My teaching day could be described this way...
today I learned that these bells that I have looked at for many years twirl if you ask them to.
A joy in teaching is that every teaching moment is a visit to a new world....in which we each create our own personal approach to everyday mastery.
While initially studying AT seems to be more about restoring our ability to cooperate with our design, its ultimate value lies in its ability to assure a constantly evolving, usually pleasurable, efficient response to the tasks of our lives.
And isn't it wonderful how many tasks humans do!
Tomorrow I will be flying home from Japan after nearly a month of intensive teaching.
And the heroes and heroines of the trip are my translators!
Without them, I would still teach something – but the depth of the interactions would be limited as we all attempted communication in various forms of mime and Japlish.
Ken, Naoko, Shigeko, Isuzu, Yasuhiro, Michiko, and Kanae –as you know more deeply than I – words are an approximation of meaning. My gratitude for your contribution to my ability to invite people to new ideas is splendiferous.
As this picture of Ken in the act of translating for me illustrates, it can be quite a task to be my translator!
This is a picture of my studio after a lesson this week! While my studio often looks a bit sculptural after a day of teaching, this is perhaps the most distinct.
Seeing it – after the lesson – awakened a recognition of my passion for this work.
While it is a universally applicable process, it is always a celebration of the uniqueness of each person who encounters it.
For the past several summers, I have had the joy of teaching a workshop at a retreat center north of Seattle, near Snohomish. (the picture is from one of the paths near the center.) Students whom I met in Japan come here to explore new questions in a beautiful setting (with lovely food as well.)
This year there are a few spots available for others to join us. ( The workshop is simultaneously translated into Japanese.) The details follow. Please let me know if you would like to join us.
Workshop in Snohomish. June 21 at 5 p.m. to June 26 at 11:30 a.m.
There are a few spots available in a residential workshop with participants from Japan so the workshop will be taught with translation. There will be a morning session an afternoon session. Housing $500 ; Food $250 ; Tuition $600 ; Total $1350
3317 187 Ave. SE, Snohomish, WA 98290
Mornings only option - 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and ending at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. Tuition would be $350 for the full week.
Registration is open for my annual residential on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. This picture is from one of our outdoor classes. Our dates are:
August 23- September 1, 2015
Full Session August 23 –September 1
Main Session August 23 to August 28
Extension August 29 -September 1
Renew and rediscover the joy of a cooperating coordination in a natural setting that reflects and amplifies your intentions.
Classes meet for 3 hours in the morning and one and one half hours in the early evening, allowing everyone time to explore San Juan Island—-hiking, whale watching, kayaking, ferry riding, artwork, or just reading a book on a beach. The class is limited to 16 people, and is customized to the needs of the registrants. Come renew yourself in the Pacific Northwest!
My book is officially published!
Following is the copy from the acknowledgement page. I offer it here in hopes of reaching everyone whose quests, questions, and curiosity helped me develop this work.
The first acknowledgment goes to all the performing artists who have helped shape this work – the members of my theater company, Washington Street Players Place in Lincoln, Nebraska; The Performance School artists; and the performing artists of the Alexander Technique Training and Performance Studio; the current students and the alumni of the University of Washington School of Drama’s Professional Actor Training Program; the artists of Lucia Neare’s Theatrical Wonders; and performing artists from Alexander Technique communities worldwide. I am a most appreciative audience and ever grateful for what you share with me.
The University of Washington School of Drama Professional Actor Training Program has been my artistic home since 1986. I am grateful for the collaboration and support of its faculty and staff. I want to especially acknowledge Professor Emeritus Jack Clay, who, unbeknownst to him, was indirectly responsible for my study with Marjorie Barstow, and later invited me to join the faculty of the Professional Actor Training Program; Professors Steve Pearson and Robyn Hunt, for supporting an even more in-depth integration of the Alexander Technique into the program; Professors Sarah Nash Gates, Mark Jenkins and Valerie Curtis-Newton, for their ongoing support; my faculty collaborators, both current and past: Geoffrey Alm, Jeffrey Fracé, Scott Hafso, L. Zane Jones, Judy Shahn, Andrew Tsao, Jeff Caldwell, Judi Dickerson, Max Dixon, Connie Haas, Jon Jory, Betty Moulton and Shanga Parker.
I would also like to thank the Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center located at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL), for providing a refuge to begin writing this manuscript.
Thanks also to Professor Sidney Friedman, who invited me to participate in a workshop with Marjorie Barstow by simply saying, ‘I think you might like it’.
I am grateful to Matt Goodrich for what he describes as ‘various editorial roles’. His contribution to preparing the manuscript for publication exhibits the same commitment to the extraordinary that infuses his piano performance.
Thank you as well to Jessica Mitchell of Intellect Books for her guidance in bringing this book to publication.
For those of you in Seattle, there is a reading and book launch January 15, 2015 :
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
Please join me if you can to celebrate the book’s publication!
( The book is currently on backorder on Amazon, and you could also order it through the University of Chicago Press.)
A new study is being posted on many Alexander Technique websites. And, for those of us who have known this work for a while, we might say, “duh!”
The specific study being cited is – “Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head” by Kenneth k. Hansraj, MD Chief of Spine Surgery, New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, published in SURGICAL TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL XXV.(abstract accessed at https://cbsminnesota.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/spine-study.pdf)
When I read the abstract, while I was in agreement with its conclusions -
Loss of natural curve of the cervical spine s leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries. While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and to avoid spending hours each day hunched over.
I was concerned by some of its content. I note several things. It is not a study of actual people – it is a modeling study - A model of the cervical spine was created with realistic values in Cosmosworks, a finite element assessment package. And the table provided with the abstract does look like only the cervical spine was included in the model. While the whole spine is pictorially represented, what the other vertebra are doing in response to the tilting of the head doesn’t make much sense in movement. I also note that in this particular abstract, what is suggested as good posture - perhaps what they mean by neutral spine- is hopefully something no Alexander Technique teacher would ever teach!
The writers of the study acknowledge that this is an initial study, and I applaud their call to their own profession to consider the whole picture of cervical pain. And, I do think that if we as Alexander Technique teachers are going to reference studies to promote the work, it is a good idea to read the abstract and/or the whole study so that we can discuss it more fully.
That said, I just spent a day with my sister who teaches elementary school. Children in her school have carpal tunnel syndrome from texting. Little kids in pain!
What I watch over and over again are people, including children, imitating what they look at all the time – and the smaller the device, the smaller they try to become. I have noted in other articles that there seem to be costs not only in discomfort, but also in self-image, thinking skills, and imaginative skills. The abstract for this study does refer to these consequences as well. (And there is information in my just-about-to-be-available book -http://www.cathymadden.net/onstage-synergy.html - on my work in this area.) We are playing catch-up with how we humans interface with our devices – and the Alexander Technique is a fabulous tool for that catch-up.
What is called into question is how we teach our children to interface with these devices. While I believe that computers are poor tools for children (really, I think that developmentally 14 years old is plenty early enough to be at a computer or on a cell phone), I know that my belief prompts an uphill discussion in today’s world. What educators need now is a new approach to how movement (rather than posture) is vital in development. I am absolutely delighted when an elementary school teacher takes Alexander Technique classes, workshops, and lessons because I know that has an effect in their classrooms. And I am considering – both for myself and for the Alexander Technique profession - ways to increase our reach to educators– they need it for themselves, they need it for their students.
Last week I spoke at the Performing Arts Lecture Series- Celebrity and Its Discontents- sponsored by the School of Drama at the University of Washington. My subject -"Pioneering Spirit in the Celebrity of the Discontented Everyman: F.M. Alexander"
The perspective I took was that being labeled as a celebrity was a challenge to the self. Celebrity stories provided a gateway to a discussion of how any of us respond to being labeled. Here is an excerpt from the speech -
“For celebrity, the transition from a taken for granted belonging and solidarity with others to being separated as famous is an experiential turning point in the self.” (from David Giles Illusions of Immortality). So too in our own lives, any event may become an experiential turning point in the self. The Alexander Technique is designed to help us navigate those turning points with authenticity, cooperating with an evolving self.
“[One celebrity […} offered that, in the face of [the media attention], ‘You constantly have to reassess who you are, take [the fame] off of you and make sure you are centered as a person.”
In actor training, I use the Alexander Technique to help actors sustain the illusion of truth in imaginary circumstance. When a moment onstage is inauthentic, it is accompanied – in the coordination of the actors - by the characteristic overwork between head and spine. And, since acting imitates life, the quality of our coordination in our everyman/everywoman moments also reveals to self and others…our truth. The Alexander Technique turns out to be a powerful tool in cooperating with the evolving truth of ourselves.
The genius of the Alexander Technique, in addition to recognizing the importance of the head/spine relationship as monitor and preserver of coordination of self, is that it recognizes that knowing what we don’t want is, by itself, ineffective, in recovering an effective Use of our Self.…… We need to know what we do want – to actively research our desires - and to actively/volitionally invite ourselves to organize in service of those desires. This return to conscious cooperation provides us with a replacement to what we may perceive as inauthentic….
The endowment of celebrity and its challenges to authentic communication is serving as an example of any interaction that causes DISCONTENT.
Both previous speakers in the series, Odai Johnson and Ruby Blondell had referred to the adornments of celebrity – and I decided to give everyone an adornment – bow ties. At the end of the evening we used the bowties to “celebritize” ourselves.
“The moment of being set apart, of being labeled in either everyday or multi-media celebrity, is a challenge to the self – and the moment offers a choice to be a victim of the label, or to respond to the perception as a pioneer, coordinating to our own truth in the pursuit of our desires.”
Friday Harbor Labs, where I host my annual Alexander Technique Residential was in the news this week. One of the headlines read-
A Shimmery Sea Blob From The San Juans May Have Just Upended Evolutionary History
(For more of the story - http://kplu.org/post/shimmery-sea-blob-san-juans-may-have-just-upended-evolutionary-history)
One of the things that I enjoy about teaching at Friday Harbor Labs is its environment dedicated to exploration and discovery. Sometimes it seems each patch of ground or stone or beach that you step on supports creative investigation.
There are two portions of the workshop - the 5 day workshop meets August 22-27; the 4- day meets August 28 -31 and you can take either or both. Housing is full for the 5 day workshop, but there is a place available if someone stays off campus; places are available - with housing - for the 4-day extension. For full information, please see the Friday Harbor page on my website.
Director, Alexander Technique Training and Performance Studio