“What’s the matter, Luke?” asks the hostess at the end of the meal. “You haven’t said anything inappropriate all meal? We even have two single women here.”
I am at Shabbos lunch with friends. I’ve known them for about a decade but haven’t been to their home in a year.
I’m usually the king of inappropriate and have ruined many a festive gathering. I tend to get over-stimulated by the presence of attractive single women and start asking all sorts of personal questions.
“Two years of Alexander Technique,” I say today. “I used to be easily triggered. I was stuck in startle response and when I’d get a stimuli, I’d go into fight or flight. My habitual reactions didn’t serve me well. I could shut up with great effort or I could interact from a disturbed place. Those were my choices. Because my head-neck relationship was disturbed, my whole self was disturbed. Now I’ve found freedom and poise.”
When I was a kid, people said I looked like a Holocaust survivor. I was that depressed.
I’ve been a bit off since then in the way I relate to myself and to others.
Even after years of therapy, I was still making inappropriate remarks on a regular basis.
Even after decades of God and Torah, I was still a shmuck.
I was locked and loaded in my body, just a gun waiting to go off.
People these days ask me if I’m tranquil because I’m more religious or because of the beard and the responsibility of representing Judaism to the world or is it the psycho-therapy or am I just getting older, perhaps I’m maturing at long last? Well, maybe all these helped, but the main thing that has changed me (and taken most of my money!) the past two years has been Alexander Technique.
I’ve learned to let go of the some of the unhelpful ways I’ve traditionally responded to life. I’m not stuck in a 24/7 pattern of fight or flight. I’m not compressing myself as much, not shoving all my organs and frustrations together in a downward cycle of needless tension and reduced functioning. Because I am more competent and graceful with the tasks of daily life, I’m not as angry with myself and with others. I’m not as frustrated with my body and with my life and I’m not as needy for cheap thrills and instant releases.
I feel more tranquil these days. I had many opportunities to feel ill at ease over Rosh Hashanah, but I kept telling myself to allow my neck to be free so my head could release forward and up, so I could let go of my tendency to hunch my shoulders and to instead think them out wide to the sides and to think of my back lengthening and widening while I considered my arms emerging from my back and their length down to my elbows and from there to my hands and then to my fingers, letting them uncurl out of my formerly locked fists.
Because I am more at ease with myself, I pick fewer fights and don’t need my fists as much.
I’m OK with myself. I’m OK with the way I walk and talk, sit and stand, blog and blunder. I no longer compress myself as much when I feel awkward and hence my feelings of dis-ease are reduced. I rarely stiffen my neck these days and thereby cramp my entire body (there are more joints in your neck than any other part of your body, hence if you tighten there, you will wrap your body in an ever-tightening straight-jacket of bad habits).
I’ve learned to let go of the layers of unnecessary tension that cramped me for decades. I have a little more length and width these days, and with it more freedom and poise, peace and joy.
“Would you like me to thank my Alexander Technique teachers for you?” I asked today. “Am I easier to host?”
“Yes!” responded the table in one giant chorus.
I think I was about nine years old when my father started telling me to sit up straight. I must’ve been slumping pretty badly.
I think the problem began at age eight when I entered school (second grade) and fell in love with books. I’d slump over a book much of the day.
“Other people won’t bother to tell you this,” my father would say over the next decade, “but you need to stand up straight.”
I’d try to stand up straight, sit up straight, but this effort never lasted long nor made any permanent change in the way I used myself.
I also had voice trouble in my childhood. My father is an accomplished public speaker but he could never communicate to me how he could effortlessly project to an entire room.
I had my first intimation of voice trouble in third grade when the teacher had me stay after class so she could work with me on finding the tune. After a few days, she gave up and told me to simply mime during the school concert.
When I announced high school basketball games, the coach called me the “Squeakin’ Deacon” because my voice would rise so high that only dogs could hear it.
I got my first Alexander-type insight from my brother’s girlfriend in 1985. One afternoon I was standing in the living room watching the news and pumping buckets of bricks to make myself stronger and more impressive to women.
She came in the room and said, “With every lift, you’re making your posture worse.”
I ignored her and kept working out but I never forgot her comments. It wasn’t until I started taking Alexander lessons in 2008 that I finally understood them.
I worked in radio news during and after high school, but the more I struggled with my voice, the worse it got, and I eventually quit to concentrate on college in September of 1987.
Here’s my story.
On May 27, 2008, the day before my 42nd birthday, I bought two books from Amazon.com — one for my refinance blog (Mortgage Ripoffs and Money Savers: An Industry Insider Explains How to Save Thousands on Your Mortgage or Re-Finance by Carolyn Warren) and one for me (Rules of the Game) by Neil Strauss, author of the best-seller The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.
I’m pretty sure I read Rules first. It was actually two little books, The Stylelife Challenge: Master the Game in 30 Days and The Style Diaries: The Pickup Artist’s Companion.
On page 28 of The Stylelife Challenge, Neil Strauss writes: “Because posture is key not just to your confidence and appearance but also to your health, I’ve prepared an extra-credit video tutorial for you online at www.stylelife.com/challenge. It provides the basics on Alexander Technique, a school of movement that improves not just the way you stand, walk, and sit but also the way you speak and feel about yourself.”
You need to understand my position at this time. The best word to describe it would be “desperate.”
When I’m desperate, I’m ready to change. I understand that the way I’m doing things is not working and that I must go in a new direction. I have to take action. Even if the action I take is wrong, it’s better than doing nothing because I will learn from the experience and move closer to my destiny.
I was feeling desperate when I first stumbled across Dennis Prager on the radio. Sick as a dog, I was lying in the bushes beside a softball field at UCLA in August of 1988. I’d come down to Los Angeles a month before the dorms opened up so I could visit a doctor in Santa Ana who might help me with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
While I didn’t get much help with my CFS for years, I found a moral compass in Dennis Prager and have listened to his radio show devotedly ever since.
It was out of my sense of desperation that I converted to Judaism (initially in 1993 through a Reform rabbi and then again through an Orthodox Beit Din in 2009). I don’t think many people become Orthodox Jews without first having the conviction that their life is broken and that Orthodox Judaism will fix them.
Despite my conversion to Judaism, I still felt that my life was desperately broken. In 1994, when I was asking about an acting teacher, I told this woman that I wanted a teacher who would change my life.
“David Payne will change your life,” she said and she was right. He became my teacher and my friend.
In 1998, still convinced I was broken, I entered psycho-therapy (for the first time in four years).
In 1999, still convinced I was broken, I spent $2,000 for a three-hour consultation with a homeopathic doctor and saw her regularly at $175 a visit for the next few years, eventually giving up in 2004.
After a couple of months of such abstinence, I was in credit card debt and unable to find a legitimate income online.
By May of 2008, I was pretty desperate about my life. I’d entered an Orthodox conversion program but despaired about graduating from it. I was in trouble with my shul and with my rabbi because of my blogging (from which I got most of my sense of self). I was looking for help. A year before, I’d read Neil Strauss’s book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists and been impressed with his insights into how life works.
When I read Neil’s two sentences on the Alexander Technique, I was immediately intrigued and ordered in some books and videos from the library, hoping I could teach the Technique to myself.
Why was I so interested in the Technique from just those two sentences? Well, I was desperate to be more successful with women and I thought that if I was more poised, I’d be more impressive. That was my primary motivation.
Secondarily, I knew I’d always had bad posture and poor health and that I tended to lose my voice when talking much, so the Technique sounded like it could help with these problems.
After a few weeks of Googling the Technique, reading books and watching videos, I decided I needed an Alexander teacher.
About this same time, I got a $10,000 credit card offer from Bank of America which said I would not need to pay any interest on it for a year.
I was then about $8,000 in credit card debt and had almost nothing in the bank and little coming in.
The first three women I emailed for lessons did not respond that same day, so I looked at various Alexander teacher websites and decided that Julia Caulder looked good.
I called her number and she picked up the phone. She asked me what brought me to the Technique. I said Neil Strauss.
She said she had been Neil’s teacher. He thanks her in the introduction to his book The Game.
I then realized that she did the video on Alexander Technique for Neil’s website (www.stylelife.com/challenge).
I was impressed by my five-minute conversation with Julia. She asked me good questions. I thought they were a good way to weed out the weirdos.
“Obviously didn’t work with you,” said my current teacher the other day.
I went to my first lesson on Friday, August 1, 2008. I told Julia not to waste my time with F.M. Alexander’s story. I wanted to get to work.
She sat me on a stool and she started running her hand over my back. I felt myself relaxing.
She had me stand up.
“What do you notice?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “What do you notice?”
“Well,” she said, “I see you throwing yourself forward when you get out of the chair.” And she demonstrated what I was doing.
I recognized that she was correct.
She taught me that instead of throwing myself forward to get out of a chair, I should instead think my directions of a free neck and the head releasing forward and up and I should unfold off the stool.
After ten minutes of this chair work, she had me lie down on a table with my head supported by an inch-and-a-quarter of books. Then she stood behind me and held my head. I felt myself relaxing and unclenching.
Then she sent her hands under my arms and between my shoulders and released all the tension I held there.
I immediately felt great. All my unnecessary compression was gone.
This is the moment that sold me on the Technique. In a few seconds, all my holding seemed to disappear from my back and I felt amazing.
The lesson ended after about 45-minutes. I walked to my car trying to remember my directions.
At the beginning of my second lesson with Julia, she asked me if I’d had any Alexander moments (moments when I noticed my use of myself).
I said no. It was an awkward question for me to handle. I guess I learned early in my life to disconnect from my body.
I’ve now had almost three years of Alexander Technique training and I still have trouble with the fundamental Alexander question, “What do you notice?”
Over the next three months in 2008, I had lessons from Julia about twice a week.
I learned later that she was surprised I kept coming back. Julia didn’t feel like she was getting through to me. I never had any Alexander moments of insight into my use and I hated the question, “What do you notice?”
Despite this, I was loving the Technique from lesson one. I did the active rest assignment every day. I planned to get about 30 lessons.
After a dozen lessons, I came in and told Julia that the Technique was changing my life. That I wanted to buy lessons for my friends.
Julia started giving me literature about Alexander Technique workshops and classes. They did not interest me. I had no money. I was just going to get in my requisite lessons and move on.
Then Julia suggested that I might like to train to become a teacher. It was a three-year program.
A light bulb went off in my head. Yes! This would be the way to earn a living. It would be healthy and healing. I needed to send my life in not just a new direction, but in the opposite direction of my current heading. This misanthrope was going to become a healer and by so doing would heal himself.
“How much homework is there?” I asked Julia.
“There’s no homework,” she said, “except to work on your use of yourself.”
In 2009, a few months into my Alexander teacher training, my psycho-therapist said to me, “Do you think you pursue Alexander Technique, Kundalini Yoga and Orthodox Judaism as ways to fend off your underlying depression?”
I was stunned for a minute and then admitted that she was right.
Alexander Technique hasn’t cured my depression. It’s just given it a more tranquil quality.
On Dec. 9, 2011, I finished my three year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles.
I launched my private practice at Alexander90210.com.
In June 2012, a friend told me that he noticed in my old interviews, videos and photos, prior to the Alexander Technique, I rarely smiled or looked happy.