Exploding Aubergines and Teaching the Alexander Technique (Hands-on work and a synesthetic mind!)
By deliarosenboom, Oct 5 2018 04:28PM
Since I can remember, I have always experienced the letter D as being red, L as white, S yellow, G a dark green… Similarly the number 2 has always been blue, 4 is purple, 7 is black… In fact all numbers and letters have an 'inherent' colour and this is just how it is for me...
And it does not stop there...Baroque music appears in friendly, happy tones of intermingling browns, reds and orange, with dancing sparkly transparent flexs on top, especially if a recorder is playing… Whilst I frequently experience more modern music as an overwhelm of clashing colours, textures and shapes that do not seem to belong to each other. This can scramble my brain, sending me into a chaotic jangle of unprocessed inner disharmony, leaving me feeling exhausted or 'out of sorts'....
I had always assumed that this is how it must be for everyone, and so I was confused and frustrated, when as a child, an educational psychologist got wind of the fact that, for me, numbers always had colours, and thinking that I was making this up as some sort of childlike prank, he decided to test me on these correlations at regular intervals. However, much to his frustration and my tribulation, he did not manage to catch me out, as I was, of course, not making these colours up – numbers and letters simply had their own colours, which always stayed the same - and this was simply how it was… And how it still is years on!
As an adult, some years ago, I discovered that this is not how it is for everyone, and learnt that I have a condition called synaesthesia, which is not uncommon but likewise not commonly known about. It involves the different sense modalities of the brain and whereas ordinarily they separate out as part of our development, enabling a person to simply hear or see or smell in one mode, in the synesthetic mind the sense modalities overlap, so that seeing something may evoke different smells or hearing something may evoke different textures or colours… This can create a rich and valuable creative backdrop within oneself, but can also be somewhat overwhelming and make the processing of experiences extremely slow, requiring far more time than for the "un-synesthetic person". Interestingly many artists and composers have synaesthesia.
And what does this have to do with teaching the Alexander Technique?
Over the past 30 years of teaching I have come to discover that this synesthetic 'abnormality' can be a great gift, as it allows me into a whole other sensory dimension when I put my hands on a pupil. What I do not know, hence writing this article now, is how much of what I 'hear' with my hands is due to synaesthesia, and how much is what anyone open to listening with their hands could pick up! And so I will be interested to hear from any Alexander teachers who are also 'hearing' a lot with their hands.
Personally speaking, when I put my hands on a pupil I find my consciousness becomes filled with textures, colours, images, sometimes even smells or sounds, and qualities that somehow describe or illustrate the state of my pupil's emotional/physical/energetic body. Sometimes this is immediate, and sometimes it takes a few moments before I receive this sensory information. I also find that, if the pupil is rather 'closed' energetically and on some level not yet consciously trusting or willing to reveal much of themselves, that the information I receive is more along the lines of 'feeling into a closed door' or an 'impermeable barrier'. If this is the case, I usually find that after 2 or 3 lessons the pupil has unconsciously decided that AT lessons are 'good', that they feel safe, willing to trust me and happy to enter into the whole process of change. And at this point suddenly a whole new depth of sensory information, images etc begins to appear when I put my hands on them... and the lessons take a new level of meaning. As with letters and numbers, this is not something that I can turn on or off, it is something that is simply there to be 'heard' – something that hugely influences the way I work with any given individual – something that enables my Alexander lessons to be unique to each person who comes to me.
At first, I felt very overwhelmed with everything that my hands picked up, and I had no idea how accurate this information was or wasn't. Now however I have come to love and trust what my hands receive, and having spent years cross-referencing what I pick up with what my pupils are experiencing, I have come to understand that however bizarre the images and shapes etc are that I tune into, they always seem to be accurate!
Some years ago, for example, I was working with a pupil on the table and had my hands on the front of her rib cage. I was filled with the sense that this part of her body was like an aubergine that had been baked so long in the oven that it was about to burst! My intuitive sense was that if the 'aubergine was allowed to explode' something positive may follow...however of course I did not know if this would actually be the case or not! And so I simply asked my pupil bring her awareness to her chest and to begin to observe it. I then asked her what her sense was of her chest, and she said something along the lines of it feeling 'very tight and puffed up' and needing some relief from this. I invited her to simply allow the sensation and continue to 'be with her chest'. I was then overwhelmed with the sensation that this baking aubergine was transforming, to become more like a soufflé collapsing as it is taken from the warmth of the oven into the surrounding air! Her chest then began to soften and to drop back into her. Her breathing began to change, and with my hands I could feel her front connecting back into the back of her. As a result of this I was able to more easily work on her shoulders and neck and to help her to allow a greater sense of what we could call length and width…
If I had not been guided by these images, I would most likely have had to rely on simply asking my pupil to lengthen, to widen her shoulders, to drop her chest etc, which may have been fine too. However in the way that this work happened, I felt that the whole process of release was less imposed on my part, and instead came more from her, which I felt led to a more 'complete and organic' release.
On another occasion I had my hands on a pupil’s head and was overwhelmed by the sense that her head was made of grey, heavy iron plates riveted together forming an immovable box. The quality that filled me was 'dead, tired and heavy'. There was no sense of lengthening or widening and it intuitively felt inappropriate to start talking about release or direction in these terms. Unsure what to do with this 'information' I asked the pupil to bring awareness to her head and to let me know what she felt. She then proceeded to tell me that she felt as if she had a migraine coming on and that her head felt as if it were made of metal (!) that it felt painful and restricted and tired (it was interesting that she had omitted to mention this when she arrived and I initially asked her how she was doing!). On this occasion I decided to share with her the images I was receiving, and she was most intrigued that I had picked up images that directly equated to her experience! We then made the experiment of seeing what happened if she invited the heavy metal plates to begin to melt, to soften, to dissolve… and to gradually invite a sense of movement, 'of breath' within her head.
And slowly as we worked I felt her head begin to 'change colour', to become 'alive', to feel expansive rather than restricted… And what had felt immovable began to feel more fluid, as I sensed a river of lighter, sparklier colour begin to flow from her head down through the length of her spine. As this happened she reported that her migraine had disappeared, that she no longer felt tired, and that she felt much more herself. I was then able to move on to work with her arms and legs and to build on this sense that there was now a central flow of energy up, but more importantly down, through the length of her head and spine, creating that all-important length that we Alexander teachers like to look for!
When I first graduated as an Alexander teacher, I felt too inexperienced to really understand what I did or didn't feel my hands. I was also somewhat daunted by the general Alexander belief that we 'should not feel', as feelings cannot be trusted, and similarly that we should not work with images but rather should use Alexander's words for giving directions in order to lengthen and widen. I considered that I had had a thorough training, and was well versed in Alexander's principles and directions, but however hard I tried it did not sit well with me to not feel and to not express Alexander's principles with my own unique creativity.
However, in the name of being a good 'Alexander teaching descendant', I did experiment with trying to limit my teaching, as well as my work on myself, to pure words and sentences ('Let the neck be free so that the head can go forwards and up…' 'Say No to the thought of...'). However six months or so into this experiment, an experienced teacher commented that I was becoming 'rather stiff and dead in my body'! And so, devastated by this feedback, I decided to allow what felt inherently right for me and to begin to free my neck and allow lengthening and widening to happen with the use of colours and images and whatever intuitively felt right. And I'm pleased to say that the work again became alive for me! I feel there are so many ways of staying true to principal, staying true to Alexander's discoveries whilst also understanding, experiencing, and expressing his work in one's own unique way.
And thankfully this permissive approach, guided strongly by my synesthetic sensing, seems to have worked, as I have never been without pupils, and have always earned a living teaching the Alexander Technique!
Now, as an AT training course director, I am exploring ways to teach my trainees about Alexander's principles and discoveries whilst also striving to allow each student to find their own unique expression of these. Whether my trainees are synesthetic or not, I actively work to encourage and develop the 'listening and tuning in qualities' of our hands, and to explore and experiment with intuition and insight. This comes hand in hand with a thorough understanding of what is happening mechanically and anatomically, as well as emotionally and energetically.... so that the whole psycho – physical nature of our being is addressed throughout this life-enhancing training.
I remain intrigued and excited to continue uncovering how much we can feel with our hands if we listen… and how much can be 'heard' or received in terms of sensory information, be it through bizarre synesthetic images or simply an intuitive sense of what may be present within a pupil. I invite anyone who feels drawn to work with images or intuition to take the plunge and experiment, as this so often opens up a rich and vibrant tapestry of previously un-tapped into potential and fulfilling teaching!
Great blog. You should submit to AT publications as a potential article b
I’d be happy to do some minor editing of a proofreading kind !
MAny thanks for the offer!