Friday, September 10, 2010

One student's journey

A while back I posted some thoughts on Alexander Technique, which I studied for a short while when I was in college. To summarize, it's a technique for getting more familiar with one's body. It has been utilized for decades to improve singing, dancing and acting technique. It's worth exploring.

I recently received this note from a student:

I've taken 2 Alexander lessons so far and it's been pretty good so far, but I have a lot of alignment issues to work through. I think I will take a break from swing dancing (at least a month, maybe 2 or 3) so I can get a solid foundation in Alexander for my core support and mobility without worrying about the social aspects. When I try to dance now I can feel that it's just a useless arm lead and that I'm not bending/relaxing in the right places, but I don't have the Alexander mojo yet, so I just reinforce the bad habits and feel awkward. Alexander used to tell people to take a year off their instrument but modern teachers never tell them to take any time off. I'll compromise between the extremes and take 1-3 months off. I will work on retraining my pulsing and watch swing videos with Alexander-style attention during this time of jedi training ;-)

One interesting thing you get from Alexander is learning that a lot of flexibility problems are just bending at the wrong place (for instance at the waist instead of the hips) and not actual muscle inflexibility. Also, releasing the neck to enable Primary Control is pretty cool too. Just by releasing my neck I can go from my normal falling backwards to pull a door open to instead just standing there and activating my chest, which feels more graceful. I think for someone as misaligned as me, this is the only way it is possible to move past the intermediate stage of any athletic activity like swing.

I asked this student whether I could post his note here. He responded yes, but

...[I]f anybody tries anything I mentioned without formal Alexander training they will almost definitely not succeed at it. When you try to release tension on your own you can only go as far as your current kinesthetic sense tells you is possible. It takes a teacher to guide you into unfamiliar but better ways of moving for your kinesthesia to start correcting itself. Before I started taking lessons I thought my neck was plenty relaxed, but then I found out that it was only relaxing enough so that I thought my head was straight. In reality, my head was pulled back and my neck muscles were tensing to keep it there because that was trained as "straight". I had to be shown by a teacher that what felt to me like my head was tilted forward was actually straight and I didn't need to use any neck muscles to keep it from falling over. I still feel now like my head is tilted forward when it's straight, even if I'm looking in the mirror right at my straight head. I would have never figured this out alone or from a book because I felt very sure before then that my head was straight and my neck was relaxed when I was really being lied to.

So, kudos to this student on their first steps down this road. It will be well worth the journey. Hope to see you when you're back!


Another student on Facebook quoted the Sindbad song from the Popeye cartoons. I responded with this video that I remember finding on an obscure vhs tape from Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee. That's how we used to find videos before the intertubes.