So, you teach Alexander Technique, huh? | #12
8 December 2019 :: The Alexander Technique and launching the Carbon Removal Centre
Something unexpected happened last week during my Berlin trip: the part of me that is an Alexander Technique teacher woke up. For whatever reason I reconnected with those skills and ways of being that took me years to cultivate and shared them with the group. I’m taking this as an invitation to dig more deeply into Alexander Technique again and start including it in my writing.
This week’s newsletter includes a discussion of ‘expanded awareness’ from Alexander Technique element and one personal update about the creation of the Carbon Removal Centre and my role as co-founder and Non-Executive Director.
I hope you enjoy and as ever, please don’t hesitate to hit reply if anything resonates with you.
So, you teach Alexander Technique, huh? What's that?
This is the moment at the party when my heart sinks. It's not that I don't want to talk about it, it's that I haven't yet figured out how to talk about it. And yes, that's true despite my teacher status.
I take comfort in the fact that a lot of Alexander Technique teachers seem to have this problem. There's an argument that goes "if you can't explain something then you don't really understand it", which makes sense when you're dealing with logic and words, but falls apart when you're talking about playing with subjective and embodied awareness.
The best way I've found to communicate Alexander Technique is to demonstrate it. That means putting my hands on someone and inviting them into a different way of being, and despite how woo woo that sounds, it works.
The problem is not only that doing this is a little awkward at a party when you've just met someone, but it also doesn't work online. Having said that, I'm finding that i) writing is having a wonderful clarifying effect that continues to surprise me and ii) this newsletter feels like a safe enough space to have a go.
I'm not going to write the definitive guide, though. It might become that, but we'll get there one concept at a time.
Let's start with expanded awareness.
One of the first principles I need to get across is that your awareness has a shape and size. These are malleable and, for most people, totally unconscious. But they can be brought under your conscious control – that's the game.
It's important here to decouple attention from awareness.
Attention is like a spotlight that follows your intention. You want to read these words, so you focus your attention on them.
Awareness is like a wide open 3D perceptual filter. You can have your attention on these words while still being aware of the sounds of cars on the road, a slight breeze from the window or a feeling of tension in your left foot. Attention moves around within the boundaries of awareness.
Right now, as you're reading these words, check in with yourself. How aware are you of the space behind you? The space above your head? What about the space between you and the screen?
If you're like most people then your habitual way of reading shuts your awareness off to almost everything but the screen. It's as if you were only aware within the boundaries of an elongated spheroid reaching from your head to the screen.
Now try this:
Keep reading and expand that shape to include the whole room.
Keep reading and notice all that space behind you.
Keep reading and add in all that space above your head.
Keep reading and notice how much space there is between you and the screen and really allow it to be there. We have a tendency to unconsciously 'compress' this space.
Now try this:
When you finish this sentence, let go of your attention and let your awareness expand as far as possible in all directions.
If you had even the slightest realisation that something different just happened, you got it. That is what we learn to play with through Alexander Technique.
As a teacher I would actively give you this experience, so forgive the necessarily clunky words. It's possible for me to bring about this sense of expanded awareness in you through touch. Not only that, but with hands on I can also get a sense for the shape and size of your awareness in any given moment. In fact that's my role. It's not just possible, but testable, repeatable, falsifiable and learnable. Just don't ask me to explain the mechanisms by which it works.
Why is all this important? Because there's a relationship between this expanded awareness and our habitual ways of being.
Let's say I get you into this state of expanded awareness while you're standing in front of a chair – and then I ask you to sit. If you're like 99% of people, the moment you begin the movement you'll enter a habitual pattern and that expanded awareness will collapse. You're on autopilot until you're done with whatever the activity is.
Not only that, but you won't be able to prevent that collapse from happening. What I'd teach you, over time, is how to maintain your expanded awareness through these triggers. And when you can do that, you open up opportunities for change.
And that's where things get really exciting, but it's also where I should stop talking. That's enough for now.
Want to hear more on this? Do let me know.
Presenting the Carbon Removal Centre
I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share the creation of the Carbon Removal Centre, a UK-based not for profit organisation whose purpose is to advance sustainable carbon removal. We aim to be the go-to organisation advising on the removal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The first article I wrote on my blog was on carbon removal - you can read it here.
I’m particularly proud of my role as a co-founder and Non-Executive Director. I will have a relatively hands-off role helping the growing executive team deliver against the Centre’s strategy. We’re currently seeking funding for the first year of operations and I fully expect 2020 to be a hugely exciting time with many big announcements to come.
This means a lot to me for two reasons.
First, I believe that we are not doing enough as a global society to tackle climate change. We’re on the right path, but we need to do much, much more. We also need to think further ahead beyond ‘reducing emissions’ to a more fully integrated climate restoration mindset. We need to clean up the mess we’ve made, not just stop making it worse.
Second, when I first came across this field almost ten years ago, I knew I wanted to be involved somehow, but it wasn’t the right time then. I decided to stay close to it and re-enter later in my career when I had more to offer and when the field was more developed. That goal has just been achieved. I’m thrilled.
Here’s to reversing climate change.
Media of the week
I was going to share a video I made this morning on how to use the Alexander Technique style ‘expanded awareness’ I discuss above to manage chronic pain, but I’m having unforeseen technical difficulties.
So, instead, here is a picture of a cat. I’ll have it sorted for next week!
If you enjoyed this newsletter and think someone else might too then please feel encouraged to forward it on. And if you were sent this email by someone else, then welcome! You can subscribe here or check out my latest blog posts.