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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tricky to Communicate

 It is so curious how common it is, when you are attracted to study something, what usually attracts you is so seldom the real thing. You can only find out how misguided and naive you were later, once you dedicate yourself to learning about what captured your curiosity.

After reading a few books on better explaination and communication, I decided to apply its message to introducing Alexander Technique. 

 Most of the models that were suggested, (the book that "walked its talk" the best was "The Art Of Explanation" by Lee Lefever) used a "solve a problem" model. Although I recognize that the motivation to change and improve is often driven by a painful or negative problem, it has always seemed to me to be a tawdry appeal. Alexander Technique ends up sounding like snake oil if you list the many ways that it can be applied. We are hit by so much advertising in our culture.

The advantages of learning Alexander Technique are a bit like learning to read. Because the skill is a "how" and not really a "what," it can be applied to any interest. In our culture, reading is essential, but how would you convince a grownup who lived in a illiterate culture that they should invest the time to learn to read?

Of course, I ended up using Alexander Technique to solve many of my own problems. At the time, I was a sales person for my sign business. My "natural" voice mannerisms used to modulate up and down, which meant to prospective sign buyers that I was possibly unreliable so they didn't want to give me half the money up front to make them a sign. Using what I'd learned from Alexander Technique, I was able to change my voice mannerisms. A.T. had other advantages for me in that it allowed me to change how others regarded me in their first impressions. To give you an idea of its many other applications, I've used it to walk without a congenital limp, to learn to juggle, to learn faster to play nine-ball at a pool table, to prevent wrinkles on my face and to stop being petrified about public speaking.

But after thinking about all of these, I decided to select as the motive for my little storyboard the same reason that originally attracted me to become interested at my first exposure. Using Alexander Technique has the ability to change my consciousness, to expand my awareness - to evoke "flow." Abraham Maslow had called this state of flow: "peak experience."

"Flow" - I believe that it's a term coined by this researcher/psychologist, (who's last name I can't spell)

So, I made a storyboard. It's a sketched outline of how I'd explain Alexander Technique using my idea. Here's my story board... (Click on it to enlarge)

 In my case, my desire to evoke "FLOW" that was what attracted me to Alexander Technique. As I learned and studied, unlike most misunderstandings about the nature of what you're really learning, my hunch about Alexander Technique turned out to be the "real thing." My efforts to embody what my Alexander teachers had me "undo" did not disappoint my initial expectations. My original motive to learn Alexander Technique came from a desire to find a way to evoke an elusive state of mind that made me very, very happy... A state of mind that I'd experienced many times that was "flow" but I couldn't evoke it on purpose.

Bear in mind this sketch is merely a suggestion about how the real presentation would go...

Of course, from seeing a sketches of images on a story board, if you're not the creator, it might be tricky to imagine what the sketches would be indicating. Qualities of the communication might be determined by the pictures that are chose to be used to influence the final result. For instance, here's a picture of a Balinese dance teacher with his arms guiding a younger dance student, his hands entwined and supporting.

But this next one is even better....Because it shows the "embodied cognition" in the teacher's stance who has her hands on the torso to show by example in the moment the way she knows the younger girl in front of her could move freer. The teacher is emulating or modeling in the way she moves at the same time she is communicating what she means to the student. That's the magic part of what makes the Alexander Technique so unique. I racked my brain to find another example of this somewhere in the world, and this was the only thing I could find. But how many people have been to Bali to take dance lesson who would have known about this method of communication?

Can you think of another example where the teacher uses this direct "showing" method of teaching?

What do you think of this style of presenting Alexander Technique? If you're the sort of person who can imagine something from a sketch or an idea, what do you think of this story board plan?

(Also, I'd love to see the results of a story-board to illustrate or plan out what you'd like to communicate that you might have made.)

Saturday, November 09, 2013


When I was sixteen, I made an agreement with my mother to smile more often. Because of our bone structure, we have a mouth that turns down because our lower jaw is a bit small in relation to our skulls. This makes it look as if we're frowning or are being seriously judgmental when our face is at rest.

Not long before she died at fifty-four, my mom was starting to become upset about becoming older. She pointed out that her face was now sagging, making her down-turned resting face frown more noticeable. Her face looked so much more beautiful when she smiled anyway, so I suggested she learn to smile more often and she agreed that doing that would be a good idea. But she needed my help. To cue her to remember to smile, I began a habit of smiling at her - giving her an outright huge, toothy grin or just turning up the corners of my mouth so they didn't turn down. It turned out that smiling more often actually made me feel happier too, so I kept doing it. I realize now that it's an agreement I made with my mother long ago that still persists and connects me to being her daughter. Here is a picture of me at fifty-four with that slight smile next to my brother.

Smiling more often as a matter of course has had an unexpected effect on others...

Many years ago when I first came to Hawaii, I was invited to this birthday party for someone I didn't know, because I was connected to a band member of the party gal. Most of the people at the party were younger than me. They seemed to be talking about who they knew, how cool they were (or how afraid they were not so cool) and what clothes the others were wearing. They weren't particularly interested in having conversations that were about ideas, languages, relationships or values, which were my favorite subjects. So I spent my time playing with the kids and the household dogs, randomly smiling to recognize people passing by as I wandered around the party. They put up an open mike for musicians to share their original music, so for the birthday girl I sang the Bolinas version of an original "Happy Birthday" written by Ananda Gino Brady.

At the end of the night while driving home, my friend who had invited me said he didn't understand how I could be so completely misunderstood by strangers. When I asked him what he meant, he said someone had asked him if I was a special needs person. Evidently those twenty-somethings believed that if you were smiling too often, there had to be something seriously wrong with your sanity.

But wait! I have yet another story about this...

In San Francisco, people who are special needs adults go out together in a group. Along with them comes one or two workers who are paid to chaperone and generally make sure the group doesn't get into trouble.

I was standing at the corner waiting for a bus in S.F. when this sort of group joined me to also board the bus. People of all walks of life take the bus in San Francisco, because of the parking difficulties. I was heading for a music lesson, so I wasn't carrying a pack or purse.

All of us got on the bus together, and I took the only available seat next to one of the special needs people. We began to talk. I guess I encouraged rambunctious replies because their "handler" asked for quiet and to stay in their seats. I apologized and stated that it was my fault to have encouraged the intensity of response. After some time had passed, a metal water container made it out of the pack of one of the members of the special needs group and rolled two seats away back into the depths of the lurching bus. Since I knew all of them were barred against fetching it, I asked the person in the seat in back of me to please hand it forward so it could be returned to the owner. There was no response, so I got up and retrieved the item before it caused a problem.

In a short time, the correct stop came and the special needs group disembarked. I slid over to a window seat that was now unoccupied and glanced back to the woman behind me who had ignored my request previously to help retrieve the water bottle.

She had a red face to match her red hair. She gushed, "I'm so sorry that I assumed you were one of them."

"Yes," I agreed, attempting some humor. "It's embarrassing when you realize you've treated special people in special ways. I like to be especially smiley. Sometimes it makes people think I'm special."

"Well, the good kind of special then," she grinned. She nervously laughed with me.

We talked a bit more about how smiling affects people. I told her the story of my smiling agreement with my mom. She declared that maybe she would smile more often too.