Monthly Archives: May 2017

May 10

Soaking up the learning and love at the AmSAT conference

By Diana Devitt Dawson | ITM

Nature does not work in parts, but as a whole – FM Alexander

On June14 and 15,  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two very full days at the AmSAT conference in the lovely city of San Diego, California, with its temperate climate all year round.

The conference was held over four days, the last two being for the AGM. I was only able to attend the conference because I was an ‘affiliate member’, as AUSTAT is currently a member of ATAS, the international (Alexander Technique Affiliated Societies) group.

The venue was the Crown Plaza Hotel, which was extremely pleasant, surrounded by gardens with tropical palms, a massive swimming pool and restaurants that offered an exciting mix of Mexican and Spanish food and drinks!

The swimming pool was well used every morning at 7.30am for the Sunrise Activity – a swimming class with UK Alexander teacher Steven Shaw. Other Sunrise Activities included an early morning run with teacher Malcolm Balk or a Tai-Chi class and Qi Gong class.

The conference was hosted by Alice Olsher. Alice is director and head of an Alexander Technique school in San Diego.  Alice is from the UK and trained with Walter and Dilys Carrington, then as a post-graduate she spent a further 15 years with the Carringtons before moving to the States.  Alice has more than 30 years teaching experience. I was lucky to get a place for my first workshop at the conference with Alice in her ‘small group workshop’.

It was an incredible coincidence that I should be able to attend this conference as it just so happened that I was visiting a friend in Carlsbad, just south of San Diego, at the same time the conference was being held. I was made aware of this by colleagues in New York who let me know that they would be in San Diego to present at the ACGM.

As it turned out it was a privilege be able to attend and to have private lessons and take part in the many ’small group workshops’ that were on offer, and be be able to do this for myself, not having to teach or conduct a workshop, so a wonderful CPD opportunity!

It was also great to meet new and ‘old’ American colleagues and to learn from them. There were directors and heads of training from several training schools in California, New York and other states, along with many teachers who specialised in their various fields such as music, the arts, voice work or singing, or who taught in health clinics or in recreational activities.

These teachers were highly skilled at presenting the Alexander principles (verbally) to a group, and then demonstrating with hands-on work to an individual what an Alexander lesson involved.  This was most interesting to observe.  Almost all of these teachers offered, on a daily basis, private lessons, ‘small group workshops’, discussion and demonstration groups and talks, most of which had to be pre-booked.

Also interesting were the ‘open introduction’ days where any curious hotel guests (of whom there were several!) could attend and experience an Alexander lesson. These introductions were conducted in public with observers present and again, a great opportunity for us teachers to hear and observe how our colleagues introduce the Alexander Technique. On the occasion I was present a couple of hotel guests who were very experienced musicians voiced their difficulties with pain and stress while playing their instruments.

There were so many highlights, but one very special highlight for me was on my last evening while waiting to attend the keynote address by Barbara Kent. I happened to be introduced to Rome Earle and ended up sitting next to her for the keynote. Rome (Rosemary) Earle is an elderly, well-known and much-loved teacher in the States who told me that she had her first Alexander lessons as a teenager with Marjory Barlow (Alexander’s niece) and then she had lessons with FM Alexander!

It was fascinating listening to this alert, elderly teacher with her wonderful smile and the most amazing sparkling turquoise blue eyes.  Rome’s story is incredible – she eventually joined Alexander’s training course but had to leave after only a few months, then returned later and completed just two years from 1949-51. However, she had to leave again to fly to the States to help her sister who became unwell.  In Los Angeles Rome met Judith Stranzky and began lessons with her, but after a few years she decided to return to London to complete her training with Patrick Macdonald and Shoshana Kaminitz. She eventually received certification in1974.

Rome then left London to return to California where she taught on Frank Otterwell’s training school in San Francisco for 19 years, and later taught part-time on Giora Pinkas’s training school in Berkeley, Ca.  Rome now lives in Carlsbad, Ca. with her husband, who also attended the AmSAT conference. Rome was offering private lessons but she was fully booked well before the conference.

Other highlights included meeting up again and having lessons with Barbara Kent, who I had previously met in New York and had lessons with while I was teaching at ACAT about five years ago.  So it was rather special to now be present at Barbara’s keynote address, which opened the conference.  Another great highlight was meeting up and sharing work and a long chat with Dominique Jacques.  Many senior teachers in Melbourne and around Australia will fondly remember Dominique as a bright, lively, wonderful teacher. I first met Dominique when I was living in Melbourne (after returning from UK) when she was one of the assistant teachers on John and Carolyn Nicholls’ training school, MATTS,  in St Kilda from 1987-1989 and I was a visiting teacher to the school. Dominique now lives in California and enjoys travelling widely and teaching.

And, of course, there was the ‘share work room’ which almost everyone visited more than once a day. It was so enjoyable to share and have discussions about the teaching.

The keynote address given by Barbara Kent was titled ‘A Path to Integration’. This title fitted beautifully with the theme of the conference that is contained in the quote by Alexander that  “Nature does not work in parts but as a whole”.   Barbara delivered her address in a clear, resonant voice describing how she came to the Alexander Technique and that it was due to her interest in the psychophysical, emotional and spiritual aspects of an individual, the whole person, and how she saw, on reading and studying Alexander’s books and then having lessons, that this is what Alexander’s teaching is all about.  In Alexander lessons we teach and offer the individual a constructive ‘path’ (with principles) in how to cultivate conscious awareness that allows one to become integrated, free from harmful habits of reaction and mal-coordination.  It is, she said, “an extraordinary teaching”.

However, Barbara also pointed out that perhaps not everyone today who comes for Alexander lessons has such an interest.  Today most people come to lessons for pain and or stress relief, however, such people, like everyone, can be given enormous help with these difficulties when they learn how to apply Alexander’s principles that integrate the mind and body to allow change.  And, this change can be experienced throughout the whole self, and/on many levels and it can generate health and well-being.

Barbara outlined some of her other interests and studies which included studying singing at the Juilliard School of Music, the Rubenfeld Synergy Method and Internal Family Systems. In a paper (an interview) with Barbara by Kathryn Miranda, I was struck by what Barbara said, “My first experience in teaching and learning how the brain works, when the combination of physical experience and cognitive learning get balanced based on a student’s needs, it’s a fabulous combo.  Words alone are pretty hard to translate into experience. Experience without understanding of what is happening is less helpful than giving the student/pupil a way to use the tools.”

Barbara came from a strong traditional training of hands-on work with Judith Leibowitz and Debby Caplan in teaching inhibition and direction. In my lesson with Barbara I again experienced her hands-on work that is gentle, energetic and guiding, giving (like a gift) clear gentle direction to the neck, head and back and to co-ordinate the whole, and it is always a new experience. When she was asked once (in the interview) how she teaches inhibition she replied, “One way I like to describe inhibition is the way FM Alexander did, as withholding consent. That helps the student to see it as a positive choice not to respond with a habitual reaction.”

Barbara’s keynote address,  ‘A Path to Integration’, was inspiring and confirming, spoken from a very wise and gentle teacher who lives the Alexander work and who teaches simply and skillfully the principles of FM Alexander.  Barbara ended the talk with, “I feel confident that we all, in our own ways, are committed to expanding the quality of our teaching, working with each other, and broadening public awareness of the Alexander Technique. Keep on keeping on … we have too precious a gift to do any less.  It’s up to us to preserve and expand the legacy that FM Alexander left us.”

Diana Devitt-Dawson felt privileged to be able to attend the recent AmSAT get-together, held in San Diego in June

She is head of the Alexander Technique Institute in Sydney

May 10

A mirror, a mask and an actor

By Julianne Eveleigh | ITM

Congratulations to Julieanne Eveleigh and Paul Hampton, whose work is is featured in a new book edited by Cathy Madden and Kathleen Juhl.

Here Julieanne tells the story of their collaboration

Paul Hampton and I have spent the past eight years cooking up and re-imagining a team teaching activity that introduces first-year acting students enrolled in a BA in Acting at Federation University, Ballarat, to the Alexander Technique and the Neutral Mask.

Alexander Technique underpins our teaching practice because it affords the actor in training time to attune the senses to appreciate the beauty and clarity of their three dimensional ‘self’.

We begin with the human design as the central organising principle that is key to all human movement. We frame this fundamental value that Alexander termed ‘primary control’ as a place of possibility – a place that is not restricted by unnecessary tension in either the body or the mind, a place where the imagination can respond with immediacy, creativity, and spontaneity. Alexander Technique provides a context for students to recognise the space between a stimulus and a reaction and gives them an opportunity to make choices and respond appropriately to the moment.

In 2015 Cathy Madden sent out an invitation to AT teachers working in a performing arts context to submit an outline. Paul and I decided that we would like to document the work we do with Neutral Mask and Alexander Technique in the first year of an actor training program.

Over a five-year period, we have been collecting student responses to our work that provide not only evidence of fundamental changes in these students’ psychophysical awareness but interesting reading, so we have woven their experiences and understanding of what they were experiencing into our chapter.

We have had the extraordinary privilege of working in detail with many students over the years, whose questions and insights have helped shape our teaching.

We also feel privileged that our work will receive a wider audience, to ensure that the rest of the world knows that the Alexander Technique is alive and kicking Down Under!

May 10

Let’s talk about ethics

By Kieran Stubbs | ITM

New teacher Kieran Stubbs shares his thoughts on some of the ethical questions that may arise during an Alexander lesson.

The essay  was written as a third-year assignment for the School of FM Alexander Studies in Melbourne

Editor’s note: Essay questions are in bold type; Kieran’s responses in roman (‘normal’) type

 

Thinking Aloud by Walter Carrington, Chapter on Ethics p111 – 117

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by FM Alexander,  Chapter VI – “Unduly Excited Fear Reflexes, Uncontrolled Emotions and Fixed Prejudices”

This chapter by Walter Carrington raises a number of interesting questions, some of which relate to what we have read in Alexander’s books … and to our code of professional conduct. The reading opens up very relevant questions as to the appropriate limits of our work and what psycho-physical re-education means.

In no more than three pages give your thoughts on the following:

 

  1. WC states (Teachers) “are not justified in intruding into (pupils’) emotions, their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, their attitudes.” In the chapter by Alexander, he says that “Unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions, prejudices and fixed habits, are retarding factors in all human development. They need our serious attention…” Presumably for a person to change their habit of use, these factors FM enumerates have to change. Do you think it is possible to help people change their pattern of use without dealing with people’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs?

Kieran’s response:

I think if the work truly rests on the principle of wholeness, that there is no functional division between mind and body, or emotions and their ‘physical’ manifestions, then there is no question that a person’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs must be involved in any changes to their pattern of use. Use of the self is use of the whole self, so to exclude emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs would be to divide what is indivisible. The question is, do we deal with emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs directly, or indirectly? Do we confront people about their emotions or deeply held beliefs?

I think sometimes the beliefs or conceptions relating to or underpinning a pupil’s use of themself need to be addressed, but with consideration to their psychophysical condition at the time. If you, as a teacher, with a given pupil in their present condition, can directly speak to and challenge that pupil’s harmful conception, belief, etc which is resulting in a harmful use of themselves without over-exciting their fear reflexes, then it would be wise to do so, in accompaniment with a practical experience of them using themselves in that harmful way, and then a practical experience of them using themselves in a coordinated and healthy way, as guided by you, the teacher.

Carrington’s belief that we ought not meddle in the emotions and beliefs of a pupil appears to be more in accordance with maintaining a state of equilibrium during the lesson and preventing unduly excited fear responses at present and in the future, than in accordance with the student’s need to change their conception in order to fundamentally change their pattern of use and means whereby.

I agree with the intention here, however I think there is a danger of glossing over important beliefs or emotions which are central to a person’s misuse and experience of themselves, which ultimately serves only to maintain their state of equilibrium during the lesson and to teach them on a sensory/experiential basis (rather than on a level of conscious reasoning, accompanied by new sensory experience), which ultimately will be dominated again by their fixed beliefs once left to their own devices.

 

  1. If the answer is “no” how might we relate to these aspects without “intruding”? If the answer is “yes”, then how would these retarding factors be dealt with?

Kieran: Continuing on from the last question, I think the answer is to deal with these aspects gently and while maintaining a sense of safety and equilibrium in the pupil as much as possible.

We, as teachers, must also deal with them in accordance with the Alexander principles of inhibition, direction, wholeness, faulty sensory appreciation and primary control. For example, it is not our prerogative to tell someone their political beliefs are wrong, however, it may be useful to draw attention to how they use themselves in relation to ideas of politics and to notice their habitual responses and whether they are working for good or ill in regards to the organism as a whole.

It may be useful also to work indirectly with a pupil’s conception and facilitate correction of their sensory appreciation which enables them to discover their own incongruent beliefs for themselves; for example pointing out that any of a pupil’s given beliefs may be seen by them to be unreliable as their sensory appreciation improves, as they have a new perspective from which light can be shed on their beliefs derived from a condition of unreliable sensory appreciation.

 

  1. What does Walter Carrington suggest and what are your thoughts? Walter suggests a few things:
  2. a)We do not give advice or judgement we are not qualified to give.

Kieran: I agree with this, our job is to judge a person’s use of themselves and help them improve it.

  1. b)When their communication “goes beyond just the ordinary” (Carrington, Thinking Aloud pg 116), we ought to tell them they need someone to talk to, such as a psychotherapist.

Kieran:  I agree in part, though there is an inherent judgement involved in making this suggestion which implies we are qualified to judge what the “ordinary” is and whether someone has gone beyond it.  I think a knee-jerk or unempathic judgement in this connection can just as easily induce a state of anxiety in a pupil as can a confrontation or misguided engagement with their values, emotions, etc.

We would do best as teachers to listen empathically, and skilfully bring the conversation back to the work, and applying the principles, so as to avoid coming across as judging the student as having beliefs or emotions which displease you as the teacher.

Maintaining our own equilibrium and the safety of the student is a precursor to making referrals to, say, a psychotherapist, which may indeed be necessary, or family or friends, but you must also take into account all information available as to whether these recommendations will likely result in harm or good to the pupil.

  1. c)Walter suggests we maintain clarity on what we are teaching and work in that domain – Alexander principles and whether or not they are stiffening their neck, inhibiting, etc.

Kieran: I agree with this on the most part, though there are times where beliefs and conceptions need to be addressed as they are inseparable from a pupil’s use of themselves. Timing, conditions and how this is done is they key.

 

  1. In regard to “unduly excited fear reflexes, uncontrolled emotions, prejudices and fixed habits” and “individual errors and delusions” how does FM propose that we approach these “retarding factors”?

Kieran: Ultimately by restoring reliable sensory appreciation, and in doing so, fostering a sense of confidence in the pupil’s learning environment.

 

  1. If you can accept that some types of beliefs are harmful to a person’s use and others not harmful, pick an example of a harmful and a non-harmful belief.

Kieran: Firstly, I cannot categorically say what is a harmful or non-harmful belief, because it depends on the person, and on other factors, as to whether or not a given belief is harmful to their use of themselves at a given time. A belief may be harmful one day, it may not be the next, it may be for one person, but not another.

An example of a likely harmful belief is the belief that a person’s spine ought to be totally straight, or that their feeling sense is reliable when it is not.

An example of a likely non-harmful belief is that they look better with their hair long as opposed to short.

This is based on the definition of harmful as being such that it causes discoordination or interference with the pupil’s primary control and ability to respond to stimulus in accordance with their conscious intention.

 

  1. If a pupil is undertaking a procedure or treatment or doing exercises that are clearly impacting badly on their use, what is a teacher’s responsibility? If you decide that it is appropriate for a teacher to give advice in such a case, how could this be done?

Kieran: I believe that if the teacher takes due measures to understand and analyse the conditions present and the perspective of the pedagogy informing such exercises or treatment, and ascertains that the effect is worsening their use and therefore function in the long-term, then I believe it is imperative as the teacher to articulate this to the student at a time that is appropriate and with skill and attendance to fear reflexes, and with due consideration to that student’s conceptions and any likely negative consequences of those being challenged.

Something like “this is the perspective of the Alexander principles and this is what I would recommend, however you must decide for yourself what your best course of action is” would be a good line to take, as it does not disempower the student, nor take on more responsibility than the teacher ought to.

 

  1. What light does the AUSTAT Code of Professional Conduct shed on these questions and matters raised in this chapter?

The following excerpts from the AUSTAT Code of Professional Conduct, section A:”THE TEACHER-PUPIL RELATIONSHIP” pertain to the above questions.

  1. A teacher should clearly explain the nature of the work and procedures to be followed during the course of lessons and ensure that the consent of the pupil is obtained. In the case of a pupil under the age of 18 years the consent of the pupil’s parent or guardian should be obtained.”

Kieran:  The relates to explaining the necessary scope of the work and that it includes addressing fixed ideas, beliefs etc, and it is not uncommon for pupils to experience emotional states at times during the work.

  1. A teacher should not make any kind of medical diagnosis of or prescribe treatment for a pupil unless qualified to do so. Recommendations to other appropriate qualified practitioners may be made where the pupil’s problems or difficulties appear to be outside the scope of the Alexander Technique.”

Kieran: This relates to concerns being beyond the scope of the AT, and/or interfering with the re-education process. I think the key is in the word prescription, the AT teacher (unless otherwise qualified) must only make recommendations from the body of work that is the Alexander Technique as they have studied it/been trained.

  1. During the course of a lesson in the Alexander Technique, a teacher should not introduce other practices or disciplines, even if he or she is qualified to do so, except with the prior consent of the pupil involved.”

      Kieran: A teacher may have other skills, such as counselling, NLP, physiotherapy or psychotherapy, for example, which complement the re-education process. These should only be used in connection with the Alexander Technique and by those qualified to use these skills, and the pupil must be informed and consensual.

 

 

May 10

Upon reflection…..

By Derek Smith | ITM

A mirror is an inanimate object, a piece of glass silvered on one side.  Its function is to reflect back light that hits the mirror surface, providing a ‘mirror image’.  Put a frame around it, cut it into shapes, engrave the edges with designs, hang it on a wall, put it on a stand – all these can be added in the pursuit of style, appearance, fashion, etc., but the function remains unchanged.  It reflects what passes before it.  Light is the only requirement for it to function, light emanating from an object before it.

Add a human observer to the mix and a different dynamic begins.  The observer brings his/her own baggage to the observation.  What they see is what they are looking with, not what they are looking at.  Judgements, opinions, perceptions, ideas, knowledge, experience – everything about the perception of an image that enables different observers to interpret the same image in a variety of ways.  A useful observational tool for an AT teacher and pupil.  The mirror is mute witness to all this.

Though perhaps for not much longer.

A recent edition of New Scientist had a small article, about 8cm of one column, titled ‘‘Mirror’ keeps music and posture right’.  It reports on the Musician’s Mirror, which can be programmed so that it ‘provides an audible warning if it spots poor posture’.  Just 125 words, but weeks later, I am still working my way through it and the conclusions, so far, are not good.  What do you think?  My response follows.

The Musician’s Mirror is yet another example of a symptomatic, ‘end-gaining’ reaction to a situation.  Wait until something happens then do something about it.  There is no attempt made to determine the cause of the ‘bad’ posture, or what steps can be taken to maintain ‘good’ posture.

The use of white noise and notes made to sound out of tune as the audible warnings of ‘bad’ posture are, in behavioural terms, confusing.  Are people being punished or is this ‘escape learning’ aka ‘negative reinforcement’?  Punishment is designed to weaken a response (’bad’ posture) that produces an aversive stimulus (white noise, discordant sounds).  Escape Learning is designed to strengthen a response (‘good’ posture or at least the avoidance of ‘bad’ posture) that removes the aversive stimulus.  The reactive, symptomatic nature of this Mirror system means that an event (‘bad’ posture), has to happen first and the response that results looks like punishment to me.  Hardly a positive strategy for change.

And how is ‘posture’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, determined?  Is it left to the individual using the Mirror or is there some form of universal ‘good’ that is applied and if so, how is that determined?  What exactly is ‘posture’?  In the context of the Musician’s Mirror it is no more than a position.

Then I read that the user can ‘highlight the parts of the body they want its software to focus on’.  Not exactly a psychophysical, holistic response to body use, and there is a lot of ‘doing’ and ‘trying’ and the adopting of positions.

All in all an unsatisfactory system and one more example of the Magic Bullet Syndrome, where a person seeks a quick answer, external to themselves and preferably not involving any work on the person’s part, to an issue that is ‘internal’ to themselves.  Personal responsibility for a solution is thus transferred to someone – or something – like the Musician’s Mirror.

However, unlike most New Scientist articles, this article does not include a response from anyone else, either critical or supportive, so it is left unquestioned.  But it is printed in a respected journal and that carries weight.  I am left pondering how to respond to articles like this.

Fortunately the blameless, silent, non-judgemental mirror is only indirectly involved.  Adorned with software and technology perhaps, but continuing to function in the only way it can.  Its ‘use’ is perfect.

It provides an opportunity for reflection and for me as an observer, it’s not just about images.  Thank you, mirror.

 

May 10

When tensions arise during training

By Karen Nankervis (Admin) | ITM

The ongoing research project by two overseas Alexander teachers, Ellen Bierhorst and Maria Vahervuo*, to study important psycho-social changes set off by the Alexander Technique has the potential to offer much food for thought in regard to the training of Alexander Technique teachers. Already some preliminary findings should provide opportunity for meaningful discussion.

Basically, what is the Alexander Technique?

An Alexander teacher can work with a colleague (workswap), or

An Alexander teacher can give a lesson to a private pupil, or

An Alexander teacher can work with a trainee on an Alexander teacher training course.

In essence the teacher is sharing an “up” experience with the other person.

The first two events above are usually short-term arrangements, but for an Alexander teacher trainee it is a three-year commitment with a Head of Training.

During the three years, both the Head of Training and trainee will change. What happens if this arrangement is no longer appropriate?  Most other study situations are purely verbal, but for Alexander Technique training with the needs for hands-on work there is a much closer tie between trainer and trainee.

If, during a training, certain psychological/emotional changes in the HoT and trainee make this relationship no longer compatible then there needs to be an out for the trainee. This is not to say either the HoT or trainee is “wrong” or “right”, it simply means a trainee should not stay in a situation that is no longer appropriate.

The Head of Training does not “own” a trainee for the three years of training.

Where tensions do arise, various possibilities should be explored. The trainee might need a break from training. The trainee may need to continue study for a time with another experienced teacher who is quite independent form the original HoT. The trainee may need to transfer to another Head of Training to complete the course.

The above is dependent on the trainee being a suitable candidate for a three-year teacher training course. This should be sorted out between the HoT and the trainee in the first term, which should be probationary.

When FM started his first teacher training course in 1931 he was not the only person to work with students. We know from the writings of students in those early training courses that there were times the students sought help from other experienced teachers. The writings and interviews with people such as Lulie Westfeldt, Erika Whittaker, Patrick Macdonald, Marjorie Barlow, Walter Carrington and others are well worth study.

The main aim with an Alexander Technique teacher training course is to provide a trainee with the skills – verbal and hands on – to be able, once graduated, to share with a person new to the Alexander Technique the “up” experience.

A Head of Training who is too “possessive” about trainees denies those trainees the breadth of experience needed to develop appropriate teaching skills.

AUSTAT, the professional society, has a duty of care, and a moral obligation:

to provide a choice of training schools for trainees, to monitor the standards of these training schools, and to assist a trainee, a future Alexander Technique teacher, to complete a training by facilitating a change to another training school if necessary.

Rosslyn McLeod is an Alexander teacher from Adelaide and director of the film FM Alexander and the Alexander Technique.

*Ellen Bierhorst and Maria Vahervuo’s research is called the AT Story Project and details can be found online.

 

May 10

Factory opens for business

By Simon Fitzgibbon | ITM

Simon Fitzgibbon has started a second teacher training school in Sydney called the Factory of Mechanical Advantage

Discounting teenage stints of washing cars and stacking supermarket shelves, teaching the Alexander Technique is the only job I’ve ever had.

My journey from school leaver to teacher trainee was short and uneventful, but upon entering Kri Ackers’ training course in Sydney in the early ‘90s, the Technique became my life. It soon took me to London (where I studied further with the Carringtons), and on to Madrid, Spain, where I lived for 20 years.

Although teaching English was the easy path to economic stability, I wanted to teach the Technique. The gamble paid off, in spite of the initial language barrier and being in a country where few had heard of the Technique. A full practice later morphed into a teacher training course, which I ran from 2008 to 2015.

My next move was to return to Australia (with my exotic Spanish partner!), and after a year spent settling in, we have now started a new training course in Sydney: The Factory of Mechanical Advantage, or FMA for short.

Why?

The answer that makes me sound noble is that I believe this school will enrich the AT community, both in Sydney and nationwide. To quote Kri from a recent email to AUSTAT members, I “specialise in teaching the unique craft of using the hands to activate the natural lengthening mechanisms within the human body”.

This hands-on skill distinguishes the Technique from all other modalities and is what I aim to impart to my trainees. It is not a gift bestowed upon the few but, as with all subtle endeavours, it requires years of guided instruction and practice to develop.

When I was training, we would often hear it took three years to become an Alexander Teacher and another 10 years to get any good at it.

One is not useless before then but, like any other trade, one is not an expert when they’ve finished their apprenticeship. For this reason, I aim to provide, in addition to a teacher training course, ample post-graduate support and training both for our graduates and other interested teachers.

There is also a selfish reason for wanting a training course: I enjoy training teachers as it gives me the opportunity to continue learning and improving my skills by working at a level of subtlety not possible with private pupils.

As a teacher, my focus is on the basics — chair work, table work, hands on the back of the chair, whispered ‘ah’ — which I consider the most effective way of meeting the real challenge of our work: learning the Technique.

I find that once learnt, applying it to different activities is a relatively simple matter, variations upon a theme. Conversely, attempts to apply the Technique before having a solid practical understanding of it lead to confusion and inconsistent results. The ‘Technique’ easily becomes a series of activity specific ‘tricks’ instead of a global skill that can assist any activity.

Words can never convey the subtlety of experience we are aiming for; thus, a teacher must be able to give the student the experience. Later, from this shared experience, teacher and student can build up a vocabulary, a common language, to discuss the theoretical aspects of the work. This process helps the student understand both what we are trying to achieve and how to get it for themselves.

As a teacher trainer, my focus is essentially the same. Trainees develop their understanding through practical experience (learning the Technique) which then forms the foundation of hands-on work (a specific application). This foundation allows them to, over time, build up the requisite skill and sensitivity in their hands to encourage similar changes in their students.

To achieve this in three years of training, my school is small by design. There is a maximum of six trainees at a time, with 2-3 experienced teachers always present. This way I can ensure that each student receives sufficient daily experience of the Alexander Technique to assimilate the changes necessary to incorporate the Technique into their daily lives and to develop the characteristic Alexander hands.

Our current staff are Simon Fitzgibbon (director), Marietta Simarro, Kri Ackers and Bradley Newman. Between us, we have almost 100 years of full-time Alexander Technique teaching and teacher training experience.

We are open to visits from prospective trainees and trained Alexander Teachers interested in post-graduate work.

We look forward to sharing some work with you!

 

May 10

AUSTAT’s new guidelines

By Michael Shellshear | Governance , ITM

AUSTAT is a small society representing about 150 full teaching members give or take. In our small community, most of us know each other through shared trainings, ventures and through our dedication to Alexander Technique. Nevertheless, AUSTAT is an incorporated Association under NSW law and, as such, we are required to act with a fair degree of formality.

Societies like ours are expected to act with transparency and fairness. This is called “due process”. That can be hard sometimes, especially as so many of us hold strong opinions and are involved in the very issue that requires decision-making.

To assist all of us in benefiting from “due process” Council has approved a set of decision-making guidelines for itself, standing committees and for all “duly appointed” officers of AUSTAT.

 

The decision-making guidelines are as follows:

Councils and Standing Committees should ask:

  • Is there a conflict of interest that needs to be declared? [Council members who might benefit or have any personal interest in a decision have been declaring a conflict of interest and stepping out of meetings for several months now. This is recorded in the Council Minutes and in the Conflict of Interest register.]
  • Why is a decision required? State the issue. Does it need to be made into a motion and seconded?
  • What are the pros (cost benefits) and cons (loss to AUSTAT) of motion?
  • Is research required? Are there standards, benchmarks to assist decision making?
  • Who are the stakeholders around the decision?
  • Have all stakeholders been consulted adequately?
  • What is the timeline, budget requirement and implementation requirements?
  • If the decision is not made-what are the knock-on effects to the Constitution?
  • If the decision is made what are the knock-on effects to the Constitution?
  • Is the decision in the AUSTAT members’ best interests?
  • Which part of the AUSTAT Constitution/bylaws does this relate to?

 

Council hopes that, by establishing a rigorous “due process”, we will be able to make well-considered, effective decisions that serve the membership.

May 10

Reducing paper

By Karen Nankervis | Admin Articles , ITM , Public Access

Here are some quick tips to help you reduce the amount of paper in your home and work space :

1) If you get catalogues in the mail, email the company and unsubscribe. Then anytime in the future you want to order, you can simply look online for products and ordering information.

2) Don’t print your email. If you need to keep something, save it electronically.

3) Owner’s Manuals — once you unpack your item and determine that all is well, visit the manufacturer’s website and download the manual. Create a folder on your computer named OWNER’S MANUALS and store in there.  If your item comes with a printed manual, see if it is available online and save, or scan it and store it electronically.

4) Rather than cut multitudes of recipes out of magazines, go to the magazine’s website and download the recipe to your computer. Save any you love online into the same spot. There are a few recipe collator websites available like Sesame, Yumprint and BigOven.

5) If you receive annual reports from investments, etc, visit their website to either discontinue them or change to email delivery. Very few of these types of reports are ever read!

6) One very important thing to discard when you are reducing the paper around you, is your fear. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst thing that will happen?’ What would I need to do if I needed this paperwork again? Storing electronically means that the piece of paper still exists, just not cluttering up your space. Cloud storage like Dropbox can then move it off your computer.

Any other ideas?  Please share them with me!

 

May 05

AT Connect – Jana Boronova

By Anne Mallen | AT Connect , ITM

The lovely and talented Jana Boronova is originally from Prague but now living and working in Melbourne

What first drew you to the Alexander Technique?

I had my first lesson out of curiosity really, and because of my mother.

Mum found out about the Technique and booked lessons with Paul Baxter, a UK teacher living in Prague at the time. I think he was the only teacher there then.  Mum absolutely loved the lesson and got so much out of it and kept talking about the Technique and lessons and that made me really want to try it.

I remember walking out of my first lesson thinking: “I have no idea what has just happened but I want more of that”. I think I had about 20 lessons with Paul and then unfortunately he decided to move back to UK. So I stopped there for a while.

But I have to say that we have a bit of a book obsession in the family, so I got to read a lot of books on AT and Mum and I kept talking about it quite a bit, both feeling that was something which really resonated with us. I did try to read some books by Alexander himself at that stage but only managed the Use of the Self. I gave up on Man’s Supreme Inheritance after a couple of few chapters.

Why did you decide to train to be a teacher? And what were you doing before you trained?

The decision to train was kind of coincidence really. Somehow it had never occurred to me I could train to teach the Technique when I was having lessons. So it was not until at least five years later, when I was stuck in a job which I liked but felt I did not have much new to learn there.

I was working for an American Study Abroad company and we were organising programs for US University students coming to do a term or two at the Prague Charles University.

Basically me and a colleague of mine were in charge of their cultural program – taking them on guided walks around Prague and on trips around the Czech Republic as well as to various European cities for the weekend etc. However, I felt I needed a change.

That was when I first came to Australia – I was invited by a friend whose mum emigrated to Australia after the Second World War because they were Jewish and she needed somebody to stay with her for two months at her farm in Yarra Valley while her daughter was travelling. I absolutely loved it.

Eva, my friend, was this wonderful 90-year-old woman and we instantly took to each other. So naturally after my return to Prague I decided I wanted to come back to Australia. This was when I started looking up various courses to be able to come on the student visa, as that was the only option really.

And then one day, my mum sent me the link to David’s school. I suspect she wanted to have an Alexander teacher on hand. The more I thought about it the more it made sense to me.

For me the Technique has always been about movement. As I have always been quite an active person, I thought it would beautifully complement most of the activities I have been passionate about – namely snowboarding/skiing, swimming and yoga. And it has. My swimming technique has changed for the better dramatically, I enjoy teaching Alexander yoga, which is so much more gentle and makes more sense to me then the Iyengar yoga I used to do before I came to Australia,and thanks to learning from and  working with an American teacher, Eric Bendix, I found an almost lost love for skiing again and realised how much the Technique has to offer when we decide to learn something challenging and potentially risky.

What do you love about the Technique?

I see the Technique as a kind of a safety net – when I am getting in trouble I know I can draw on it and use it to make my life easier. I remember when I first met Vivien Mackie at the school I was so in awe of the youthful energy she had about her. I felt really inspired. For me the Technique is the underlying principle, something I can build on and it gives me a sense of having control over my life.

Do you have any ideas to share with other teachers?

The thing I have been quite struck by in the past six months or so is that a lot of people from outside the Alexander world think the Technique is quite static.

I have had a few encounters in which I had people telling me something along the lines of: “Oh, yes, I know the Alexander Technique. You guys don’t move too much.” I was so surprised by the impression we, as an Alexander community, give to others.

Movement was what first drew me to the Technique, so it is absolutely incomprehensible to me that people think we are not about movement. I think it would be good to somehow work towards changing this misconception.