

I only saw one televangelist (a weird-looking guy in Ohio who would start slow and then whip himself into a bizarre altered state as his sermon continued) who did not have a necks that were free, head lightly resting on his spine, and a jaw free to deliver the message.

Again, I think the lesson here is that an aspiring televangelist with a tight neck is not likely to be a successful televangelist.

Returning to politicians – right now, late 2015 – we in America have the opportunity to see a LOT of them!

Americans’ faith in government may at an all time low – and for good reason – but we are living in a Golden Age of political theater.

And a unique opportunity to use our observational skills as Alexander Technique students and teachers to observe the candidates’ posture and co-ordination, and to compare what we see and hear with what others observe.

Please share your own observations below – and don’t forget to include any relevant YouTube links.

In the meantime, here’s the short clip from the 1980 Presidential debate:

And here’s the clip of Jimmy Swaggart I mentioned above:

*F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique would always go to the circus when it was in town because he knew he would see examples of “good use”.

**Jimmy Swaggart, country singer Mickey Gilley, and rock and roll and country singer country Jerry Lee Louis were cousins who grew up together in Ferriday, Louisiana.

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Mind and Body go to Couple’s Therapy – Part 2

In a previous post, Mind and Body go to Couple’s Therapy, Mind and Body talked about their issues with each other, and how they hoped the Alexander Technique would help. Arrangements were made to visit a teacher of the Technique.

A few weeks later I thought it would be interesting to see how things are going with them.  As it turned out, they are no longer they, but one Self.  So I interviewed Self about what happened.

Me: It’s must have been a big change going from Mind and Body to Self.

Self: Yes, in many ways it was.  I’ve come to realize that those two aspects on myself, that were trying to operate independently as though they were separate parts, were causing themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble.

Me: Could you elaborate a little on that?

Self: I’ll do my best.  But I have to say first of all that this new unity is quite new to me and there is a lot about it Il don’t fully understand.

Anyway, I (back then it was we) went to a very nice lady who took plenty of time to listen to the predicament my Mind and Self found themselves in – the constant bickering and blaming.  Once we were finished, she started the Alexander Technique lesson.

And here’s what was so unexpected, and so amazing really.  She didn’t really talk about our problems in any sort of obvious way.  Instead, she used her hands to guide me into an easier way of sitting, and later standing and walking.  I felt freer than I can ever remember.

Me: That must have been quite an experience!

Self: It was indeed.  I wanted her to continue with that kind of guidance forever.  But as she said, “I can’t follow you around all day.  And, even if I could, it’s you who has to really make the changes in yourself.  Right now, I’m just showing you what’s possible.”

Me: So how were you able to make those changes yourself?

Self: It was both simple and quite challenging at first.  She introduced me to what are called Alexander Technique “directions” which are basically statements of intent – such as “I am free.” or “My neck is free.” or “My breathing is free.”  It sounds very simple – simplistic even – but those directions can produce immediate positive results as I discovered during that first lesson.

Me: Sounds easy.  What made them challenging?

Self: Well, I did say “simple” – but not necessarily easy.  She explained that the way in which those directions are self-delivered is at least as important as their content.  They need to have a very soft quality – nothing pushy or demanding.  And they’re not to be clung to.  Indeed, as she pointed out, it inevitable that I’ll forget them.  When I notice that, I just gently bring them back.  She also alerted me to a few common “traps” that one can easily fall into.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but it did take some time for me to able to self-direct effectively.  The whole learning process made it absolutely clear to me that there was no real separation between  “Mind and “Body.”

Me: Could you say more about that?

Self: Sure. As I mentioned before, I found that an Alexander Technique direction, properly delivered, produces an immediate physical change.

Similarly, putting myself in what my Alexander teacher called a “position of mechanical advantage” (she often called it the “Monkey”) or in the Constructive Rest position has a more subtle, and slower, effect of my mental state.

The goes same for “Power Poses” which Alexander teacher Imogen Ragone wrote about in her blog post Power, Presence, Confidence and Vulnerability.

Me: I can see that Mind and Body have an extremely close connection.  But are they actually unified?

Self: Good question!  I think I’ll defer to a podcast interview for the Alexander Technique Podcast you did with Alexander Technique teacher John Macy, in which that very question was asked (by you) and answered (by him)!

You can listen to it here:

 

Me: Good answer Self!  In fact that interview came about because I wasn’t able to come up with a good answer to the question myself.

Thank you so much for the interview Self!

Self: You’re most welcome Robert!

Me: I’d be very interested in hearing from Alexander Technique students and teachers about how they’ve come to see the Mind-Body question, based on their own experiences with the Technique.  Please leave your comments below.

***

Image purchased from 123rtf.com

F. Matthias Alexander’s lost “Fifth Book”

Conscious Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization by F. Matthias Alexander.

I suspect this title (I’ll shorten in to CC) seems vaguely familiar to most Alexander Technique teachers and serious students because of it’s similarity to Constructive Conscious Control (CCC), Alexander’s second book.  But this book was published much earlier, in 1912, very soon after the original version of Man’s Supreme Inheritance (MSI) appeared.  Indeed  CC is a sort of bridge between the two.*

It’s also surprisingly readable.  As Richard Brennan, an Alexander Technique teacher in Ireland notes, it’s a book one could give to a new student who wants to get an idea of what Alexander’s work is all about.  “It is probably the simplest and most easy-to-follow of all his books” writes Richard.

For reasons not totally understood, the book had only one limited print run and has been largely forgotten for over a century.  But thanks to a chance encounter Richard had with a student on one of his workshops in Tobago, it is now back in print and can be ordered from this page on Richard’s site: http://www.alexander.ie/fm_books.html

Here’s a little more about the book from Richard’s site:

In this book Alexander methodically sets out his claim for his method, and then backs this up with his reasons for standing by that claim. He also includes some case studies to back it up. It is a very clear description of the method devised, which he calls ‘Conscious Control’.

He discusses various topics such as:

  • breathing and physical exercises
  • the cause of physical degeneration
  • chronic indigestion
  • means-whereby and end-gaining
  • increasing powers of resistance against disease
  • correcting harmful mental habits

The book includes some general notes and case studies.

Here’s an interview for the Alexander Technique Podcast I did with Richard about the book:

 

If you order the book from Richard, email him from his site at the same time letting him know you learned about it from this blog, or from the podcast, and he’ll include a free Constructive Rest CD!  (Offer good only until December 31, 2015.)

*You can order Alexander’s four books at the Alexander Technique Bookstore