The Space Between

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Dear OSU Students: We have yet to meet. I am preparing a place for us—-a place to be, to learn, to explore the Alexander Technique. And yes, we will do so online, in Flatland. Looking forward to meeting you there soon, Diana McC.

This week, it’s online meetings with Alexander Technique colleagues, as we negotiate the parameters of online teaching/learning.  Asked to gaze softly on the little squares holding colleagues’ faces, my eyes fill with tears. Relieved to be with them figuring this out, compassion for the world in a pandemic, affection. I learned the Technique in community, and a recurring theme of yesterday’s workshop was how to create fellow-feeling, safety and support online, so that our new students, too, can learn in connection to others.

Much of Alexander Technique teacher training is about giving students the space they need, learning not ‘to fix,‘ but ‘to be with‘ and assist in the student’s discovery of  body/mind integration. We spend countless hours learning how to teach with our hands, which for me, was mostly about learning how to be with my students by not imposing my will, my agenda, my Teacher-Self onto them.

How about re-writing My-Story-of-the-Pandemic, suggested by Tommy Thompson in the opening workshop session?  Instead of giving my attention and energy to the confinements of online AT teaching, I might consider the space between us as a gift, an opportunity allowing for self-discovery and change, both for the students and myself.

Yes, the space between—-here is where we begin—-

 

 

Supple

Can you coax your mind from its wandering

and keep to the original oneness?

Can you let your body become

supple as a newborn child’s?

Can you deal with the most vital matters

by letting events take their course?

Three questions found in Stephen Mitchell’s 1988 Tao Te Ching, which I tossed into the travel tote for a day trip to the hill. His translation notes included a quote from somatics educator, Emilie Conrad-Da’oud:

There is no self-consciousness in the newborn child. Later on, the mind wanders into self-images, starts to think Should I do this? Is this movement right? and loses the immediacy of the moment. As self-consciousness develops, the muscles become less supple, less like the world. But the young child is pure fluidity. Suppleness is really fluidity. It transcends strength and weakness. When your body is supple, it feels like there’s no barrier in you, you can flow in any direction, your movement is a complete expression of yourself.’

Limber, lithe, pliant, yielding. Wishing for all of us thoughtful questions to ask, with suppleness of mind and body to seek the answers. Be safe. Be well. Wear your masks—-

 

Move

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movable—capable of being moved; not fixed in one place, position, or posture.

When first learning the Alexander Technique, it’s a temptation to try holding on to the changes, hoping for a permanent fix to the body’s discomforts. And so, from the beginning, movement is encouraged. We apply the Technique principles to the everyday activities of getting in and out of chairs, walking, stair-climbing, and reaching for objects. We are in motion, and ‘Thinking in Activity.’

The studio itself  invites movement—-the open expanse of floor, south and west windows extending all the way to the high ceiling, the east wall mirrors enlarging an already spacious room. Moving is a happy choice in this space, and we are all about choices in the practice of the Technique. Choosing to move changes our perspective in the moment and yes, can change our very lives.

In these interminable gray January days, get a move on, and observe the effects. It could be as simple as turning your head side-to-side, then up and down, as you work at your computer, noting the ease when you allow for some wiggle room—-

Toward

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Maori Mask

Watching a New Zealand rugby team perform the haka before a match, Paloma finds herself barely breathing in amazement at what she sees on the television screen. In a later journal entry, she writes this:

I’d noticed him right from the start (a Maori player), probably because of his height to begin with but then because of the way he was moving. A really odd sort of movement, very fluid but above all very focused, I mean very focused within himself. Most people, when they move, well they just move depending on whatever’s around them. At this very moment, Maman just went by in the direction of the front door, and you can tell from the way she’s moving; she is headed toward. She’s going out shopping, and in fact she already is out, her movement anticipating itself…when we move, we are in a way de-structured by our movement toward something; we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean.

To stop de-structuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you’re no longer whole, or you’re whole and you can’t move. But that player, when I saw him go out onto the field, I could tell there was something different about him. While the others’ dance gestures went toward their adversaries and the entire stadium, this player’s gestures stayed inside him…and that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity.

So I watched the game attentively, constantly on the lookout for the same thing: compact moments where a player became his own movement without having to fragment himself by heading towardAnd I saw them! I saw them in every phase of the game: with a player who’d find the right speed without thinking any more about the goal, by concentrating on his own movement and running as if in a state of grace. But none of them came near the perfection of the great Maori player who was running without moving, leaving everyone else behind him.’*

Paloma’sheading toward is Mr. Alexander’s ‘End-Gaining.’ My wish for each of us today is a moment when we are no longer getting ahead of ourselves, and can ‘become our own movement.’ No fragmentation or de-structuring required!  It’s an Alexander-Technique-worthy pursuit—-

*The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, 2008. Europa Editions, translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

(With thanks to Barbara H., who mentioned Barbery’s book, reminding me I was due for a re-read.)

Kinesphere

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She has eyes in the back of her head.’

Have yourself a walk-about, and travel as if you did indeed have eyes in the back of your head. Notice what this thinking does for your inclusive awareness. Cultivation of one’s kinesphere* is integral to utilizing the Alexander Technique, and OSU’s AT class recently did so with a practice I call ‘Find Your Six.’

Include the six directions in your thinking as you move through the day: Below, Above, Beside, Beside, Before, Behind. Or, you could call the six directions: Earth, Sky, East, West, North, South.

*kinesphere: the sphere around the body easily reached while standing, and that moves with the person’s trace-form in space, (trace-form being the spatial consequences of our movement), as defined by movement theorist, Rudolf Laban.

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—-

Articulate

skull-778073_640Sidi Hessel’s 1978 book, The Articulate Body, was a serendipitous find at yesterday’s library book sale. For $1.00, a treasure came home with me, and its first section, ‘Articulations,’ is precisely what was needed to supplement content for this fall’s Alexander Technique class. Where are the joints, how do they work, and how can we restore their full mobility? Questions for me and the students to explore.

And the first stop on that journey? Finding head on spine and moving from this primary joint. The head leads and the body follows, or, as Barbara Conable specified in How to Learn the Alexander Technique, ‘the head leads and the spine follows in sequence.‘ Watch a cat get up from lying down. You will most certainly see a demonstration of head leading, what Mr. Alexander termed Primary Control or primary movement. And with ease at the joints comes vital expression of body and self.

Hessel sought to convey this dual understanding of jointed-ness with her use of the word ‘articulate,’ as ‘having to do with being jointed,’ and also, ‘skillful, fluent self-expression.’ We only move at joints. The articulate body is a physical structure able to move easily and fluently and expressively. Here’s to articulation!

Feelin’ Groovy

 

Paul Simon, backstage with Stephen Colbert, tells him the tune is ‘naive,’ and not appropriate for 2017. ‘I don’t like it,’ he added. And having watched a 1982 Central Park concert video of Simon and Garfunkel performing The 59th Street Bridge Song, I believe him. They were tepid at best, seeming to force themselves through it, while the crowd roared. I’m with the crowd.

Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last, just—skippin’ down the cobblestones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.’

Feelin’ Groovy takes me back to days when all was new and fresh and everything was possibility. I’ve been hearing it in my mind’s ear this spring, most likely due to thinking about haste vs. hurry, and perhaps as antidote to a sobering American political era. Colbert changed-up the lyrics, and a few belly laughs later, I was glad to have found this present-day twist on an old favorite.

Slow down, you move too fast.‘ That was me years ago, and not much has changed with age. Now, although fingers will not zip those zippers nearly so quickly, and opening cans is a monumental chore, I still strive mightily for speed. Anything less is an annoyance, an affront.

Taking to heart the song lyrics, I’m choosing* to make my way through this day reveling in spring glory in the midst of tasks, pausing** between each one to sing, ‘Life, I love you. All is groovy.’

*Choice: a primary practice of the Alexander Technique. Having observed our habits of use, we can choose what to keep and what to change. 

**The Pause: Also called ‘Inhibition,’ it’s the space between stimulus and response. In the interval, the AT practitioner has options, i.e.–choice, much preferable to a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’

Tempo

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thanks to pixabay

Adagio. Slow. Chesapeake Bay Alexander Technique Teacher Training mornings always began leisurely, with students working in pairs or small groups.  Our director, Robin Gilmore, a dancer with a signature kinetic energy, would call out, ‘Good use does not have to mean slow use!’ But, a slow pace can be a good choice, as it has been for me this January.

Andante. In-between. This tempo is best described as a walking pace, a steady stroll that gets the heart pumping. Not-too-fast, not-too-slow. It’s the pace of my daily neighborhood jaunt.

Allegro. Fast. Susan Petry, another dancer in my life, mixes up tempos in her choreography; fast and furious dancing with an adagio accompaniment or vice versa. If I could simplify her body of work with just one word, it would be ‘playful.’

And this is the invitation:  let’s play with tempo in our lives.  Mix and match adagio, andante, allegro. Or choose a tempo for your day and observe its effects on your Self. The practice of the Alexander Technique is all about choice in the moment.

Make a dance of the daily!