Continued learning

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on June 19, 2021 in Uncategorized

The use of the self includes far more than posture, shape, movement quality and coordination. Use is an entire expression and response to the changes, shifts, demands and delights of life.

Students and teachers of the Alexander Technique refine the entire integrated instrument by which they learn. This refinement requires attention, intention and time, but not in a furrowed brow, “get it right” manner. Instead, we allow new solutions, beginning with simple activities (rising from a chair with surprising ease, for instance). We begin to more accurately see our habitually fixed responses so we can unfix, undo, allow a new mode. We seek dynamic non-interference, and welcome overall quieting. This is an incremental learning, as so much unlearning has to be dared. Use becomes an attitude, a way of living, as we take this shifting instrument of self into all of our activities. We become curious instead of critical, less fixed and perhaps more forgiving.

Due to a diagnosis requiring immediate pharmaceutical intervention, I was prescribed a high dose of steroidal medication. This class of drugs has many potential side effects, most notable being increased irritability and impatience. Now, I am by no means suggesting that Alexander skills have medical effects, or to make any health claims whatsoever, but I have found I can use these less than ideal conditions to continue to learn with Alexander principles as my guideline.

Since the medication amplifies emotional reactivity, I decided to see this as “good news”, which helped me allow curiosity. I have enhanced perception rather than enhanced reaction. Indeed, there are no “new” irritabilities; I am irritable and impatient about the same stuff, just more dramatically and noticeably! I have increased cues so I can allow a pause, welcome support from the ground, notice the movement of breath, and see the world outside of myself. I can notice more clearly how impatience is indicated by muscular fixing (face tightens, rhythm of breath changes). I don’t want to tighten and fix, and I can’t remain irritable if I don’t tighten and fix. There is my area of choice.

I ask for overall undoing. I forgive my many flaws. I welcome the data so I can continue learning how to learn.

Onward with the adventure.

The rhythm of time

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on November 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

Months have passed, all a blur. Much has happened and nothing is predictable. We swim in a soup of uncertainty, treading water far from visible shores.

Perhaps we can mark time differently, detached from travel plans, daily transport, without performance schedules or rehearsals, in free fall from time expectations, bereft of our roles and how we costumed those roles. The world has changed, and our place in the world changes in response.

From an Alexander perspective, our choice is in dynamic non-interference, in getting out of the way so the entire self can respond to the conditions at hand. This is incredibly active. We refuse to make something happen so we can be effective participants in what does happen. We don’t impose a result, but insist upon new means. We want what we don’t know rather than what we believe we already know.

We stand in front of a chair, intending to sit. We can hurry to the sitting, freeze in getting this “right”, or allow a broader and unexpected experience, a new rhythm and pace of perception.

Allowing new experience anywhere allows new experience everywhere. We are connected, integrated systems, continuums of thought/sensation/emotion/movement. We unfix to welcome, we welcome to unfix.

Curiosity is more interesting than control. Receptivity works better than defense. The times in which we live demand all of our elasticity and requires our ease.

We rise from the chair as one elastic system, a unified response. We welcome these times with curiosity. We acknowledge unfathomable loss, and count on our endurance.

We welcome the rhythm of time.

Unfixing for the long haul

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on July 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

As demands rise and needs for endurance increase, our habits of fixing into positions, reactions and patterns may amplify. This is our opportunity to notice our own individual bracing styles, and to request a more curious condition of self, not because our bracing style is “wrong”, but because habitual fixing may limit new experience, new solutions and new skills. Our best means may be un-fixing, de-positioning and active welcoming.

We can bring our best response to the increasingly complex demands of living if we brace less and allow overall elasticity and enlivening more. All of our instrument of self responds to everything. Collecting data and making decisions from data gives us a means to proceed most effectively. We can notice and decide, yet remain unfixed.

What happens to all of me when I request a more curious, connected and elastic self? If I notice data in a welcoming, non-critical manner, I can also decide not to change any of the data directly. I want a condition of self that is curious, connected and elastic, not a condition of self that narrows my attention to a specific outcome, even with what I notice. I get out of the way as best I can. A new experience is what interests me, given that conditions have changed, and only a new experience is possible.

We learn how to learn by actually learning, not by fixing into solutions from past experience. Everything is new now. Everything is pretty much always new. We can bring our fully lit up elastic selves to the party of ongoing newness.

Entire expression

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on July 5, 2020 in Uncategorized

If we view the instrument of self as an inseparable and integrated whole, then a change in any aspect changes the entire self. We unfix overall to allow new solutions, means and experiences instead of directly addressing a part.

The entirety of our selves is shifted by face masks and coverings. We wear masks to care for our communities, and yet now we are partially hidden from one another. Perception and response modes change. We are in new social territory, with new cues, stresses and uncertainties.

Conditions have dramatically changed, and our dynamic response is essential so that we can remain calm, effective and creative. We gather data, relinquish being right, and allow the dynamic pause to notice how we do what we do.

If I smile or scowl, with or without a mask, all of me changes. When I smile, I widen and connect to the ground. I am typically seeing the world outside myself when I am smiling. When I scowl, I narrow and pull myself up from my neck/shoulders. My own chatter is primary while scowling. I can notice what happens when I smile or scowl and decide which experience I prefer. No judgement, no criticism, no moral compass. There is nothing inherently wrong about scowling or right about smiling, but both change the entirety of self.

Humans, crows, dogs may not be able to read my facial expression when I wear a mask, but I trust they can read an entire expression. I hope to learn to read everyone’s entire expression as these masked times continue. In times of tremendous change, we learn new skills, rise to increased demands, and continue to refine the instrument of self.

It’s not what you do, it’s how you undo

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on June 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

An essential and continuous skill of the Alexander Technique is the willing exploration of undoing to doing (without doing too much).

Undoing is a dynamic request to interfere less, reduce tension and amplify tone. Since we are integrated creatures with inseparable systems of thought/movement/sensation/emotion, we can request overall undoing through all aspects of self. All of me responds to a request to undo. All of me responds to everything.

Tone is necessary for engagement in the activities of living. Tone is also typically invisible. Tension is always obvious, whether tension is noted as mental, physical or emotional. Tension is not balanced by “relaxation”, which connotes deadening and withdrawal. Tension reduces as tonal balance and support increases. Undoing requires active de-positioning, un-placement, unpreparation and a cheerfully open curiosity, even in times of great uncertainty. We embrace not knowing everything in advance so we can allow a new knowing now.

Our globally shared era of uncertainty offers endless opportunities for dynamic undoing on a scale and depth previously unimaginable. All we have is our own instruments of self. If we tighten, collapse, reduce ourselves we are unlikely to respond well to shifting circumstances. Undoing as a basis may give us a chance. We won’t change the tumultuous times, but we may find means of contribution. We can begin with undoing, listening and dynamic non-interference, then proceed into doing, and refuse to interfere by doing too much.

Life happens, curiosity continues

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on May 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

Ongoing refinement of the instrument of self does not require conditions that we might consider “ideal”. The quiet oasis of an Alexander studio provides an environment in which to build skills in dynamic non-interference, spatial thinking, and prioritizing means over achieving ends. Life outside the studio brings challenges and demands: injuries, losses, anxieties, neighborly noise and pandemics, for instance. We have nearly endless opportunities for application of our Alexander skills in life. In the studio, we learn to rise from a chair with a balance of tone. In life, we can rise to demands with a unified response. So much more than postural support and increased respiratory freedom is potentially enhanced by bringing our Alexander skills to the activities of life. We learn how to learn in lessons, and then to broaden our attention in life.

In these surreal times, demands have risen considerably. The oasis of an Alexander studio has shifted to the often overstimulating screen. The teacher can only direct via words and visual demonstration. The responsibilities on student and teacher shift and increase. Both learn to constructively engage whole self thinking, without the amplified field of attention that the skilled hands of an Alexander teacher provides.

We can complain about the difficulties, or we can rise to the demands. We can relinquish “getting it right” and give up replicating a hands on lesson. We can unfix and undo for a new experience. We can bring the quieting spaciousness of lessons to the noise of life.

It’s a tall order, but by increments we learn, adapt, remain curious and rise with ease from the chair.

Worry Mode and Constructive Choice

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on May 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

How do I know I am worried? There’s the mental chatter, of course, and forehead tension, limited respiratory support, narrowed visual reception and a general sense of withdrawal from the world. I am spinning a narrative (so many potential threads these days), reacting to said narrative threads, and narrowing and shortening myself in the resulting spin. Where is my choice in response when so much is worrisome?

A good beginning is choosing levels of stimuli (news/information). Knowing enough news/information to remain effective but not so much as to paralyze response is an ongoing balance of choice. It may be a daily, hourly decision to know what level of news/information input allows conditions for your best response. You can refuse news and information with ease. Making that decision provides a sense of your own constructive choice. Knowing what is too much information for best elastic response is key to making best decisions, thinking with your entire self, and prioritizing the unified field of self over gaining any end. You gather data from your own experience, make choices, proceed and gather more information. Helplessness recedes once you are your own research system. You are no longer at the mercy of media.

The above assumes the essential and complex step of choice in response, which requires noticing the many cues (sensation, emotion, thought, muscle) in the first place. We know we are experiencing an emotion due to physical signals which we define mentally and interpret from belief, prior experience and societal framework. There is no point controlling the emotion we identify, as that is already flooding our entire system of self. But, we do have a choice in response to emotional experience.

  • I notice mental chatter that draws me inward. I can decide to quiet chatter and attend to the world outside myself. I can ask for wide, soft eyes, wide receptive ears, connection to the ground. I can ask for quiet in my entirety.
  • I have narrowed and shortened into a “startle pattern”: arms and legs pulled inward, jaw tensed, breath restricted. I take a moment to request all four limbs to undo (not relax or deaden, undo) out of my entire lively back, and for best possible elastic throughout myself.

Is any of this perfect or have perfect results? Of course not! We learn by experience, in increments, by loops of sensations, thought and emotions. We can’t control the loops, but we can choose our response to the loops, and thus remain effective in these weird pandemic times

The window of impossibility, with curiosity as means

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on May 13, 2020 in Uncategorized

Dynamic non-interference is a key skill for Alexander teachers and students. Over time, and with guidance, we learn to more accurately notice unnecessary efforts, and to cheerfully request a new response. We ask how much less we can do, fix, or be right as we consider activities, whether those activities be primarily mental, physical or emotional in emphasis. We bring our entire thinking, emoting, moving, sensing instrument to everything we do. The more we request a unified field of self, the more solutions arrive. The less we hold the instrument into a fixed or “right” mode, the more new experience we can allow, the more quietly surprising solutions we can welcome.

Of course, it’s hard work to allow activities to do themselves. We have to actively, skillfully get out of the way. Often, it seems impossible to rise on the toes, teach an online lesson, engage in political discussion or speak through a cloth mask without the tensions associated with those activities. The link between an associated set of muscular/mental/emotional tensions and achieving the activity indicates that the activity is impossible without those tensions. We believe a certain amount of doing is necessary.

And thus, the “window of impossibility” beckons. We have an opportunity to cheerfully refuse (no finger shaking here, this is exploration, not a test) what seems necessary, so that a new solution can arise to our big planetarium brains. The stimulus is to do something. But perhaps I prefer to undo, to allow time (even a micro-second) for a more unified self, and to receive the world outside myself. Being right stiffens the neck. Fixing myself just fragments me into parts and pieces, and rushing to do something deepens the doing/fixing battle and provides no new data. I can go quickly without hurrying and go slowly without freezing if I allow that dynamic interior permission of time. Welcoming curiosity, allowing gravity and the tidal movement of breath as connection to the world shifts brain state, improves postural support and broadens sensory perception.

Happy curiosity becomes a means, and the window of impossibility holds interest and mystery rather than defeat and frustration. We learn by undoing to proceed elastically to doing, without doing too much.

Allowing new response

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on May 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

Public health and epidemiology experts have recommended wearing cloth masks in public settings in order to significantly reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2. A mask doesn’t just decrease infection potential for the wearer. A mask reduces the transmission by asymptomatic people to others. If we all wear masks when out and about, we care for each other, our communities, and thus ourselves.

Many pedestrians (runners and walkers) share the streets and sidewalks during my daily walking miles. Most wear masks and attend to physical distancing. Others, not so much. I can’t do anything about the non-mask wearing, too close to me walkers and runners, but I can undo my habitual response.

I spoiled a portion of an otherwise lovely walk with a lovely friend furrowing my brow, tightening my neck and accelerating all the signals of frustration and anger while we encountered the unmasked and un-distanced. Surely other choices were available.

Maybe, given the Alexander skills that can apply to all life’s activities, I can even be angry without all the non-productive associative habitual reactions, like brow, neck and respiratory narrowing. Maybe I don’t have to disconnect from the ground. Maybe I can even be effective once I notice anger, instead of trapped in my tightening response, accelerating heedlessly.

Dynamic non-interference and indirect means may provide guidance and possibility. Suppressing anger or pretending I am not angry gets me nowhere. Why pretend I am not having an experience? Yelling at the unmasked is tempting but likely increases tensions. What I can do is choose what not to do.

I don’t want a furrowed brow, a tight jaw and neck, or restricted interior volume. I want my whole elastic self. I want to see the world, enjoy the season of birds and blooms, remain effective, learn in the challenge, bring increments of reason to bear on my manner of response


Spatial thinking: screen use

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

Most of us are working, socializing, teaching and learning via electronic devices instead of in shared actual space. The increase in screen time brings new demands to the use of the instrument of self.

With our Alexander tools of refined intention and attention, we can find new means to rise to these increased demands. While I am teaching online Alexander lessons, I notice an urgency to teach well and to provide some shred of normalcy in these abnormal times. Urgency easily tilts to end gaining, as I crane toward the screen, and reach for sound and vision. By narrowing my attention to reach for sound and vision, I tire myself and diminish an overall elastic response.

Dynamic pauses are thus needed for me to have best use of self in my problem solving/teaching mode. I remind myself of the room around me, the floor under my feet, chair under my sitting bones, the wave of breath that supports and enlivens me. The sound may come from speakers, but it comes via vibrations to my ears and brain. I don’t have to go fetch it. Watching my student on the screen easily tires my eyes until I remember that light waves come through the lenses of my eyes and are interpreted by my deeper brain into vision. The more frequently I think of my whole integrated back “seeing”, the less tired my eyes become. I receive and welcome instead of yearning and straining.

These intentions require frequent micro moments when I prioritize a welcoming curiosity to straining at the expense of ease. If I softly include the room around me, the view from my office window (dogwood nearly in bloom), the sounds of scrub jays in the court yard while I listen to and watch my student, my eyes, hearing and voice work less and receive broader support. Solutions arise with an ease that is sometimes surprising, as though I didn’t think of them, they thought themselves. All I did was get out of the way.

The screen may be a necessary interface for now, but we can continue to refine our own means as we use the screen. We have choices in our spatial attention that potentially improve our condition of self, and thus our problem solving skills. We can decide what we want, then make the relevant choices. We can’t change current demands, but we can allow ourselves the time to change responses.