I was having an Alexander Technique lesson with the late Walter Carrington, a well-known and highly respected teacher in London in the early 1980s and somehow the subject of the civil war then raging in Lebanon came up.
I had recently become certified to teach the Technique and having been immersed for three years on my Alexander training course, I naively believed that pretty much everybody should avail themselves of this wonderful method. I said to Walter, “Well it’s too bad they don’t have any Alexander teachers there. They could certainly use it.”
There was a long pause, and then Walter said something I’ll never forget. This is not an exact quote, but essentially he said: “Well, you know Robert, we have it pretty easy here in London compared to what’s going on in Beirut.” Another long pause, and then: “The real test of one’s mastery of the Technique is: Can you apply it when your house is burning down?”
Walter had an elliptical – to put it mildly! – manner of speaking and it wasn’t until I was on the Tube (the subway in American) going home that I realized he was gently chastising me for having such an arrogant view of something I still knew so little about.
A couple of times since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience first-hand my own limitations in using the Technique for myself when the going got rough. Both involved severe pain and in both cases, particularly the first, that pain overwhelmed me to the extent that I was unable to mobilize my Alexander constructive thinking to help myself until the pain subsided to a more tolerable level.
I suspect many other Alexander Technique teachers have had this sort of experience themselves and have seen it with their students. Often the work-around is to simply lie in the Constructive Rest position, or in the case of students, work with them on the table for all or most of the lesson.
In my own experience, continual practice of Alexander Technique self-directing over a period of many years has enabled me to make better use of the work in stressful circumstances. I think in large part because self-directing has become second nature and over time I’m better able to let go of my tendency to subtly and unconsciously do the directions. I would also credit new developments in Alexander Technique directions that are easier to use and more effective than earlier ones – you can learn about them here: New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing
Still, unexpected stress remains a challenge and so I was particularly impressed by Gary Ramsey’s account of his sudden, and totally unexpected, brush with death and how he was able to use the Technique almost right away when his doctor unexpectedly told him he had an extremely serious condition and that he could die at any moment. And how he continued to use it as he explored alternatives and eventually had a full recovery.
You can also listen to his account, “How the Alexander Technique Helped Overcome a Deadly Predicament” here:
Have you, as an Alexander teacher or student, had experience of successfully using Alexander’s principles in a dangerous or particularly stressful situation? Please post your story below and/or on Facebook.
Country Music has always been at the cutting edge of danger and heartbreak – imminent death by execution, spousal betrayal, car wrecks, the sinking of the Titanic – the list goes on and on. This song by Carl Rutherford is a prime example – and was featured in a recent episode of Better Call Saul!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a napper. In college, I’d break up my studies to rest my head on the desk and doze off for a few minutes once or twice a day. Occasionally I’d nod off in early afternoon classes and once, in graduate school, I fell asleep during a seminar I was leading! An awkward moment in my academic career, to put it mildly.
Nowadays, I usually lie down in bed after lunch for a nap which usually lasts between 20-30 minutes. Sometime when I’m reading, I’ll close my eyes for a very short bit of sleep. I always feel surprisingly rested after these short naps.
Ever since I discovered the Alexander Technique some 45 years ago, and even more since becoming an Alexander teacher a few years later, I’ve spent 15 or 20 minutes a day in the Constructive Rest (CR) lying down position. When I get up from that, I usually feel more ease in my body and have a sense of my body being a bit decompressed. (You can learn about the many benefits of CR, and how to do it yourself at Constructive Rest.)
If all that time napping and lying in the CR position seems a little excessive, I also find that when I’m able to to go to sleep at night without setting the alarm, my “natural” sleep time is generally fairly short – usually 6 or 7 hours at most. On those few days when I have to skip my mid-day nap, my sleep time usually gets a little longer.
In retrospect, it’s a little surprising to me that I’ve kept these 2 self-care practices separate in my mind. If I was in the CR position and felt drowsy, I’d hop off the table and take a short nap. And when I’d go over the details of the CR position with my students, I advice them to do the same, saying something like: “If you’re starting to fall asleep, that means that you’re better off taking a nap in bed and then returning to CR later.”
A few months ago, the thought occurred to me that since I always napped on my back, and usually fell asleep almost instantly, there might be some advantage in sliding a 6″ foam roller under my knees to provide some of the benefits on CR. Doing this in no way diminished the refreshing benefits of my nap and, additionally, produced some of the same helpful effects of “true” CR.
I mentioned this new practice of mine on my colleague Imogen Ragone’s Facebook Page in response to a post of hers about the benefits of napping. My comment was a partial inspiration for her to write a brilliant blog titled Can You Nap Constructively? I highly recommend reading it.
Here is Imogen demonstrating one version of CR:
What was eye-opening to me in her blog was that really there is no reason why you can’t start with CR and then, if you do get sleepy, make a little adjustment and morph right into a nap! And then when you wake up, shift back to CR! Seems obvious in retrospect but it had never occurred to me before.
As you may know from all the recent favorable press it’s received, napping has been shown to have all sorts of beneficial effects. It’s even become acceptable in the business community with some companies providing “Nap Rooms” for the benefit of their employees. These companies have found a bit of napping makes their employees happier and more productive.
Although not as well known, Constructive Rest has a long history of helping Alexander Technique students and teachers – and others – improve their functioning.
They’re both powerful self-help methods and, it turns out, they can be combined at times, allowing you to get the benefits of both.
I’d love to hear your experiences with napping and CR below and/or on Facebook.
Years ago, I was quite intrigued with Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) and at one point was even certified as a “Master Practitioner” although I certainly didn’t think of myself as such and never actually had any NLP clients. I did find it very useful in a number of ways, one of which was discovering just how peculiarly I responded to the question: “What is the Alexander Technique?”
Unbeknowst to me, I went into some sort of weird altered state in which I averted my eyes from the questioner and acted in other ways that clearly showed this question was not one I was comfortable answering. Pretty strange considering that I actually was a certified Alexander Technique teacher!
I’ve overcome this unfortunate pattern to a large extent, but I do see elements of it surfacing when, at the start of my podcast interviews, I ask Alexander teachers the same question. Often, their answer will be prefaced by a statement something like, “Well that’s a challenging question.” Or “I was afraid you’d ask me that.”
By contrast, if you ask a professor what she does, she’s likely to give a clear answer – “I’m teach history at a university, with a specialty in the early Medieval period.” A plumber might say: “Well, I install and repair water pipes in residential and commercial properties.”
Lately, as a result of my experiences on some of the Alexander Technique Facebook pages, where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Alexander teachers and students reside, I’ve gained a new perspective on why Alexander teachers so often hesitant about answering this basic question.
There are widely divergent views within the profession about just what an Alexander teacher should be doing in order to be a “real” teacher. And at times those differing views can lead to nasty interchanges.
So, dear reader, I’d like you to consider the work of some pairs of fictional Alexander Technique teachers. For all the pairs:
Teacher 1 has happy students who have changed some ways in which they function which they, and most observers, consider beneficial.
Teacher 2 also has happy students who have changed in some other ways and which they, and most observers, consider beneficial.
Students of both teachers would be glad to give glowing testimonials about the Technique, and about their teacher. And those testimonials could be very similar:
“Teacher 1 (or Teacher 2) helped me with chronic back back pain.” Or: “Teacher 1 (or Teacher 2) helped me deal with performance anxiety and I am a better musician now that I’ve learned how get out of my own way.”
But if you were to observe Teacher 1 and Teacher 2 as they were teaching, (and here’s where multiple versions of the two teachers enter the picture) you would clearly see they have very different approaches to sharing the discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander. One teacher might have a fairly standard lesson format while the other’s lessons might be more varied in appearance. One teacher might work primarily with individual students, the other with groups. One teacher may use her hands a great deal of the time while teaching, the other might use his hands very little. One teacher might teach in-person students exclusively, while the other might use Skype or Zoom. One teacher might use classical directions, the other might use newer ones.
The list of possible differences goes on and on.
Both teachers have helped their students, by using different ways of teaching with somewhat different, sometimes overlapping, results.
Are both teachers real, legitimate, teachers of the Alexander Technique?
Of course to answer that question, one would have to go back the very question I started with – the one that is challenging for so many teachers.
So, again: What is the Alexander Technique?
Alexander himself didn’t provide a lot of help. He started his teaching career as a Delsarte Method teacher and his teaching process changed several times over his lifetime. Also, he didn’t seem ever to have actually used the phrase “Alexander Technique”.
His writings can be used to support multiple views of what the Technique is, and is not. In places he describes in great detail specific ways in which he works with students. Elsewhere he makes in pretty clear that he sees his work as just the very beginning of an evolving process. In the introduction to his first book, he even states that he’s looking forward to the time when there will be no need for teachers of his work!*
So we’re left with the same question: What is the Alexander Technique?
Can you come up with a definition (or even the beginnings of a definition) that would take account of all this? Or do you think that some – or none – of this is important in the formulation of a definition? I’d love to see your own replies below and/or on those Facebook Alexander Technique pages.
*Here are a couple of relevant quotes by Alexander:
After working for a lifetime in this new field I am conscious that the knowledge gained is but a beginning…my experience may one day be recognized as a signpost directing the explorer to a country hitherto ‘undiscovered,’ and one which offers unlimited opportunity for fruitful research to the patient and observant pioneer. (This quote appears in the Introduction of The Universal Constant in Living, Alexander’s fourth book.)
I wish to do away with such teachers as I am myself. My place in the present economy is due to a misunderstanding of the causes of our present physical disability, and when this disability is finally eliminated the specialised practitioner will have no place, no uses. This may be a dream of the future, but in its beginnings it is now capable of realisation. (This quote appears at the end of his Preface to Man’s Supreme Inheritance, his first book)
My friend and colleague, John Macy, attended the recent Alexander Technique Congress and chose that venue to do a little research about what what motivates Alexander teachers today. In addition to being an Alexander Technique teacher himself, John is a physical therapist and the owner of a Pilates studio. Here are his findings, posted here as a guest blog:
Why Study and Teach the Alexander Technique?
by John Macy
I recently attended the 14th International Congress of the Alexander Technique in Chicago where over 600 people from around the world interested in the Alexander Technique gathered. Most, but not all, of the participants teach the Technique in some capacity which meant most everyone has at least several years of experience with the methods and ideas used.
Because I had not been to such a gathering in a long time I decided to ask everyone I met the same several questions to see what, if anything, was a common theme in the Technique today. As it turned out there was such a theme and it surprised me a bit.
Two of the questions I asked were “Why do you do/study/practice the Alexander Technique for yourself?”, and, “Why do you teach the Alexander Technique?”
The answer I received to the first question in all but three cases were almost identical, “I do it because it makes me feel good.”
In the remaining cases one said it was the fountain of youth and kept her young in body, heart and mind. Another spoke of how it made her think differently and see the world in way that let her change in a constructive manner and the last said it was a way for him to understand the world.
When asked why they taught almost all the people I asked said they did it to give others the same experience they had, to feel better. The three outliers mentioned above all said they wanted to help people change their lives.
This was an admittedly non-scientific survey as I asked about 35 people, around 5% of the attendees. I tried to use the same language asked each time I asked and was conscious to give no prompting after I asked the questions.
The respondents included students on training programs, people who run training programs and teachers with 2 to 30 years of experience teaching. They came from multiple countries including England, Ireland, Australia, Japan and the United States.
Does this mean anything? I will let you, the reader, decide but it got me musing about the repeated mention that Alexander teachers are struggling to get students, training programs have had declining enrollment numbers and that much of this was seen to be due to competition for the time and money of clients by other wellness education modalities such as yoga, soft martial arts, massage and others.
As the owner of private Physical Therapy practice and of a Pilates studio my marketing mind began to wonder: If the primary attraction to the Technique for practitioners is “feeling good” and what they sell is “feeling good” how well can what they sell be differentiated from other things that make people feel good?
Does the Alexander Technique have something more, something that makes it fundamentally different from the modalities it competes with in the marketplace? Is it even competing in the right marketplace?
Is the demographic that buys yoga and Pilates lessons, massages and essential oils really the people who want and need and can support the Alexander Technique?
Or is there another aspect of the Technique that can appeal to a completely different group of people who have the resources to support teachers and training programs and research?
This is Robert again: Please post your comments/replies to John’s post below and/or on Facebook.
A few months ago I was asked to take part in a panel discussion about marketing the Alexander Technique at the 2018 Congress in Chicago. I agreed to join the panel and make a few remarks about the Technique’s internet presence before we would respond to questions from the audience. What follows is a fuller – and probably better organized! – version of what I plan to say. This blog will be posted a week and a half before the panel discussion takes place.
The web is the most important marketing opportunity we have ever had, and yet for the most part we have done a poor job of taking advantage of it. There are success stories of course, but the vast majority of teachers and Alexander organizations have failed to use many of the opportunities now available with this new technology. Today there is a huge, and growing, “digital divide” between those teachers who are using the web effectively, and the majority of teachers, who are not.
To understand why this divide came about, and how it can be narrowed, let’s start by traveling 25 years back in time, to 1993. There was essentially no internet beyond a few interconnected academic and military sites and only the very beginnings of email. Few members of the public were involved but there was talk about the forthcoming “information highway”, and debates about who would control the “on-ramps” to that highway, and in the US there was something called “AOL” (America On Line), that was just starting up.
If you wanted to learn about the Alexander Technique, your options were books, printed flyers, word of mouth, and lists of teachers from professional societies.
Fast forward a mere 7 years to 2000 and the web was everywhere. There was Amazon and Google and just under a billion people worldwide who were using the web. And that number was growing at a rapid pace. In a few years, there would be Facebook (2004) and You Tube (2005) and Twitter (2006).
What was going on in Alexander land at that time? There was an active email discussion group and a few hundred individual web sites, a very small fraction of the 4 thousand or so teachers worldwide.
Although the web was not yet at its fully mature phase, it was already obvious that it was the perfect vehicle for members of a small, diffuse and relatively coherent community like ours to promote our work at very low cost to a huge audience. It was also a perfect platform to exchange ideas about how to do this, and for exchanging new ideas about the work of F. Matthias Alexander.
Move ahead another 8 years to 2008 and we are now clearly in the mature version of the web. A great many people have a high-speed connection and the total number of people using it has more than doubled, to just under 2 billion.
There are of course a lot more Alexander Technique websites, but still the majority of teachers do not have a web presence, and many of those that do have sites that are hard to find, poorly designed and lack basic information about where the teacher is located! (This remains true to a shocking extent today.)
Today, ten years later, a lot more teachers have websites, but a great many still do not. Over 4 billion people are using the web and not having a website has become a clear message to prospective clients that you’re not a professional. For an Alexander teacher today, having a website is more important than having a phone number.
These days I receive on average 8-10 calls and emails each week from potential students asking if there is an Alexander Technique teacher in their area. They’ve checked my teachers’ listing and can’t find one. Often it turns out there is a teacher, but usually he or she doesn’t have a site. Upon hearing that information, most of these inquirers say they aren’t interested in pursuing the matter further. A few opt to try distance learning sessions.
Why so many missed opportunities? Why this failure to take advantage of the web?
In the early days, two key factors were lack of technical expertise and in many cases actual fear of the web – worries about pornography for example. But today pretty much everybody is using the web and there are lots of inexpensive options for getting a website with little or no technical expertise needed.
Sadly, there has not been much leadership from Alexander organizations – professional societies and teacher training courses. I think a large part of the problem here is that the internet is, as its name implies, a network and organizations are, well, organizations. Nobody is in charge of a network, traditional hierarchies are not recognized, and so organizations of all kinds have found that even though they understood the importance of the web, as organizations they were often ill-equipped to interact with it successfully.
This is clearly the case in the Alexander world. Leaders of Alexander Technique organizations know that the web is important for the success of their members and ultimately for their own survival. A teacher who does not succeed is not likely to remain a member of a society, or have many opportunities to refer students who want to train to become a teacher to the training course they graduated from.
And so in the Alexander world, with the very best of intentions, a fair amount time and money has been spent on large web-related projects. Unfortunately those projects have often not helped individual teachers to any great extent.
Of course Alexander organizations need to have an effective web presence of their own, but in my view, they would be far more effective if they acknowledged that their individual members are potentially far better suited than they are to take advantage of the web.* An individual can try something and quickly modify it if it doesn’t work. A committee is more structured and less nimble, and it’s projects are less likely to be effective, given the nature of the web.
For this reason, I believe our organizations would do far better to direct their efforts into encouraging and empowering individual projects, and ultimately creating a talent pool of members who have learned how to make use of the web.
For example, training courses could (and I believe should) require that every trainee has a website up and running by at least the end of their first year. Then, when they qualify, a quick wording change and they have a teacher site with 2 years’ buildup of Google ranking ready to go. And perhaps an interest in blogging, or creating an email marketing list.
Professional societies could (and again I think should) stress the importance of having a web presence in every newsletter, and at every meeting. They could also provide modest support for their members’ web-related projects – the production of a short video introduction to the Technique posted on You Tube for example.
It’s my opinion that if they hope to survive, this has to be their number one priority.
*A striking example of this can be seen on Facebook. There are several very active Facebook Alexander Technique groups, some with thousands of members including teachers, students, and others who are interested in the Technique. These pages were created by individuals, not organizations.
Imogen Ragone and I did a podcast that covers many of these questions – you can listen to it here:
In Numbers 20, verses 2-12, The people are thirsty and Moses asks God to help. God gives Moses a staff and tells him to command a rock to supply the water.
The pattern established over many years was Moses conveying the peoples’ needs to God, God taking care of the problem or God telling Moses what he needed to do. So under normal circumstances Moses would have gone before the people, his staff lifted a bit to emphasize his connection to God, and told them they would soon have water. Then he might have turned, faced the rock, and said: “Bring forth water.”
And out the water would flow, with no effort of any kind on Moses’ part.
But this time Moses had some recent unfinished business. He was angry because he had recently faced a serious rebellion, and he was stressed because his sister Miriam – who always had a facility for finding water – had just died. Now, while he was still grieving, the people were complaining to him again.
It’s not that Moses wasn’t used to this kind of complaining – he’d been hearing it for decades – but this time Moses was pushed past his limit. He was old and worn out after years of dealing with complaints, and he allowed this anger to accompany him as he marched out in front of the people. He momentarily forgot that he was the channel for bringing God’s wish to fruition, not himself the power behind it. He spoke harshly to the people and then hit the rock twice as though it was his own effort that enabled the rock to fulfill its role.
The rock didn’t seem to mind, and water flowed out even though Moses didn’t actually speak it it as he was told to do.
But God minded. Big time. He didn’t say anything at the time, and allowed the rock to produce the water. But he was very disappointed in Moses. Moses should have known better.
Not long after, God told Moses that because he had hit the rock, instead of just speaking to it, he would not be allowed to lead the people into the promised land – something Moses very much wanted to do.
Many commentators see God’s action as a punishment, and perhaps it was, but I see it also as a recognition that Moses could no longer be counted on to keep himself out of the way of God’s commands when he was stressed. And that could prove particularly disastrous as the people transitioned from being desert nomads to conquering settlers in the promised land, where they would meet a whole new set of challenges.
Looking at this story from an Alexander Technique point of view, there’s a pretty good analogy here to the the use of Alexander directions, for example “I’m free” or “My neck is free”. (More about Alexander Technique directions can be found here.) They work best when delivered very softly and without any assistance by us.
Our conscious brain is potentially great at sending out self-directions, but absolutely terrible at implementing them.* Still, it’s incredibly easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking we can help. In an earlier blog, Not Even a Teeny Weeny Bit, I wrote:
“Marjory Barlow was F. Matthias Alexander’s niece, and a well-known teacher of the Alexander Technique for many years. In her book, An Examined Life she quotes Alexander on the topic of giving directions: “This is an exercise and finding out what thinking is.”
“She then goes on to write: If that doesn’t put it in a nutshell, I don’t know! Because it’s so hard for us to think. By that word we mean to send a direction, not to try and implement it, not to try to carry it out, not even a teeny weeny bit. We’re always inclined to to think, “Oh well, just a little bit, just give it a little nudge.” and a lot of that’s not very conscious, actually, the degree to which we are helping it along, or trying to help it along, otherwise, you see, we’d stop! But it’s a blind alley. – page 130″
When we do fall into the trap of “helping” – and it’s pretty certain we will at times – we fail to get to the “promised land” of improved use of ourselves. That’s not a punishment but simply a clear indication that “helping” doesn’t work.
We’re very lucky that, unlike Moses, we have as many chances as we want to start over: Softly think the direction we’ve know from experience will be useful, and get out of it’s way.
Repeat as necessary.
What has been your experience with using Alexander Technique directions? Please leave your comments below or on Facebook.
* Here’s a podcast that division of labor in more detail:
As always, I try to find an appropriate Country Music song for my blogs. This one is particularly apt, since it mentions an earlier incident when God actually did ask Moses to strike a rock. Enjoy!
Back in the day, movies and books in America would sometimes be banned by church or state authorities.* Perhaps because of their scandalous content, or unacceptable political implications.
A banned movie or book was often one that everyone wanted to see or get their hands on. When Henry Miller’s books like Tropic of Cancer,Nexus and Plexus were declared obscene by the US Government and prohibited from importation into the country. But a lot college kids were going to Europe during their summer vacations and many smuggled in copies which were then circulated clandestinely from reader to reader.
As an Alexander Technique teacher, there are a few words that I encourage my students to let go of, particularly when thinking about their body, and how they can best use it. These are words that carry a lot of old and unhelpful baggage and slow down the learning process.
“X-Rated” words, as it were, and Xtremely unhelpful.
Sometimes I’m tempted to actually give my students an actual list of banned words, but to date I haven’t followed through on that.
So instead, below is a preliminary version of the list I haven’t created yet, along with brief explanations of why I think they should be “banned”. I would love to get your comments on these words and explanations and any suggestions for additions/changes you have.
1. Right (and it’s opposing friend Wrong) “Did I get it right this time? “I did it the wrong way again!”
These two words are pretty absolute in nature and more often than not imply judgement. The Alexander Technique is really about learning how to do whatever you do with less unnecessary tension. There is really no “right” or “wrong” – just varying degrees of ease.
2. Position as in “Is my head in the right position now?”
As long as we’re alive, we’re in motion even when we are sitting or standing “still”. Air is coming in and out of our lungs, blood and other bodily fluids are flowing, we’re digesting food etc, and all these necessary processes involve movement.
3 Keep as in “I’ve been keeping my head in the place you showed me.”
Same reason as position.
4. Hold as in “I’ve been holding the position you showed me.”
Again, pretty much the same reason as “position”. You can’t hold a movement, and the Technique is all about quality of movement.
5. Try or Trying or Efforting as in “I’ve been trying to use the self-directions you taught me.”
Trying is almost certainly going to activate your habitual patterns of movement – the very ones we’re trying to change. It also suggests that you can make useful changes by effort of will, which from and Alexander Technique perspective is just not going to work.
6. Concentrate as in “I’ve been trying to concentrate on my neck.”
Concentrating almost always involves creating excess tension. Think of someone you know who, when you look at him or her, seems to you to be concentrating on something. Typically the visual cue is some form of tightening.
7. Straight as in “I’ve been trying to stand up straight.”
Our spines have a natural curvature (and thank goodness for that!) and when students try to be “straight” they just re-arrange their harmful tensions instead of releasing them.
8. Relax as in “I’m relaxing when I sit down.”
Relax may have been a useful word 100 years ago (indeed F. M. Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique used it at one time) but today it’s morphed into a synonym of “collapse”.
Please leave your comments/suggestions below and or on Facebook.
*Of course censorship still occurs in the US and other countries, but with the advent of the internet and social media it often backfires. Recently, for example, a high-school administrator cut the sound from a graduation speaker as she was about to criticize the school’s handling of her sexual harassment complaint. Just as anyone in her age group would do, she re-did the speech at home and posted it on YouTube. And naturally it immediately went viral.
Finally, no blog is truly complete without a Country Music song. In this case it’s “Rated X” by the fabulous Loretta Lynn:
How much was he influenced by Francois Delsarte? How long after he started to work on his voice problem did he begin teaching his method? Why and when did he start using his hands in teaching, and how much importance did he attach to that aspect of his work? These sorts of questions are being hotly debated, particularly in the major Alexander Technique Facebook groups.
With all that going on, I thought this would be a great time to take a look back at a bit of Alexander’s history that has been largely overlooked. And, mercifully, one that should appeal to everyone and help bring us back together again.
As you can see from the photo to the left, Alexander was using a smart phone well over 60 years ago, long before most of us had heard of the internet or even cell phones! And he was more than just an early adapter, or even a beta-tester, but a pioneer in the field of information technology.
In the photo he is shown taking advantage of the Wi-Fi network he created at 18 Landsdowne Road – the first one in England!
It’s taken some time to collect all the accounts from students and teachers who were there, and reports differ about what he was actually doing with his phone when the photo was taken. I suspect we will never know for sure what he was up to.
Some say he was using his new network for the very first time and was merely texting “Hello! S’up?” to his assistant, Irene Tasker. A bit like Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, on the first phone call ever made, to another room in his lab, who famously said to his assistant on March 10, 1876, “Mr Watson – come here – I want to see you”
Others insist he was firing off a tweet storm about Inhibition – is it, or is it not, a movement? There’s also a report he was deleting Nigerian email scams. And another that he was about to take a selfie.
One Australian eye witness is certain Alexander was placing his morning horse racing bets.
There is debate too as to whether he was using an iPhone or Android device. Most believe it was an Android and that this is the origin of the terms “Alexandroid” or “Droid”, which are sometimes used to describe Alexander students and teachers who move stiffly in an attempt to avoid slumping at any cost.
Regardless of all these uncertainties, it’s clear that Alexander was way ahead of his time, not only in his use of new technology, but in his use of himself while he was using that technology.*
Notice his ease and poise and compare it to what we now see around us everyday – people who seem sucked into their screens and sometimes totally unaware of the buildings, or people, or cars they’re about to collide with.
F. Matthias Alexander is truly an inspiration for us all.
* My wife is dubious about the smartphone theory – she thinks FM is examining the chip on his new credit card.
In my experience as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, learning how to sit well is one of the greatest challenges for new students.
And one of the most important. Most of the people who come to me for lessons sit many more hours a day than they stand, or do other activities. Much of their sitting time involves focusing on things outside themselves – computer screens, the TV etc – and often they are not paying any attention to themselves, or to the surface that’s supporting them.
Making the situation even worse is that those supporting surfaces sometimes provide a very diffuse quality of support. Heavily cushioned chairs and sofas, for example, tend to spread the support they offer over a wide part of your bottom and as I’ll discuss below, this makes it quite challenging to sit easily upright.
“Sitting is the new smoking” so the new popular expression goes, and for good reason.
In some ways, it’s a little ironic that this should be the case. Take a look at the picture above. The two bones supporting the upper body in the center of the picture are the sit bones.* They are quite solid and are perfectly designed to bear your weight and to rock easily back and forth, move sideways shifting your weight from side to side etc. Such a simple base ought to allow more efficient and easy support than standing, where your weight is distributed across two feet that have far more complex structures.
The triangular bone at the right bottom above (in the center of the photo below) is your sacrum and is much more delicate and ill-equipped to bear any significant amount of weight. And yet, many people sit in a way that places a great deal of weight on their sacrum, thereby creating unnecessary strain and discomfort.
(The 2 pictures in this blog were taken by me of my teaching skeleton. I tried to find a nice professional illustration showing the weight being borne by the sit bones but was unable to find one I could use. Most showed weight being borne by the sacrum, or by the legs!)
If you’d like to sit with greater ease, locating your sit bones is an excellent first step.
Here’s how to do it: Find a chair or stool with a flat wooden surface and sit on it. Then, put your hands underneath your bottom and see if you can feel your sit bones – two bony bits near the center – and ask yourself if your weight is actually on them or, as is often the case, further back.
If your weight is not directly on your sit bones, rotate your pelvis a bit back and forth until you can feel with your hands that your weight is coming through your sit bones. Then take your hands out and see if you can sense those bones directly. It may be easier to do this if you sit on the front part of the chair.
You may need to experiment a bit, but once you develop the ability to sense your sit bones, and what happens when you move forward and backward, then experiment with moving from side to side so that your weight comes down more on the one bone than the other. Notice that having your weight transferred to the chair through your sit bones makes it much easier for you to move your torso around.
I like to experiment with doing figure eights around my sit bones as way of encouraging my mind to notice what happens at my support points.
None of this is likely to be possible if you’re sitting on a soft surface with a lot of give. Because the support you receive is so diffuse, it’s difficult to sense just where it’s applied, and your sit bones are likely taking only a small part of it.
Exploring your sitting base in these kinds of ways can go a long way towards making your time in a chair easier and healthier.
I’d love to hear your experiences with this bit of self-discovery on Facebook or below.
I just finished listening to a podcast interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, teacher and author beloved around the world. His TED Talk about cultivating gratitude as a way to bring joy into our lives has been viewed over a million times and his practice is increasingly acknowledged by scientists and physicians as a key to human well-being.
It’s well worth listening to and I believe teachers and students of the Alexander Technique will be especially drawn to his ideas. A basic process he talks about – his technique, as it were – closely parallels that of F. Matthias Alexander
For example, he says:
(I’ve emphasized a few key phrases.) Well, for me, this idea of listening and really looking and beholding — that comes in when people ask, “Well, how shall we practice this gratefulness?” And there is a very simple kind of methodology to it: Stop, look, go. Most of us — caught up in schedules and deadlines and rushing around, and so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all, and we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us, because we rush by, and it rushes by. So stopping is the first thing.
But that doesn’t have to be long. When you are in practice, a split second is enough — “stop.” And then you look: What is, now, the opportunity of this given moment, only this moment, and the unique opportunity this moment gives? And that is where this beholding comes in. And if we really see what the opportunity is, we must, of course, not stop there, but we must do something with it: Go. Avail yourself of that opportunity. And if you do that, if you try practicing that at this moment, tonight, we will already be happier people, because it has an immediate feedback of joy.
Stop, look, go.
Seems an awful lot like Alexandrian inhibition, analyzing the conditions present, and then self-directing in a constructive way. Constructive Conscious Control, as Alexander would have said.
That’s particularly interesting to me, because with the advent of Alexander Freedom Directions*, more and more Alexander students have found them useful of “off label” projects such as dealing with troublesome workmates, emotional distress, and the like.
There are several other ways in which Brother Steindal-Ross’ thinking process parallels that of Alexander. And like Alexander he has arrived at a fundamental understanding of the human condition which most people haven’t considered.
His method for achieving joy through gratitude comes out of his own experiences, just as Alexander’s process of improving the functioning of his physical mechanism did. I’m tempted to say they both came up with a fundamental path that likely underlies all sorts of effective methods and techniques for self-development.
I’d love to hear about other examples of this basic 3-step process – please post your thoughts below and/or on Facebook