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"Importantly, not only performance, but the whole learning process seems
to be affected by what the learner focuses on while practicing a skill (for a comprehensive review,
see Wulf 2007). That is, how fast a skill is learned, how well it is retained, is largely determined
by the individual's focus of attention that is induced by the instructions or feedback given him or
her. The present article reviews the findings from studies, conducted over the past decade, that have
specifically examined an internal versus external focus of attention. As originally defined by Wulf,
Hob, and Prinz (1998), an internal focus is one that is directed at the performer's own body
movements, whereas the external focus is directed to the effects that his or her movement have
on the environment. As I will demonstrate in this review, there is considerable evidence that an external
focus of attention is more effective for performance and learning." - Hossner and Wenderoth
Most of these studies are applied to sports like golf, volleyball, jumping and others. This motor learning research is confirming what David Gorman observed and articulated 20 years ago. I created the Wholeness in Motion™ movement class 8 years ago to see if it was possible to teach movement, based on my experiences with Gorman, with minimal body-part directed teaching and maximum whole system, intentional or external focus. I was using different words to describe the difference between internal focus and external focus than that of the motor learning world but was essentially asking the same question applied to Yoga and dance like movement as well a "postural" re-education. Anecdotally, and experientially, the evidence was mounting that it was not only possible but preferable to scaffold movement teaching away from body parts manipulation (internal focus) to the whole system in action (external focus) as the root pedagogical approach.
During this time I was also working extensively with singers in private practice, through residencies, as well as through the VoiceCare Network. A few voice teachers began to shift their approach toward teaching with a Coordinating System perspective. Together we are seeing results of not only fine skill acquisition and retention but students gaining autonomy as artists and confidence as learners. Granted this is anecdotal, but it is enough evidence to suggest that a study in the application of the Coordinating System to arts education would be well warranted.
The key isn't really in examining these anecdotes or studies; it is asking yourself how do you go about your practices, teaching, coaching, artistry, or sport. Almost every movement class I witness, from aerobics to Yoga to personal trainers, is embedded with the manipulating point of view. It is how we have understood body and movement. Many classes are wonderful and important and life saving for people. My goal in writing this and in teaching is to invite the possibility that what is already lovely can be fantastic and give even greater benefits when more aligned with how we actually function. The fact is focusing on a specific body part and particularly trying to align it or put it in a better position interferes with the freedom of the whole to be able to most efficiently coordinate movement. Our system is too complex a system to think we can tell parts what to do. Someone says, "Your body is perfect and this class teaches you to be free," and in the next sentence asks students to, "lengthen your neck, open your chest, drop your tail". All of these directions are part driven and override the fantastic ability of the system to function in open suspension and to freely coordinate action.
What you feel is the way you go about action. You don't feel your body per se; you feel your current state of functioning. That is why you can feel heavy and strained in one moment and open and light in the other. You feel your current coordination. So how you go about an exercise completely determines which muscles fire, which lengthen, which move. Two apparently same movements will elicit very different coordinations depending on how you approach it.
Let's say the movement is to touch your head. If you simply touch your head, like you are scratching an itch, your movement will be different than if you instruct yourself to take your hand to the top of your head and move your fingers back and forth on your scalp.
Try the exploratorium below for yourself, then read on...
Exploratorium — Coordinating System Demonstration
The question arises. "What do we do when habitual patterns have organized the body in a harmful way?" The Change in Action section below addresses this question.
Change in Action - Changing a Walking Pattern or the Hot Cup Theory of Changing Habits
A major portion of my teaching these days is on the road doing residencies or workshops. It is wonderful to introduce new people to this material. The only downside is that sometimes I don't get follow-up time to see how it is being interpreted in action. I was lucky this year to have spent a week at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in the music department, (thank you, Sharon Hanson). There were several students with whom I worked in Milwaukee in February who then came in July to the VoiceCare Network "BodyMInd and Voice" course. This article is the story of one of these students. She had participated in several choral and conducting classes I was teaching during the UW residency and then was scheduled for a private session. During that session I asked her what she'd like to work with that would support her art. She said that knee pain and some back pain gets in her way. We started with a simple diagnostic tool I use to assess overall coordination by having her walk, the goal being to see why it makes sense her back hurts. Indeed her habitual walk was a slight leaning back that focused forces on her lower back and knees, a common cause of pain. As we explored further, that global pattern was evident in singing and conducting. I took her through some explorations to awaken her awareness of the sensation of the habit.
As we ended the lesson, I asked her what she understood she would explore on her own. She said what most people say after they've had a contrast experience in which a new way of going about things feels good and better. She said something like, "I'm going to practice walking over my support and looking around." Her focus at that moment was on practicing the new, better way. Logical, right? From my years of experience this "improvement approach" will soon turn into another fixed position and often a state of mind that there is something wrong with her walk (or worse with HER) and she needs to directly fix it.
So we took a bit more time to clarify that the entire purpose of the contrasting experience was less about what she "should" do to be right and more about feeling the sensation of the habit and naming it accurately. This also experientially shows her what an amazing signaling system she has. Her body is fine. She just needs to know how to read the signals. It is kind of like when a child touches a hot cup, you don't have to tell her to not touch the cup again. The bad sensation takes care of that. This is a way of turning the invisible habit into a hot cup. Her assignment was to: 1) Be awoken more quickly to the sensation of habit; 2) Stay in habit a bit and ask a few questions, like, where do I feel pressure? Strain? Force? Where was my attention just then? After getting a broader sense of the moment and the sensations of habit, all she needed to do was let herself come out of it. There wasn't a specific "better" to get to; it's just a letting herself move out of the strain. In this way the change is happening from her awareness of the "not good" which is incredibly powerful property of her system. As she learned to read that signal the "good" does itself! There is nothing wrong with her body or her. She just needed a little experiential information update to understand and cooperate with her system's built-in compass.
When I saw her in the summer she wasn't walking in habit. I asked her about it and she reported much less pain in her back and knees. I asked her what she had done, and she beautifully described doing the above process which at the time of that first lesson was foreign to her and didn't even make much sense. Why wouldn't you just go for the improvement? Noticing habit and staying there can feel like a waste of time at first. But she stuck with the "hot cup" approach. She became clear that her job was to be specifically aware when she found herself in habit, which then allowed her system to change itself. As she learns to apply the approach to herself she is learning how to apply it with her students.
The bigger benefit to observing habit was her discovery that when she was walking and thinking about other things she tended to go into habit. As she was more awake to the world around her, she was no longer in habit. Both were possibilities and both had effects on her. In this way the "hot cup' approach gives a person tools to continue to learn about their patterns on their own. "Why does it make sense I find myself leaning back? Oh because I'm off thinking about my next task." As she began to be clear about the relationship of her focus of attention to her physical habit she could simply use the sensation of strain to choose where she wanted to put her attention - on thoughts or on the world around her. There was no need to remember to be right or present or anything; just using her built-in sensory system/compass to make choices.
In the end, once habit is revealed, your job isn't to change it so much as to redefine it in terms of sensation. This isn't walking, this is leaning back. As you shine a more accurate light on it, the system will shift away from the "heat" toward less "heat".
The heart beat of my work these days isn't to show people an optimal way to function as much as reveal to them how beautifully their system is already designed to guide them to optimal functioning by helping them understand the signals the system gives them through sensation, thought, and feelings. Wholeness in Motion™ and LearningMethods™ are a means to navigate with your built-in compass which in the end is a much more reliable guide than any externally acquired guideline, be it postural instructions or life rules.
6. Happy Solstice !
Sometimes the simplest choices have the deepest results. Here are a few explorations to enrich your New Year.
EXPLORE DOING THE FOLLOWING, as if your health and well-being depended on them, (it just might):
If you want to know the reasoning behind the suggestions read on.
1. LAUGHING OFTEN — There is neuroscience, immunology and psychology research looking at the health effects of laughter. A fascinating body of research comes to me from Leon Thurman, one of my mentors, a groundbreaking voice educator and a brilliant synthesizer of neuroscience.
Jack Pettigrew discovered, by accident, the effects of laughter on interhemispheric switching in the brain, a key theory in understanding bipolar disorder. Here are links to articles about his work: http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Pettigrew_01.html and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1444-0938.2005.tb06662.x/pdf.
There are many general articles, like the one below, discussing various studies on laughter and health: http://women.webmd.com/guide/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter
In the spirit of self-knowledge and embodiment your experience is more than enough. You can find out if your life is more or less enjoyable when you laugh more. Is your health and well-being in any way effected when you laugh more often?
Thanks to Katharine, who said she was choosing to laugh more often. Her story inspired me to do this experiment.
2) DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE - TAKING TIME FOR JOY — There is an article in Dive Training magazine, (September 2011) called Your Brain on Scuba. It is full of scary statistics about how Americans don't take time for fun.
Here are some highlights: Americans average 13 days off per year, English 26, Germans 27, French 38. Several studies found that the "most significant predictors of heart health was whether women took vacations." For men, another study found that, "Men who took vacations were 21 percent less likely to have disease than those who didn't and 32 percent less likely to suffer heart attacks."
In the article they correlated vacation with pleasure. Doing joyous things is good for health. It is also good for happiness. "Studies show experiences can make us happier than material things." Frequency of experiences is more important than intensity.
This relates directly to the fundamental question underlying my work: Does your system give you accurate signals to guide you? If so, is it possible that joy, fun, and pleasure are reliable guides to show you what is good for you? This is a radical proposal in a culture with a history of marginalizing joy as frivolous, at best, and selfish, at worst. It seems that the Calvinist/Puritan perspective may be bad for your health.
Barbara Fredrickson is a pioneer in the investigation of positive emotions. Here's the link to her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab: http://www.unc.edu/peplab/. The following link is to a research center here in Wisconsin, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds: http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/. We have years of research into illness. These two centers are in the forefront of researching health. (Thanks again to Leon for the Fredrickson lead.)
3) CHOOSE STILLNESS - NOW AND AGAIN
Just try it.
4) LEARNING POEMS BY HEART — No science for this one, just personal experience in the depth of relationship that happens when a poem is in my heart.
Climb Mount Fuji,
7. What's the Rush? or How Rushing Slows You Down
Do you ever find yourself in a rush? Can you describe the feeling of rushing? Rushing is often confused with speed. Rushing isn’t the feeling of being fast; rushing is the feeling of being ahead of yourself.
Rushing is the feeling of being where you are not!
The tension and grip of rushing interferes with speed. It also causes the tendency to knock into things and have minor accidents since your attention is somewhere else--out ahead of you. Friday afternoon is the most common time for workplace injury. Moving quickly requires freedom of movement, ease and balance. It isn’t at all what rushing feels like.
People often work with me to address physical concerns. Many times the cause of the symptom has less to do with what they know about the body than how they are going about life. You can be the Master of Body-mechanics and if you are rushing you will move inefficiently. You cannot be physically efficient and rush. It is impossible because your body is always in the coordination of what you are up to with your intention and attention, both of which are ahead of you when you rush.
It can seem impossible not to rush. Once a you feel the uselessness of rushing and experience the ease that is speed, it can practically change itself. A student described rushing on her way to work. She said, “I noticed I was in a rush and asked myself, 'Do I need to rush?' The answer was, ‘no’. I wasn’t even late! So I just stopped.” How often are you rushing erroneously?
The next time you find yourself in a rush:
— Notice the specific sensations of rushing: tension in your jaw, gripping in your body, being off balance.
— Notice what your focus is on. Are you ahead of yourself or thinking about what is coming nest: the next bite, already in the car, what you'll do after you read the e-mail...?
Ask yourself if you need to go quickly now?
— Lighten up to move quickly. Find out how quickly you can move rather than move as fast as you can. The later framework tends to invite a rush.
Do you often have more to do in a day than is possible to get done? Do you even know what is possible? This is a setup for stress and rushing. The stress isn’t the problem. The stress is the sensation of trying to do the impossible. Your body tension is NOT the problem; it is a wonderful signal alerting you to what your are trying to do.
Your idea that you can get so much done in a day is the problem. As my teacher, David Gorman, says, “Nice idea, wrong universe.” The sooner you align your idea/desire with reality, the easier life is.
6. Frustration, or you can’t always get what you want but you can be cool with it
Annoyed, frustrated, mad – this family of feelings is a territory of stress. This article gives you a simple tool to help you diffuse the annoyance, frustration or anger reaction and turn it into a more productive response. Over time people who have used this tool have reported becoming less frustrated, gaining clarity and making productive choices sooner. Physically, this translates into less headaches, tension and stress.
The Cupped Hands Gesture Tool:
— Step 1: Wake up in the moment and identify the feeling. “I am frustrated.”
— Step 2: Take one hand and make a cup gesture in front of you. That hand holds the current reality or situation like “The tire is flat.” Say the current reality as simply as you can.
— Step 3: Do the same gesture in the other hand and fill it with what you wish was true like “I wish the tire wasn’t flat.”
— Step 4: Clarify–I am frustrated because I wish the tire wasn’t flat. The flat tire isn’t what is making me frustrated. Frustration is the feeling of my wishing for a different reality than the one that is. (If you don’t quite see it like this or find yourself saying, ”But...” see the in-depth section below.)
— Step 5: Make a choice based on the current unpleasant but actual reality.
In time you may notice you have more choices when you aren’t blaming the tire, the situation or another person for your reaction. As you use the cupped hands gesture to remind you of the mechanics of your frustration or anger, you’ll begin to get clarity sooner. You won’t even need all the thinking, just the gesture will remind you to explore accepting the unpleasant reality versus continuing to fight reality. “Yes, the tire is flat. I will miss the ferry. Now what? Fix the flat. Look for a camp ground. Take ferry tomorrow.” (This is a true story. It was fantastic not to get bent out of shape because the current reality wasn’t what I wished it was. The day wasn’t ruined. It was different.)
Why the Gesture:
In my teaching I am using gestures as shorthand for complex ideas with excellent results. Initially, a person needs to clarify and understand an issue or problem. That is what LearningMethods™ does brilliantly. Applying the clarity is what people do on their own. It is what makes real change. People used to find it hard to remember the new clarity in the heat of a moment. The gesture approach seems to help people apply a new complex idea in the moment they need it. It is a powerful tool for changing habitual reactions and embodying a new way of seeing reality. See next paragraph for more information.
Mechanics of Frustration, or Revealing Your Perspective
If Step 4 above is unclear to you, I invite you to deconstruct frustration. Choose a simple situation when you are frustrated. Take apart the elements of the situation. Don’t believe what I am saying. See if you can tell what the elements of frustration are.
Does it break down into:
I want my wish to be reality or for reality to match my wish. Note what this idea feels like.
If you stop wishing reality to be different than it is, does your sensation change? Put another way: If you accept the unpleasant fact of the current reality does your response change. "This is reality. I don't like it. It is as it is at this moment." Insisting reality should be your wish, not what it actually is, equals frustration. Accepting the unpleasant fact isn't joyous, but it does let you stop fighting reality so you can deal with reality as it is. It allows you to stop blaming, kicking or shouting...
At the moment of frustration your perspective is wanting reality to be what you wish it was. Your response is to your perspective or idea, not to reality. On your own it can be challenging to see your perspective. Your perspective often feels like truth; perspective is hard to see. Your thoughts and ideas seem like reality. Can you see a thought or idea as just that? “This is my thought, my idea, my perspective, my framework, my filter.(there are many words for this).” It is like deboning a fish, you make a little separation between you and your thinking in a moment of emotion. You begin to see that emotion is the sensation of your thought – it is one coordination of your being. Your chemistry, your structure, your thinking, feeling is all one coordination. For convenience we divide ourselves up into mind, body, emotion, but we are not divided in our functioning. This is the heart of LearningMethods™ which is NOT about having any particular state of being. It is just the opposite. It is about letting yourself have any reaction and learning from it. You learn to understand your reaction, you understand yourself, how you work and how you are navigating the world. You don't have to improve your reaction, just understand it. Improvement or change happens from understanding.
This article is not advocating never getting angry or frustrated. Reactions are the way your system is designed to show you HOW YOU ARE SEEING THE WORLD. They are essential for navigating life. If you don’t like how you are feeling or in other words, the sensation of your perspective, find out what your perspective is. Usually when there is an unpleasant sensation the problem isn’t in the reality it is in the perspective you have; this is hopeful because perspectives are easier to change than reality.
At the VoiceCare workshops this summer the cupping gesture became a kind of wake-up game. We used it to help each other. So when someone sang and it didn’t come out the way they wished and they got frustrated, someone else would do gesture with one hand and say "Reality"; gesture with the other and say, "Wish". The annoyed person would laugh and say, “Oh yeah! I’m wishing.” Suddenly he was with reality and simply sang again or made an observation that could help with the next time.
One of the most common locations for frustration is in dysfunctional workplaces. Using LearningMethods I’ve worked with many people to navigate such situations. In essence the work helps you stay as healthy and functioning as you can even in challenging situations. The cupped hand gesture is only one step, there are certainly other tools for other stresses.
Dog Training by Christine Albert Carnes, Veterinarian
In the August 2011 Stones in Water Journal, Babette wrote about singers studying with her: that after a session they frequently would describe what they learned as “hold my body in this new way.” It was, Babette described, a common response, but not quite the one she was looking for. What she really seeks is for a student to understand how her body works, so she can accurately interpret her sensations and make useful choices rather than just impose some new rule without knowledge or criteria. It comes down to getting to know yourself. That really got my attention, because it is advice that probably applies to everyone, in every field of endeavor.
Mine is dog training, and this is the story of how “Stones in Water” ideas apply to my work. There are many sources of dog training information: books, television, classes all give you pointers on the mechanics of how to get a sit, a spin, a loose-leash walk and a host of other skills. Some are gentle to the dog, some not so much so, but even among the kind ones, very few take into consideration what I consider the actual starting point of successful dog training: how does this dog feel? How is the relationship between you and your dog at any given moment? In order to be in a place where learning can occur, a dog must first feel safe. Can you tell when your dog feels safe?
Imagine this scenario: a young pup is put in the car (which may be scary if she hasn’t gone on many car rides), brought to a strange facility, and into a room with a bunch of other dogs and people. And THEN she is asked to do the hardest intellectual work she has ever been asked to do and her people are annoyed when she doesn’t get it right fast enough. Now imagine this instead: the dog training instructor sends you instructions before class ever starts that read: figure out what high-value treats are for this dog. Then take the dog out on a leash. Allow her to check out her world, but the moment she glances at you, say “yes” and give her 15 of those high-value treats, one at a time. Disengage, let her check out her world, and repeat. As time goes by you can use fewer treats, but you always want to reward heavily. Do not make kissy sounds, call the dog or otherwise nag the dog. You are waiting for an offer of attention from her, and when it comes you are making sure it is the best idea she ever had. Practice this the week before class, in increments of about two minutes. Remember to ask yourself, “Can I tell when my dog is calm and feels safe? Can I tell when my dog is ready to learn”
I couldn’t tell you what your dog’s high-value treats are, or when you can switch from 15 treats to fewer, and how many fewer. Those are some of the “know thyself-know thy dog?” questions. But I can tell you this: treating the dog as if she is an intelligent creature, with options that might not include paying attention to you, respecting that, and making it worth her while to pay attention to you….all that begins a whole new adventure in dog training. If training doesn’t feel smooth and easy then look to your dog. Are you attending the fundamentals? When you have the basics in place training feels wonderful!
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