Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Transformational Structure #6


Last night was the winter festival at Shearwater, the Steiner school that my kids attend. Parents, kids and teachers all gather outside to watch the 570 children perform on the grass amphitheatre with candles, costumes and chants. As we were standing around waiting, my mentor (whose child also attends) called me over, gestured for me to listen as he talked business with a successful local business man in the town that I live. So I stood and listened to them talk about numbers of people on the mail list, how a google add campaign could lift one aspect of business, schemes to lift the numbers of list, a plan to JV another income stream etc. etc.

As I took in their friendly business banter, I could feel my own business intentionality waking up… “Oh, I could this, and that. I must make my list happen, and campaign to get more people that way…” I came out of the fog, out of the sludge—suddenly, in a few moments, I was back feeling motivated, crystal clear and ready to act. Then I went to the meta-position and thought “Wow! This is what you are missing Jerry.” I understand, for about the 100th time, how critical it is to be in the energy field of others who share your aspirations, who vibrate in the same way, who want similar things, albeit wrapped in infinitely different forms.

The winter festival honours the longest night of the year, and sometimes I have been feeling this year as the longest night of my career. I find direction, I get lost. I find it again, lose it again. Not that my super objective ever gets lost, but the means whereby—the turns, twists, bends and reverses—these I keep discovering moment to moment, day by day, week after week.

In this condition, the primary challenge is motivation: keeping the fire alight—this is true for anyone, whether like me aiming to launch a new business by the mere sweat of my brow, or someone desperately seeking a job to pay the mortgage and care for the family (like me). Every day can feel insurmountable, the urge to seek refuge in behavioural distractions continuous. How can you manage?

That’s the subject of to-day’s 6th instalment on the deeper structure of transformational processes: you can not do it alone. You need mentors, teachers and people around you that offer support, that challenge and give in ways that you need to be able to carry on…

Stage 2: Decider


Think about this: what was the tool that opened up Alexander's investigation? It was a mirror. We can think of the mirror as functioning both literally (in Alexander's case) and metaphorically (in the case of teacher and student). The teacher is the mirror for the student: their primary job is to reflect back to the student the truthful information about what they are doing.

We don't change by just researching and analysing alone. At some point, we need to step up to the challenge of change and be willing to take risks, to let go of cherished beliefs, feelings and behaviours, move out of our 'comfort zone' and behave in ways that initially feel entirely alien and uncomfortable to us, even morally wrong in some cases. In the interest of achieving what we consciously wish, we need to subject ourselves to a state of great insecurity and turmoil. This is not something most people can do alone: you need help. You need a constant presence in your life that keeps reminding you to 'decide' to make this change. Whereas we talked about how the "Wisher" influences our learning plan, at this stage wish is not enough. We need a new influence, a new source of energy, now coming in the form of a "Decider" influence: our teacher, our group, some person or thing that keeps reflecting me back to me, just as Alexander needed to do before he could progress. If you look at the chapter, he writes three special paragraphs about how important the mirror was to his progress. (In Use of the Self, Chapter 1 “Evolution of A Technique.”)

Each stage is subtler than the last, so if you had trouble understanding the first Stage of the learning plan, you may be finding this stage even more mysterious. If it is clear to you, you will be excited by the implications that this second stage has in relation to your own teaching pedagogy and/or individual learning process.

An easy way to understand this stage is to imagine yourself or some other person you know with an obviously self-destructive habit that you have clearly seen needs to be changed. I can talk personally about my own past habit: I consumed excessive amounts of alcohol over many years. Originally I saw no harm in the habit, but through an innate process of research and analysis—Stage 1 of the learning plan—I came to the recognition that I needed to change.

So someone at Stage 2 of the learning plan already knows the problem, already recognizes the need to change. They may have many solutions in their mind (as I did) but somehow stay stuck (as I did). For me, just the wish to change was not strong enough—I needed more, I needed a "Decider" within me: in the form of an urge to be willing to do whatever was necessary to achieve the change I wanted.

How do you find your "Decider"?


The teacher is the "Decider" in relation to the student. Not that you make any choice about that: your ability to be a “Decider" for a student is entirely based on the student’s willingness to accept you as such.

If a student will not follow your suggestions, there is little you can do for them. This is true at the level of using touch, it is true at the level of behaviour. At the level of touch, I can not make a person's co-ordination change if they are unwilling for it to change. I may be able to force a change by skilful manipulation, but in my book that involves stepping over the line: now I am taking over the responsibility of the student to make the change on their own—my "hands on" is supplying everything. This can only result in an increasing relationship of dependency, simultaneously decreasing the autonomy of the student and their ability to consciously guide themselves. Isn't this the reverse of what the work is about?

Touch can certainly act as a 'motivator' for the student, waking them up to their potentiality, and helping to validate the truth of the information you are offering. This in turn can awaken the student’s willingness to listen and follow your advice, thus activating you as a powerful 'Decider' in their own mind. But it is still their choice that creates you as that in their mind, it does not come from your abilities or skill of touch alone.


Winning the trust and confidence of the student, by being an honest role model for what you are advocating, is the most essential tool you have for Stage 2 learning. Unless the student is willing to test out and be guided by what you are proposing, not much change will happen.

Teaching a student at Stage 2 means getting them to do more of the thinking on their own—lots of questions, practical experiments, constantly getting them to test their own ability to learn about themselves autonomously.

Being able to understand how a student is thinking about the problem is essential at this stage of development. Asking questions is an art—the right question often leads the student to discover the answer themselves. Teachers need to be able to learn ways to elicit information from the student, by coupling together their observation of the students' movement and language to guess at some of the 'invisible movements' present in the student's cognitive view. And if you don't know—ask them: what are you thinking about? Don't be satisfied with their first answer, keep questioning until you hear the answer your intuition was guessing was there…

To practice this art, in your teaching, start asking yourself the question: what does a person need to be thinking about in order to move and behave in this way? This kind of analytical skill, and the creativity to imagine what might be going on in a person's thinking, are essential tools to develop in order to guide a student at this Stage 2 of their work with themselves.


This stage corresponds with Alexander already knowing what he needed to do—the primary and secondary 'directions' he needed to project—yet finding himself unable to implement them:

"I set out to put this idea into practice, but I was at once brought up short by a series of startling and unexpected experiences. Like most people, I had believed up to this moment that if I thought out carefully how to improve my way of performing a certain act, I should be guided by my reasoning rather than by my feeling when it came to putting this thought into action, and that my "mind" was the superior and more effective directing agent. But the fallacy of this became apparent to me as soon as I attempted to employ conscious direction for the purpose of correcting some wrong use of myself which was habitual and therefore felt right to me. In actual practice I found that there was no clear dividing line between my unreasoned and my reasoned direction of myself, and that I was quite unable to prevent the two from overlapping. I was successful in employing my reasoning up to the point of projecting the directions which, after analysing the conditions of use present, I had decided were required for the new and improved use, and all went well as long as I did not attempt to carry these directions out for the purpose of speaking."

Harking back to my excessive drinking habit mentioned previously, I personally equate this stage to Alexander's words above like way: I knew I didn't want to drink. I would go out to meet my friends with this idea clearly and strongly in my intentions. Yet at the moment I meet with my friend, and found myself being offered a drink, it felt too wrong, too 'out of character' to say "No, I am not drinking tonight." So instead of doing what I intended to do, I would smile “Oh, why not?!” and have the drink. Like Alexander writes above, it didn’t always happen like that. Sometimes I could say no, sometimes not. But on the balance of it, the old behaviour prevailed far more many times than not, and I was at a loss what to do next.


NEXT INSTALLMENT: The secret and unique method Alexander devised for solving the problem of what to do when you don’t that which you said you would!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Transformational Structure #5

Apologies to the 5 people actually reading this series. That's how it feels to me – funny how sensory perceptions colour our states of being isn't it? In fact, it is not a feeling at all. It is a judgement, a conclusion that is mostly based on my hallucinatory projections. To unravel this mess, first I need something more concrete than my own deluded thinking. I could track the number of hits to the blog—there are ways of collecting such information. Based on that, I could then better assess how many people (might) be reading. On that a feeling would also arise, but now based on something more than conceptual cognitions with historic precedents that are no longer related to current conditions.

And this kind of constructive thinking is what the next instalment on running groups is all exploring…




Once we have researched our topic, then the creativity starts: how can we interpret this information? How does it all fit together? Are there any patterns that suggest new ways of understanding the situation? It is not the answer we are looking for, it is the question. We get the answers we want, once we figure out the questions we need to be asking ourselves.


One function of a group setting, as opposed to an individual lesson, is that through watching a student's interaction with a teacher, the other observers in the workshop are developing their skills of observation and analysis. They are not passive in their learning roles – with the teacher's prompting, every person can be actively learning.

It is part of a teacher's function in a group teaching situation to make sure that the other participants are being engaged in the process. There are many methods for doing this, and one sure way is to seek out the best teachers (in ANY modality – not just Alexander teachers) and spend time watching and wondering how they do what they do…


Taking on the point of view that we are assisting the person in including information about the entire area of their own co-ordination in pursuing their wish, essentially we need to be asking three questions:

i – What is the purpose of this person activity?

ii – What do they need to be doing?

iii – What do they need to stop doing?

During early lessons, we ask these questions and give students the answers, but our aim is to be training the student to be able to engage in this process successfully on their own. How we give 'answers' to the student at this level is often through using touch – a person can experience a new way of doing things, and in the process realise what they have been doing previously, and how they can change that in the future. But the use of touch is not always the most effective way to make a change at this level – offering a student a new way of thinking can be just as effective in certain circumstances. It is important to see that touch is in service of a greater goal, and not the goal itself. Touch is a tool, not an end.


After the passage quoted in "Research/ALEXANDER", where Alexander writes about the two facts he had at hand, he then goes on to analyse those facts:

"I considered the bearing of these two facts upon my difficulty, and I saw that if ordinary speaking did not cause hoarseness while reciting did, there must be something different between what I did in reciting and what I did in ordinary speaking. If this were so, and I could find out what the difference was, it might help me to get rid of the hoarseness, and at least I could do no harm by making an experiment."

Later he summarizes his approach by presenting his plan:

"(1) to analyse the conditions of use present;

(2) to select (reason out) the means whereby a more satisfactory use could be brought about;

(3) to project consciously the directions required for putting these means into effect."

At Stage 1 we are only working with (1) & (2), aiming to get a clearer understanding of what is going on in order to decide upon ways of testing out our ideas by making experiments.


NEXT TIME: A need for energy that can fuel the change process… Without it, nothing moves!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Biccy Budget Slashed, But ProCourse Continues

I flew in my dreams last night, in the last quarter of the night when the Dalai Lama says the meaning is most significant. I am on my back, looking up at trees and I can power myself, I can move miraculously across the tips of grass blades, in a field where a white cow is flying over fences designed to constrain him, staying ahead of the black cow in pursuit.

Yes, the Biccy Budget (for buying Arnotts Assorted Cream Biscuits) has been slashed, but our Sydney ProCourse continues. Three people dropped out, after only three weekends. I could be depressed, but I am past that now. I've done dark. We still have four members, so the tide is out. Whatever.

Instead, I march my faithful four down to Darling Harbour, with a fistful of flyers each, to watch as I cajole, terrify, entertain and lure whoever will listen to my declamation: "You can win $50 dollars today!" (And I snap the yellow note between my fingers, hold it high above my head amongst the glistening harbour water) "And the reason you have bad backs is the same reason you can't win this $50 dollars!" (…as an amused group of sunglasses ladies, hungrily holding ice creams in hand, park in front of this odd man in the afternoon sun) "And to win this $50 all you have to do is stand up from the stool without moving your head about."

"I'll do it" pips a little creature somewhere below my knees.

Quickly I think (they could win it) "But you need to have a bad back."

Soon they have one, and clamour again for a chance to win. More people stop, amusement is building - what is going on here?

"Will you take a flyer?" my students ask. Some will, some won't, some hand it back saying "Save a tree."

Than a rangers is there - I register on the video at the Central Office of the Sydney Foreshore Harbour Authority. "You have to stop" says the ranger "You don't have a license." Ah, a license.

So we stop. My students are excited. They enjoyed this little school excursion. We learned so much today - what interests people in this work? What kind of explanations kept them listening? What kind of explanations did not. Who stopped, and why.

Some of you who follow this blog may be expecting the next instalment of the structure of a BodyChance workshop. Well this was it today - creativity, moving out of the box, doing the undoable. That was today's lesson.

And it was fun. I wonder if the cow will fly tonight?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Transformational Structure #4

This is the fourth installment from an essay I wrote for the Lugarno Congress for Alexander Technique teachers in Switzerland in 2008. In that sense it is written specifically for teachers of Alexander Technique, but as a plan it is generic—anyone working in the field of transformation of restricting cognitive constructions (and name me one that isn't) will understand and use what I am writing about here. To save you time, there is a short synopsis just before the article proper!

However, before then – what is topical for me now? As I write tonight, I have completed the first day of a seminar on internet marketing—how FaceBook, Twitter, a Website, Mailing List and Blog all converge together to create a "story' for people which is compelling enough for them to tell their friends and eventually buy in to the service you (I) am creating.

For your business to work, it best grows out of your life purpose and passion. This is true of me. All my life—since the mystical (hysterical?) calling that prompted me at 18 years to resign from Australia's most prestigious performing arts school (NIDA) to pursue a career (vocation?) as a teacher of Alexander Technique—I have done nothing else. My first lesson was in 1969, so here I am, 41 years later, still doing the same thing.

And I am calling out for support - people who share my vision that Alexander's discoveries is one of humanities greatest gifts to itself, and 116 years after the first AT lesson was ever given in 1894, it is still crying out for visionaries bold enough to claim the mantle it so self-evidently deserves!

Is that you? The please contact me... Especially if you are in Australia now!


My big message from to-day's seminar was: do your research. This is my article topic today—you can't figure out how to navigate your way if you have no idea of your starting point. If you are in Sydney, how is a map of Tokyo going to help you find the Opera House? This is how it is for me building BodyChance in Sydney. Can I assume a successful formula from Japan is repeatable in Australia? Who will come here? What are their needs? Can they afford it?

As in a workshop, so in a business, so in your marriage, addiction or vision. After identifying your purpose and passion, now comes the time for collecting information…




Research means gathering information about the obstacle: What does the student already know? What can they tell you about it?

There is a lot of information already available about what we are doing, how things are happening in our world, so collecting all this information within your field of attention is important for being able to do the next step of analysis.

Researching and analysing are two interdependent activities – talking about them as separate steps is slightly misleading. For example: a new way of analysing data can lead you to a different kind of research. So they always operate in tandem, each one becoming a support for the other.


The aim is to help the person know:

i - how to seek information about their own co-ordination in relation to corresponding information about their behaviour in seeking their wish; and

ii – how to use that information to recognize their obstacle(s) in a new light.


Firstly, your student may be holding valuable information that they don't even realize has bearing on their wish. It is important to listen to them, to help them put together all the disparate facts about their current situation that they already know. It is better to let the pupil tell you about themselves, before you start telling them things about Alexander's discoveries.

Con-currently, you help them along the research path by using one of the most valuable tools you have: your touch. The teacher can use touch to awaken within a person a recognition of what is going on within a totally new framework of reference: Alexander non-doing and head co-ordination primacy. You 'reframe' the obstacle for them.

We are training the student to consciously manage their co-ordination whilst in pursuit of their wish. Under this heading comes the basic concept that head movements govern vertebral co-ordination, which in turn governs the use of the limbs. At this stage, the student knows basically nothing about this – the teacher's role is to awaken this area of knowledge within the consciousness of the student, and then demonstrate for them the diverse and powerful applications it has for researching and analysing what is going on in their lives in relation to their wishes.


The first information he gathered was recognition of two facts, things that he already knew before he started:

" When I set out on this investigation, I had two facts to go on. I had learned by experience that reciting brought about conditions of hoarseness, and that this hoarseness tended to disappear, as long as I confined the use of my voice to ordinary speaking, and at the same time had medical treatment for my throat and vocal organs."

These were facts, the analysis came next. (see next instalment: Analysing/ALEXANDER). Although it is not immediately apparent, close reading of the first chapter of Use of the Self reveals that there was in fact an extended period of collecting information by Alexander in his visits to numerous doctors and voice therapists:

"I therefore sought the advice of doctors and voice trainers in the hope of remedying my faulty breathing and relieving my hoarseness, but in spite of all that they could do in the way of treatment, the gasping and sucking in of breath when I was reciting became more and more exaggerated and the hoarseness recurred at shorter intervals. The treatment I was receiving became less and less effective as time went on, and the trouble gradually increased until, after a few years, I found to my dismay that I had developed a condition of hoarseness which from time to time culminated in a complete loss of voice."

Notice a few things in this passage. Alexander refers to "doctors and voice trainers" in the plural, so we can deduce his research involved visits to at least four different people. Later in the same passage, he writes "…as time went on and the trouble gradually increased until, after a few years…" so we know that this stage of his learning plan lasted several years. If you think about that, why would you want to skip over this stage of the lesson with your student so quickly? It is clear, when you read what follows, that this period of his learning helped Alexander develop a view about what was going on.

Another important aspect is to understand that 'research' can involve gathering information by testing the obstacle through contact with different modalities. Alexander's process of discovery does not exclude seeking help within other areas of knowledge or alternative techniques.


NEXT: Gaining insights from the information you collected or "When the Fun Starts"…

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Transformational Structure #3

Continuing my series on how to structure a group: today The Power of Wish.

For those just tunning in, the point I have been making (to save you time) is that the first job in any transformational relationship with another person is ensure that THEY are driving the process forward from within their own energy/cognitive construction. If you run the show, you get more of yourself. If you facilitate them to lead, you unravel a mystery…

The greatest compliment I can remember receiving was in Washington DC when I ran a workshop with some AT teachers, a Psychiatrist, a Dance Therapist and a couple of Psychologists back in the 80's. I had been invited as I was exploring "emotional directions" at the time, and how we need to recognise those if we want fundamental change. One of the participants came to me at the end of the workshop and said she gave herself the task to watch how I worked. However, she said she could never "see" me, it was as though I wasn't there. No matter how hard she tried to watch what I was doing, her focus was always drawn in the unfolding world of the participant I was dialoguing with.

Wow was I pleased with that! I do think a great anyone "disappears" in some way, just as a great translator, actor, musician or any other performer subverts themselves to facilitate the ideas, character or music that are being communicated. When we notice the "performer" as opposed to what is performed, I think ego is butting in and telling us "Aren't I great?". And of course – I know all about that.

This is how that principle, albeit slightly differently, is clearly evident in Alexander's own journey…



[Quotes all from Use of the Self, Chapter One: Evolution of a Technique.]

Alexander wanted to be an actor – that was his overall wish. It was a positive and concrete thing:

"From my early youth I took a delight in poetry and it was one of my chief pleasures to study the plays of Shakespeare, reading them aloud and endeavouring to interpret the characters. This led to my becoming interested in elocution and the art of reciting, and now and again I was asked to recite in public. I was sufficiently successful to think of taking up Shakespearean reciting as a career, and worked long and hard at the study of every branch of dramatic expression. After a certain amount of experience as an amateur, I reached the stage when I believed that my work could stand the severer test of being judged from the professional standard, and the criticisms I received justified me in deciding to take up reciting as a profession."

Whilst this was his clear wish the obstacle was the fact that he kept losing his voice:

"All went well for some years, when I began to have trouble with my throat and vocal cords, and not long after I was told by my friends that when I was reciting my breathing was audible, and that they could hear me (as they put it) "gasping" and "sucking in air" through my mouth."

When a student comes to a class, they may start by only talking about the obstacle, which is a natural thing to do. However, it is important for the teacher to unlock the wish that stands behind the obstacle, as that is the key factor motivating the student. It alone can determine how effective the lessons become. For example, the student may want their lower back to get better, but why? So they can spend more time playing with the kids; so they can advance in their job; so they can go back to leading their 'normal life'. The 'wish' needs to be expressed in the positive, not the negative.

The point to take from Alexander's own experience, is that the bigger the wish, the stronger the drive of the student to apply what you teach them. Unlock that energy in the student, and you have completed half of your job. Ignore it, and lessons will be like walking through mud, with the student always looking to you to supply the drive and energy of the lesson.

Alexander's wish was huge: this is clear when he writes about his emotions while considering the obstacle he was facing:

"My disappointment was greater than I can express, for it now seemed to me that I could never look forward to more than a temporary relief, and that I should thus be forced to give up a career in which I had become deeply interested and believed I could be successful."

Having a wish, or rediscovering the wish that energizes us, is an essential piece of our learning plan, but one that is often ignored in today's teaching environment. Our "great students" are usually the ones who have this wish in place! If we understand this, we can support all our pupils into becoming "great students".



The role of research in bringing about transformational experiences…

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Transformational Structure #2

The second instalment of my article on the underlying structure of a group that seeks to lead people towards transformational outcomes in their lives. Main point of today's article (to save you some time) is the critical importance of letting your participants set form/activity of the lesson...


Stage 1: Wisher


You start by wanting something. The something you want is the final result, this thing you want to possess, do, become. The wish needs to be expressed positively. Alexander: I want to act. Once the wish is clarified, then the obstacles to that wish become the objects that are researched. Alexander: loss of voice. The wish is a source of energy, a motivator to do what is necessary to achieve that wish. Without it, there is no direction, no means of calibrating where you are on your journey, no way of knowing how you are doing. Alexander: voice becoming reliable or not.


Ask everyone what they want? Get them to participate in the workshop by asking them to set the agenda of what will be explored. If you are working with students over a period of time, keep revisiting this question, and keep including it in the agenda of a workshop.

Also, during the workshop itself, try not to put students in situations where you are dictating the agenda almost all the time. The best structured workshop is the one that addresses the wishes, questions and needs expressed by the students. By linking that with the information concerning Alexander discoveries, you are creating a far more effective learning environment for your students.

Observation and Analysis need objects to focus on – what these will be can be set by the students, not the teacher. The teaching points and principles then arise out of the process of working with those objects of attention. Alexander chose the process of making a decision to sit or stand from a chair. In his model, the teacher decides the activity, the student follows the teacher's wish. An alternative teaching pedagogy is to let the student decide the activity. Essentially it does not matter. As Alexander himself pointed out:

"We are not teaching people to get in and out of chairs – we are teaching people how to make a decision against the habit of life."

So the students wish becomes important to reveal – it drives the workshop or lesson, and gives focus to their desired outcomes.


The teacher needs the skill to unlock from the person the truth of what they really want. Where do you learn that? Like all things Alexander – by consistently working this way yourself!

At the start of lessons, a student's real wish may or may not be apparent, even to the student. Teachers usually get around this problem by supplying the activities: offering chairwork, tablework or one of the teaching procedures that Alexander developed. The goal then becomes subtly distorted until it feels like the lesson is about how to do things more easily, how to be "released, loose and free". This was never Alexander's primary goal, it was merely a step to achieving something much bigger: conscious, constructive control of the individual. When the principles and practices of the work can be related to real life needs and wants of each individual student, then it work correctly becomes the tool or means for that person gaining their conscious intentions or wish.


TOMORROW: An analysis of Alexander's story, showing how all the points I make above are demonstrated in his own journey...