Posted by & filed under Alexander Technique, torn meniscus.

Let me make this clear: I obfuscate. When I talk about “my teacher” — well “my teacher” is more than one person. “My teacher” is a conglomeration. So…to keep things vague…I will continue, at this moment in time, to obfuscate. One to few; few to one.

But yay! I did have a lesson with my teacher! As you recall, Dr. Z wants me out and about as much as possible, so I figure that the best thing I can do for myself is to go out for lessons.

I did a table turn and and a chair turn. No getting up and down from the chair as yet…but…in the chair I am always more cognizant of lengthening up from my abdomen, so I was thrilled to receive some reminders about this.

Okay my main teachers are mostly of the male persuasion…I admit this fact…so I’m using the pronoun “he” but be forewarned: there actually might be a “she” or two in the mix. Remember in French it is le professeur…no matter what the sex of the teacher might be! So I’m using that particular gender confusion in English.

About monkey: he demonstrated to me the different permutations of monkey that a teacher could use with a student, and positions which would be useful to me right now as I am recovering. We looked at a photo of FM putting a student into a monkey position. This particular photo I had not seen before. But it was similar to the photo I published of FM doing what I called a monkey lunge. It’s all really about the variations of the position of mechanical advantage aka monkey. He gave me some great historical perspective on all this…we talked about of Walter Carrington‘s reminiscences of FM‘s teachings on this matter.

All in all, a fabulous lesson, especially as it came sooner than I had imagined a lesson would happen after my surgery. Eight days after. Pretty good. I am definitely feeling a tad taller right now.

After my lesson I went to the supermarket to pick up a few items…just a few. Good thing, too, because I found to my dismay, when I got back home, that our elevator was not working. I had to hike up to the sixth floor carrying my supermarket bag and my cane. Normally this is no big deal. So I thought “no big deal” and I just took it slowly. Only my second day outside, and the steps are way easier to manage than the day before! It’s a good thing that I didn’t have to walk down the steps. That is more difficult!

Plus a photo of my maternal grandmother!

Some books I can use to put under my head when I do a lie down.

Posted by & filed under Alexander Technique, torn meniscus.

I left my apartment building for the first time since my surgery to go see my orthopedist, the estimable Dr. Z. So…I decided to take the subway down, as his office is right by the subway entrance. To be precise, it was the IRT #1 train…the Broadway local…that I decided to take. The bus is too slow and bumpy. A taxi…nah…fuhgeddaboudit. So…subway it was. I took my cane of course. I need it to go down steps, and also as a warning type weapon, to let people know I’m not to be messed with. I live in between two stations. I decided to head for the uptown stop as it has way less steps down.

59th Street – Columbus Circle (IRT Broadway – ...

59th Street – Columbus Circle (IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was walking so slowly up Broadway that I was walking slower than a tourist! Oy gevalt! Felt pretty good about it, all in all. I kept directing. I managed the steps down pretty well. I thought to myself that it was really good that I didn’t have to go down many stairs, like walking down the stairs at the Cité métro stop in  Paris.  I can’t remember if there is an elevator in that station, as taking an elevator there had never been necessary. Well…back to NYC: waited for the train. The train came. It was the end of rush hour and the train had been delayed (so what else is new?) so the train was packed. I got myself into the car. I kept my cane in front of my leg as a “do not come near my knee or else” signal. At the next stop a bunch of people got off so I made it into the middle of the car. Miracle of miracles, a young woman got up to gave me her seat. Not the young men near her. Hmmm…just staying. I sat down, lengthened, widened, went through my whole litany. Cool, right? Told myself to free up my neck. Took out my phone to check something and was careful to bring it up to my face so I didn’t hunch down looking at it. But then some guy carrying a huge duffel bag filled with heavy stuff bumped right into the cane held against my knee. Ouch ouch ouch!!! Figured that something like that would happen.

None the less, I made it to Columbus Circle intact! I walked over to the doc’s office. I thought to myself: “Wow it is so interesting having some AT under my belt to manage surgery recuperation in the best possible way!” I saw Dr. Z. He was amazed at the amount of congealed blood under my dressing. He said “ugh!” (I will spare you the photo). He took it all off, cleaned it up, and now I only have 3 little bandaid type things there, which will stay until they come off of their own accord. He told me he wanted me not to use the cane and to walk around like I normally do and to really get myself moving. Great news to me! And I’m to start physical therapy very soon. We talked some of our usual stuff: basketball, Fordham University–where I taught French and where he went, played basketball for, and where he is the team orthopedist. So…I told him my Lou Carnesecca story…about running into him while waiting for the Ram Van…the intercampus Fordham van service. Yeah, yeah, I’m digressing…

He told me that I could sleep on my stomach, take a bath, wear little heels as soon as I could! Wowie! I’m psyched!

Oops! Not the IRT at all! Wrong city!

Oops! Not the IRT at all! Wrong city!

And then I was back on the subway again, this time going home, feeling so much better psychologically for having seen him. Hey! Maybe I can have an AT lesson soon!

Posted by & filed under Alexander Technique, torn meniscus.

This blog was supposed to be a journal of my training to be a teacher of the Alexander Technique. However, my training is on hold.  At this time I am not even taking lessons. So now I’ll have to write about how I am using my AT experience to help me get through the greatly reduced, everyday activities that I can manage in this post-operative moment.

I find that I’m using a modified position of mechanical advantage, aka a monkey, well, in my case half a monkey half a lunge. I’m specifically referring to a modified monkey, a lunge monkey. In the photo of FM you can see him doing what I sort of do. One leg is bent while the other leg is not.

FM Alexander demonstrating monkey

FM Alexander demonstrating monkey

So here are some of the ways I am using this lunge monkey to get over physical movement obstacles that I normally do not think about. Now I have to think about how I am going to move all the time. I must be slow and deliberate. No fast, unthinking actions. Those give me a reality check immediately! Ouch!

First of all, I had to put the case of empty seltzer bottles outside of the door. The seltzer man was delivering a new case. Swap out time! I had to move the wooden box and the bottles one by one. Hey…I couldn’t do that the other day!

I talked about feeding Doucette the cat. Let me add to that…cleaning out les toilettes for her. This, of course, is a daily necessity. Actually when I, myself, have to make use of les toilettes I definitely inhibit and direct. Very important this. One of the all-time funniest moments I ever had in a lesson was a chair demonstration by my teacher of how I was to manage. I was on the table when I watched his demonstration. I was laughing/crying so hard at his punch line informing me of what he had just mimed as he sort of plopped onto the chair. Oh the things I am writing about!  But important stuff none the less. I blame my teacher for the previous revelation. It’s his fault! (Big smile here). Back to Doucette: I have to clean up her humongously long hairballs. She eats plants and then has to purge. She very nicely deposits her five inch-plus long hairballs on the floor. Easy to clean up…even now.

Getting in and out of the shower gracefully. This situation is a must-think! Oh it is so lovely to stand under the hot water for a long time! Ahhhh! Especially now. Putting on my various sorts of pants. Not easy. Setting up my step stool and then stepping on it to get stelline pasta from my cupboard to add the homemade chicken soup my neighbor brought over. That was a hard one. I had to really pay attention!

I decided that I have to play and listen to lots of Bach. I think it will do my knee a world of good to be exposed to a mega-amount of Bach vibrations. So I’m playing the E major sonata and listening to Barthold Kuijken do the same on baroque flute. I have to play in an unfamiliar posture. I’m sitting with my left leg extended. So…must think about my use of self constantly when playing right now.

I went down into the lobby to get my mail. There are a few steps down. I took the cane they gave me after the surgery. I cannot walk down steps normally. I have to place one foot on a step, and then the other on the same step.

I cannot wait for the moment when I get myself comfortably into a real monkey so I can do hands on back of chair or on table while standing! I think that this will be later rather than sooner.

Empty seltzer bottles waiting to be picked up by the seltzer man

Empty seltzer bottles waiting to be picked up by the seltzer man

Posted by & filed under Alexander Technique, torn meniscus.

A picture of a birthday cake

A picture of a birthday cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m feeling like a sybarite…despite the post-op pain, swelling, general discomfort, blah blah blah. I now have time to lounge, to think, to read. Hey! I can read the whole weekend New York Times leisurely! Hey! I think that maybe now is the time to read FM’s Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual! I think I’ll order a copy. After all it is my birthday today. I need to order myself at least one present. Funny kind of birthday, huh? But a good friend pointed out to me that it’s the  birthday of my new knee too!  So happy birthday knee! Another good friend told me to make sure that I blow out all the percocets on my cake! Hahaha!

Very importantly, I get to hang out big time with my special caretaker, Doucette the cat.

Doucette was a rescue. She used to be called Tipsy by her previous owner, who abandoned her to the shelter at East 110th Street. She was adopted immediately I guess because she is so pretty, but she was returned immediately, because she had issues. Big issues. Many issues. She had been abused. She has scars on her stomach. Well, since she is sort of a purebred–a Maine Coon–albeit a runty one, the shelter notified one of the agencies that works with the Mayor’s Office and they took her. Because of her issues, one of which is her abject fear of other cats, she had to live in a cage. When I met her at this agency, she had been living in a cage for seven months. I couldn’t even take her out of that cage to pet her. But I had an intuition.

Well, anyway, I adopted the former Tipsy, and since she was the opposite of sweet, I decided to give her that old-fashioned French name of Doucette, which means little sweet one (feminine) with the hope that she would grow into her name. She did. For a year she hid–in closets, under the bed, wherever–but she finally chilled and turned out to be mega-sweet. And now she is in close attendance. When I wake up at night I find that she is glommed to my head purring. She will not leave my side. How do cats and dogs know that one is ill? Rhetorical question I guess. So my fur ball nurse is taking great care of me.

Feeding Doucette these days when I cannot bend my left leg much is a challenge. So I inhibit and direct. First of all, I really think about how I should move before I attempt to move. I go into a modified lunge/monkey to get to her tray and replenish her food and water. She watches me do this with complete fascination as it deviates from my norm.  Of course, Doucette has to be mischevious sometimes. Well…lots. Lately, her thing is to investigate the garbage pail in my bedroom. She knocks it over and looks for exciting toys, such as a piece of card board, a tissue, an envelop, the outer dressing to for my knee surgery (blech) to bat around the room. So I must use the lunge/monkey to put the garbage pail right and to collect the dispersed stuff to really dispose of it. I manage to do all this quite nicely even though I am the tipsy one now!

Posted by & filed under Alexander Technique, torn meniscus.

The inevitable has been accomplished: after two months of medical testing to make sure things were copacetic, I finally had the surgery for my torn left meniscus. I’ve had a bunch of surgeries in my life; this was the first one really where I have the comfort of my Alexander Technique lessons and training to keep me great company. This knowledge will assist me in going through the recovery period as efficiently and healthily as possible. No end gaining right? This was a less invasive arthroscopic surgery. None the less it was a surgery–an invasion. I will have a lengthy recuperation. For awhile I will need a cane to walk

As I was being prepped for the surgery, I found myself doing whispered ahs and directing. “Let my neck be free” I kept saying to myself. “Lengthen and widen.” I had a chat with the anesthesiologist about the technique. She had never heard of it (so what else is new?) but she was intrigued and she promised to research it out. I certainly hope she does! Later, after the surgery, when I came back into consciousness, I realized that lots of the mental stress I had been carrying around, touching on all aspects of my life, had disappeared. I had known that this whole scene of waiting for the surgery to happen had been really stressing me out. Surgery over…stress reduced.

I had a lesson two days before the surgery. For that lesson I did table, then hands on back of chair while seated, then table again. I wanted to go over hands on back of chair, as I had done that activity two days previously when I paid a visit to my training course. My teacher and I went over this three or four times. Hands on back of chair is something that I will be able to do now, in this immediate post-operative stage. Easier than standing, of course, but anyway I cannot get into a position of mechanical advantage–aka a monkey–at the moment.

All in all this little grouping of my last three lessons was noteworthy. I had been walking around in mega-pain in my legs, and in fact, all over my body. I must have been crunching down big time. Ha! I must have gotten temporarily shorter. My neck/head/back alignment must have been pretty lousy. But then something happened during the first of these three lessons. With the assistance of my teacher, I managed to undo big time. Much of the pain just evaporated. It just vanished. It was magical, and of course this occurrence brought me back to why I had started lessons in the first place. After each of these three lessons, I walked out with that light as a feather feeling, that feeling one wants and learns to expect after a lesson. I felt kind of terrific even though I as walking in slow motion.

We talked meniscus surgery and recuperation strategies. Bags of frozen peas. That’s what he recommended for the continual post-operative icing of the knee. I did stock up on a few large bags of frozen peas so that I can rotate them as needed. Let me tell you, this scenario is certainly better than dealing with ice cubes. Who knew? I received explicit instructions on how to frozen-pea-up my knee. Alas, I am so susceptible to the cold. One  word only in French means “susceptible to the cold.” How economical! The feminine version of that word is frileuse. All who know me know that I am always frileuse. Moi je suis frileuse. And here I am with a frozen pea ice pack perched on my knee for three to four hours at a time. Then I get to take it off for an hour. Ah, heaven: a short respite from the cold!

Moi je suis frileuse


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Three weeks of my training course had passed without my presence. The semester was established. I went back to visit. I figured it would be a nice thing to do before my pre-op that day. The visit made me realize that now I have transitioned back from being a trainee to being again solely a student of the Alexander Technique. I felt removed…almost like I was a specter.  But it was great to reconnect with everyone even if it is evident that, at this moment, they are continuing with their training while I am moving on toward my surgery and recuperation. I was lucky to have had two great table turns with the two volunteer graduates present that day. As well as giving me two really fine turns, they encouraged me and gave me great advice. I did the directed activity with them both as well…hands on back of chair while seated…something I really need to work on as I tend to grip with my arms.  Ah! With their help I finally succeeded in undoing and I felt the huge difference. This is definitely something that I must do in my daily routine. I hung out at break time, and I watched the hands on groups for a bit, this part of the training session that I adore.  Then I drifted out and left. I paused from the entry and quickly took a last photo as a souvenir.  Au revoir et à la prochaine. Catch you later…


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Levator labii superioris muscle

Levator labii superioris muscle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So my flute guru, Keith Underwood, paid me a house visit to give me a lesson. I told him I needed mega help as I am just coming out of that medical-worry funk that stopped me from picking up a flute. Yeah, I know, self-defeating behavior. Sigh. Talk about feeling rusty! I told him that I wanted to continue our discussion of his proper breathing methodology. So we talked about tension in the upper lip and position of the tongue, et al, and how the flute shouldn’t be called a wind instrument but a compression instrument, as playing well is all about that particular compression of air. And that this is all so, so French!  (We rhapsodize over everything French: great French flute playing, French flute treatises, plus the usual stuff). Keith is also a major proponent of the Alexander Technique. For us Alexander Technique people he makes special analogies. So he likened having the correct tension in the upper lip, going up the  levator labii superioris, and the position of the tongue in playing the flute, to the same set-up as hands on back of chair for us AT practitioners. It helps for good use of self; it enables efficient and fabulous embouchure. Hey, as Keith points out, this type of breathing is kind of like an inverse whispered ah. So…I’m practicing this way via De la sonorité of the venerable Marcel Moyse, Debussy’s Syrinx, and a Handel sonata. I just refound my book of Handel sonatas. They are all marked up by one of my old teachers, the late, great, hilarious Harold Bennett. So I see his markings and I am immediately transported back to Jackson Heights and my lessons with him, with his dog Andy hanging around, and Harold’s “homogenizing” of my flute. Well I digress. Well not really. Harold did breathe like this, in his fashion, if I recall. Wish I could go back and time and observe Harold’s use of self while playing! Well, anyway, Keith said to me, after I played a bit of Handel, that I sounded French. Cool, right? It’s all about that breathing, especially thinking taking breaths down to the collar bone and the upper ribs. Little breaths. Little breaths that keep accumulating air so that one needs to play a long line one can effortlessly. Of course for me it’s all about playing with a “stifled smile.” For me it’s finding and thinking the specific analogies and metaphors that work for me so that I can think then execute properly. Sounds very AT, n’est-ce pas? Watch closely as Jean-Pierre Rampal plays. He smiles. So now that my funk is over, and I’ll have lots of time, I’ll be playing lots and lots. And smiling. Oh how I needed that shot in the arm lesson!

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For the record, the above photo is of my outside little garden on the window sill where the fire escape is. It was taken this summer. Iconic NYC apartment fixture…a fire escape! I love to grow some flowers and a small amount of herbs…the chives and mint always reappear and to those I add lavender, rosemary, whatever… It’s my little city garden and I love tending to it. I love peering out the window to check it out. I’ll have lots of time in the near future for looking out the window, but now it is autumn and my garden is winding down rapidly.

I have gotten wonderful news! So far all those nasty medical tests I had to undergo have been negative! Later on I have to repeat one just to make sure. But now I am cleared for torn meniscus surgery and this will happen soon. I am making plans for my work hiatus, and arranging to have a table in my apartment suitable for the  AT lessons I am planning to have at home while I recuperate. My wonderful friends are rallying around me, helping me to obtain this table.  Wouldn’t it be so fine to have an AT teacher putting hands on as I have to do my post operative multiple leg lifts? A senior teacher at my training, one of my wonderful friends, suggested this to me. It must happen! I must experience this! Meanwhile, I am cramming in all the lessons I can fit in before my surgery.

My fortunate news is bittersweet for me, for I know those who might be undergoing great health battles right now. Life is sobering and surreal lots of the time. The tables have turned. I am just facing a knee surgery while others are waiting, hoping, and maybe facing intensive medical treatments. I want to bring them solace by holding hands with them via telephone and texts  with the same empathy and caring that I have been receiving!

For the record, two people in the AT community have interviewed me regarding how I came to the technique. First up was Robert Rickover. Here is the podcast. Second up…a written interview with Imogen Ragone. Mille fois merci to Robert and Imogen for their interest and support!  Well really, mille fois merci to those in the AT community who are cheering me on! And to all my friends and work colleagues! I’m getting by with lots of help from my friends! At some point, I think I will make a post and list and thank everyone by name! This thought makes me smile. This recuperation will be a different one for me than my others in that now I have my three years of the technique on my side! I am promising with all my might to try not to end-gain on any front: recuperation, pause in training, et al! I will just follow my particular meandering path.

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English: Illustration of the pain pathway in R...

English: Illustration of the pain pathway in René Descartes’ Traite de l’homme (Treatise of Man) 1664. The long fiber running from the foot to the cavity in the head is pulled by the heat and releases a fluid that makes the muscles contract. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime in the spring of 2013 I wrote:

I was at a weekly Alexander Technique lesson, and the sun was streaming through the huge windows of the atelier, and my teacher and I were really shooting the breeze. More than usual. As I was floating up and down from the chair, concentrating on the use of myself, with the guidance of his of hands, I marveled at this scene and how it had become customary for me, and I started to ponder about how the Alexander Technique had come to be so integral to my life.

Here I am, a normally stressed out New Yorker, now with my jangly nervous system slowly but surely calming down. I guess most would say that NYC is a stressful place, but it is what I know and what I am used to. Born and bred, what can I say? It is certainly fast paced, the fastest paced. Great, great energy. The most amazing energy I know. And now, after an AT lesson, I just float out into that energy, refreshed and energized.

What finally led me to the Alexander Technique was abject pain in my neck. What had happened: it was found that I was walking around with severe and dangerous cervical spinal stenosis. I could have been paralyzed at the next possible fall. I had no symptoms whatsoever. The diagnosis was a total surprise. I underwent a laminoplasty: intense neurosurgery on my entire cervical spine. So I now have a fused cervical spine and nifty titanium hardware in my spinal column to keep it open permanently so that my spinal cord can never be crushed again. I have a fancy and mysterious long scar!  The surgery was a total success; however I had a long recuperation, and over two years of physical therapy could do nothing for that post-operative pain I found myself in. I lost an inch of height. My modest height of five feet shrank to four feet eleven inches.

Two surgeons and a flutist acquaintance of mine recommended Alexander Technique to me. So I started lessons in the fall of 2010.

My pain evaporated after about a month of lessons. A few months later, I regained my inch of height. Time and lessons went by. I wound up changing teachers. Ah…great fit! Great energy! More time and lessons went by. I wanted more and more lessons…and so to that end I decided that the best thing to do was to undergo the training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. While continuing private lessons, I started my training in the spring of 2013.

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