Monday, June 18, 2012

An Introductory Alexander Technique Class for Musical Pre-Teens and Teens

Today, I taught an introductory AT class to approximately 45 young musicians, ages 11-17.  I decided to start the class with a rather crass definition of the Technique:

"The Alexander Technique is a way of observing yourself and your environment so that you can have better control over getting what you want."

I took a quick poll; not a single student didn't want to be in control, and everyone except one girl said that they typically want something, so I think everyone could relate to that definition.  Since I was asked today how I taught the rest of the 55-minute class based on that definition of the Technique, I thought I'd share a brief overview of the class here, for anyone who might be interested.

I decided to base the class loosely on these words: WHAT, WHO, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW.  We never really got to "why", "when", and "how", but we have two more class periods to delve into those!

My basic questions were:

- WHAT is music?
- WHO makes music? WHO are you? (My favorite response: "An Awesome Thing...")
- WHAT are you in connection with now?
- WHERE are you?  WHERE do you make music?

After much interesting discussion, we played some games, first seated and then moving around the room, to explore our sense of space--personal and in relation to objects and other people, and including the directions of space.  Then, we discussed the exercises and related them to performance, for instance: how can you think differently if you're on stage in an orchestra, feeling cramped and claustrophobic?  Maybe it could help to expand your sense of personal space to the edges of the room and beyond, even into infinitude...

Next, we did an exploration in which the class was divided into two groups: the "performer" group and the "audience" group, with the performers in the middle of the room, and the audience in a large circle around them, at the edges of the room.  I led them through two elaborately-constructed imaginary scenarios, simply put: (1) very critical and hateful audience; and (2) loving, approving audience.  How did they feel?  As expected, most students much preferred the second scenario, but I was admittedly surprised that there were about five students who preferred the first scenario.  They felt that they "performed" better under adverse circumstances, when they had to "work harder", it "mattered more", and they had "something to prove".  Most students felt more tension and "performed" worse when the audience was very critical, and they felt their bodies relax and "perform" better when they felt loved and accepted by their audience.

The main point of the "performer/audience" exercise was to show the students that--no matter which scenario they preferred--they were responding physically with either more tension or freedom in their bodies, depending exclusively on their thoughts.  There were real effects that were created ONLY by their own imaginations.  "What you think is what you get"; which means, in effect, that through your thinking, you can have constructive conscious control over yourself and your performance.

By making good use of your thinking, you can have better control...and you're more likely to get what you want.

I'm looking forward to the next three days, in which the group will be split up into three smaller sections.  Their third class will be on Friday, when all 45 get together again.  What an adventure!

I'd love to hear your reactions to this post.  If you're an AT teacher reading this, do you have any other games you like to play with this age group to illustrate any AT concepts?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alexander Technique and Life-Threatening Illness

Today, I will be teaching my first student with cancer.  He has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, and will begin chemotherapy on Tuesday.

This gives me pause.

There are so many things I would like to tell people with a life-threatening disease, people who are afraid, people who are suffering.  To share all of my thoughts would take much more than the 45-60 minutes I'm likely to spend with my new student today, so I wonder what might be the most important things to share.  Teaching the Alexander Technique, one can never be sure if a new student will resonate with this practice enough to come back for more lessons.  Today may be the only lesson I teach this man.  How can I help him the most in such a short period of time?

Well, as with any student, regardless of the conditions and circumstances, my primary role is to "practice what I preach".  That means:

1. observe, notice, be aware of what comes to me through my senses, including my proprioceptive sense within, and including my thoughts and feelings
2. inhibit my reactions to these stimuli that come my way--from within myself and from without
3. "stick to principle", as Alexander said, and be clear of my own direction and the direction I wish for my student
4. do not endgain, focus on results, or care too much about outcomes; instead, enjoy the process
5. wait and allow and trust; let the right thing "do itself"

There are so many specific things I would like to share; I have a wealth of facts and information and thoughts that I would like my student to become aware of, which I know would help him.  I need to inhibit my desire to share too much in one lesson, and trust that the right information will be transmitted in the best way, in the moment.  Planning with too much detail never works for me; the circumstances always dictate what is needed, and I cannot predict the circumstances.

That said, I have plenty of specific ideas I'd like to share.  For instance:
- how our fearful reactions to pain and suffering contribute to the cycle
- how our thoughts, emotions, and body are interconnected and inseparable
- how our essential being is Freedom, no matter what it feels like
- how if we remember and believe in this essential Freedom, our True Nature, we can use our thoughts constructively to create positive changes in our body, releasing us from the cage we put ourselves in with fearful thinking
- how important it is to release the muscles that are connected to the ribs, to allow for free breathing
- how essential the head-neck-torso relationship is to all other muscles, and therefore our breathing
- how important it is to accept--and LOVE--what is, for only in allowing and loving can we realize our true Freedom and find Joy, despite our circumstances

I am very much looking forward to witnessing my adventure today.  I wonder where it will take me, and I wonder where it will take my student!

If you are an AT teacher reading this, I wonder how you might approach a first lesson with someone who has a life-threatening illness?  And, if you're not a teacher, I wonder if you might have anything to add from your own experience and perspective?