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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!
Call the Midwife is my favourite TV programme. I feel totally emotionally wrung out after I have seen an episode but, despite that I couldn’t miss one. Episodes are set in the 1950’s and 60’s and involve a team of midwives, based in a convent in the East End of London. My heart bursts open each episode with the compassion and kindness portrayed through human stories from birth to death. An episode I recently watched involved 2 main stories. One of a sensitively portrayed death from cancer and the other of a single mum who had a breech birth (i.e. feet first, when many babies come head first).
Breech births are more complicated than a head first birth and need a skilled birth companion as support during the birth. The nurses on Call the Midwife knew what to do. Nowadays most potential breech births end up with a caesarean delivery, to minimise risks.
Caesarean deliveries for some while have been as quick as possible and very perfunctory. Especially in an emergency when there is a sense of urgency.
I was delighted therefore, to watch a video of a slow caesarean. In this video, baby’s journey into the world was, as I saw it, powerful. They had lower lighting, music, mum could see what was going on (not screened from it) and once babies head was clear the surgeon was mostly hands off. The awesome thing was that the baby pushed itself/walked itself out. After that, baby was put on mum’s chest for skin-to-skin bonding for as long as she wished (which in this case was six hours!)
The Mum to be had informed choice, and had a birth plan, that was honoured.
There are complications in both caesareans and breech birth. So whether a woman gives birth vaginally or via caesarean, she should have informed choice. She should know the risks and benefits, whatever way baby comes, of all her options. She should also be able to decide, for herself, what is the best way of birthing for her and have her wishes respected.
The medical profession should be available to support her, to be informed, every step of the way, pre-conception onwards.
The Alexander Technique can also support women and help them to be empowered at all stages of pregnancy. For example, how to adapt comfortably to the changing bump. How to prepare for the type of birth or positions during the birthing process. How to feed, push prams, lift baby, play, and all other post birth activities…with ease.
There are a couple of books about the Alexander Technique and Pregnancy*. If you want to know more, maybe read one of those books or contact me for a session.
How might it help you? I will let a client and her husband tell you what learning the technique did for them…
EW & EW 1/9/16 – I wanted to thank you for all you work and support. The birth was wonderful. I laboured on my knees with my husband with me and in the water. I progressed quickly with being so low and delivered naturally despite her being in a back to back position
I had the most fantastic experience. I never understood when people said they enjoyed their birth experience before. I could cry thinking about how peaceful it was. Another thing I noticed is that I didn’t ache at all after the birth because my body was so relaxed throughout. When I had my first baby I was so frightened I ached for days after from the tension. I am now using the techniques when breast feeding to check my position.
I would recommend it to everyone and will be passing on the book you recommended. I will definitely be back in touch once I’m back in the world for some more sessions!
I’ve seen my wife give birth to both of our beautiful daughters. The pain of her first labour was mitigated only by gas, air and heavier-duty forms of pain relief thrown her way; the rigours of the second, however, were barely evident to me as she breathed and chanted her way through in a state of near-calm. From my viewpoint, her two labours couldn’t have been any further apart – the first saw her shrouded by tears and expletives, thrashing around red-faced in agony; the second, using the Alexander Technique, was typified by a serene sense of purpose. She didn’t swear once.
Jane Clappison, Alexander Technique Teacher
*The Alexander Technique for Pregnancy and Childbirth – Britta Forsstrom and Mel Hampson
*The Alexander Technique Birth Book – Illana Machover and Angela Drake
I was so excited! My fella was home at last! I was madly in love and thought he was the most handsome man on the planet and he could do no wrong. We were at Manchester airport and we needed to get back to Hull. Basically West across the UK till you can’t go any further. We got in the car and I threw him my map (it was before the days of sat navs).
“Navigate us home will you?”
Despite being in a “caring profession” for the latter part of my working life, in certain ways I have a very analytical brain. It’s probably towards the “masculine” end of the spectrum, and especially where map reading lies. I had navigated for a few road rallies, so I knew how to plot routes and read maps, and I presumed it was common to most human beings, and especially to the male of the species. Consequently I had no doubts the love of my life would get us home via the shortest route. However, this was not to be the case! I discovered he wasn’t perfect and we had our first relationship challenge! I won’t call it an argument, because it wasn’t, in the classical sense.
A few moments passed and I was given my first instructions as to where to go. I was driving, he was the navigator. All was good. I could just point the car in the directions he gave me. So I did.
When we were driving through leafy suburbs, of goodness knows where, I finally said I thought we were going the wrong way. I pulled over. He didn’t know where we were on the map. That was a bit of an alarm bell. I suggested we ask someone, but that didn’t go down well. I regained my confidence when he seemed to know where we were on the map after all. We set off again.
When we were in the middle of a very seedy part of Manchester, next to a row of shops, I again decided to bring up the possibility that we were lost. (Just to clarify, Hull has lots of seedy areas too). We stopped again. This time I decided to check out where we were on the map, but I needed to know where he thought we were. Rough ball park figure? It wasn’t long before I said “You don’t know how to read maps, do you?” and, yes, you guessed, the reply was “No.”
We got home, but the 2-3 hour journey ended up being 5 and we knew an awful lot more about each other at the end of it! I didn’t take that opportunity to teach him how to read maps, and he never asked. We did eventually decide to take life’s journey separately. However, I know he has managed to drive across the continent without maps and I imagine he had some awesome detours.
Some people say that it’s possible to learn the Alexander Technique without books, as F.M. Alexander managed it that way. Others say it’s possible to read books and learn how to do it. Even others are now learning the Alexander Technique via video’s and online tutorials. Traditionally it was done with a teacher, present in the room, and mostly on a 1:1 basis, but also via groups. I imagine, no matter how, there will be some dead ends, detours, and possibly confusion. It is in the experience of doing it that one learns most. My take is that the intellectual/cognitive process often comes after the experience, or at least alongside it.
Without a map, it’s highly possible to get lost, end up in unwanted places and never get to the intended destination. There may be some incredible adventures. Even with a teacher, present, in the room, who has already done their Alexander Technique journey and knows their route and the terrain, it can be blissful and yet sometimes challenging to learn the technique. However, your teacher gets to know you and how to help you explore your beauty spots and is there with any pitfalls and bogs on the way. They can support you in where you want to go and how to navigate the best route.
What’s wonderful with the technique is the journey is a step at a time. The place you are standing in is what is explored and each step is an adventure.
I would love to join you on your Alexander Technique journey. If you would like to have a lesson/come to a workshop, contact me via the contact page or phone me – 01759 307282
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)
Pain spreads the longer it lasts. Has that happened to you? It starts with a pain in a small area, like the inside of the knee for instance, and then seems to spread to the whole knee, and up and down the leg. It’s called smudging! The scientific term is disinhibited. It’s something I have known academically for quite a while. I am now observing it in my swollen right knee which has been a problem since February.
The science is there to explain why the pain seems to spread. It’s why my knee often feels “odd” and like it’s much bigger than its neighbour. It explains why I might be tempted to walk with a stiff leg.
Smudging can happen anywhere in the body. A common problem is back or neck pain which often starts in a small area and then spreads up and down, or across the back. It’s a remarkable “extra protection” mechanism that can be great in the short term to reduce movement but most unhelpful in the long term.
So, what can I do about it? What can you do about it if you think you have “smudging” too? According to David Butler in his YouTube video there’s 3 things to do. One is education and I would recommend watching his video.
The other two are graded exposure and exploring the “part” in a different context. The Alexander Technique is a fabulous way to help with these two elements and “unsmudge” or re-embody that part that has become smudged.
I am supporting my knee healing by body mapping, thinking about moving, thinking into movement, exploring movement in different ways which are all parts of The Alexander Technique. These all help support the neuroplastic changes needed to unsmudge!
Contact me, Jane Clappison, if you want to learn how The Alexander Technique can work for you to reduce pain and help you move more freely and easily – 01759 307282.
The next workshop I am giving is “Managing Pain with the Alexander Technique” on 14th October 2017 if you prefer a group environment to learn. Further details here:- http://www.janeclappison.co.uk/workshops/