tirsdag 14. desember 2021

Aldri utlært

Jeg har tidligere skrevet om parallellene mellom Alexanderteknikken og det å lære å spille et musikkinstrument. Alexanderteknikken er også noe du lærer litt etter litt, og som du blir bedre på jo mer tid du investerer. Akkurat som når du spiller et instrument blir du aldri utlært. Du kan alltid lære noe nytt. 

Nye låter
Nybegynnere på et instrument spiller enkle ting. Å finne og trykke ned riktig tangent kan være mer enn nok i første omgang. I Alexanderteknikken begynner vi også med enkle ting, som å stå, sitte og gå. Etter hvert lærer du deg å bruke Alexanderteknikken i mer komplekse aktiviteter. Teknikken kan brukes i alle sammenhenger, så det finnes alltid noe nytt å prøve ut. Det blir som å lære seg å spille et nytt stykke. Det er kanskje det mest spennende ved å spille et instrument, og det mest utfordrende ved å bruke Alexanderteknikken. Livet har mange utfordringer og Alexanderteknikken kan komme til nytte selv i situasjoner du ikke forventer det.

Nyanser
Nybegynnere på et musikkinstrument kan ha nok med å spille notene og lite ferdighet til å skape nyanser. Å gjøre forskjell på sterkt og svakt er ofte det enkleste og første man lærer. I Alexanderteknikken er det veldig ulikt hva elever oppfatter av nyanser til å begynne med. Det handler gjerne om «veldig anspent» og «litt mindre anspent». Med erfaring blir du oppmerksom på stadig mindre nyanser. Det handler like mye om kvalitet på muskelspenning som på graden av spenning. Det blir som når en musiker kan variere klangen og gi liv til hver enkelt tone. En erfaren musiker kan gi nytt liv til selv helt enkle og kjente melodier. På samme måte kan en som er erfaren i Alexanderteknikken oppdage nye dynamiske forhold i de mest enkle og dagligdagse bevegelser. Det er utforskning som aldri trenger å ta slutt. 

Gamle og nye vaner
Alexanderteknikken handler om å avlære unødvendige vaner. Vaner må vi ha, og vi lærer oss nye hele tiden, uten at vi kanskje merker det. Vi kan alltid jobbe med å forfine hvordan vi gjør ting på, akkurat som erfarne musikere alltid jobber med grunnleggende teknikk. Selv den beste fiolinist kan ha nytte av å øve på bare å stryke på løse strenger. Når vi blir eldre endrer kroppen seg. Det gir også behov for forbedring.
Alexanderteknikken kan også brukes når du lærer helt nye ting. Teknikken gjør at vaner kan være mer fleksible og det blir lettere å lære seg noe nytt. Også på den måten kan det sies at Alexanderteknikken bidrar til at det alltid er mer å lære. 

lørdag 27. november 2021

The Primary Movement

What is ‘the primary movement’?

If you are an Alexander Technique teacher you probably know, or at least think you do. It is quite possible you have got it wrong.

A precursor
Alexander first writes about the primary movement in his 1907 article ‘The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education.’(1)The article was later incorporated with only minor changes in the 1918 edition of Man's Supreme Inheritance and forms the third and last section of that book.

In a note to the text Sean Fischer writes:
“True primary movement” is the movement which precedes other movements and which therefore provides the controlling factor in influencing subsequent movements. It can be regarded as the precursor of the term “primary control” (Fischer ed. 1995, p.281).(2)
Like many Alexander Technique students I was taught during my teacher training that ‘the primary movement’ was the beginnings of the concept of primary control. I remember believing at the time this movement to be the ‘forward and up’ of the head. In the latest issue of the Alexander Journal, Alexander Technique teacher Malcolm Williamson writes:
Most Alexander practitioners understand the true primary movement as ‘going up’ (lengthening of the spine) … (Williamson, 2021b, p.81).(3)
Williamson also writes:
We shall probably never know for sure exactly to what Alexander was referring when he wrote: [He then gives the quotation from Alexander that ends with] a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act (ibid).
I think we can find out what Alexander meant, if we study his writings.

The Theory And Practice Of A New Method Of Respiratory Re-Education
To understand Alexander's ‘true primary movement’ in his article from 1907, we have to include the sentence preceding the phrase:
At the outset let me point out that respiratory education or respiratory re-education will not prove successful unless the mind of the pupil is thoroughly imbued with the true principles which apply to atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of the body, the centre of gravity, and to positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax are concerned. In other words, it is essential to have a proper mental attitude towards respiratory education or re-education, and the specific acts which constitute the exercises embodied in it, together with a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act (Alexander 1996, p.200. Fischer ed. 1995, p.57).

‘In other words’ points back at the preceding sentence. This means that the last part of the first sentence corresponds with the last part of the second sentence. The ‘true primary movement in each and every act’ has to do with ‘the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax.’(4)

This is the most obvious and simplest interpretation. That it is the correct one becomes evident if we study the rest of the article. Alexander uses the expression primary movement not once, but three times in the same article(5), and twice directly related to breathing!:
Most people, if asked to take a "deep breath," will proceed to—I use the words spoken by thousands of people I have experimented upon—" suck air into the lungs to expand the chest," whereas of course the proper expansion of the chest, as a primary movement, causes the alae nasi to be dilated and the lungs to be instantly filled with air by atmospheric pressure, without any harmful lowering of the pressure (Alexander 1996, p.200-201; Fischer ed. 1995, p.58).
Then follows due increase in the movements of expansion and contraction of the thorax until such movements are adequate and perfectly controlled. Further, these expansions are primary movements in securing that increase in the capacity of the chest necessary to afford the normal oscillations of atmospheric pressure, without unduly lowering that pressure … (Alexander 1996, p.208; Fischer ed. 1995, p.64).

The above quotations should be sufficient for anyone to conclude that what Alexander was referring to when writing about the ‘true primary movement’ was not the head going forward and up, or lengthening, but the expansions and contractions of the thorax.(6)

Each and every act
Teachers claiming the primary movement to be a precursor for the primary control argues that ‘each and every act’ must mean ‘each and every act in life,’ not ‘each and every act of breathing.’ Which is it? Let's have a look at what Alexander actually says in the text.

Alexander uses the word ‘act’ multiple times in the 1907 article. The word are most times used related to breathing. More specifically he uses the expressions ‘act of breathing’ (Fischer ed. 1995 p.56; Alexander 1996, p.196, p.199) and ‘the inspiratory act’ (Fischer ed. 1995, p.64. Alexander 1996, p.207). But most importantly he uses the phrase ‘each and every respiratory act’:
… a proper mental attitude towards respiration is at once inculcated, so that each and every respiratory act in the practice of the exercises is the direct result of volition, the primary, secondary, and other movements necessary to the proper performance of such act having first been definitely indicated to the pupil (Fischer ed. 1995, p.63; Alexander 1996, p.206).
When Alexander writes ‘the true primary movement in each and every act’ he means the true primary movement in each and every act of breathing, in other words, the movement of the thorax in every breath.(7)

Authorised Summaries Of F.M. Alexander’s Four Books
The above arguments are based on the original article published in Articles and Lectures (Fischer ed. 1995) and Man's Supreme Inheritance (Alexander 1996). But there is a third version of ‘The Theory And Practice Of A New Method Of Respiratory Re-Education,’ the abridged version in Authorised Summaries Of F.M. Alexander’s Four Books by Ron Brown (Brown ed. 1992).

The journalist Ron Brown wrote the summaries in the late 1940s.(8) Alexander read and approved the draft himself, signing each page.(Brown ed. 1992, p.9) Considering the importance Alexander put on the primary control at this stage in his career, (Alexander used the term ‘primary control’ more than one hundred times in The Universal Constant in Living), it is interesting to see what the abridged version of the article says about the primary movement(s).

Brown kept this sentence almost unchanged from the original:
At the outset let me point out that respiratory education or re-education, will not prove successful unless the mind of the pupil is imbued with the true principles which apply to atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of the body, the centre of gravity and to positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax is concerned (Brown ed.) 1992, p.31).
But the next sentence, containing ‘the true primary movement in each and every act’ is cut! If ‘the true primary movement’ indeed was the ‘precursor’ and first sign of what was to become ‘the primary control,’ it is very unlikely it would have been omitted.

One of the other passages, saying the primary movement is the proper expansion of the chest, was kept:
Most people, if asked to take a "deep breath," will "suck air into the lungs to expand the chest," whereas, of course, the proper expansion of the chest as a primary movement causes the nostrils to be dilated and the lungs to be instantly filled without any harmful lowering of the pressure in the nasal passages (ibid, p.32). [‘in the nasal passages’ added to the MSI text].

Preceding primary movement
Alexander first uses the expression ‘primary movement’ in writing in 1907. It does not come out of the blue, however. He uses closely related descriptions in earlier writings. (The emphasis in the quotations below are mine).

Introduction To A New Method Of Respiratory Vocal Re-Education (1906)
In a future work I hope to deal more fully with the scientific aspect of practical respiratory re-education. At present I simply state the great principle to be antagonistic action, perfect employment of which is the forerunner of that control which ensures the correct use of the muscular system of the thorax in its fullest sense as the primary motive power in the respiratory act, also adequate muscular development, non-interference with the larynx and nasal dilation (Fischer ed. 1995, p.43).
… the student who is taught from the very beginning of his respiratory re-education to convert the air exhaled into whispered tones (consciously employing the true motive power) and the proper vowel or vowels will have learnt what should always be one of the simplest forms of vocal effort … (ibid, p.47).

Mr F. Matthias Alexander's New Method Of Respiratory And Vocal Re-Education (January 1906)
… in re-education there must first be conscious employment of the mechanism governing the respiratory act and the control of the motive power in vocalization; … (Fischer ed. 1995, p.37).

“Disciplinary Singing And Heart Disease” (12 January 1906)
… voice production from the earliest age with proper control of the respiratory mechanism is one of the best possible things, and any one trained to use correctly the true motive power in voice production could not injure the heart and would be in the same position reared in the colonies, where, from early age, they live mostly in the open air and shout and sing from morn till night (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.37).

A Respiratory Method (c. 1905)
The employment of Mr Alexander's method, under medical supervision, has shown that it restores the control over the true thoracic mechanism; … secures the maximum of thoracic mobility ...prevents thoracic rigidity in physical effort … and renders a rigid thorax adequately mobile, … (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.27-28).
Such erroneous ideas [about nasal breathing] are cherished by those who conceive them, simply because there is a sad lack of practical knowledge concerning the all-important subject of nasal breathing and the true motive power in respiration. …
Mr Alexander's method secures that absolute control over the thoracic mechanism which enables the student to secure an adequate air supply through the nostrils in physical effort, in singing, speaking, and during sleep, and also in ordinary conversation, and the founder of the method has proved these facts to the satisfaction of many members of the medical profession of London (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.29).

The Prevention And Cure Of Consumption (12 December 1903)
Many theories have been advanced in explanation of the cause of causes of the prevalence of the lung disease known as consumption, but there can be no doubt whatever that it is due chiefly to the decay in the breathing power of mankind, … . The decay referred to may be described as an almost complete failure of the thoracic mechanism, which causes the motive power in breath-taking to be thrown almost entirely upon the throat muscles; … (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.20).

Such defects [bad habits associated with poor breathing] could not exist if the thoracic mechanism performed the functions ordained by Nature. The motive power for the respiratory act belongs solely to the thorax; and the existence of this natural action ensures that the throat and neck muscles, the larynx and the shoulders remain passive; the breath will pass noiselessly into the lungs, while those passages will be dilated instead of being contracted (Fischer, ed. 1995, p.20).

We see in these quotations from Alexander's early writings the ‘primary motive power’ having a similar function as ‘primary movement,’ He even uses the expression ‘true motive power’ as in ‘true primary movement in each and every act;’(9) and he says explicitly that ‘The motive power for the respiratory act belongs solely to the thorax’.

To a modern Alexander Technique teacher it is striking how great importance Alexander put on the free movement of the thorax. In the early part of his career it was the thorax, or ‘thoracic mechanism’ that was the focal point of his work, not the head-neck-back relationship. It is no wonder he defined thoracic movement as being ‘primary’.(10)

The Lady of the Deep C
Having now identified the true meaning of Alexander's ‘primary movement,’ and looked at the use of a similar concept in Alexander's early writings, there exists yet another reference that can throw light on the matter. It is a newspaper article published in the Daily Express, October 1904, only months after Alexander arrived in London:
The primary movement of breathing must be thoracic, that is, the thorax or chest-box must be expanded naturally without drawing in any breath by suction. The thorax must be made as mobile as possible. (Daily Express 1904). (See also Staring, 2018, p.109).(11)

It turns out the ‘primary movement’ was part of Alexander's vocabulary years before the 1907 article and the meaning is explicitly clear: it is the movement of the thorax in breathing.

The true precursor(s)
The ‘true primary movement’ is not the precursor to ‘the primary control’. What are the true precursors can be detected in Alexander's early articles.
In his 1906 article he reveals ‘… the great principle to be antagonistic action, perfect employment of which is the forerunner of that control which ensures the correct use of the muscular system of the thorax in its fullest sense …’ (Fischer ed. 1995, p.43). In his 1907 article he mentions ‘positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax are concerned.’
These concepts are about the relationships of parts, just as the primary control ‘becomes a something in the sphere of relativity’ (Vineyard/Fischer eds. 2020, p.404; Murray 2015 p.124). It is antagonistic action and positions of mechanical advantage that are the organising principles in Alexander's early work.(12)
Even if we give ‘the true primary movement’ the benefit of doubt, (which should be non-existent at this point), and defines it as ‘lengthening,’ it is still not the precursor to the concept of the primary control.

How did we get here
Many Alexander Technique teachers have contributed to spreading the misinterpretation of the primary movement as the forerunner to the primary control. I'm afraid I will have to include myself on that list. This interpretation has become widely accepted in the Alexander Technique community. How could this happen?

I believe there are several reasons. The Alexander technique is a skill handed down from person to person. We come to rely on tradition, and the teachings of senior teachers. We are not in the habit of questioning these teachings.

Alexander himself is regarded with reverence, in some quarters almost as infallible. Most people today would think of the diaphragm, not the thorax as having the ‘motive power’ in breathing. That Alexander had another view is not even considered.

Senior teachers have admonished us to ‘read the books!’ I have the impression that most teachers don't, and if we do we have great difficulties avoiding reading the text through the lens of a modern understanding of the Alexander Technique. This goes especially for Alexander's early writings.

Last but not the least there has generally been a lack of scientific and critical thinking in the Alexander Technique community. We like to say that the Alexander Technique is scientifically sound, but our thinking and our professional discussions are not.

Conclusion
Should we stop defining primary movement as lengthening or going up? No, not necessarily. In a modern version of the Alexander technique I think there are reasons for such use of the term. 

What we should do is stop claiming that Alexander's ‘true primary movement’ in 1907 was ‘lengthening’ or ‘going up’ or ‘head forward and up.’ It was thoracic movement in breathing. In later texts Alexander uses ‘primary movement’ in relation to movements generally, but this I will get back to in another article.

We should also stop saying the primary movement is a precursor to the primary control. It is not.


Related blog articles

Notes
1) The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education was republished in Articles and Lectures (Fischer ed. 1995, p.51).

2) This interpretation probably originated with Walter Carrington. In Explaining the Alexander Technique he has this exchange with Sean Carey:
WC: ... People are inclined to suggest that FM got the whole idea of the primary control from Magnus. But in fact, he was well aware of the importance of the relationship between the head, neck and body for many years. ... After all, in MSI, as we've discussed previously, FM talks of the 'primary movement'.
SC: So the term 'primary control' is simply a later version of the 'primary movement'?
WC: Yes, absolutely. … (Carrington/Carey 1992, p. 109).

3) A few examples of Alexander teachers who have defined primary movement as ‘lengthening’ or ‘going up,’ or as ‘primary control’ are: Walter Carrington (Carrington) 1994, p.32; John Nicholls (Nicholls/Carey 1991, p. 67, p.69; Marjean McKenna (McKenna 2017, p.85); Cris Raff (Raff 2001, p.13); Bob Lada (Lada 2019, p.149).
Edward Maisel, the Author of Essential Writings (originally titled The Resurrection of the Body) defined primary movement as ‘vertebral lengthening in activity’ (Maisel, 1990, p.xxvii). Maisel misquoted Alexander by writing ‘true and primary movement,’ a misquote picked up and continued by Alexander Farkas (Farkas 2019, p.48, p.82.) (See also Staring 2005 p.377 and Staring 2018 p.113).

4) Williamson writes in the Alexander Journal 28 that: ‘Despite a degree of ambiguity, however, the words ‘together with’ most likely indicate that the‘specific acts’ in breathing are to be combined with the ‘true primary movement’’ (Williamson, 2021b. p.81). Williamson disregards the preceding sentence.
He is right that there is a degree of ambiguity. Alexander connects ‘a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act,’ not only to the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax, but also to the ‘positions of mechanical advantage’ which facilitates the movements. Another potential source for ambiguity is Alexander use of primary movement in singular. Possible interpretation is that the contraction and expansions of the thorax can be seen as elements of a single cyclic movement. Alexander uses both primary movement and movements in the article. Another possibility is that only one of these, the expansion, is the ‘true primary movement’.

5) Actually four times, if we count the listing of ‘the primary, secondary, and other movements necessary to the proper performance of such act …’ (Fischer 1995, p.63 Alexander 1996, p.206).

6) Based on the quotes from the article it could be argued that Alexander means only one of these to be the true primary movement: the expansion of the thorax.

7) Williamson writes in the Alexander Journal 28 that: ‘Alexander’s meaning at the end of this passage might be considered ambiguous. Does he mean ‘the true primary movement in each and every act [in breathing]’ or the true primary movement in each and every act in general? Wider reading of his books brings us to the conclusion that he most probably means the latter’ (Williamson 2021a, p.12). Williamson gives no references to back his claim.
Jeroen Staring has also misinterpreted ‘each and every act’. In his grand biography on Alexander there is this misleading heading: ‘Breathing: the true primary movement in each and every act’ (Staring 2005, p.90). Breathing is the primary movement in breathing? That does not make sense. In an article from 2018 that directly addresses the issue of interpreting ‘the primary movement,’ he has this poetic, but still erroneous paragraph: ‘People breathe in and breathe out during each and every activity, they inhale and exhale since birth and keep on breathing in and out till their final breath. They inhale and exhale while sitting, while sleeping, while walking, while driving a car, while singing, etc., and yes: people even breathe while being in an inverted position or when scuba diving, in other words, they breathe “in each and every act” of life’ (Staring, 2018, p.108).

8) The summaries were meant to be included in a book titled Alexander and the Doctors, detailing the South African libel case that Alexander recently had won. The book was never published. I wonder whether the book was planned in the euphoria after the verdict, but dropped when it was realised it was not entirely positive. The judgment contains for instance this passage: ‘The conclusion to which I come is that the defendants have shown that Mr Alexander is a quack in the sense that he makes ignorant pretence to medical skill; they have shown that many of the physiological reasons put forward are wrong; they have shown that in its claims to cure the system constitutes dangerous quackery; but in these matters they misrepresented the views of Mr Alexander and in showing how foolish were these views, which he did not put forward, they have in the article called him much more of a quack than they were entitled to do.’ Supreme Court of South Africa (Witwatersrand Local Division). Frederick Matthias Alexander versus Ernst Jokl, Eustace H. Cluve, Bernard M. Clarke. 19th February 1948, p.31-32.

9) Fischer in his comment in Articles and Lectures claims that ‘… “true primary movement” is different from “primary movement”: the former denotes the primary control, the movement which precedes other movements irrespective of our attempts to move other parts first; the latter denotes what we “do” first …’ (Fischer (ed) 1995, p.282). I can't find any arguments in favour of this claim in the text. Alexander's use of the word ‘true’ does not seem to imply a change of meaning of the term it precedes. We have for instance no reason to believe that ‘true motive power’ is different from ‘motive power.’

10) In the article ‘Theory and Practice of a New Method’ there is this sentence which the head of my teacher training, John Nicholls; often cited: ‘There is such immediate improvement in the pose of the body and poise of the …’ Here John would stop and ask the students for the next word. Invariably the answer would be ‘head,’ while the correct answer is of course ‘chest.’

11) The quote seems to contradict one of Staring's main points about Alexander's early work presented in his biography on Alexander (Staring 2005).

12) It is important to note that these principles seem primarily to relate to the functioning of the thorax and the act of breathing. There are indications that the rest of the body was indirectly involved. How and to what degree is an interesting question. Frank Pierce Jones regarded the term  position of mechanical advantage as the precursor to primary control:
In The Use of the Self, the term position of mechanical advantage” is replaced by “primary control,” a different concept altogether (Jones 1997, p. 46)

Literature
Alexander, FM. 1985 (1932). The Use of the Self. Victor Gollancz.
Alexander, FM. 1996 (1918). Man's Supreme Inheritance. Mouritz
Alexander, FM. 1997 (1923). Consctructive Conscious Control of the Individual. STATBooks
Brown, Ron (ed). 1992. Authorised Summaries of F.M. Alexander's Four Books. STATBooks.
Carrington, W.; Carey, S. 1992. Explaining the Alexander Technique. The Sheildrake Press.
Carrington, Walter. 1994. Thinking Aloud. Mournum Time Press.
Daily Express. (1904. October 19). The Lady of the Deep C, p.5.
Fischer, Sean (ed.). 1995. Articles and Lectures. Mouritz.
Jones, Frank P. 1997. Freedom to Change. Moritz.
Lada, Bob. 2019. ‘Teaching Alexander from 'Yes'.’ In The Congress Papers: Advancing Global Perspectives. 11th International Congress 2018, Chicago. Marsh, Paul (ed). STAT Books.
Maisel, Edward ed. 1990. The Alexander Technique: The Essential Writings of F. Matthias Alexander. Thames and Hudson.
McKenna, Marjean. 2017. Your Natural Up. Selfpublished.
Murray, Alex. 2015. Alexander's Way. Alexander Technique Center, Urbana.
Raff, Chris. 2001. First steps to Alexander Technique. Axiom Publishing.
Farkas, Alexander. 2019. Alexander Technique: Arising from Quiet. Hite Books.
Staring, J. 2005. Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955: The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique. Nijmegen: Integraal.
Staring, Jeroen. 2018. ‘Frederick Matthias Alexander, Born 150 Years Ago, on January 20, 1869. A Fierce Comment Regarding Interpretations of Alexander’s Texts by Alexander Technique Teachers.’  Case Studies Journal. ISSN (2305-509X) – Volume 7, Issue 12–Dec-2018.
Supreme Court of South Africa (Witwatersrand Local Division). Frederick Matthias Alexander versus Ernst Jokl, Eustace H. Cluve, Bernard M. Clarke. 19th February, 1948.
Vineyard, M (ed). & Fischer (ed), S. 2020. F. M. Alexander: Letters, Volume II, 1943-1955. Mouritz.
Williamson, Malcolm. 2021a. ‘How did the concept of 'primary control evolve during Alexander's lifetime?’ In Alexander Journal 28, spring 2021. STAT.
Williamson, Malcolm. 2021b. ‘Lengthening and widening and Alexander's 'secret'.’ In Alexander Journal 28, spring 2021. STAT.


søndag 7. november 2021

Hvor er du på vei?

Alexanderteknikken handler ikke om hva du gjør, men hvordan du gjør det. Alexanderteknikken handler heller ikke om å gjøre ting riktig. Det finnes endeløst antall «riktige» måter å gjøre noe på. Teknikken går ut på å unngå det som er unødvendig. Du vil da ende opp med den beste måten å gjøre noe på under de rådende omstendigheter. 

Eksperiment
I timene, og ellers også, lønner det seg å forholde seg til hver bevegelse eller aktivitet som om det er et eksperiment. Et eksperiment vet du aldri helt hvordan kommer til å gå, du er nysgjerrig på resultatet og åpen for hva som kan skje. Et negativt resultat kan være minst like lærerikt som et positivt.

To feil
Det er to feil du kan komme til å gjøre når du har timer i Alexanderteknikken. Noen Alexanderteknikk-elever blir veldig opptatt av om en bevegelse gikk «bra» eller «dårlig». Det er jo naturlig å ønske et positivt resultat, men vi må forsøke å ha en vitenskapelig innstilling. Resultatet har verdi enten det er positivt eller negativt så lenge det betyr at du oppdaget noe nytt. (Folk som ikke har peiling på forskning og vitenskap tror et negativ resultat betyr at eksperimentet er mislykket). 

Den andre feilen det er lett å gjøre er å bli for opptatt av hva du nettopp gjorde. Hvis det du gjorde var «
bra» er det fristende å forsøke å holde på den gode følelsen (noe som er fullstendig bortkastet); og hvis det du gjorde var «dårlig» har noen mennesker lett for å bruke tid og krefter på enten å unnskylde seg selv, eller dømme seg selv, (igjen fullstendig bortkastet). Du behøver bare å slå fast hva du oppdaget, om du oppdaget noe, og så gå videre. 

Alexanderteknikk-lærer Tommy Thompson definerer Alexanderteknikkens prinsipp om «
inhibition» som «witholding definition», å la være å definere. Det passer veldig fint i denne sammenhengen. 

Hvor skal du nå?
Tenk deg at du er ute og kjører bil, eller går eller sykler. Forestill det at du hele tiden tenker over veien du nettopp har tilbakelagt. Du vurderer din egen innsats og valgene du gjorde. En slik bruk av tanke og oppmerksomhet er uhensiktsmessig og ganske slitsomt i lengden. Jeg antar at det er ikke slik du pleier å gjøre når du er ute og kjører, eller sykler eller går. Men det er i praksis det noen gjør i Alexanderteknikk-timene. 

I en Alexanderteknikk-time bør du ha samme innstilling som når du er ute i trafikken. Du er mest opptatt av det du møter her og nå. Du er klar over veien du har tilbakelagt. Kanskje du vet at du skulle valgt en annen fil før ei rundkjøring, men du bruker ikke tid på å gruble på det. Det som betyr noe er: hvor er du på vei nå? 

Neste skritt
Hvis du for eksempel i en time nettopp har reist deg opp fra en stol, er det neste du skal gjøre det du bør være mest opptatt av. Skal du sette deg ned igjen? Skal du ta noen skritt, eller gjøre noe annet, eller bare stå der? Det er intensjonen om handling du må forholde deg til, og som har betydning for hvordan du organiserer deg selv. Det at du nettopp reiste deg fra stolen lærte du kanskje noe av, men det er en avsluttet handling. Er du for opptatt av det du nettopp gjorde, lever du i fortiden og ikke her og nå. Nå skal du gjøre en ny bevegelse. Om du reiste deg opp aldri så harmonisk og elegant og balansert vil det ikke hjelpe stort, for nå må du ta nye valg. Det er det du gjør nå som betyr noe. 


Relaterte blogginnlegg


fredag 29. oktober 2021

My Barstow Project

This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 2009. It is written for Alexander Technique teachers.

My background as an Alexander teacher is from what one can label as «Carrington-style» teaching. When reading about the Alexander Technique, both on the internet and in books and articles, I've come across quite a lot of teachers who has been influenced by Marjorie Barstow. Her style of teaching seemed to require a more active role for the pupil. Since the pupil's independence from the teacher should be the aim of any pedagogy I found this interesting. I decided to have a closer look at Marjorie Barstow's teaching.

I found a short tv film from 1982 on the internet, and 33 clips from a 1990 workshop on Youtube. These are my thoughts after having watched this material over a period of time.

Marjorie Barstow
One thing that is obvious after having studied Barstow is that she certainly was a great teacher. She knew what she was doing, and why. It is also interesting to study her own movements. In the workshop clips she is marked by osteoporosis and is bent over, but if you study her balance, the movements of her body, arms and legs, she is still in total command of herself. In the tv film from Nebraska in 1982 she is already 83, but disregard her face, and she could have been 18, her movements are that soft and elegant.

Touching a little
It is said about Barstow that she was «touching a little, asking a lot». I found that she was indeed asking a lot, but she was touching a lot as well. In fact, she was touching more or less all the time! Now and then she was discussing with the pupil with hands off, but that's something I would do from time to time myself.
I could see that she had an exceptional high level of skill. On many occasions you can literally see the pupil go up. Her use of hands was non-invasive in that she didn't take much (or any?) of the pupil's weight, which some teachers sometimes do, and which leaves the pupil very passive.
But I couldn't see that she was using her hands much different from any experienced teacher, so what was the difference in her approach?

Words and touch
When observing how she matched words with the use of hands I noticed that when she asked the pupil to think/direct she very often said 'this' instead of using the name of that part of the body: 'this', 'here', 'this way'.

Maybe using a word like 'arm' is experienced by somebody as 'that' arm, an object apart from oneself, whereas just saying 'this' combined with touch more intimately connects to the pupil's immediate experience of her/himself without having to 'translate' the meaning of the word into bodily understanding; a translation process which could be influenced by wrong mental concepts.

Asking a lot
Barstow did ask a lot of questions. Especially she asked: «How does that feel», or «What did you notice»?
These are questions that would make the 'orthodox' Alexander teachers bolt. Feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted. But we feel what we feel anyway, so why not have a conscious attitude towards it

Potentially there could be two problems with asking pupils what they feel. One is that the pupil will try to feel something. Then you will often see them move very slowly and heavily. The other problem is the pupils trying to come up with the right answer, trying to please the teacher. I had the impression of this happening a few times in the clips.

But there are advantages with describing experiences. Putting words to experiences makes the pupil pay attention and engage in the learning process. Describing nuances makes the pupil more skilled at observing subtle changes. Even if feelings themselves are unreliable, the changes we can notice in our feelings are real. And most importantly, asking the pupil is the only way for a teacher to know what is going on in the pupil's head. If what the pupil is describing is clearly wrong from what is happening, it is an opportunity to put out the mirror and let the pupil see for him-/herself that the change was real but that the interpretation was wrong.

There are two things to be clear about: when it is alright to focus on feelings, and the distinction between thinking (directing) and feeling.

It is perfectly alright to be aware of one's sensation during and after movement, as long as one is not seeking the 'right feeling'. Marjory Barlow said something about this at the 1999 Congress in Freiburg: 'If you think you're wrong - which is most of the time - give yourself the stimulus to move. Then you'll get the experience in the movement. Otherwise we are just feeling out' (The Congress Papers p.149).

Once I heard a teacher say: «the feelings are the directions», a statement I totally disagree with. But some people think kinaesthetically and to them this could be an accurate description of what they perceive is going on.
Discussing with the pupil what they actually were thinking at a certain point in time would make them aware the fact that it was their thoughts that actually made the good thing happen, and that the feeling was an effect, not the cause. It will also make them aware that they have got the ability to 'think for themselves'.

What do you want to do
Another question Barstow asked a lot was: What do you want to do? This is an excellent question. By having the pupil decide the activity, the pupil 'owns' it and has responsibility for it, and also chooses something of interest to the pupil and so are more likely to implement in daily life. This leads to a stronger motivation for observing, and learning.

Very interestingly not a single person in the thirty-three clips from the workshop chose to stand up or sit down. Sitting was an issue, and someone was interested in bending down, but not the act of sitting down or getting up. Why is that?

Maybe the act of sitting down/getting up is something that happens so quickly in daily life that it is normally something people don't think very much about. And because it is a rather quick movement there is little time for observation.

We should think about this as Alexander teachers. Although using the movement up from and down to the chair is very useful in the lesson, for several reasons, it is NOT the easiest activity for pupils to use for practising applying the Technique to their daily life. This does not mean that the chair shouldn't be used in the lesson, far from it. What I'm saying is that we should be conscious about WHY we use the chair when we use it in the lesson. And that other activities are important to work on to help the pupil implement the Technique in daily life.

Direction = movement
In the film Barstow is asked what the Alexander Technique is. She is almost taken off guard and answers: 'it is a certain type of movement.'

I'm not sure that I agree with that definition. I would say the aim is quality of movement, but not that the Technique itself is a particular type of movement. This links probably to Barstow's view on direction. She seems to equate direction with movement.

Personally I would say directions might lead to movement, but the directions themselves are messages we send. Saying the directions are movements may increase the risk of 'doing' them. It also misses out on the inhibitory aspect of directions. Directions are, and must be first of all, preventive.

I think it is more precise to define the directions as intention for movements. These are movements we are not able to perform directly. Movement is to some extent necessary for the brain to make sense of what we feel and to organize the body. Having the intention to move activates processes that makes the musculoskeletal system available for recalibration. The brain uses the input from movement to update the internal body map. Giving directions could be updating the brains body map and thus prepare the body for efficient movement.

End note
There are lots of videos about teaching the Alexander Technique on the internet. This can be a source for inspiration and new ideas, especially, I think, if you have look at teachers who teach differently from yourself. The videos of Marjorie Barstow teaching are useful because they are from situations where the observer is supposed to be watching and listening and learning. I think there is much to learn from observing her, even if one doesn't agree with everything she said or did.


*I could no longer find the link to the film from 1982 mentioned above. You can find many videos with Marjorie Barstow teaching on Youtube. You can also find both video and audio resources on this websites which is dedicated to her work:


Related articles




søndag 17. oktober 2021

Klingende Alexanderteknikk

Alexanderteknikken har mye til felles med musikk. Jeg har tidligere skrevet om hvordan det å lære Alexanderteknikk kan ligne det å lære å spille et instrument.

Det er også andre likheter. En kollega i Nederland, som også er fiolinist og Alexander-lærer, sa det slik i et intervju: 
The Alexander Technisque is like music. If you don’t play it, it can’t be heard … and it as to be put into practice, integrated and remembered over and over again to really enjoy its full potential (Kleinman 2021, s.19).
Alexanderteknikken er noe vi bruker i praksis. Hvis vi ikke benytter oss av teknikken har vi heller ikke full nytte av den. 

Til å begynne med er det ikke alltid lett å huske at vi (alltid) har muligheten. Musikere øver hver dag, og som jeg var inne på i et tidligere blogginnlegg er det nyttig å øve Alexanderteknikk litt hver dag også. Noe som kan være spesielt nyttig er å øve på å tenke retning. Jeg leste nylig ei introduksjonsbok hvor det stod følgende historie om en Alexanderteknikk-elev:
She decided that when she got up in the mornings, she would continue with her usual activities, but for just five minutes every day she would project her directions without attempting to ‘‘do’’ them. Sometimes she would simply lie in bed and project her directions. Sometimes she would exercise. Sometimes she would put in a load of laundry. The nature of her activity wasn’t important. What was important was that she made a deal with herself that, whatever she did, for at least a short period of time, every day, she would give herself directions ... She figured that ... if she did it in the mornings, her obligation would be satisfied early and she wouldn’t have to feel guilty if she didn’t ‘‘think’’ for the rest of the day.
When she started this experiment, she did have trouble projecting her orders for five whole minutes at a time. She would become distracted or bored or just plain tired of ‘‘thinking’’ in this way. As the days and weeks passed while she continued her practice every morning, however, she noticed that she had developed another problem: she couldn’t stop thinking this way after just five minutes.
As time passed, she noticed she was getting more and more done when she first got up. The quality of her work was improving. And, every time she looked at the clock to see how much of the required five minutes was left, she found that she had already exceeded them – often by large amounts of time. More to the point, she found it harder and harder not to ‘‘think’’ in this way at other times as well. (Weed 2004, s.119).
Du kommer langt med litt øvelse.

En annen parallell mellom AT og musikk er at det er mye enklere å lære å spille når du får hjelp av en lærer. Alle kan lære seg selv å spille litt på egen hånd. Men du kommer mye lengre med profesjonell instruksjon. En lærer kan la deg høre hvordan det kan låte og veilede deg til å oppnå klangen du ønsker. 

En lærer er enda viktigere i Alexanderteknikken. Teknikken endrer helt grunnleggende vaner og du kan ikke på forhånd vite hvordan det vil «låte». Vi er så blind for disse vanene at vi ikke er klar over dem. Du kan kjenne effekten gjennom anspenthet og smerter i nakke, skuldre, rygg eller andre steder. En Alexanderteknikk-lærer vil kunne gi deg opplevelse og erfaring med hvordan livet kan være uten disse vanene. Og enda viktigere - veilede deg i hvordan du mestrer dem på egen hånd. 
Det er først når du tar Alexanderteknikken i bruk at du får virkelig nytte av den. Med Alexanderteknikken fjerner du det som skurrer slik at du oppnår mer harmoni i dagliglivet. 


Relaterte blogginnlegg

Litteratur
Kleinman, Judith. 2021. «The Developing Self Interview», Statnews September 2021, Vol II issue 3, s.16-19.
Weed, Donald L. 2004 (1990). What You Think is What You Get. ITM Publications.

onsdag 29. september 2021

Online teaching

This article is written for Alexander Technique teachers. 

Teaching Alexander Technique in groups was not an accepted method of teaching some years back. It was said that it was 'not possible' to learn the Alexander Technique in a group setting. Things have moved on from that time. Today there is more openness to the use of different methods of teaching.*

Now we have even gone a step further. Due to the restriction during the Covid-19 pandemic many Alexander Technique teachers have tried out online teaching. This is met with a lot of skepticism from teachers who are inclined to a more traditional approach.

The misconception
The critique against group teaching used to come from the teachers not very well acquainted with this way of teaching. This is as expected, of course. Ironically, this tended to be the same people who would argue that you have to experience an Alexander Technique lesson to understand what the technique is about. This is a misconception. It is perfectly possible to explain in words what the Alexander Technique is. All you need is common sense. What you can't explain is what the consequences of learning the Alexander Technique will be for you personally, and in particular the effect you will experience in a hands-on Alexander lesson.

One reason for the misconception is that the Alexander Technique is equated with using the hands as a teaching method. There is good reason, and tradition, for this as Alexander himself did not make any distinction between the technique and the method of teaching it. It was all his 'work'. I think, however, that we as a profession should make a distinction between the Technique and the methods of teaching it.

The Alexander Technique is what the teacher is thinking, and the way the pupil ultimately is learning to think, not what the teacher is doing with his/her hands, and it is not the feeling experienced by the pupil. The experience from hands-on teaching, despite being valuable, and even invaluable to some degree, does not guarantee the ability to apply the Alexander Technique on your own.

It is somewhat of a paradox that the Alexander Technique, which basically is a mental process, came to be dependent upon a method of teaching based on feeling.

The Technique and the methods of teaching it
If we take as our reference Alexander's story in the chapter 'The evolution of a technique' in The Use of the Self it is clear that the Alexander Technique is about inhibition, direction and making choices. That is what the stutterer and the golfer are to learn in later chapters of the book. Alexander also gives a general description of his method of teaching.
However, as long as the pupil learn to inhibit and direct, it should be irrelevant what method is used to achieve this. You do what is needed according to the person(s) in front of you and their situation, their interests and problems. You use whatever means you deem appropriate, or whichever means that are available to you, and make the best out of it.

Pros and cons
Every method of teaching has its advantages and its limitations. Alexander Technique teaching is no exception. Many Alexander teachers have commented on online teaching during the last year and a half. I'm not going to go into details here, but my general impression is that many of the teachers who have tried online teaching have found it more useful than maybe expected. Many have also of course written about the limitations of the online approach.
What is missing in my opinion in the professional debate about the pros and cons of online teaching is a balanced appraisal from its proponents. After all they are the ones with the most experience and knowledge about teaching online. But they seem to belong to a church were the belief the in the method is without reservations. I don't know if they actually don't reflect on their teaching, or if they are just naive. I don't think it is dishonesty.

Online teaching is here to stay, whether we like it or not, and to ensure the development of the best possible use of this teaching possibility, we, as a profession need to build on facts, not beliefs. Then we need informed input from the teachers with most experience.

Ultimately research is needed on the teaching method, but as not much research exist on traditional teaching either it will take time to build up research based knowledge.

Teacher training
The different teaching methods should be addressed in the training of Alexander Technique teachers. The most important element will always be the use of hands, because that is a skill that you can't learn anywhere else, and not something you really can learn on your own.
Any trained teacher can dabble in online teaching, or in the teaching of groups, without specific training. But why leave it to chance? Why not build on the expertise that has already been built up in the profession?

I had myself a very traditional teacher training. I'm satisfied with the training I had. It was high quality and gave me a good foundation to build on. But during the twenty years or so after finishing, I have several times met with situations where I felt the traditional Alexander Technique training had not given me adequate preparation. I'm thinking in particular about situations where the appropriateness or possibility to use touch is limited, as for instance when teaching children or teaching performers in activity. We did get some relevant experience, so I shouldn't blame my ineptitude solely on my training, but I wish we had more.

I can see several arguments in favour of covering online teaching in the training of teachers. First, it gives experience in applying the technique in relation to being online. An important aspect of training is to apply the technique in our own lives, being online should not be exempt. This also give us the necessary experience to better help our pupils.
Second, it includes training in taking care of oneself in the teaching situation. I don't have much experience from teaching online. But it was really striking to what degree I was forced to attend to my own use. In hands-on teaching, inhibiting and directing is to some degree an automatic process after years of training and teaching. Not so with online teaching where I felt I had to be even more conscious of myself.
Third, it will hone skills that come in useful needed when touch is not possible or not appropriate -  observing the pupil visually, and communicating verbally. This will probably also improve normal hands-on lessons.
Fourth, it gives added opportunity for contact and interaction with our pupils when a normal lesson is not possible. You never know, there could be another pandemic.

Professional debate
I trained to be an Alexander Technique teacher primarily to be able to communicate with my hands, very much as I once trained to be a violinist to be able to communicate through music. Teaching without touching is for me like teaching music without playing. Something is missing.
I would probably never had many lessons, let alone decided to train, if the lessons had been online, or in a group for that matter. Still, I think online lessons have their place.

I'm lucky to be an Alexander Technique teacher living in Norway. Except from a month's time in March-April 2020 we have been able to teach more or less as normal. Of course, there has been less activity, and far between new pupils. I did give some lessons online during lockdown. I had some experience already from teaching one person who lived far away, but this was only a few lessons. I felt it did work OK, and I'm willing to teach online if the situation requires it, but it is not something I'm going to do a lot. I think I'm a much better teacher 'hands-on.'

That I'm not particularly good at it, or that I'm not particularly keen on it, does not, I hope, influence my ability to see both the pros and cons of online teaching. I expect the same from colleagues who do it better than me. That's what is needed if we are going to have a useful professional debate on the issue of online Alexander Technique teaching.

*The May issue of STATnews in 2017 was to a large extent dedicated to material on working with groups.

Related blog articles


Literature
Alexander, Frederick Matthias. 1985. The Use of the Self. Victor Gollancz.


søndag 19. september 2021

Prestasjonsforberedelse

Jeg har skrevet flere blogginnlegg om hvordan det å lære Alexanderteknikken ligner det å lære å spille et instrument. Instrumentet er deg selv og din egen kropp.

Under press
Musikere må ofte utøve musikken under press. For å være stand til det må de forberede seg. Først og fremst må de øve hver dag for å oppnå nødvendige ferdigheter. De må også forberede seg på selve framføringssituajonen. Prestasjonsforberedelse er et eget fag på alle utdanninger for musikere.

På en måte er vi alle utøvere («All the world’s a stage», som Shakespeare skrev). Vi møter alle situasjoner hvor vi må prestere under press. Det er i slike situasjoner Alexanderteknikken kan være spesielt nyttig. Dessverre er det i slike situasjoner også mest krevende å anvende den.

Forberedelse
For å kunne bruke Alexanderteknikken i vanskelige situasjoner må vi gjøre som musikere. Vi må være forberedt. Hvis du aldri har tatt Alexanderteknikken i bruk i en krevende situasjon prøver du å gjøre noe du aldri har gjort før. Kanskje går det bra, men du kan ikke forvente å få det til uten øvelse.

Grunnlaget
Kan du reise deg fra en stol uten å stresse? Det er det ikke alle som kan. Det viser seg fort i en Alexanderteknikk-time. Hvis du beveger deg ukoordinert og med for mye spenning til daglig vil du gjøre det enda mer i en stresset situasjon. Første skritt er derfor å lære hvordan du kan oppnå og bevare god grunnleggende koordinasjon til daglig.

Akseptere
Å anvende Alexanderteknikken under stress oppleves annerledes enn å gjøre det til daglig. Kroppen er annerledes fordi vi ikke kan unngå at det autonome nervesystemet slår inn. Du har sikkert hørt om «fight, flight, freeze» responsen. Det autonome nervesystemet forbereder kroppen til innsats. Det er bra så lenge det ikke blir for mye.

Den autonome responsen er noe som bare må aksepteres. Du kan ikke unngå å føle det du føler. Noen kan bli enda mer nervøse av å kjenne at de blir nervøse. Du kan unngå det ved å akseptere følelsen og ønske den ekstra energien velkommen.

Dempe
På sikt vil Alexanderteknikken hjelpe deg til å dempe den autonome responsen. På grunn av de fysiologiske forutsetningene, hvordan kroppen er satt sammen, vil ukoordinert kroppsbruk ofte ligne på og forsterke spenningsmønsteret som oppstår under stress. Du kan nesten si at ukoordinerte mennesker uttrykker noe som ligner panikk når de beveger seg (Jones 1998). Færre uvaner, mindre unødvendig spenning og et mer dynamisk muskelsystem er kroppslige forutsetninger som vil gjøre at du er mindre tilbøyelig til å reagere på en stresset måte.

Samtidig er det slik at mindre unødvendig spenning og mer dynamisk muskelbruk også gjør deg mer følsom. Du vil merke lettere og raskere at spenningene i kroppen øker. Det er derfor ikke mulig å føle seg avspent i en stresset situasjon. Det du kan er å koordinere bruken av krefter og bevege deg på en mest mulig hensiktsmessig måte.

Mental gjennomgang
Å ligge i aktiv eller konstruktiv hvile som vi gjør i Alexanderteknikken er en god anledning til å forberede seg på en kommende potensielt stressende situasjon. Mens du forestiller deg å være i situasjonen blir du vant til samtidig å være «lang og bred». På den måten trener du på grunnlaget for å beholde god koordinasjon. Det kan også være nyttig å tenke seg at lengden, bredden og volum i kroppen gjør deg i stand til å romme følelsene situasjonen skaper.

Reaksjon og definisjon
Når du ligger i aktiv hvileposisjon kan du lett følge med på hvordan du reagerer på tanken om å være i situasjonen. Hva som oppleves som stressende er ulikt fra person til person. Dette har mange årsaker. Men én faktor kan være hvordan vi vanemessig definerer det vi opplever.
Konseptet «inhibition» i Alexanderteknikken går ut på å velge å la være å reagere. Vi kan ikke la være å reagere følelsesmessig på en situasjon, men vi kan la være å tillegge situasjonen bestemte egenskaper i vår forestilling om den. Vi kan forholde oss til det konkrete i situasjon uten å nødvendigvis tillegge den egenskaper (Thompson 2019). Du kan bruke aktiv hvileposisjon som en anledning til å forholde deg til en tenkt krevende situasjon på en mest mulig nøytral måte. Etter hvert kan situasjonen oppleves som mindre truende eller vanskelig.

Retning og utprøving
Retningene i Alexanderteknikken (nakken fri, hodet fram og opp osv.) er motsatsen til det som skjer fysiologisk når du opplever stress. Når vi blir stresset trekker vi oss sammen. Retningene er først og fremst preventive. Du kan si at hver eneste gang vi bruker Alexanderteknikken trener vi på å la være å stresse.

I en stresset situasjon må retningene være integrert i bevegelsene du gjør. Du har ofte ikke tid eller anledning til å tenke retninger i detalj slik du gjør når du for eksempel ligger i aktiv hvilestilling. På grunn av høynet spenningsnivå vil det å tenke retning også føles annerledes. I slike situasjoner kan vi ofte bruke mer generelle ideer for å beholde lengde og bredde og ro. Akkurat hvordan og hva som vil fungere for den enkelte er ulikt og noe du må prøve ut.

Musikere og andre utøvere forbereder seg ved å gå gjennom situasjoner som ligner mest mulig. Det hender for eksempel at en musiker kler på seg konsertantrekket når han eller hun spiller gjennom stykkene. En musiker eller sanger kan også gjøre seg kjent med konsertlokalet, ikke bare for å bli kjent med akustikken, men også for å kunne ha mest mulig konkret forestilling når det skal øves mentalt.
Noe lignende kan du også gjøre selv om du ikke er musiker. Skaff deg mest mulig konkret informasjon om det som skal skje. Bruk så dette når du forbereder deg mentalt, eller skaper en situasjon som ligner.

Til syvende og siste er eneste måten å lære seg å bruke Alexanderteknikken også når under press er å gjøre det. Som alltid er det best å begynne i det små, i situasjoner som du opplever som bare litt stressende.

Ikke avspent
Mange forbinder Alexanderteknikken bare med avspenning. Det er et hinder for å utnytte teknikken under press. I slike situasjoner vil du neppe kunne føle deg avspent. Når du prøver ut Alexanderteknikken i slike sammenhenger vil du kanskje oppdage at du må lære deg nye måter å tenke på, og at du må forstå Alexanderteknikken på en annen måte.

Den beste strategien er om du som utgangspunkt bruker Alexanderteknikken som et hjelpemiddel til å være tilstede i situasjonen. Det gir grunnlaget du kan bygge videre på.

Ikke-forberedelse
Ikke alt kan forberedes. Noen ganger skal vi være forsiktig med å legge for faste planer. Dette gjelder særlig når vi har å gjøre med andre mennesker. Hvis du skal framføre noe, holde en tale for eksempel, da kan du legge en fast plan. Men er utfordringen du møter det å snakke med en eller flere personer er det ikke sikkert du kan planlegge så konkret. Du kan aldri vite hvordan andre mennesker reagerer. Hvis du tror det blir det lett «god dag mann, økseskaft» https://alexanderteknikk.blogspot.com/2014/06/kseskaft.html Forberedelsene i slike tilfeller går ut på at du tar best mulig vare på deg selv, og er helt åpen for hva som kommer fra den andre side. Å kunne avstå fra å ha forventninger er også en måte å bruke Alexanderteknikkens prinsipp om «inhibition» på.

Nye muligheter
Alexanderteknikken gir ingen garanti for at alt går bra hver gang du er under press. Hvis det skulle skje at ting går galt og du ender opp med å bli stressa og knyte deg selv i en knute, kan Alexanderteknikken fortsatt være til stor nytte. Alexanderteknikken gir den beste muligheten for deg til å gi slipp på spenningene og komme tilbake til nøytral. Da er det fint å tenke på at du helt sikkert får en ny mulighet til å prøve ut teknikken. Livet er fullt av utfordringer.

«You are not here to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it» (Alexander 2000).


Relaterte blogginnlegg


Litteratur
Alexander, Frederick Matthias. (2000). Aphorisms. Mouritz.
Jones, Frank Pierce. (1998). Collected writings on the Alexander technique. Alexander Technique Archives, Inc.
Thompson, Tommy. (2019). Touching Presence. Easeofbeing Publications.


søndag 29. august 2021

Chained to the Chair

- the dangers of chair work

This is an article written for Alexander Technique teachers. It was written in 2010 but never published on this blog. I publish it now because it is touches upon some of the issues discussed in the blog post Habitual Procedures. The article is slightly rewritten and updated.


What we call 'chair work' is the most important element in a traditional Alexander Technique lesson. Because of its prominent position in Alexander Technique pedagogy people sometimes equate chair work with Alexander Technique, thereby mistaking the means of teaching the technique for the technique itself.

Some teachers use chair work almost exclusively. Other teachers, with a more of an experimental or 'application approach', spend more time on other activities and less time at the chair, and some even claim to not use chair work at all.* From time to time I see discussions between teachers representing different approaches, the traditionalist praising chair work for its high value, the 'experimentalist' describing it disparagingly. They are both right of course. But I hardly get the impression that any of them really know in what way they are right. As a teacher coming from the traditional camp I feel I'm entitled to take a sideways look at chair work.

Challenges and possibilities
So why do we use the chair? Chair work is claimed to be the best way to teach someone the Alexander Technique. I don't think it necessarily is. Chair work is on the other hand one of the most practical and effective way for the teacher to help reorganise the pupil's musculoskeletal system.

The large movement in and out of the chair requires lots of adjustments in the pupil. Moving with a free neck and lengthening and widening back ensures that these adjustments can take place. The moving pupil is within easy reach of the teacher's hands which makes it convenient for the teacher to aid the process of inhibition and direction and also to guide the initiation of movement. The movement has an easily defined beginning, making it well suited for the study of reactions to the stimulus to move.

Then, very often, the question comes from the pupil: Am I going to practice this at home? Most times the answer is: no. The question we have to ask then is: why do we spend so much of the lesson on doing something that the pupil is not going to work on at home? It is as if I had a violin pupil playing scales most of the lesson and then giving him or her something completely different for homework. (I'm also a trained violin teacher). It is normally more useful to spend the time on what the pupil is going to work on at home.

Many will argue that the pupil is moving in an out of chairs all day anyway, and that the point is to increase the awareness in daily activities. The problem is that when moving down to or up from the chair in daily life the pupil will be about to do something else, and the chance for the pupil actually being aware during the movement is very slim. The movement in and out of a chair is rather quick. It comes and goes in a short moment. If the movement is not repeated immediately the pupil is not very likely to remember being present next time either.

One argument against having the pupil practising specific activities is that the pupil is going to try to 'get it right'. In most cases that will be true, if the pupil hasn't learnt how to go about working on him/herself. And the same goes for any activity. The challenge is how we go about teaching pupils to work on themselves

If we are able to teach them how to make use of the Alexander Technique principles when moving in and out of the chair, that is great. If 'chair work' is a useful tool for the teacher to re-balance the pupil's musculoskeletal system, then it would be equally useful for the pupil re-balancing him or herself.

But then the pupil's skills could be just as well spent in another activity, because who is interested in moving in an out of a chair? No one is doing that for a living, or a hobby, so maybe other activities are going to spur the pupil's interest to a greater extent. Maybe it is useful to spend at least some of the time of the lesson on something else than chair work. Otherwise it is like using only 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' when teaching violin. It is possible, you can get quite far (as proven by the Suzuki Method), but what about other melodies? What about other activities, something that is of particular interest to that pupil?

What is of interest to the pupil? Maybe it is a good idea to ask.

Side effects
Even more important than to be aware of the pedagogical challenges of chair work is to be aware of the dangerous side effects of relying too much on one format of teaching. I want to address three issues.

First of all the movement we use in and out of the chair when teaching is one hardly met in real life, it is artificial. Most of the time when we sit down we are not going to have our feet parallel, and probably there is a table in front of the chair, which makes going into the chair more of a sideways affair. The movement in the lesson is simplified for good reasons. Do it the easy way first. But if this goes on and on, lesson after lesson in the same way, the pupil will subconsciously learn that this is the way to do it, and the movement becomes stereotyped. It is like 'Twinkle Twinkle' again, only always played in the same fashion.

To be precise the problem is the lack of rotation, the movement is two-dimensional. Rotation is the hallmark of free movement. You can convince yourself of this by trying to move without any degree of rotation in your movements. The effect is often described as 'alexandroid.'

Of course we say we only use this simplified movement in and out of the chair for convenience, we could be using any movement. But what is the pupil going to learn the most from, what we tell him or what we make him do?

The second problem with the chair has to do with the role of the arms. The problem is that the arms have no role. It is, on the contrary, a sign of bad habits if the pupil is trying to help by using the arms, trying to do with the arms what should be done with back and legs. Traditional chair work can be like practising not using the arms, and the pupil can become quite good at it. And if that's the only activity in the lessons the pupil will have a tendency to act like a rag doll in other activities as well.

Our interface with the world is the use of our hands and of the voice. Chair work forms a basis by co-ordinating the head, neck, back and legs, but only a basis. Chair work doesn't address the artistic and intelligent parts of our system, the cutting edge of human development. The pupil uses the hands in all sorts of skills outside of lessons, a bit like a violinist plays all sorts of melodies. Are we taking advantage of this in the lessons or is it only going to be Twinkle Twinkle?

The control of the hands and voice occupies large resources in the sensory and motor areas of the brain. The quality of use of these parts will influence the rest of the system, in effect putting a spanner in the working of the primary control if not good. The pupil could be all-right in the lesson when not using the arms, but will be messing him/herself up outside of lessons when using the arms. The pupil might end up being tempted to seek salvation in rag-dolling in the two dimensional world of the alexandroids.

The sensitivity of the hand represents a road, or rather a dual carriage way, into the pupil's thinking brain. Directing the hands, and using the hands in various ways, can be an aid to the learning process, as well as being vital for the pupil's ability in applying the Alexander Technique in daily life. The use of the hands should not be left out of the lessons.

The third problem with chair work has to do with the role of the teacher. It should be a supporting role, not the main character. In traditional chair work the teacher is the one giving the stimulus to move, either by asking the pupil to move or by using touch. There is nothing wrong in this. Guiding the pupil into movement can be an easy and elegant way of making the pupil aware of possibilities of moving with less tension, and in daily life we frequently act as a response to external stimuli.

But most of the time the stimulus to move comes from within ourselves. This can be more or less absent in traditional chair work, again adding to artificiality. Letting the pupil decide himself when to move completely changes the focus of the pupil. He has to take responsibility. The contrast to the teacher guided movement is useful, so both modes of initiating should be used. But we should bear in mind that the pupil deciding is the natural way, and the only way in which the pupil can take complete responsibility for his own actions.

An added problem arises when the teacher uses force, or to be more precise supports the weight of the pupil. The extreme variation of this I heard about from a fellow student. She visited a training course in Germany where they consistently used the procedure described by Frank Pierce Jones as 'reflex standing' (Jones 1997, p.129). The sitting pupil leans back on the teacher's hands and the movement is a co-operation by pupil and teacher. This is fun to do, and it requires lots of inhibition and direction from both teacher and pupil, so there is much to be learnt from it. But what the pupil also can learn from it is that 'I can't do this by myself'. When taking any of the pupil's weight we should ask ourselves if we are doing it in a way that integrates it into the pupil's independent use of him/herself, or if we are doing it in a way that promotes passivity.

I hope that you by now have been sufficiently provoked to do some constructive thinking. That is what I have been trying to do myself. I have to admit that I'm the sort of Alexander teacher who would rather prefer to just shut up and put my hands on. I trained to be an Alexander Technique teacher to be able to communicate with my hands; and I prefer to use the chair of course. *Today, more than ten years after writing this article an increasing number of teachers also do online teaching (not the least thanks to the covid 19 pandemic). In a digital teaching situation some of the aspects discussed in this article are of course irrelevant. Online teaching does however present other challenges and pitfalls which will be the subject of another article.


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Literature
Jones, Frank P. 1997. Freedom to Change, Mouritz.