Saturday, October 23, 2010

Norwegian Woods @ 1st Step Chiropractic

Is Chiropractic a substitute for Alexander technique? Is it the other way around? Check your neurology of the central nerve system and you'll see that upper cervical chiropractic fixes the problem that Alexander cannot; when the head isn't on straight, a specific vector is required to get it corrected. That is a different issue from correcting the use of the self. Both set up conditions favorable for healing, but you have to distinguish when to use either.
Careful craftsmanship! That's what we do in either field. Look at what we are doing today in my office, October 23, 2010.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Unsure What IS the Alexander Technique?

At the Womanspace Campus here in Rockford, IL, I led a wonderful group of people in a short tutorial about the Alexander Technique last month - while they were eating lunch.

You cannot learn this work in one 45 minute group session, but you can give some motivated people enough information to begin playing with this work on their own, especially the attentive musician. I wanted to share some of their comments with you...

"Excellent," "Meaningful," "Holistic," "Hands-on, very meaningful," and my favorite, "Unsure what Alexander Technique is!"

When I was a violin teacher I found that those students who couldn't understand me raised my level of awareness more than others. Differences in learning styles, communication methods, or some other mysterious impediment made it unescapably necessary to find a more appropriate way to communicate to this person.

I like a challenge. Especially when it does not involve dangerous animals in the jungle.

So let us answer the question, "What is the Alexander Technique?"

Well, IT isn't anything at all, really. Maybe a door opening, maybe a ladder to climb up metaphorically.

There is no IT, there is only YOU! And when YOU malfunction, YOU need to ask YOURSELF what YOU did to create that malfunction. Alexander simply says quietly in the background (with and Australian accent) "Stop doing that with YOUR neck!"

You have to ponder that problem...the Alexander Technique is not a trinket, not a drug or a multi-level marketing scheme, it is YOU.

And the teacher helps YOU to discover how you have been interfering with YOURSELF so you can give yourself other options.

Give yourself the opportunity to learn more. Alexander Technique in Rockford, IL

Sunday, June 20, 2010

FM Alexander for Posture?

Eleven years ago, I led an information session about the FM Alexander technique at a friend's house in Charleston, IL. Among the reviews were one that astounded me. "Fairly standard point about posture." was all it said.

Reflected in that comment was the sad image of a person who had been so harangued by his superiors that he couldn't hear anything else except the most irritating of them. Maybe it was his music teacher from fourth grade. Maybe an older sister. "Sit up straight! Stand up straight! Stop slumping!" might have been the incessant imperatives.

Although the FM Alexander technique has implications for posture, blood pressure, back pain, vocal production, sound production on any instrument, and other diverse realities of living, it is no more about posture than going to the movies is about burning gas in your car. While it's true that you use up gas by going to the movies, it is just a side effect.

When I was an orchestral musician, people wondered why I sat up so straight. I didn't think I sat up straight, it was just a side effect of the head/neck/back system working well. When it does, my hands worked well and freely and I felt physically comfortable with my instrument.

The vertebrate mechanism doesn't work well when you sit or stand up straight. It works well when you mind the head/neck/trunk dynamic. If you are an actor in a devious character with a twisted posture, your posture HAS to be bad, but you can still manage your head/neck/back dynamic in a constructive manner.

So I still ponder the tendency of the newcomer to jump to a conclusion about the Alexander technique as being about posture.

In England, the common equation is: Alexander = Back Pain Relief. In other places across the planet, the questionable drift is toward the equation: Alexander = Relief from Symptoms.

How about we just let it be itself? The Alexander Technique is about learning to use yourself in a conscious, constructive way!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Alexander Technique - Lessons?

A simple quote from Sophocles -

"The ideal condition would be, I admit, that man should be right by instinct; But since we are all too likely to go astray, the resonable thing is to learn from those who can teach."

Pain? Uncoordination? Sensory deficits? Learn from those who can teach!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Alexander Technique and Biology

Considered the father of psycho-biology, CL Herrick stated shortly before he died in 1904, "Structure is a snapshot of behavior." He saw the future of forensics...

But more importantly for human behavior studies, he saw that there is a link between behavior and structure.

One of his students, GE Coghill spent his career studying the behavior of the newt, making important observations about the role of the head in animal movement. When he met FM Alexander, he readily caught on to what Alexander was doing since it agreed with what had been discovered by scientists up to that time. The beautiful thing was that Alexander had transformed this observable fact into practical reality.
Alexander Technique - practical science!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Technique for Musicians

Ran across this paragraph from Frank Pierce Jones between managing laundry and children's practice sessions... "In teaching the principle (Alexander's work) to a musician (or to anyone else, for that matter), the aim is to increase the pupil's awareness of himself as a whole, until he can detect the interference in the head-neck relationship, which is the first link in the reflex chain of "getting set" to do something - to sit down, to pick up a bow, or to strike a chord. In order to accomplish this, the teacher helps the pupil to carry out the activity without the habitual interference, and to realize by actual experience the lightness and freedom of movement that come when the primary control operates normally. Through repeated experience of this kind, the pupil gradually builds a new standard of kinaesthetic judgement. With this standard he has the power at any time to know whether he is obtaining the maximum of freedom and control in what he is doing."
From "Musical America," January 1, 1949.
Jones' comment that you can know whether you are free or not conflicts with Alexander's comment from the 1930's, "The only thing you'll ever really know is that you're wrong." The fact that they conflict only means we have a great playground for inquiry. That's what we do in Rockford with the Alexander Technique!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rockford Alexander Technique: Is it About Posture?

Recalling that Alexander's work is about education and unlearning the habits that are getting us in the wrong, let's look at a quote from his first book, Man's Supreme Inheritance.
"The first step in re-education is establishing in the pupil's mind the connection that exists between cause and effect in every function of the body."
Now that's not hard to do, especially if you did yard work all day and have sore muscles all over your body. But what if it's in the area of a sore wrist from too much computer mousing? Or what if you HAVE to produce a big paper/recital/any-kind-of-stressful-project, and you develop a nervous tic in your face?
Alexander simply says, "You did it and are actively engaged in producing those symptoms, so just stop it!"
Fine, you say, what shall I stop?
Just stop.
That's right, stop.
Now for a game.
Decide on a "stimulus" that you react to. Examples include, the telephone ringing, a particular person's way of addressing you, a dog bark, or even your own desire to stand up straignt. Now take a few days to watch how you react to that stimulus. Make notes of what you observe. The more you observe, the more you are going to have ultimate control over how you choose to respond. Do you pull your head back? Do you feel a downward pressure on your ribcage? Do you jump?
Good! Now that you have followed in Alexander's footsteps, you will want to come back to the main controlling issue for vertebrates - stop doing that neck stiffening thing.
It took Alexander about ten years to sort that out. Havinf a teacher helps considerable. Look one up. If you're in the Rockford area, here we are!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rockford Alexander Technique: Who Can Benefit?

It is normal to wonder about what sort of problems can be alleviated with lessons in the Alexander Technique, or Work as we prefer to call it. There really isn't a definitive answer, simply because problems don't always follow a linear pattern. If I said my hand was hurting because I had been hitting it with a hammer, you would say, "Then stop hitting it with a hammer!" That's an example of a linear pattern. But if you came to me and said, "What can I do to fix the pain in my foot that occurs when I play the piano?", and if I told you to stop stiffening your neck, you would think I'm crazy. It is hard to see the connection between the foot and the neck.
Nikolaas Tinbergen, who received the Nobel Prize for his work in animal behavior, discussed his study of Alexander's work in his acceptance speech. After he and two other members of his family subjected the work to scientific scrutiny, he was able to say, "we...notice, with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and also in such a refined skill as playing a stringed instrument."
That sounds like the process of lessons is actually triggering events that manage essential adaptive functions. If these essential functions are operating well, can you see that nutrition, elimination, oxygenation, rest and self control all have the potential to improve. Does this sound like an overall decrease of stress in life? Are there any problems that people face that don't relate to one of these areas?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rockford Alexander Technique: What is the Point of Lessons?

If I were a violinist, which I am, or if I were a golfer, which I'm not, I would want to have a coach at least sometimes who I would trust to tell me how I'm doing. So I would play my violin and listen to the coach go, "Eh, you sound like a mosquito..." (which is what Jascha Brodsky used to say, notice I left out the end of the sentence), but then the coach would say something truly useful about my position and stance and help me do better.
So there is to be an actual goal in the Alexander lesson - to do better.
But what?
Raymond Dart, the anthropologist, lectured on Alexander's work in 1970. He had been a student of the work for decades in South Africa, having been attracted to it initially by, in his words, "my consciousness of the imperfections in my posture." Simply being aware that there is a problem is a great starting point, but part of the problem is thinking that it's all about posture.
Dart later points out in one of his conclusions, "We all have the same quota of head and body segments whether we totter about like children, run around the sports field, or perform programs on public platforms or in olympic contests. The way we use them depends on the degree of neural organisation or bodily and intellectual skill attained individually."
So here we have an answer to the question, "What are we trying to do better?"
We are trying to use ourselves better, all the parts of the self, brought together into one whole functioning vertebrate organism.
And here we have to make clear that there really is an end point in the lesson, and it is only that the individual becomes more fully himself as a coordinated person, not interfering with the natural abilities given to the vertebrate.
Now that's a big open question..."what is this natural ability?"
Just watch your cat pouncing and the baby learning to crawl and walk (assuming there is no structural interference with normal nerve system development). It's all right there in front of your face. Take a look at a portrait of the elder Ralph Vaughan Williams hanging in one of the museums in London. You'll see a fine example of a really badly coordinated individual. He didn't look well.
Lessons restore normal nerve system patterns that determine development and control of the parts. Who can be helped? We'll talk about that later.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Education of FM Alexander

For those robust readers, here is a quote from Aldous Huxley, who took lessons with Alexander.
"It is now possible to conceive of a totally new type of education affecting the entire range of human education which, by teaching them the proper use of the self, would preserve children and adults from most of the diseases and evil habits that now afflict them...I heartily recommend this latest and, in many ways, most enlightening of Mr. Alexander's books. In the Universal Constant in Living they will find, along with a mass of interesting facts, the ripest wisdom of a man who, setting out fifty years ago to discover a method for restoring his lost voice, has come, by the oldest of indirect roads, to be a quite uniquely important, because uniquely practical, philosopher, educator, and physiologist."
They all tended to write with very long sentences back then, and you can tell, with a little math, that he wrote this comment about Alexander's last book in 1945.
To summarize, I have shared with you the name of one of Alexander's books. Also, I have shared with you another person's comment about how broadly you can apply principles of Alexander's Technique - yes, it's not just for posture, back pain, Morton's Neuroma, or any other specific problem.
Now for a game.
Place your little finger above your top lip, between the lip and the nose. Opposite your finger, at the back end of the head, is the atlas, the first bone in the neck. That's where your head articulates. Now gently, very gently, tip your head left and right and feel the slight movement in the back of your head/neck. As you go through your day, give this area a thought once in a while. See if you can tell what you have been doing there.
And while you are at it, PAUSE! be continued.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Posture Control Checklist

Here it is, 2009, over 100 years since FM Alexander discovered not only the existence of the "primary control," but also how to use it well. But who knows about this in the United States?
When I crossed through customs at London's Heathrow airport in 1989, on my way to complete extra requirements for qualification as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, the attendant recognized the area I was studying. "Oh, it's about the back, right?"
My grateful nod of assent was mostly to indicate I was glad someone who could keep me out of the country had a sense of the noble purpose that drew me. I didn't want to engage him in a discussion of the merits of the long-view as compared with the "myopic view." But the question still remains, "What is Alexander's Technique good for?"
Just two years before this, in 1987, George Goodheart, one of the world's most wise, long-lived and knowledgable chiropractors wrote an article about his observations of Alexander's work on a patient. Her foot condition, Morton's Neuroma, cleared when she was "adopting the Alexander posture." Goodheart's article begins with the statement, "Most of us are familiar with the concepts of Alexander...who felt that the postural center is at the base of the skull."
I want to know who "most of us" really was in 1987.
But more importantly to this blog, we can see here another example of reducing Alexander's work to a thing about posture.
So like the customs guy and Dr. Goodheart, we also want to tend to reduce his work to something about a particular thing. Is it about the back? Is it about the posture? If it's about posture, what happens when you are an actor adopting a poor posture to convey character?
Well, as it turns out, FM Alexander's work is about neither, although you can say all maladies can be affected by his technique. Alexander's work is about how you use yourself in activity.
If you call it remedial education, then it is about unlearning poor habits.
If you call it physical therapy, then it is about engaging postural reflexes in a more efficient way.
Whatever you call it, Alexander challenges us to look at what we are doing with and to ourselves, and then to reconsider.
Next time, we talk about what happens after the pause.