Alice Letts

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Interview with Franis Engel – Part 4

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—– Part Six —–

ALICE: I understand you’re writing a book, please tell me more?

FRAN: I actually have two books and I might combine them. One is something I’ve been giving out to my students that I’m making into a print-on-demand book. The other was an article for smart people that got too long to be an article so I decided to turn it into an e-book. Both are slightly different to what is already available. Different because I give the benefit of the doubt to the public for being smart learners. In the book one, there are three sections; theory, comments and experiments. The long article is a fast ride of the complete picture. As in any field, there are specialised terms and some of these terms may be some confusing. So I spell these out in both books.

—– Part Seven —–

ALICE: Would you please explain some of these terms?

FRAN: I’ll explain the most important one. It’s about how a cat learns the right moment to spring for the mouse, instead of jumping at any old time just because the cat is hungry. In Alexander Technique, we call this “inhibition.” Inhibition is not just hangups, impulse control, or self-control. Control is a limiting word. Alexander’s idea of inhibition is about freedom. The basic idea is: can you pause before doing the old same thing the old same way? If so, then you can free your routines to choose a better means.

Alexander found that tricking his habits stopped them from running the show. Once habit is interrupted, what you want do happens sort of accidentally on purpose. It’s a wonderful feeling.

For instance, a musician in the workshop complained how he had learnt all these improvements to put into place in the singing workshop, but he couldn’t do get himself to do them when he needed them to work. Once he started singing, his old habits were irresistible .

—– Part Eight —–

“Inhibition is the most important key of Alexander Technique.” said Fran

The secret is to find a way to interrupt the routine that flies under the radar. If the old habit doesn’t notice there’s a need for it to happen, it is isn’t triggered. The skill of inhibition prevents, sneaks under, fools or just stops outdated routines – so we can perform however we want.

ALICE: What can people do now to practise this?

FRAN: Alexander Technique is about a bunch of these principles, working together. Alexander Technique is different because it is meant to be used during any action. It’s generally not something with a form like yoga or Tai Chi that takes a special hour out of your day to practice because it has no exercises. Forms of movement are not it’s content, strangely enough.

A very simple thing teachers recommend people do is to take a break regularly. Everyone learns this studying Alexander Technique. It’s really a way to practice inhibition, because if you do it, you’ll learn the value of interrupting your routines. This tip isn’t an exercise because there are no movements involved, only thinking. It’s practised by merely lying down on your back on a firm surface, with a book under your head and your knees in the air. The function of the book under your head is to raise your head a little, in relation to the width of your rib cage. There’s actually more than one youtube video about this subject you can learn from, if you’d like to know more. If you can’t lie on your back because it hurts, then ask a properly trained Alexander teacher for help tailored to your needs.

The time you spend can be just 90 seconds or twenty minutes, it doesn’t matter how long the break lasts. It’s remembering to do it that matters. Just lie down for a moment to pay attention to your head and neck and how much of your back is lying on the surface. Pay attention to how your hips and arms feel. Think your body is getting longer.

ALICE: Longer? What does that mean?

FRAN: Remember how when muscles lengthen, they feel like nothing? Turns out that purely thinking about it will lengthen your muscles. Sense where in your body that you feel you are doing “something” and tell those muscles to get longer, to lengthen. That’s all. Just think. Don’t try to “relax” yourself. You are just lying down and thinking of the lengthening of muscles. You don’t have to feel it happening. You’re undoing it.

If you feel some sort of a catch or tension, then that means that part of your body is not following your intention. Somehow, you have trained yourself to add another habit pulling in the opposite direction. It can be very innocent things. Maybe you cut your hand so had to hold your hand up; even though your hand healed, you still hold up in the air. There you are with your hand up for no reason. Habits disappear, that’s how humans are made. Forgive yourself for being human.

You can just rest for a moment and tell your muscles they don’t have to try so hard. Give them a break. We don’t have to leave the kitchen lights on all the time. We can turn them off when we go out of the room and then turn them back on when we want some light again.

—– Part Nine —–

ALICE: People do seem to leave on kitchen lights. This could be very relevant to people suffering from sore muscles who usually go to Physiotherapists, Massage Therapists, and Acupuncturists.

FRAN: The Alexander Technique is not a substitution for the benefits of doctors & other specialised healers. It can only free up how you respond, which can be significant. It’s especially useful when you get mystery tension or stiffness problems with no specific cause. Or when a doctor tells you “since it hurts, don’t do that action again”. It can’t change structural problems, but it can help people cope with them.

—– Part Ten —–

ALICE: Can you give me some more details about your new book?

FRAN: When I write, I try to simplify ideas. The Alexander Technique is a very subjective, complex topic. I would like it if readers could just look at captions with pictures, and understand the content. I’m not sure if I can show everything effectively that way, but I’d like it to be as easy to read as a comic book. But right now I’ve only got ten illustrations and I’d like three times as many more. I can illustrate, but coming up with ideas to communicate complex abstract concepts such as “effortlessness” without “end-gaining” – It’s challenging.

ALICE: That is very clever. Yes I know people learn in different ways. Some people are aural learners, some are kinaesthetic, and some are visual.
FRAN: Yes. People learn in different ways. The more ways you can teach, the more people you can reach.

ALICE: What topics do you cover in your book?

FRAN: Hey – for many computer people, this interview is almost a book! Well, we just talked about one principle of inhibition. There are more. Then there is how they all work together. You’ll learn that. These are principles that all Alexander teachers do, no matter what their style or who trained them. Unlike other books on the market, this book doesn’t “talk down” to the beginner. My book gives you the secrets of how to practice for yourself. This book will make you curious – and you will want to get lessons from the hands-on of a properly trained Alexander teacher. It will help you make sense out of lessons and be able to explain what you’re learning to someone else. You’ll learn faster because of it.

Great ideas make no difference if you can’t remember it exists and can use it. So my book is designed towards helping the reader remember it. My book distils Alexander technique into only three steps. These three steps become richer and expand with meaning as you do them again and again and the sky is the limit. Or you can use it once in awhile when you think it would be handy tool to use and it will work.

—– Part Eleven —–

ALICE: You said when we talked before that Alexander Technique is not a form of exercises like yoga, but more like experimenting. Are there videos available for people to watch, like you would get on a Pilates or yoga video?

FRAN: There are lots of Alexander videos on youtube. But these videos are not made for people to copy body positions. Most are introductions. Many videos on Alexander’s work seem like a sales pitch of testimonials. Some of the videos document the process of teaching & learning, but you can’t tell what is happening. It’s tricky to catch the significance of what is going on, because the medium is only very slightly visual. It’s my speculation that, among other discoveries, Alexander actually invented the field of visualization. Because he was dominantly an auditory learner and speaker, he described what we now call visualization, only in terms of deliberately influencing the words he thought to himself. So, how do you see thoughts?!

Some of the best Alexander Technique videos are demonstrations about a spin-off field that was designed by musicians called “Body Mapping.” These are sort of a living anatomy course. Turns out that how you think you should move, it shapes how you actually do move. Watching these, you’ll get a jewel you can use. For instance, some adult musicians can still be holding their instrument how they did when they were kids.

Worth seeing is a double video set made after there was a study published in the British Medical Journal in August 2008. A randomised trial that found the Alexander Technique was extremely effective for lower back pain. Feeling younger without pain is only one application of Alexander Technique, but it’s getting lots of attention.
So – pain relief, performance skills, learn poise and effortlessness, an integrated mind-body practice offering psychological maturity and longevity. It makes you taller – sounds like snake oil! [laughs] Well, hope we’ve said enough for you to want to check this out. Join an ongoing class or get at least twenty private lessons to give yourself a chance to learn it. Alexander Technique – It’s the real deal.

You can get in touch with me and get my new book when it’s available at my blog from my website: http://www.franis.org My next round of classes are in the CA SFBay area, but I live in Hawaii Jan-Sept.

ALICE: I’ll be sure to look it up. Thank you very much for your time Fran. Good Bye.

—– End of Interview —–


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