I’ve been drafting this post in my head for a while. Many of you know that my father passed away suddenly in mid-November, and the last four months have been spent getting my 90-year-old mom settled into assisted living and completing all the insurance and Social Security paperwork while continuing to teach my piano classes and Alexander lessons. In terms of hours-per-week I had a fairly easy schedule, all things considered, but the emotional cost has been very, very high.
What I’ve learned over the last 4 months is that Alexander Technique is not enough. It’s not enough to think of a free neck and grounded sitting bones while shuffling through insurance claim forms. It’s not enough to think of how my feet contact the floor while walking my mom down the hall to the doctor’s office. Conscious breathing is nearly impossible, some days. And then…COVID-19 happened. So if you are also finding yourself thinking that those Alexander lessons were all well and good but NOW WHAT DO I DO, you are in good company!
Because AT was not enough, I did lots of other things. I started a workout program with an amazing local instructor, Coach Jessica Sprenkel. I started meditating with the app Headspace. I did yoga at the Tulsa YMCA. I continued to journal (sporadically, to be honest) and take anxiety medication and talk to my therapist and also I cried a lot. I knit and sewed and spun wool. There was some music practice in there too. I would look at online lists about activities to calm yourself down if you’re stressed out and realize that there was hardly anything left for me to do.
And I realized something! I could work out without pulling or straining muscles – of course, I was sore, but I wasn’t overdoing it. I could sit to meditate for 15 or 20 minutes without my back hurting. I could knit without hurting my hands. I could look at that pile of paperwork and not panic…too much…and see the steps I needed to take to manage it. I’ve also noticed that, while ‘trouble spots’ are making themselves felt right now (mostly the shoulders), I am able to take just a minute and work through what I’m doing to cause the shoulders to tighten up, and then think about releasing them. All we have right now are baby steps. I’m celebrating being able to take care of myself without causing excess physical or mental stress – and it’s because of Alexander Technique. I hope that you can find a little bit of space for yourself in the middle of everything and celebrate along with me.
It’s here! Alexander Technique Week! This is the week that we are all supposed to have community events about AT and make social media posts about AT and try to get trending with #AT or #AlexanderTechnique or…something. Anything. Because the second most asked question, after “What is this all about anyway?”, is, “Why have I never heard of this?”
There are many answers to that question. One that comes up often is: because Alexander lessons are not a ‘quick fix’, you don’t just walk in and get yourself put back together and walk out again. It takes time and concentration and frustration and overthinking and confusion and lots of other great words that don’t look good as hashtags. I’d love to get on Instagram and write a post that goes something like “You can learn #selfcare and be #painfree and #lovelife – contact me today!!! [insert a filtered/Photoshopped image of a beautiful glowing person here]. And I wouldn’t be lying – see the phrases in the last blog post – but being aware of your body sometimes means being aware of how much it hurts and how much you have been trying to pretend that it DOESN’T hurt. Sometimes the week or two after the first lesson or class is very, very hard.
So I will take a minute to thank all of my students who not only came back (!) but then tried to get other people to have a lesson. Often with limited success, but they tried. They tried to say what the lessons were like and how they felt and what they learned and how it should have been simple but it wasn’t. No one will ever hear about this unless their friend, sibling, neighbor, gym buddy, co-worker, or teacher mentions it…
And if talking about it sounds too difficult, you could always find a public place and lie down in semi-supine! That would be much easier!
#AlexanderTechnique #SemiSupine #LieDownDay
Possibly the most difficult question that I’ve ever had to answer: So, what is this Alexander thing anyway?
The photographs in this post were taken at the 2018 AmSAT ACGM which was held in Chicago in late July. One of the workshops was designed to bring our community together and brainstorm answers to that very difficult question posted above – we came up with a long list of words, and then divided into groups to put those words together in any way that could possibly make any kind of sense.
And…ALL of these are correct! I look at these pages and think, yes! that’s it! and so is that! how wonderful that I get to make (part of) a living teaching people this amazing stuff! who WOULDN’T want to do this??????
Even that potentially highly problematic “Magic Pain Reduction” at the bottom of this page – of course it’s not magic! But…if magic is “the art of changing consciousness at will” (a quote attributed to Dion Fortune)…and we are pursuing “constructive conscious control of the individual” (the title of one of F.M. Alexander’s books)…then maybe…?
So if you, dear reader, meet an Alexander Technique teacher and want to know all about this thing that we do:
It’s learning to change, not being fixed.
It’s expansion and freedom, not bracing and holding.
It’s being open to possibilities, not being right or wrong.
It’s remembering that there are options, not achieving perfect posture.
It’s awareness of you and everything around you, not micromanaging every part of your day.
…and as always, I’d love to have you join us!
A couple of weeks ago in my Alexander Technique for Performing Artists class at Tulsa Community College, I had students set a goal for the semester – the only rule is that it has to be a goal that is under their own control and doesn’t require the help of anyone else to complete. So, “I want to perform in a student recital while being aware of my breathing!” is a perfectly manageable goal, while “I want to get cast in every show I audition for!” is completely out of their hands and therefore…not recommended.
Therefore, I’ve been thinking about goals. So much advice (at least most of what I see online) is focused on dreaming big, giving it all you’ve got, living your passion, ‘shoot for the moon, if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’, and so on. And…I just can’t manage to think on that scale right now. My goals these days are very, very small: finding some space during the full-to-capacity Class Piano class that I teach on Mon/Wed to stop and breathe and drink some water. Sending an email that is short and to the point instead of spending hours drafting and re-drafting a series of explanations, justifications, or apologies. Listening instead of impatiently waiting my turn to talk. Letting the small moments be what they are instead of being in a rush. I don’t claim to be achieving all of these on any kind of a regular basis but sometimes they come through, and I notice, and I’m grateful.
One of the reasons that I was drawn to Alexander Technique in the first place was the absolute (and deceptive) simplicity of what I was learning. I have learned more about myself by getting in and out of chairs than I could ever have believed was possible. It’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to explain to other people: what did you do in class today? we…uh…lay down? and breathed? …okayyyyyyyyyy then. On the other hand, you get to be excited about sitting down and standing up, and what’s not to like about that? As you probably know if you’re reading this, all of those little silly things add up and one day your back suddenly starts to make sense to you and you’re not sure how it happened but it’s pretty darn cool. If you haven’t experienced this yet, well, I would be absolutely delighted to help you start that process.
When we talk about the Alexander Technique, we often use words like “freedom”, “ease”, “softening”, “releasing”, and so on. All of those are certainly part of the Technique and something that we can explore at every lesson! However, this website is full of pictures of rocks…not exactly what comes to mind when thinking “soft” or “release”. Why?
I like rocks – I have quite a lot of small ones in my collection and I am fortunate enough to be able to travel to some large ones (usually in the Utah desert) about once a year. I used rocks as a general theme for this AT site because it’s helpful to remember that while our bodies welcome ease and freedom, they also need support and balance. Rocks stand up for themselves and generally don’t need special tending, and most of them can withstand almost everything that the world throws at them. All of these are good qualities and ones that we can recognize and cultivate in ourselves.
At the 11th International Alexander Technique Congress in Chicago last month, I was extremely moved by the keynote speech that Roshi Joan Halifax gave. One of her key messages for years has been “strong back, soft front” – and we need both. It’s not enough to only have rigidity or only have releasing. Rocks can remind us that we are structural as well as soft, and the Alexander Technique can teach us to let both aspects coexist.
This article was published in the AmSAT Journal in Spring 2012. Copyright 2012 – Angeline LeLeux, all rights reserved, please ask me for permission to use quotes or excerpts.
Alexander Technique and New Music
If you’re interested in the Alexander Technique and would like to read more about it…
The Use of the Self, by F. M. Alexander: A short book by Alexander himself, in which he explains the Technique and the process he went through to discover his method. Alexander’s writing is thought-provoking and his explanations are thorough, but his writing style is fairly dense and generally requires a few re-reads.
Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique, by Michael Gelb: A good balance between a history of the Technique and the author’s experiences with its application to his own life, including learning archery, juggling, and running.
How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live, by Missy Vineyard: A book that is equally valuable for beginning students and experienced teachers; the ideas behind the Technique are explained through case studies of various students and the progress of their lessons.
Body, Breath, and Being: A New Guide to the Alexander Technique, by Carolyn Nicholls
What Every Musician Needs To Know About The Body and How To Learn The Alexander Technique: A Manual For Students, by Barbara Conable