freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Richard Casebow

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.


The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.


I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat. 

 

 

Thursday, 17 May 2012 00:00

Use – a scientific concept

A working understanding of ‘use’ is something anybody with an interest in Alexander Technique has to acquire. A ‘working understanding’ involves practice and ability to employ oneself purposefully, and skilfully in any activity. Indeed ‘practice,’ ‘employment,’ ‘skill,’ ‘purpose,’ as well as ‘habit’ provide the etymological roots for ‘use,’ which is the founding abstraction of Alexander’s work.

Lessons this week reminded me how useful it can be to contrast how we use ourselves when we approach something from the perspective of ‘wanting’ to do it, rather than believing that we ‘should’ do it. Both ‘wanting’ and feeling that we ‘should’ do something are, from a psycho-physical perspective, attitudes within which certain uses of the self are embodied.

Friday, 08 June 2012 00:00

Why We Need A Teacher

Alexander believed anyone could do what he did in working things out for himself; he also believed that lessons would reduce the time needed to do so. I am far from certain about the former statement, while being pretty sure of the latter. The problems in working it out for oneself are many, even if you have the excellent guide that is given by Alexander in chapter one of his third book ‘The Use of The Self.’

Friday, 15 June 2012 00:00

Being Alive

Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 this week featured Elizabeth Walker, who at 97 is still teaching the Alexander Technique. She is the last living teacher trained by Alexander and has been teaching for seventy years. The interview contained a number of gems, the importance of taking the work seriously without being serious, the importance of the inhibition and keeping things free.

Musturbation is a lovely word coined by Albert Ellis to name the habit some people have of thinking that they must do something or that the world must be other than it is. Karen Horney meant something similar with her phrase the tyranny of the shoulds and it was something Alexander wrote about in his first book Man's Supreme Inheritance. For Alexander, the problem stems from a conflict between two positions. On the one hand, people are saying to themself 'I must' and on the other hand they are saying to themself 'I can't.' The solution in muscular terms is often concentration which as a way of controlling and directing attention amounts, as Alexander makes clear, to little more than a furrowing of the brow, physical rigidity and a holding of the breath. It serves little purpose other than narrowing attention and limiting us in the possibilities we can construe, as well as lowering our standard of vital functioning. The habits that lead to this limitation, are often chosen means of avoiding situations. The solution is to inhibit both the 'I must" and the "I can't' and replace it with the 'I wish' which evolves out of 'I want;' where the 'I want' is a starting point for an elaboration and negotiation with the world. 

 

Alexander can be somewhat harsh in his language around inhibition here. He uses terms like eradicate and oppose when understanding and acceptance are certainly better preludes to inhibition. For one thing is clear, is that in uncovering the habit that stifles initiative or aggression, as Kelly named spontaneous elaboration and curiosity, we often uncover the story of peoples lives, the choices that have been made in circumstances that were often not benign and sometimes down right malevolent with abuse that is both physical or mental. The avoidance, the habit at this point is not so much to avoid but to necessarily protect oneself. In time protecting becomes a habit that is carried beyond the original situation that someone is born into or found themselves in. They continue with a habit that no longer protects but filters current situations and people through the experience of the past, and anticipate in replication rather than creation. Futures can then become self-fulfilling, as people are sought out to recreate old relationships of the past. The way out of such a situation involves identifying the pattern, identifying the habit, identifying the construct, so that it can be suspended or inhibited in favour of something else, something that allows a sightline for increased possibilities of growth, happiness and being alive, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances. Alexander, like Kelly, calls for propositional thinking, not rigidity or fixity but clear-eyed thinking, to find purpose and meaning. It becomes for both, each individual's responsibility to exercise their intelligence in the living the possibilities and adventure of their lives. This for Alexander was Man's Supreme Inheritance. The phrase may be dated but the ideas behind it are not, nor is the wish to live a full and active life. To dream, to wish, to live are what a full active lives are made of. 

What does it mean for you to be wrong? When you are wrong, as we all are at times, are you able to recognise it and then set out to tackle the problem or do you give up and hope it will go away. The answer to these questions will give a good indication as to how you learn and how successful you are at it. 

 

These two approaches involve different mindsets according to Carol Deweck who researched them and recently published her results in an easy and accessible book Mindset. Her research backs up what both Alexander and Kelly demonstrated and advocated, namely that solving your problems, by viewing them as a learning opportunity, is the way to grow and succeed this is the growth mindset. Its contrast is the fixed mindset which views ability as fixed, limited and finds set backs difficult to bear. 

 

You can have both mindsets and use them in different areas of your lives, growing in one, limiting yourself in others. In either case, both mindsets have been learned and can be learned allowing you to change from one to the other, although hopefully no one would choose to limit themselves by consciously adopting the fixed mindset. 

 

Which mindset we learn at the beginning, is often determined by how others handle our success or failure. Too often children are fixed by parents or teachers as being of fixed ability, with a certain kind of character, which at its very worst persuades children into construing their natural curiosity and spontaneity in learning as bad. Very often in families this can be done to protect the parents from being exposed as the emperor who lacks any clothes. A conspiracy of silence is then imposed, the breaking of which can threaten and bring a scapegoating. The terror of this perpetuates silence, narrowing lives into further sadness and anxiety. Where this happens therapy is one place people can go to tell their story, to find that the world can be different and receive them; and accept them for who they are and who they can be.

 

In this, learning to be present to their sense of sadness, the sense of anxiety and to transform it into a readiness for action that is calm and focussed can be invaluable. This requires self-understanding and self-acceptance and an end to self-hatred. Inhibition as taught by Alexander in its deepest psycho-physical meaning can be of use here allowing the suspension of hatred, the fear and the threat of being wrong in favour of a curiosity in what is there now or what we might like to project into the future, as a life to be lived. For this, the growth mindset is invaluable as is the presence of another. 

 

PeggyThe presence of another in learning and development is hugely beneficial and here I would just like to say  a few words about Peggy Dalton whose death last week is one of the reasons this blog was delayed. Peggy supervised me for six years, including my training. She was a remarkably gifted and talented therapist but what, more than anything, marked her out was her presence and engagement to others despite her severe chronic pain. This presence gave me and others great support and encouragement in developing our work and she will remain a great inspiration to the constructivist ideal that anything can be reconstrued, including chronic pain, as this touching blog by my friend and colleague Mary Frances makes clear. Peggys life was proof that even in the greatest of difficulties, meaning can be found and lives can be lived. She will be missed and remembered by all of us that knew her. 

                                                                                                                                                    

‘Imagine you’re clever’ might be an insult to some, but for others it might be the instruction that liberates them into a whole new world of learning. As an instruction it has a lot to teach us about learning and the power of expectations, others and our own.

It was used in a lovely bit of research by Robert Hardy to investigate how young people’s attitudes to learning affected their performance. He invited them to carry out some tasks by acting ‘as if they were clever’. Young people with poor and error prone learning styles, became efficient and fluent learners when acting ‘as if’. One girl was so discomforted by the gap between how she normally experienced herself and her new performance, that she claimed not to have done the experiment - that someone else must have done it!

Two inter-linked truths about learning are apparent here. The first is that expectations are important, the second that self-consistency is important, the experience of difference for some, is something to be disavowed. Others though welcome it and are able to make sense of it, and use it to launch themselves into whole new worlds of discovery.

This importance of self-consistency and our need to be predictable to ourselves is sometimes poorly understood. Not just by ourselves but also by other people including teachers and therapists, who are there to help us learn. Without it, we or others, at our extremes, can seem unpredictable, chaotic and even terrifyingly mad, yet deep down there is always a logic, which makes sense in the light of day, in the context of past experience and choice.

Discovering that logic, which is primarily is an emotional and narrative logic, is a task we all have to face. The ease and fluency with which we accomplish this, is primarily determined by the type of self-consistency we seek. If we seek consistency as fixed characters, then eventually no matter how talented, being wrong, as I will elaborate further next time, becomes something to avoid. If we seek consistency as beings capable of learning, of developing and growing, then through time, patience and hard work, we can change and master our chosen skills. If we act ‘as if’ we can learn, we will; if we act ‘as if’ we were clever while we do so, then the learning will be easier and more fluent.

There is no blog next week, as I am in London for a board meeting. The following week, I will turn to the importance of ‘mindsets’ and start to look at some of their implications for learning the Alexander Technique and therapy.

A pupil returned last week and reported how their sleeping had improved as a result of their last lesson - they were getting a good night's sleep and waking up more refreshed. The need to think about how we use ourselves while sleeping, in my experience, is quite common. Alexander thought people’s use while sleeping was often worse than their waking use and, in many respects, this is probably true.

 

Friday, 12 October 2012 00:00

The Importance of Alexander's Work

Every so often I find myself reflecting on what the Alexander Technique is a technique for – it is a subject I have blogged about before. Last time, I addressed the question with what I thought Alexander's answer might be in terms of Constructive Conscious Control.

Friday, 06 July 2012 00:00

Knowing How v Knowing That

I first became aware of Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing that’ while studying philosophy at Aberdeen University as an undergraduate. It is a distinction whose importance I have found myself reflecting on for a number of reasons, not least the importance Alexander placed on it in emphasising the importance of the ‘means-whereby’ we go about our business.

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