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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
For years, mornings started with my own mental daily movie examining absolutely everything I had done the day before. I looked for mistakes rather than successes e.g. when I was dieting the movie was about food eaten, and spotting “mistakes” so I could lose more weight. Teaching session movies were about perceived faults and how I could improve them. Meetings with people were replayed to work out how I could do them “better!” This mental marathon happened before getting out of bed and meant I started off the day with an incredibly “wired” brain! It didn’t change anything that had happened and started the coming day with rules about how I should be different! No opportunity to be in the moment, flexible and go with the flow!
However, I have discovered a few Alexander Technique based steps which make these morning “replays” either non-existent or at least very much shorter and more positive! I’d like to share some of my experience with you!
“When you know better you do better.” Maya Angelou
The change came in when I started to have Alexander Technique lessons. I learned to notice things in the present moment with no pressure. Over a few lessons I became less ridged in my thinking, less angry and anxious. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own emotions and thoughts. I began to know myself much more. I now understand that I did my morning mental check (and maybe you do too) to “keep myself safe”. If you want to know more about struggling with unwanted thoughts, read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris as he explains this kind of thinking in more detail.
Lessons taught me I didn’t, and don’t, have to vigilantly work out how to do things differently. I can make mistakes (and learn from them) and it’s ok. I can be loved for who I am exactly as I am! I am safe. This has not happened overnight. It has evolved over the last 27+ years! I learned to stop bracing myself and let my muscular armour soften and dissolve into a more fluid, responsive state.
However, old habits die hard! So, when I found myself replaying the workshop I had taught at the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique AGM in 2016 I took a different approach to the one I might have done previously. I applied The Alexander Technique to it.
- I noticed my thoughts from a place of curiosity – “Oh, there are those thoughts again!”
- I knew I didn’t have to change anything.
- I became aware of where I was, what I was hearing, seeing and doing which released all sorts of tensions. I knew I was safe in that moment.
- Knowing I didn’t have to change anything, and that I could just BE IN THE MOMENT also had the paradoxical effect of breaking the old pattern.
- Then I applied further “Alexander Technique” in the form of invitation/s (directions) to my body – “Let my neck be free” and ” I invite my shoulders to do less and widen.”
- Now I was feeling much more blissfully in the moment and could breath and know I didn’t need to change anything!
Some of these behaviours may be familiar? If you want to learn how to change tense muscles to responsive muscles, cyclical thoughts to ones that have choices, feel happier in your own skin being uniquely you…do get in touch! Contact me! Jane – 01759 307282
The tension had built up in almost all of my body before it reached a level that I noticed (but then I applied The Alexander Technique.) You see, today is “Pear Chutney” day. It is a ritual that happens for a day, once a year, except for last year when the tree produced 4 pears and I thought I would leave them for the birds!
It’s a labour intensive job that is shared with my husband as we peel, chop, squeeze, & de-core our way through pounds of fruit and onions with the outcome of 12 jars of popular chutney.
So that tension I noticed! At first I marvelled at how “end gaining” i.e. producing the jars of chutney in the quickest possible time, can suck me into all sorts of habits that result in discomfort! Then I noticed where the tension had built up! My feet were gripping, my legs were rigid, my hands were holding on tightly to the knife, the back of my neck was doing way more than it needed! Then I remembered that I can enjoy the journey, by applying The Alexander Technique, as well as produce 12 jars of chutney!
I stopped chopping for a moment. I noticed the warmth of the oven on my leg (the cooking chicken for our cat). I invited the tension in my body to release and for my feet to rest, instead of grip. I also noticed the coolness of the floor!
Over the next few hours, I took time to notice sights, sounds and yummy smells and I gently gave myself a “direction” every now and again.
Directions are an important part of The Alexander Technique. They are rather like wishes in a fairy tale. I just need to say these directions to myself, to ask, and my body knows what to do. I gave “directions” to my hands to hold the knife softly, to my ribs to float freely with each breath, to my neck to allow my head to rest on the top of my spine, for my back to widen. I invited my calves to soften and release my heels to the floor. I invited my crown to release away from my feet. I invited flow through my legs as I stood in a monkey (with my knees releasing away from my back). I was less machine like and the process became more of a dance.
My husband (who has had Alexander Lessons) noticed what his neck was doing. As he is much taller than me we got a box so he could continue cooking at a better height for him. He too stood in a monkey position to put much less pressure on his spine.
We took time out to have a coffee, we went out and enjoyed the garden, and we even caught up on Dr Who! We paced the task and we got the chutney made with no discomfort. Actually I really enjoyed it and took some pictures too!
Interested in the Alexander Technique and how do things mindfully, with much less effort? You will learn how to use directions and how they can benefit you in daily life! Use my contact page, or give me a ring on 01759 307282 to book a lesson.
With thanks to all my Alexander Technique teachers, but in particular to Walter Carrington (who I met through his books and through his pupils) for the fairytale wishes.
Copyright – All photographs – by D J Clappison.