Saturday, 28 April 2012

Yin and Yang of movement

Many people know the image called taijitu, although most of them will simply call it the yin yang symbol. Taijitu can roughly be translated as 'diagram of ultimate power', and explaining its meaning has filled many books.

In my understanding, the taijitu shows complementary opposites that create a whole. Unlike Aristotle, who insists that every 'thing' is itself and not its opposite, Daoist philosophy perceives every 'thing' as composite of opposing principles. Yin represents the structure, the space in which events can unfold, Yang stands for the active component, the time and energy that bring movement to a structure.

Yin contains a bit of yang, and vice versa. We can imagine zooming into the dots in the taijitu, just to discover another taijitu hidden in there, like exploring a Mandelbrot set. The longer we observe, the more details about the yin and yang aspects of an event become apparent. While Aristotelian based philosophy likes to analyse by separation and isolation, Daoist thinking works more iterative and fractal to gain knowledge.

FM Alexander's ideas about human life, health and movement come closer to the Asian understanding of the universe than his contemporary Western scientific perspective. The term 'psycho-physical unity' FM used to describe humans as whole self is a kind of verbal taijitu, re-unifying the body-mind separation popularised by Rene Descartes.

FM postulated that it's possible to diagnose many disease mainly on the basis of the postural habits, and the ways individuals moved. By observing the whole human being, he was able to infer specifics without the use of technology. FM used his highly trained sense of touch.looking for disharmonies in the way a person reacted to gravity, and taught his students how to re-organise their balancing reflexes.

Whenever we move (and we move constantly until we die), two aspects of movement cooperate to reach our target. The yin aspect of movement is our permanent response to gravity, maintaining our shape in habitual, 'normal' ways. While lounging on the couch and watching a movie, we simply activate the coordination for 'relaxed sitting' and morph into the shape we associate with this idea.

We still blink and breathe, pet the cat or scratch any itchy spot without spending too much attention on the way we do this. If we reach for the remote control, the yang aspect of movement comes into play. Turning our head to look for the remote, bringing our torso in a position that brings it into reach, grasping it, all of this bits of the intention 'getting the remote control' require some more complex coordination of muscular activity.

Luckily, we don't need to bother about the details of controlling specific muscles. We spend a lot of time learning to move ourselves through life in this multi-sensorial tensegrity structure called body.  Once we get into problems with our body, investigating these details might provide a path to a bit more sanity.

Most exercises focus on the yang aspect of movement - we strengthen muscles by repetition in the gym, or play sports which require some level of coordination. Modalities like Pilates, Yoga or Qi Gong consider more the yin aspect of movement. By slowing down the voluntary movement and bringing attention to it the dynamic quality of balancing can be experienced.

As long as we don't bother investigating the way in which keep ourself upright, we do in the way we have learned it, no matter how cumbersome that might be. On autopilot, we're going along the path of what feels 'normal', and that applies for both aspects of movement. Once we start exploring movement again like we did it as children, we can reconnect to the sense of aliveness arising from experiencing one's body in activity.

Often, we more are interested in results than the qualities needed to achieve a goal. Any of our voluntary activities happens with our uprighting strategies active in the background. The yin of movement consists of more than our mere musculo-skeletal structure, it contains as well all of the fascia, and basically the entire memory of our embodied existence up to right now.

Sitting slouched in school, carrying a heavy backpack on the shoulder, all those childhood habits can leave traces into seniority. Unless we start organising our movement and equilibrium in different, more efficient ways, producing less strain on ourself, our habits have the power to harm us.

When we learn a new motor skill we have a variety of choices to do so. We might observe someone with the skills we want to acquire, follow their verbal instructions what to do and what not to do, we can get guided by touch through parts or all of the movement, or a combination of the above together with those methods I forgot.

Juggling exemplifies the interdependency of yin (strategies to balance in standing) and yang (coordinating arms and hands to maintain a desire juggling pattern) parts of the movement. The beauty of the basic juggling pattern lies in its simplicity: left and right hand do exactly the same in a steady rhythm. The beast of juggling hides in the fact that we have a favorite hand, and are simply hardly used to do the same thing with both hands.

The first step usually involves learning to throw the ball from one hand to the other, in an arc about head height in front of the body. Any juggling rhythm needs its pauses, the basic one means that only one object is airborne most of the time. Throwing and catching integrate into one movement, the pause allows to decides which pattern comes next. Before we can choose between patterns, we still need to learn the basic pattern first, sorry for getting a bit ahead of myself.

Getting ahead of oneself, however, most likely happens in this process. Which provides us with ample opportunity to question our attitude towards acquiring a new skill. Our 'attitude', in the literal sense of the word, tells the observer a lot about our way of being in the world. I was quite baffled about the precise and valuable observations a professional juggler shared about my ways of juggling, and I'm still grateful for the valuable hints about my juggling and how to improve it.

Whatever we do, starts with the way we organise our body towards the challenge of gravity. In an ideal world, our shoulder girdle rests nicely on our ribs, allowing our arms to dangle slightly towards the front of the body, palm opposing the anatomical position, facing backwards. If the alignment of hip and shoulder joints allow the spine to expand, the arms can move freely, supported by the extensor muscles along the back of our body.

In most cases, there will be lots of movement than doesn't really contribute to the simple task of throwing a ball in an arc in front of the body. Most likely, the movement reflects our basic balancing strategies and ideas about how our body looks like and functions. The yang part of the movement (juggling) starts from the yin part, our postural habits, and interacts with it throughout the execution.

Feeling out of balance happens to many beginning Alexander Technique students. It's easy to develop the habit of 'posturing' - deliberately maintaining a specific shape independent of its efficiency. We associate subconsciously the relation of the center of gravity of head and body with 'uprightness', and move the bones with muscular effort to maintain this relation automatically. If this relation changes, we feel 'out of balance'. This is the crucial moment, which allows us to observe how we try to regain our perceived stability.

Often we realise how little we consciously know about the location of our joints, and how our subconscious body map makes movement more effortful than necessary. That's a humbling experience, at least in my case, as I tended to go full speed ahead often in unhealthy directions.

So even before we start throwing anything, we can apply the principles of the Alexander Technique to investigate the yin and yang of juggling. How do we 'ready' ourselves for the task, can we keep our attention on the movement, balance and environment simultaneously? Can we maintain mobility in hip, knee and ankle joints while our arms play with a ball? Can we allow ourselves to drop the ball?

It's easy to pay attention to something new, and easy to switch to autopilot once we'd convinced ourselves that we have mastered a skill. If we pay attention to something we have done thousands, if not millions of time as if we did it for the very first time, we open up to learn something new about ourselves. The concept of yin and yang of movement, of habitual uprighting combined with voluntary movement, can help to understand the way we move through life. It's just a map, not the territory.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Real belief

What do we really know? If we look closely, and dare to be honest, we have to admit that we can only know very little. Absolute Truth, like it's called in Buddhism, can only be approximated in words, 'lesser' truth reflects just our concepts about our own existence. After centuries of often rapacious scientific explorations, we come back to the origin of all 'knowledge', 'science' and 'religion' - our own experience.

If we stop believing for a second in some of Aristotle's ideas about reality, many 'divisions' of abstract concepts stop making sense (which doesn't stop anyone investing lots of energy in selling specific concepts to fellow humans). That doesn't in any way imply an utter meaninglessness - to the contrary, once we become aware that all meaning is created individually and collectively, we are no longer bound to simply accept arbitrary believe systems but can pick and choose instead.

What we think is what we get. It's kind of absurd to deny the 'existence' of free will or soul. By inventing the words these concepts came into existence, independent of any measurable truth. Yet science is just another believe system, its value for mankind derives rather from the scientific method than from the data set explored and elevated to (immutable) fact. 

As fan of Leary's 8-circuit model of consciousness I spend most of my adult life exploring my and others believe systems, which didn't stop me from holding on to my very own fixed ideas sometimes, or doing things that look in hindsight rather stupid. I noticed that many maps of reality have a resonance, based in their inherent logic. Confronted with experiences or facts that don't resonate with an individuals believe system, cognitive dissonance maintains the integrity of the believe system instead of the sanity of the individual. The prankster god of the bible hid some dinosaur skeletons in the soil of our planet, just to give believers in him a demonstration of his omnipotent pranking powers and deride those misbelieving Darwinists.

The word God resonates with religious persons different than with atheists, the word soul creates harmony or dissonance based on the filters of the individual's believe system. The cultural programming allows a certain predictability of reactions to stimuli, which is helpful once we want address groups of people with a common interest or profession. 

Our culture neglects 'holistic' resonance by creating an abstract reality in which illusionary concepts engage more illusionary concepts. While we need nurturance, safety and company for survival, the believe in money has largely been conditioned as primary means of survival. The currencies in existence are purely virtual, they have no values of the 'physical' world attached to them anymore. Although money is a purely illusionary concept, the leaders of society suggest a scarcity of this invented product (which mostly exist as binary information stored on computer systems anyway). Instead of reconsidering the way mankind produces money, another illusionary concept (market forces) is invented to distract from the principle of redistribution of common wealth by threat and execution of violence.

Alexander took care to present his principles in a highly inclusive way. Unlike many abstract systems fighting for the attention of human hosts to keep them alive, AT doesn't declare itself as the 'one and only' way to happiness. Instead, it claims universal applicability, which seems more and more apparent to me the longer I apply Alexander's principles to my own life. In teaching situation, there's usually too little philosophy involved to allow for a clash of believe systems. 

I think we can improve the clarity in communication about the holistic background of AT by carefully avoiding explanations that base on the body-mind-soul split. 'Self' as conglomerate for emotions, feelings, experience, awareness, consciousness, body, movement, for short, for the suchness of human nature avoids many pitfalls more specific phrases come with.

Contextualisation helps us a lot to teach Alexander's ideas. Our hands can convey very concise information, which in conjunction with the words we use to frame the experiment can provide valuable learning experiences. Using imagery and narrative helps as well. I think John will enjoy hearing that one his imaging exercises I used during a table turn with one of my first students stayed useful for her for more than two years.

When we tune into the present moment, we perforate the veil of illusion that dominates the life of most people. At some point, we might encounter more about how the fabric of reality is woven, and how to create patterns in it ourselves. The cultural patterns that play out at the moment don't resonate well with the way other parts of nature evolve.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A shift in education

FM Alexander, the name-giver to the Alexander Technique, held high hopes for the future of mankind. He considered his technique a 'method for psycho-physical re-education' and as a tool for the evolution of mankind. Concerned by the World Wars of the last century, he conceived that humanity get on a less violent path if psycho-physical re-education became part of regular education.

Today, more than half a century after his death, the vision to integrate AT in normal schools continues to exist. Other alternative education approaches that emerged at a similar time, like Rudolf Steiner's approach, are nowadays much more wide-spread, only one school, the Educare Small School, integrates FM Alexander's ideas into a different way to educate children.

Schools are meant to provide pupils with the skills needed to become a productive member of society, and by and large do so. The skills required in the 21st century, in the Information Age, differ a lot from those for the Industrial Age. The job I earned my first money with didn't exist when I started school, and the specific job title might no longer be in use already. Traditional crafts and industrial production underwent some changes, yet these areas seem static in comparison to those of the Information economy.

I can't tell when the first 'web designer' position was filled, but certainly the school system from which this first web designer emerged didn't take his/her needs into consideration. Besides, of course, transferring basic numeracy and literacy skills. In Germany, it takes 13 years to qualify for university study. When I started in uni, I noticed the change in learning style. We were supposed to have learned 'how to learn' already, and were simply given massive amounts of new information, basically to be regurgitated at a higher and faster level than in school. Learning how to learn, however, was never really taught in the schools i went to.

Instead of finishing uni, I decided to do an apprenticeship in the just emerging IT area. The goals for the exams along the way were much clearer, and related much more to the job I took up afterwards. By that time, I had spend already a whopping 18 years in various education systems, yet finally had some formal license to earn money with a 'real' occupation, instead of just make little money out of casual jobs.

Most of the things I needed to know at various exam times were gone, and seem in retrospect like an utter waste of time. I still appreciate the decent level of literacy and numeracy I came out with, and learning a second language, yet especially the 'science' part was probably outdated when it was taught, most of it certainly is now.

That comes only as a little surprise to me now. Most teachers specialise in a couple of topics for a specific age group. Once they have their 'license to teach', there is little need to update their own topical knowledge, after all, they have to follow a given curriculum. If a teacher deviates from the curriculum, it disturbs the scheduled learning process, overall, there's little room for creativity. I do remember some incidences during my school time when I was punished for thinking for myself, luckily, I had some other teachers fostering individual reasoning.

Asking the wrong questions was considering as going against the flow. In a way, that holds entirely true - pupils need to follow through an artificial curriculum that require the repetition of more or less arbitrary data set. The basic skills of reading, writing and calculating are still taught, yet more and more children manage to leave school without mastery of these basic cultural skills.

So what should an education system result in? Can we identify specific goals to reach in public education?

Humans are excellent problem solver, and the accumulated solutions available provide the future of society. We manipulate symbol systems (words, numbers) to solve problems, considering experiences derived from others or our own experiments. This is an inherently cooperative process, and the quality of social interaction thus influences the fruit of any cooperation.

Any education system needs the development of
  1. basic cultural skills like reading, writing and calculating
  2. basic social skills like cooperation to solve problems
  3. the ability to obtain topical knowledge by proxy
  4. the ability to obtain topical knowledge by experiment
  5. the ability to apply topical knowledge to train problem solving skills 
  6. self-awareness to incorporate problem solving skills in a healthy way
The last item might come as a surprise, and all of these items are subject to discussion. I just consider it difficult to agree on any kind of educational reform until simple goals are defined. This list shifts the focus more towards the development of skills than to 'knowledge transfer', which seems the current focus. The inclusion of self-awareness reflect the call to have a 'responsible' young adult coming out the mills of the education system, and Alexander Technique can help to integrate this area.

Although we are primarily social beings, the education system still prefers 'each for themself' approach. Even worse, with skilled manual labour more and more diminishing in 'economic' importance, schools train the 'mind', with a bit of Physical Education patched on top, to cater for the need and want of movement, especially in young people. 'Sit still' might be less important in the school life of 2011 than it was just 30 years ago, yet the 'body' gets ignored while the 'mind' is trained. 

Yet a nervous system wired for social interaction, equipped with mirror neurons to mimic movement patterns, doesn't stop to learn how to adapt. The body language of a teacher transmits often more 'knowledge' than his/her words, most of the time entirely subconscious, and definitely ignored in any curriculum I know of.  Being a school teacher is just a job like any other, with very passionate people, and as well with very frustrated people following a given structure that exhibits some obvious flaws.

We developed standards to 'measure' the quality of education, obsessed with scores fitting nicely into bell curves. 'Mental' abilities set the standard, body awareness and social skills develop as well, but mainly ignored as part of the curriculum. The 'one size fits all' approach breeds mediocrity, and provides little to those how fail the average, which seems to steadily drop in overall quality. 

Someone who spends lots of their own attention in places outside the presence will have a hard time giving attention to a bunch of school children. The little bit left for the classroom situation suffices for those in favour, and a strict curriculum prevent creating a learning environment driven by interest. 

Before learning is channeled among ideals of society, it's mere fun. The first words, the first steps of a human being bring immediate and massive pleasure for all involved, and the amount of skills we develop before any formal education can be staggering. In a global society, the problem that need solving require a lot of creativity, which is all to often quenched in the process of socialisation in school.

The fixed sets of subjects taught in school only reflects the needs of the past industrial society, but fails to create an understanding of the interconnected reality of the contemporary global society. It will require individual flexibility on the teaching side to foster an interest-driven education. As a result, someone able to take responsibility for themselves together with an others, capable of solving problems that make life easier and more enjoyable for most of us will leave the education system.

At the moment, cultural knowledge seems much more important than applicable knowledge, and I think we need both to achieve to provide children with a basis to live, work and prosper in the modern age. Dissolving a fixed curriculum would require teachers to facilitate learning, instead of imposing it. Alexander Technique provides the tool to make this happen, to give educators the ability and flexibility to teach children skills for life in alignment with their talents and weaknesses. If we learn how we do the things we do, we can learn what we want to do.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ends and means

FM Alexander brought a method into this world to teach people how to move more easy through life. The best of way of learning this more efficient way of moving happens in one-on-one lesson with an experienced teacher. Alexander himself demanded from his own students to read his books first before he used his hands to demonstrate what he wrote about. When we apply the Alexander Technique, we change how we think about movement, and bring sub-conscious habit into our awareness.

What we think about human beings and ourselves influences our movements through life immensely. Alexander promoted a holistic view of human existence, and used the term 'psycho-physical unity' in his books for this concept. When we imagine ourselves as split into body and mind, we lose the ability to rely on our perceptions to a certain degree. The mind develops an image of our body that does no longer reflect its actual structure, movements become complicated and inefficient.

Alexander identified one important 'cause' of what modern psychology calls 'body-mind disassociation', and termed this principle 'end-gaining'.
When the end is held in mind, instinct or long habit will always seek to attain the end by habitual methods. The action is performed below the level of consciousness in its various stages, and only rises to the level of consciousness when the end is being attained by the correct “means whereby".
The attentional focus shifts to an desired outcome, while the neural loop between motor control and sensory feedback happens automatically. The ability to automatically execute coordinated movement (motor learning) serves a useful purpose, dexterity certainly contributed to the evolutionary success of mankind. Whenever we consciously engage in learning motor skills, we switch this 'auto-pilot' temporarily off, which allows our movement to become more refined in what we want to learn.

Our auto-pilot allows for multi-tasking, so we can walk and talk simultaneously. We can 'layer'  complex motor skills, and easily forget how much time it took to learn any skill initially. The human auto pilot system can only be switched off to limited degrees, the Alexander Technique focuses mainly on the functions relating to the control of our musculo-skeletal system by intention.

The 'means-whereby' Alexander subscribes simply mean to move according our evolutionary design, by minimising our deliberate, yet sometimes subconscious, interferences with our anti-gravity responses. How can you achieve this? By directing your attention to how you do what you do, instead of focussing on 'getting things done', especially in learning situations.

Most of us spend the first years of their life like this, before we started imitating less efficient learning attitudes around us. The focus on the 'mind' in our culture quite systematically neglects the holistic aspect of any human activity, we lose touch with our human nature.

To a certain degree you can claim that Alexander Technique belongs to the cornucopia of 'back to nature' movements, yet not with a revisionist but an evolutionary approach. Instead of bemoaning the good old times, attempting to a recreate hunter-gatherer society or any other variation of the 'back-to-the-cave' idealism, AT teaches to deal with our ever faster changing environment in modern times.

Back to nature according to the AT merely means using our structure in 'natural' ways, refining our instinctual reactions consciously so that our habits serve us, and not harm us. Mankind survived under many different circumstances, often in communities with limited specialist medical knowledge and scientific interest. We tamed (or extinguished) the wild animals around us, reduced the need to toil for a living by technology, and forgot for a while that we're only part of nature, neither master nor slave of it.

'Security in numbers' provides a successful evolutionary strategy, and human history provides a lot of examples how this principle helped as well as hindered the evolutionary progress of mankind. In affairs of society the 'ends' still have more importance than the 'means'. The current 'war on nature' in its emanations as 'war on drugs', 'war on terror', 'war on anti-social behaviour', etc. reflects the obsession of society as a whole with the illusion of mankind and nature as opposites.

Similarly, end and means always go together. The primary focus determines whether an activity is done in an 'end-gaining' fashion or under consideration of the proper 'means-whereby'. When I get up from a chair in an Alexander session, my intention might be: Impressing the teacher, getting over and done with it, figuring out why I can learn something with such a simple procedure, planning my dinner, wondering if I switched all lights out, having a better look on a distant object, or even using my anti-gravity reflexes for most efficient movement.

If we attempt do something consciously, we still pursue a goal. Only the importance of this goal changes. By removing the fixed focus of attention on the end we stand a better chance to move in a more balanced way. If we stop caring for some moments about getting out of a chair, we become able to observe the quality of the movement involved, and gradually improve this quality towards ease and efficiency.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A walk in the park

Australia celebrated today 'Australia day', or how some call it 'Invasion Day'. It's a big family event, with activities and parades sprinkled around Melbourne's center, parades, music, stalls and all. AUSTAT provides the funding for an Alexander Technique stall, so I volunteered with some others to give the public a taste of our work.

For first time this year, I used my hands again, and with complete strangers! Well, with less panic it was rather an opportunity to have heaps of 'first lessons' in a row, meeting the challenge to get the permission to touch someone I just met.

I didn't have much time to foster any negative self-talk, only little time past without anyone coming to our stall. So instead, I gave the most simple explanation of the importance of coordinating movement with a 'free neck' I could come up with, trying to tap into the interests and circumstances the potential students were in. When I got the impression that the 'sales talk' worked, I offered hands-on experience to demonstrate what ever tiny idea I started with.

Of course, there's often the hidden doubt whether the hands will work, as some people can be really hard to move. Although sometimes I noticed changes under my fingers, it doesn't mean necessarily that the student does as well, especially when the changes are quite subtle. So I can't really tell whether I encouraged many of my clients to take more lessons, but most left with contact information for the school, and I passed on my details to some as well.

From a mere business point of view I wonder whether this day in the park deserves the name success - like with any promotional activity there's a delayed response between action and result. But that's just biz thinking. If I ask myself whether it worth spending a day talking to and working with strangers I can only say: yes, yes and yes.

While I was working with charming, yet quite stiff 70 year old, someone observed me in my failing attempts to get him easily into standing. Now it reminds me of the interview I heard on Robert Rickover's podcast, where I think Sandra Bain-Cushion mentions that you sometimes need to unlock the legs to get the primary control working. This very fit fellow had only little movement around his hips, and I didn't manage to connect his head to the sitbones.

However, Jen, who graduated a year before me, encouraged me in doing what didn't seem to work, and after I attempted to explain what happened, the 'silent observer' jumped in. Although Eric had no clue about AT before, he described the blockage of energy he witnessed in terms worthy of an Alexander teacher. He introduced himself as a healer, mainly for emotional energy. We chatted for a while, yet we didn't work together. I get more and more convinced that a healing modality can usefully add to the portfolio of an Alexander teacher.

I got a bit edgy around 4:30pm, half an hour after the official closing time. Yet I felt rather wired than tired, giving half a day of my attention to anyone curious about it. I know I need to 'make money' sooner than later again, yet I learned I need to work to be happy as well, no matter whether money changes hands or not.

I programmed my ego once for modesty, so I might underestimate the ideas my hands left today. So I comment this rather from personal level, not worrying for a moment what I did for others, yet account for my own use.

About two month ago, I broke a metatarsal. About a month ago, after the healing process allowed me using both feet again, I strained my ankle as the lower leg muscles weakened a lot. I started unicycling some few days ago, but there's still pain and swelling around my heel. Today, I could still tell the story that happened to me and my foot, but even during squat demonstrations I didn't feel restricted any more.

No miracles here, enough rest laid the ground work, and getting active helped making my ankle heal. However, staying up most of the day made me forget about the variety of movement strategies that emerged with this handicap. First and foremost I enjoyed being what a want I be, a teacher. We wouldn't survive without curiosity, and anyone stopping at our stall brought some curiosity with them. To direct this instinct towards forward and up poses a challenge, which I happily faced today.

So I'd like to thank all those stepping out of their routine for a moment to inquire about the Alexander Technique. You reminded me to stay connected, and added a bit more meaning to my life. In a way, I got a taste of the right thing happening once I stop doing the wrong things, and I feel grateful for this experience.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

A big picture

FM Alexander talked a lot about the 'self', using a term so familiar and vague that it can be difficult at times to follow his written words. In this diagram, I followed his openness for interpretation, offering three basic, interconnected realms that constitute together human existence. Whereas scientists may scruff about the use of the word 'soul', I use it refer to the emotional and spiritual aspects of life.

This diagram also shows the self in the centre as well as in the periphery, assuming that humans present always their self. The brain represents the intersection between body and mind, the heart the intersection of body and soul, and the guts connect soul and mind. Whole-hearted activity, conducted with the body, will arouse emotional gratification. Unprocessed emotions often affect our digestive system, indicating that the whole self needs better nourishment.

Individual awareness can be anywhere in this diagram, or everywhere simultaneously. Specialisation seems popular nowadays, it's easy to spot 'physical', 'mental' or 'spiritual' preferences among many people. At least in the Western world, it's the era of the mind.  Yet, by contemplating this little diagram not only your mind gets engaged- you need your body to receive this information, and your soul might resonate with it.

Other selfs intersect with a single one, allowing for connections between the body, mind and soul aspects in varying degrees. The connection is always between selfs, yet might incorporate only or mainly physical, mental or emotional aspects of life.

When I teach someone about the 'use of the self', this diagram serves as my experimental hypothesis. It covers all aspects of human experience, yet is simple enough to create a little bit more unity.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


Three years of Alexander Technique teacher training lay now behind me, and working as a professional teacher can start. I find myself in the middle, here and now, taking the next step in creating a living by handing over valuable information to those willing to get to know themselves a little bit better.

In a period of history where our environment changes at increasing speed, the adaptability of our nervous system is tested like never before. While I took my first, cautious steps on this planet, mankind's collective knowledge and imagination helped man to walk on the moon. Like a baby leaving the womb, some humans left, if only for a short time, the nurturing environment they grew up in.

Since then, everyday living of many of us has been pervaded by the digital evolution. TVs gained colour, VCRs allowed recording, phones lost their dials, and then their wires, compact discs threatened vinyl, computers replaced typewriters and calculators, networks emerged that connected these technological developments to exchange information instantly around the globe. In 2010, an iPhone combines TV, VCR, phone, music player, computer and internet into a tiny device that fits into most pockets.

Technology not only became more powerful and ubiquitous, but also much easier to use. Ten years ago, when I published myself the first time on the internet, I used a fairly complex setup. I had a small SUN workstation, installed a variety a free software components, created mechanisms to automatically update my changing address, designed a layout and graphics for the website, secured everything as good as possible against hacking. It took me several days before I could write the first article, and by then I had run out of steam for a while.

I still spend maybe a couple of hours to set up this site, yet this time I could focus on content and design instead of some technical nitty-gritty. Progress, like predicted in Moore's law, seems to contradict common sense, yet it reflects my in-depth experience with technology in my relatively short lifetime. Just twenty years ago, showing someone a photo meant handing them a hardcopy in person. Nowadays you can made any photo instantly available by uploading to the web, or sending them to the phones of your friends.

Learning how to operate digital devices has become an important cultural skill required for the 21st century. Congratulation, by reading this article online you demonstrate skills which were unknown just a generation ago, and are as yet only mastered by a minority of people globally. Our attraction to moving pictures on ever smaller screens requires a conscious approach to prevent negative effects on our overall sanity. A broad visual field and widespread attention helped mankind's survival throughout most of its evolution.

As former IT professional, I learned about the negative side effects of too much concentration towards screens from my own experience. I forgot to attend to my proprioception when I worked, which led to regularly tense neck and shoulders, and sometimes minor back pains. In my job, I used my specialist knowledge to make the computer systems easier to use, or extend the functionality. Yet keeping myself fit and healthy at the same time didn't work. No matter how many how-to manuals I wrote, I had yet to find the operation manual for human beings.

FM Alexander's books probably don't really deserve to be called operation manual for human beings, his writing style fits better into his times than the 21st century. His ideas, however, are simple and compelling enough to initiate a process of self-discovery which is suited for the challenges of modern times. By changing the way we attend to our movements, or more specifically by maintaining an optimal relation between the head and the rest of our body, movement becomes most efficient. Synergistic movement prevents deterioration of our health and might even alleviate symptoms of disease.

You need to know only few things to operate a web browser. You need to be able to type in web addresses, need to know how a link looks like, and how to activate it. On top of that, knowing about google, wikipedia, facebook or twitter gives you new choices what to do with the internet.  In a similar way, Alexander Technique only teaches you how to move more naturally, but you still choose what to do with this skill. Our physical structure evolved in very different environment from the modern world, it takes a bit of consciousness to move in this new world without accidentally harming yourself.

Evolution provides humanity with an extremely flexible, permanently changing nervous system. Each heart beat, each breath leaves its traces in the network of our brain, consisting of more neurons than stars in our universe, each of them connected to up ten thousands of other neurons. We literally incorporate our history with the shape of our bodies and patterns of movement.

The Alexander Technique uses the neuroplastic nature of our brains. By changing the way how I keep myself upright while I'm working with a computer I can work for longer, without ending up with tense neck and shoulders. It me took a while to become aware of myself in activity again, and like any other skill, there's no limit as how good one can become. Changing our habits means changing the way we move, and vice versa.

If you wanted to explain someone how to use a web browser, the easiest way would be by showing. The same applies to synergistic movement. Once we have lost the ability to move naturally to a degree, we can't imagine how easy movement can be, yet we still can be shown. If the parts of our body interact in the way they were optimised for, we create synergistic movement, limited only by our imagination. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I can show you with my hands what I understand as synergistic movement, and find a way for you to bring this way of moving into your life.

Don't worry, learning the skills involved in the Alexander Technique doesn't require any advanced knowledge of neuro-science or IT. My lessons involve show and tell. Unfortunately, many of the things considered common knowledge about our functionality as human being prove factually wrong. I want to use this blog to write about the human nature, linking my experiences with ideas about consciousness and scientific research. Doing more with less sounds incredible at first, yet it can become part of your daily experience.

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