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Welcome to the new website of Ms. Rena Anya Deveza, Alexander Technique teacher-trainee in New York City.

 

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Spring is sort of showing up here in NYC. Our week long break is over…I am now ensconced back in my Alexander Technique teacher training. Three months have gone by since we have started. I guess I have finished the equivalent of two semesters of training. Rumor has it that I am progressing along quite nicely! I am thrilled that my sensory appreciation is improving. This new awareness feels great!

In the hands on part of the class…well…we are putting hands on and following a person going up from and down into a chair. The emphasis is, at this time, of course, on our own use of self, but have to say, that it feels kind of neat to be at least following a real body. We are a tiny group, and in fact, the other day it so happened that I had the luxury of a class all by myself! So…hands on back of chair, hands on table, hands on two sides of a door. Then…hands on Tom, my trainer, as he moves around in the chair and gets up from the chair and goes down into the chair. Lots of times. I have one hand on his chest; one hand on his upper back. I follow him. Over and over again. It’s so intense. He talks me through all this…he prompts me with suggestions on how to direct. I over-concentrate and so I grip. He suggests that I concentrate less hard. Things improve. It’s difficult for me to free up my arms, elbows, legs, when he prompts me to, so I think about my primary control, and this undoes the gripping. I think to lengthen and widen my spine…at his prompting. I try to connect my hands to my feet. I try to undo the rest of me. My hands placed on him talk to each other through him, and this contact reminds me to lengthen and widen. I should not pull him down as he gets up and down from the chair. And I should not let my hands slip. He demonstrated on me what pulling-down hands feel like, and what hands-pulling-him-over-to-me feel like. He tells me to soften my hands when I am pulling him down. Presto! No pulling him down!

We are now doing lots of breathing activities. I lie on the table, or sit in a chair, or stand up, and the others put hands on my abdomen to feel the differences among: normal breathing, exhaling on a silent “l” sound, exhaling on an “f” sound, exhaling while counting one to ten over and over–breath permitting–without pushing, exhaling with whispered ah. Then I put hands on while another does the same breathing examples. As a flutist, I am kind of obsessed with various ways to exhale while voicing various sounds. I regularly tongue using the labiodental fricative “f” sound for example. And a “la” or a French “lu” sound or a tu ru combination… So the Alexander Technique and flute technique are colliding right now to my infinite pleasure and amusement. Keith, my flute guru says “flute playing IS Alexander Technique!” Love this! Translation: good use of self sure helps to play well! I have been noticing for awhile that sometimes I hold in between an inhalation and an exhalation. Not good. The other way around, a pause after an exhalation, while playing flute, is actually helpful for playing.

After the class for one, while I was walking to the subway, I noticed, to my surprise, a rack of citi bikes right there on 38th Street! Imagine that! I did a double take! Winter…see you later! Time to think about taking my bike off its trainer!

Look at this! Bikes on 38th and Eighth!

Look at this! Bikes on 38th and Eighth!

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We now have a week off in training. I guess it’s supposed to be a spring break. Ha! No sign of spring here in NYC yet except, maybe, for a pot of lovely purple heather that I purchased for my apartment. In fact, there is rumor of another snow storm coming our way soon. Can you believe it? Well, anyway…I have a pause from “guided” getting in and out of a chair, monkey, hands on back of chair, etcetera. I guess it’s a good time as any to reflect on what’s been going on with me. Below is a photo of the chair I use in training. The blue tape signifies that it is a short chair…so…this is my chair. I have been noticing that I have been pulling down, especially when getting up from this chair. I do tend to grip as a balancing mechanism. I suppose it is a good thing that I am noticing this stuff as I never have before.

Blue tape on chair signifies that it is a short chair!

Blue tape on chair signifies that it is a short chair!

My trainer has taken to guiding me in and out of the chair very, very  slowly. Breaking it down, as it were. This helps a lot! I think it translates into me coming down less when I go into monkey, as well as, of course, getting up from the chair.  In the last “hands on” before our break, my self-organization seemed to have improved a bit. I think “spine going up and back lengthening,”  “head balancing…” I especially think of the front of my thoracic spine lengthening. My cervical spine is all fused and therefore cannot lengthen much. I feel that my cervical spine is the “achilles heel” part of my spine. So I must work around it, so to speak.

In the week before our break, we have worked on breathing…regular breathing, exhaling on a silent la la la, and breathing out doing whispered ahs. Very fascinating stuff. I get dizzy doing this, as it extends my breathing and I am not used to the different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside of me provoked by this extension. Anyway, I do a whispered ah while smiling a bit…kind of like the “stifled smile” I use for my flute embouchure.

We have finished reading FM’s The Use of the Self, and the Bedford Physical Training College Lecture. We are now starting to read, in tandem,  Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, and Walter Carrington‘s Personally Speaking, which I am finding to be a page turner. During this upcoming week off I must try to get in lots of reading. Lately, we have been watching a DVD of Walter Carrington teaching. I realized when watching him do a whispered ah, that his mouth was way more open than my own when doing so. I need to think of an Italian ah sound. Walter’s explanations were so precise and clear! I must see all of this DVD! Check out Walter’s definition of the Alexander Technique here.

I think that this week-long pause in training will provide a welcomed and refreshing break. I’ll be able to re-set. Onward and upward!

Purple heather: spring in my apartment

Purple heather: spring in my apartment

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“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.” So wrote Marcel Proust.

Leaving monkey aside for the moment…changing the subject for now…to change of the entire psycho-physical self…and memory.

Who would have thought? I started taking Alexander Technique lessons in hope of alleviating neck pain. A month of lessons and the pain went away. And then I wanted more and more lessons. So I started training. Still took lessons along with the training. Then I had to stop training. Now I’ve started training again. And I had thought I was going into Alexander Technique only to manage that neck pain. Yeah the neck pain went away. The height that I lost due to the neurosurgery on my cervical spine came back. Yay! I am five feet tall again! But…here’s the thing. I find along the way that my whole mind and body are being totally reworked. My kishkas are definitely becoming untwisted. My brain is being re-wired. My trainer says that I’m going to be an entirely new person by the end of the training. So…a new Rena is emerging…

Also, as I progress in Alexander Technique teacher training, the more I am being revisited by old memories. Thus the core of myself is re-emerging…but in a different light. Childhood memories are re-appearing into my consciousness with the speed of lightening. My very first important memories are flooding back. Like, when I was so proud of myself for throwing that egg I was supposed to eat behind the washing machine…I was three at the time. I’m feeling again the glee of coming up with that solution for getting rid of the egg. I am so happy to be remembering that triumph of deception!

I find that I’m in über Ukrainian Russian Jewish mode. I feel like I am communing with past generations of my family. I have been needing to cook myself the Russian food that I grew up on. I wish I could blab away with impunity in Russian and Yiddish! It hits me that I really would like to have my real name back…the one that was summarily changed and dumped at Ellis Island…too Russian…an American, pronounceable name was needed. How sad!

All this happening makes me feel so in touch with myself. A validation of who I am. So…could my remembrances just be a coincidentally timed, or are they being set free by my going through Alexander Technique teacher training? Am I experiencing a re-reading of myself? Is there some kind of cause and effect here? Is the Alexander Technique proustienne in this way? It seems to me that it is the book tool par excellence with which to read oneself.

Here I am, in an imperfect, cropped photo, obscured a bit, but I am laughing so hard...that I love it!

Here I am, in an imperfect, cropped photo, obscured a bit, but I am laughing so hard…that I love it!

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The combination of asthma plus bronchitis is not fun. And then when followed up by pleurisy well…sigh…breathing becomes really painful.  But I am happy to report, that since I’ve been taking Alexander Technique lessons, and especially since I’ve been training to become an Alexander Technique teacher myself, my bouts of this stuff happening to me occur with less frequency and with less intensity. But, have to say, at the moment, I am so tired! Wishing for my own homemade chicken soup (the best) but being way too wiped out to make any.

My chicken soup beginning to cook...

My chicken soup beginning to cook…

After having been shut in for five days, I finally made it out, and the cold assaulted me. I was so fragile I could barely stand up. I felt that I was walking in slow motion. I had had to cancel every appointment I had scheduled. Freed up my calendar, so to speak, in order to stay in bed. Couldn’t go to work; couldn’t go to training. Couldn’t practice flute. I have to be pretty wiped out to miss work and Alexander Technique teacher training! That first sortie out was to a training class…I was not scheduled for work that day so I didn’t have to choose. I still cannot practice. I do have a ways to go before this thing is over.

Oh that class was so wonderful!!! It was the usual scenario. It consisted of: a long turn…chair table chair, a directed activity, a discussion of the reading…the end of  FM Alexander’s The Use of the Self, hands on: monkey with hands on table and then hands on real shoulders, a discussion of the Alexander Technique in general…this is ongoing… I cannot say that I was feeling refreshed, but, wow was it ever great to be in class again. It was luxurious. I was so grateful that I could breathe easier than I had been at the beginning of this illness…even if doing so with pain! I was so grateful that I could be there!

I am realizing that my sensory perception has improved. I know right away if my spine is coming down instead of lengthening when getting up from a chair. I feel all too well when I am gripping in the legs. I am assured that I am doing these less than I used to. I do have a long way to go. I’ll just keep plugging away.

The more I get into Alexander Teacher training, the more difficulty I have in describing succinctly what the Technique is. For me it is mystically life changing. Mystical because it is a mystery on how such a pragmatic thing can change every aspect of my being. I have to explore this thing that is changing my life in such an extraordinary way…to the max.

I feel that I am very lucky right now. I am in the right place at the right time…in my native city, in this particular training course, at this particular moment in time!

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“La vie ce n’est pas d’attendre que les orages passent, c’est d’apprendre comment danser sous la pluie.” Sénèque

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Seneca

So I’m learning how to dance in the rain with my recuperating knee. I’ve come through my first really mega-intense wave of emotionality through and elicited by Alexander Technique teacher training, phew, and well, I feel like I have been hiding and now I’m slowly coming out of my hiding place. I really need to practice that dancing in the rain stuff because I think these storms will keep happening. I better get used to being off kilter. I was just remembering when a colleague at work asked me the other day how I was doing, and I said “Oh I’m totally out of it!” With that I gave him a huge smile. And he told me that’s why he liked me so very much…I was always totally out of it in the same way he is totally out of it. We stood there grinning goofily at each other. So perhaps the thing to do when a wave of emotionality hits is to be totally out if it…ditsy so to speak…while dancing in the rain. Smiling in the rain! 😀

I am feeling a certain kind of quiet descend upon me, enveloping me. My trainer said the other day that when he is using himself better the kinesthetic chatter goes away, and that he feels a certain quiet within. Love that! Maybe that’s what’s happening with me.

But alas, I guess I have been run down lately. A persistent cough/cold thing turned suddenly into a nasty case of asthmatic bronchitis. Yuck. Why am I not surprised? It’s my go-to illness. What would FM Alexander say about this turn of events? That my use of self isn’t so hot? Sigh…I guess I’m stuck with another training hiatus…albeit a way shorter one this time around.

Meanwhile…on the training front…before the asthmatic bronchitis hit…it was monkey. What else? Now we are putting hands on each other. So first monkey with hands on back of chair, then monkey with hands on table, then monkey with one hand on a shoulder, the other hand on a hip bone. Find that hip bone! Of course I have put hands on before, in my first semester of training, and in lessons, but we are just starting to do this now in my present training course. So it’s been awhile. But now I am so much more aware of my use of self when doing so.

The famous in NYC dollar a slice pizza joint on the way to TCAT-NYC. Not bad in a pinch!

The famous in NYC dollar a slice pizza joint on the way to TCAT-NYC. Not bad in a pinch!

So, are you wondering, what the relevance of a photo of a pizza joint is to this blog post? Well I have no real answer. Except maybe that I was remembering that after the very first lesson I had with my teacher, who is now my trainer, I had a slice there. I had never gotten around to trying the place until that moment. A bit of historical perspective for you, dear reader. And, me personally, I do think that pizza is always relevant! Even now in this moment when all I want to eat is chicken soup!

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I thought I would write up a bilan after a month worth’s of training. I can never remember the English translation for un bilan so I had to look it up: appraisal, assessment, results, balance sheet are some of the equivalent words.

Emotionality…that is what’s happening. I’ve restarted Alexander Technique teacher training only a little over a month ago, and it feels so intense this time around. “Why?” I keep asking myself. Fourteen to fifteen hours of Alexander Technique per week. Okay. That’s a significant amount of time. And with this current training I feel that I am changing so rapidly both physically and mentally, I can hardly keep up with the changes. If I’m feeling physically so much better why am I feeling so out of control in the emotions department? Hmmm…because my body is being rearranged and body and mind are one? Because we hold our emotions in our physical selves as well as in our mental selves and rearrangement is going on in the entirety? Because I’m learning new ways of being…creating new habits? Because as I lengthen and widen my back and un-grip my shoulders is it that I’m becoming less and less defensive?

I place the mat in front of the heater to insure that I have a toasty/comfy lie down!

I place the mat in front of the heater to insure that I have a toasty/comfy lie down!

Well, whatever it is, it is certainly powerful stuff. I feel like I hardly know myself. My thoughts and my actions are foreign to me. I find that I have a funny dichotomy going on right now…I wish not to self-edit anymore and this throws me into a tizzy…and I am feeling a kind of soothing detachment from the bothersome stuff in life.

“For me, a person’s unconscious is nothing other than his/her biography, a life story that, although stored in the body in its entirely, is accessible to our consciousness only in a highly fragmented form.” So writes Alice Miller in the preface to her book The Body Never Lies: The lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting. So is this why the long-buried memories from childhood are creeping back into my consciousness? Aha! My life is coming back to me as I’m undoing. Okay…I’ll take it back…even if “painful.” After all I am now a different version of myself.

I keep having fantasies about running away from training but…

Trainer to student: “Think up when breathing in and out! We tend to come down when we exhale.” This makes a big impression on me. And sure enough he is oh so right! I pay attention to my breathing, and I successfully do not come down when I exhale. My breathing feels suddenly transformed; my shoulders seem to soften, to un-grip. I feel wonderful.

This is the kind of self knowledge that I find pretty addicting. So, I will just have to go with the flow!

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Position of mechanical advantage aka monkey. Bring it on! Over and over and over again in many of its permutations. Monkey with hands on table palms up, palms down, monkey with back against a wall, monkey facing a wall, monkey with hands on back of chair, squats, monkey, monkey, monkey… Some instructions for yours truly include… “Knees forward and up.” “Lengthen from your thoracic spine.” “Lengthen as you go down.” “Need that elasticity when folding/unfolding those legs.” “Lead with your knees not with your hips.” “Lengthen and widen that back.” “After all, we want to keep that integrity of the lengthening and widening as we go about doing our daily activities.”

Monkey going into monkey…

“Don’t grip don’t grip don’t grip don’t grip.” Gripping is my specialty. A huge light bulb went off for me a few days ago. When I went into monkey, when I went up and down from a chair, when I started to do all sorts of movementswellI sort of held my breath. I was gripping in this particular way. So what if it took me over three years of lessons and one plus semesters of teacher training to finally figure out that I’ve been doing this? Whatever. At least I figured it out. So then of course I did the opposite…and intentionally started over breathing or something. “Don’t force your breathing!”

Going into monkey with fluidity and elasticity, while keeping all my directions going, is challenging. It’s getting better but when will it be really organic with me??? “Oh! There is more movement happening throughout your ribs!” “Your breathing is different.” “Yes!!! That’s good Rena!!!” “Did you feel the difference?” And so we practice monkey over and over and over again in Alexander Technique teacher training. Je suis crevée, moi! I am wiped out! This stuff takes lots of mental and physical energy, yes it does! But I happen to be feeling really fine these days. I am more “up” than I used to be. Big smile here!

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So here we have it: my Alexander Technique teacher training journal/blog. I wish I could say that I am feeling good in my skin…bien dans ma peau…but that is not quite happening yet.

Well you know…I had forgotten all about the fatigue factor of starting to train. My body feels slammed. I am so, so tired. I just didn’t want to get out of bed one morning to go to work. On the days when I have to get up I am sleeping soundly and am woken up by the alarm. On the days when I can sleep in for awhile…well…I wake up too early. Go figure. It’s a catch-22 situation. So tragic! One day, on a day I could have slept in, Doucette the cat started whimpering for food at 6h in the morning, as she knew that I was awake. I got up and fed her and then crawled back into bed and stayed there for another two hours. Not to sleep…just to mull things over…

At least I’m not totally sore this time around from getting into monkey over and over. I do not feel like I’ve been doing heavy weights for the first time ever on leg press at the gym. That’s good! Maybe because I am pushing lots of weight on leg press at physical therapy? Plus doing all the other leg exercises? Maybe my legs are strongish these days???

I had forgotten all about the emotional turmoil that accompanies training. OMG…I’m all over the place! Where is my equanimity? Hmmm not here now. What shall I do? Well…I cannot hop a plane to Paris at the moment so let’s see… shall I laugh like crazy with my fabulous and zany and gifted co-workers? Play lots of Bach? Eat pizza? Yeah…carbs! Go shopping? Have a glass of vin rouge? Do my Alexander Technique lie downs…my constructive rests? I guess all of the above.

Winter scene chez TCAT-NYC...

Winter scene chez TCAT-NYC…

Sigh…I find that I am mentally fighting going downtown to class. I am having internal battles. I don’t want to trek down on the subway during my low energy moment of the day. Especially now in the freezing, snowy, icy, slippery, messy cold. I have to wear 50 million layers of clothes. Blech. I fight what I need to do. I would rather hibernate. But then, once I am there and ensconced in the training, well, I revel in it. It feels wonderful. I feel wonderful. I feel myself being transformed. Go figure. Okay…so I’m confused. Oh well…I need to chill, right? And maybe go shopping for a new  pair of snow boots!

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“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”     Marcel Proust

Butterflies in the stomach are abating…still waiting for my comfort zone to really set in…however I can say that it is best that I took that fork in the road. Here I am, training again…on my journey again.  At the Training Center for the Alexander Technique. Its très chic acronym is TCAT-NYC…Thomas Vasiliades, directing. Someone on the phone at AmSAT referred to him as “my boss.” Pretty hilarious that. I’ll not tell him.

What can I tell you? It’s wild to be part of a brand new venture. After having had so many private lessons with Tom, and having had many turns and much hands on work with him in my former training program, I am now training to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique under his direction. My intuition tells me that my training will be a wonderful experience.

The word “intimate” popped out at me in the two introductions to The Use of the Self, which we are reading closely. John Dewey wrote, in his succinct 1939 Introduction, on describing Alexander’s work: “Each lesson carries the process somewhat further and confirms in the most intimate and convincing fashion the claims that are made.” And in Wilfred Barlow‘s Introduction to the 1985 edition: “Alexander’s work was and is concerned with the intimate management of our moment-to-moment perceptions of ourselves.” Mais oui!

Intimate. In-depth, profound, thorough: intimate work in an intimate, welcoming setting.

Monsieur le Gargouille keeps the evil spirits out of the training room...

Monsieur le Gargouille keeps the evil spirits out of the training room…

And rigorous. I just want to plunge in deeply. We started “at the beginning.” Position of mechanical advantage aka monkey…in several permutations. “Knees forward and away.” Etcetera. And so I am again experiencing the huge divide between merely taking AT lessons and training to be an AT teacher. I am again exploring in depth the ongoing kinesthetic conversation with myself that will lead me to have better use of self. And this ongoing process will never end.