Easing Fear through the Alexander Technique

Easing Fear through the Alexander Technique

One of the biggest benefits I gained from my years of study and teaching the Alexander Technique is a process to manage my fears when they start to spike.

Alexander Technique tools include a concept called inhibition, which is a conscious skill in managing the intellectual and physical manifestations of fear. It involves multiple ways to increase the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system (sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract) when one is experiencing hyper-arousal due to increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (The sympathetic nervous system's primary process is to stimulate the body's fight-flight-or-freeze response. It is, however, constantly active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis homeodynamics).

Read More

Transform Times

Transform Times

We live in times of turmoil: the need for awareness about how humanity treats humanity in the natural world is greater than ever.

Finishing up with a student the other day, chatting in the hallway, we talked about how the world is in the Age of Aquarius, having left the Age of Pisces. It’s the the Age of ‘Breakdown of Order’. We are in a healing crisis — we can either transform to more enlightened societies or default into tyranny. I’m working towards the former!

Read More

Our Own Climate Change

Our Own Climate Change by Bette Chamberlin

It has been a brutally hot summer. I can’t go out most days after 8:30am.

On days off, If I think that I can dilly-dally and wait until 9:30 am, the temperature has often risen 5 degrees. I can’t. Heat is intrusive and the brain and body resists adapting to the onslaught.

Our weather is different now. There has been a distinct major upwards change in in temperature in the last 50 years. Starting in 1895, it looked like the earth was getting cooler and it did until 1970. Then the average temperature starting in each 5 year time frame was reduced from the period before. Not so starting in 1970. In 1970 we started to see more dramatic upticks in temperature. Since then, there have been NO temperature changes down, only up.

Read More

On Training Teachers: Choreography and Improvisation

On Training Teachers: Choreography and Improvisation

When I trained to be an Alexander Teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique from 1987 to 1989, I was fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of a large faculty of teachers with all levels of experience. Our Senior Trainers had anywhere from 6 to 30 years of experience teaching and training teachers. They each had a distinctive approach to the art of teaching. Alongside them, we were also taught by associate faculty, recent graduates and classmates who were at all levels of training.

Read More

On Teaching: "Speaking without words"

On Teaching: "Speaking without words"

by Brooke Lieb

Brooke: During our work together on the ACAT Teacher Certification Program, I remember you repeatedly sharing with me that you found lectures and the verbal component of hands-on turns virtually un-intellligible, and stressful. I was able to appreciate that auditory learning wasn’t particularly useful to you, but in retrospect, I know I didn’t have a meaningful understanding or appreciation of how unique sensory processing is from one person to another. I was also fascinated because I know how much you read and comprehend, and that you studied much more complex subjects than I ever have and are articulate and versed in those topics.

Read More

Now in eBook: Back Trouble by Deborah Caplan

Now in eBook: Back Trouble

“Keep It Simple”: The legacy of Deborah Caplan

My strongest recollections of Debby’s teaching was how elegantly simple and practical she was. The clarity of her teaching is evident in these video clips (Debby training third year teachers and teaching a first lesson).

Read More

The Pitfalls of the Knitter’s Craft

by Witold Fitz-Simon

Five years ago I discovered knitting, and it quickly became one of my favorite pastimes. Working with needles and yarn is a deeply satisfying experience on many levels. The color and texture of the yarn running through your fingers, the rhythm of the needles slipping and sliding away in your hands, the satisfaction of seeing the project develop bit by bit, all build into an experience that is visceral, addictive, and deeply calming.

What if the aches and pains, the limitations and injuries that you experience as a result of your everyday life were not a result of the flawed workings of a crude machine, but were instead the result of all the things you do in a day that interfere with that complex coordination? What if, in order to stand tall and have good posture, to be grounded on your feet and light on your feet all at the same time, all you had to do was do less or let go of all the pushing and pulling, compressing and collapsing you do to yourself all day and allow that underlying coordination to reassert itself?

Read More

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #7

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #7

November 29, 1977 : On teaching

You cannot do something to someone, unless you have it in yourself. You will become more and more able to help someone when you help yourself.. You cannot give someone direction unless you give direction to yourself.

When you do something new, you don’t have to worry about feeling it. This also helps people become less self involved.

You can use something above the head to look up and bring the head to move forward (student is sitting) on the hip joint is a good exercise in inhibition. Looking in the mirror you are not going forward as much as you are seeing your head go up. The torso will go up if the head goes up.

Read More

Working with Rhythm: Smoother movement for better coordination

Working with Rhythm: Smoother movement for better coordination

As an Alexander Teacher, I have been trained to observe and analyze my students’ movements and behaviors, so that I can teach them tools to maximize their efficiency while minimizing physical and mental stress.

One measure I use to that end is movement quality. I use a couple different scales, one of which is the range from smooth to jerky.

Read More

Learning the Alexander Technique can reduce your degree of head forward posture, and most students enjoy their lessons

Learning the Alexander Technique can reduce your degree of head forward posture, and most students enjoy their lessons

by Brooke Lieb

A simple google search with the term “effects of head forward posture” yields results that show a possible correlation between degree of forward displacement and pain in computer users; increased time spent sitting at a desk increasing instances of neck pain; and a decrease in respiratory efficiency. Read more here.

Read More

For Alexander Teachers: Foundations of effective teaching

For Alexander Teachers: Foundations of effective teaching

Training teachers and offering post graduate lessons and classes has been one of my passions during my 30 year career as an Alexander teacher. It has informed my studies, how I interpret Alexander’s writings, and is the area I focus my continued learning and development.

One consistent standard I see across all approaches to training is to emphasize that the teacher’s application of Alexander principles to the act of teaching is the foundation of teaching. Before working hands on with another, a level of self-organization is vital.

Read More

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #6

Training Journal: Classes with Judith Leibowitz #6

November 8, 1977: "Direction is a form of meditation.”

It is a simple repetition of words. Just being without trying. No need for results or defining: words can be used anywhere, anytime in any position.

  • Stance appropriately wide to height of person

  • Releasing into monkey with no goal in mind

  • Maintaining shoulder width against gravity's tendency to pull shoulders in as torso bends, releasing shoulders out without contracting in the back

    Read more…

Read More

My Process

My Process by Susan Perkins

Copyright 2005 Susan Perkins

Originally published in the ACAT News Winter 2004-2005

Besides years of chronic pain, I really wanted to change my posture. In some of my very first Alexander technique lessons, I am asked my teacher Charles Stein if this curvature in my spine was permanent thing or if it could be changed." Oh, it can definitely change," he said without hesitation and with such authority and positive belief, I was quite surprised by his answer. He said, "The spine is quite flexible and movable. It is the muscles which hold it in a fixed position." I remember thinking my spine was a long bony structure that had been permanently fixed into a big hump on my back. Here was a brand new idea; one I could scarcely dare to believe.

READ MORE

Read More

Alexander's Paradox

by Susan Perkins

(This article was originally printed in the Fall/ Winter 2006 issue of the ACAT News, © 2006 Susan Perkins)

To explain the Alexander Technique to someone for the first time, it might be easier to say what it isn't. Without being unduly negative, of course, it is helpful to understand what the Technique doesn't do, or what is not done in a lesson.

peacock-butterfly-1526939_640.jpg

There is the first keyword: lesson. The Alexander Technique is not therapy; there aren't patients who come for treatment. The relationship is that of student to teacher. A student comes to investigate something about the Technique, and the teacher teaches the student the basic principles of the Alexander Technique.

Alexander students do not get a massage. The hands on work in an Alexander Technique lesson is gentler and lighter than a massage and is usually accompanied with verbal instruction. Clothes are not removed in a lesson, though it is helpful for the student to where non-restrictive, loose fitting clothing.

The technique is not a cure for diseases or infirmities. As one studies the Technique, symptoms of pain are often relieved, such as back pain, neck pain, sciatica, repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, etc.

The technique is not about fixing posture or breathing. However, those are usually two aspects of one's use of the self that are improved through study.

The technique is not about relaxation, though many experience releases of tensions and become more relaxed as they study the Technique.

The technique is not about getting in and out of our chair. This is a tool used by many teachers because Alexander used it himself to teach, and to change people's habits of use. In the act of sitting to standing and vice versa, most of the major joints of the body are used to some degree, such as the hip joints, knee joints, and ankle joints, etc. Alexander found that by using an every day movement, he could easily discover a person's particular habits of use and then teach them something about their use that would be helpful in bringing about a more efficient and useful way of moving.

So what does one do when one studies the Alexander Technique? Every teacher's approach is different but all teachers are instructing their students in the basic principles of the technique, and all teachers are practicing the technique themselves as they teach. What are the principles? There are three general principles: awareness, inhibition (pausing for stopping) and direction. There are also three important concepts: primary control, end–gaining, and debauched kinesthesia. Below is a brief description of the concepts and principles:

The Concepts

The first concept is something called primary control, which can be thought of as a state of coordination, that when this state is working well, there is the least amount of interference of the working parts of an organism. F. M. Alexander figured out that he could quickly change a person's way of moving by addressing a certain area: the dynamic balance of the head (skull) to the neck and back (spine). During his own development of his work, he discovered that if the balance point of the skull to spine during a particular activity is in its optimal range, the whole body is affected positively, with muscular effort and tension in its most efficient range. If the balance point of the skull to spine is off center during an activity, usually with the skull pressing back and down onto the spine, the whole body is affected negatively, with muscular effort and tension often increased in areas where it is not needed, and decreased in areas where it is needed. The place of choice to help a person changed their coordination for Alexander Technique teachers is at the relationship of the head and neck to the back (one change affects the other.) This primary control is central to the overall coordination of humans.

The second concept of the Alexander Technique is the term means and ends - something Alexander called "end-gaining," which is the extremely important manner in which he finally learned to change unconscious habits, over which previously no amount of will power would change them. He did this by learning to be in the moment, not focusing on his goal of his activity (end), but how he was doing it, his steps to get there, his preparation, is thinking, etc. (means/"means whereby").

The last concept is about one's physical sense of self in space being unreliable. Alexander had a term for this, too: debauched kinesthesia. It means one is so used to his habits and the way he does things, when something changes it feels wrong, or even impossible. It also means sometimes someone thinks he is doing one thing when he is actually doing something else. The Alexander Technique helps one become more aware of his kinesthetic sets, and importantly, how to discern and distinguish between habitual (old) and consciously controlled (new) ways of doing things.

The Principles

In order to change a habitual response to a stimulus (a habit), the first step is an awareness that one is responding somehow to that stimulus. Awareness Is learning or knowing what one is doing. Most people are not aware of their habits up unnecessary tension. In an Alexander Technique lesson, a teacher helps a student identify what he is doing that is preventing him from achieving his desired results, i.e. having less pain, a better performance, etc. Over time the student becomes more educated about his own use of himself and begins to identify previously unconscious habits.

After the student has become aware of the habituated response, he learns the next step in the process of change, inhibition. Inhibition is the act of stopping or pausing. Alexander discovered that will power alone was not enough to change the way he was doing a certain activity. His response to beginning a common activity, for example speaking, brought such a strong habituated memory of the way he spoke, he had to stop for a moment before continuing. If he didn't stop, the force of the habit took over. If he did stop, he was able to choose to do something different instead of his habit.

Doing something different instead of the habit became known as direction. Direction is the ability to use thought to do something new (non-habituated response.) Alexander learned to 'direct a new use of himself' after applying inhibition to a habit. He could perform the same activity, such as speaking, with improved use, or he could choose to do something entirely different in the moment of beginning to speak. He did this by consciously thinking certain thoughts about how he wanted the activity performs, i. e. with a neck free, head forward and up, torso lengthened and widened, etc. These thoughts produced the desired effect of decreased muscular effort, and an overall improved coordination.

The paradox of the Alexander Technique is that many things people think the Technique is about is not what it is about, although the Technique does the very things they think it is about. A few examples: it is not about re-educating the kinesthetic sense, but it does just that. It is not about curing pain, improving posture or breathing, or relaxing, though it does those things as well. It is not about getting a massage, though one lies on a massage table and receives hands-on work. It is not about getting in and out of the chair, though even Alexander himself said, "people will think this work is about getting in and out of the chair, but it's not about that at all." Another paradox is that the three main principles of awareness, inhibition, and direction are very simple and seemingly separate, but ask an Alexander Technique teacher to describe any one idea, and they may speak for five minutes and cover all the principles and the concepts of the technique. It is impossible to separate and categorize the work, because to do so compartmentalizes concepts are interdependent.

During my second year of training I made up some one-liners. Explaining the Technique to novices often eluded me, and still does. I began this writing in an attempt to simplify or clarify what it is we teach. I had hoped for one page and am now on the third, which is just a reminder of how all encompassing this work is.

The Alexander Technique is a way to be in the moment.

The Alexander Technique is a way to be easier with oneself.

The Alexander Technique is stopping the wrong thing, so the right thing can do itself.

The Alexander Technique is finding something new without looking for it.

The Alexander Technique is rediscovering our innate ability to be coordinated.

The Alexander Technique gives us conscious control, or choices, over the habitual, giving us more freedom to choose.

The Alexander Technique combines thought with movement.

The Alexander Technique is regenerative, rather than degenerative.

The Alexander Technique can be a way of living.

The Alexander Technique gives you more of your real self you forgot you had, and finally...

The Alexander Technique helps you change what you thought you were stuck with.

Susan Perkins.jpg

Susan Perkins graduated from ACAT in 2004. She currently teaches at Wake Forest University and Salem College in North Carolina. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University North Carolina School of the Arts and earned her Master’s Degree in Violin Performance from Florida State University. In 2001 Susan moved to New York City to study the Alexander Technique at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in Manhattan, a rigorous three year program entailing 1600 hours of study. As a Nationally Certified Teacher of the Alexander Technique since 2004, Susan teaches the Alexander Technique to people who have back trouble, postural issues, musicians who have physical difficulties performing, or people who want to improve their overall health and well being. She completed John Nicholls’ post graduate course “The Carrington Way of Working” in NYC in 2016. In addition to maintaining a busy private practice teaching Alexander Technique and violin in Winston Salem, Susan is the Alexander Technique and Violin Instructor at Salem College, and teaches the Alexander Technique at Wake Forest University and University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Degrees

B.M., Violin Performance, University of North Carolina School of the Arts

MM, Violin Performance, Florida State University

MAmSAT, American Center for the Alexander Technique, New York

Finding my Inner Adult and other Adventures in the Alexander Technique

Finding my Inner Adult and other Adventures in the Alexander Technique

Most people consider the Alexander Technique a highly effective resource for improving posture, recovering from injury and managing the physical effects of stress, repetitive strain injuries and the demands of daily life. It certainly can provide relief and improvement in all of those areas. READ MORE

Read More

What Do Chairs and Shoes Have in Common? Part 1

by Karen G. Krueger

One common side effect of Alexander Technique lessons is a need to change furniture. After a course of lessons, a lot of chairs that once seemed adequate or even comfortable start to be very annoying. No chair can make you sit well, but a bad one can make it impossible to do so.

I have come to believe the same thing about shoes.

You’re no doubt familiar with the still-controversial barefoot running movement. You may even run barefoot or in “barefoot” or “minimalist” shoes. But have you thought about the effects of the shoes you wear daily, and the shoes you have worn throughout your life, on the shape and functioning of your feet?

In this and subsequent blog posts, I will invite you to consider whether what you wear on your feet is helping or hurting you, and I’ll provide resources for further exploration.

Let’s start by taking a good look at some basic shapes. Here are the feet of a typical newborn baby:



Baby Foot

Baby Foot

And here are is a pair of adult feet that have not habitually worn shoes.

This adult did not wear shoes regularly

This adult did not wear shoes regularly

This is the natural human foot: shaped like a triangle widest at the toes. Each toe aligns with its metatarsal, and the metatarsals and toes spread out like a fan.

Does it surprise you to see the adult foot? Have you ever considered how a baby’s little triangles turn into the foot shape we think of as normal — widest at the balls, with toes pressed together and towards the midline? This striking photo suggests an answer:



The foot pictured below is that of an adult who had never worn shoes on the left; on the right, that of a boy who had worn shoes for a few months. (Source: Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of Barefoot and Shoe-Wearing Peoples, The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. 1905; s2-3:105-136.)

Left: never wore shoes; Right: wore shoes for a few month

Left: never wore shoes; Right: wore shoes for a few month

Now look at the shape of couple of major-brand running shoes (looking at the bottom of the soles):


Running Shoe

Running Shoe

Running Shoe, 2

Running Shoe, 2

Note that both are shaped nothing like a natural human foot. Rather than spreading out to the toes, each shoe gets narrower from the ball to the tips of the toes. And these are shoes intended for athletic activity! Dress shoes, whether for men or women, are typically even pointier at the toes.

How can it make sense to run and walk in shoes that compress the toes into a wedge shape, instead of allowing them to spread out? What is the long-term effect of immobilizing the toes in this position for hours at a time?

In my next post, I’ll look at some of the other features of conventional shoes that are at war with the natural shape and functioning of the human foot, and talk about the resulting deformation and de-conditioning they cause.

In the meantime, try going completely barefoot for at least a little time every day — really barefoot, not even with socks on. Spread your toes, rub and manipulate them with your hands, find out what it feels like to have them actively engaged on the ground as you stand and walk. If you are like me, you will find it very enjoyable.

This is the first of three posts about what I have learned from my experiences exploring the approach to foot health pioneered by sports podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan. For a wealth of relevant articles and videos, see:

1. Foot Help

2. Natural Foot Gear (Click on the “Learn” tab)

3. Youtube channel of Northwest Foot & Ankle

And for a broader perspective on movement that embraces bare-footing and natural foot care, see Katy Bowman’s website nutritiousmovement.com.

Karen Krueger.png

KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website.