By Julianne Eveleigh |
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!
By Kieran Stubbs |
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:
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.
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.
Kieran: I agree with this, our job is to judge a person’s use of themselves and help them improve it.
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.
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.
Kieran: Ultimately by restoring reliable sensory appreciation, and in doing so, fostering a sense of confidence in the pupil’s learning environment.
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.
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.
The following excerpts from the AUSTAT Code of Professional Conduct, section A:”THE TEACHER-PUPIL RELATIONSHIP” pertain to the above questions.
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.
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.
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.
By Derek Smith |
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.
By Simon Fitzgibbon |
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.
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!
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!