A Review of One Year taking Alexander lessons with Flora
by Daniel Norton Luna (2016)
"The first time I entered the Walk-In-Balance Center for the Alexander Technique, I came to an "EffortlessPosture 101" workshop- to learn some basics to help with my poor posture. I walked away from this introduction to the Alexander Technique inspired to bring reason to my use of the body, to make sense of all my unconscious habits. I signed up for lessons and the process of personal enlightening through my body has since continued.
Reflecting on the lessons from this past year, countless micro-experiences, realizations, and life decisions come to my mind to describe the deep development brought to my life. Yet, detailing those events, ideas, and changes would make little sense without first recognizing how I learned to practice the Technique.
Even so, it would be impossible to describe my growth as an Alexander Student without first and foremost recognizing my Alexander Teacher, Flora D.H. Ojanen, whose skillful openness and compassion shaped the honesty and effectiveness of our work together. Learning to practice the Alexander Technique with Flora has taught me the skills to pause, release and body reasoning, and with the appropriate use of these skills, I find I am on the path to being true to myself and my nature.
....Pause. The pause is a fundamental skill an Alexander student must nurture. It is a relatively simple concept: just stop, pause! Yet, in this skill lies the key to interfering with habit cycles. At the beginning of lessons, Flora would usually ask how I have been. Many times she would come over to me, in the middle of my response, and acknowledge an area of my body that is doing something unnecessary. My neck might be jutting forward, making me push my head back to stay level, and this stress may start in the positioning of my hips, which I am unconsciously pushing forward, or perhaps even my feet, where I am distributing the weight of my body onto my heels - either way! I need to pause. Flora allows me to take a moment to witness the imbalance within myself, to stop what I am doing (responding to her question) to see what I am actually doing (losing my balance).
While the pause brings awareness to habits and tension in one's body, the next invaluable skill, release, eases one into letting go of them. After Flora has me notice the tension I am putting my body through, we work together in letting go of this tension. Especially when first starting to practice the Alexander Technique, easing the muscles I thought were essential to holding me together was a scary and disorienting experience.
It was a venturing into the unknown. Flora's calm voice would reassure me, "You're not going to fall if you let go of your hips; I am standing right here, I'll catch you." Learning to release is an exercise in trust. Through this trust and Flora's honest hands, I was able to experience the ease of balance and uprightness as I had never known it before, In this space, there is stillness, grace and peace.
Who knew there could be so much joy in standing?
After experiencing the spaciousness of one's body can indeed provide, the question arises: how can I maintain this? The final skill, body reasoning, seeks to answer that question, as it encourages the Alexander student to consider their use of the body as they work through every situation Life throws at them. In my early lessons with Flora, I fell in love with the feeling of balance and finding the natural space in my body. Since then, she has shared with me the skill of learning to move in ways that prioritize balance. The exercises were always quite fun and entertaining - I am particularly fond of the time I had to balance a peacock feather on the tip of my finger. At first, I was trying to make the feather stay up through sheer reaction to its movements, which send it even more out of control. From her sage wisdom of feather-balancing, Flora told me: "Let the feather be your leader, follow the feather." On my next try, I heeded to her advice. I allowed myself to stay open with balance and follow the feather's movement through space: I experienced following balance itself.
With time and practice, I have been able to bring these skills to other areas of my life with the simple, but most rewarding effect: being true to myself and my nature. Throughout our work, Flora would identify (and make me aware of) this process as it was unfolding because I am, before all other labels, simply embedded within this body. The feelings I experience in this body are my own and through keen introspection, I can become aware of the root of these sensations. Furthermore, this awareness creates the opportunity to let go of whatever I am gripping in the moment, to rediscover space where I have kept it hidden.
Finally, this work and these lessons have given me tools and opened me to the process of reincorporating this natural spaciousness of being into my life, in every moment I can bear to face in humble honesty." (Picture: Daniel and Flora exploring ease of arm movement while carrying heavy backpack.)
2. "Rewiring the Brain for Ease"
What I learned after 20 bi-weekly lessons with Flora
by John Gruenwald (2017)
I just finished 20 lessons in the Alexander Technique with Flora. I have not read any books or looked up Alexander Technique before starting lessons (I glanced at the book she recommended, but wanted to experience this method without any preconceived ideas).
What is the Alexander Technique for me? Rewiring the brain so a new set of instructions can be used to move the body through space. It involves “stopping” before a movement is made to replace the old way with a newer, more efficient and sound way to move.
It is a way to break the old neural connection in the brain and replace it with a newer revised path for the neurons to take. The new path will get stronger with repetition. Part of the training is education/anatomy, and another part is experiential - having your body placed in proper alignment so it can experience the way the body “feels” and then using that feeling to remember it.
My physical experience at the start of the lessons
I was feeling old, with humped shoulders, not positive about the world. Gravity was pulling me down. My joints hurt a lot and I felt stiff all over.
How learning the Alexander Technique has helped me so far after only 20 sessions
I am walking with my head held high, smiling and feeling good - a lightness in my walk. I am experiencing a range of motion in my knees that I no longer felt possible. I am feeling more present in the moment and in touch with my body. I now have a better understanding of my structure and my anatomy, and can now feel my body as it moves in 3 dimensions. How was this accomplished? First and foremost by a talented and wonderful teacher - that you Flora.
What are the lessons like?
Part anatomy - using a skeleton and letting me see how the bones really work; part body work - working on a massage table and moving my body so I can experience what it feels like when my structure is sound and then moving my arms and legs, so my body can experience a new way to move.
Certainly much teaching and movement - how to walk, sit, reach, get in and out of a car. How to be light in my bones. How to stop before I move so I can decide how to move. This all feels like a major life shift and one that I hope becomes further and further engrained in my life. (Picture: John and Flora at Tai Chi Sword practice.)
3. "Open-Eyed Doing Nothing"
Deeply embodied changes in myself after a course of 25 lessons
by Rod Leslie (2018)
To discover the fluidity of turning at the ankles, rather than twisting at the hips. To witness that 'Skelly', Flora’s skeleton, connects to the foot at the ankle and not at the heel. To experience the head pivoting freely at the ear level terminal point of the spinal chord like a bobble-head doll. To become aware of that juncture of the neck, head and torso as well as the point where the other end of the spine encounters the pelvis (like a bathing suit).
And to experience the amazing power and freedom of these points.
To pause, and to wait, to encounter the body self, the environment, and one’s immediate intention before commencing an action. To slow down. To neither plop nor lunge. To investigate the interim segments of any process between the start and the end point. To awaken to the possibly for equipoise and choice within each moment of this process.
These are the kinds of understandings which Flora explores in our sessions together. Through delicate touch, show-and-tell instances, and the transmission of subtle energies, nourished with her uniquely infectious delight.
My purpose for taking Alexander Technique lessons was to improve my balance and my voice. I got so much more from this remarkable teacher and person.
What teaching and what experience most affected me through this encounter?
To once again regain the opportunity for unlearning. To “debarnacle” the hull of being, and to sail free with the rhythms and circularity of wind and wave.
To awaken to the substantiality of emptiness: the open-eyed doing nothing resting on the table, releasing tension through Flora’s touch. To know that lessons are learned in stillness.
To pattern Mr. Monkey in my daily standing up and sitting down. Not to forget wonderful conversations and self-sharing moments. Thank you Flora, for your generosity and kindness. I am changed. (Picture: Rod and Flora outside her office.)
4. "My Alexander Technique Story"
By Carole Little Tuminello (2012)
"When I was around nine years old, the doctor observed that my spine was beginning to form an S curve. Attempts to keep it from getting worse involved an exercise regimen, a full torso brace and eventually two surgeries, but finally the process stabilized and I arrived at a more crooked but acceptable level. One hip was higher than the other to the extent that I often hemmed one pant leg but I was active and healthy and did not notice any particular problems.
As I got older, however, I started to settle. I only had a visible waist on one side and the other side developed an odd love-handle I called "the blob". Still, with careful dressing I appeared normal I thought so kept on about my business. Then the shooting pains began to develop down my leg and in my lower back. I thought I would just ignore that and wait for it to resolve and go away but it was very persistent.
I had an MRI which showed the discs between my vertebrae had crushed on the outside of the curve and nerves were being pinched. The doctor said that eventually the pain would mean I needed surgery. I was determined that there must be a way to deal with the situation that didn't include cutting anywhere near my spinal cord so I began physical therapy. My therapist sent me to a young lady named Flora D.H.Ojanen, who would teach me the Alexander Technique.
At my first appointment, Flora asked questions about my daily routines while observing my posture habits and gave me a weight to hold that approximated the human head. So heavy! No wonder my neck hurt so often. There was a model of a human skeleton and some discussion that persuaded me that, although Alexander may be considered an "alternative" therapy or training, it was based on a familiar scientific concept-anatomy.
It seems we were never taught how to use our bodies in an efficient, thoughtful way. I laid down on a massage table and got my first experience with the Alexander "informed touch". There was no intense kneading of the muscles and fighting to make my bad postural habits let go. But when I stood up the feeling was miraculous. I felt so much taller and straighter. I had long ago surrendered to the idea that my spinal curvature meant that I would not really be able to stand straight and tall and I had become used to my odd normal way of standing and sitting.
Flora told me that the new feeling was temporary but I enjoyed it in such a spectacular way while it lasted that I knew I would have to go back.
The Alexander training has helped me to be the taller straighter person that I so enjoyed being. Although there is physical learning I think the most valuable aspect has been the mental awareness it has brought me. So much of what we do slips by unnoticed as we focus on other things. Our habits prevent us from real enjoyment and experience. The bad habits of holding stress in certain ways perpetuate that stress and changing your body's habits can change your mind's habits as well.
I now enjoy the perfection of my imperfect body and the gift of noticing what I am doing and how I am doing it. Some years ago, my husband and I went on a trip to visit a friend who lived several states away. We decided to take the entire trip on secondary roads and avoid the freeways as much as possible. The entire journey became interesting and special when we were not focused on how many miles or hours stood between us and our goal. That is the lesson that Alexander teaches. Enjoy and experience the process and don't just focus on the end game.
I am still learning that but the progress I've made is remarkable. I stand noticeably straighter and have a waist on both sides. (How is that possible?) I have occasional pains but the relentless constant going-to-need-surgery pain is long gone. I think that the Alexander Technique could be valuable for almost anyone. I only wish I had discovered it sooner."
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