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  • 09 Aug 2018 2:02 PM | Anonymous

    Thursday, 14th. June 2018, saw the EACAT, students, teachers and Director of training, make a summer pilgrimage to Reepham, Norfolk. The trip was organised to visit the resident teachers, Ken and Angie Thompson, at their home, to immerse in a day of teaching, instruction, dialogue, and of course tea and cake. 


    The day began with Angie giving a warm welcome and providing an inter

    esting potted history of the village and their house, which is one of the original buildings within Reepham. Over tea, we discussed the outline of the day which was to include Ken and Angie giving 'turns' to the students and teachers, with opportunity to deepen our understanding of the technique. 


    Angie worked with, half of the group, giving each student instruction, using both chair activity and table work. An important aspect of the work with her was a detailed discussion of the use and value of the position of mechanical advantage, 'monkey'. For students of the technique, this is a hugely important aspect of use, and can be very physically demanding for new trainees. 


    Simultaneously, Ken worked with the remainder of the group, working primarily in chair activity. Of course whilst not working with either Ken or Angie, teachers and students

     had a great opportunity to observe, ask questions, or discuss aspects of the work as each of us had our 'turn'. 


    The teachers in the group, also had an opportunity to give additional hands on work in the intervals between. Lunch saw copious quantities of tea, cake and more tea and more cake, being distributed between further discussion anecdotes and laughter. 


    With the groups swapped, the afternoon session began Ken's group working with Angie, and vice versa. The chair work is of course, the opportunity to experience ones own habits in an activity, and to observe our reaction to stimulus. In that activity we have the opportunity to 'inhibit' and to subtly undo our usual, habitual, way of 'doing', getting out of a chair. This teaching was very ably demonstrated by Ken's 'non doing' hands. 


    The afternoon session continued with a viewing of a video created in 2008 of Chris Stevens discussing the primary control to students of EAS. This dialogue raised many questions and has since been a subject of debate at the East Anglia school. The key concepts that Chris was elucidating, were with reference to Alexander's 'Use of the Self' and conversations with Walter Carrington, where it became clear that one cannot actually 'free the neck', because we do not know what a free neck is, but rather:

    • 'What he was doing with his feet and legs, was causing him to pull his head back' 'You've got to track down what is causing you to pull the head back' 'The neck is the primary control' But ,'the primary control is not a lever you pull, it is an indicator of what is happening'. Just as passport control, inspects and makes sure everything is OK, so 'Primary Control', indicates if all is OK.

    The day concluded by fond farewells. The dialogue continued into the next weeks at school and provided teachers and students alike with an ever greater understanding of this extraordinary work. 


    Many Thanks to Ken and Angie for their kind hospitality and skilful hands.










  • 25 Jan 2017 8:58 AM | Anonymous

    As a second term trainee seeing a different teacher is always a mix of excitement and trepidation. In my opinion teachers tell us things, sometimes the knowledge goes in and at times it washes over you but when the mind is ready to rece


    At ATE we receive training from many experienced teachers and today I met Wolfgang and learnt how to walk!!!


    My take on ‘Primary Control’ is trying to reboot the computer so we can start from neutral thus clearing out all existing data. 


    Under Wolfgang’s direction after my attempt at Primary Control “Where is your weight” he inquired? Somewhat confused I didn’t know what to say, he then said “Your weight is in your thighs!!!


    A bean-bag on each shoulder as a stimulus; Wolfgang stated “Think through your heels and relax your jaw. Soften the chest and think about your weight through to your heels then back up to the crown of your head like a piece of elastic” This I had heard before but put more thought into my feet and felt grounded and lengthened whilst arms were suspended from my shoulders.


    Feeling balanced I asked Wolfgang about the spine lengthening whist walking. I explained I understood forward and up and let the neck be free and shoulders to widen and as a swimmer I could lengthen the back in the pool but could not see the direction whilst walking that would lengthen the spine.


    I was then lifted from behind onto my toes whist being suspended off balance forward to the point of falling. I was told “This is your first step and as you place your foot think bounce/spring forward and up with the length of elastic running though you to the crown of your head giving you spring towards the ceiling” With my neck free and head forward and up I could feel my spine lengthening as in the pool with the thought going through my feet then up to the space above my head. Whilst up on my toes it clicked in my mind that if I think up at the moment as my heel leaves the ground I could feel the spine lengthen. This bounce thought from the ground gave me an upward lift on each step. I could lengthen my spine on each step!!!


    At times I believe we need different input to gain understanding and the ‘physical lifting’ actually gave me the direction. Different teachers have their own methods and a combination of these have helped me gain an understanding.


    Thanks to all my teachers and fellow students at ATE I was ready to have that light-bulb moment with Wolfgang. I now work on myself whist walking every day.


    Paul Cano-Lopez Student at ECAT      16th November 2016


  • 05 Dec 2016 2:27 PM | Anonymous

    A number of students and teachers at EACAT wanted to attend Anne Batty’s “Working On Yourself” workshop in London in June but were unable to so imagine our delight when Anne agreed to come to our Chelmsford school to give the workshop here.


    Being in my final term of the AT teacher training course this workshop felt particularly pertinent. Soon I’ll be working largely on my own and awareness of my own use will be essential.


    On arrival, after brief introductions, Anne wasted no time in discussing the importance she places on working on herself as being a key feature of her working day. Closely studying her reflection each morning is the start to this work as soon as she wakes. With 50 years of Alexander Technique teaching experience the workshop was full of gems of interpretation of Alexanders findings. She explained that her work was continually evolving throughout her career and this being what keeps it so interesting. I loved her down to earth approach, an example of which is her dislike of the term semi supine or constructive rest as too pompous. ‘Lying down work’ being her preferred term. We spent the morning experimenting with chair work, table work and everyone was keen to see how Anne worked with people on the floor.  I think Anne’s approach to wall work will be invaluable for me.


    We all felt we’d been put through our paces by the end of the workshop and had much to take away with us. Anne’s energy and vitality was as impressive as her work. She was disappointed we wanted to stop for coffee as she didn't want to waste time! 


    Kathy Ponter Student at EACAT


  • 11 Nov 2015 6:19 PM | Anonymous


    Earlier that morning my neck – which had been on the verge of collapse for some days  - finally popped. The nape of my neck and all of my right shoulder had gone into spasm. I couldn't turn fully to the right. Looking left was difficult as well. So it was just as well that later that day I was seeing Elaine.

    To the people of Leigh-on-Sea, Elaine is somewhat of an enigma, she pops up all over the place and can often be found taking a dip in the sea or having a nap along the breakers on the beach. Or at least that is where I most often will find her. Either that or wandering around London art galleries and theatres.   At the bottom of her garden is a beautiful old schoolhouse – here she often holds small get-togethers during the summer months where musicians, writers and actors share their work. But by profession Elaine teaches the 'Alexander Technique'.


    When I first met her, she had the presence of someone I had know my whole life, as though she were just a part of my family as my own grandparents. I was studying at the time, whilst working in a local coffee shop. After one particularly stressful deadline she came up to me whilst on my shift at the shop and said,“Do you mind if I put my hands on you?”


    To anyone overhearing this conversation it may have seemed strange. But I was desperate to be fixed of all the aches and pains so willingly accepted her offer. I didn't anticipate her coming up behind the counter whilst I was serving and placing her hands on my back then and there. However as soon as she did, making small corrections to my posture I instantly felt uplifted and calmer. That was when I knew I had to find more out about the Alexander Technique.


    A few days later I went to Elaine's house for my first lesson. The first thing she made me do was lie down on a large table with my hands resting on my hips, my knees bent with my head resting on a small pile of books. I soon realised that this would be how I would spend most of the sessions and was promptly told to think about sending my hips back and my knees forward. With emphasis being placed on the thinking not the doing! Although this seemed to defy the laws of biology I tried my hardest to do so. Elaine then moved around the table and made small adjustments to my posture, movement and breathing. The aim was and is to allow yourself to release the tension that is stopping you from achieving. In all honesty I hadn't a clue what she was saying or doing to me because Elaine invariably talks in riddles but whatever she was doing was working.


    Back to the present now. When I arrived at her house last week Elaine was deciding whether to go and 'dunk' herself in the sea. She took out a coin – heads she would, tails she wouldn't – tossed it in the air all the while saying “I want it to be tails, I want it to be tails” which it was. Whilst I don't believe there could be some divine interception at work, it is these little foibles that make me love Elaine all the more.


    “I suffer terribly from stiff necks” she said as she gently held mine in her hands. “I screw myself in knots about it. I'm an Alexander Technique teacher and have been for thirty years. I have no need to and certainly shouldn't have stiff necks when my head is supposed to float! Now you're distressed aren't you? I can tell, well I don't mean to sound miserable my darling but life really is just one steady stream of distresses...Now have you seen the wedding dress exhibition at the V&A?”


    This is often the shape of conversational patter with Elaine. In the same exchanges you are faced with jaw-slapping one liners then instantly the topic changes to discuss her latest expedition into London's cultural scene, only just as quickly to go back to talk about how she can feel your body move. The flickering of each muscle that to oneself is invisible but to her speaks volumes.


    “Your body is to-ing and fro-ing. The rigidity is constantly moving so we need to make that settle down. Perhaps you should consider why your neck is in constant flux and moving from side to side. Rather than going left to right you should consider moving forwards.”


    Elaine certainly has a knack for connecting the physical and emotional during her sessions. It's not something that I believe has developed over our becoming close. She is extremely intuitive and from day one knew me without me uttering even a syllable. She seemed to know the essence of what was on my mind. Though perhaps that is because I am perpetually easy to read.


    That being said she is not one to pander to for sympathy. Elaine is one of the most loving, caring and intelligent people you could meet but if you partake in 'eating worms' (her phrase) as often as I do, then do not be surprised if a few stern words are flung your way.  Just as when you attempt to help Elaine with any part of your lesson, particularly when it comes to her manoeuvring your body. As I attempt to support my own leg briefly by tensing my thigh muscle I received a slap to my ankles and a quip:

    “Give me your leg! You must stop trying to be so helpful all the time. I think I can sum you up as very good but a little bit naughty. Now you say that and repeat it until I tell you to stop!”


    Fearful of what she might do if I didn't oblige I took my punishment and repeated the phrase until we were both in fits of giggles when Elaine remarked, “You're so embarrassed your toes have curled back!”


    After this brief episode of hysteria passed Elaine covered me in a blanket for warmth and left the room to prepare some soup for her husband, John. Once fifteen minutes had gone by she came back.

    “Really what you need is to be more carefree but that won't happen until you're old or you've had children, at which point you'll be mad anyway so don't do it, but do because having children and being old is quite wonderful.”


    No matter what she does she knows how to make people laugh, me included. But this time she looked at me, walked to the table to help me up with the customary hug that comes at the end of each lesson. Despite my laughter and my smile, as she moved me from laying to standing she said something that hit my core, “I can tell that you're still rather sad though aren't you? I won't ask what it is but whatever it is, don't worry. It will pass.”And with that my neck clicked free.


    Footnote: Sadly Elaine passed away in October 2014. She loved, laughed and lived 'til the very end. We'll miss her but will continue to celebrate her life whenever we think of her!


    Elisa Adams is writer and jazz singer from Leigh-on-Sea. Since Elaine passed away Elisa ran the London Marathon as part of Team Fair Havens to raise money for the hospice where Elaine spent her final days. This article was originally published in Trawler magazine in June 2015. 


  • 09 Sep 2015 11:33 AM | Anonymous

    Limerick Alexander Technique Congress


    Summer is now drawing to a close and holidays are over but before it’s back to ‘business as usual’ I would like to share an account of the 10th International Alexander Congress which took place in the beautiful town of Limerick on what must be one of the most striking university campuses in the world.

    Set on the banks of the river Shannon, the two University villages are linked by the Living bridge, named for its architectural design which creates movement as people cross it.  The two villages of student accommodation are surrounded by magnificent halls of learning and impressive architecture.  With numerous restaurants and cafés to choose from. The student life here must be very conducive to study and social activities.


    What a fantastic venue then for our Alexander Congress.  This was the best attendance ever with 700 delegates from 40 countries.  The opening ceremony was hosted by the organisers Richard Brennan, Niall Kelly and Glenna Batson and we were hugely entertained by Michael Gelb’s witty and informative session on Leonardo DaVinci, a genius visionary whom Michael compared to our own FM.

    This set the bar high for the whole week and we were not disappointed!  From the plenary sessions to the talks, from workshops to work exchange there was infinite choice to satisfy every interest.  Swimming, running, singing, movement, music, anatomy, eyesight, to mention just a few. 

    We were also treated to Irish music, Irish dancing with such talented children enchanting us with lightning footwork and straight backs, a Limerick competition with a huge range of subject matter and totally crazy judging.  There was a chance to learn some dancing, to meet many authors of AT books and to view new film footage.  Heads of Training had a special lunch with over 30 in attendance and the week was rounded off with a magnificent Gala dinner in a local hotel with a three course meal and music provided by a local band.  The band members were overwhelmed to see so many people up on the dance floor, they were taking pictures of the dancers !!  That’s the Alexander world for you, people moving freely and having such fun.


    Our organisation was very well represented with our brochures on display in the main building. Our participating members wore the ATE UK badges from day one which we think inspired ATI to wear theirs too.  It was also a very great pleasure to meet up with our colleagues from Australia (ATE inc) and to exchange news and views.  There is now a newly formed ATE Espania.  Ken Thompson, our most senior member was at the heart of the event very busy with helping to film the whole Congress.

    The closing ceremony was very inspiring, again Michael Gelb did a splendid job, Michael Frederick, the founder of the International Congresses was delighted to announce that in 2018 the next Congress will be held in the USA in Chicago.  The whole event was rounded off with some beautiful singing and a trio of Alexander teacher/musicians playing a selection of classical music.


    The above account cannot fully capture what a marvellous experience it was to be in Limerick and to be part of such a large representation of our worldwide Alexander community, the spirit of sharing, the kindness, the fun and laughter and, of course, the opportunity to pool so much knowledge of our work for the future development of FM Alexander’s Technique.  I am certain that he would be highly delighted with the shape of things to come.


  • 12 Jun 2015 2:21 PM | Anonymous




    On 5th May a group of running enthusiasts and a number of less enthusiastic participants (!), attended this running workshop based on Alexander Technique principles. By the end of the day, I think it’s fair to say we were all more pumped about running than we started out!


    Malcolm’s easy style and simple explanations made for a relaxed learning environment where everyone was enjoying having a go.


    Malcolm lead us outside to a wide lawn area where we did some easy warm-ups.


    After these typical warm ups, we did a series of exercises to prepare us for a more efficient running style.


    First, we did bouncing up and down on the spot trying to connect with the elastic nature of muscles, rather than pushing with great effort to go up - a real feeling of economy of movement.


    Then, still staying on the spot, and allowing both feet to the ground, first 3 times on right foot, 3 times on left foot. Then 2 times on right foot, 2 times on left foot, and finally once on right foot, once on left foot. Hey presto - now we only needed the forward momentum! Malcolm showed us how to just lean very slightly forward from the ankles and imagine the heel coming up under the thigh. Off we went. Running suddenly seemed much easier!


    He used a long band around the runner’s hips to demonstrate how to lean into the run from the ankles. We then did this in pairs, with one partner keeping a strong grip of the band and then running a few steps with you. Then the partner lets go of the band and off you go!


    We experimented with starting off running by leaning slightly forward from the ankle but then when you have reached your desired running speed, straightening up.


    Malcolm paid attention to arms, saying they needed to be drawn back in order for them to spring forward each time.


    He got us to swing the arm in straight position so you could feel the pendulum was the shoulder joint. Then he explained why the arm needed to be bent at 45 degrees to shorten the lever.


    Malcolm uses Alexander’s Primary Directions over and over while he runs. We tried it and again, great advice, it did seem to help keep the directions going while running with more freedom.


    Neck to be free, Head forward and up, Back to lengthen, Back to widen, Knees to go forward and away! Boot camp was complete!!


    The round up at the end of the day, using before and after video footage of each runner, is a classic Malcolm technique and really helps each runner make sense of  his/her individual changes over the course of the day – and gives everyone inspiration to see how much can be achieved.


    Having done 4 of these over the years, I am amazed at how much I learn each time. I can really recommend this running workshop to all – especially if you don’t like running – you may find you actually really enjoy it once it becomes so much easier!


    Jane Gregory


  • 07 Dec 2014 3:37 PM | Anonymous

    Wolfgang Weiser ATE UK Workshop

    My abiding memory of the two days I spent at Wolfgang's workshop is the way I felt as I drove home - the most fully embodied and alive I have felt for a long time. Great as it is, that sort of intense feeling can't last so what else did I take from the event? The session where we took turns to lie down and be worked on by 5 others - one taking the head and one on each limb - was a powerful reminder of what it takes to force us to let go of our urge to control. You just can't stay in charge with that sort of energy around you. Moving in threes while playing with the roles of who leads and follows further uncovered our deep-seated control-freakery. By later in the second day the wonderful peacock feathers had us twirling under their spell, experimenting with the balletic freedom of movement that came from letting go and following the extravagant, elegant plume balanced on our hand. It really is possible to think up through a feather!

    Wolfgang Weiser ATE UK Workshop 2

    But what did I learn as a teacher? That even teaching AT it is scarily possible to get into habits. We watch someone walk or sit and know what we are looking for, and probably how we think we can best help them realise the habits they have. All too often, as we did in the lead/follow exercise, we work from a point of control and can't see our own habits in the process. What Wolfgang brought to the fore was the possibility of moving with someone - not controlling but sharing the movement - and in the process sensing how they move, what their mind and body is doing and where the tensions are, whilst hopefully sharing a living example of release in movement. There were some activities we did that I might be wary of using with some pupils - an elderly arthritic new pupil may be put off by being asked to trust me to tip them backwards and forwards, but a lot of the principles could be adapted to suit a variety of people and situations. Foremost though it reinforced the privilege we have in sharing the beauty of use - mind and body working as a harmonious whole.


  • 10 Sep 2014 8:51 PM | Anonymous

     

     

    ATE UK Avi Granit Workshop

     

    At the end of June EACAT was privileged to host a workshop by the renowned Israeli  Alexander Technique teacher Avi  Granit.  Avi studied with Patrick Macdonald in London in the 1980s, completing an extra year after qualifying to further enrich his learning. He has a busy practice in Israel, but makes time to visit the UK to present workshops and give individual lessons. This was the first time he had ever been to Essex and he was accompanied by Jill Payne, an Alexander Teacher from Kent, who has worked extensively with him on his previous visits to England.

     

    Avi’s audience spanned a wide range of experience, from students in their first year of training to Alexander Teachers of long standing. From the introductions onwards, everyone was equally attentive and involved. Avi has a dynamic teaching style, constantly questioning whether Directions are being given, and if so, whether they are the most appropriate to the situation. His theme for the morning was  ‘ Opposition ‘ and he first gave us a Master Class, using willing volunteers , to show us the concept in action. After this, he allowed time for us all to practice what we had been observing, and he and Jill circulated to give advice and Direction.

     

    I made brief notes during the morning, but as always with AT you really had to be there!  As he brought a pupil out of a chair, Avi talked about the vital importance of the primary control, and the space that giving the ‘Neck free, head forward and up‘ Direction creates between the head and the body. He reminded us to consider all three dimensions of the body – not just length but width and depth too. Referring to his concept of ‘the three ups’ ( the up of the head, the up of the back and the up of anti-gravity ) he gave us a memorable analogy for the third ‘up’ as being like the bubbles in a bottle of fizzy water. Unscrewing the cap is like freeing the atlanto-occipital joint, allowing the bubbles to rise. Whichever way you tip the bottle the bubbles will continue to rise upwards.

     

    Avi explained that thinking of parts of the body in opposition to each other was to him a more powerful Direction than simply thinking of them releasing away from each other. To demonstrate this he used hands on the back of a chair and introduced the idea of a hexagonal shape composed of the shoulder girdle as one side, the upper arms as two more, the lower arms and the space between the hands as the final three. By thinking of different sides of the hexagon in opposition to each other we were able to widen and lengthen much more than expected, especially with a partner putting hands on the arms and giving the same Direction. Avi told us that he usually practices this for about fifteen minutes a day and finds it to be endlessly useful to his own development.

     

    Time just disappeared, and, before anyone was ready, we had reached the end of the morning. Avi finished with his mantra, which translated as ‘ Aim up, stay back in all circumstances’ .

     

    During the afternoon, Avi gave individual lessons to some of the teachers and students and again they found his teaching fascinating and dynamic. For the rest of term the students at  the school  experimented with and discussed Avi’s ideas and everyone felt they had gained something valuable to add to their practice of AT. Avi hopes to visit the school again next year and I think we would all value the chance to meet this inspirational teacher again.


    By Linsey Wass (Trainee Teacher at the East Anglia Centre for the Alexamder Technique)

  • 20 Jun 2014 11:40 AM | Anonymous

    Part 3

    An Alexander Technique Approach to Musicians’ Injuries

    Ethan Kind, M.M., certified A.C.A.T., Am.S.A.T.

    Guided Whole Body Release before Practicing or Performing                                       

    To prevent injury and strain in playing, lead yourself through this guided release of your body before you practice or perform. First, find a comfortable, firm surface to lie on, which might be a yoga pad or carpeted floor. If you have to do these releases on a hard surface, you may still be able to let go of enough tension to feel comfortable. Lie down on your back with your knees up. Your feet should be placed close enough to your hips, and far enough away from each other, to allow your legs to balance themselves, with knees pointing straight up. Place a book under your head so that the forehead and a free jaw are level with each other. Rest your hands on your lower ribs or abdomen -whichever feels more comfortable to you. Let your elbows be fully away from your sides and resting on the floor, your hands not resting on top of each other. This is the 'constructive rest position. It is the most neutral body position for the bones and muscles; it is essentially perfect sitting, lying on your back. In the Alexander Technique, this awareness exercise is usually done with the eyes open, but I also find it helpful to do it with the eyes closed, so that you can be in the world but not of it, as you release deep tensions that you do not want to take to the instrument.

               

    Let your neck release and your head be fully supported by the book. Let your shoulder blades fall to the floor; do not immobilize them against the back. Let your hips be fully supported by the floor. Let your feet be supported by the floor, with your ankles totally released. Let your feet be totally released; be aware that they're not supporting any significant weight. Think of your knees releasing to the ceiling, as if strings were gently supporting each leg. Let your calves release to your heels. Let your thigh muscles flow to your knees. Let your hamstrings release to the back of your knees. Let your whole back be supported by the floor but do not try to flatten your back just let the curves soften as it releases deeper and deeper into the floor. Let the floor support your elbows; this allows the floor to support your arms. Let your hands be soft and rest on your torso and let your wrists be unlocked. Let the chest muscles release and the shoulders fall fully open into the floor. Let the muscles around your eyes and mouth release, allowing your face to soften. Let your jaw release, your teeth not touching, your lips touching gently. Let your upper arms flow to your elbows. Let your lower arms flow into your hands.

               

    Let your neck release and your head move away from your sit bones. Let your shoulders flow away from each other. Now let your upper arms flow towards your shoulders. Let your forearms flow through open wrists into soft hands, with the fingers leading the arms into lengthening. Let your upper legs release out of the pelvis. Let your lower legs release away from the knees. Feel how far the head is from the shoulders. Feel how far the head is from the hips. Feel how far the head is from the knees. Feel how far the head is from the feet. Feel how effortless it is to sense your body, as you let your head be far away from all of these places.

               

    Notice the rise and fall of the chest on the breath. Do not control your breathing; let the body breathe itself. Let the exhale be a letting go, not a pushing out of the breath. Let the body decide when it needs to inhale, and when it needs to exhale. Feel the rise and fall of the chest on the inhale and exhale. Feel the rise and fall of the abdomen on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the sides of the chest on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the lower ribs on the breath. Feel the expansion and release of the sides of the abdomen on the breath. Feel the upper back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the mid-back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the lower back go backwards into the floor on the breath. Feel the rise and fall of the shoulders on the breath. Be aware that the pelvic floor goes downward on the breath. Feel the hands and forearms rise on the inhale and lower on the exhale as the upper arms rotate gently in the shoulder sockets. Feel the whole torso expanding in all directions on the inhale, like a balloon being blown up. As you observe your breath, notice that it settles into a peaceful, rhythmic breathing pattern.


    Open your eyes if they are closed, and let yourself come into the room. Feel yourself fully present in the room without interfering with the ease in your body or the ease in your breathing. When you are ready, gently role over onto your side and slowly push yourself up with an easy arm. You can now take all of this ease into warming up on your instrument. As you warm up, stay with what is happening in your body what you are asking it to do or not to do and as you play your instrument, remain totally in the present. Gradually allow your energy to rise. Experience the joy of coming to your instrument without habits, tensions or fears that would turn doing what you love into a chore.

               

    Anonymous. A Course in Miracles.

    Bonpensiere, Luigi. New Pathways to Piano Technique.

    Diamond, Dr. John. The Life Energy in Music, Volumes 1-3.


    BIOGRAPHY

    Ethan Kind, formerly Charles Stein, trained as an Alexander Technique teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York and has been teaching since 1992. He also has a M.M. degree in classical guitar and was a concert guitarist for ten years. He has also been an athlete all of his life. Mr. Kinds writing (as Charles Stein and Ethan Kind) has been published in the United States, Great Britain and Australia. Mr. Kind lives in Albuquerque, NM, and can be reached at www.ethankind.com.

    Mr. Kind has 64 ebooks for musicians and other topics, from running to yoga, offered in a  Kindle version on Amazon. To find out more click here. For a pdf version, visit his website at www.ethankind.com.

  • 02 May 2014 1:04 PM | Anonymous

    Part 2

    An Alexander Technique Approach to Musicians’ Injuries


    Ethan Kind, M.M., certified A.C.A.T., Am.S.A.T.


    The Shoulders

                So many of the physical problems of the arms, neck and hands can be traced back to the shoulders. Ideally the shoulder girdle floats on top of the ribcage. The shoulder girdle consists of the shoulder blade and collar bone and the musculature that stabilizes or mobilizes the shoulder girdle. My experience with performing musicians is that the vast majority of performers immobilize their shoulders to some extent in playing their instrument. What this means is that instead of letting the shoulder girdle constantly change position on the ribcage with ease, in many cases the shoulders are frozen to near immobility, or they are muscled into movement from held positions. Lets look at what the violinist, the clarinetist, the pianist and the flutist do to their shoulders in playing their instruments.

                The violin rests on the players shoulder, and the instrument is partially supported by the left arm. The bow is held up by the right arm. This means that both shoulders are actively involved in supporting and playing the instrument. The left shoulder is relatively quiet compared to the bow arm, because the neck of the violin is so short. Place your left arm in the violin playing position and hold it there with excess tension. Now consciously see how much less work you can do in the shoulder and be aware of the left shoulder floating on the ribcage with a free shoulder blade. There is never ever any reason to immobilize the shoulder blades. This means that when the arm moves, the shoulder blades are allowed to change positions as constantly and freely as the arms.

                Now lift your right arm into the bowing position, and if youre not a violinist, think about having to support your right arm nonstop as you play the violin for hours. This thought probably makes you tighten your right shoulder to support your arm. Now, be aware that for the violinist to make music, the right arm is in nonstop movement. When the bow aint moving, then nothing comes out. This is so obvious, but in a way it isnt. The reason it is very important to bring this thought to consciousness, is because if you are going to support an arm that is in constant flow, you have to find a way to do so without interfering with the freedom of the arm to move continuously. If you have a sense of the arm feeling light, as if it is being held up for you, and simultaneously of the shoulder girdle floating on the ribcage, rather than pressed against the ribs, then you can move the bow with a floating arm, rather than muscle the arm and the bow across the strings. 

                The clarinetist supports the instrument in front of the torso with the right arm and thumb, and both shoulders support arms, hands and fingers that play the keys. Most clarinetists slump forward to hold the instrument, collapsing the upper back under the shoulder girdle, as the head goes forward and down to meet the mouthpiece. So, if the clarinetist is fully upright with the head leading upwards and the instrument is brought to his head, then the shoulders have a platform to support them. When the clarinetist slumps forward, the ribcage collapses down and forward and the trapezius muscles have to work extra hard to support the shoulder girdle.

                With the fully upright torso, the shoulders can be light on the ribcage, and the clarinetist can become aware that the instrument is not heavy and need not force the right shoulder to be raised or depressed downwards to support the clarinet. Visually when the clarinetists shoulders are balanced, then they look the same side to side. They arent. The right shoulder has more going on in it, since it is supporting the clarinets weight. But the right shoulder can be more energized and dynamic and use more muscle to support the instrument, without becoming held and static. Then, the clarinetist can experience the right arm and shoulder and hand as alive and light and free as the left shoulder.

                Pianists are a very interesting group when it comes to shoulders. A great many pianists believe they have to hold their elbows out from the sides, and they believe they generate volume and power on the instrument from the shoulders. Both are not necessarily true. My experience with pianists is that you dont have to hold your arms away from your sides, because the shoulders dont play the instrument. The shoulders only function at the piano is to float on the shoulder girdle and to move the arms, which means to place the hands and fingers over the notes that are to be played. It is the triceps that drive the hands and fingers into the keys to play crashing chords. Many pianists experience these crashing chords as coming from the shoulders, but what they are experiencing are the shoulders tensing up as the triceps drives the lower arm and hand and fingers into the keys.

                Let me restate the shoulders main function at the piano. It is to move the arm to place the hands and fingers precisely over the notes to be played, and if you allow the shoulders to be light and free with the upper arms suspended lightly over the sides, not held away from the sides of the torso for the purpose of volume, they will place the fingers with amazing precision. This is a huge shift for many pianists not to think of the shoulders as large muscles that make a lot of noise, and to begin thinking of the shoulders and the muscles of the chest and back assisting the hands in playing the right notes. A great many pianists experience accuracy on the piano as the hands playing accurately, without any experiential sense that it is the refined elegant and precise movement of the shoulders that create precision on the instrument.

                It is playing of the flute in my opinion that creates the most difficulty for the shoulders. The instrument is supported asymmetrically at head level, and the arms never move. It is essentially a static position for the arms and shoulders, and it is within this static position that the Alexander Technique teacher wants to show the flutist how play without creating rigid shoulders arms and hands. So bring your arms up into the playing position of the flute and imagine holding them there for hours. This thought probably had you tighten every muscle in your shoulders and arms. Now lower your arms and imagine there are strings tied to your arms, like a marionette, and let your arms be lifted up for you, and imagine and experience them being held up for you. If the flutist continues to return to this thought and the physical experience of suspension every time he plays the flute, he will create a technique where the thought creates an internal experience of supporting the flute with free arms and light mobile shoulders that arent held rigid.

                In all of the instruments I looked at, there is a constant theme of asking the performer to be light and mobile in the shoulders, whether the shoulders are moved a lot or not at all. The shoulders of performers are called upon to support weight, even if it is their own weight, and to be simultaneously available for movement. It is these two seemingly conflicting functions that can be brought together without physical problems, if the performer realizes that an arm supported never needs to be held immobile.


    The Wrists


                What originally sent me to an Alexander Technique teacher was a wrist problem - carpal tunnel syndrome. I had been trying to play the guitar with extreme accuracy and extreme cleanness. This meant that I was trying to press the strings so hard, so that every note rang true without any buzzes. I pressed the strings so hard to achieve this, that I was harming my wrist. Ultimately what I learned from the Alexander Technique teacher was to use the minimum pressure to get the job done. So, I took a scale, and finger by finger I practiced using just enough pressure to get a clean note. This wasnt all I had to change. I changed my whole posture at the instrument, so that I was in complete balance in my body at the guitar, and my shoulders were supported by my torso, so that my freed up arms were able to back up my hands and wrists.

                When you play an instrument with extreme tension, youre forcing the bones in the wrists against each other and they begin wearing each other out.  This gets further exacerbated when the wrists are continually changing shape, like the bow arm of a cellist. Over time, if a performer is hurting in her wrists, she will unconsciously reduce the movement in the wrist and brace for constant pain. You will really cause physical and musical problems on your instrument, if you try to avoid hurting your wrist by compromising your technique.

                When a cellist bows the instrument, as the arm moves the bow from one end of the bow to the other end, the hands relationship to the arm continuously changes. The freer the wrist is, the smoother the bow is moved across the string. If the shoulder joint, the elbow and the wrist are all allowed to be free, then the bow is moved with ease and elegance. If there is any holding in any of these joints, then the cellist has to do a whole lot of compensating in the other joints to get the sound she wants. In fact, protecting the wrist from pain on a cello could cause the player to do all kinds of odd compensating movements in the torso to get the job done. I like to think of the wrist moving the hand and leading the arm and sending the bow across the strings. If you think about how I expressed this, you can get a feel for the constantly changing shape of the wrist leading the bow and arm across the strings, as the arm changes shape in all of its joints continuously also.

                What do you do about the static wrists that dont change shape on an instrument, like the flute? You do not immobilize the wrists to hold the instrument. As you hold the flute to the mouth, you do not have to immobilize the wrists or the elbows or the shoulders. What does it mean to not immobilize a part of your body supporting an instrument?  The easiest demonstration would be to hold a ball in your hand and squeeze it, and as you are squeezing it, move your hand, which of course means changing the hands relationship to the arm through movement in the wrist. Now, as you squeeze the ball, how free can you be in the wrist, as you move the hand? The musculature of the forearm moves the hand, but you dont have to contract the forearm muscles before you move the hand. Now, as youre holding the ball with the arm horizontal and the hand aligned with the arm, you can support the ball with a free wrist, but with enough forearm support, so that the hand doesnt drop.

                This is how you would support the flute, as you prepare to play it. If a flutist has the instrument in position to play, and I push the flute down, then it should move with ease. Another way to say this is the flutist should think of the arms and hands as always available for movement, when the instrument is in playing position. So, the player has enough support and tone in the hands and arms and wrists to place the instrument against the lip and chin, with just enough support to get the job done. Ive used the trick of telling the flutist to play as if the instrument is super glued to the bottom of the lip, and this really shows the player he doesnt have to press the flute as much against the face as he thought he needed to.

                Can the wrists be in what is generally considered an awkward position on an instrument, and the performer not cause problems in the wrist? The problem I had as a guitarist was with the left wrist, which wasnt a hand position issue, but me trying to drive my fingers through the back of the instrument to get a clean sound.  I did not have a problem with my right wrist, which plays the strings. Even though I played with a high arched wrist to create the sound I wanted on the instrument. This high arched wrist allowed me to strike the strings perpendicularly, so I could get the clean precise sound I wanted.

                From an ergonomic perspective, this may not be the ideal thing to do, but I never had any problems with my right wrist for the following reasons. First I did not immobilize my wrist. Second, I didnt continuously change the shape of my wrist to get the consistent sound out of each finger I wanted. I found that wrist position that allowed all of my fingers to have a rich tone, but I didnt holdthe position. I allowed my hand to drop with dynamic into the right place. This meant I did the minimum necessary to sustain a high wrist, so if someone had wanted to move my hand, they could have.

                Id like to talk some more about this idea of a dynamic supported wrist that allows the hand to be moved easily by the player or someone else, to demonstrate that the wrist is not held rigidly. When a music teacher tells a student to hold an arm a certain way or the hands a certain way, the student invariably does this in such a tense way, that the teacher cant move the hand or arm for the student. But what if the teacher said, Im going to place your arm for you in a general position, and I want you to let me be able to move the arm for you? This is the Alexander Technique approach to musical technique.

                This means the teacher is from the very beginning demonstrating to the student that technique is built on movement and flow, and not on rigid positions held onto to play and create accuracy. The sound that comes out of an instrument from the player who is in a body that flows from head to toe is very different from the player who holds onto a technique. Now, there are some amazing players out there with held technique, but there is a wondrous sound and feeling and interpretation that comes from a player who trusts her body to be accurate, rather than holds the body to be accurate. It is extraordinary to hear a performer who plays or sings with the whole body in flow, which means no muscles locked or held.


    The Fingers


                Except for singing, all of the instruments in the classical music world use fingers in playing their instruments. Even the timpanist holds the mallets or the trombone player holds the slide with his fingers. What is it that causes most of the problems in the fingers in the musical performing world? So many musicians hold a ton of tension in their fingers, as they play the piano or hold the timpani mallets or hold the double bass bow. Why is this? Im going to look at body awareness in general and the tension in the bodies of performers.

                As youre reading this, do a whole body inventory of tension and posture from head to toe. Notice if youre sitting comfortably. Notice if there is unnecessary tension in parts of your body as you read this. Odds are youre not doing the minimum necessary in your body to read this. Why would you need a tight jaw or tight thighs to read what Ive written? You dont, but this is the excess work we do in our bodies so much of the time. F. M. Alexanders genius was that he recognized that we got our bodies in trouble by what we did to ourselves 24/7. We spend possibly all of our time doing what we do in poor posture and with too much muscle. And in fact, if your posture is poor, and/or youre off balance as you do something, you will use too much muscle to maintain balance and too much muscle to get the job done.

                This is what so many musicians do on their instruments. When you bring a slumped or overarched torso and locked legs to an instrument, you transfer this tension into your arms, your fingers etc. A very simple exercise: pick up your instrument, go to your instrument or prepare to sing, and do a whole body inventory. Notice what you are doing head to toe. Another way of saying this is to project ahead two hours, if you were to be in this place of being prepared to play and not playing. Where would you begin to feel tension and/or hurt?  This clearly shows you where you are doing too much work in your body. This is 100% unnecessary, but it is the norm.

                There is no perfect posture or perfect balance or perfect amount of minimum work to do in the body as you play your instrument. What there is is your developed or required consciousness connection to the voluntary musculature of the body that allows you to choose the alignment and technique and amount of work you want to do to get the job done (the instrument played). You feel the tension in your legs, and you ask and allow it to release. You feel yourself slumped over, and you ask and allow the head to lead the spine upwards into lengthening. You feel the tension in the fingers and you ask and allow them to release. We know when we ask an arm to bend, it bends. Alexanders genius was that he recognized if we asked the musculature of the fingers to release, even without any external movement, they would release. Then when you did move these released fingers, you would experience no resistance in your fingers, and youd feel the space and ease between the joints.

                Even if you didnt initially feel the fingers letting go after you ordered them to, Alexander asked the student to trust the process. By renewing the orders to the fingers to release, these repeated thoughts would have a greater and greater release effect on the fingers the more they were repeated. This is how Alexander reconnected the mind to the body and gave the person back control over his body. But this is control at a very subtle level. It is pretty easy to move a part of your body or to hold a position with no conscious concern for how much muscle youre using. For example you press the strings of a double bass over and over with no concern for how much tension youre holding in your fingers and how hard youre pressing the strings, and over time you get really good at playing your instrument. Then one day you begin to notice that your fingers are hurting, lets say you analyze your technique, and find youre doing everything right at the instrument. What do you do at this point? Then it has to be an internal issue, a tension issue, a doing too much work issue.

                I ask the double bass player to play a scale slowly, and to really experience what he is feeling in his hand and fingers and arm and shoulder and neck and as he presses and holds down each note with his left hand. Because this instrument does take more strength than any other stringed instrument to hold a string down, then he may begin to realize how he locks up the whole arm and hand and fingers to press the string against the neck of the bass. I then ask him to experiment with the minimum amount of strength necessary to press the string. I may ask him to imagine someone pushing his fingers into the string for him. This can really help him experience how much excess work he is doing.

                Here is a very important thing to demonstrate to any musician who has to hold a string down. It takes strength to hold a string down.  A stringed instrument player has to maintain pressure on a string for it to sound. There are two things that need to happen if the player is not to strain and damage the fingers over time. The first is the player needs to begin pressing the string and find the minimum pressure to get the job done. If he plays a scale very slowly, he can place all of his awareness on doing the minimum with each finger. This is a technique change to consistently press the string just enough to get the job done. Second, is what I call lengthening the finger into the string. This is truly a physical change throughout the whole finger in how the finger meets and presses the string.

                As the double bass player is about to press the string, he thinks and sends the finger into the string. What this means is that doesnt tense the finger before he presses the string, he thinks of the finger lengthening into the string. Here is a simple demonstration of this. As youre sitting at a table, tense your middle finger, and then press it into the table, and feel how the joints of the finger are already locked up in preparation of pressing the table. Now release the finger and then begin pressing into the table and simultaneously lengthening the finger as it pushes into the table. This is a very different experience of the finger, than if you lock up the finger before you put pressure on it.

                This is a perfect example of how we cause problems in joints by anticipating what we need to do to get the job done, if we tighten up before we play the instrument. It is an extraordinary kindness to your body and yourself, if you dont tense your musculature before you play or sing.

     Its time that every performer realize that all injuries are healable, if you dont continue to try and play through them, and that all injuries are preventable, if you find a way to play the most difficult music with the least amount of effort.


    The final post of Ethan Kinds blog next month will conclude with a guided whole body release for performers.

               

    Anonymous. A Course in Miracles.

    Bonpensiere, Luigi. New Pathways to Piano Technique.

    Diamond, Dr. John. The Life Energy in Music, Volumes 1-3.


    BIOGRAPHY

    Ethan Kind, formerly Charles Stein, trained as an Alexander Technique teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York and has been teaching since 1992. He also has a M.M. degree in classical guitar and was a concert guitarist for ten years. He has also been an athlete all of his life. Mr. Kinds writing (as Charles Stein and Ethan Kind) has been published in the United States, Great Britain and Australia. Mr. Kind lives in Albuquerque, NM, and can be reached at www.ethankind.com.


    Mr. Kind has 64 ebooks for musicians and other topics, from running to yoga, offered in a  Kindle version on Amazon. To find out more click here. For a pdf version, visit his website at www.ethankind.com.

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