Conversations – Constance Clare Newman

Constance Clare-Newman, Alexander Technique teacher

Jen: What is your most current definition of the Alexander Technique?

Constance: How I define the Alexander Technique for myself is a practice for undoing habit and becoming more balanced in whole self. A practice for better coordination of the mind-body self, with emphasis on efficiency and ease. That’s for today. It changes all the time.

It depends, too, if I’m talking to beginner student or someone who’s been practicing the Technique for years. How we talk about sensing, noticing, awareness, and how we perceive of core and gravity, depends on where we are with our experience of our bodies. Mind-body noticings and our ability to be aware is based on a continuum of experience. Where I am now is not where I was five years ago. Being aware of this continuum is important as a teacher. As you work with principles like gravity and direction and opposition, as I said, it is important to be aware of where a beginner may be at with regards to sensing and noticing vs. someone who’s been taking lessons for twenty years.

I am influenced by all of my teachers, Alexander and otherwise. My practice and my teaching reflect not just the principles of the Technique but of my teachers and mentors as well. In this way, we are similar. What you learn has an effect on you. How can it not?

Jen: Indeed. How does the Technique use gravity? Talk about gravity.

Constance: Gravity is a set of reflexes that thrust us back up. With gravity we can have a sense of opposition. The more down we feel, the more our gravity reflexes are sending us back up.

To balance the up direction “the head going forward and up “we need to also be able to feel the feet going down. As much as we sense length, we also need to be aware of width, and depth, and softening. A certain degree of un-doing must be felt in order to feel gravity and the support of the floor.

Everyone can sense opposition. At first, it may be easier to feel and access the up direction of the spine than the down of the spine. But both the up and down of the spine, which can narrow us if over done, must be balanced with the front and back relationships which allow us to feel width.

Most of us need to learn how to soften from contraction. Learning to feel into expansion that gets created from the softening is usually important at first to the new Alexander student. Then we can introduce the idea of doing and non-doing, or un-doing. Un-doing and opposition go together.

How can we feel gravity working for us? It is gravity that creates the up: We must go down to go up.Through playing with softening, expanding, and un-doing, we can find gravity. When we can sense gravity and opposition then we can begin playing with levels of effort. What is just enough? What is just enough tone? When are we trying too hard? How can we feel that gravity is working without our having to fall? How can we feel the whole of us “supported “by gravity? Can we, for example, feel the texture in the air? With gravity, we want our tissues to respond in a lively way to whatever we need to be doing in that moment.

Jen: Yes, a teacher of mine, Cara Reeser,  talks about feeling the texture of the air by picturing all these little smiley-face bubbles all over the place so that when you move your arm, for example, you can feel your arm actually moving the smiley face molecules. I love that!

Jen: It’s hard to truly fathom genuine integration, isn’t it?

Constance: I try to start with how we balance out the forces of opposition? Contraction/expansion, lengthening/widening, down/up, front/back.The whole use of the self, and our state of being “how can these two things integrate? For example, if we are in a state of rushing “how does rushing effect us physically? Instead, what does it feel like, physically, to be in a state of enjoying? Which is different than being in a state of serenity or presence. These are questions I currently ask myself with regards to my own mind-body integration. We are not separate.

Jen: What is Core to you?

Constance: Core is what in the Alexander Technique we call our Primary Control. It is the relationship of the head, neck, and back. The head leads “and spine follows. The limbs are secondary to the Primary Control.

Core is also along the front of the spine. It relates to, and incorporates, our central axis. It is the spiral upwards and downwards from the spine that goes out to the rest of the body. Core is somewhere in the center of our bodies. It’s deep. Again, I think of it is as being along the front of the spine. It is energetic. But many Alexander teachers wouldn’t talk about core.

Jen: I am thinking more and more about working Core-to-Core with clients and it’s something we’ve talked about in our lessons. Can you talk about your perspective on this subject?

Constance: Working Core-to-Core is about the hands on relationship between student and teacher. Coming from your Core involves being in, and coming from, your whole organism. It is a self-to-self connection and involves psyche, emotion, self, touch. It is cellular, involves voice, gesture “everything. It is how we connect to one another. The mind and the body are not two separate things “both are equally involved in relating to each other, to ourselves, and to the world around us. Both are involved when we are truly having a Core-to-Core experience with our students.

Jen: Are we making people wrong in the way we subconsciously use language?

Constance: Meeting people where they are at and seeing them in their potential is of utmost importance. We should not be focusing on the minutia and the labels but rather what is their best potential self.

February 2011