Indirection not correction

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on September 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

There is an entire language of the unified self that we learn as we study the Alexander Technique.  During Alexander lessons, we set aside what may seem “wrong” or “right”, and even what “wrong or right” might mean. We learn to minimize stability when availability provides a more effective and satisfying response. We become more comfortable with not knowing, assessing less, experiencing more. This education requires time, curiosity and an ongoing refusal to “make something happen”.

Typically, there is an identified problem that compels us to investigate the Alexander Technique: a sore neck or back; performance issues for dancers, musicians, actors; a longing for deeper comfort and awareness. And, once we begin lessons, the constructive unraveling begins.  We may  not know what caused the “problem”, and we do not need to know specifics in order to allow a solution. The tools we refine via in person, hands-on Alexander lessons are intention and attention. We don’t become “problem solvers”, we become “solution allowers”.

A nearly universal temptation  is to identify the “problem”, then correct by direct means: pull down shoulders that are perceived to be lifted, straighten backs and necks, push into width and length, muscle ourselves into shape.  This becomes an endless and fruitless battle, as the elastic and entire instrument of self cannot be pummeled into a cooperative and responsive condition. The corrective battle also requires perception based on a flawed instrument, a belief in what is “right”, and an urgency that undermines curiosity and process. Curiosity is a lot more fun than correction.  We are designed to be curious, and we learn more when we are having fun.

The principles of indirection, intention and attention learned in Alexander lessons can be applied to any activity, as the instrument by which you learn and act is improved in refining both instrument and means.  You can learn a new language, solve a software problem, engage in political activism, develop an effective business plan, or learn a new, complex piece of music with an instrument of self that allows a solution rather than fixing for a result.

Fix less, allow more, and welcome curiosity.

Non-mechanical problem solving: injury recovery

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

Experiment: your dominant hand is now unable to take weight or pressure, and your dominant thumb is partially immobilized. Pain allows a much reduced range of movement. Attempt, within limits of safety and pain, the following activities: cut with scissors, write a check, brush your teeth,  prepare dinner, open a pain medicine bottle with child proof cap.

The above, with the addition of teaching my full schedule of hands-on Alexander lessons since the day after injury, are some of the challenges that are guiding me to recover, renew, relearn.  How can I move from undoing to doing without doing too much within the context of injury?

The tools of the Alexander Technique are intention and attention. These are not static tools, but constantly refined and changing means of thinking with the entire integrated self.

My primary intentions as I proceed in activities are: to not hurt myself further, to allow pain to be a friendly signal, and to attend to my unified self in the wider world. I don’t want to push through pain in order to, say, open the pain med bottle. If it hurts to open the bottle, I can: attempt the activity in a new way, give myself the time for a different means, or ask for help from more fully able others. Or, I can decide I don’t need the pain meds at all!  I also remind myself that what hurt yesterday or even an hour ago may not hurt now. New means may have occurred to me, and injured ligaments, tendons and muscles may have changed. They are alive and responsive after all. The injured tissues do not function in isolation, but in the larger complexity of my entire thinking self.

A happy curiosity works best for problem solving. This quality of curiosity relies upon a wide attention span, and trust in the abilities of my entire self, rather than a narrowed focus on the area of injury.  When my attention zooms to my wrist and what I can’t do, my entire self pulls in and down. I become discouraged and despondent. If, instead, I allow the time to see and hear the world outside myself, to notice how the ground supports me, that my breath can move through my entire spine, and that my instrument of self changes constantly, the solutions seem to do themselves.  I am hopeful again.

Injury has also given me the opportunity to notice habits that were previously invisible to me. Writing with pen and paper, which remains challenging, is an example. As I attempt to form letters and proceed from thought through arm to fingers to paper, I notice unnecessary tightening throughout myself. This is not merely bracing against pain (I have some of that too, of course), but most likely what I typically do while writing. I can ask bracing to cease, even if writing then seems impossible. The moment of seeming impossibility is when friendly curiosity comes in handy. I don’t have to figure out the means; I do have to allow the time and curiosity to let the means flow from brain to hand to paper.

Injury, and the full recovery I intend to experience, may thus give me new problem solving skills, and improve my overall use in the process. Within limits of safety and pain, I continue the exploration.

Yet another crisi-tunity: injury as opportunity

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

There is no rushing recovery from injury. The entire integrated system of self takes the time needed to repair, renew and relearn. This is not a “parts” repair but an entire self opportunity to do life differently. We are, after all, integrated systems of complexity.

As I recover, renew and relearn from injury (severe sprain to my dominant hand/wrist/arm), the following inquiries seem essential

Q.How can I do what I would like to do within limits of pain and safety?

As is natural after an injury, attention focuses on further protection of the injured and painful area. Although I am in no way suggesting ignoring or minimizing pain, a broader  attention to the entire self can be a constructive tool. As I attempt to use my hand to write, teach a lesson, open a door, brush my teeth, I can adjust attention to include how I am contracting in my thinking, how I am disconnecting from the ground, how I am no longer seeing or hearing the evidence of Spring. Once I widen and expand attention, solutions in co-ordination occur to me. I know more clearly what is safe to attempt and what isn’t, and how to problem solve in either case.

I can see pain as a friendly signal of current limits, not an alarm meriting contraction and panic.  I can respond to the friendly signal  with constructive solutions instead of freezing into an overall mode of protection that typically hurts more, not less.

Q. Can I allow a new way of doing nearly everything?

Injury to a dominant hand brings so many activities, so much identity, under scrutiny. This is also where opportunity lies, the crisis that brings new learning (crisi-tunity).  I welcome the time, the uncertainty, the potential unfamiliarity of allowing a new response.  This seems to me to be the heart of the Alexander Technique: a means of dynamically refusing to interfere so that uncertainty is the reliable rule, and response to uncertainty a creatively shifting response.

Election survival guide

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on October 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

The current U.S. election season has sparked global, national, local and personal anxieties. Uncertainty, tension and an overwhelming amount of constant information exhaust us and deplete us. How can we apply Alexander principles in these stressful conditions?

Our primary choice is that of our own response. Since we bring the entire instrument of self as an integrated and inseparable system to every activity of life, the more we learn to use the tools of intention and attention, and to quiet habitual interference, the more refined our instrument of self becomes, and the more effective we can be as demands rise.

Some specific suggestions:

The steady onslaught of media, social media, news, tweets, posts, can be reduced in volume and intensity.  If I find I cannot quiet my internal chatter, I allow the ground and breath to support me, and  I reduce the externally sourced noise. Frequent breaks from devices, logging out of social media, reading instead of watching, all give my nervous system a respite, so that I can resume elasticity, and thus retain perspective and connection. I quiet to remain active.

We learn with our entire instrument of self. When we deliberately seek to learn something, we have an opportunity to observe how we learn, what works best, and to quiet habitual thinking, moving, framing. Learning a new language, new music, new choreography, new mediums of expression bring exhilaration and a sense of possibility. We are, then,  more expansive, responsive instruments. And, we might have fun, and since we all learn better when we are having fun, we can have fun learning to have fun learning. To hell with doom and gloom.  I am learning here.

Democracy requests your very best use of self. What an opportunity we have to explore effective action through refinement of the instrument of self in demanding times!  Take your refined self and DO something: register voters, make phone calls, write calm and composed letters to the editor. When we worry, we tighten and tire. We fix our positions, brace for a fall. If we prioritize being effective,  we can remain elastic, move with more ease as the political waves get wilder. The active quiet we develop will be essential no matter what comes next.


After the lesson: recreating “feeling”

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on September 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

Alexander students often ask if they need to be recreating the “feeling” of a lesson after their lesson. How else can they retain the experience of a hands-on lesson?

In an Alexander lesson, the teacher’s refined use of self in hands-on contact potentially expands and refines the student’s co-ordination, and choice about co-ordination. It is a co-operative process. Nothing is forced, shaped, or rushed. It’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do. A dynamic undoing builds a new skill of dynamic undoing, which is a very dynamic skill indeed. Years of habitual doing begin to quiet. The instrument of self changes.

The attempt to recreate a “feeling” recruits memory, current sensory feedback accuracy (based on entire instrument of self), and a belief that recreating a previously experienced moment without the context, contact, light, emotions, blood pressure, brain state, and muscle activity of that moment is possible.  In recreating this moment, we have to fix ourselves into what the “right” feeling might be. It requires us to return our entire co-ordination to a moment that is almost guaranteed to be inaccurately recalled. Instead of moving into new neural connections, we fix into a recalled mode.

Your tool is your attention and your means is your intention. External attention to the broader, wider, world beyond you, up and out of yourself, connects you elastically to life.  Effective intention dynamically refuses to interfere so something new can happen.

Happy curiosity brings your lessons to life.

“How Long Does It Take?”

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

Most inquiries into Alexander lessons include the question of length of study needed to achieve outcome. “How many lessons will it take…until my back doesn’t hurt, my voice is more reliable, I no longer slouch/hunch, I can learn music/choreography/lines more easily? How many lessons until I move with ease and grace through life?”

I will emphasize yet again that Alexander Teachers do not diagnose, treat, or cure. We don’t fix parts. We do address the entire condition of self, and how that condition is affected by intention and attention.  We engage the student in a process of co-operative learning through the lens of movement.

We  learn to learn with our entire selves. All systems of self are related.  There is a continuum of perception and experience, an ongoing flow of information and response through our entire systems of self, and of course, our entire self responds constantly to the external world. Stimulus is the sea in which we swim. Choice in response is how we swim.

Alexander lessons provide an opportunity to choose a new response to the activities of life. Our habitual postural patterns  interact with all aspects of self. In order to respond differently, we have to cease reacting in the same habitual manner. Our “physical” habits are habits of self, and determine how we perceive ourselves and others in the world.

It is both simple and endless. Learning the Alexander Technique is like learning a new language; any amount of literacy and comprehension is an improvement, but increased literacy of self is ongoing and has no end point.

There is no rush in this learning. Without rush you learn differently. The original reasons that motivated you to begin Alexander lessons may not be the reasons you continue lessons. Once you learn not to rush to learn, the timing of learning may change. The process by which you learn is the whole point.

The Alexander Technique is primarily educational, but also unique in emphasis on unlearning the old and dynamically allowing the new. We can learn by removing what interferes. Then surprise sneaks through.

How long does it take? Until you are surprised.

The Crucible

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on August 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


* a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to high temperatures

* a place or occasion of severe test or trial

* a place or situation in which elements interact to produce something new

Intensity and trial come to us all, hopefully.  In other words, we are called upon to interact with life in a manner that yields new experience.

Using the above definition, provided by Lord Google,  as a structural web:

1.  a container.  Our sensations, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, awarenesses are a series of containers.  Breath connects the container inside with a broader container outside.  We are contained by the wider world, and by the conditions in which we live.  Containers within containers.  The less we interfere, the more connected the containers become.

2. ah, the severe trial. Our perspective, sensory reliability, and refinement in awareness, our entire integrated  instrument of self, responds to all of life’s activities. Demanding activities call upon us to extend beyond habits of protective stabilization and/or collapse, or combination of both.  We all have our unique style of habitual interference, and unless we know better, we go full force with habitual means. But,when life becomes more demanding, our best use of self is needed. We can learn to  see this like a slow motion video, observing ourselves in the rapids.  Am I compressing or expanding, resisting or assisting?  Can my breath connect me again?  Can I allow new solutions?  Where is my choice at this moment so I can allow fresh experience?

3.  which leads ideally to the 3rd definition:  creating a brainstate in which elements formerly seen as contradictory are now working together, due to a broader view.  A severe trial can expand the container of possibility.  Using Alexander tools of dynamic non-interference, spatial thinking, unity of self, we improve the instrument with which we solve problems.  The container changes, so experience changes, and connection beyond the container changes.  Expectation gives way to a curious welcoming.


Dynamic non-interference: meaning and means

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

As Alexander teachers and students, we view our participation in life’s activities through the often indefinable lens of Alexander principles.  We use words to describe a wordless experience.  We wrestle with the gap between  experience and description. We improve the use of ourselves and can’t describe exactly how that happened.

Alexander  Technique skills of intention and attention rely upon, and are deepened by, a refusal to interfere by habitually reacting, changing our shapes directly, relying on past information to assess present conditions, or rushing to outcome without consideration of means. It is a mental/emotional/sensory/physical process all at once, because we, as animals on Earth, are designed to respond totally to the totality.

The essential “pause to allow a new response” (otherwise know as inhibition in Alexander terminology) is not a deadening, freezing or collapse.  It is the active and open state of curiosity that relies upon welcoming a new means of response.  Instead of traveling the same, grooved pathways, we simultaneously  intend both an activity and a new pathway for activation.  This dynamic non-inteference is a continuous process through life that supports and requires curiosity and discovery. We refine the instrument of self by refusing to use it mindlessly and repeatedly in the same mode. This refinement requires dynamic intention and attention, a quietly enlivened state of self that informs all activity.

We each have to climb the mountain ourselves.  With the assistance of an Alexander teacher, we forge your own ways, and with skills we develop from experience, we forge  further onward.  What was previously effortful becomes easier.  Ease becomes the new barometer. A happy curiosity  quiets effort.  This is where the rubber of dynamic non-interference really hits the road.  We learn to welcome experience, so we can learn more about  skills in considered response.  Every activity presents an opportunity to learn.DSC04063

Expanding Possibilities

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on July 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

As students of the Alexander Technique, we continuously refine skills for intention and attention.  We learn to notice our habitual reactions to internal and external stimuli, and to choose new, more potentially constructive responses.  By saying no to the old, we welcome the new.

This new spectrum of choices  may begin with refusing to tighten or collapse in daily, previously mindless, activities, such as sitting, standing, walking.  Over time, and with the expert guidance of teachers more experienced than ourselves, we take our happy curiosity, and willingness to learn, into more complex activities.  We attend to the possible, not just the previous.

Life is not stable or predictable.  It has never been so and, hopefully, will never be so.  We are designed to change and subtly  adjust to the shifting conditions of life.    We can begin to use the instrument of our selves with intelligence, and become more attuned to the planet on which we live.  We may think far more creatively if we are using ourselves in a connected and expansive manner. The instrument by which we perceive changes, and thus perceptions and possibilities change.

As human animals on Earth, we can respond to the challenges of life mentally, emotionally, kinesthetically, physically, and all at once.  “One at a time and all at once”  is a quote attributed to F.M. Alexander.  We are always in the continuum of thought/sensation/movement/emotion, and within the larger continuum of conditions.  Waves within waves support and inform us.

We can allow habit to cling, expecting the world to remain stable and our habitual response to be effective (despite evidence to the contrary), or we can dynamically not interfere with the instrument of self, and enjoy a new experience of ourselves and of our world. We can be fluid and elastic.  We can request an improved condition of self so that perception broadens and possibility expands because the instrument becomes more reliable.   We can use our attention, through the precise mechanism of the body, to explore a happy curiosity about life and our response to life.

We can expand our possibilities.

The continuum: no hierarchy

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

In the lives we currently live, as privileged  members of the First World, we have the dubious luxury of labeling some moments “more important” than others.   Capitalism relies upon this thinking.  Some activities are valued more than others, some moments are seen as more important..  We disconnect from our basic ease and primary connections in our urgency to find meaning.

F.M. Alexander began his journey of discovery to resolve a difficulty.  His personal challenge became an opportunity, and his opportunity became a Technique that has benefitted many individuals.  All the moments of his journey were necessary.

All the moments of our individual journeys are necessary.  There is no one moment when Alexander principles count more or less.  It is the continued intention and attention that adds up, the quiet insistence on learning that becomes a way of being. By increments, we learn to make choices where we can make choices, and to allow flow when we have no choice but to be in flow.  Gravity remains constant; our response  can be elastic  and full. We can pull down a little less and go up a little more.

Any moment becomes an opportunity.  We are mortal.  There are no guarantees.  If every moment is necessary, perhaps we can welcome and be awake to every moment.  The use of the integrated self seems essential.

Perhaps we can connect more widely to the world and to ourselves in the world by acknowledging the continuum of response to our moments, acceptance of our participation, in the adventure of being alive.