Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Being at the wheel of our self....

We live in a human body, and we learned at a young age how to ‘drive it’ - whether through happenstance, imitation, a desire to look like someone we admire, initially Mum and Dad, and then influential people in our lives. And we don’t even know that we did that, or that we still do. We think this is how our body, our shape is....”This is how I was put together, this is how I will be forever.” Yet think about car manufacture, because it demonstrates something important. Each car is essentially identical in engineering to the next one off the line. Put drivers in any of those cars and everything becomes almost 100% dependent on each individual driver’s habits. One person drives with a certain tenderness; light on the brakes unless required to stop suddenly. Doesn’t ride the clutch, letting their foot half depress the clutch pedal as the go along. Steers smoothly around the corners without leaving rubber on the road and needing frequent new tyres It’s not all about servicing and oil, you know! Another might service their car regularly, but drive erratically, over-steering, clutch-riding, accelerating with their foot slightly on the brake - yes, it happens! - breaking harshly and accelerating hard and fast, going over kerbs at speed - the list is endless - and their car falls apart very quickly, leaving them complaining about how well they have looked after it, but never realising it is the way the car has been driven that has set up the problems. And it’s not about ‘good and bad‘ driving, it’s about appropriate driving - each moment having its own set of requirements.  Often we have to steer or break suddenly, climb a kerb to get round something....a car is capable of all these things, but it is how it is driven on a day to day basis that determines the eventual outcome. ‘Use affects function’ is not a rule thought up by man, it is just applicable to every single thing in life. And yet rules and guidelines are laid down about nigh on everything to do with ‘overcoming this thing called being human’. Books written, lectures and trainings offered, DVD’s, courses; everyone has The Definitive Answer on how to 'drive badly and get away with it'. 

And now I am going to join in with mine - There Is No One Definitive Answer. There is the opportunity to be present, to be aware, to learn to listen and sense your whole self in any one moment. And to make fresh decisions each time through the re-experiencing of how it is to be back in the ‘blue-print’ of the psycho-physical-emotional-spiritual balance you were designated at birth. And to respond appropriately to the stimulus you are receiving Right Now; not the way you responded to a similar - only similar - stimulus you received 4 minutes, 4 years, or 44 years, ago. And as FM Alexander said it is ‘psycho-physical’ - the both at once, not separately. Not the one on Monday and the other on Tuesday where 'ne'er the twain shall meet'.

You will hear people say, “I have a stiff neck”, or “I have a bad back”, but I ask you to consider, who’s neck have you taken on? Who’s back has climbed aboard yours? By being emotionally involved with a person - especially with negative feelings - you risk taking on their very posture. Note, ‘take on’, not ‘be given’.  So, how (and for heaven’s sake, when you come to think of it, why?!) are you moving like a person you do not have much affection for, or even connection to?! Why are you moving in a way that mirrors your negative emotions inside? Is that really necessary? Looking at the psychology of this is one thing; we can begin to understand the concepts, but really usefully, how are you using your body in relation to the stimulus this person is offering you? (And there is always a person at the centre of each response, even if we can’t see them; they are in our mind’s eye.) Much work is done with our thinking, but you cannot change your mind about something yet leave your body still living with its old habits and expect anything to truly change. We need the both. No, life really has the capacity to change when you realise that rather than you having a bad anything, you are a stiff neck. You are a bad back. 

Believe it or not that is wonderful news, because now it is yours to sort out. No longer are you victim to something happening outside of you. And now, through the teachings of FM Alexander, you have a method to change things for ever. Pain/discomfort of any kind is, in fact, simply your body, or even your soul, sending you powerful messages in the hope that you might, at last, listen to them. Then to discover about the stimulus-response that you have hitherto given away to others and been unaware of, so that the specific tension, or collapse, associated with this stimulus can release. This physical/emotional response can only change by being owner of it, by allowing it to be seen, felt, and released through the perspective now gained. And even if this makes sense and you think, “Yes, well, I will just ‘relax’ “, I will come, in my next blog, to why ‘collapsed-relaxation’ can actually be worse thing to do.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Learning always goes on - how wonderful!

I am aware today of how my London feet are not sore anymore, how my ankles are flexible and not stiff. And I am grateful. How did this happen? How did the Alexander Technique help this to happen? 

Thirty three years ago I began my Alexander journey - the journey of taking on board a technique, a technique to give a strong grounding in the Art of Being a Human Being. Singers learn a singing technique, as do golfers, tennis players, actors, learn their technique - they all learn the thing that gives them a strong foundation in the skill in which they wish to enjoy mastery. Yes, we can all 'play a bit' if we want and wish we were as good as the masters, and we can 'just be alive' wishing we had better co-ordination and less pain, but without a technique to support us it will be pot-luck. For me the Alexander Technique is the technique for enjoying being human, for becoming highly accomplished in the gift of life. And I say 'enjoying', for that is what it is - the Alexander Technique isn't a stick to beat yourself with...unless you choose to make it so, of course! 

What did I learn? Firstly I learned through my teachers' hands to become aware of my body in a completely new way to the one I had then which was only from pain messages. His/her hands brought my attention to different areas as they moved around my body. Their voices conveyed knowledge to me about many things; what I was doing and where, what attached to what and why, how the body was designed so beautifully, things to think that assisted me to let go of holding patterns, words that helped me to see that what I thought was what I got, words that opened my senses to what was really going on as opposed to what I thought was going on. And on from that, what I thought was meant to be going on - which was frequently well off the mark!

As time went on I understood my body better - not how it 'should' work, but how it was (or wasn't! working. Then a completely different sort of 'should' came into play; the one that was appropriate for this moment right now. And then the next now, and then the next, because I was able to stay present to what was happening as I carried out my daily activities. And from that presence, I was able to see when things were slipping back into, or I was making new, habits that weren't helpful. I wasn't 'wrong' according to any perceived rules of the Alexander Technique, I was just able to now use choice. I was able to "Get what I liked instead of having to like what I got" in my comfort levels in my body. (Later this spilled over in my whole psycho-physical-emotional-spiritual being, but that's for another time.)

This is what has been with me these 33 years, and not just because I am a teacher, but because I remain a happy student; ever learning empirically as I use the Alexander Technique in my life. This is what I have with me at all times, as do all students of the work, if I wish to use it, of course! And I do; it is right there 24/7, just 'there', not invasively, not judging me (unless, again, I make it so), a kind and observant friend, there to support me whenever I ask. What had happened in London recently was that I had been busy with things I chose to allow to stress me slightly, (broken down car, extremely cold weather, and many hard London pavements!) and I took my friend the Alexander Technique for granted. It was always right there though, and as soon as I woke up and brought my presence back to the moment, there it was with the answer. As ever, allow the body to function as it was so beautifully designed to do, and all will be well. I allowed my feet to bend again, to flow, to roll over the ground just as the bottom of a wheel does, and I allowed my knees to soften forward a little more, and hey presto my ankles simply regained their full movement. Nothing needed a label, nothing was 'wrong' with me, nothing bad had happened, I had just dozed off inside and ignored my friend. 

If this story helps just one person to see that the Alexander Technique is a 'friend in your pocket', one that has many, many answers for you many times in your life, as it has for all of us that use it, then it's been good to post it. Because from learning this work, you have been led to your own personal 'rightness', the one I wrote about yesterday; your own presence in each and every Now. Right there - here - is where things change. We just have to agree to pause, to suspend our habit for a moment. And although there are many way of welcoming us to the enjoyment of the Now, this work has treasures galore for you to employ whilst you're there, ones that allow the body to let go, to lengthen, to soften, to melt, to de-frost into being more open, more vibrant, more resilient, more confident, and more and more Who You Truly Are.

It may seem an odd way of putting it, but aside from the ease, I really do feel far more 'Me' with soft feet and ankles than I did when I came home from London! So, even though I have taught for 30 years, of course my learning goes on; mastery of anything has a wonderful ever-increasing boundary. No master of anything ever gives up returning again and again to their technique. But it's a journey I am honoured to be taking, and an honour to be able to share with you.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Right Way? Or Another Way?

I wonder, am I really alone in admitting that I still sometimes think there must be, somewhere, The One Way, the right way? Am I alone in these brief moments of thinking - albeit subconsciously - that when I get 'it', or else everyone else gets whatever I already think 'it' is, our world will be fine and dandy and cooked and sorted and everyone will be happy ever after? Go on, be honest....at least have a ponder and tell me what you find? I know we think we never do this, but if we already know there isn't any such thing as The One Way, the 'right' way, why do so many of we humans spend so long arguing or defending our points of view? Especially in the world of 'personal growth'? Why do we endlessly 'debate' methods, names, titles, teachers, tools, authors, top people to go see.....? The endless searching and or convincing just seems to go on and on....a maelstrom of unanswerable questions. The searching bit is good, if we mean it to enhance our way of living, to shine a brighter light on our truth, on who we truly are, but it does only enhance; most of the work is done during our dark and grim moments. It's at those times that we finally meet ourselves coming back the other way and, with no room to avoid the feelings, something changes.... Bringing our presence to The Now of that moment, we wake up and at last become conscious.

And yet, no matter the methodology, are you Being Who You Truly Are? Do you rejoice in your uniqueness? And in the diversity of methods out there? Or are you, deep down, hoping to goodness that one day you'll find The One Way that is the Right One, and then, phew, in living That Way, you’ll Be Ok. Or that your already magical way will be shared by everyone you know, and that will prove that it’s Right, and you’ll Be Ok because of that instead? I am sometimes brought up short in discovering that I do, hence my writing this; I want to shine a light on all the vagaries and confusions about this to see what might be revealed.

I am so much clearer than I was, yet up the question pops when I least expect it - usually lurking just under the surface when I am experiencing inner doubt. Which of course comes from the thinking that I am 'missing the right way'. Mostly I can smile now whenever I meet this feeling; it's just new layers of old beliefs coming up for clearing, and as I can’t change anything until I can see it, it is really a time for gladness.* 

I have seen the damage to our bodies, to our selves, by the tension built up inside us from the chronic un-ease about all this... From all the effort we put into 'living the right way', being who we think we need to be in order to be liked, good, useful, right, and my mother's favourite, 'nice'. And yet wouldn’t it, wont it, be wonderful when, through the recognition of the gift to us all of brilliant variety, we can simply offer all that we each are to all the each others who come into our life? And, offering ourselves without the fear of comparison, judgement, conditions, we can just get on with the purpose of revealing All That We Already Are and Always Have Been. When we cease the endless trying, which will then let us see ourselves as extraordinary beings, each with unique qualities, and when we can rejoice in that, we will then be able to drop the tensions, breathe easy, smile inside, and feel joy-full.

And yet none of this is wrong - nothing is wrong. And nothing is right. Shocking, eh?! It is a series of choices, ever changing - my truth in this now, which may be different in the next now, and the next... Your truth is your truth, not mine, and it is right for you, but only you can tell me what that is, I cannot.* And none of us will mind from the place of no fear, from knowing we are just beautifully human, 'trying with all our heart to get it right’. But when we let go of all that effort, accept the possibility that some of our intentions do go awry, and just love the fact that they came from our hearts, we can live the ups and downs without the crippling conditions WE place on ourselves. Yes, we do do that; no matter what we imagine anyone else says about us, isn’t it ourself who judges our self the hardest? As don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements) says, “No one will ever judge you as harshly as you judge your self.” 

For me, where I am headed is to live in ‘how it is right now’ more and more. 'The Power of Now' is wonderful, and it works; it is where joy resides! But it's how to allow my self to wake up over and over again to this magical place and to not be pulled out of it so often. This is the work of the Alexander Technique, and it explores the part our psycho-physicality plays in allowing us to be in The Now without being way off in the future, or in the past with our old, habitual tensions pulling us back to the old way, the way we did it back along, however hard our mind might want us to do otherwise.* 

So, in the light of the fact that the Right way and the Wrong way don't exist, and the Future way and Past way are just different names for the first two (think about it!), maybe it could be said that there is actually a Way That Works, The Now Way!


 * "The things that don't exist are the hardest to to get rid of." FM Alexander

 * "You are free to announce and declare Who You Are in every moment of Now. Indeed you are doing so, without even knowing it. You are not free, however, to declare who someone else is, or who they must be." Neale Donald Walsch

"It's far easier to buy into someone else's reality than to discover and live your own." Douglas Toole, a friend of a friend (with grateful thanks).

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Footstep discoveries....

Today I had yet another reason to be grateful for all I have learned from the Alexander Technique. Over the years I have (of course; I am human) experienced episodes of discomfort and pain. Sometimes I have slept wrong and had one of those 24 hour stiff necks, sometimes I’ve had an injury, and sometimes, like recently, just episodes of pain and/or stiffness. The one I am sharing about now has been a couple weeks or so of sore feet - mostly the right foot - and ankles. They have hurt when I have tried to stretch in the ‘pointing my toes’ way, the left Achilles tendon has been very tender to the touch, and moving about has had me feel I’ve added a decade to the age of my feet.

So, I am guessing that in a life without the Alexander Technique, I would have gone to the doctor and most likely been gifted a label or three; “It’s probably arthritis. And/or your age. Take paracetamol and do these exercises/put your feet up and rest.” And I might well have walked around forever, saying, “I can’t do that; I have arthritis. Plus I’m just getting old.” And it simply isn’t true in this case, and in many other cases with millions of people. It may be so that an x-ray might show arthritic change in my ankles, and why would it not after a half century of sports, running, and dancing? The bones  have undoubtedly responded to the muscles’ actions by building up an increase in bony tissue at the attachment point of those muscles. But these changes in bone shape do not mean there has to be itis....actual inflammation within the joint causing pain. No, in this case, as in most cases, what had happened is that, for some reason, I had started to walk with ‘poor use’ - awkwardly, stiffly - and this was causing further compensation and stiffness with associated pain.
I was shopping today - catching up on stocking the larder after a week away in London. And the bottom 6 inches of me was letting me know about it with the sensations of a (perceived) 90 year old - stiff and pretty sore. And I am not used to that and it was time to find out what it was about! So much so that, for the first time ever, I felt no urge to go to a Cornish dance tonight - and that really is a first! So, I turned my attention deeply to my walk.... And very quickly I made a simple discovery. As I walked, I was lifting my feet off the ground as soon as my heel was just one inch off the ground.... I was ‘toddling’ rather than walking! Subtle, but damaging. It is so easy to get used to narrowing our full width and range of movement when there is fatigue, stiffness or pain, and as I often teach, when there are any of these present, I suggest we say ‘No’ to anything other than ‘normal’ movement.... Allow as near normal movement as possible.... Ask if the ‘limp’ or ‘restriction’ is actually helping any? And if it isn’t (as is mostly the case for any of us at any time), drop it and return to normal movement, even if gentle and cautious. Slow good use/ ‘normal’ movement is always preferable to fast limping! (And when I say ‘good use’, I am meaning balanced, even, open, long, free, light, upright movement. That 'good use' we were born with, and which the teaching from an Alexander teacher can help restore.)

So, tonight I immediately I found myself enjoying the fruits of my own teaching - yes, we teach what we most need to learn, over and over and over! When I got home to my wonderful spacious room, I played with walking - not trying to get it ‘right’, not in a worried, fretful way, but played....mostly with plain old awareness - not doing anything  at all until I was aware of what I was actually doing in walking rather than what I thought I was doing. (The reflection in the windows was helpful, too) And when I saw and sensed what I was doing, I stopped doing it - that’s all.

It was more obvious than obvious as soon as I looked for what I had begun to do; there was a ‘toddle’ going on! And yet as soon as I allowed my feet and ankles to enjoy their full range of movement as I walked, not only did the stiffness disappear, but each step felt like a soothing massage. There was no discomfort, no stiffness, and all was well.

I checked the heels as I walked this way - you remember I said the heel was only getting to about one inch off the ground before I lifted the whole foot? Now, as I walked openly and freely, allowing the whole foot to enjoy whole movement and the whole leg to enjoy the same, the heel reached its optimum height of perhaps 8 inches off the ground (the length of my foot) before the foot simply wasn’t attached to the ground anymore.... And the foot left the floor perpendicular to the ground, rather than parallel to it, as it will in all of us if we simply lift it off too early during walking. In percentage terms of flexibility, the ‘old’ way used about 20%, and the ‘new’, returned to good use way, 100%. And if you don’t use something, you lose it - and my not using the whole foot created the loss of free movement. And the opposite of free movement is stiff movement. And if you fix and hold something against its will - i.e. stiffen it - it will give you a message, and the body’s ‘voice’ is pain. Nothing more complicated than that - not necessarily arthritis, not permanent, not old age, not an injury, and most certainly no longer a ‘mystery’. 

Note I said, ‘if you fix and hold something against its will’? I hadn’t been ‘suffering from’ stiff ankles and feet, I was stiff ankles and feet! They belong to me; no one else moves them for me, and I had fixed them and they had told me so! The only thing I hadn’t done? Looked more deeply sooner! Yet the bonus of this ‘delay’ is always in all that I learn, in all I gain and can then offer. And the offering is the teaching that shows others how to know what’s going on in their ‘earth suits’, what they are doing that might well be leading to pain and stiffness - but never in a judgmental and critical way, just in the way of playful, curious investigation.

Maybe my fortnight or so of discomfort was exacerbated by the (miles of - who says we ‘country-folk’ walk more than ‘townies? Not so!) long pavement walks due to broken down cars, and shopping trips, and lovely concert outings. Maybe, having been feeling a sense of 'not quite knowing where to go next' had created something that Louise Hay's book "You Can Heal Your Life" counters with "I move forward easily in life". (Except I clearly wasn't, and who can without an awareness of where they are holding. And affirmations don't tell you that.) But I don’t mind either way; I don’t need to label or blame my body because I carry the ‘technique’ of awareness and knowledge of what to do about what I find. I am ‘at the wheel’ of my own body. And I am so, so glad I am - so, so glad I met this work and have it in my life. 

I am sure the mile-long walk on Monday evening after my car had broken down didn’t help; ‘well fitting’ (tighter than I’m used to!) smart boots, freezing temperatures, and ‘posh’ clothing did nothing for open, easy, walking - it was a shoulders to the ears, rushing-whilst-bent-double-against-the-icy-wind-whilst-holding-clothing-tight-around-the-body walk that night! (And my shoulders and ears haven’t met for about 30 years, and the resulting shoulder-top soreness for two days was an unwelcome guest - what a shame that so many people live with it every day, and when it isn’t even cold?!)

‘Should’ I have had such good use as a teacher that this hadn’t happened? Perhaps so, but I don’t think it matters half as much as I once would have thought; I am human, not a machine. And machines don't make effective teachers. I respond to life, things happen and the fluidity of being human can get caught up in me just as in everyone else, just much less so now. I think this ‘foot episode’ started after an evening of six hours’ constant dancing - again nothing sinister happened, just fatigue and a lack of awareness on my part. It’s what we do in the time of recovery that matters - the compensations and restrictions that visit and forget to leave - and I put my hand up to having clearly been 'on walkabout' during that time! And my dear body reminded me until I listened. I teach this work and yet still took a bit more time than is necessary to see it and clear it away. How much easier it is to go and visit a teacher to make these discoveries! As Pooh Bear said, “Everything’s easier with two!” Especially as what you learn stays with you so that, in the future, you might be walking down the street and suddenly say to yourself, “What on earth am I doing with my (e.g.) right leg? When did I start doing that and why haven't I seen it before? No wonder my knee has been hurting!” And you know how to release it, allow the changes, and all becomes well and full of ease again. I know I have been on this journey time and time again, and I have no fear of going on it again in the future - I’m blessed with knowing that none of these discoveries ever go to waste.

Friday, 8 March 2013

My Alexander Journey - part 2

I continued to travel to London to have my lessons, but even after the first lesson I was already aware that this was what I wanted to do... I just had no idea how. But I guess over the two to three months I must have found out about the Alexander teacher training courses in the UK (all in London back then) because I remember receiving letters that said either they were full, or I had not had enough lessons yet, but then there was the letter from Paul and Betty Collins (as were then), principals at the school in Highgate, North London. They invited me to come and visit to spend a day on the course. I must have applied very late into the summer as I remember I visited on the first day of the autumn term. I remember having some work from Paul, being vey timidly part of the ‘banter’ in the kitchen at coffee time, awed at the conversations going on around me; they all seemed to be so knowledgable about the sensations going on in their bodies. I clearly remember watching a second year student being taken through the, what we call, ‘taking of a shoulder‘ of another student lying on the table. (Some Alexander work is done whilst the student in lying in ‘semi-supine‘ (feet on the table with knees bent). I have never forgotten what was said about that that day!

And then it was the end of the day and time to meet with Paul, Betty, Margaret Farrar, and Vivien Mackie, the senior teachers on the course. I still remember sitting there while they looked at my what I thought was a pretty feeble application form; I didn’t boast much in the way of academic qualifications, and I was only 22. Then Paul looked up and said, “We think you will make a very good teacher. When can you start?” I write this only to explain my reaction. I nearly fell off the chair; I had never, ever been told I was good enough for anything, let alone that I could one day be good at the thing I already loved so much. And ‘when could I start’?... My mind was a whirl. I said I would go home and do what I could with a view to their suggested start date in two weeks time. If I could start then all would be well, otherwise it would have to be in the spring term, qualifying on my own in the spring term three years later.

I remember driving the 90 minutes home - in my little old Morris 1000 Traveller (boy, did this training put some miles on that!) - and going to choir practice that night and feeling as if I was floating on air. This was something I really, really wanted to do, and they thought I was good enough, and they wanted me. Yes, I know, no pressure on myself then....! And yes, the years have had to deal with that one, but that’s in more blogs to come.

The next thing I had to do was to call my uncle who was executor of my late grand-mother’s will. I had been left a small amount of money in trust for when I was 25. I would have to ask him not only if he would release it for my training, but obviously explain to him what the Alexander Technique was. Now, as a lot of us know, that is no easy thing; it so depends on a great many things, added to the fact that my uncle was more ‘old school’ than almost anyone alive at the time! We met in a pub in Windsor, and I still remember it. I cannot for the life of me remember what I said, but I must have ‘done good’ because he said yes. Well, he said a (very usual for my family) half-yes. He would contact the school and speak to Paul and come back to me. I felt about ten! When he did he said he would release half of the trust (same old half-stuff!) and that he had had to persuade Paul to go unpaid for two terms in the middle of the three years until the other half was released. I felt very uncomfortable with this, but Paul and Betty reassured me, and the two weeks later, I joined the course.

Tomorrow I will share more about how the days went, and how much my neck and back improved over the ensuing weeks.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

My Alexander journey - Part 1.

In the writing of my story as to how I came to the Alexander Technique, I am amazed to discover that writing a blog stimulates the memory! I am remembering things that had long been consigned to the memory’s basement. But how wonderful it is to bring them out; this work has been with me for some 33 years, so much part of me that I had somehow lost an over-all view of it, and now I find myself appreciating it again to a new and energising depth - if you fancy joining me on my journey, I'd love your company. If not, that’s great too.

Way back in 1980 I found myself in an enormous amount of pain. I couldn't turn my head in either direction (which made driving quite lethal), I had a constant low-grade headache that frequently grew to monumental proportions, my jaw was so out that my teeth weren't meeting in line, and my confidence and energy had sunk to a very low level. And I was still only 22. I was visiting the osteopath three times a week and taking up to eight pain-killers each day. The suggestion was that I needed my spine to be fused with ‘scar-inducing-injections’. Fortunately the AT came along in the nick of time. 

Just five years earlier I had left school to ‘become a concert pianist’. I use the inverted commas because I don’t think it was ever really my idea; there was a certain vicarious intent going on in both my parents and my piano teacher. I loved music and I wanted to play as much as possible, but concert pianist..? However, 8 hours practice a day under the pressure I experienced at home didn’t help my already compromised posture, which I describe below. And, aged 17, after yet another emotional and distressing day, in one reactionary moment, I gave up on music altogether and ‘ran away from home’ to London (which looks archaic, but that was what it was termed as all those years ago!), I took up my first love of dancing again. I wasn't anywhere near the standard of dancing required to be a professional dancer, but my dream was to become a choreographer. However, doing class every evening of the week and 'spotting' during attempted pirouettes with a neck in the state it was in simply exacerbated my problems. I still remember standing at the barre in front of the mirror one evening and wondering at just how crooked I had become and how much everything hurt, and I stopped dancing altogether.  

Shortly after this I married and had my first daughter. My neck got worse and worse and then, a short time after my marriage had come to a separation, I happened to have supper with my aunt who was visiting the UK from her home in Canada. We met in Zia Terese, a little Italian restaurant next to Harrods, London's huge department store where I had had my first job after ‘running away’. Inevitably we asked the question of each other as to how we were, and when I told Esme of my painful neck and headaches, she simply said, "You need the Alexander Technique." Baffled, I asked, "What's on earth is that?" And she replied, "Well, the osteopath can go on putting your bones back, but your habits are in your muscles and they will just go on pulling the bones out again until you learn not to do those habits. And an Alexander teacher will show you what those habits are and how to stop them. Then the bones will stay where they're meant to be."

Well, this meant total sense to me in that instant. So I went searching for more information. I must have visited Harrods again as I can still see this image so clearly in my mind's eye; that of Wilfred Barlow's book 'The Alexander Principle' on a display stand in the corridor leading to the book department. I bought it and it was the start of a very exciting journey.  After my divorce - somewhat embarrassingly by the age of 22 - I became a medical secretary in the Oncology unit of the local hospital. I obviously began to make notes in a hospital notebook as I read Wilfred Barlow’s book (undoubtably whilst I was meant to be typing!) as I still have that notebook now, and it amazes me what sense the few notes make!

Maybe a month or two after my aunt’s visit, she sent me a cheque for my first Alexander lesson - the most unexpected, welcome, and fortuitous gift I could have received - so I set about finding a teacher. This, of course, was many years before the internet, and it took a while. I can’t even remember now how I did it - I guess STAT was in its infancy and maybe I found them in the telephone book, but I do remember that the then ‘UK teaching list’ was a foolscap (slightly bigger than A4) ‘Roneo-ed’ (early photocopying) double-spaced list of just one and a half sides! So I set off for the 90 minute journey to London from where I was then living. I was to see Wilfred Barlow in his rooms near the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. When I got there he spoke with me briefly, and then took me into the room where he had his ‘famous light grid’ on one wall. I stood in my underclothes on the ‘turntable’ as he turned me this way and that and took photographs - just like the ones in his book. Then he told me how crooked I was, which I well understood. I don’t recall having an actual lesson with him; if my memory serves me, one could have just a consultation, or a consultation and a lesson. I had clearly not booked the latter and I vaguely remember some temporary disappointment at this discovery. I wonder if I am right in thinking that Barlow’s way of using the grid was very personal to him? I have never heard of another teacher using this rather ‘medical’ system.

Not me, but this was Wilfred Barlow's method of gaining valuable insight into the benefit of lessons.  I was like the left one with the middle one's head, only I pulled my shoulders much further back!
(Sadly I don't have the pictures of the 'after lessons' of these girls.) 
So I was instructed to come back for lessons, and thinking about it now, I am grateful now for the fact that Dr. Barlow worked in a consultant kind of way; I am not sure I would have been here now if it had been left to me to choose whether to go back, and when... I was young and nervous, and needed that clear direction. Dr. Barlow expected pupils to take three lessons a week, but I was ‘allowed’ just two, bearing in mind the distance I was traveling. So I booked further lessons, but was offered another teacher working there, a Diana.... And I am sad to say that I cannot remember her surname for she started me on a wonderful journey, and eased the pain so very quickly and clearly.

Of course the early days weren’t that clear! I remember three things very clearly - one was her response to my first effort (!) at standing up from the chair... “Oh my! You could move mountains with that much effort!” she exclaimed. “I could?” I thought, wondering what on earth she was on about; surely I still wasn’t trying hard enough or I wouldn’t be in such pain? Then her reply to my question at the end of this first lesson, “What do I do now?” She said, “Basically my dear, go home and slump.” I couldn’t believe it! All this way and all this time, to go and slump?? But how right she was; I had come to the Alexander Technique with the dubious accolade of always getting ‘excellent’ for posture at school. In fact, it was the only thing I ever ‘did well at’ in school; art, music, and sport being my subjects, and those subjects were not considered ‘important’, despite my success in them. So having discovered I had gained ‘good’, and then ‘very good’ on the posture lists in a matter of a year or so, to get the teachers off my back for being considered ‘utterly useless’ at everything else, I worked and worked at my posture, and was delighted, relieved, and proud to be one of just six girls in the school to gain the longed-for ‘excellent’. And yet what a poisoned chalice that was; I was now desperately over-arched (the non-slump-slump) with a hugely lifted and hardened chest that went with my ‘I’m fine and confident’ physical pretence. However, on top of that lot was my dropped neck and pulled down head which were more faithful to my inner sense of futility and worthlessness. So as Diana worked with me and I let go of some of that massive effort, it indeed felt as if I was now a banana, so go ‘go home and slump’ began to make sense to me as time went on. The third little anecdote is that I also remember lying on the table as she had her hands on my head, and her confusing me mightily as I heard her say, “Oh dear, these monkeys* do make your skirt ride up!” But I decided to let this go; clearly this work had some hidden magic that just used strange words, but which I would gradually come to understand; my pain was disappearing rapidly, and the basic principle made such sense, aided by Esme’s first explanation of the work and Wilfred Barlow’s book.

FM working in 'monkey' on a young student in 'monkey'.
Note the 'straight back' which is suggested in every lifting instruction most of us have seen; it's just that they omit to say it's not possible to pick anything up if you're back remains perpendicular to the floor!
Our hips, knees, and ankles need to play too!
(NB This is how we all moved when very young - we just bury it amongst our habits.)

A couple of maybe interesting points to finish this blog with: my aunt, Esme Crampton*, had come to the Alexander Technique when she trained at Central School of Speech and Drama, gaining her Teaching Certificate in the 1950's. She had been one of Wilfred Barlow’s ‘guinea pigs’ in his trial of students from Central School, the Bedford College of Physical Education, and the Royal School of Music. And she was, in the time of our supper, Speech Consultant at the Faculty of Education, University of Toronto - a great pioneer in the teaching of Voice. So she was passing on her wisdom to me, and I was so very grateful even then, but ever more so as the years go on. I also discovered a few years later that a cousin on the same side of the family was the daughter-in-law of Louise Morgan - a remarkable woman who, despite not taking Alexander lessons, worked it out on her own by reading his books and following in FM’s footsteps. Her fascinating book, ‘Inside Yourself’ - and her son touched me greatly by giving his copy to me - was one of the first books on the work other than FM’s own. Louise met FM at the end of his life and many of the pieces of information, letters and articles we have about FM came from my cousin’s family! I think, looking at it now, it is pretty unsurprising that my life became the Alexander Technique; come to think of it, it’s been a bit of a family business!

The next stage in my Alexander life will be posted, as we say in Cornwall, ‘d’rec’ly’ - directly/soon. Thank you for journeying with me.

  • Esme Crampton wrote two books, ‘The Handbook of the Theatre’ (W J Gage Ltd), and ‘Good Words Well Spoken’ (The Norman Press)
  • ‘Monkey’ is the nick-name given to the balanced shape seen in an Alexander teacher as they work, and in the Alexander student as we lower ourselves in space using the joints designed for the job in order to carry out an activity that requires us to, what we might have once called, ‘bend down’.