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.