by James Blumer
I began my relationship with Body Mapping in my early days as a college music student, little did I know how much of my future would be determined by simply registering for this course that came so highly recommended. This initial step into learning how to use my body better in order to help my violin playing allowed me to improve at a higher rate than other students, train to become an Andover Educator to teach Body Mapping to other musicians, and even train to become an Alexander Technique teacher. The work continues to inform my violin playing, my teaching, as well as my Alexander work.
The so-called “practical” discovery of the body map is credited to an Alexander Technique teacher and cellist named Bill Conable. A young violin student at Ohio State University was brought to him because she was having difficulties with her bow arm. No matter how many traditional exercises her violin teacher prescribed, the limitation remained. The violinist came and played for Bill who after seeing her play thought to himself: “how might I imagine my arm to be structured that would cause me to move in such a way?” He realized that she had mapped her elbow as being higher than it actually was, probably the correct distance from her shoulder when she was younger and her arm was shorter, but her map had not caught up with her current structure. Because she had her elbow mapped as being a bit higher than it really was, she was unconsciously trying to move from the middle of her upper arm bone. Bill worked with the violinist looking at images of the elbow and having her palpate (examine by means of touch) to find out where her elbow really was. Once this shift happened and she corrected her body map, the movement freed up right away. She was now moving according to her actual structure so the movement became more efficient and effective.
Unknown to Bill, neurophysiologists had been studying long before his discovery the internal representation of the body within the brain, which we call the body map. We move according to our body map, which is how we think we are structured rather than how we are actually structured. If there is a discrepancy between the map and reality, the map will win in movement. We know this in an Alexander setting when a student that is in an unfamiliar place and their belief system or habit kicks in and they say, “I can’t possibly get into the chair like this.” The violinist that Bill worked with may have understood intellectually what an elbow is and does but she would continue moving according to her flawed map until it was corrected to fit with her actual structure.
As a trainee in the teacher certification program at ACAT, I have enjoyed the benefits that Body Mapping has brought to my journey to one day become a teacher. Before I started training, my knowledge of Body Mapping helped me work on myself in between lessons with my private AT teacher. When she worked on a certain part of me I realized that was a place my kinesthetic representation wasn’t synced up with my intellectual understanding of anatomy. I would then spend some time examining images/models, palpating, drawing, and contemplating the change while in semi-supine in order to alter my body map and change my habitual movement pattern. I would come back in for another lesson and my teacher would often ask me what I did in between the lessons in my self-work to continue improving my use.
Body Mapping is the process of consciously correcting and refining the internal representation of one’s self to produce efficient, coordinated, effective movement by means of self-inquiry. For teachers out there, you might try adding this verbal component to your practice. Ask your students questions and get them engaged in the process of improving their use. For example, you might try early on in your lessons with a student inquiring about their necks: “What is a neck? How big is it? What does it do?” Maybe they understand intellectually that neck is part of the spine but what they know may differ from what they experience. A common error in the body map is that the spine stops at the bump in back just below the shirt collar. Someone that has this place mapped as the top of the spine will nod yes from this point and often display a classic back and down pattern. Because their map of the neck is faulty, the direction to “free your neck” wIll be sent to the part of them that they have mapped as neck, therefore limiting the student’s ability to direct. You can define their neck for them with your hands, show images or models so they can map their necks skeletally and muscularly, and continue to refer back to their remapping as they sort it out in and out of the lesson. Empower them to take charge of their own self-improvement in between lessons by inquiring about their body maps, and even their Self maps. What beliefs are mapped (mind or body) that they might want to inhibit and remap in order to bring about a new experience? You may find this remapping of your student’s Self will tie in nicely as a supplement to your ongoing teaching practice. Give it a try!
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/IMG_0243.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JAMES BLUMER is a violin teacher and a freelance violinist based in the NY metro area. His violin students have gone on to win numerous competitions and performed as soloist with orchestra. As a Licensed Andover Educator, James is sought-after as a clinician on the benefits of Body Mapping in music performance and pedagogy. Frequently, he offers private lessons, workshops, and masterclasses to help musicians improve their movement, leading to performance enhancement as well as injury prevention. Recent engagements include: Manhattan School of Music, Ithaca College, and the Suzuki Association of the Americas National Conference. He also serves on the board of Andover Educators. jamesblumer.com[/author_info] [/author]