One wordbecame a lifeline. Having re-lived countless times the heartbreak of a friendship’s end, this word came to my attention just when it was needed. I was ready to make a new choice.
I chose toavert my gaze, so intently directed inward at the friendship’s demise, and re-direct it outward to the deep green of trees lining the bicycle path. That ride is my first clear memory of benefiting from this practice, but there were many, many more times the choice was made, until, finally, the thought loops quieted, and I was able to live more fully and in the present.
If the Alexander Techniquecould be reduced to one word, as students were asked to do at Tuesday’s mid-term, mine would be ‘choice.’ Instead of relying on habitual responses which may not serve us well, we ‘turn aside’ and choose something different. The learning of the Alexander Technique focuses primarily on choices which affect our use of the physical self, but the basic concepts can also be employed for habits of use which involve emotions and thought patterns.
Standing at the kitchen counter, I survey the assembled: crock pot, cutting board and paring knives, a large silver bowl for scraps. A motley pile of apples drains in the colander. Not the beautiful orbs purchased in local orchards this time of year, our farm apples are un-sprayed and untended, leaving them much enjoyed by birds and yes, worms. This means plenty of slicing and dicing around imperfections. But, oh, my. The good bits are so good. Tart and sweet all at once.
With vats of apples to process, I can get ahead of myself. This is known in Alexander Technique parlance as ‘End-Gaining.’ Charging to the finish line, so to speak, with nary a thought for how best to get there. This means my wrists hurt, the right hand thumb tight and unhappy from an awkward repetitive motion, until I make the choice to notice.
The noticing is termed ‘Inhibition,’the pause in the midst of habit. Next is ‘Directions.’Gentle guidance. ‘Let the hand fan outward.’ Ulna and little finger aligned. So simple, this kindness to oneself.
‘The first stepin learning how to work on yourself is to observe others. Looking at the world around you with Alexandrian eyes is extremely instructive, and pleasurable too …….and if you search carefully you will find admirable instances of good use around you.
I drawenormous inspiration from looking at….great athletes and dancers and musicians, at animals both wild and domesticated…such models of good use are worth imitating.’
Pedro De Alcantara, Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique
Morning on the hill. Feast your eyes on this elegant form. To know a fawn was lightly treading the meadow around our little cabin as Mike and I slept snug inside is to know there’s astonishing beauty all around us, always. The wild world does provide us with inspiration—-
Did Whitman study the Alexander Technique? You might think so, reading this excerpt from his poem, Song of the Open Road. But no. Whitman’s words preceded Mr. Alexander’s birth by 13 years. Mr. A. was born in 1869, when Whitman was most likely undertaking yet another revision of his epic work, Leaves of Grass.
Long before Frederick Mathias Alexander (FM) lost his voice performing onstage, years prior to his launching of a self-study which formulated his principles and ideas, Whitman eloquently described the experience of benefiting from Mr. Alexander’s work. Applying kind and conscious thought to the stopping of ‘the holds that would hold me,‘ mind and body patterns can change, thereby allowing for the emergence of our best selves. ‘Divesting myself of the holds‘ is a key practice of the Alexander Technique, called ‘Inhibition‘ by FM.
Students report, and I concur, it’s a challenge to describe ease and poise in the Self. Thank you, Mr. Whitman, for providing Alexander Technique practitioners a few words worth pondering—–
‘Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know… let go of the wrong thing, and theright thing does itself.‘ F. M. Alexander
Me: Alright, Mr. Alexander, I will try. Oops. I mean, I will ‘let go of the wrong thing.’
FM:Yes, and the right thing does itself.
Me: ‘The right thing does itself‘? Does that mean do nothing?
FM: Well, yes, but it doesn’t mean that nothing will happen.
Me: Is this a zen koan? I’m confused.
FM:If you do what I did, you can discover what I discovered. Explore. Think. Apply thought to use.
(OK, then. Here’s an exploration: Sitting in my desk chair, I observe a thigh grip as I type this imaginary conversation between Mr. Alexander and myself. While quitting with the ‘grip,’ my feet seemingly move of their own accord, sliding back toward the chair legs, thereby relieving the thighs of their grip.)
Me: How was that, Mr. Alexander? Did I get it right?
FM:No. The right thing did itself, which is much different from getting it right. You did not do the right thing. You did not DO. Congratulations.
Dear Readers: Make of your daily life a laboratory, and play with all the possibilities for moving in new ways—-
Recently subjected to the drone of a public speaker’s voice, I had the opportunity to make this observation: a monotone delivery is connected to limited vitality, reduced movement, and restricted awareness. Fluctuations in pitch, vocal resonance, variations of emphasis—all are directly tied to body use.
Which comes first?Monotone voice or constricted body? Giving our attention to ‘which one first’ takes us away from a happy remedy. We can respond to either limitation, in voice or in body, by addressing overall use with some Alexander Technique thinking.
‘Head leads, body follows.’ Expressiveness invariably increases when the speaker, dancer, actor, or musician tends to this basic AT tenet. And one marker of improved use is a change in the voice. Eyes sparkle, too! See last week’s post….
A life-long resident in the state of Ohio, never had I sighted this wee moth, until moving to our current home last summer. It resembles a tiny hummingbird, but with the antennae and legs of a moth. It’s a wonder.
Last Sunday, neighbors had gathered in the garden gazebo, everyone partaking of Mike’s home-made ice cream. I stepped inside to fetch a couple water glasses for the guests, and on my return, all were in a state of amazement and awe. A fine gathering had become an extraordinary one with the appearance of two hummingbird clearwings, who were intently extracting sweetness from nearby blooms.
And this Alexander Technique teacher observed her guests vibrantly lively in their movements and expressions, their eyes sparkling. I was witness to the happy circumstance of beauty and wonder taking the human form into length, width, and ease. Beauty can do that to a person, and it was a delight to find the hummingbird clearwings having this effect on my dear neighbors.