יום רביעי, 8 בפברואר 2012

יום שלישי, 7 בפברואר 2012

Maoz discovers simple human touch through the Alexander Technique

Maoz came to me at age five.  On asking his mother what the problem was, she answered immediately, ‘The child doesn’t allow anyone to touch him, not the caregivers, not the nursery school teacher, not his friends in the nursery school, not his grandmother, even me, his mother – he won’t let me touch him.
Maoz’s birth had been normal, but one of his heels was twisted.  At the age of two weeks, his leg was put into a cast and he began to receive physical therapy.  The treatments were painful, causing such crying that his mother decided to stop them and do the exercises herself at home.  When she saw that she also caused pain and suffering to herself and her child, she stopped the treatments completely.
This process lasted about a year.  During that time Maoz developed an opposition to every kind of physical contact.  When he was three he was treated by a psychologist for a year with no change for the better.
Later I sat quietly by myself gathering up my impressions as I had listened to the story.  I listened to what was taking place within me and allowed some hidden internal system to organize itself for the meeting with Maoz.  I made no judgments or decisions about what to do but something inside me prepared for the meeting.
When Maoz and his mother arrived for his first meeting, I invited them to my workroom to choose a game for themselves.  They sat on the floor and began to play.  I finished up a meeting with another child and then went to a different room in order to give the boy and his mother time to accustom themselves to the surroundings.  Through a small window between the rooms I could watch them without disturbing.  Maoz was clearly much slumped over and physically weak.  After several minutes, noticing that the boy felt more at ease, I asked him to come with his mother to play near the table.  As they were playing, I placed my hand on his back and began giving directions, that is to say, began to awaken his slumped back so it would lengthen upwards.  Maoz received my work with a surprising naturalness and cooperated at once with the change taking place within his back.  His mother was stunned.
At the second meeting I also invited Maoz and his mother to choose a game.  Again I gave them time to get organized but I remained in the room.  When they felt comfortable, I joined them quietly.  I became a background to Maoz’s movements, supporting him with my hands in all that he did.  This subtle support is possible because of our knowledge that the relation between neck, head and back dictates the quality of the movement in the entire body.  So I directed the correct relations in his body and aroused the same inner movement in his back.  This was done without words and without direct intervention in his game.  At the end of the meeting, when I left the room, Maoz jumped happily onto his mother and played with her with a gaiety that, his mother said, she had never before seen.
At the third meeting Maoz’s mother read a story and Maoz listened while I worked with him.  After several minutes I felt that he was tiring.  In the two previous meetings he had not agreed that I work on him on my worktable.  I suspected this was from lack of trust and fear of painful treatment.  So I suggested that he only lie on the carpet on the floor and rest.  ‘I won’t touch you,’ I assured him.  His mother suggested that she lie beside him and continue to read to him.  They arranged themselves.  Then I, having asked for and received Maoz’s permission, approached them and directed him gently.  After a few minutes I suggested that they could get up but Maoz wanted to continue lying there.  An atmosphere of tranquility and intimacy between mother and son spread in the room, seeming to me a miracle that was occurring for the first time in their lives.  Later, the mother confirmed this feeling of mine.  During the three meetings, I had not explained anything nor directed Maoz with words.
At the fourth meeting Maoz’s mother told me that, following the previous meeting, a need to understand had risen up in Maoz so strongly that he had burst into tears and demanded explanations from his mother.  I decided to begin with a short conversation and explained simply the system of directions.  I told him that if we could wake up this system and direct it within him it would strengthen him and enable him to develop as a strong, healthy, happy boy.  My explanation created a wholeness in Maoz, uniting his experience of free movement and strength with his intellectual understanding.
Succeeding meetings established firmly the pleasant atmosphere.  We felt that we had brought about a relationship of trust and agreement.  In parallel with the lessons, almost unbelievable changes were also seen in Maoz outside the walls of the room.  After the barriers of fear, suspicion and distrust which Maoz had developed toward those around him melted away, he began to hug and kiss his mother spontaneously.  Relations with his friends in the nursery school changed; he started to let them come close to him.  We continued to work together for about a year during which Maoz learned to use himself and his body in a new way.  He learned to direct his movements consciously in accordance with the new understanding the Alexander Technique brought him.  And he discovered the pleasure of movement—the natural, flowing movement of healthy children, happy in body and spirit. He ran, he jumped, he turned somersaults and he played.  He discovered the simple pleasure of touch with his parents, his friends and the people surrounding him.
I believe that when such experiences come to a child, there is no need for further training or exercises of any kind.  The experiences themselves are a source of strength, giving the child the ability to grow strong and develop.
And the mother?
After years when she was unable to express her love for her child naturally and simply with a hug and a caress, after years of loneliness behind walls of fear, suspicion  and guilt, the walls fell and the connection between herself and her son was renewed.  Their love was able to express itself more completely, deeply and directly than ever before, and she was profoundly content.
The children that come to an Alexander Technique teacher often have physical disabilities, emotional sufferings or both.
A child may have physical disabilities not only because he was born so, but also as the result of operations after birth or of painful treatments, intended to make his life better.
Any child who received such treatments, may then be emotionally hurt  because the basic trust that a child gives to the adults surrounding him has been damaged and, with this, his trust in himself and his own abilities.  Often such a child suffers additionally from the criticism of other children and of adults who do not accept him as he is.  The child is apt to feel, that adults, despite all the best of desires and intentions, come to him with demands he cannot endure and force him to submit to pain.
And sometimes the various care-givers do not tell a child that his medical treatment will be painful but attempt to confuse him with games.  As a result even an innocent game can be associated with the danger of pain.  Then every attempt of an adult to play with him arouses suspicion and fears.
With these words I am not intending to criticize the entire field of medical treatments and operations, but only to point out incidences that I know personally.  Maoz was one of them.
But what happened at that instant when I put my hands on Maoz? Why did he allow me to touch him?  Why was he able to surrender his defense mechanisms and open himself?
I believe that Maoz felt I approached him from within my own inner activity which began long before we met and continued as I worked with him.  This activity was the development and activation of my own directions.  The touch of my hand was not the important matter; the importance was the direction of movement that I imparted to him, my own inner movement which invited him to participate.  The sensitivity  that my inner work awake in me made it possible for me to know exactly how much support Maoz needed in order for the same work to take place in him; the very same directions appeared, but these were his own directions, not mine.
My work springs from consciousness of my inner freedom and therefore of Maoz’s freedom, a freedom which makes it possible for him to choose whether or not to participate in the direction which I offer him.  He felt my readiness to accept all his antagonism and every refusal without my ever negating or judging him.  And so he chose to participate.

יום רביעי, 1 בפברואר 2012

Directions for life -an e-book version in English

Dear reader
First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gal Ben-Or, I am 48 years old and I have been working as an Alexander teacher for the last 25 years. (For more details please look "the author").
Though the Alexander technique is a well known and respected technique in the field of alternative medicine for more than 100 years, not enough has been, unfortunately, done in the field of educating and treating young children.
In my practice, and through many years of experience, I have developed a unique approach to working with children. This approach allows a simple implication of the Alexander principles in the lives of children suffering from many different disabilities (such as Hypotonya , learning difficulties, attention deficit , many orthopedic problems like neck pain, back pain ,scoliosis, tendon inflammation , stuttering and breathing problems and more).I have applied my work in the field of education as well, allowing healthy  children to benefit from the Alexander principles  in the preventive sphere and so giving them conscience tools to deal with many of the modern life challenges.

 In my book, "Directions for life" already self- published in Hebrew in Israel, and now available as an E-Book here on this Blog, I am describing many case studies showing the different possibilities of the hidden potential of the Alexander technique as well as the principles themselves and my unique approach. It is written in a simple language and is intended for the wide public and especially for parents as well as for professionals in the fields of education and medicine and Alexander teachers. 

About the author 
Gal Ben-Or- Born in 1963. He is married and the father of three children.
He graduated from the School for Teachers of the Alexander Technique directed by Shmuel Nelkin in Jerusalem.
He was certified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique in 1987.
As a senior teacher of the Alexander Technique, he has developed a unique approach to teaching children, adolescents and parents, according to the principles of the Alexander Technique.
1998-2002 – founder and director of the Mishal Association, established in April 1998 by the parents of children who had been helped by the Alexander Technique
2001-2006 – member of the team of professional care-givers at a boarding school for youth at risk.
He has taught the Alexander Technique at the ’Y’dida’ home for adults with light to medium retardations, at the ‘Hatana’ Special Education school in Jerusalem, at ‘Alyn’ hospital , in the Jerusalem Municipal kindergarten ‘Hasataf' and   at the ‘Kesem’ school.
2004-2006 –Chairman, Association of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, Israel
2008 –Chairman, Council of Alternative Health Professions, in Israel.
2011- Published his book "Directions for life" in Israel
Present:   director of a course certifying teachers of the Alexander Technique. Riding instructor at ‘Nataf’ Farm.  Maintains private clinics in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, working with adults and children. Gives lectures and workshops on the Alexander Technique and his work.

The perfect girl

The perfect girl 

There was a faint knock on the door of my workroom.  Opening the door, I found a young woman standing before me.  Behind her on the stairs leading down to my room stood a young girl, leaning on crutches. She stood there, just organizing herself to descend the stairs, her hair dark and smooth, her eyes dark and large behind glasses, and a smile.  I could continue a long while, describing that smile, but it is enough to say that it was a smile reserved for young noble  girls whenever they are caught for an instant unprepared, as if  at that instant their slightly awkward, down-to-earth nature is revealed .

I smiled back at her without saying a word.  At that same moment it was clear to both of us that she was the center of matters and that the connection between us would be direct, simple, and open. No intervention of the mother would be needed as is normal when young children come to me for the first time.

Haddass handed her crutches to her mother, and, leaning on the banister, jumped down the stairs on one leg. At the bottom, she took back the crutches and proceeded on her own steam to my workroom. If I had had a thought of helping her, it vanished immediately when I saw how she managed.  Despite the slight awkwardness of using crutches, she held firmly to her nobility and I had no intention of taking that from her.

Haddass was seven years old. She had suffered for the last year from recurrent inflammations of the Achilles tendon of her right ankle.  The remission between her first and second attacks had been four months long, but subsequently the time between attacks had shortened and their severity increased.

In my workroom Haddass sat down heavily on the chair in the center of the room. She asked if she should take off her shoes so that I could examine her.  She had had, undoubtedly, much experience with examinations. I checked the leg superficially, asked a few questions about the pain and its position, but noted to myself that it was not by focusing on the ‘problem’ that I would find the solution.

I stopped the conversation by suggesting to Haddass, ‘Come. Let’s leave the leg for a while .  Here are some games on the table.  Which one would you like to play?’ She accepted the idea happily and chose a game in which the players had to build a tower of plastic clowns. One clown is the base and the others are placed on it, one above the other. Not only is the game interesting and amusing, it also reveals several traits of the child’s character, for example, his daring and readiness to take risks, and tests his hand and eye coordination. Before we began, I explained to Haddass that, while she was playing, I would direct her with my hands, if she did not object to this. She agreed with ease and naturalness. Her mother had told me that she had no special problems in her studies. She loved activity and sport and often played outside.

The main purpose of my directing was to guide Haddass’s movements so that they would flow without unnecessary tension and effort. I also examined the quality of her movements. I received the impression of a strong and stable back. She sat beside me, upright, smiling and happy.  She played excellently, controlled the clowns easily, and interacted with me freely.

Nevertheless she had severe tendonitis.  I judged that something in the way she used herself was causing the inflammations but as this stage I was groping in the dark.

After the game, I asked Haddass to lie down on my worktable.  She jumped to the table about two meters away and lay down on her back. I stood behind her head and gently placed my hands under her head, near the joint between head and neck. Within a few seconds, a subtle, quiet movement began, invisible to the eye but extending down to her heels and the tips of her toes.  I understood that I had grasped the thread leading to the solution of Haddass’s problem.  She, herself, because of her strong desire to excel and the effort she invested in being perfect, had caused the interior flow, the movement of life in her body, to stop. Her muscles had hardened in the effort to be ‘o.k.’, to be ‘right’, to be a ‘good girl.’

After a minute or two during which Haddass rested, I started working on her right leg.  As I did this, I began explaining what I was doing. Immediately her nose crinkled up in the attempt to understand my words and to show me that she was listening. I told her simply, ‘There’s no need to work so hard to understand.  You can just lay there, rest and do nothing.  You don’t have to understand; you don’t have to react.  And there’s no need at all to remember what I say.  Actually, it’s better for you simply to rest.’  She smiled in relief and, as I worked, life began once more to flow through her body.

After a few minutes I took her off the bed and told her not to try to do alone what she had learned with me.  It would even be better to forget everything and to continue as normal—certainly, there was no homework.

All this time her mother sat and watched.  Not once had she intervened. She simply sat and watched, permitting the impressions to reach her consciousness.  Now I was free to speak also with her.  Haddass found a puzzle and occupied herself. 

I explained to the mother the way I worked, explained the principles of the Alexander technique and answered her many questions. We parted and agreed that, if she decided to continue treatment, she should call and arrange an appointment.

יום שבת, 28 בינואר 2012

Response to Gal Ben-Or's Hagit and Maor by psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst Sarah Kandel Katzenelson, MD

It is with pleasure I respond, as a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst in training to the two lovely case studies Gal has brought us. Gal's helping profession is in movement, the body itself, where the primary unconscious processes are the dominant ones.  I did my first bout of Alexander Technique when 16, not a child but not an adult yet, and since then have worked with the Technique as a student for various but long periods of time.   I still carry in my mind the comment from an observer about how fast my basic posture changed during that first series, although (or perhaps because?) then I never understood anything about the Technique.  As an adult my unconscious processes are both more protected from conscious intervention, and more deeply ingrained – after a new “letting go” my unconscious holding of the body snaps back quickly into “the correct place”. I am convinced my conscious use of direction, while helpful, does not compensate for the greater accessibility of childhood.  These cases bring us a large measure of hope in helping children like Maor and Hagit, and illustrate some common basic principles of the helping professions. 

Among Gal's explanation of his use of the Technique are precise descriptions of the absolutely necessary and basic elements of psychic help.  He writes: I must stress that I do not work with the intention to achieve direct results, but with a clear view of the conditions which make it possible to reach results, a view that is centered on processes and not on results.  This basic principle is keeping the principles in mind, or in a psychic sense -keeping the primary direction in mind. It is all too easy to lose it under the details of living and working.  The second basic principle underlying the help is  a firm trust of the therapist in  a inherent drive toward health and maturation - in Alexander Technique it would appear to be “the primary control or direction” whose free expression is lost as part of the reaction to the external world.  The third principle  is the acceptance and the interest in the child as he is, not in his problem.     The trust must enable the child to feel that he will continue to be o.k. in the eyes of the adult who is working with him, that is to say, that he will continue to be loved and accepted as he was before he agreed to write in the new way, even should he fail” (My emphasis) .  Implicated in this sentence is the understanding that the child must feel loved and accepted as he is, and not feel that in the eyes of the adult working with him, he is a problem to be fixed.  When a patient or child feels this, he can trust that the basic intentions of the helper are for his personal good, and not for the good of a principle or person other than himself.  This is stated again in the story of Maor, a heart wrenching story.  The situation of children exposed to medical care from very early on is well known to pediatricians.  The “White Coat Phobia”, was sufficiently common for pediatricians to have stopped wearing white coats as a matter as course. Maor took the phobia one step more, becoming phobic to all touch thereby cutting himself off from the holding he needed to grow happily. 

  Having said “holding” I will continue and say that Gal's case work brings very clearly to mind Winnicott's work, most especially the concept of the  non- impinging environment.  In this environment the child is free to develop in line with his inner potential without reacting overly to the environment.  Gal  tells us how gently, with no hurrying at all, attentive to the mother's and child's pace,  “when they seemed comfortable”   he started his work. This waiting for the time to intervene when it is appropriate for the child is crucial – this is the non-impinging intervention (fourth principle).   This way the child can accept the touch of the other as something that need not be defended against automatically but may be perceived neutrally, and may perhaps accepted, perhaps not, allowing the child freedom. Thus Maor could accept Gal's touch, and give himself the experience that not all touch is painful. 
With hopes that all of us experience touch without pain, I thank Gal Ben-Or and Paul Cook   for inviting me to contribute to this fascinating exploration of clinical work.
                                                    Sarah Kandel Katzenelson, MD

יום שני, 16 בינואר 2012

On The Alexander Technique

On the Alexander Technique

 ‘The Alexander Technique is the study of how I use myself, my body.  It is not a form of exercise or healing. … I am both the instrument and the one who uses it.  I am an instrument that can develop and rehabilitate itself but can also harm and destroy itself.  If so, I am responsible for myself.… Alexander discovered that within the totality that is myself there are things that come first and things that come later and that everything begins with the head.’
So wrote Shmuel Nelkin, my teacher, among the first of the teachers of the Alexander Technique in Israel. (1996, 9)

Frederick Matthias Alexander (1955-1869), discoverer of the Alexander Technique, was born in Australia where he became a Shakespearian actor.  In the course of time he developed hoarseness while speaking and could no longer appear on the stage. He used a variety of techniques to cure himself but to no effect: the hoarseness returned as soon as he started to speak before an audience.  Alexander felt that his own behavior was the source of the problem so he began to do research into the special way he spoke while acting.  The central question he asked himself was, ‘What do I do that causes me to be hoarse?’  After years of research, of experiments, of mistakes and of new beginnings Alexander discovered several ‘laws of action’ governing the body and proved that that if he activated his body according to these laws, his situation improved: the hoarseness disappeared, his body functioned more efficiently, even his spirits became pleasanter, and a new quality animated his life.
        The Alexander Technique is an educational method whose principal aim is to improve the way a person uses himself.  It teaches one to make more correct use of his body and himself and, thereby, to improve his daily functioning.  All of us are exposed in the course of a day to pressures and requirements.  Great tensions accumulate within us; the body is worn down and functional problems appear, such as, back and joint pains, headaches, and breathing difficulties and more.  The Alexander Technique teaches us how to consciously manage ourselves in order to prevent the harm we do to ourselves.
For children the technique helps them learn correct movement and better habits for a healthy life.  The technique includes also an aspect of rehabilitation and reeducation – children as well as adults suffer from bad coordination, orthopedic problems, attention deficit, hyperactivity, breathing problems, stuttering and more.  The Technique also aids pregnant women and women after birth.  Because the Technique provides the foundation for a healthy life of improved quality, there may be an overlap between Alexander education and medication or medical treatments.  This overlap causes the treatment aspect of the Alexander technique.  
On the basis of experience which has accumulated during more than 100 years, it has been proven without doubt that the Alexander Technique improves health, posture and the workings of our internal systems.  It helps to dissolve unnecessary tensions, to lessen aggression, increase learning ability and attention, and to improve the quality of life.  All of these help to increase self-confidence as well as the readiness and ability to set challenges for oneself and to stand up to them.