Whitman

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My OSU predecessor had this advice for the first week of classes:

Inhibit like crazy.’

To those unfamiliar with Alexander-Technique-Speak, that advice may sound crazy indeed. I received it as a nugget of wisdom, and Dale’s three words echoed a Walt Whitman quote I happened across recently, an excerpt from his poem, Song of Myself:

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it…..I witness and I wait.’

Witness? Wait? I have teaching goals to achieve, knowledge to impart, so much that needs to be said and done. Nope. Wait, Diana. Be a witness. And as Dale went on to say, it’s in the teacher’s inhibiting, (i.e.-waiting, witnessing), that the student can engage in self-discovery. It’s where real learning happens. The teacher creates the conditions for explorations, and the rest is up to the student.

In FM Alexander’s experience, ‘inhibition’ came to mean the conscious decision not to direct a process toward a given end.’

That’s Pamela Payne Lewis, from her 1980 Carnegie-Mellon University dissertation, The Alexander Technique: Its Relevance for Singers and Teachers of Singing. As a young teacher, I received extensive training in the very task of directing a process toward a given end. And then in mid-life came my Alexander teacher-training coursework, which was devoted not to the achieving of goals, but to the means-whereby all wishes, wants, and goals could be pursued.

An essential component of teaching the Alexander Technique well, the practice of inhibition has on-going application for living a life well, too. And so I will grasp the steering wheel lightly as I commute through crowded city streets, inhibiting contraction and grip in response to the traffic, until eventually and surely, I find myself strolling into the hallowed halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New

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The scent of a brand-new book, the anticipation of new colleagues and new students, the considering of new ideas, the adoption of new routines. A soon-to-begin academic year is all about newness.  In preparation, I’ve been reading Cathy Madden’s, Teaching the Alexander Technique: Active Pathways to Integrative Practice, and found this question:

How can I teach in such a way that the Alexander Technique process sustains and restores cooperation with our natural design in service of what we do?’

I am fond of saying, ‘When I’ve learned everything there is to learn, it will be time to do something else.’ So far, the exploration of the Alexander Technique has kept my curiosity piqued and my interest keen. That’s about 35 years worth, ever since I slipped on my apartment building’s ice-covered steps, landing on a concrete edge, right on the lumbar spine. Always running a few minutes late in the morning, I was dashing out the door to get myself to Duxberry Arts Alternative School. Colleague and Dance teacher, Loren Bucek, suggested I try Alexander Technique lessons to assist with my recovery. Little did I know a life-long study had just begun.

I’m still asking questions, and appreciate Madden’s question for herself as she teaches. It’s a fine method of formulating a lesson, a workshop, a class. F.M. Alexander launched his vocal problems analysis with the posing of question after question. Asking, observing, choosing, assessing. It’s this spirit of inquiry that fuels the learning of the Technique, and if you have a curiosity about his process, I can recommend his small tome, The Use of the Self. First published in 1932, it was reissued in 2001 by Orion Books, Ltd. The first chapter is titled, ‘Evolution of a Technique,’ and although reading Mr. Alexander can be slow-going, it’s worth your investment of time. And OSU students, there is a copy in the stacks of the Music/Dance Library. I set eyes on it this very day, and it awaits you! Please note, do not wear white into the stacks, as you will emerge dust-covered and dirty.  I did. Just a heads-up—-

Wishing for all students and teachers a year of questions asked and answers found—-

Watermelon Salad

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Here’s a delicious and light salad, a mouthful of summer, and so refreshing. I wasn’t too sure about the watermelon/tomato combo when the plate arrived at the table, but was won over with the first bite. Mike and I were staying at The White Oak Inn, following his completion of Saturday’s 100-mile Pelotonia bicycle tour.

Ingredients: watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, basil, mint, feta cheese crumbles, vinaigrette, salad greens

Innkeeper, Yvonne, chopped up the watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers into good-sized cubes, adding chopped basil leaves, and just a hint of mint. She added the feta crumbles last. Toss with vinaigrette. Yvonne’s was balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little bit of lime juice. I’ll be using Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette Dressing this evening, served on a bed of greens.

In the study of the Alexander Technique, Thinking in Activity is a time-honored practice for integrating AT principles into daily life. Cooking and teaching are the two activities in which I can most readily apply the principles, experiencing ease and comfort in my body, and peace of mind to boot! In part it’s because in these two pursuits, I give myself permission to be fully present, and immersed in the task at hand, whether it be slicing watermelon or assisting a student in their exploration of a particular habit of use.

Wishing for you refreshment and presence this day—

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Put

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Learning about something, staying with what engages our attention, staying beyond the naming of it, is like the layering of sediment.’

Susan Hand Shetterly, Settled in the Wild: Notes From the Edge of Town

An Alexander Technique class to plan, syllabus to outline, course requirements to determine. With a 14 week semester and two classes each week, I’m hopeful the students and I will have plenty of time for ‘staying beyond the naming of it,’ adding multiple layers to the sediment of our Alexander Technique study and practice.

Shetterly uses ‘staying’ twice in one sentence, so it must be important. I can’t imagine it’s an oversight. In editing my food memoir, I’m keen to locate words or phrases used more than once. Just yesterday, I caught ‘have always figured‘ in two essays. Not ok!

Why twice?  Certainly, for emphasis. It’s good advice. When singers were discouraged, or struggling with a new skill, I encouraged them to get through the challenging phase by ‘staying with‘ their daily practice routines and the weekly lesson.

And so this Alexander Technique teacher and her students will stay put. We will show up at the studio door two days a week, learn AT principles, practice AT procedures, ‘staying with what engages our attention,’ a primary practice in the Land of AT.

Here’s to the approaching academic year—-

 

 

Route 66

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This week’s post is a nod to the season’s fine American tradition—-The Summer Road Trip. Think hot macadam, windows down, music on the radio, pulling into a drive-in restaurant to order hamburgers, fries, and shakes, traveling a few more hours, selecting a motel where you can park right in front of your room, IF you don’t see this out front: NO VACANCY.

We long to see a VACANCY sign blazing after a day on the road. But in the motel that is our body, NO VACANCY is what we want. All rooms occupied, i.e.- embodied. That’s us at our best! We study and practice The Alexander Technique for this very reason—-to be fully in residence, present to ourselves and others.

A motel vacancy means empty rooms, unoccupied space. For a road traveler, that’s good news. For a resident of a body, not so much. When teacher-training, one of my Alexander Technique mentors would tease me about my ‘phantom limbs,’ referring to my legs from the knees down. They were there, but absent from my body awareness and only vaguely included in my body map.

A common territory unoccupied by many is the back, not only the back of our torso, but the entirety of our back self: back of legs, back of pelvis, backs of arms, back of neck, back of head. All that is ‘back’ is often disregarded, probably because sight is such a strong sense, and we don’t see our back selves when glancing in a mirror.

Include your back self in a scan of your body, and check to see that all rooms are occupied. NO VACANCY indeed—-

 

 

Under Duress

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Recovery from Monday’s eye surgery has been slow, thanks to a cold virus exacerbating irritated and swollen eyes, and an allergic reaction to antibiotic ointment. The itch so itchy it’s painful? Here’s what I did to get through the week. Alexander Technique students, you know the Procedures

First, observe habitual response. This week’s responses were a minute-by-minute attempt to get away from unpleasant sensations. Eye drops, dabbing and rubbing of eyes, and a good dose of catastrophic thinking—‘This will never end! I’ll be in misery the rest of my days.’

Having observed responses, Pause. Or Inhibit, if you prefer Mr. Alexander’s terminology. How does one pause when hurting? Watch the discomfort with a dispassionate mind. ‘Oh, yes, there’s a streak of pain along the outer rim of left eye.‘ Noted. Mere observation is often enough to restore a bit of ease and comfort, and so it was for me and my eyes.

Continue with Directions. Having acknowledged that all my attention was with one detail of my physical experience, i.e.–unhappy eyes, I chose a prompt, often ‘Whole body, whole world.‘ With inclusive awareness, I noticed the space around my body, the room in which I was writhing, and the garden beyond, where the stargazer lilies were blooming in profusion.

On several occasions, with this practice, I was able to rest deeply and even to fall asleep. And other times my eyes just itched more, and it was on to the eye drops. Keep in mind, Alexander Technique procedures are not about fixing what’s wrong, but doing what we can to integrate mind with body, in service of greater ease and optimal function.

No need to wait for agony. Perhaps there’s a slight crick in your neck from reading this post. Practice the Procedures!

 

Maybe Tomorrow

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The annual Drama of the Fledglings is underway. This past weekend, it was a tree swallow soon to fledge, but not quite ready.  Her beak opened to bright orange-yellow on each fly-by of the parents. Landing on the box, the pair peered over the edge, chirping to their offspring, offering encouragement, but nothing doing.

On the porch for an afternoon of cloud watching, I  periodically checked on the swallow’s progress through the binoculars. She began to extend farther out of the box opening, her neck lengthening (yes, Alexander Technique students, birds do it, too!) looking up, down, and all around. Still in the nesting box, however.

End-gaining was not in evidence on the hill. Mr. Alexander would be pleased. He observed in himself and his students the common habit of gaining an end, i.e.–striving to achieve a goal, by disregarding how we use ourselves to get there, and mindlessly pushing to complete a task. He was adamant that instead of trying to please, get it right, and get it done, we would benefit greatly from pausing (what he termed Inhibition), and considering the ‘means-whereby‘ any task is best performed. 

The task of flying awaits the young tree swallow. Not responding just yet to the stimulus of cajoling parents, she pauses. She waits. We do ourselves harm when we push through our daily lives, using force of will and grim determination. Try a pause. Be kindly toward yourself in all that is required of you. The swallow will fledge. You will complete your tasks. Maybe tomorrow.