Pedro de Alcantara: Workshop Themes


Four Variations on the Theme of Hands-On

(recently taught at ACAT-NY, Berkeley, and London)


1. “Pressure, resistance, connection, release.”

2. Why do you put your hands on a student?

3. How many directions can you create with your hands, at the same time?

4. Layers: clothing, skin, flesh, bones.


1. “Pressure, resistance, connection, release.”
Imagine that I put a little pressure somewhere on your body: for example, I stand behind you, place my hands on your shoulders, and squeeze your shoulders gently. If you resist my pressure and create an opposition of forces—in versus out, up versus down, forward versus backward—then the shoulders connect to the back, the back to the pelvis, the pelvis to the legs, and so on. Thanks to this circuit of connections, the neck releases, the back lengthens and widens, the breath flows easily… Release, then, is the result of a process, not the process itself. In this session we’ll explore the process of “pressure, resistance, connection, release.”

2. Why do you put your hands on a student?
We use our hands to “read” the student, to help him or her feel things more clearly, to prevent certain things from happening and encouraging others to happen instead, to “give the student directions.” It’s all true. But I think the most important reason we use our hands lies elsewhere. The operative word is “connection,” as in the previous work session. And whose connections, exactly? That’s the really pertinent question! In this session we’ll explore “constructive selfishness.”

3. How many directions can you create with your hands, at the same time?
Suppose you stand behind a student and put one hand on his shoulder, another on the opposite hip. Your hands can push the student forward, sideways, downward, and in various dynamic permutations; you can twist your hands clockwise or counterclockwise, both on the same direction, each in a different direction; your hands can attempt to gently move in toward each other, through the gentle resistance of the student’s body… The possibilities are huge. In this session we’ll explore “multiplicity of directions, multiplicity of connections.”

4. Layers: clothing, skin, flesh, bones
Suppose you take hold of your student’s forearm with one hand, wrapping your fingers and palm all around the forearm. If you pay attention, you’ll discern many layers to your student: a sweater and a shirt; beneath it, skin and perhaps hair; beneath it, flesh and muscles; beneath it, bone. Moreover, your own hand has many layers: its own skin, its flesh, its bones. So you might feel as many as nine or ten layers, each with a certain texture, each responding differently to your touch and perhaps even “requesting” a particular touch. In this session we’ll explore layers of sensation and response.


Direction as Energy

(recently taught at the STAT AGM in Brighton, and also in Berkeley, London, and Oxford)

In The Use of the Self, Alexander described direction as “the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms.” Direction, then, appears to have two sides: “messages from the brain” plus “energy.” In this session we’ll explore the energetic aspects of direction, using a series of 15 simple but powerful exercises culminating with new ways of using your hands.


Rhythm for Alexander Teachers

(recently taught in Paris; scheduled to teach at ACAT-NY)

We’ll study the juncture of words, sounds, and gestures, and we’ll look at how rhythmic patterning affects one's use and identity. The exercises include an innovative meditation on walking; a simple but strangely challenging exercise to coordinate your intentions and your gestures; and the use of spoken texts—be they prepared or improvised—to improve your overall use. We'll touch upon a lot of basic rhythmic concepts (the beat, the measure, the fermata, rubato . . .) that have wide applications outside the domain of music. And we’ll apply these rhythmic tools to using our hands in touching and guiding students.


“Opposition: Heaven, Earth & the Primary Control”

(recently taught in London and Oxford)


Oppose downward and upward forces, sending roots into the Earth and growing up and out toward Heaven; and activate the primary control through an opposition of forces between the head and the neck. Both exercises are easy to learn and easy to teach. Separately, each has wonderful effects on coordination and well-being; together, they create powerful circuits of connection throughout the whole body. They’ll give you tools to solve many health problems, and they’ll also become your best “first tool” to begin solving all problems.


“A New Approach to the Whispered Ah”

(recently taught in Berkeley)


The coordination of lips, tongue, and jaw is supremely important for the coordination of the whole body. The difficulty lies in creating the needed opposition of forces (or “antagonistic pulls,” to use Alexander’s preferred terminology) within the face itself. We’ll use speech, tongue twisters, a procedure for the opposition between the jaw and the skull, and a procedure for the opposition between the jaw and the face. We’ll also look at the vowels that we can whisper and vocalize in the Whispered Ah, and—last but not least—we’ll consider the breathing cycle itself and how it affects coordination and is affected by it.


“The Möbius Strip: Connection & Flow through a simple posture”

(recently taught in Berkeley, London, Oxford, and New York)


The Möbius Strip is a very simple posture you can learn in a minute. Strangely and wonderfully, the posture seems to create an infinite circuit of connections from head to toe, back and front, up and down, inside and out. When you establish these connections, energy flows unimpeded through you, and also to you and from you. We’ll learn the posture, use it for speech and for locomotion, and also for studying the connection between the back and pelvis and the separation between the hips and the legs. The amount of joy, pleasure, and happiness that the posture triggers must be experienced to be believed. In fact, we could call the Möbius Strip a “position of universal healing.”


“Vocal Harmonics”

(recently taught in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berkeley, and New York)


We’ll learn a series of simple vocal exercises that require absolutely no singing experience. For the most part the exercises involve passing from vowel to vowel (for instance, from “oo” to “ee”) while sustaining a sound, although some of the exercises also make use of certain consonants. The exercises create shimmering vocal vibrations that affect the head, neck, and back in interesting ways. To simplify things, let’s say that the vocal harmonics energize the voice, the voice energizes the head and neck, and the head and neck energize the whole body. Vocal harmonics are a fixture of many cultures—in Mongolia, Tibet, Sardinia, and elsewhere—where they are considered to have healing properties. The workshop allows us to test this hypothesis!


Further workshops


End-gaining: How to trigger it, how overcome it

We’ll study a simple children’s game that triggers wicked patterns of end-gaining and its accompanying misuse; and a somewhat less simple game that triggers even more wicked patterns! The games involve “losing your balance without losing your head,” or, to put it differently, using inhibition and direction to navigate a tricky, ambiguous, or unpredictable situation. Needless to say, the real purpose of the games is to give you some very practical ways of thinking about the body-mind connection, about end-gaining as a form of escape from the present, and non-doing as a possible solution to misuse and end-gaining. Alexander teachers can use these games as group exercises in introductory classes.


“The chair has disappeared. Sit down!”

Chair work is a staple for most Alexander teachers and students. Sitting and standing offer a perfect arena in which to study movement, perception, balance, end-gaining, inhibition, direction, and everything else that the Alexander Technique touches upon. In this workshop I propose several innovations regarding chair work, using psychological and metaphysical components of surprise and unpredictability that create the possibility of sudden, transformative insights as in the Zen tradition.


Monkeys & Squats, or the Art of Lowering Yourself into New Heights

In this workshop we’ll study many variations on the theme of monkeys & squats. These will include monkeys against the wall, monkeys with good rhythm, squats using quadrilateral transfer (the dialogue between all four limbs), squats as stretchy postures, and many others. Suited to all comers, including non-Alexander teachers.


Actor, Receptor, Witness: Three collaborators in the use of the self

We all play three roles in every moment of our lives. As actors we move, speak, push and pull, make decisions, and otherwise engage in any number of activities animated by our goals and desires. As receptors we use our senses to listen, smell, touch, get pushed and pulled, and react emotionally to other people. As witnesses we observe everything going on around us, analyzing, synthesizing, describing, explaining, and understanding the world in which we live. In this workshop we’ll study these three roles in practice and discover how they participate in your Alexandrian life.