Musings on F. M. Alexander's Directions

by Brooke Lieb

One key aspect of using the directions in Alexander lessons is to understand how they are intended to work. Thinking is the essence of the Alexander Technique, and this thinking influences our whole being. We often observe the muscular changes, but changes occur at every level.

I am always refining, re-inventing, and re-imagining how these directions are meant to be applied, and I found an envelope where I jotted down my musings about this. I didn’t date the envelope, but I would bet good money it’s been sitting on my desk for somewhere between 5 and 8 years.
 

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Podcast: Don’t Make Pain the Enemy

by Dan Cayer

Most approaches to solving chronic pain fail because they try to either overpower the pain through exercise or PT regimens, or ignore the discomfort and ‘get on with life.’ Both approaches act as if the pain and uncertainty aren’t there. Both approaches act as if you aren’t there – dealing with the swirling feelings and thoughts that arise. In my 20 minute interview on the podcast, “Body Learning,” I share a different approach to resolving chronic pain that I’ve tested out in my personal life and with hundreds of students.

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A Powerful Moment at ACAT with Faculty Member Judy Stern

Last fall, and again this spring, ACAT faculty member Judy Stern shared her wisdom and experience as an Alexander Technique teacher with a small group in a series of weekly post-graduate courses at ACAT.  Having recently retired from her private practice, Judy is now devoting her teaching time to certified teachers and trainees in ACAT’s teacher certification program, passing along the teachings of ACAT’s founders and her own ways of working developed during her three decades of teaching private students, trainees and teachers.

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Sorting out Good Ballroom Posture

by Bette Chamberlin

When I was a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theater, people would come up to me and ask “are you a dancer? and then immediately “you have such good posture.” I would reply “yes”, and “thank you”. I felt content that in fact I had good posture. But that compliment was always tied with “are you a dancer?”

Hmm…

When I stopped dancing professionally and started to teach ballet, I continued to be that dancer that “had good posture”, yet I was unwittingly passing along the model of an over straightened spine to my students. At the same time, I was experiencing intense neck and shoulder pain. My spine was braced and operating by habit, acting as if I was still a professional ballet dancer, and not responding to conventional treatments. My anxiety about this was building and became another daily challenge.

The reality is that most of us dancers have an idea about posture that involves way too much muscular tension.

And I was an excellent example of this.

It wasn’t until I started looking for both relief for my neck pain and a more organic way to look at posture that I bumped into F. M. Alexander’s discovery. Rethinking the relationship between my head neck and spine was a revelation. I was soon pain free and decided to train as an Alexander Technique teacher.

Since that time, I have studied Ballroom dancing for the past 12 years, in particular American Rhythm and International Latin. There is no question that had I not changed my impression of “good posture” I would not have been able to continue lessons all these years, win competitions and find the enjoyment in moving.

Is there a special posture that we apply to ballroom versus walking down the street, waiting in line at the market, singing or playing a musical instrument?

We have all been taught by our awesome teachers that there is a specific angle of the head, or an element of body positioning that is required to evoke tango, salsa, waltz or rumba.

However, I have learned that good posture is based on the architecture of our bodies, the support of the spine, muscles, ligaments and tendons that help to move our amazing structure. But HOW to coordinate this in an efficient manner is what I have learned over the years.

Election Cycle Fatigue: What you can do to take care of yourself and those around you

by Brooke Lieb The first time I voted in a Presidential election was 1984. My memory is far from perfect, but I cannot recall a presidential race that began as early as the 2016 race, with one party's campaigning for the nomination starting in March, 2015; nor can I remember the type of rhetoric I am hearing as overt and extreme in US politics as it is during this election.

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Frankly, it frightens me. And I am not alone. There are a plethora of articles about the heightened anxiety levels precipitated by this current election cycle. A search for "election anxiety" yields online articles from The Atlantic, US News, Newsweek, Time Magazine and The Washington Post, among other news outlets.

As an Alexander teacher, I spend my days teaching my students how to self-regulate so they can manage moments of spiking anxiety. To be an effective teacher, I use the very tools I am teaching, at work and in my life.

No matter which side of this debate you are on, it is likely that you feel strongly, believe in your own point of view and fear the outcome. It is also likely that your feelings are being heightened by the coverage you are exposed to.

What can you do to take care of yourself? Here are some resources, including simple tools I teach my students.

1. Remind yourself that you don't have to hold your breath.

When we experience fear or other strong emotions, we sometimes freeze. It may be a tight jaw, it may be subtle or not so subtle clenching in shoulder, chest or abdomen. Frequently, tension reduces the mobility of our torso, and breath requires movement in the ribs.

2. Stand with your back touching a wall or door.

Use the contact with your back against the surface to bring you into the present environment. See and name what is around you, in as much detail as you can. (Example from my studio: Area rug with floral patterns, in beige, burgundy, sage green; massage table with a green cotton sheet that has stripes; dark brown wood computer desk with a cordless phone/answering machine and an iMac; fireplace mantle surrounded by teal tiles).

3. Research what actions you can take to assure your vote counts and that your elected officials represent your values.

Search your state and federal nominees to find out where they stand on the issues (search "[your state] 2016 candidate platforms". In addition to finding out where they stand, you can find out how to support the campaign of those who represent your views.

4. Learn how to bring awareness to, change the subject, and minimize participation in conversations that upset you.

It is possible to effectively bring awareness and shift the conversation without shaming anyone. This article from the New York Times is entitled "Lessons in the Delicate Art of Confronting Offensive Speech"

5. If someone has decided who they are voting for, there is no need for discussion. If speaking to an undecided voter, learn how to listen to what matters to that person.

Here is an article "5 Ways To Have Great Conversations"

6. Limit your exposure to media

Once you have done your research and know which candidates represent your values, and how you can take action to improve their chances in the election, take a media vacation. This has not been easy for me, but I have designated media black out days, when I do not read or watch anything about the election.

7. Have an Alexander Lesson

Alexander Technique teaches mindfulness in daily living. Akin to meditation, Alexander Technique teaches conscious inhibition, or how to calm your "flight or fight" response.

This article in Wikipedia explains the neural mechanisms of mindfulness techniques.

This blog was originally posted at brookelieb.com

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]

Alexander Student, Alexander Teacher, Alexander Teacher Trainer - What's the difference, and why does it matter?

brookeby Brooke Lieb I have been taking lessons as a student of the Alexander Technique for over 33 years. I still take lessons to this day.

I began teaching 27 years ago, and have been training teachers for the last 25 years.

My greatest passion is training teachers, though I will take lessons for the rest of my life, and I get deep satisfaction teaching my private students.

I thought it would be useful to me, my students and the teachers-in-training that I work with, to consider what is different about each of these roles: student, teacher, teacher-trainer.

STUDENT

When I take a lesson, my attention is on myself. I gratefully accept the objectivity of my teacher as she uses her hands and words to engage me in learning. My learning takes place on many levels.

My teacher's hands are giving me information and experiences that assist my ability to observe and know how much excess tension I may be generating in my being. I am using my lessons to enhance the benefit I gain in my daily life when I bring my Alexander Technique tools to bear.

Sometimes the excess tension arises in response to a muscular demand, in activity, involving motion. We might explore how I carry out the activity of getting in and out of a chair, use my handheld device, or move into and out of downward dog during yoga practice.

I might observe excess tension in the context of my inner dialogue. Thinking about my workload, administrative tasks I have yet to complete, my response to someone's actions.

Any and every activity, mental or physical, can be material for the lesson.

Whatever I am exploring, I am interested in my own skills. I allow my teacher to be my guide and to educate me about myself and how I can best use my Alexander skills to access the efficiency and intelligence of being a human.

I have no focus whatsoever on assessing my teacher's use or process, I trust she is my guide. I am grateful and appreciative for the support and benefit I receive from the lesson and her teaching.

TEACHER

In contrast, when I am the teacher, my level of awareness is expanded to observe how my student is progressing, as I observe how I am teaching.

What skills might she benefit from learning or deepening during this lesson?

How can I use the hands-on component of the work to help guide her into a more integrated and poised state?

Private students (including me) take lessons for self-benefit, so they are focused on applying the Alexander principles to aid them in their lives. They are not planning to teach the work to anyone else. Their attention is NOT on the teacher.

As the teacher, I manage my end-gaining, and apply the principles to myself in the activity of teaching (hands-on work; choosing where to put my hands; what concept I may emphasize in the moment or in the lesson; speaking; and utilizing instructional aids, such as pictures of anatomy and videos). I use Alexander's means-whereby to teach, i.e., I am using the very same skills I am teaching in order to teach effectively.

As a teacher, my attention is on my student, her goals for learning and applying Alexander Technique to solve her own problem. That dual attention leaves me less time to wander around in my own mental chatter, so teaching becomes an activity that supports me in inhibiting my own habits on multiple levels.

I also benefit directly in my own self from working with Alexander principles, even if I am the "teacher" in this situation. When I give a lesson, I get a lesson.

My work is as healthy and beneficial to me as it is to my student.

TEACHER TRAINER

In this role, I am adding a level of assessment for how self-sufficient the teacher-in-training (trainee) is when working on herself, and as she reaches a high level of competence, I assist her in applying her means-whereby to teaching.

On our training course at The American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT), our trainees regularly put hands on faculty members as a tool for training. This approach is educational on multiple levels:

1) Faculty members all have a high level of competence at applying means-whereby to activity, so in the same way we use our hands on our trainees to convey inhibition and direction, when our trainees put their hands on us, we are still transmitting that information through our whole bodies. As the trainee progresses through the three-year training, she recognizes what she is witnessing under her hands, and with her eyes and ears. She has worked with classmates, and practice students with less skill, and can compare and contrast what she has observed under her hands. This gives her a sense of the kind of changes and progress she may observe in her students, so she knows that learning and change really are happening over time.

2) When a trainee works on a faculty member, we give specific verbal and hands-on cues so the trainee can observe how a change in her system facilitates a change in the teacher she has hands on. Sometimes the change is towards enhanced poise and efficiency, sometimes the change is towards increased strain, effort or tension in muscle tone. Either way, observing the change allows the trainee to consider her own internal state, use her developed skills at self-work, and observe the change in the teacher-trainer she is working with. This is the means-whereby of teaching in action.

3) As the trainee works with faculty, she realizes we all have habits of use that interfere with our full potential for poise and efficient coordination. The trainee can provide valuable instruction to the trainer, and can also understand that a teacher's use need NOT be perfect for a teacher to be highly skilled and effective in our teaching.

I theorize that when a teacher has hands on and is working with her skills to inhibit and direct in herself in order to communicate that to her student, that process is discernable to the student. It may be so subtle the student is not yet aware of how the teacher's use is facilitating ease and poise, but the intention comes through. So even if the teacher is sometimes tightening her neck in moments, she is ALSO freeing her neck and using inhibition and awareness. That intention is picked up by the student, who is also providing inhibition and direction in the lesson. Student and teacher assist each other in this process. Both startle and pull down in moments, but both ALSO apply inhibition and direction to antidote startle and pull down.

In Closing

In some ways, the same means-whereby is in play in all three distinct roles, but there are clear differences in the short-term outcomes for learning and how this is accomplished in these three roles.

This post was originally published on brookelieb.com

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Brooke1web.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists. www.brookelieb.com[/author_info] [/author]