Thursday, November 15, 2007

Japanese Body Thinking Certificate Course

I am in the process of radically re-engineering my Alexander training in Japan. I am sure to have my critics, but I thought it worthwhile to start jotting down some of the ideas that are driving this change - not the needs to meet the market that I have commented on previously, more the meaning of the work as it is for me today.

I am developing two courses in tandem, the Body Thinking course to be launched next year - the one most resembling what people call "Body Mapping" these days - and the Thinking Body course, which will launch in 2009 with an identical structure, but different content. I thought now I would elucidate my thoughts on the root foundation of the course I am assembling together. This may make it clearer than I am making a hybrid marriage between simply informational/experiential body mapping, and the deeper aspects of AT work.

Remember that my program is actually designed to be the first stepping stone towards the final outcome of being an AT teacher - it is designed with that idea in mind, although it offers "interim" practicing certificates along the way which is where I am sure to experience the most heat from the AT community!

Actually, what the course can become is still in the process of forming - and the formation now is at a very basic what-is-this-work-about, level, not actually concrete processes, more the ideas that underpin it. At the moment the easiest way for me to articulate my conceptual foundation is to burrow from Buddhist ideas, link them to Alexander's and arrive at the 'BodyMapping' conclusion which superficially, the first "certificate" course is all about.

My interest at the moment is the relationship between the object and the label we give that object. The "label" can be my physical structures, my idea of movement, my concepts about time, result, need, wish etc. The object is the thing that is existing that can, in some but not all cases, be sensorially perceived by others. So as we are dealing with a person's co-ordination, the 'objects' are the anatomical structural bits, the movements that they can make together and the concepts that drive them.

The 'Body Thinking' course is taking more focus on the anatomical structures and the movements that they are capable of. The 'Thinking Body' course is taking more focus on the concepts that drive these movements. Eventually I will offer both courses in tandem, in a way that they complement each other. The way I am guiding my movement is influenced by my concepts, so initially the concepts I hold of 'what is a head?' and 'how does it move in relation to my spine?' and 'what is my spine?' and 'how does it in turn move in relation to my limbs' etc. are the basis upon which I evolve strategies for different activities.

[ASIDE: However, I am also keen to create a "stand alone" structure so that doing one still lets you arrive somewhere where you have some skills to be helpful to other people. Part of my ambition is to tear down the huge wall that now separates the Alexander "expert" and the "beginner". I think there are baby steps that people can take, and share with each other which, while obviously fraught with possibility of distortion are, nonetheless, often of more help than harm to others. Anyway, I intend to test that in practice.]

Alexander's idea that we live in delusion I equate with this: we hold the idea of our head as the head itself. When, for example, I think my 'whole head' even with the word 'whole' it is still not the head itself. The label is different from the basis of the label. In Buddhist terminology, they express it by saying there is the label, and there is the basis of designation of the label - and these are two different things. If I say head, I say it on the basis of something that is existing there. What is existing there has society's consensual agreement - 'this is a head' but the thing that is actually existing there is NOT the head, it is the basis of designation of 'head'. It works as a basis of designation because it functions in a way that everyone agrees a head should function, so we label that thing 'head', However, it is not a 'head.' There is definitely something there, but it is not a 'head' there. The 'head' is my conceptional designation, not the object itself. Thinking that both are the same is already a mild form of sensory delusion.

Problems arise when we confuse the label with its basis of its designation. We think that our idea of head IS THE ACTUAL OBJECT, and it clearly is not. From this common way of relating to the objects of the world, our delusionary aspect arises. In Alexander terms, between the actual thing that is existing there, and the label I give it, there is some kind of discrepency, some kind of difference.[ "All the fools of the world actually believe they are doing what they think they are doing" - Alexander] The label can never be the same thing as the actual object because it has been created so there can be consensus about what that 'thing' over there actually is. If we already knew what is was, it would not be necessary to learn the word we use to lable it. What is an 'atama' do you know? Of course not. But actually, for a Japanese, that is what there! There is no "head" there for a non-english speaking Japanese person. However, if we assume that our label and the object are identical, we already have some kind of faulty appreciation. The further my idea departs or differs from the actual existing thing, the greater my faulty sensory appreciation of the world becomes.

In one sense, no matter how healthy we are, we are all hallucinating, we all have some degree of faulty sensory appreciation. There is no such thing as correct or perfect sensory appreciation because the whole process is so individual, so much MY concept of the world, not the world itself, so my concept will always differ in some way from yours. Healthy just means that our view accords more closely to the reality of things, or with what others agree is the reality of things (which may in itself be an unhealthy distortion, albeit a commonly designated one.)

So this process of moving my idea to more closely match the actual world around me us an important process to understand and apply which will lead to increasing harmony with things, and consequently - happiness. (But that's another essay!) I remember Cathy Madden telling me that the American Indians only have two 'rules' or 'guides' - be honest and be kind. I see the process I am describing here as part of being honest - being honest with how things actually exist, not how I want them to exist, nor how I imagine them existing, but how they actually are existing. Which brings us to the BodyMapping principle - we try to move in the way we believe we are built, not in the way we are actually built.

I see this as the key aspect of learning that is on offer in the BodyMapping course (= Body Thinking Course). Of course I may not put it like that to the public - it doesn't flow that well in marketing terms! Still, I still see that as the primary activity: discarding distortions and replacing them with as much clarity as can be mustered at the time. The process by which that can be done is of course linked up with FM's chain of related discoveries.

The subject matter to use as a means of exploring and practising this process could vary. In the Body Thinking course, we take the position that it is really good to get a clear idea of how you are put together: to clarify the structures and clarify how they can move (and how they can not). In other words, do a spring cleaning of all the labels, make new ones with a clear basis of designation which accords better with how we are put together. Just focusing on structure itself is not the point, it is the dynamic between structure and movements that is critical. It is really your normal AT training - but with, I plan, a little more rigour, structure and emphasis. More on why I want that in another posting.

So publicly it is put out as a course on leaning about all your body parts and how they can move. More fundamentally it is about PRACTISING a process of identifying faulty ideas that put us out of co-ordination and learning how to deal with them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Reincarnation & Cognitive Science

The idea of reincarnation for me at the moment is more based on faith, rather than being a belief based on logic - but with the advances of Cognitive Science, that could change. The door began to open after listening to an amazing talk by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (LZR) where the walls seem to flutter and everything melt around me. This talk was on emptiness, but touched on reincarnation.

He described the Buddhist logic that, according to the law of cause and effect (which says the result must be of the same nature of the cause - an oak tree will not grow from the seed of a cedar tree for example) our consciousness can not arise from matter, as consciousness is not in the nature of matter. Consciousness is formless, it is immaterial. It is defined as that which is clear (formless) and knowing. Therefore the first moment of consciousness in our life needed a previous moment to come into existence. It would be impossble for it to arise from matter, or from nothing, in the same way it would be impossible to get ice by boiling water or have $10 appear in my hand from no where. There has to be a cause, and if the cause is not in the same nature as the result, that result can not be got!

So our body is material, sperm/egg is material - how can it then be the basis of a moment of consciousness, which is immaterial? That the consciousness combines with matter, is interdependent with matter, is not the issue. Matter can not be the cause of non-matter.

It was convincing from a logical point of view - IF YOU ACCEPT that consciousness is not matter.

In Cognitive Science these days, what is Human Consciousness is the big question, and they are gradually but surely facing down the Materialists who insist its basis is purely the brain organ. There is a crack in this edifice of materialism, in much the same way that Descartes' idea of objective certainty was finally questioned by Hiesenburg's Uncertainly Principle, and so, with Einsten's help, tearing apart Newton's vision of the world by ushering in the mysterious world of quantum physics, and in the process putting into place a firm, scientific basis for Buddha's description of reality as being a relationship between form and emptiness - i.e. emptiness is form, form is emptiness - neither eternalism or nilhism, but a delicate balance that has elements of both, but is in fact neither.

In much the same way today - if Scientists do finally conclude that consciousness is other than matter, then LZR's logic becomes impeccable from a leading edge Scientific perspective.

Voila reincarnation!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The 5 Ever-Present Factors of Mind

As an Alexander teacher, I am always dealing with a person's mental conception. This sits at the core of all movements. I think it is misleading to think of AT as "bodywork". If we must use terms like that, then it would be better to call it "mindwork" where the practitioner also touches your body to support the new conception of movement that you are being guided towards.

So I am always interested in finding new information about the mind. However, the 5 ever-present factors of mind is not new information. This was first formulated by a Buddhist philosopher known as Asunga, and it constitutes an aspect of the Buddhist epistimology of how our mind aquires knowledge.

There are 54 mental factors (or is it 51?) and the factors that must be present for any mind to function are:

1. Intention: what are you wanting to do right now?
2. Contact: what is the object you are contacting?
3. Attention: not passing by quickly, but maintaining attention on the object (which can be an idea)
4. Discernment: being able to recognise the object as distinct from "other" objects.
5. Feeling: In the sense of 'knowing' that you are in this process.

They do not necessarily run in this order, as they all exist simultaneously. However, it is easier to apprendend their functionality by considering them in succession. Here's an example of how you might use this model...

At my training school, I successfully apply this model to assist my trainees to develop their faculty of observing the movements of their own students. Intention is where most inexperienced observers first misdirect - a person thinks something like "I really hope I can see what is happening this time." This is a totally misguided intention, almost assuring them that they WILL NOT see anything substantive. Following on from that comes 2. Contact - they are mostly in contact with the idea that "observation is hard/I can't do this/I am not seeing anything now!' therefore 3. Attention - is not consistently maintained towords their object (which is not clear to begin with), but instead they are fluttering all about in a chaotic maelstrom of conflicting intentions, objects and attentions. All of which makes it next to impossible for any meaningful 4. Discernment - no real understanding of the process can arise and hence their 5. Feeling - moves towards a sense of uselessness, powerlessness, helplessness in the face of their perceived inability.

Teaching successfully, in the aspect of observing your student, means deciding clearly upon 1, your intention - to observe the movments of my student, so that 2. the contact is clear - of simply receiving the information of the student's movements and so that my 3. attention - is continuing to watch so that from 4. discernment results in the analysis of the movement (from the thoroughly received information) so that your 5. feeling - results in a sense of knowing about the whole process.

Something like that. Try it out next time you teach.

Jeremy, Kyoto, May 2007.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cognitive Science

Just finished Golden Week Residential with Rachel Zahn as the visitor. She has an amazing message for the Alexander community. What's happening in Cognitive Science is totally Alexander.

What is Congnitive Science? It's a generic description that cobbles together of a number of different disciplines which all seem to be converging towards the same interests and questions: robotics, artificial intellingence, psychology, philosophy, linguistics and neuroscience. They don't know about us, but the description of what they are looking for matches Tibeten Buddhist mind training (which they DO know about, and are are starting to explore) and Alexander. Which they don't know about - but hey, how do you think they will react when they find that the some of the seminal scientific thinkers who have recently re-gained popularity as laying the foundations of modern Cognitive Science ALL had connections with Alexander: Sir Charles Sherrington (the father of neuroscience who wrote favourable about Alexander in one of his books), William James (who FM wrote was going to come for lessons until he became ill and died), John Dewey (who has just - LAST YEAR - had three of his books translated and published for the first time in French) and Karl Popper - who had AT lessons (Walter Carrington said).

I could go on - but go read Rachel's piece in the Oxford 2004 Congress Papers if you haven't already. Convince your local Alexander Society to invite her to offer an overview of Cognitive Science and Alexander. She told me that one of the biggest names these days, who commands respect from other world class neuroscientists - Alain Berthoz - walks up on stage at a Conference and the first he says is that his entire movement of walking up on stage was guided by his head and neck. And this guy knows next to nothing about Alexander's discoveries!

Very exciting times. The technology and understanding has finally arrived to catapult Alexander's discoveries to the front line of neuroscience. Rachel's message? We need to get ready. It's no longer a question of us looking for them, THEY will soon be coming looking for us.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Buddhist Epistemology Applied to Learning AT: Essay

Buddhist Epistemology Applied to Learning the Alexander Technique

In this essay I will take the Buddhist epistemological 5-fold division of coming to know an object and explore its relation to coming to know the object of natural human co-ordination. The process of discovering this object was the work of F. M. Alexander. It stands in my mind as one of the outstanding discoveries of the 20th century, yet remains largely unrecognized precisely because the knowledge can only be understood in its full impact by a process of direct perception. So I think it is quite interesting to explore how Buddhist epistemology can be understood in an Alexander context.

In this essay I will explore my own knowledge and experience, from my first lesson in 1969, to my experience today as a trainer of Alexander teachers in Japan.

The Epistemological 5-fold division is as follows:
1. Wrong View
2. Doubt: towards wrong view, equivocal, towards correct view
3. Correctly Assuming
4. Inferential Cognition
5. Direct Perception

A great debate rages in the Alexander world: how should we advertise ourselves? If we actually say what we do, people just don’t get it. If we talk in the way people expect — just do these things, pay this money, and you will get better—then aren’t we selling ourselves out to the very ideas we are attempting to re-educate?

So every Alexander teacher is usually faced with the same problem when first beginning to guide a new student into knowing their own co-ordination—the student’s profound wrong view of how movement actually works. It is not the kind of ignorance where they are lacking information—that would be easier to remedy—it is the kind of ignorance where they are actively entertaining the wrong idea.

From a very early age, most of us are “told” to stand up straight, to sit well, stop slouching, keep our shoulders back, look sharp, stand to attention etc. etc. The underlying presumption in all these directives is that both parties already know what constitutes good co-ordination. However, even the casual investigator of people’s everyday co-ordination will soon infer that this knowledge is not known. The ubiquitous stiff neck, together with commonly found sore backs and a host of other posturally-induced ailments is adequate testimony of our abyssal lack of real knowledge when it comes to knowing how to best utilize the extraordinarily efficient design of our movement system.

Underlying all our misdirected efforts is an attitude fundamental to all our suffering—attachment to the idea that we need to ‘do’ the correct thing, that there is a ‘correct’ and new object to be found, and when we finally know this object, then all will be well. So we set ourselves off in an endless progression of ‘actions’ to try to ‘correct’ the misaligned and misdirected patterns of movement, and usually find ourselves getting no where. We impose our ideas on the functioning of our system, when the problem is our many erroneous ideas that are already being imposed on the movement of our system.

The essential wrong view here is that we are not an agent in the cause of our problem. Our language is even structured to abrogate our responsibility for our condition. You will hear a person say: ‘I have a bad back’. They have a bad back? Really? What does it look like? Where does it begin and end? How is it that it can function independently of mind to ‘cause’ your problem?

It takes only a short insightful meditation to realize the wrongness of this view, yet this language of cause is universally accepted as a natural way to express of how things are existing in relation to our movements. However, the reality is that nothing, beyond my own actions, is ‘causing’ my neck to be stiff. It is not a result of stress or pressure. It is not a result of ‘people making me do’ things. It is not a result of my being ‘too tired’ or ‘too old’ or ‘too busy’. It is nothing more than my own reaction to whatever cause presents itself. This is familiar territory for a Buddhist—transformation of our state of mind is based on this simple idea. It is a process of changing my reaction to a cause, by recognizing that it is within my power to do so.

Student: “I understand what you mean, it’s all because of me. I accept that. So what exercises can I do to make it better?”
Teacher: “There are no exercises.”
S: “What do you mean? How can I practice?”
T: “By becoming aware of what you are doing.”

At this point in the lesson, the student often cocks their head to one side, look suspiciously at the teacher, and wonders if they haven’t wasted their money after all.

Overcoming doubt is a great first problem in the knowing process. And here Alexander evolved an extraordinary solution—he bypassed conceptuality and evolved a means to offer a directly perceived experience of an alternative co-ordination. Direct perception always involves some molecular or particle transaction with phenomena external to our Self, in this case the physical contact of the teachers hands on the various parts of the students body. Through this contact, the teacher is able to impart to the student the experience of a manner of co-ordination more naturally suited to the design of the human structure.

It overcomes doubt very quickly, but it still leaves the student ignorant of how they can bring about this experience on their own. This dichotomy between conceptually knowing and perceptually knowing the experience of good co-ordination is at the heart of widely different teaching pedagogies within the Alexander community.

To know good co-ordination, without having any concept other than the experience, is a wonderful gift to offer any person. In England, the British Medical Journal is about to publish a report on a 10 year, million pound research project into the Alexander Technique and the results, we are assured, are almost beyond belief—it will cause headline news when they are published. I mention this as I believe it constitutes proof that, by directly knowing a thing, we are transformed in ways that knowledge alone can not do.

I have also heard stories of Lamas that can ‘transmit’ some kind of experience to their students which has a transforming effect on their lives. I often wonder what conditions are necessary within the student to be granted such a gift from the Lama? Surely we could all benefit from such a transmission? But that is not the topic of this essay.

Anyway, by far the most effective means of overcoming doubt, is to devise a way that a person can directly experience the fruits of the knowledge that is being imparted. In the absence of being able to do that—what is the choice?

Illustrating Ignorance

To induce knowing without the benefit of experience, it becomes necessary to use logic that can be checked by the person in doubt. In Alexander work, this would include mapping the actual structure of the human body, based a vast body of knowledge that is universally trusted by most people, and comparing that reality with the knowledge that the individual carries around them concerning their own body. The ideas that people can entertain are bizarre—and offering factual knowledge that refutes their current conception is a powerful means of overcoming doubt, or at least nudging it away from the doubt that this is all a lot of new age bunk, to the doubt that maybe there really is something in this…

The same methodology can be applied to everyday movements, comparing a person’s perception of what they are doing, while simultaneously demonstrating—by use or a mirror or video—that the reality does not match their perception of it.

So the work of knowing at this stage involves sweeping away all the clouds of ignorantly held ideas, so there can be a clearing for ushering in new ideas. We could also argue that they are not really new ideas, they were existing all the time. They are like the blue sky which was obscured by the clouds of ignorance. As ignorance is blown away, so is doubt, leaving the clear blue sky and the beginnings of acceptance of how things actually exist, including our way of using ourselves.

In this phase of knowing Alexander’s work, people often get fanatical—so convinced are they of the efficacy of the work, they want the whole world to know about it. I know, I was one! It is so interesting now to look back and see how my deeply held convictions had no real substance and understanding as understood from my perspective of today.

Correctly assuming a knowledge about co-ordination means that you accept that the information you are being given is correct. Because some of the information is powerful and effective, then all information from teachers is assumed to be correct. This is a grave error. Alexander, and the teachers he directly and indirectly trained, are not possessing knowledge without fault. People can, and do, collect odd ideas and hold these ideas as true.

My intention here is to point out that correctly assumed knowledge, while certainly a step closer to knowing than just having doubt, is still subject to distortion and misapprehension. Often we are taking the information as true on the authority of someone or some group that we respect. We can then regurgitate this knowledge as an ‘authority’ on the subject and become quite convincing in the process, while further distorting it ourselves. So knowledge at this level is unstable, it is subject to distortion and easily lost.

I remember an interesting Zen story that illustrations this stage of ‘knowing’. Many different sects where invited to a ecumenical council to discuss differences of understanding about the cosmological nature of things. In one room were the young monks and priests, all arguing fiercely for their point of view, hungry to prove the other wrong. In another room were the Masters—all silent, quietly knowing the oneness of their common realizations. HH Dalai Lama often talks about his encounter with a meditating priest: how, despite the huge difference in their lineages, he knew at once that the monk had some universal knowledge, common to anyone who has acquired inferential or direct knowledge.


This is knowledge that you can truly call your own. In my ‘knowing’ of the object of human co-ordination, I can honestly say that I have only, in the last year or two, began to have knowledge that is truly mine. This is after 38 years of studying the subject. By reflecting on how I know this information, I can glimpse the meaning of what it means to know an object through inferential processes.

In my own case, the zeal emptied out of my work, and it become more relaxed and enjoyable. Not that I became quiet, but my inner need to prove others wrong—and convince myself I was right—which was so apparent in the earlier stage of knowing, ceased to be of so much concern to me. I was far more interested in understanding the condition of the other person’s knowing—seeing much more of what is around me, because my inner world became quieter.

I think a relaxed attitude results because the knowledge is truly ‘seen’ as it manifests in the world. It certainly results in a transformation of behaviour in Alexander terms, and I imagine this must also be true of Buddhist practise.

In the Alexander world, this knowledge is imparted through the teacher’s hands right at the beginning of the process. But it is experience without knowledge backing it. It is as though someone has helped you walk through a door, but when you arrive on the other side—there is nothing there! Everything is empty. It is like experiencing the reflection of the moon in the lake—it is not the real thing, but it is close enough to convince us that something special is happening, that you think you know what the moon is really like.

In Alexander’s own case, this was not the case. Alexander could only come to the experience of knowing the object of natural human co-ordination by a long, rigorous process of observation, analysis and experimentation. He has written about this period of discovery, and it is interesting to note that his final obstacle, that for several years blocked his ability to know, was that the experience was so startling and unexpected that his system simply refused to be guided by the knowledge contained within that experience.

Later Alexander said: “We can’t do what we don’t know, if we keep on doing what we do know.” The power of directly knowing an object is that it completely blows away any apprehension that preceded it. (At least—I imagine it is that way.) And yet, before the door can be opened to that new experience, we have to be guided by a 100% trust in our own reasoning processes. We must be convinced, without a shred of doubt, about the conceptual construction we have built from our long hours of listening, reflecting and meditating. So direct perception of an object, Dharakirti surmised, must be built upon a rock solid base of inferential cognition.

There is a lot more I could add, but I am already overdone! Thanks for your patience in seeing it through to the end.

Kyoto, April, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Building an AT Corporation

Now I am beginning to think about a talk to offer at the next 2008 Congress:

Building An Alexander Teaching Corporation

- what is meant by "corporate'?: working with colleagues within a financially unified legal entity that carries the "identity" of the group and is run corporate style

- history of corporate AT: Ashley Place, ACAT, ATA London, SATA, Bloomsbury Centre, Walter's CTC, other examples - Alexander family tree useuful here.

- consumer and non-consumer/Professional market: historically, AT mostly sold to non-consumer, professional market; very little thought to consumer market.

- use of brand names: e.g. 1. Art of Swimming  2. EyeBody 3. BodyChance
- 1. & 2. above are brands based on tangents of AT; 3. example of one centered on AT, but marketing a distinctive style of teaching

- pedagogical and marketing issues: style of teaching matches lesson/group; matching teaching method to the market you are aiming

- demographic of audience: using market research to determine distinct demographics, particularly in consumer market - ages; class; etc.

- definitions based on need: people who want to be fixed, people who want to know about body mechanics, people who want to transform; 

- budgeting and products: defining your products pedagogically, financially & demographically

- creating products: selling "packages" rather than "lessons" or "groups"

- growing without resources: free publicity, leveraging the AT history and prestige & famous individuals; leveraging client base with events to generate buzz

- developing life long training system based on community building: examples in Japan: tea ceremony, ikibana, martial arts dojos etc.

- BodyChance AT Training System: contemporary example of life long training system

- long term financial stability: using studio property purchases to increase equity, studio/training rental guarantee for mortgage

- resourcing graduates: offering financial, logistical, managerial support (at a cost) to engineer more successful career based AT Teachers

- defining mutually supportive roles of teaching training, studio network, master teacher role models within both the consumer and non-consumer markets.

Perhaps I will use this blog to flesh out each of these headings until something clearer emerges. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Tablework, I believe, is predicated on the idea that the person must be 'restored', 're-educated' i.e. their sensory appreciation must be brought up to scratch (means become reliable). Now, while I don't doubt that when this can be affected, there will be a tremendous increase in health & vitality, hence mental condition, I do doubt that this step is essential, that it is the ONLY WAY a person can return to a good condition.

The connection between mental health (which for me means a person who is reliably in touch with the realities of this world) and our 'use of self' is undeniable close. But is it a strictly one-way causal relationship in the sense that - improve your use, improve your mind? Alexander's own pedagogy, it seems, is based solely on this assumption. And there is a tremendous amount of evidence that verifies this assumption.

Unfortunately, there is also abundant evidence to counter it. There are many examples of people, who we would classify as having appalling use, who are in great mental health, who definitely show qualities we would normally associate with persons already a long way along the path of 'conscious, constructive control' of their 'self'. The exception seems to point to the fact that a DIFFERENT MECHANISM is at play when it comes to the question of becoming more in touch with reality.

How did they do that without ever having had an Alexander lesson? Or a table turn? And with such terrible use!