Thinking But Not Doing

Frank Ottiell (1929-2015) by Brooke Lieb

In her wonderful new book, Living The Alexander Technique, Ruth Rootberg interviews senior members of the Alexander community, who have been living with the tools of the Alexander Technique well into their later years. In her interview with Frank Ottiwell (1929 - 2015), who was certified by ACAT founder Judith Leibowitz in 1959, he reflects on his continued development in learning what it is to inhibit and direct. As I was reading, I could especially relate to the following section from the interview.

Frank Ottiwell is quoted:

“I think one of the things one has to learn—and certainly Judy [Leibowitz] was teaching me that right from the beginning—is 'Leave yourself alone.' Practice Inhibition. You learn to say the words, but not to do them. That’s the trick…. I think, too, that my focus has re-directed towards stopping something from happening, rather than being seduced into getting something to happen. With the order to 'free my neck,' for example, it is easy for me to slip into making tiny movements, even without intending to. I think, for a long time, some devil in me tricked me into little direct doings. I’m sure it will try again. I will have to be on the lookout for devils.”

Having been a student of the Alexander Technique for over 32 years myself, I found it reassuring and comforting to know that Frank Ottiwell was still tempted to do something muscular when working with the Alexander Technique after all his years of experience. I, too, am always refining my thinking and working on inhibiting (withholding consent) from my inclination to do something directly with my muscles when my true wish is to “free my neck.”

I think this process of relearning and refining what we are after when we use the Alexander Technique is common for Alexander teachers and students, alike. We live in a world full of triggers, we are habitual creatures, and it seems that as technology advances, we are all trying to accomplish more, not less, and are rushing to get things done. Taking time, and learning the difference between thinking intelligently and using muscle force is vital to manage our energy and tension levels under these circumstances.

One of the main challenges in learning to work with the Alexander Technique is learning not to turn the ideas and instructions from your teacher into a direct muscular action. When I work with a student, I tell her or him: “Listen to my words and think them, allow my hands to guide you to define what those words mean in your movements, but do not use your muscles to directly do your idea of what those words mean.” Easier said than done, but anyone who has been working in this way and had glimpses of what is possible will likely agree, it is very worthwhile.

Buy Ruth Rootberg’s book, Living The Alexander Technique on Amazon:

Other epub versions are available on Nook, Google Play, and iBook.

You can read Frank Ottiwell’s obituary in the SF Gate here:

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/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.[/author_info] [/author]

"Dare to be Wrong" by Judith Leibowitz Now Available on Kindle

wrongby Brooke Lieb ACAT is pleased to announce "Dare To Be Wrong: The Teaching of Judith Leibowitz" which was edited by ACAT Alumna Kathryn Miranda, is now available for purchase as an ebook for the Kindle through Amazon.

Some members of the ACAT Community shared their response to the book, and for those who studied with Judy, some memories of working with Judy, as well.

"I love Judy's book. It's one of the clearest books on how to teach and learn the Technique. The process she describes is simple but powerfully effective. She begins with awareness, defines inhibition, and clearly delineates the job of both teacher and student while masterfully teaching the purpose, function and meaning of the directions. All of this is brilliantly set on a foundation that gives the student permission to explore and dare to be wrong in order to discover a new way of using herself. "

Lolita Brinkley, ACAT '14

"When I read 'Dare to Be Wrong', her words were so vivid I felt I was in the room with Judy again. I was reminded of how clear and simple her use of language was, while the effect of her hands-on work was expansive and allowed me to understand the potential of inhibition and direction - and my potential as a being - at a quantum level to what I could ever understand all on my own.

I credit Judy with my constant curiosity and awareness of how the 'whole person' is under my hands. Judy always cultivated the direction and understanding that was there in me, and through this indirect approach, some of the ways I may have been interfering with my own poise on every level gently rose to my awareness so I could know myself and see my potential. At the same time, I never felt judged or that there was any 'wrong' way of exploring this work.

Judy's excitement and curiosity within the work was infectious, and the longer I teach, the more I understand and the less I am attached to what I know. Instead, I am interested in the as yet unexplored potential. I now know how teaching this work has allowed me to progress beyond where I would had I remained as a student. It is a great paradox that we get some much more for ourselves when we embark on the process of being a teacher.

This book is a chance for be with Judy."

Brooke Lieb, ACAT '89

"I remember Judy's hands on me as if it was yesterday. She had an unusual, perhaps unique, ability to intuit my state of mind, and then to create a lesson addressing my USE in 30 minutes ... lessons that stay with me until today.

Judy clarified my understanding of 'legs away' and 'monkey/bending' by transmitting a combination of kinesthetic and intellectual experience in weekly lessons during her last year teaching. Every lesson ended with her laughing and excited by our discoveries. She never took the AT for granted and reveled in the brilliance of the work.

Part of my clarity in developing a lesson was learned during my training as I watched her work with my colleagues at the end of every training class. Each of had a lesson while all 8 of us observed. She was a master of problem solving in the moment ...seamlessly integrating the hands on work with the Alexander concepts. Her teaching was both artful and specific, full of anatomical allusions and metaphors that clarified."

Judith Stern, ACAT '87

"Judy’s hands were very quick. They moved quickly from one part of a student’s body to another. Her thinking and perceiving was lightning fast and it kept me very present to keep up with her. Also, each finger gave an individual message. Judy sculpted in a variety of mediums – stone, wood, bronze, and it was as if each finger had its own brain as she sculpted me, and my energy, in the lesson. Judy thought in terms of energy. She was also very positive and encouraging. I believe she gave only half hour lessons, which was all she needed to tune up and expand one. If she felt the lesson was finished in 20 minutes, she would end it then.

Judy loved movement. I think she got tired or bored of just doing chair and table work, so she would work with large movement. She would get us going from bent knees to jumping again and again, and work with swinging the whole body around one standing leg which she called going into arabesque. I remember her swinging me forward and back with her hands in the arabesque in her teaching studio. Perhaps I had my hand on the table for a light support. There wasn’t any time to check thinking. While doing it, my balance and integration, with the help of her hands, seemed amazing."

Joan Frost, ACAT '83

"Judy Leibowitz was my primary teacher when I trained at ACAT, and my dear colleague until her death. She was profoundly influential on me; I feel the way she taught is still the foundation of how I work, even after many years of developing my own style. How great it is that her book 'Dare to be Wrong' exists, for which I am so grateful to Kathy Miranda. What a perfect title, in Judy's own words, to convey the essence of what she offered her students.

This book is simultaneously a reference book that I return to again and again, a concrete record of how a master teacher worked, and an emotional experience of Judy coming back to life on the page. I feel her hands, hear her voice, and my nervous system starts to respond! I also respond to her passion for, and fascination with the work, her sense of the potential it holds, and her ability to understand and communicate about the work in its multilayered totality- its complexity and simplicity. (As she always used to say, the Alexander Technique is full of paradox!)

Dare to be Wrong is truly a treasure for Alexander teachers, students, and anyone interested in the Alexander Technique. To pick up this books is to be inspired. "

Kim Jessor, ACAT '81

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/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.[/author_info] [/author]

What We're Reading: Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones

jones_72by Kim Jessor and Jessica Santascoy


What book do you recommend for new students?


"Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones," which was the first book I read when I began studying the Technique in 1977. Since then I have reread it many times, (as evidenced by my very dog eared copy!). It is a book we read and discuss in our training course, as well as one I return to as a means of clarifying my thinking and teaching.


Why do you recommend "Freedom to Change?"


It is a classic; a comprehensive, thoughtful, and clear book. It is well-written and accessible while being extremely thorough and detailed. Freedom to Change gives an introduction to and a context for so many aspects of the Technique for someone new, while remaining an essential reference for teachers. For example, I often reread the section on the reflex response, or on the center of gravity of the head. That section in particular reminds me to convey to students that it is the nature of our design, with the center of gravity forward of the spine, or what Debby Caplan calls "the elegantly unbalanced head," that facilitates the lengthening of the muscles of our spines when we are not interfering through tension.

Jones approaches the Technique from multiple angles, so it can appeal to people with different interests and perspectives; those wanting to know the history and development of the Technique, the scientifically-minded wanting to understand what he learned from his experimental studies, the educator, those who want to understand more about the relevant anatomy and physiology, the curious potential student looking to improve health, as well as the trainee seeking a more in depth understanding of the process of teaching this work.

Jones’ own story is fascinating, and chronicled in the book. A classics professor who came to the Technique in the 1930s to deal with his own fatigue and pain, he trained to teach with F. M. Alexander himself and his brother A. R. He knew the brothers well, and carried on a lengthy correspondence with FM Alexander.

Jones taught the Technique for over 30 years. During this time he learned the scientific method in order to design studies which measure and validate the effect of the Technique. Like Alexander he had great persistence to pursue his goal of precisely defining the Technique and measuring its effect, in order to bring it to the attention of the larger world. His contribution is significant and I feel it is important for students to know his work.

Jones's descriptions of his own first lessons with both F. M. and A. R. Alexander and his impressions of them bring the brothers vividly to life, as well as his accounts of his learning process. He also writes about influential people who were proponents of the Technique, such as John Dewey and Aldous Huxley, and it's fascinating to see how his work impacted their thinking.

The chapter on experimental studies is the most technical part of the book. Photographs enhance the text, showing us the multiple image photography Jones used to measure changes in movement patterns, as well as x-rays, charts, diagrams, and images of Jones teaching. He also includes the list of adjectives the subjects were asked to use to describe new kinesthetic experiences resulting from AT lessons (ex. being lighter, less familiar, higher and smoother). It is a model for how to quantify the seemingly magical experience of the Technique.

Additionally as a skilled and experienced teacher, his chapters on "The Re-education of Feeling" and "Notes on Teaching" articulate his approach with great clarity, which is illuminating for students.


How does this book speak to someone who is not yet a student of the Technique?


I think the book intrigues the potential Alexander student who is truly looking to change. Jones often emphasizes the pleasure in the learning. He states that the pleasure of the greater ease in movement is an immediate reward of applying the process, and says of the Technique “It brings into learning some of the pleasure and excitement which children feel when they do things for the first time-and begin to explore the world (196)."

Jones also states in the chapter "Learning how to Learn":

“Alexander’s discovery (as Dewey pointed out) is comparable to the discoveries that were made during the Renaissance and that caused men to change their ideas of external nature. When you look through a microscope or telescope for the first time you are forced, if you accept the evidence of your senses, to revise your views of the universe outside yourself. Alexander discovered a way of using his hands to give a person new experiences which force him to revise his ideas both of himself and the universe (188)."

It seems to me that sentiment might inspire someone to try to find out what the Alexander Technique is all about!

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]KIM JESSOR has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 30 years. Certified at ACAT under Judith Leibowitz, she is a member of ACAT's senior faculty and former director of the Teacher Certification program. Kim teaches Alexander in the Graduate Acting program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and maintains a private practice in Manhattan. She has a varied practice and specializes in working with performing artists. Kim has taught at the Mannes College of Music, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and the Miller Health Care Institute for Performing Arts Medicine. Contact Kim at[/author_info] [/author]

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JESSICA SANTASCOY is an Alexander Technique teacher specializing in the change of inefficient habitual thought and movement patterns to lessen pain, stress, anxiety, and stage fright. She effectively employs a calm and gentle approach, understanding how fear and pain short circuit the body and productivity. Her clients include high level executives, software engineers, designers, and actors. Jessica graduated from the American Center for the Alexander Technique, holds a BA in Psychology, and an MA in Media Studies. She teaches in New York City and San Francisco. Connect with Jessica via email or on Twitter @jessicasuzette.[/author_info] [/author]

Master Alexander Teacher, Patrick Macdonald (1910—1991)

patrick.macdonaldby Witold Fitz-Simon Patrick Macdonald was one of the great teachers of the Alexander Technique. Among the first group of teachers to be trained by F. M. Alexander himself in the 1930's, Macdonald had been receiving lessons from him since the age of 10. He went on to train hundreds of teachers himself.

He is the author of one of my favorite books on the Technique: "The Alexander Technique As I  See It," which is sadly out of print. His book is concise and witty, and a great read if you are a teacher or a student who has been taking lessons for a while. If you are feeling particularly flush with cash, as of writing this post there is a copy on sale on Amazon for $1,057.95.

If that is beyond your budget, you are in luck! There are copies available for ACAT members to borrow from the library, one of the great resources the Center has to offer. I you aren't already a member and would like to join, find out more here.

Here is a fascinating documentary made in 1986 of Patrick Macdonald at work.

Part 1:

Part 2:

This silent film from 1966 shows the unique power and clarity of Macdonald's hands as he works with a student:

If you would like to read more about the man, his life and his work, the Direction Journal website hosts a profile of him by Yehuda Kuperman here. And here is an interview of Patrick Macdonald with Ted Macnamara.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being.[/author_info] [/author]