From the category archives:

Guest Bloggers

Man, Know Thy Needs

April 18, 2012

By Stella Weigel

“Man, know thyself” is an old axiom, but in my opinion the more fundamental one is “Man, know thy needs.” Of course, it may be contended that he who knows himself knows his needs, and that to know one’s needs implies knowing oneself, but the contention does not apply to that great majority of human beings whose sensory appreciation is unreliable. We have seen that reliable sensory appreciation is essential to that co-ordinated psycho-physical growth and development of the individual which is fundamental to the satisfactory psycho-physical growth of the mass, and this being so, in order to secure this growth and development of the mass, it is essential to command the “means-whereby” of recognizing and supplying the real needs of the individual.

(F. M. Alexander, “Constructive
Conscious Control of the Individual”)

 

Alexander points to debauched kinesthesia as a root cause in the delusions we have about ourselves. This delusion has an impact on us as individuals, and on those around us.  As we come to know our needs (through a process of taking time to stop, observe our habits, and discover the ‘means whereby’ those habits can be altered) we improve our sensory appreciation, and so, come to know ourselves.

Recently, I completed my three year teacher training course.  The day following my graduation, I was given a beautiful bouquet containing a myriad of narcissi.  The narcissus is a flower I love, and I love that it blooms at Easter-tide.  I am enormously honoured to have written as Beret’s guest blogger while a trainee, and now, I offer this, my first blog as a qualified teacher, to Beret, as a token of my continuing gratitude to her.

Happy Easter!

Stella

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Watching and Wondering

February 11, 2012

By Stella Weigel

I am small in physical build and height.  I have been the smallest student in my school throughout my three years of Alexander teacher training.  But until very recently, I had not considered how much my body image, perhaps thinking of myself as “small” had conditioned my habits of use and had therefore dictated many of my reactions.

Whatever our height or body shape, we are all capable of similar habits of “smallness.”  Self-suppression, fear, self-criticism, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, feelings of unattractiveness and of falling short of our true potential: these are all habits of diminishment, habits of making ourselves “small.”

My whole attitude reflected the image I personally had of my body because I compared myself with others.  As we start to compare ourselves with others, we subconsciously begin to make ourselves smaller in the process.  As this mental activity is subconscious, it remains completely undetected.  It is a habit of mind and body that is typically passed on through the generations by “rule.”

“We are not convinced that the rule is the best, or even that it is a good rule.  Often we know, or would know if we gave the matter a moment’s consideration, that in our own bodies the rule has not worked particularly well, but it is the rule which was taught to us, and we pass it on either by precept, or by holding up our imperfections for imitation, and then we wonder what the cause of the prevailing physical degeneration!”

                     (FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance)

In addition, we may take on the peculiarities of a victim due to our experience and environment.  This attitude of victimhood is unhealthy, and leads to many behaviours that are harmful.  In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture, Nikolaas Tinbergen said that normal children quite often show all the elements of Kanner’s syndrome (early childhood autism).  In studying the behaviour of autistic children, Tinbergen took note of the circumstances in which normal children adopted autistic behaviour.

“Such passing attacks of autistic behaviour appear in a normal child when it finds itself in a situation that creates a conflict between two incompatible motivations.  On the one hand, the situation evokes fear (a tendency to withdraw, physically and mentally), but on the other hand it also elicits social, and often exploratory behaviour –but the fear prevents the child from venturing out into the world.  And not unexpectedly, it is ‘naturally’ timid children (by nature or nurture, or both) that show this conflict behaviour more readily than more resilient, confident children.  But my point is that they all respond to the environment.

                                      (“Ethology and Stress Diseases”, 12 December 1973)

The gentle hands-on teaching of the Alexander Technique in a non-competitive, non-judgemental environment has allowed me to repeat all my mistakes and learn from them, rather than continuing with the vicious circle of not allowing myself to ever be wrong.  With improved Primary Control and greater consciousness, my head is no longer drooping toward the ground, but is now held high where it truly belongs.  I no longer need to diminish myself by reacting as I previously did because I no longer think of myself as being ‘small.’  Rather, I ask for a free neck, for my head to go forward and up, for width across the shoulders and length throughout the back. Gradually my self-esteem, self-confidence, digestion, breathing, and much else have improved and the shadow of my former self is slowly disappearing.

Our behaviour and attitude work on those around us, which is why it is of paramount importance that we stop and look at ourselves as individuals.  Conscious acknowledgement of our own habits, the necessary condition for change, impacts those around us.  Time is of the essence.  The possibility of deciding to stop and observe is available to each and every one of us, should we recognize that the “watching and wondering” to which Tinbergen refers, is our choice.

 

Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.

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Sending Presents

December 22, 2011

By Stella Weigel

Having eaten cake which caused her to grow to a tremendous height, Alice exclaims:

‘I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; —but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, ‘or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!  Let me see: I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.’  And she went on planning to herself how she would manage it.  ‘They must go by the carrier,’ she thought; ‘and how funny it’ll seem, sending presents to one’s own feet!  And how odd the directions will look!

(Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

I recently learned at an anatomy lecture that during embryological development the skin which sits underneath the first vertebrae (atlas) redistributes to form the skin of the soles of the feet.  This helps to explain why the receptors in the soles of the feet, provide such a good feedback to orient us in space and alert us to when we are going off balance.  Raymond Dart, anatomist and anthropologist, wrote, “In the human squatting or standing (or orthograde) positions, the dominant segmental skin information concerned in human head balance is probably that coming from the sacral or hind most body segments to supplying the soles of the feet, especially the pads of the toes and heels” (An Anatomist’s Tribute to F. Matthias Alexander, 20 March 1970, reprinted in Skill and Poise).  Alexander lessons encourage us to think of our feet being in touch with the planet, the pads behind the toes and the heels going back and down.

Due to a fear of falling, our common immediate response when we feel off balance is to stiffen; if this stiffening becomes habitual, then our fear response will become more or less a constant.  The possibility of any movement will lead to a perception that we are going off balance, and the fear response is therefore heightened.  This is a vicious circle.

No small wonder then that having developed a habitual fear reflex, I also developed a fear of heights; due to habitual stiffening, my feet were, quite literally, never on the ground.  I also sat in chairs that were too big for me, which caused me to stiffen as much I could.  As an undergraduate I avoided the paternoster lift at all costs, preferring to walk up twelve flights of stairs in order to reach the teaching rooms.

Dart continues, “Man is the creature of fear!  In other words, he is the most fearful (in every sense of that word) just as he can and has become the most fearless of all animals.  This is because he has become the most nearly tip-toed of all the two-footed, or bipedal creatures.  His walking is a constant precarious process of saving himself from falling.  So the primary fear to overcome is his fear of falling.”

The Alexander Technique teaches us to release and soften rather than to stiffen when being taken off balance, to experiment rather than to control, and to be aware that we do indeed possess a choice, either to topple over in a stiffening response
to gravity or to stand in dynamic equilibrium and stability, with gravity as our friend.

Alice sent presents to her feet.  But F.M. Alexander sent presents to us all.  He handed down the directions that help us experience standing on our feet as a pleasure, moving with them as a joy. Take a moment to think of your feet softening, spreading and enjoy being on the ground.  It is a kindness to yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.

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An Education

August 5, 2011

by Stella Weigel

Alexander could not have been clearer: “In those cases where the psycho-physical mechanism is imperfect and functioning more or less inadequately, we cannot expect the best results in the conveyance or the acquisition of knowledge.” (CCCI)

My own education paid full testament to this in providing me with all the necessary tools of a confirmed end-gainer; I developed poor psycho-physical use in a most expert fashion.

My late father struggled to obtain his education. He grew up in war-time Germany and was called to military service on the Eastern front while still just a boy. He eventually studied chemistry and became a chemist and academic lecturer. 

The overriding memory I have of my own education is one of struggle, but of an entirely different nature than my father’s.  My education was designed to improve my intellect, but there was never any attention paid to my condition of use, or the reasons for my reactions, or any observation of the link between use and reactions.

All the groundwork for what was to continue throughout my entire education was laid as early as my primary school years; “worried” and “anxious” are words used frequently in my school reports.

Further, it occurs to very few [parents] to consider whether, in this process of “education” (i.e., in certain specific directions), the child’s fear reflexes will not be unduly and harmfully excited by the injunction that it must always try to “be right”, indeed, that it is almost a disgrace to be wrong.  (CCCI).

I attempted to obey instructions, achieve results, and meet the ever increasing demands “made by people who (were) guiding themselves by an unreliable and delusive sensory appreciation.” (CCCI).  This all took its toll.  The evaluation, “could do better,” became all too familiar and seemed to constantly announce my unfulfilled potential.  I dreaded sitting any tests or examinations, convinced that in spite of all my hard work I could only fail, that I had already failed.

There was little hope of taking my time to think.  Just the idea of taking an exam was the panic button inside of me which, once triggered, led me to rush and think all too quickly.  I was no different than Alexander’s golfer who failed at every attempt to keep his eye on the ball.  Time and again I would try to do my best, be left disappointed at the outcome, and lacking in self-confidence.

…every attempt on the part of the child to do something new or to acquire knowledge makes a psycho-physical demand, and (…) the child’s efforts, when judged on a general and not specific basis, will always be in accordance with the standard of psycho-physical functioning of its organism.  (CCI).  

I also remember a loving father who helped me with my schoolwork as much as possible, especially when he saw me struggling.  He educated me during our summer holidays, when we would travel to more remote corners of Western Europeand to marvel at its beauty: the landscape, culture and history.  My father taught me respect, curiosity, an enduring appreciation of the arts, and the importance of human relationships and communication.  He encouraged me to discover a desire for learning and questioning.  He taught me the importance of determination for when the going got tough.  Above all, he wanted me to live my life to its full potential.

My fear of failure was a subconsciously self-imposed response to expectations of achievement.  The awareness of my father’s educational and academic achievements, no doubt, provided me with a strong stimulus.   But I was not taught to STOP and question whether in fact this fear-response was based on reason, until I studied the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique offers a unique opportunity to begin to observe, question and learn to consciously control one’s physical and mental reactions in relation to stimuli; to attend to the “means whereby.”   Lessons provide a non-judgemental, non-end-gaining environment in which to develop this practice.

My father’s specialization, chemistry, is the physical science of matter and the changes that matter undergoes during chemical reactions.   I believe my father would have been absolutely delighted to see how much my physical matter has changed as a result of changes in my own reactions and vice versa. John Dewey states in the introduction to CCCI,

Mr Alexander has found a method for detecting precisely the correlations between these two members, physical-mental, of the same whole, and for creating a new sensory consciousness of new attitudes and habits.  It is a discovery which makes whole all scientific discoveries, and renders them available, not for our undoing, but for human use in promoting our constructive growth and happiness.

Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.

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Stopping

June 1, 2011

by Stella Weigel

In Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, FM Alexander provides the following illustration:

A seven-year-old boy was given an aptitude test designed to measure “control.”  The test involves an electronic apparatus with holes varying in size.  His task was to touch the centers of the holes with a small, pencil-like, metal rod without touching sides of the holes.  If he touched the sides, an electric flash would result.  He was warned ahead of time to avoid this at all costs, and “he at once became so excited through the fear of making a mistake that his hands shook and he stiffened and tensed his whole body unduly in making the first try” (original emphasis).  Needless to say, he performed very poorly on the test.

The boy did not have a means whereby to inhibit his habitual, fearful reaction to the thought of failure.  Instead, he remained caught in the vicious circle of end gaining; having failed to avoid the flash in the first instance, he continued the test repeating the pattern.

Alexander Technique lessons can help us to learn a practical means whereby, and give us a process to inhibit our habitual fear reflexes of one sort or another which lead to disappointment and failure.  Over time, it will also lead us to an improved sensory appreciation.

First and foremost we must learn to stop.  We must learn to say “no” to whatever harmful habit is inferring with our Use.  Only then can we come back to ourselves.  From this place of inhibition, we are able to make a new, conscious choice.  This capacity to choose will allow us to change.  Developing such awareness takes time, an incredible amount of time, which is why the Alexander Technique is truly an ongoing re-education.

As a teacher-trainee, I find that “stopping” during vacation is equally as important as “stopping” during the work undertaken during term.  I now take this opportunity to marvel at the abundance of Spring blossom, reconnect with family at home and abroad, and to enjoy inordinate hours of sleep.

Stopping to observe what is happening with us right NOW is definitely worth the wait!

Guest Blogger, Stella Weigel, is an Alexander Technique student at The Constructive Teaching Centre, London, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.  She had Alexander Technique lessons from 2006-2009 before embarking on her training in April 2009.  She lives in the city of London.

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