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 to it as he was told to do.
But God minded. Big time. He didn’t say anything right away 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 about 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. For example 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”.
9. Should as in “Should I do it that way?”
This is related to #1’s banned words Right and Wrong – it implies a a judgement that isn’t useful. (Thanks to Imogen Raagone for that suggestion.)
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, 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 Ashley Place – 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
We’ve all heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking”. The dangers of our sedentary life style have been well established at this point, and pretty much everybody now knows that sitting for long periods of time can pose serious dangers for our health.
Just now, for example, we’re hearing about a new study that has found that the more people sit, the greater the likelihood they will show signs of an injury to their heart muscles.
Dr. James de Lemos, a cardiologist and professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, oversaw the study and says: “Sedentary behavior is associated with obesity, insulin resistance and fat deposition in the heart, all of which can lead to injury to the heart.”
But there are lots and lots of ways to sit and lumping them all under the one (now deemed deadly) category of “sitting” may well mask a more fundamental question: “Are there ways of sitting that are healthier than others and, if so, what are they?”
As a teacher of the Alexander Technique I help students improve their sitting habits all the time. Indeed “chair work” is a jargon phrase for a procedure used in teaching the Technique.
An Alexander Technique teacher and retired Professor of Architecture, Galen Cranz, wrote a book titled The Chair: Rethinking Culture Body and Design which includes some useful information on ways to sit that put less strain on your body.
The truth is that a bit of education can help most people sit in ways that are far less harmful to their heath – learning where their sit bones are, for example, and sitting on a stool that allows their knees to be below their hip joints.
Even more useful for people who have to sit for long periods of time is learning how to use simple Alexander Technique self-directions that will help them sit with greater ease.
So, yes, prolonged sitting carries potential health risks. But you can go a long way towards minimizing those risks with a bit of simple bio-mechanical education and mindful self-direction.
You absolutely don’t have to passively sit your way into a grave!
I’m fortunate that I don’t have to do a lot of driving, and most of my trips are only 15-20 minutes or so. But they do provide nice opportunities to put my Alexander Technique training into practice and I’ve come to use them as mini-lessons in self-awareness and self-direction.
A few examples:
When I’m driving I am also of course sitting. With all the challenges that can entail.
So when I remember to think about it, I ask myself questions like: Where are my sit bones?* What’s supporting them – and me? Am I making the best use of that support?
Just doing that, just lightly asking those kinds of questions, has an immediate beneficial effect on my posture. The effect will be different from one day to the next, but for me it’s always helpful.
If I want to get a little more pro-active I’ll experiment with an Alexander Technique direction, such as “I am free” or “My neck is free” and that too will always produce a little extra ease – provided, of course, I don’t try to actually do anything to try to help things along!**
Lately I’ve become a bit preoccupied with the way my hands hold the steering wheel. I’ve noticed that my right hand tends to push into the wheel a bit, and I’ve been experimenting with taking it off the wheel and then mindfully bringing it back and noticing the difference that makes in the grip, my left arm and shoulder and even my neck.
Sometimes I find it useful to remind myself that the car has power steering, and the steering wheel requires only the lightest contact, and very little force, to change direction. The dog in the photo above seems to understand that completely.
As a former economist, I’m always looking for efficiency – in what I do, and especially in the way I function. Using Alexander Technique awareness and self-direction is one of the best ways to do that, even in the most mundane activities of life – like driving to the store to pick up some organic pasta and a bottle of wine!
I’d love to hear how you use ordinary activities – brushing your teeth, mowing the lawn, chopping vegetables, perhaps – as platforms for self-discovery and self-improvement.
*Sitz bones, or sit bones, is the common name for the ischialtuberosity, and it’s the lowest of the three major bones that make up the pelvis (in Greek ischion means “hip”). It’s part of our pelvis designed to take our weight when we sit. Here’s a short video by Imogen Ragone showing how to locate your sit bones:
Marjorie Barstow (Marj) did some of her very best Alexander Technique teaching during the last 25 years of her life. Starting at around 70 years of age, she became quite well known in Alexander circles and for over 20 years she taught workshops in Lincoln, Nebraska and around the world. At times, the size of groups she taught exceeded 100 students!
As she got into her mid 90s, her teaching changed dramatically. She no longer had the physical or mental stamina to work with groups, or to clearly articulate her thoughts and observations. Instead, she worked almost exclusively a student or two at a time, spending long periods using her hands with almost no speaking. I consider myself very fortunate to have been living a couple of blocks from Marj’s house and to regularly have 2 or 3 lessons of that kind every week for more than a year, lessons that often lasted well over 2 hours.
I’m not sure, but I may have had the last Alexander Technique lesson Marj taught.
It was kinesthetic re-education of a very profound kind – somewhat reminiscent of cranio-sacral work, but primarily in a chair, not lying down.
Kami standing behind Marj to keep her from falling.
By that time Marj was suffering from severe osteoporosis and her balance began to suffer. There was a very real danger that she would fall over backwards when she was standing. Because of that, her home health aides, who now were in her house around the clock, stood behind her whenever she was on her feet.
Some of those aides, mostly young women in their late teens and early 20s, became very fond of Marj. One in particular, Kami, often spent 16 hours a day in Marj’s home. Kami was devoted to Marj. She would take Marj out for a rides in the country, sometimes stopping for a visit at Marj’s favorite steakhouse, Parker’s, in Denton.
When Marj was sitting down while she was teaching , Kami would always be in the room watching over her, quietly taking in the proceedings.
One day, after Marj had taught for a couple of hours, Kami told me she always felt lighter and easier just by being the the room with Marj. “It seems like I’m getting help too” she said.
This was before the discovery of mirror neurons, a special class of brain cells that fire not only when an individual performs an action, but also when the individual observes someone else making an action. But I remember at the time that Kami’s observation made sense to me. Just being around Marj was a kind of Alexander lesson
Kami keeping a close watch on Marj.
Today, mirror neurons have radically altered the way we think about our brains and ourselves, particularly our social selves:
Before the discovery of mirror neurons, scientists generally believed that our brains use logical thought processes to interpret and predict other people’s actions. Now, however, many have come to believe that we understand others not by thinking, but by feeling. For mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly. – The Society for Neuroscience