Here are some comments made by this term’s groups when I asked them what they have learned about the Alexander technique….
Exploring how we walk using the Alexander Technique. For those who would like to walk long, or short, distances with greater ease and enjoyment
Saturday 8 June 2019
St Peter’s Church
1pm – 5pm
Wear comfortable clothes, bring something to lie on
Places limited, booking essential
07974 944585 firstname.lastname@example.org
£40 (Means tested benefits, £20)
In our group sessions this term we have been following the theme of Going Deeper – we have looked in more depth at hands and feet and arms – and now we will focus in more depth on the very part of us that focuses best – on the eyes. It was a surprise to me, in my training as an Alexander technique teacher, that I could look gently, without unnecessary effort, without, as it were, going out and grabbing the world, visually. I could let it come to me, I could soften my gaze, I could widen it and take more pleasure in what the world has to show me.
So, this week, in Whaley Bridge, in Fallowfield and in Macclesfield we will think about how we use our eyes. We will consider panoramic vision – our use of our peripheral vision – and explore how it changes our experience of movement and of stillness. We may play games that explore walking and our use of our eyes. We will consider, in particular, the importance of the eyes when we bend down or sit down and how they co-ordinate our movements.
In their book, Movement, Awareness and Creativity, Bartal and Ne’eman write, ‘The human being’s most versatile contact with space is through the visual system, which is the most far-reaching and instantaneous form of perception. So co-ordination between the body and the rest of the world is mainly achieved through sight. Therefore it is essential to co-ordinate body and eye movements.’ (1975:12)
This week in my Alexander groups we will be thinking about our arms, or as one of my teachers, Bruce Fertman points out, our arm structure. My students today found that just easing the tendency to grip the arms against their sides produced ease throughout the body. And we did that with the aid of a highly technical piece of equipment – a tennis ball – carried around the room under our arm pits!
And we looked at posters showing the muscles of the arms and how they connect deep into the spine. And we played ‘dem bones’, with six people holding six separate bones and working out how they connect to make an arm structure 🙂 A playful session of contemplative anatomy.
What else might we do this week to explore, think about and focus on our wonderfully mobile and beautiful arms? We might do a very traditional Alexander procedure, ‘hands on the back of the chair’ to explore how dynamically we can use both arms together to hold a single object. We may do some ancient Chinese Qi Gong exercises and enjoy the slow, fluid movement of lifting our arms to the heavens, we will probably pick up objects and explore the experience of lifting different weights. And we will read from Bruce Fertman’s book, Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart the section on breathing – because our arms effect our breathing profoundly – as does everything else!
Yesterday I had the privilege of working with 30 wonderful head teachers from Merton, on strengths based leadership and well-being.
One of the highlights of the day was listing to the the story told by Celia Dawson, head teacher of Cricket Green http://www.cricketgreen.merton.sch.uk/.
Celia told us the story of Project Search http://www.cricketgreen.merton.sch.uk/project-search/4578432848
Project SEARCH changes the way people think as it challenges ideas about what people with a learning disability can do. It raises expectations of employability and the general public can see people with a learning disability hard at work as part of everyday life.
Only 7% of people with learning disabilities nationally are in any form of paid work, compared with 74% of the wider population. However, many of Cricket Green’s trainees are now in meaningful employment within a local hospital and externally.
We used the #strengths circle reflection tool which I have developed in the course of my work to identify the many strengths that we felt Celia had used to get this important project off the ground. It was, for me, a humbling and inspiring experience. Thank you Celia!
A language for being well in education
An important strand of that work is a focus on character strengths and virtues. You can hear me talking about this strand of my work on You Tube
What are character strengths?
Every religion and every philosophical tradition has a concept of virtue, a way of thinking, feeling and acting that is morally valued or good. And as far back as Aristotle, education has been concerned with character and with morality or goodness, teaching children to understand right and wrong, as well as with knowledge. Aristotle saw the virtues as necessary to a flourishing life or happiness.
More recently, psychologists have linked the use of character strengths and virtues with well-being, vitality and a sense of fulfillment. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) say that there are 6 universally valued virtues
- Wisdom and knowledge
- Love and humanity
- Spirituality and transcendence
They describe character strengths, like creativity, hope, gratitude, kindness, as the traits that allow us to display these virtues and say that
- They are valued in almost every culture
- They are valued for themselves, not as a means to other ends
- They can be developed
- They are influenced by our environment, some settings lend themselves to the development of strengths whereas others preclude them
Seligman and Peterson list 24 character strengths, under the headings of the six virtues. I have used this list for 15 years in my work in schools and in my PhD on well-being in education. I kept most of the names of the character strengths but changed the virtue headings to strengths of the head, action, heart, community, self-control and meaning. I have added a single strength, patience, which is essential to teaching and learning. I have written a simple definition for each strength. I also dropped ‘social and emotional intelligence’ and replaced it with the Aristotelian virtue of friendship.
Some questions for educators to think about:
Is it better to focus on strengths or weaknesses? Always? Sometimes? Never? If sometimes, when?
Do you think there is anything missing from this list?
You can find out more about the classification of strengths that my work is based on here: VIA Character Strengths
Tool: A Strengths Prompt
Strengths of the Head
Creativity: thinking a little bit differently
Curiosity: wanting to find out
Love of learning: enjoying, learning new things
Open-mindedness: enjoying difference, open to different people and ideas
Wisdom: understanding what is really important in life
Strengths of Action
Enthusiasm: eager and full of energy, raring to go
Persistence: Sticking at things, not giving up
Courage: doing the right thing even when we feel scared l
Honesty: telling the truth, being an open, straight forward person
Strengths of Community
Fairness: treating everyone equally
Teamwork: pulling together, working well with others
Leadership: Helping or guiding other people to do something good and to get on well
Strengths of the Heart
Love: caring deeply and showing we care by thoughts, words and deeds
Kindness: Doing and saying things to make people happy
Friendship: being gentle with ourselves and loyal and kind to other people
Strengths of Meaning
Gratitude: being thankful for good things, saying thank you
Spirituality: thinking deeply about God, love or the meaning of life
Humour: Seeing the funny side of life and making others smile or laugh
Hope: trusting that good things will happen
Love of beauty: noticing and enjoying good or beautiful things
Strengths of Self-control
Forgiveness: letting go of hurt and anger and wishing other people well again
Prudence: making good choices that effect our future
Self-control: controlling thoughts, emotions and actions so we live well and achieve our goals
Modesty: a true knowledge of our own strengths and weaknesses
Patience: Letting things take the time that they take