Leland Vall
Certified Instructor
Alexander Technique in New York City
Manhattan - Downtown and Midtown
Great Neck - Middle Neck Rd
leland@freeyourneck.com
917-239-6313

Alexander
Technique

A Tool For Transformation
Sitting Posture - Alexander Technique

Leland Vall
Certified Instructor
Alexander Technique in New York City
Manhattan - Multiple Locations
Great Neck - Middle Neck Rd
leland@freeyourneck.com
917-239-6313

Alexander
Technique

A Tool For Transformation
Sitting Posture - Alexander Technique

Category: Students’ Blog (Page 1 of 4)

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Vox Paradox, Part II

By Travis McKeveny

Looking forward to my lesson with Leland this evening. Haven’t gotten around to asking him more in-depth questions about freeing the voice — in particular, ones related to The Whispered ‘Ah,’ an Alexander exercise I’ve read about but don’t quite grasp. As I’ve said, as a singer I’d like nothing more than to get out of my own way — but I did read one of  Leland’s articles that dealt with the topic. I do often experience tension in my jaw while singing, and suspect that I could achieve far greater vocal resonance were I to lose whatever habits I’ve developed unknowingly.

Staying open to the possibility of a new awareness.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Vox Paradox

By Travis McKeveny

While I write this, I’m looking forward to my meeting with Leland later today, at 5. I will be attending an open mic shortly thereafter, and consequently am interested to see if having just had a lesson will impact my performance — positively, that is. I suspect it will, though of course ultimately I am responsible for remaining aware of my body-use.

As I’ve written before, I’m looking to apply the technique — especially its principle of non-interference — to my singing. Often people have told me that I get in my own way vocally. Of course, when one possesses ingrained tension-producing habits, one can’t resolve them by taking a localized approach. Again, therein lies the rub — it’s likely the case that reducing tension in general is the path toward reducing tension in specific areas.

Staying open to the possibility of change.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Good Things

By Travis McKeveny

I found my last session with Leland altogether encouraging.

He said that I had improved considerably since starting to see him and that I’d clearly been thinking about the Technique and its application outside of the Great Neck studio.

That was good to hear, as it’s true: I do put a good amount of time in re Use in my everyday life, though as an evolving human being I am far from perfectly conscientious. Leland is very good at reminding me not to take it all too serious lest I sabotage my efforts by lacking a sense of humor — a deficit that serves only to intensify one’s sense of frustration.

As a singer, I’d like to continue trying to apply the Technique to my voice. Leland uses the image of the voice being thrown from behind the person and going forward over his or her head — too often, I conceive of the voice as something that originates in the mouth. This leads to tension in the jaw and elsewhere. I look forward to tackling that.

Good things ahead.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Balls in the Air

By Travis McKeveny

My last session was interesting. I didn’t at all expect that it would involve juggling. Or, to be more accurate, a breaking-down of the act of juggling in order to get a clearer idea of my body’s relationship to space.

I was alarmed by my spasticity. Although earlier in the chair I was able to get a better-than-ever sense of my head’s ability to continually rebalance — as a consequence of my neck’s having softened — upon standing up and trying to juggle I tightened up or ‘got small.’ I was reminded of the term ‘end-gaining,’ which I had come across in an Alexander text.

Which is to say that I was more concerned with juggling without dropping the balls than with understanding the means whereby I might do so — and the manner in which I was currently acting. Leland encouraged me to instead observe myself and release one of the balls just before the other landed in the same hand, but to not fret about dropping any of the balls — at that point, when I was just beginning to learn this skill, such thoughts did no good.

I do plan to soon write a song that addresses, however peripherally, the Alexander Technique and my study of it. For now, though, I’ll just share a limerick:

There once was a fellow named Leland

Who said, “Worry not where the balls may land

Improving your use

Will deft juggling produce

Sure as pro bodybuilders are spray-tanned.”

Ok, that made perfect sense until the final line. But you get the gist.

 

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Axe of the (Alexandrian) Apostle

By Travis McKeveny

As some of you may already know, ‘axe’ is a popular nickname for guitar amongst  musicians. Not sure whence that moniker came, but I do know that my acoustic six-string, while no doubt lighter than the wood-splitting tool, can feel just as unwieldy. And I have put a lot of time in on it over the years. For my most recent lesson with Leland, I brought it with me.

This was momentous in that what first compelled me to contact Leland was my fear that undesirable habits of Use were interfering with my guitar-playing (and disallowing the improvement thereof). Having studied the Technique for a number of months, I was interested to see what he (Leland) thought when he saw me on my instrument.

I was surprised. He thought I looked comfortable — that I didn’t hunch up while playing, or ‘get small,’ as he said. It appeared relatively fluid to him, though I did show him a couple of moves that I was having difficulty executing.

He told me that I might be too hard on myself re playing the instrument. I wondered if I had such poor kinesthetic sense that I don’t even know when I’m relaxed. If my playing is smooth, I find that perplexing in a way — fingerpicking, a quite involved activity, can be a breeze, while doing semi-supine at home frustrates me greatly?

During my next session with Leland, I will ask him if there’s additional stuff I can do while practicing at some, such as filming myself while performing movements — making certain elusive connections between my sense of how I’m moving and how I’m actually moving.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Walking the Walk

By Travis McKeveny

You’ve got to learn how to fall
Before you learn to fly
Mama, mama, it ain’t no lie
Before you learn to fly
Learn how to fall
— Paul Simon, “Learn How to Fall”

The connection between the post-title and the above stanza may seem rather tenuous. But I’ve thought about Pauly’s words a number of times since my last Alexander session, and not just because in the midst of the final exercise Leland and I happened to have a brief discussion re: Mr. Simon’s illustrious career. Lemme explain why I found the lyric resonant.

Just as you have to learn how to fall before you learn to fly, so too, during an Alexander session, must you learn to observe yourself walking awkwardly and unnaturally before you can learn to walk naturally and with a minimum of strain. And walking was just what my last lesson centered around.

The lyric enjoins us to a) understand the necessity of failure (or, perhaps, reframing failure as a prerequisite to success) and b) not skip steps. Similarly, Leland advised me to have my forward-moving foot scout out the next step before my body followed and shifted its weight to the stepping leg before bringing the other leg around.

I was quite disoriented and at times embarrassed. How, as a nearly 30-year-old biped, was I failing to even register what he was telling me (that is connecting my cognition to my body-sense)? I felt at sea and hapless.

Part of my problem was that I was waiting to get a sense in muscle memory of what it felt like to step correctly. But my mind was so fixated on that correction that I didn’t allow myself to glean how I was in fact stepping in the first place. Therefore that gap wasn’t to be bridged.

During my next session, I vow to open myself up in mind and body to learn how to watch myself walking as I habitually do, that I might alter that habit via application of the Technique.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Shedding Studential Vanity

By Travis McKeveny

A well-wrought first blog post, I had thought to myself. Formally sound — free of grammatical errors and awkward constructions. Clearly articulated. Of an appropriate length. Where’s my A, teach?

Except, as Leland was kind enough to remind me after our last lesson, the point of my studying the Alexander Technique is not to write glowing testimonials for him or to appear knowledgeable re: the Technique or the terminology associated with it. It is to unlearn ways of using my body that are unnatural and tension-engendering. If this sounds vague, that’s okay — what I’m learning is not always amenable to concise description, and besides, I’m not an expert, but a beginner.

In other words, unsure, tentative — one who would be wise to surrender to the discomfort inherent in learning a skill. With that in mind, here are some questions that the last couple of lessons have raised — not questions to which I have found an answer.

How can I remember to lead with the top of my head while preparing to stand up from a seated position without tilting my head forward?

How can I learn to leave my neck alone while I’m on the table? And how, if I manage to relax enough to not interfere with my in and out breaths while on the table, can I still be attentive?

How can I walk in a manner not reminiscent of Frankenstein’s Monster, as immortalized by Boris Karloff? I fear that, while trying to put a swing in my step, I appear laughably uncoordinated.

What’s with the tightness in my left hip joint when I lift the left knee in the air while standing on my right leg?

Once I manage, during the work on the table, to breathe in a natural and fluid manner, how might I successfully do the same while singing and playing (again, the thought of circus plate-spinners comes to mind)?

How can I apply what I’ve learned to each everyday movement — e.g., texting, typing, conversing with a friend, etc. Do I have enough native kinesthetic intelligence to even do that?

And others.

I write these things in the hope that revealing my lack of certainly will help me to surrender to the learning process — a necessarily disorienting one.

 

Long Term Changes – Notes on My Alexander Technique Lessons

By Everett Goldner

As I go from month to month, sometimes having Alexander lessons with Leland regularly, sometimes more infrequently, I often think about how the minute adjustments add up in the long run. Right now it’s been several weeks since my last session, so I’m not feeling the immediate effects of the work, there are, if I take a few moments to notice, benefits that have stayed with me from the accumulated sessions I’ve had over the past fourteen months.

Where do they manifest? The most obvious spot to me is at the base of my spine, where the back meets the buttocks. Even if I hunch over to do something manual, like writing (like I’m doing right now), I don’t feel hunched the way I would have before Alexander. I can feel a suppleness in that area no matter what angle my body’s at, and if I do feel a bit of a hunch, it’s simple to relax the area and let it expand – and it simply feels good to do that.

This feeling of expansion moves up the back until it does encounter some resistance or friction – around the middle of my spine. In this area, I still tend to feel the “old” discomfort and awkwardness that I felt (pervasively) before I began Alexander. But it’s interesting to see how these two areas – one very comfortable, the other not – co-exist next to each other. It’s as if the way I inhabit my body has been partially changed for good and all by long-term Alexander work.

Like all real change, it’s incremental, sometimes invisible to the eye – but it adds up. This subtlety of change is really quite miraculous to watch from the inside, since we tend not to notice at all those things happening right underneath our own skin.

A Troubadour’s Tension, Demystified: Maybe a New Possibility

By Travis McKeveny

My two lessons with Leland have been a revelation: I now understand better my tension-producing habits as well as what I will have to do — or, to put it more accurately, what I will have to not do — in order to eliminate them (the habits). Beforehand, I had found quite daunting the task of unlearning such counterproductive patterns, but my sense of the possibilities has broadened. The fundamental tool in this dynamic project of demystification? Awareness. An awareness, however, that is unaccompanied by strain — therein lies the rub.

First a preface. As a performing singer-songwriter, I often feel like a plate-spinner in the circus. I am always trying to do a few things at once — sing on key, get the guitar part right, use my body in such a way as to help bring the song across — and as a consequence fear that one of my figurative plates will fly off its stick and shatter on the floor, in full view of the audience. It was this fixation on executing — as opposed to the quality of execution — that produced the effects which led me to contact Leland.

Said effects were undesirable ones: tightness in my neck and shoulders, aching in my hands, difficulty breathing diaphragmatically, general persistent discomfort. I knew that if I did not somehow shift my attention toward the manner in which I was using my body, my potential as a performer and musician would forever be needlessly limited.

Upon meeting Leland, I expressed all these symptoms and concerns. Then our first lesson began. The initial exercise involved getting in and out of a chair — which is to say, examining how I would typically use my body while getting in and out of a chair. As it turned out, I was unnecessarily engaging my shoulders and not ‘taking possession of the floor,’ to borrow Leland’s phrase. These two things were related. With Leland’s guidance (arms around my torso while sitting up and down; hands checking my shoulders and neck), I discovered that I could rotate forward at the hip-joint, aligning the weight of my upper body with my firmly-planted feet; this allowed me to stand up without strain. When I would sit down, Leland told me to forget the chair (and, at other times, he removed it). This is because the Alexander Technique encourages us to reprogram our habits by not ‘end-gaining,’ or focusing on the ultimate result of movement (i.e., being seated in a chair), but rather by being aware of the movement itself — this will permit one not to fall back into unwanted kinesthetic habits. The chair, as Leland said, was ‘incidental’; the process whereby I had up until that point chosen to approach sitting down and standing up, crucial.

We also did some work while I lay on a table, with a couple of books under my head for support. Leland advised me to think of the body as lengthening in all directions, and allowing the back to be ‘quiet’. I had an easier time relaxing when I was not intending to relax but instead observing myself impartially. Allowing the breath to do its work unimpededly was difficult; this owes to, among other things, my many years of singing in a strained and tense manner.

Both my body-use vis-a-vis the chair and my breathing showed improvement during the second lesson. Leland also had me do some walking around the room — this was the most frustrating exercise. The simple act of moving one foot forward while leaving the hips where they were felt unnatural. Patience is a virtue — or maybe it’s the capacity to suspend one’s reflexive self-judgment: repetition of an act without cognizance of how one is acting defeats the purpose of the Alexander Technique, serving only to more deeply ingrain unwanted habits.

Again, working with Leland has shined a light on how I might reverse or modify ways of being. I do, however, have a long-track record of being easily frustrated. I look forward to proving myself equal to the task of choosing another way, not once, but time and again.

Alexander Technique Over Skype: Bringing It All Home

By Omid Bahramzadegan

The Alexander Technique can be both easy and challenging to learn. It is so easy, because you don’t have anything to do. It goes hand in hand with nature, and all natural events are effortless. You might as well change the name to The Art of Resisting the Temptation of Doing Something [Yes!, from Leland]. However, it requires you to unlearn all you have learned through decades of your life. So it can be quite challenging. You can’t dispose of the habits which have rooted in your subconscious overnight [Here, the editor, Leland, disagrees. People break habits of a lifetime in a moment, all it takes is becomming aware of the habit so that you can decide if you want to break it]. And that’s why Alexander teachers always say that it’s a process, not a quick fix. Once again, it can be a piece of cake, because all it takes is to be open to noticing what you are doing, and maybe choosing not to respond to a stimulus so that you can think before you act in a habitual way. But doing so might be hard at times since we’re living in a world of stress and distractions. We can come to this conclusion that it has its ups and downs like the life itself.

 It has come to my attention that the words you hear while learning the Alexander Technique, are carefully and wisely chosen, and they deserve your utmost and undivided attention. Just before this session, Leland commented on my post. In his comment, he put emphasis on the words “allow”, and explained how different it was from the word “try”. This had a tremendous effect on me. It helped me understand I was trying to follow the instructions, instead of giving them permission to take effect.

This lesson, we covered everything, but mostly we worked on walking. Using Michael Jacksons dancing as an example, Leland taught me wonderful things about walking and the freedom of the swinging leg. He also used Tai Chi, which I’m slightly familiar with, and showed me how to shift my weight. In Tai Chi, you fully balance yourself on one foot, then you plant the free one in the direction you want to push, and you shift your weight to the other leg. This shift utilizes the laws of physics, and since the whole body moves smoothly toward a direction, it produces a lot of force, using minimum effort. It felt so good that immediately after the session I started practicing on my own. The next day I was walking and using things I had learned, when suddenly, I realized how stiff my neck and spine had become. It was an important lesson for me that whenever we focus on one part of the body individually, we might stiffen the rest. Perhaps the neck is the most important and we should never ignore it? In other words, it is like trying to do something.

In Alexander, the main habit seems to be “pulling down”. It is excess tension and we do it all the time, and more when doing things or responding to a stimulus. I tried to have a clear picture of pulling down, which I’m going to share with you. Imagine someone fires a gun behind you. Your response is pulling down. It’s a natural reaction of protecting yourself. So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say a stimulus is a kind of pressure. But it’s interesting that even though you’re completely aware of what you’re doing wrong, and despite knowing the solution well, sometimes nothing changes. For instance, I was sitting today and notice that I was pulling down. I used everything I had learned, but nothing worked. Remembering Leland’s words, I started discovering and realized that fear of having a bad posture was preventing my body to respond to the given directions. I had a strong desire to look good in that moment, and couldn’t stop trying. As soon as realizing this, utilizing the Alexander Technique became possible. Maybe we sometimes assume that nothing changes by thinking, but we’re wrong. The body responds, whether we notice or not.

At the end of the lesson, Leland said that he had taught me as much as he could over Skype. I had planned to study the Alexander Technique for at least a year, and this came to me as a shock. I believe there’s still a lot more to learn about this fantastic knowledge with such a wonderful teacher. It was a great feeling to know that by the end of the week, I could have Leland teach me more and check me up for any wrong doings. We decided I would work on my own with Leland’s book, The Secret to Using Your Body, and then have another book once I had finished. But my gratefulness was at its height today, while I was walking home and feeling so light, free, and happy. My only regret is not being capable of convincing my friends to study the Alexander Technique. It’s a pity since they don’t know what they’re missing.

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