MAKING DISCOVERIES - Goals for Alexander Technique Lessons -


The previous post, " How to Find an Alexander Technique (AT) Teacher", ended with the question of which goals one should have for AT lessons. Frederick Mathias Alexander, the pioneer of the AT, had the goalof getting rid of his issue, a chronic hoarseness.
Alexander went through a process of exploration in which he found the cornerstone of the AT. He realized that he caused his own issue. He describes this process of discovery on his third book, ‘The Use of the Self’ (1932).
 
During an Alexander Technique three year training course, students read and discuss Alexander’s four books:  Man’s Supreme Inheritance(1910), Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923), The Use of the Self (1932) and The Universal Constant in Living (1941). This careful theoretical study and hands-on experience enable the future teachers to acquire competence with AT.

Besides Alexander’s books, there are many other books from a variety of practitioners, allowing the correlation of their ideas with AT’s concepts. In the book, ,Spacious Body - Explorations in Somatic Ontology,Jeffrey Maitland says, “At a very fundamental level, we are our bodies. The body is not a thing that we somehow mysteriously inhabit, like a ghost in a machine. The body is the living shape or form of the self”1. Another good reference is from Carola Speads. She says about her approach, “There are an educational and a therapeutic component on my method because ‘the effect of the work is on the total person - not just the person’s body’”2. What Maitland and Speads describe is congruent with the AT concept of ‘Unit of Self’, that is, understanding individuals as an integrated organism.  The physical and mental entities are one and in correlation with each other.

When Don Hanlon Johnson and Doug Moorhead describe embodiment practices and body-oriented psychotherapies in their books, they are describing something similar with the AT. According to them, “People find (in these practices) nurturance for the never-ending work of personal and social transformation”3. This kind of therapeutic work is intended to bring deeper engagement, consciousness, presence and development to our physical-emotional-mental-spiritual states4.
 
People come to the Alexander Technique with different goals. Some seek to ameliorate their physical pain (e.g. neck, back, shoulder, hip); others come to resolve conflicts. Some seek to improve their posture; others come to make sense of losses.

The Alexander Technique is the action or process of discovering what we are doing with ourselves that is causing or contributing to our pain and state of mind. In this process, we get more responsible for our present conditions and more involved in finding out new possibilities of using ourselves in everyday activities.

Therefore, the primary goal should be openness to self-discovery, in order to have a specific result. However, you might be asking, “Will the AT process help me to get rid of my pain?” Yes, the AT will help you if you stick to the process. There is much scientific research supporting its benefits. If you would like to overcome personal challenges, the AT can help you as well. There are many accounts of successful personal attempts to deal with emotional and mental issues.

However, it is important to highlight that the AT is a long-term process ‘made by a continual treading’5. It is not a fast-food service, i.e. ‘get what you need in 6 sessions’. The emphasis of the AT process is always on the learning process, rather than on the teaching technique. It ‘involves a dynamic tendency toward health and wholeness, encouraging autonomy and responsibility’6.

Whatever your goal when you take AT lessons, the key is to remember that the Alexander Technique is not about making corrections, but about making discoveries. And these discoveries will lead you to the desired results.

1 Maitland, Jeffrey. Spacious Body-Explorations in Somatic Ontology. Page: 64
2 Speads, Carola. Coming to our Senses. Bone, Breath & Gesture-Practices of Embodiment. Page:28
3 Johnson, Don Hanlon. Body-Making. Groundworks-Narratives of Embodiment. Page:3
4 Moorhead, Doug. The Experience of Safety in Somatic Psychotherapy. The Body in Psychotherapy-Inquiries in Somatic Psychology. Page: 128
5 Google definition of Path
6 Behnke, Elizabeth A.. Piecing Together. Bone, Breath & Gesture-Practices of Embodiment. Page:325

FINDING AN ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TEACHER

There are over 1,000 American Society for theAlexander Technique certified teachers nationwide. How can you find a good teacher? I will give you some suggestions by telling the story of how I found my first Alexander Technique teacher.

It was late May 2003 in Rio, Brazil, where I am from. A friend of mine mentioned this incredible experience he had with an Alexander Technique lesson. He was excited and insisted that I should experience it.

At that time, this friend and I were part of an experimental theater study group that had a vision of creating a theater school. We were responsible for the ‘mind-body-movement’ field, because of our background. I had been dancing since I was 4 years old, teaching different alternative movement techniques since 1992, studying physical therapy and also had completed a contemporary dance degree.

Five of my colleagues and I walked up a steep slope until we got to the Alexander Technique studio. I had no physical pain yet I did have some emotional distress in my life. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the reason for taking the lessons. The only motive I had was my longing for new experiences that would enhance my personal and professional quest. I wanted to better understand the relationship between thought, emotion and action in everyday life.

I had no more specific idea what I was going for. I didn’t even follow the typical protocols when one is beginning a new activity such as:

·      Reading about the subject
·      Calling the teacher
·      Reading the website
·      Getting information about the teacher’s background

Nonetheless, my first lesson was remarkable and life-changing! I have never felt such integration of my mind and body working together while performing activities before in that way. I was lucky to find one of the best teachers I have ever met so far!

After that powerful first meeting, I felt I had to learn more, so I continued to study for the next 3 years with this extraordinary teacher. During the first year, having lessons twice a week, I decided that I wanted to become an Alexander Technique teacher.

I learned from the lessons that my life-experience was based on how I carried myself. In other words, my daily personal and professional relationships were influenced by my own body-mind tendencies such as holding my breath, tensing my legs and contracting my shoulders. The Alexander Technique lessons also taught me about the importance of giving time for myself to become aware of all my body, mind and emotional habits.

I learned very quickly that the lessons weren’t about corrections, but about discoveries. It was about finding new ways to change old patterns.

Today, after 13 years, I am still benefiting from Alexander Technique’s physical, mental and emotional improvements. I continue to distill the depth and meanings of its concepts. These discoveries and benefits to living is what move me forward to share this technique with others!

As for my first teacher, Roberto, I owe a debt of gratitude and I always reconnect with him to advance my skills when I go to Brazil.

Before experiencing an Alexander Technique lesson, I would suggest getting as much information as possible. In my opinion, finding out which ‘lineage’ or ‘school’ the teacher is coming from is crucial. Frederick Mathias Alexander, the founder of this technique, trained Walter Carrington, Marjory Barlow, Marjorie Barstow and Patrick Macdonald, among others, in the 1930s. This first generation of students later had their own training courses. Each one has his/her own style of teaching and perhaps own understanding about the Alexander Technique.

I currently teach the Alexander Technique and have a strong influence from Walter Carrington’s ‘school’. Not only because my Brazilian teacher graduated with him in 1992, but also because Walter was an inspiration at my 3-year teacher training course at Oregon Center for the AlexanderTechnique in Portland, Oregon. Because I believe that expanded understanding of other schools is useful to the work, I learn from and embrace other styles of teaching the Alexander Technique as my career evolves.

It is helpful to get as informed as possible. However, you should have your own direct experience, and let that be your truest guide about how to proceed. It is also important to begin Alexander Technique lessons with an open-minded attitude. This will help you and the teacher to reach your goals. Useful goals for the lessons and benefits you can expect from them are very good questions which I will discuss in future posts.

Good luck with your search!




ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE VIDEO PRESENTATION by Deborah Bayardino

This video offers an explanation of what the Technique does, and how. It cites some of the many scientific studies of the Technique and clarifies some of the findings. 



SEVERE PAIN - CASE STUDY


He came without knowing what the Alexander Technique was and he seemed very ascetic in the beginning.

One of his first questions to me was, “Are you a Physical Therapist? While I don’t think it is necessary to be a Physical Therapist to understand anatomy, physiology or neuroanatomy, luckily, I had studied physical therapy in Brazil for 2 years, which I told him. Nonetheless, this didn’t seem to alleviate his discomfort and distrust.

He was in severe pain because of a protrusion of a herniated disc and his body was quite contracted, with a very high level of muscle tension. His head was dropped down to his chest and left shoulder. Nonetheless, we proceeded with the Alexander lesson. 

The fact that he wasn't able to lie down was not an obstacle to have the lesson. We worked most of the time sitting at the chair or standing.

After his first AT lesson, it became clearer to me that along with him seeing a doctor, having the necessary diagnosis and taking the necessary medications, the Alexander Technique lessons could in fact help this person. The plan for his lessons included:

Immediate goals:
* help him to better cope with  pain and reduce it by guiding his attention on the unnecessary amount of muscle effort and on his breath;
Longer term focus:
* help to reeducate his posture by figuring out  what might be causing pain in the way he uses himself in all activities of daily living. (For example: the way he walks or works at the computer)

This early assessment has clarified for me the ways in which AT lessons can address this kind of pain.

The Alexander Technique is a long-term education process that requires from the student the acceptance of the principle of prevention instead of ‘cure’, even in cases of protrusion of herniated discs.  Students learn, within the context of support and increasing awareness, how  to prevent habitual unhealthy patterns which ultimately can lead to pain and injury. 

ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE AND SUSTAINABILITY

09/08/13


It was a lovely summer afternoon when I met some very nice people involved in  the sustainability field.

I was still getting to know everyone when a young boy, with hopes for a future prominent acting career, asked me to define precisely the Alexander Technique.

I laughed, and sincerely told him that it might be challenging to give a brief and precise definition. 

Since he was interested in theater, I began saying that when acting, the actor must embody the character. If he just imitates it physically, he will not convince the audience. So what does the actor do? He might have to think, feel, breath and also physically act as that persona requires. 

The actors might have a notion of what ‘unity of self’ is. Which is the idea that being a human is to be an organism that feels, thinks, moves, acts and reacts.

I tried to explain to him that The Alexander Technique helps you develop the ability to react more consciously.

The handsome boy looked at me quizzically and reminded of many faces I had seen before, after attempting to explain the Alexander Technique.

Suddenly, my 2 year old son entered the room and magically pulled our attention to him.  Before long, we were sitting outdoors at the dinner table. It was there that I had the opportunity  to clarify more about the AT.

This time a friendly and interested adult asked me: “What is the Alexander Technique, anyway?” Before answering him, I stopped and I thought to myself: ‘I have time. I remembered that I wanted my breath to be free, neck to be free,  my head goes forward and up,  my back to lengthen and widen.’ Feeling pleased, I realized right here, at that moment, was a perfect example of applying the AT in real life. 

After using the AT, I told him that it has been a good practice for me to try to explain the AT from different perspectives each time a new person asks me about it.

Then, I told him that it is common for people to work at a computer for many hours a day. They often put all their attention on emails and decisions to be made, and not until the end of the day do they notice tension or pain in the neck, back, or arms.

During Alexander Technique lessons the student learns to maintain attention and awareness of himself while he works and, through that attention, to stop what is causing many strains to the body.

I thought I did a good job explaining this time, and he seemed satisfied. However I felt very sad when he lifted his arm and showed me his wrist brace. I knew then he must spend long hours at a computer, and was experiencing injuries to his body from this, just as I had explained.

I wish I have told him that the wrist brace seems like the solution that F.M Alexander’s doctor gave for his hoarseness. Which was: stop talking for a while and your voice will be back. Of course he lost his voice again right after using it again. If you immobilize your hand/wrist, it will get better. However, as soon as you start using it again, the problem will most likely appear again. Luckily, Alexander discovered that “changing his use” was the key, and I felt that could be a solution for this man as well.

Besides answering the questions about AT, they also inspired me think more about sustainability.

For me the Alexander Technique is integrated with all the proposals of a sustainable life. 

This is so, because AT is a practice that develops:

  • the ability to sustain yourself in a balanced readiness;
  • the capacity to endure against the gravity with poise;
  • the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being.

The more you practice AT, the less you are a slave to your immediate impulses. Becoming more conscious, deciding what is best for yourself and choosing to change the course of habits, is a long-term process work, that I would call Human Sustainability.


Deborah Bayardino George
Alexander Technique Teacher
AmSAT Certified
503.753.6436
"You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual into muscular tension." 
F.M. Alexander 




ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE AND PILATES

08/16/13


The Alexander Technique has no age limit or contraindications for practicing it. It is also applicable and beneficial when active; such as running, swimming, playing soccer, biking and doing Pilates.

The AT is a practice that allows you to move more mindfully, therefore, it can help you  remove what is impeding you and enhance performance.

The Alexander Technique has prevention as a basic principle. For example, becoming mindful of your knee alignment while you are working at the Pilates Chair  would prevent you from hurting your knee. If you maintain awareness of your knee alignment, while you walk in your daily life, it would also prevent some knee injuries. 

Having taught Pilates for more than 10 years, I know that Pilates Instructors spend the majority of their time in movement, showing exercises and at times using weights. Because of this, instructors sometimes strain themselves. This is another example of where AT could be a great preventative to injury. Pilates instructors could benefit greatly from learning the  AT concepts for themselves and for teaching Pilates. 

It is a real possibility to engage your mind while you are doing any physical activity. I would call this, in more Alexandrian terms, ‘expansion field of awareness’.

This enhances performance and decreases strains because you are moving mindfully. I would say as an Alexander Teacher that this is ‘thinking in activity’, and one of the great benefits of learning the Alexander Techniques.

Taking Alexander Technique lessons teaches a constant call to expand your field of awareness and to think in activity in order to catch yourself repeating maladaptive patterns, stopping them and choosing a better way to engage yourself in an activity. This process can bring fewer injuries, improved performance and also more joy in the experience of movement. 


Deborah Bayardino George
Alexander Technique Teacher

AmSAT Certified

503.753.6436

"You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension." 
F.M. Alexander


ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE, BACK PAIN AND SELF CONTROL

06/10/13


In the late 1960s and early 1070s the psychologist Walter Mischel led the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small marshmallow, provided immediately, or two small rewards if he or she waited until the experimenter returned (after an absence of approximately 15 minutes). In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

This experiment reminds Alexander Technique teachers of an important principle from this technique: Inhibition. This term doesn’t mean in any way suppression or censorship. It means to wait some time before acting after faced with a stimulus.

After some lessons, people often realize that their back pain is related to the way they sit, sleep, or stand. In other words, our ‘physical attitude’ is often the cause of pain and discomfort.

A dose of self-control and/or strategic reasoning is beneficial in anyone’s life. If your issue,  for example back pain, is related to a habitual postural pattern, as is often the case, you might benefit greatly from exploring and learning this technique.

Go to the links below to see the actual scientific evidences for back pain relief from the Alexander Technique lessons: 





Deborah Bayardino George
Alexander Technique Teacher
AmSAT Certified

503.753.6436

"You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension." 
F.M. Alexander