My home studio has a new assistant. Her title is Assistant Manager in Charge of Mischief. Studio Manager Cletis Milou the cat tolerates her, which is a whole lot better than his previous hissing and lashing out at her.
Eloise, Assistant Manager in Charge of Mischief
Eloise, the dog, loves depositing her toys in Cletis Milou’s catnip covered bed. She loves stealing my glasses and stashing them in her crate. She is supposed to be crate trained and house trained. Crate trained affirmative; house trained…well, she thinks everything outside of her crate is “outside” so we are working on what exactly constitutes “outside.” At least “outside” does not include the catnip covered cat bed. And so it happened that I caught her in the act of relieving herself on the rug one time recently. I duly scolded “no no no” and escorted her outside immediately like I’m supposed to in these lapses. So I didn’t have a camera or even my phone with me.
As it turned out, Eloise cooperated and did more pipi outside right away. Hopefully her faulty habit will be replaced by a new, healthier habit in due time. I lavished her with praise and took a walk around with her. I guess I was supposed to take her right home but I didn’t. I walked with her into a lovely little park near me, Straus Park, where, to my surprise, was a small demonstration of people up in age. I would say the majority of the protestors were in their 80’s, maybe 90’s. One was using a walker. Another a cane. They held up protest signs in solidarity with all the demonstrators. They were wearing masks and were socially distancing. Obviously they were too at risk, in this Covid-19 moment, to join one of the major protests in the city. They were all carrying placards decrying the murder of George Floyd. Et al. I thanked them profusely. I’m sorry I could not take photos. What a missed opportunity! 1968 all over again! I’m sure they were actively protesting back then. Way to go!
I so wished I could have offered them all hands-on Alexander Technique 10-minute turns! I should have talked with them more but they were intent on their protest. And I was stressed out by Eloise’s accident.
These days I’m walking Eloise earlier than normal due to NYC’s 8pm curfew. And so, dear readers, I came upon them again! The protesters were fewer and younger…no walkers or canes this time around. However they are certainly in the at risk group. I got a chance to talk with them, especially with the organizer, and I took a few photos. They asked me to share the photos. They told me they started protesting last week and that they were there everyday. And they plan to continue indefinitely. They invited me to join them. I certainly shall! I’ll bring Eloise along with me. I was correct: they all actively and vigorously protested in the 1960’s and beyond. I asked them if they thought if this time around, because of this awful pandemic, that things would finally change. They said they thought so. I hope so!
What does all this have to do with the Alexander Technique? Admittedly not much. If you can think of something really relatable, please let me know.
P.S. Eloise would like you to know, for when hands-on Alexander Technique lessons can again be possible, that she is hypo-allergenic. And she is shy. Ditto on both fronts for Cletis Milou the cat.
This Covid-19 pandemic world is quite something, isn’t it? I keep losing track of time…wow it’s almost June already. Our current reality is totally surreal. Stress city right? Just when I think I am starting to cope really well, I remember my wild anxiety dreams. These happen nightly. Are you stressed out or anxious? It might be a great moment for an online Alexander Technique distance session!
Well, well, well…for now no hands on…only virtual hands on. No more in person lessons for the moment. Only online sessions via Zoom or FaceTime. I’m so grateful to be able to offer online single classes! I even have one group class going. I’m having a total blast doing these. I just love teaching by noticing. With my eyes, not my hands. There is one hilarious downside to teaching online. Cletis Milou, divo cat and studio manager, gets jealous when I “talk” to the computer or iPad or iPhone. Not only does he feel that am I here to feed him on demand, but I am here to give him undivided attention. Below is Monsieur’s fave place when not eating. I think he speaks for a lot of us right now.
However, he will come out and meow at me (Siamese cat meows are more like screams or baby cries to be precise) if I am talking to one of my devices on an online conference. I am trying my best not to be like Milou. As much as I want to hide under the covers, I try to go about my days as best and as normally as possible…of course while taking all precautions…wearing a mask, wearing gloves if necessary, always washing my hands… You know the drill.
Back to online teaching…it amazes me what I can pick up visually about a student’s use. For sure this experience of distance teaching is refining my verbal communication skills in this regard.
Here is an image of me guiding a long-time student in hands on back of chair via Zoom:
My student has great use and she particularly loves doing hands on back of chair. As we say in French, ça se voit, non? That’s pretty clear, right? Not too clear in this small photo is the image of me, at the top of the screen, guiding her online.
To wrap this blog post up, please enjoy this old tune, version here by the Cadillacs. I think the tune lyrics actually went Zing…but here is Zoom:
Phew. It’s been a long time since my last blog post. And here we are, in Covid-19 world, with our lives, as we knew them, totally on hold and disrupted. I am sure all of us are touched by the tragedy of this awful pandemic, having loved ones, friends, colleagues, who have been ill or who have tragically passed away. We are now shuttered away at home (if we are lucky to have a home!!!) and some people are truly isolated. Well, you know all this. I send my most heartfelt greetings to you all! We must believe that this too shall pass. And we will welcome back the lives we knew before this. And hopefully the world will be a better place for all.
Now in this time, of course, practicing the principles of the Alexander Technique, is of prime importance.I am so grateful that I have these skills to help me stay healthy in body and mind. Ironically, there is no teaching at the moment, in the traditional hands-on way. However, the Alex Tech community is adapting. I have never taught distance learning lessons before this moment, though some of my colleagues have been doing so for years. Their great success has fascinated me. By necessity, I find myself teaching via Zoom and FaceTime, both individual lessons and group classes. I am loving doing so!
By the way, I am not responsible for the name Cletis. This guy was named Cletis II at birth, even though he was never called by name. He was called Fatty. Eating is his thing. I figured he should keep his real name when I rescued him. I just tagged Milou onto it. I know, I know, it’s a weird name. But now he knows it.
I digress. But as you see, I am hunkering down at home. I would love to give you a distance lesson! So hit me up if you are interested. Meanwhile, please take care and stay safe!
On a recent winter night, as I was looking out of a window, I saw a scene that I wanted to take a photo of. But I was reflected in the window, as was the scene behind me. As I had no polarizing filter with me to remove the reflections I decided to take the photo of my reflected self. I was pleased with the results…except for one major thing. As soon as I saw the developed photo (it was taken with film), I saw that when taking it, I was not paying attention to my use. The photo shows me that I was hunched over the camera and I was shortening my spine. I was totally focused on the visual scene in front of me. Most likely, my use is not visible to anyone else looking at the photo. But I know myself. I know full well what I’m doing. I didn’t like what I saw, but I prefer not to dwell on the negative. Instead I want to use my reflection as a teaching reflection. The photo shows me that my long-lived habits are hard to break.
Over the years, what with taking Alexander Technique lessons, and training to be an Alexander Technique teacher, and teaching others, I am getting proficient about noticing and correcting my not-so-hot habits as I go about my day…when walking, when talking, when playing flute, when at a computer, when teaching, when dealing with the public, etcetera, etcetera. However, when I photograph, trying to capture a moment, my Alexander Technique chops often seem to evaporate.
The Alexander Technique teaches us how to be aware more often. My goal these days, as prompted by viewing my photo, is to really start paying attention to myself, and being aware of my body, as I am photographing. I will try my best to bring my camera up to me and not my body down to it, just as I do with my flute, and I will see what happens. By the way, I have taken photos of my reflected self often enough when my use is pretty good.
Come to think about it, I am realizing that I haven’t heard much about linking photography with the Alexander Technique. Hmmm…For the record, the photo was taken with my Leica M6, 35mm Summicron lens, and Kodak Portra 800 film.
I recently came across this photo I took in the subway back in April. I remember being so struck at the scene of people waiting that I snapped a photo right before my train pulled into the station. Everyone was staring at their phones. Most of those folks were in variations of misuse as they bent toward their little screens. I was fascinated.
It used to be, in the pre-cell phone days, that when on the subway, riders would be reading newspapers. However, in this image, people were pulling down too, despite the larger size of the newspapers. I guess it is human nature to crane and move our heads toward objects rather than moving the objects to us.
Subway Riders in New York City, aka EveningNews, F. Luis Mora, 1913, Wikimedia Commons
I suspect that the folks on the platform were totally unaware of their use or the implications thereof. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Who needs some Alexander Technique lessons? We all do! Especially those of us who might be having neck pain. We all have lapses in consciousness, true. But being more aware more of the time is a great thing! Just saying.
I know, I know…it’s been a long time…but lots of strange and difficult stuff has been happening in my life…and it all has been very stress inducing. And then to add to the stress…the election happened. Please see Alexander Technique teacher Mark Josefsberg’s excellent blog post on the Alexander Technique and the election here. The combination of dealing with challenges in my personal life, and then being slammed by the election had me reeling.
Another autumn of my peripatetic Alexander Technique teacher training journey has ended. Another autumn for me these years seems to bring another fresh new medical emergency. This time I had big fight with a door frame. I lost. I dislocated and fractured my little right toe. It is so mind blowing how a fracture in such a tiny bone can wreak such havoc. This accident forced me to stop. No work nor training for awhile…then slowly I started up again…while still wearing a surgical shoe and taping my fourth and fifth toes together. My punishment: having to wear an ugly shoe. Now I’m back in some right shoes again. Phew. But still healing. I guess when I’m able to wear heels to dance some tango I’ll consider myself all better.
Let me tell you, wearing one surgical shoe and one regular shoe for ten weeks does mess you up. However I did find that I was really paying assiduous attention to my use as I was walking. So that was a plus. And now, on the advice of my podiatrist, I wear clogs in the house.
While in the middle of the broken toe recuperation something stunning happened to me in training. I have written before about being born with severe, genetic hip dysplasia. My trainer had a felicitous brainstorm: one day in class she tied a sash tightly right above the crease of my hips, making me an improvised sacroiliac belt. The backstory of this occurrence is that one of my co-trainees uses such a belt but for different reasons. My co-trainee has EDS…Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome…and this is one of the devices she uses to assist her. My trainer put two and two together, et voilà…my life changed.
With the makeshift belt on, Instantly my whole body changed. The stability of my hips allowed my neck to lengthen. And my arms and shoulders released. I had more stability. I had more rotation in my hips when I walked. I had better balance. I had a midline. After that class I went home and ordered a real sacroiliac belt.
I wear the belt often. It provides me with a stability that I have never had ever before. And I find that when I don’t or can’t wear it, I innately mimic the use I have with it. So it is not a necessary crutch. Who would ever think that such a seemingly simple device would have such major ramifications?
Wearing the sacroiliac belt has been a great learning-about-my-body tool for me. I guess my hips have never been well in the sockets. The belt kind of mimics the big black brace I had to wear for the first two years plus of my life. It nudges my hips back in place. I’m now aware of my body in ways that I never had been. When I first started wearing it I felt that I was in proprioception overload. I wish I could describe better just how utterly important this all is for me!
So in this penultimate phase of my seemingly never-ending teacher training I experienced a great high while dealing with many lows. It’s January of 2017 and I was supposed to have certified by now. Does every trainee have a drama laden journey? Or just some of us trainees? Well…whatever…it is what it is. Here’s a quote that I came across recently: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” E.M. Forster. Great advice on every front, right? One must role with the punches. Dealing with ambiguity here…
I’ve been having important lessons recently with my Alexander Technique teacher trainer Ann Rodiger, founder and director of the Balance Arts Center. The essence of the lessons: Ann is working with me so that I am able to release, lengthen and widen way up at the top of my spine. I am doing so as I have never been able to before.
You might remember that I came to the Technique because of the consequences of a genetic problem: a severe stenosis of my cervical spine. I underwent an involved neurosurgery called a laminoplasty to correct it. My spinal column is now being kept open with titanium rods and clips so that my spinal cord can never be crushed again. Danger of paralysis was averted. Cervical 3-7 had to be fused. The surgery was totally successful but of course I had a lengthy recovery period, and I was left in severe pain. Physical therapy did not relieve it. After 2 1/2 years of this pain I finally tried Alexander Technique lessons. The pain disappeared after a month or so of lessons.
And so, I wanted more and more lessons. I subsequently decided that I should train to become an Alexander Technique teacher. I am now well into my third year of training.
With the fusion comes no movement. However I do have movement above and below the fusion. In these lessons, we are working on getting me to release more consistently above cervical 3. And I am doing so like I’ve never been able to. One time, on the table, I had a visceral vision of my spine, my brain, my head. I felt like I could see inside my skull in a 3D kind of way. I found I was breathing higher up and lower down. My shoulders released along with the top of my spine. It was all so mysterious. Maybe it’s so intense for me since the rest of my cervical spine is fixed.
Recently I went to MoMA to see the exhibition Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty. This title is taken from a description of Degas’ work by Mallarmé. I was remembering the “inside my head” feelings as my friend and I walked around. There was a photo taken by Degas of Mallarmé. I stood before it, transfixed. I started thinking about the hermeticism of Mallarmé’s poetry. I recently read an article in The NewYorker by Alex Ross on the difficulties of translating Mallarmé. The article is entitled Encrypted. Ross writes about reading Mallarmé: “After only one or two lines, though, you are engulfed in a fine mist, and a certain terror sets in.”
I thought…this is how I am currently feeling about my Alex Tech teacher training journey. I am engulfed in a fine mist as I undertake to make this new releasing my new habit. This all seems elusive…but it is becoming more reliable. I feel like I am accessing the encryption to my own use more and more often. Was I walking around the museum that day with much improved use of self than a few years ago? I think so. And I don’t think a certain terror has set in. That terror came in my neurosurgeon’s office when I was told my cervical spine had to be fused. And that terror is long gone.
Here’s another citation from The New Yorker article…about the difficulties of reading Mallarmé’s poetry: “…many readers have concluded that the effort is not worth it. For others, though, the difficulty of the path is justified by the unearthly beauty that hovers in the distance.” I cannot think of a better description of my Alexander Technique teacher training journey.
At the BAC, I take a pic of Bernie the skeleton’s cervical spine…
It’s really wild…but as my Alexander Technique teacher training gets smoother, and I am enjoying each and every class more and more, I have less and less desire to blog! But however…here is a post…during this mega-snowstorm weekend in NYC…such a good moment to write. And cook up a storm. And play Bach. And knit. And hang out with Doucette the cat all day long! Maybe I’m just facing another turning point in this journal.
Here’s a wonderful quote…from La femme rompue by Simone de Beauvoir. In her book she quotes the Romantic writer François René de Chateaubriand: “Le désert du passé,” a dit Chateaubriand. “The desert of the past, said Chateaubriand.” Thus…as my training processes I feel I’m moving out of the desert of my past. And I feel quite rooted in my present and I feel like I’m floating through my present. Feeling grateful and joyful. How is it that practicing the Alexander Technique engenders all that?
Big step in my training journey: the massage table I ordered arrived! And I have started to give practice lessons! Wow. It’s really happening! I’m a beginning teacher of the Alexander Technique giving practice lessons!
We have just finished reading FM Alexander’s Universal Constant in Living in training. So much to digest in this book! Here’s another great quote…FM writing about inhibition: “Inhibition is a human potentiality of the utmost value in any attempt to make changes in the human self, and my experience has convinced me that it is the potentiality most in need of development. I have found that if a pupil can inhibit his habitual reactions even moderately well when faced with unfamiliar procedures, remarkable changes in his use and functioning can be made in a very short time, changes which judged by ordinary results would seem impossible.”
I think of my own Alex Tech journey and trajectory when reading this quote, and I know I must convey this hyper-important concept to my students.
Here is Doucette the cat, demonstrating her excellent use during one of her many cat lie downs, keeping me company during the storm. I am assuming she will get to love my new table.
As I walk to Alexander Technique teacher training now in this November, a soupçon of melancholy hovers around me, as I am thinking about what has transpired in my second city. Paris. Last time I was there was in January. All this awful stuff happening…in France and in our world. Of course the current situation brings me back to 9/11. And it brings me back to times when I’ve been in Paris and terrorist attacks have occurred. Alas…there is a list on Wikipedia…
But the fall foliage I see for sale on West 28th Street makes me smile…the lovely sights and smells. I must say that walking down that street to training is an aesthetic treat. Very healing and uplifting…
As for what’s happening for me in training, among other things, well, it’s about “re-learning” how to walk.
I had a seminal training class recently. It started right before class with an quick observation by Ann Rodiger, my trainer. She corrected the position of my hips. And bang, all of a sudden, I understood kinesthetically my faulty habit of jutting out my hips, thereby making my head to jut out too. Finally I could feel the difference and make the correction. This after two years of previous training…wow. I was blown away! I went to the mirror to look. I kept moving from my old, faulty habit to the new, more correct position on purpose to see what I had been doing. What a change! And then we had a floor class and I managed to lengthen my spine so much that I got all teary…happy teary. Quite an emotional release for me…on all fronts.
So now when I walk I am trying to hold my hips back in the better position. It’s a start. I think about the crease above my hips, and how my hips and knees should move. I think about that my heels should hit the ground first before my toes do.That I should take smaller steps (especially if I am wearing heels omg)… I think about the top of my head going up, lengthening and widening at the very top of my spine.
I think about walking around my beloved Paris…hopefully sooner than later. Meanwhile, I’ll walk around my beloved NYC…with better use of self!
You know, dear readers, that I am a die hard New York Mets fan. Even though the New York Yankees aren’t much on my radar, I am extremely fond of the old, iconic Yankee, Yogi Berra. Really, who could not love Yogi Berra? I adore his zany, philosophical sayings. His most famous one just might be “It’s dejà vu all over again.” This comment was made, as he duly noted in the little and hilarious book of his collective witticisms, The Yogi Book “…after Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs for the umpteenth time.”
In a way, I find that I am in a déjà vu all over again moment, restarting this blog. I am recuperating from yet another surgery on my left leg…this one an emergency surgery…while starting training on yet a different Alexander Technique teacher training course.The same scenario has already played out: two years ago I had a surgery on my left knee and I had to take a semester off of training, and that is when I started this blog/journal about my Alexander Technique teacher training. At that time, I was obliged to take the semester off from training, and over two months off from work. When I eventually went back to training I switched to a brand new training, a very small one.
Now all that seems like ancient history. I was obliged to change teacher training courses again this past July.
I have gone from attending the smallest training in NYC, to the largest training in NYC. And as I see it, my new training is the most haimishe, empathetic and energizing training in NYC. My old training consisted of one trainer and three trainees. In the old training there was always movement…people came and went…but we were never more than three trainees at a time. I was the second year trainee and there were two first year trainees. Now I have an embarrassment of riches: plenty of company. I have many co-trainee pals at all levels of training. There is, of course, my trainer, and her staff of assistant trainers. It feels like heaven.
I did manage to attend one week of summer training before the medical emergency happened. My new training is right on the main drag of the flower district here in Manhattan, so walking to training is a sheer delight…plants, flowers, trees galore. It’s visually gorgeous. Intoxicating perfumes fill the air.
La troisième c’est la bonne. The third time is the charm, no? That’s how I’m feeling right now about my present training course. The really cool thing about this particular recovery period is that since I have two years of Alex Tech training under my belt, I’m in a much more secure place to get better really, really quickly! Well, it’s an interesting way to start my third year of Alex Tech training…but hey, that’s life. Rolling with the punches here!