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“We learn from failure, not from success!”
Dear Alexander Technique students,
I want you to drop your standards (and me, mine). Here’s why:
I was sat in a great cafe, here in Pocklington. They have a tiny table, just for people like me. It’s right next to the cakes, so I can enjoy all their gorgeousness without taking on a single calorie (could inhaling the smell do that?). I was sipping my cappuccino, trying not to get a “joker” smile from the chocolate. I was also writing about my challenges to simply sit down and play my harp.
In came a young woman wrestling with a huge guitar case (you know, the type that withstands almost everything), music books and full hessian bags. Before she sat down at a table, the guitar reverently went on the seat next to her, one of her bags got another seat and the floor and table the rest. She gave her order and proceeded to open up a music book and play the air with her fingers. She was humming in her head (I could tell) and tapping her foot too. I knew she was playing that piece, I could almost hear it. Here was a musician, through and through.
Intuitively I knew she had the experience that would really help me with my harp playing issue. I sat there feeling a bit nauseous at the thought of going over and starting a conversation. Never before had I attempted that. Then she looked up and smiled at me. The warmth of it gave me courage, to ask her if she still found practising a challenge. Yes, was the answer. She also shared so much more. It gave me hope for my musical adventure.
What’s this got to do with standards? What’s it got to do with the Alexander Technique?
One of the other things that lovely young woman said, was that she records her playing, and listens to it for mistakes. It’s the mistakes she learns from.
Mistakes to her are what help her excel at what she does. They are part of her deep practice. They are her tool to getting better at her craft.
So, when we realise we have not “inhibited” when we are applying the Alexander Technique, when we lose the present moment and dive into life without a pause: it’s not a failure to meet a specific standard. It’s simply another bit of information to learn from. We will have the opportunity to grow from those moments, review what it is we want, choose what we might do next time, how we want to be next time, and play with it!
Perhaps the standard should be to make as many mistakes as possible?
Fancy making some mistakes with me? Take lessons in the Alexander Technique!
My Dad had quite a few “War stories” he told but the one that I want to tell today is about when he stuck his head above the parapet. A parapet is a low protective wall for concealing troops. It’s a very short story and involves my Dad behind a parapet, his commanding officer, and a random third party doing shooting practice. Apparently his commanding officer bellowed out “Clappison” and my Dad lifted his head up above the parapet, and said “Yes, Sir” and got shot! Fortunately it hit him at the very edge of his forehead. All his kids, and anyone else listening, got to feel the dent in his skull, and the outline of the bullet underneath his skin every time he told the story. He carried the bullet for the rest of his life. I’m guessing it wasn’t a live bullet but a practice round.
My best friend also has a very similar wound from sticking his head above the parapet, but this one happened at school. It happened when he was very young, but he didn’t ever forget it. His body tries to protect him from ever being wounded again, every time he is in company.
Apparently, when he was at school, the teacher decided to tell the class about penguins. As my friend had been reading about penguins, with his mum, the night before, he got really excited. He knew all about penguins and they were from the south west coast of Africa, and even had islands named after them: the Penguin Islands. Unfortunately the teacher had only read about penguins from Antarctica. So when the teacher asked “Where do Penguins come from?” and my friend shot up his hand quicker than anyone else in the class, he got picked to answer the question. The answer made the teacher, and then the whole class, laugh. That bullet landed very deeply and is still felt: everywhere.
My friend hates being at parties. He doesn’t mind sitting on the edge of a group of people. He likes listening to conversations, but it is very unlikely he will join in. He is terrified of being asked a question, and would much prefer to avoid going to parties all together. It has been a habit almost all his life.
So, today we decided to see what would happen if we applied the Alexander Technique to this habit. We talked about what happens when he goes to parties and I could see his face change: his jaw tightened, he wasn’t going to talk, his eyes tightened up, he didn’t want to see, his breathing almost stopped, no air was going to pass his larynx, no sound was ever going to come out, and perhaps if he was really still he wouldn’t be noticed.
We then worked together, respecting the habit was there for a good reason. Firstly we talked about the thoughts, and that they were causing the tension. He wasn’t at a party. The tension remained. I invited him to notice the garden out of the window, and the birds on the bird table. Then I invited him to release his jaw which softened. Then to soften his ribs, so he could take a breath: that took a little while longer, but suddenly a full breath happened and he smiled. We continued working for a little longer. He said he would check in with his jaw when he was next at a party.
I noticed him whistling a little later on. He never does that unless he is really happy! I feel privileged to work with people in this way. To see the person, with their wounds, able to whistle because there is more than one choice on how to react. Perhaps it’s ok to look over the parapet now?
Fancy finding out how to feel more comfortable over the parapet, at parties or when you are in company? You don’t have to like parties, but you can feel more at ease. Why not book a lesson?
Tel:- 01759 307282
Jane Clappison MSTAT
Entrance swipe card poised in my hand, dressed in perfunctory work out gear, terrified, heart thumping, on the edge of the abyss…I swiped! It didn’t work! Failed at the first hurdle. Panic now rising because I couldn’t even get through the door. If that was difficult then how would I manage whatever awaited me in the gym?
I did get in when someone else came out. I felt helpless, floundering like a fish out of water and yet gyms, just like this one, had been my working environment (my pond) for many years as a Physiotherapist. On this day, I was attending the gym (and still am attending regularly) because I had developed a persistent problem with my right knee and had requested an “exercise on prescription” course which my GP had agreed to.
I was met by a lovely gym instructor, and we chatted about my knee problem and what I was hoping for. The instructor set me up on an inclined bike so it wouldn’t be so painful on my knee, and I reluctantly cycled for three minutes. It was a big deal for me. My world had become very restricted by the repeated swelling of my knee which often flared up with exercise. I continued to feel very shaky inside and cautious about everything I was asked to do, but I felt supported and confident in the gym instructor’s ability. I began to enjoy the workout.
About half way through the session the gym instructor said “Do you know you lift your shoulders up when you do some of the exercises?” I thought ” R-e-a-l-l-y? What on earth…?” and then I remembered habits don’t go away. And, that everything I do during the day, every thought, every action, has the potential to trigger that habit. However, the gym session was a stronger stimulus than normal. I was also nervous, and I wasn’t applying the Alexander Technique to what I was doing. I was trying to speedily comply with the instructor’s requests (to please, to end gain). I was well ahead of myself.
What have I learned from that?
1. Habits do not go away. With all movement, the body prepares outside of conscious awareness, before we move. My habit is there outside of my conscious awareness, in its lifelong way, unless I do something different, which is where the Alexander Technique comes in. It is a conscious process.
2. My pre-gym attempts to push my knee (also a habit) and return to running and dancing were not what it needed. I know improving tissue health is essential and the regular gym attendance has helped this to happen. My knee pain has reduced, strength and balance improved, and I feel more confident and can rely on my knee more. I also know my knee responds to a steady, gentle, paced increase in activity. My knee is not yet ready to run, but I am much more confident that, in time, I can run again without it swelling up.
3. Don’t get complacent, stay present and conscious. Recently the gym instructor suggested I try to stand up, off a bench, using one leg (instead of two). Immediately, all I thought was that I couldn’t do it. I worried about being unable to get my bum off the seat. I could also see, in the mirror, that my shoulders were already trying to help, so I applied the Alexander Technique. I decided not to do the exercise and invited my shoulders to rest. Then I thought “up” and the movement happened smoothly and easily.
4. Be patient with swipe cards
To wonderful gym instructors everywhere (but especially at Francis Scaife Sports Centre in Pocklington, E. Yorks, UK)
I am going to join the list of Alexander Technique teachers who admit to this…I have persistent pain! It has been a part of my life for a few years.
I was diagnosed with “polyarthropathy” (multiple joint pains) though I knew that already. It’s one of those conditions that doctors tell you to “live with” whilst prescribing painkillers, or suggesting heavier drugs that have even more side effects. I opted to see how things go.
Having been a pain management physiotherapist for many years I have a lot of tools to help me with it. However, the most useful “tool” to help me with the pain is the #alexandertechnique.
The intention of this blog is to share what works fantastically well to ease (and often get rid of) the pain. It’s great to do first thing in the morning. It works well for other people I have shared it with. It’s really simple! I don’t start moving until I have done these steps…
One – I know I want to move but I think “stop”. I let go of the thought of moving (not so easy especially with a bathroom visit on my mind!)
Two – I invite my body (via thought only) to let go of unnecessary tension.
Three – I move.
Four – If I find myself walking like a weeble or other unwanted ways to move to avoid pain (habits), I stop again and repeat steps one and two, and I might also pay attention to my feet and surroundings!
There are other steps in between you would learn if you came for #alexandertechnique lessons BUT these steps are brilliant all on their own. Try it and let me know what happens!