Alexander Technique Masterclass with Don Weed D.C. Wednesday 1st June

Helena and Don in an Alexander Technique lesson on dancingThis enjoyable and informative session offers an opportunity to work with one of the most pioneering teachers of the Alexander Technique. Don will introduce you to his unique approach to the Alexander Technique – the Interactive Teaching Method (ITM).

Don’s extensive background as an actor, singer, director and performance coach has provided the basis for the performance workshops that he has taught across the United States and Europe. In addition, his training and practice as a doctor of chiropractic have given him insight and experience into practical movement mechanics as well as an understanding of our structural needs.

The ITM Alexander Technique is a powerful tool for change, which can bring about lasting improvements in physical & mental performance. It can be used to enhance a person’s co-ordination & comfort in everyday tasks, as well as more specialised activities, such as music, dance or sport.

The event is open to all – beginners and experienced students alike.

Location: Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2JL
Date: Wednesday 1 June 6.30pm – 9.30pm
Admission: £10 – All levels of experience welcome

Reserve your place online: don-weed-alexander-technique-edinburgh.eventbrite.com

If you would like to book a different way or have any questions you can email me on david@thinkinactivity.co.uk

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So-called Concentration

One of the things I love about Alexander’s books is that even though the most recent of them is almost 75 years old, the ideas in them still seem fresh and revolutionary.

I came across one of these breathtaking ideas this week in a simple statement where Alexander says, “Personally, I do not believe in any concentration that calls for effort.”¹

Alexander is clear elsewhere in his writing that he doesn’t have a blanket objection to concentration.²  He doesn’t object to concentration in the sense of the coming together of our efforts towards a particular goal.  A form of concentration that we might see in the coordinated performance of a dancer or a sportswoman.

What Alexander is questioning is something that he refers to as “so-called concentration”³.

He illustrates what he means with a ‘game’ in which he challenges the reader to ask anyone they know to concentrate their mind on a subject, any subject.

Alexander claims that if the friend will play along then what we are likely to see is him “knit his forehead, tense his muscles, clench his hands, and either close his eyes or stare fixedly at some point in the room.”†

I find Alexander’s analysis of what is happening absolutely brilliant.  He claims that what is going on here is that instead of occupying his mind with the chosen subject, our friend is actually fully occupied with creating and maintaining these unusual physical conditions, which he calls ‘concentration’.

From the standpoint of considering the subject at hand this is clearly misdirected effort.

Perhaps the idea that that someone who is doing ‘so-called concentration’ is fully occupied with the physical condition that they are creating sounds far-fetched?

 I used to think so, but the accuracy of Alexander’s analysis was brought home to me one day on the ITM teacher-training course.  I was speaking with my Head of Training and he asked me a difficult question which I needed to consider for a moment.  I thought that I was considering it, but after a moment it dawned on me that I was just standing there, tensed up in a way that I hadn’t been just a moment ago. I wasn’t thinking about the question at all; my mind was just blank, like it had stalled.

I realised that I had just experienced exactly what Alexander described.  My discovery must have been visible on my face because when I looked at my Head of Training he seemed to be radiating patient amusement.

I have since noticed myself repeating this behaviour of so-called concentration in other situations.  It’s like I am so busy making an effort to ‘do something’ that I make the effort and forget to ‘do the thing’.  My mind is so occupied with making the effort that I forget the reason for it.

So what’s the solution?

Well, according to Alexander it begins with us removing the idea that this effort is necessary.

So if you find yourself using muscular effort to help yourself think, why not try asking yourself to stop and see what happens?

¹ Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, p. 63.

² Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, p. 19 (footnote).

³ Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, p. 63.

Ibid.

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A New Hope

What are the benefits of studying the Alexander Technique?

It’s a good question and one that I am often asked.

I have experienced many benefits from the Alexander technique but perhaps one of the most significant has been the rediscovery of possibilities that I had begun to think were closed to me.

Before starting the Alexander Technique there had been things I wanted to be successful at in sport, music and other fields, and I practised hard to reach the standards that I aspired to.

But my efforts fell well short of my desire and I concluded that the things I wanted to do were, unfortunately, things that I personally was unable to be successful at.

I thought that I wasn’t ‘talented’ enough, or I suffered from some other innate failing that meant that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t do these things, which others were succeeding at.

But there was a flaw in my reasoning.

In one of his books† Alexander tells a story about a professor who brought one of his students along for a lesson. The professor told Alexander that he would have no difficulties with the student because she was so willing and anxious to help.

Alexander wasn’t impressed and pointed out that it wasn’t the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ but the way in which it was directed, that was going to make the pupil’s efforts effective.

Put simply – if your goal is achievable and you put your efforts into an effective plan for long enough then success is almost unavoidable. But if your plan isn’t effective then it doesn’t matter how hard you work, or for how long, the plan simply doesn’t lead to the goal.

What I realised this meant was that my past lack of success had not been due to some innate failing. I had simply been following ineffective processes.

In fact, I was so good and so successful and so consistent, in following these ineffective processes that I had guaranteed my own failure, time and time again.

I realised that if I could bring this same consistency and effort to a better process then I should be able to guarantee success, time and time again.

This realisation freed me from the false idea that my goals were forever unattainable due to some unspecified, innate limitations.

If someone else was doing the things that I wanted to do then why couldn’t I do them too? All I needed to do was to learn and follow a process as effective for me as theirs was for them.

The possibilities that I had thought were closed to me were suddenly open again.

That is one of the benefits that I have experienced from studying the Alexander Technique.

†Alexander, The Use of the Self, p. 62 (footnote).

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Bringing more practical intelligence into my running

I met up with a friend recently, a runner.  She has been experiencing some injury problems over the past year and at the time we met she was considering how she could resolve them.  I listened while she talked through her options. Eventually she paused and then said to me ‘but when you had problems with your running you sorted them out just by thinking about them’.

Her comment really stuck in my mind but the more I thought about it the less sure I was that I understood what she had meant.

By ‘just’ did she mean that I used thinking alone, without employing the services of a practitioner such as a physiotherapist?  Or did she use ‘just’ to mean that thinking was in some way of low value?

And what did she mean by ‘thinking’? Did she mean ‘analysis’, or ‘concentration’, or ‘planning’, or something else?  And was what she meant by ‘thinking’ the same as the process that I continue to use to overcome my own running woes?

For me, the process that I am following was nicely summed up by Frank Jones in his book Freedom to Change.  Frank said that one of the three things that the Alexander Technique can teach you is: ‘how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing’†.

The idea of bringing more practical intelligence into my activities appeals to me.  It sounds like a good idea generally and something that could help prevent me from injuring myself, but like so many other people I waited until I was experiencing pain (and then I tried to persist through the pain) before I decided to apply it.

So how did I get myself into such a situation in the first place?

I’ve never been a serious runner.  I run for fun and to keep fit. (Who am I kidding?  I run to get fit!)

Occasionally I choose a goal to train for, usually a half-marathon.  I did my first one in 2002 and more followed, but gradually my right knee began to complain. I think the problem started sometime around 2007.

After the Glasgow half-marathon in 2009 I decided to rest the knee, no running for 6 months.

But 6 months later my knee would still ache if I tried to run; it even ached if I ran for a bus. Sometimes it ached for no apparent reason.

I also noticed other things that concerned me and that I thought might be related.  For instance, when I stretched there seemed to be far less flexibility around my right hip joint than around the left. Even more noticeable was that whenever I was standing the whole of my right leg felt odd. It was like I didn’t know how to use it, and I would continually fidget to try and find a comfortable way to stand.

These experiences and my ongoing knee pain put an end to any thought of returning to running.  I needed to get some medical advice.

Fortunately my chiropractor confirmed that there was no underlying injury.

Having ruled out a medical cause I then considered whether the problem was being caused by how I was running.  This is exactly the type of question that an Alexander Technique teacher can help to answer, so I decided at the beginning of 2014 to take some lessons with Nicola from Reason to Change.

In the lessons Nicola watched me run and she helped me to identify some unhelpful general ideas that I wasn’t aware that I was using in my running.

There were also some specific ideas which were affecting how I was moving my right leg.  In one lesson, after seeing me run, she asked me how wide I thought the path we were on was.  What she had noticed (but I was unaware of) was that I was moving my right leg to place my foot where it would need to go if I was running on a narrow beam that I was scared of falling off.

I was encouraged by this new information from the lessons and I decided to apply for a local 10k race and to start a 5-month training program.  Having been struggling with my knee for nearly 7 years I decided to set myself a simple goal: to run regularly and to get to the day of the race uninjured.

The key idea that I followed in my training was the one I took from Frank Jones: to bring more practical intelligence into my running.

I started with a very clear and simple concept of what running involves.  The concept was: that I was using my legs, making simple movements at their joints to produce forward motion, and that muscular effort elsewhere would not be helpful to my purpose.

In addition to this concept I would tell myself not to follow the unhelpful ideas that Nicola had helped me identify. Keeping all of this in mind I would run.

This ‘mental work’ is the process that my friend, in our conversation, quite reasonably referred to as ‘thinking’.

Over my period of gentle training I would follow this process of bringing practical intelligence into my running, and maintaining it as I ran.  Gradually my mental discipline increased and I was able to follow this process more consistently with fewer periods where I slipped back into ‘unthinking’ exercise.

As the months passed I ran further and more frequently, and I was delighted to find that my knee was improving.  In fact I was putting so much thought into running that sometimes, if my knee ached at the end of a working day, spent mostly on my feet, it would improve when I went for my evening run.

Of course what this showed me was that I was confining my ‘practical intelligence’ to running, when I could be applying it to anything.  I decided to bring the new process into my walking and see what would happen.

Again I experienced a rapid improvement and after a few months I noticed a change in my balance while walking.  An increase in stability.  Once this change had happened it seemed familiar.  I could remember walking in this stable, looser way but a long, long time ago.

When the day of the 10k came I had reached my goal.  Someone who had been struggling with a ‘troublesome knee’ for 7 years, who hadn’t entered a run for 5 years, had just spent 5 months running between twice and three times a week and wasn’t struggling with his fitness.

I was delighted and for the first time in a long time I had a sense of being ‘active’.

In the race itself I completed the course in a time that surprised me.  I ran about 10% faster than I expected.

In the 7 months since then I have continued to run and to apply this practical intelligence to my running, to my walking and to more of my everyday life.  I’m happy to report that the improvement continues and that for me this has been one of the best examples of what the Alexander Technique has brought to my life.

† Jones, Freedom to Change, p. 2.

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Talking about the Alexander Technique

When I meet someone for the first time there is often a moment when they ask me, ” So, what is it that you do? ”

When I tell them that I’m an Alexander Technique teacher they usually ask, “What’s the Alexander Technique?”

In the last few years I’ve started to refer to this as ‘The Question’.

Why do I find it so difficult to give a satisfactory answer? How can it be so hard to put into words the most interesting and exciting thing that I’ve ever encountered?

I think that there are three reasons why I find it hard.

The first reason is that my understanding of the Alexander Technique is evolving and so my answer to the question keeps changing.

This is no surprise.

In my time as a student of Alexander’s work many of my ideas and beliefs have been challenged and have continued to change. As they change, so does my definition of the Alexander Technique.

It is a characteristic of ITM Alexander Technique lessons that they offer students (including me) the opportunity to have their unhelpful ideas and beliefs challenged.

This is usually done through movement, with the student working on an activity that they would like to do better.

If the student decides to change a limiting idea that their teacher has challenged then the effect can sometimes be far reaching. In the process their whole idea of what the Alexander Technique is can also change.

The second reason for my difficulties in describing what I do is that the Alexander Technique seems to defy categorisation.

For instance, I started the Alexander Technique because of long-standing RSI symptoms. I thought that I had a medical problem, and I had been seeking a medical solution unsuccessfully for a number of years.

At that time I believed that the Alexander Technique was another medical option that I could try.

As I began to apply Alexander’s principles and changed some of my erroneous ideas about movement my symptoms disappeared.

My RSI problem had gone and yet I don’t now believe that the Alexander Technique belongs in the ‘medical’ category.

I now believe that my earlier search for a medical solution had been unsuccessful because I didn’t have a medical condition.

I was simply moving in accordance with unhelpful ideas and experiencing unnecessary physical strain as a consequence. My poorly conceived and inefficient movement behaviours had become harmful enough to generate symptoms that seemed ‘medical’.

As soon as I changed my unhelpful ideas, and the resulting behaviours, my general condition improved.

It looked like a medical solution but in reality I was just thinking differently and moving better.

The third reason that I find the Alexander Technique hard to describe is perhaps the most important.

Alexander himself summed it up.

He never called what he did the ‘Alexander Technique’. He used to refer to it as “the work”. He once wrote in a letter, “How can you name a thing that is so comprehensive?”

I find the Alexander Technique hard to describe because nothing I say ever seems to be complete enough to do it justice!

What I have learnt to do whenever I’m asked to define Alexander’s ‘work’ is to answer the question afresh each time. I take what I know and believe about the work and I give the best answer that I can give today.

So what is today’s answer?

The Alexander Technique is a set of principles and processes that anyone can use to help them move or perform more easily and effectively so that they can achieve more of their potential.

And that is good enough for today!

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