How Can A Fleeting Moment Conquer Evil?

I’m having a bit of an emotional morning. I’ve just realized something important and surprising, and I want to share it with you. It’s a personal story with huge implications.

I’ve been going through a lot of ups and downs lately. Half a year ago, I moved out of the house I’d been living in for more than ten years, ending a 25-year marriage that began when I was 20. I can hardly express how dramatically my life has changed since making that decision. The most wonderful and beautiful things have been happening to me, but the road of separation and change is a rocky one, and sometimes the bumps hurt. A lot.

My relationship with my violin often reflects what’s happening in my life in general, so it’s interesting that my ah-ha moment of the morning was related to that.

Recently, I wrote about how excited I’ve been to be practicing the violin again for myself. I’ve only committed to doing a few minutes every day (and there are plenty of days I’ve skipped), but those minutes have been far richer and more rewarding than most of the work I’ve done with the violin since age 19, when I lost the desire to improve my playing. Since then, I simply maintained my skills enough to enjoy high-quality music-making with other musicians; I never had an interest in improving my skills. So this change has been very remarkable to me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of challenging situations to deal with, and the Alexander Technique has been invaluable to help me negotiate them with my “chin up”.

But over the last few days, I’ve noticed that it’s been getting harder for me to stay positive in the face of certain events that have brought up a huge range of strong emotions. Interestingly, I’ve begun to neglect my violin again, and I haven’t been paying so much attention to my mind-body use. In fact, my knees have been hurting, so I’ve been more focused on pain than anything else. Of course – what you focus on, you get more of!

Alexander Technique musicians

This morning, I got up early and sat in my rocking chair for a few moments before deciding what to do next. I took a moment to appreciate the peaceful beauty of my home, and I noticed feelings of anger and unhappiness coming up again.

But, instead of going to write in my neglected journal to work through my feelings like I have in the past, I decided to stop and recite “How easy is my neck?” 100 hundred times. This is a unique practice that Alexander teacher Mio Morales introduced me to at a conference last year. It’s something I do now every time I practice my violin these days, because the results when I start playing are quite incredible.

After reciting the “cycle”, I decided to pick up my violin and experiment for just a couple minutes. I focused on wondering about the ease in my neck, noticing what happened to the ease when I wondered about it, and I watched the ease as it spread.

I wasn’t expecting what happened next.
I learned something new.

In the moment I became aware of what I was doing and learned how to stop, I was astounded. And then I cried a few tears, because learning something new is an incredibly wonderful thing. It is empowering. It is reassuring and reaffirming. It is proof of Self-value. It is proof that creation and change are possible, and that we have the power to effect – or at least participate in – that magical moment when something new occurs. A pure moment of learning is like a divine revelation.

What did I learn? Specifically, I learned that I was freezing up and isolating my right wrist, tightening my neck, compromising the quality of my movement and therefore my sound every single time I brought the bow near the string. But becoming aware of that – and then discovering how to stop doing it – was only secondary in importance to watching myself learn, and discovering how important learning is to human growth and well-being.

To remember that we don’t have to do anything, that we have time

To stop and notice our current Reality 

To exercise our freedom to choose our response to this Reality

To choose to stop and wonder about the current conditions of Reality, within and around us

To wonder about the relative ease of the neck

To wonder what happens to the ease

To watch the ease

To practice this while we partake of an activity and learn from what we observe…

This is, most surely, the key to overcoming any event in our lives that seeks to diminish us.  

In most of the world’s religions, there is a concept called “evil”. Very simply, this can be considered a force that seeks to crush the soul, separate us from ourselves, and limit life. There are many events, and also people at times, who wish to make us feel bad, hurt, small, and miserable…who seek to make us doubt ourselves. They may or may not be aware of it. But there is nothing worse in this world than a force that prods us to lose faith in the Self.

Sometimes, this force succeeds in its attempts to crush the soul. But if we understand and keep coming back to the power of living in the moment, observing Reality and realizing our freedom to choose, that force becomes utterly powerless to crush our indomitable spirit.

Once we choose to stop engaging with that force of downward pull, choosing instead to simply shine the light of awareness on the Reality that is now, discovering the unfolding of ourselves into the next moment, the nothingness of darkness/evil/ignorance simply disappears. Every time.

It constantly amazes me how much power we have
over ourselves and our lives.

May I – and may you – continue to learn more and more about the power of Self-knowledge, and use ourselves well. And may we be happy – right now! :)

 

I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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My Struggle with Being Concise in Speech and Musical Practice

A few months ago, I was asked to give a 10-minute TED-style talk at the College Music Society Summit on improving 21st century music school design.

I gave the talk last Friday, and I believe it was a success. However, the process leading up to it was extremely challenging for me, and I learned quite a lot from it.

It’s always a good idea to focus more on the positives than the negatives, so I’ll start with recognizing how very far I’ve come over my lifetime in the realm of speaking in public.

Alexander Technique musicians

Image courtesy of Stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a child, I was extremely shy about speaking to others. Speaking to an audience from the stage was terrifying, as were giving radio or newspaper interviews. I dreaded any event that could expose me in public through the spoken word, even though I had no anxiety when playing the violin for others.

Knowing that this was a serious deficiency for someone aspiring to be an international soloist, I took a speech class in college. Unfortunately, I had such a terrible experience during the second class (I began to recite the required memorized poem and drew a blank after only a few words) that I dropped the class and never went back!

It wasn’t until I had completed a 3-year training to become certified as an Alexander Technique teacher, and I started giving introductory workshops to musicians, that I realized my fear of speaking in public had largely disappeared. Suddenly, I discovered that I loved talking about the Alexander Technique – even to large audiences!

It has been over 8 years now since I gave my first introductory workshop. I now thrive on teaching group classes and giving workshops. In fact, one of the best experiences of my life was teaching groups of up to 40 students at a time in Japan, with a translator.

So, when I was invited to give a 10-minute talk on wellness for musicians at the CMS Summit, I was delighted and accepted without hesitation. I thought it would be easy.

Alexander Technique musicians

Little did I know how difficult it would be for me!

I’ve always known that being concise is not my strong point (witness the length of this blogpost, haha). There’s a lot that I feel passionately about, and I love to share what I care about with others. So I write a lot and I talk a lot (sometimes I think I’m making up for all my years of relative silence as a child!).

But distilling my passion into only 10 minutes proved to be extremely difficult!!!

In fact, I struggled and suffered over planning the speech for more than a week before the event. I thought about it most of the time, woke up in the middle of the night, and wrote pages of brainstorming ideas. And still, I couldn’t figure out how to pinpoint the most important ideas I wanted to get across and how to do it efficiently.

It was 5 minutes before my talk and I STILL had only a vague outline of what I was going to say. It didn’t help my nerves to remember that we presenters had been urged to rehearse and memorize our speeches four months before, and we weren’t allowed to use any notes or notecards; just a PowerPoint which I had opted not to do.

However, despite my confusion and distress, I continued to apply the Alexander Technique as I prepared.  Even when my car’s GPS took me to the wrong state (!) on my drive to South Carolina for the conference, and even when my car died on the highway and I had to rent the car I’m still driving now (that’s another blogpost!), AT kept me sane and in a good mood throughout.

When it was finally time to deliver my “BIG Idea” Talk (not my term), the room was freezing and I was the last one to speak. My body was shaking from cold and nervousness, but I simply watched it all, letting myself be free to feel what I was feeling without trying to change the reality of my experience.

Alexander Technique musicians

Image courtesy of Iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once I rose to speak, the experience took over and started to flow.  After my stilted beginning (“Hi. I’m Jennifer Roig-Francoli, and I’m also a violinist.” I’m ALSO a violinist? Haha!), the ideas just poured out and all of the work I’d been doing to prepare (mostly stopping my negative reactions to the ordeal) carried the talk like a river transporting ideas from my brain to my audience. I finished just under the 10-minute limit, and the audience was enthusiastic.

I’ve come a long way, it’s true…

Speaking in public will forever be something that I can improve on, to say the least! But the WAY that I’m learning to work on it (or any other activity) is what interests me the most.

This process drove home to me in an intense way that it is extremely important to be able to distill our ideas into ONE MAIN IDEA. We need to learn how to be CLEAR.  About what we want… and how to express it so that we can increase our odds of getting it.

As I think about this, I’m realizing that I don’t have to wait until the next time I’m asked to give a short talk to work on this. I can work on being clear and concise every single time I speak. This idea makes me curious, and it makes me want to explore it.

I will explore it when I practice my violin, too, because making music is simply expressing ideas through music instead of words. When I practice, I can ask myself:

What is the ONE IDEA that I want to work on when I pick up my violin?
What is the ONE IDEA that I want to express?
How can I express it clearly and simply, without anything extra and unnecessary getting in the way?

I love the Alexander Technique, and I love feeling curious about life. I love being challenged, and I love exploring what is possible.

Thanks to the Alexander Technique and The Art of Freedom, I live and continue to learn. HURRAY!

 I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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My Personal Journey with the Violin Evolves… to the Stars

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansWhen I was two years old, I wanted to play the violin. My mother, a cellist, made me a toy violin out of half a coconut, so I started playing violin on a coconut. How funny is that?! (Maybe that’s why I’m so nutty! :) )

Now, decades later, I’ve traveled through so many phases with my dear friend, Violin…

As a child and later as a teenager, I had only one goal, and that was to become a great (and famous) soloist. I never questioned that goal – it was simply a given that it would eventually happen. I had no doubts. I won nearly every competition I entered, performed internationally, was featured in TIME Magazine, had some of the best teachers in the world, and was often treated like a princess for the obvious potential I displayed.

What never occurred to me was that I might someday change my mind and take my life in a completely different direction. When I was 19, I decided I had had enough and didn’t want to pursue a soloist’s lonely lifestyle. When I was 20, I got married and completely abandoned my childhood dreams.

That’s when I started playing in orchestras – something I’d never wanted to do.

The next thirteen years were interesting, and I gained a lot of experience as a violinist playing many different roles: Concertmaster, Associate Concertmaster, Section violinist, chamber musician, freelancer, violin teacher… all on the baroque violin as well as modern. I played in a Chicago studio for a McDonald’s commercial, and did injury to my sensitivities playing for a raucous “Young Messiah” show – something I swore never to do again!

Alexander Technique teacher musicians

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After thirteen years, I tired of it and burned out.  It felt like I’d “done it all”, and I had no more interest in any of it – save my baroque duo and performances with Apollo’s Fire. Those, I continued to enjoy from time to time.

When my second son was two years old, the Alexander Technique appeared as a saving grace of fresh air.  Still, I very rarely touched my violin to practice. I knew I was growing, but I didn’t grow as a musician in the way people usually do – by practicing their instrument – because I simply had no desire.  It seems my growth as a musician was happening under the surface.

Over the years I had found two golden treasures, two well-hidden keys to fundamental change and transformation. First, I paid a great deal of attention to the spirit of Love and Life Itself, and then I practiced the self-integration methods of the F. M. Alexander Technique. My fascination with the latter propelled me to become a teacher of the Technique in 2007.

To this day, I continue both of these practices, which to me are inseparable. As I have watched my evolution as a person and musician, I now very firmly believe – with absolute conviction – that this attentiveness to wondering “Who am I?”, with loving awareness of the present moment, is the best way to become a truly great musician.

Alexander Technique teacher musicThe practice of Self-Realization is indispensable to the visionary musician with lofty ideals, because the Self is our primary instrument. My violin, beautiful instrument that it is, is merely secondary. It can only express what lives first within my mind, heart, and soul. Jennifer’s job is simply to observe and get out of the way, to allow the primary control, my Inner Musician, to sing through me and Violin.

My violin playing improves every single time I pay attention with simple, conscious awareness. Whenever I pick up my instrument now, something fundamentally different is happening from what used to happen. Something acts from deep within to integrate everything inside and out.  Sometimes, it’s so subtle that I miss it; but more often than not, it serves to wake me up.

My journey continues.

These days, I find my curiosity piqued, enticing me to practice with my instrument on a near-daily basis again, completely free of pressure or ambition. I have no clear goals, other than to continue this musical journey of Self-Realization and to share my explorations and discoveries with others so inclined.

Alexander Technique teacher musiciansI feel so blessed to have met a very special person recently: Mio Morales, another musician and Alexander Technique teacher whose approach to Life, art, and AT are very similar to mine. Here’s a picture of Mio in Japan with Yasutaka Tonoike, who translates my blog into Japanese.

I have learned so much from him already, and my students have been asked his First Easy Question, “How easy is my neck?” every since I was introduced to it at a conference in Ireland last August.

When Mio offers his keen and quiet attention, nourishing me with ideas for my practice, for a short while I am brought back to my childhood violin lessons, a time when my passion to learn and grow as a musician made me play – I was told –  “like a samurai”.

When I ask “How easy is my neck?”, I notice what is happening, and my heightening awareness celebrates with movements that become surprisingly light and easy. With calm and rapt curiosity, I wonder what will happen next as I pick up my beloved violin.  I love to explore the beauty…

Just a few minutes every day of highly conscious violin practice – on my own and well-supported by the love of a wise and caring friend…this is enough.

The tiniest events have the power to alter the course of destinies… or to cause a garden of giant roses to spring from a ground long prepared by waiting.

I wonder where this growing Consciousness will take me and my dear old friend, Violin.  It’s already taking me for a wondrous ride…

Maybe I will end up in the stars…

Maybe I’m there already…

 

I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!

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Death, Performance Anxiety, and a Tool for Bravery

Reality-of-Fear-quotes-31331136-481-381_largeThere are times in life when we are called upon to do something which seems terrifying and impossible.

On the outside, we may not always have a choice about what happens to us, but on the inside we always have a choice about how we respond.

The Alexander Technique gives us a way to stop and choose how to react to the stimuli we are presented with; we can choose the habitual and familiar, or we can choose to move forward and up into the Unknown.  From this place of freedom of choice, we can learn to choose whether to let Principle or feelings be our guide,  and we can learn how to move forward in a new, more positive way.

As a performing musician, I am quite familiar with the feelings of dread and anxiety that can accompany the prospect of exposing my innermost Self in front of an audience, facing unknown and unpredictable outcomes. Thankfully, I have been able to overcome those horribly uncomfortable feelings many times, turning them into positive excitement and successful performances, and the more I practice facing and accepting the fears, the better I get at doing this.  The Alexander Technique has helped me immensely with this, and it has brought me great joy – both during and after performances. (See my blogpost on performance anxiety here: http://balanceandharmonyat.blogspot.com/2012/05/how-to-manage-performance-anxiety-with.html)

When I was a beginning Alexander Teacher with very little experience, I was presented with multiple opportunities which elicited a similar fear response, and I was also able to overcome them to good advantage.  Some of those moments felt like being thrown off of a cliff and being asked to fly with wings I was unaware that I had.  Or being thrown into a pool of water at the deep end, unaware that something in me already knew how to swim.Alexander Technique Cincinnati

I sometimes look at life and see it as a school for learning how to accomplish or manifest into reality what seems to be utterly impossible.  I see the Alexander Technique as a tool for learning this extremely valuable skill in a very conscious way.  It is a tool for bravery - for helping us move through the inevitable hellish moments of life with greater ease and grace.

I am so grateful when I look back and see that every single time life has confronted me with a stimulus to learn something the “hard” way (through difficulty, suffering, and fear), something in me has in fact carried me through to the other side, and I have emerged from the trial with a deeper understanding and greater strength.

Learning to trust that “something” that carries us through – it doesn’t really matter so much what we call it – is where the real work and art of living takes place.  It has been said, “Living is not for the faint of heart”!

The practice of being confronted with the seemingly impossible, facing the fear, and making conscious, principled choices about how to deal with the stimulus, is a practice that it would be better not to ignore, although most people do, most of the time.

F.M. Alexander said, “Anyone can do what I did, if they do what I did.  But nobody wants the discipline.”  The first part of that quote used to be the more important part for me, because I wanted very much to know what he did, and how to do it; now I find myself even more interested in the second part.  The practice of increasing our conscious awareness and making principled choices in the face of fear and discomfort is the most difficult, but the most important, discipline.

We don’t have to engage in this kind of self-discipline.  But, I personally choose to do so often, because I know that someday I will be confronted with what seems to be the most impossible thing and the greatest Unknown: my own death.  And I do believe that the death of this body I inhabit is inevitable!  I don’t know with absolute certainty what will happen when it dies, but it is possible that the prospect of no longer existing in material form (or otherwise? can I really know with absolute certainty? can anyone?) may fill me with the greatest fear response I have ever before experienced.  What if that moment suddenly presents me with the opportunity for a performance of a lifetime? What if I will be called upon again to do something that seems utterly impossible, and more difficult than everything that has come before?

alexander technique music

I would like to have a peaceful, positive experience of death when the time comes. To me, one way  to increase the odds of having that experience (not necessarily the only way or the only right way) could be to see this lifetime as a rehearsal, a learning, a preparation for that moment.  People say, “Life is not a rehearsal,” but it is possible that this really means: learn how to perform Life well NOW, so that when death comes, it’s just another moment to enjoy.  The rehearsal is the performance, and the performance is the rehearsal. 

In any case, when death comes, I would like to be prepared as much as possible; I would like to have my “trust muscles” so strong by then, that I won’t hesitate to fly off the cliff or dive off the diving board, into the vast, beautiful, heavenly Unknown.  And since I don’t know when that moment will come, I am preparing in earnest.  I don’t want to fall off the cliff to my destruction, and I don’t want to drown.  I want to rise above my fear, and overcome the challenge.

For this reason, I am grateful for every opportunity life offers me to practice dying (living) well, no matter how difficult, seemingly impossible, or painful.

“Those who die before dying do not die when they die.” – German proverb

I would love to hear your responses to this blogpost.  I welcome your comments!

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Do You Know How to Think to Improve Your Technique?

Alexander Technique teacher musicians“I used to go to my practice room and just start practicing my scales and my pieces… doing the same thing every day… working on things I needed to work on… aware of how little time I had and how much I had to do… feeling stressed… I didn’t know how to relax…

“Before taking this class, I didn’t really know how to think.”

One of my students made that confession to me this morning. It made my day for two reasons: (1) because it showed me once again how important the work is that we’re doing – it is truly life-changing; (2) because it got me thinking about how to think, in such a way that by the end of the lesson, MY life was changed. Again.

That’s a testimony to the power of the Alexander Technique, and also to the privilege of being an AT teacher.

During today’s lesson, I reminded myself – through teaching my student – how SIMPLE this process of clear thinking really is!  AT is incredibly simple – you just need to know a few steps, and then APPLY them to whatever activity you choose to engage in, in order to improve whatever you want to improve.

Here are the Alexander Technique steps in a nutshell:

1. Pay attention to your overall, general psycho-physical attitude (I often use my “Three Magic Phrases” to step into this space of freedom – see the downloadable article in the upper sidebar to find out more about these)

2. Choose a goal (keep it simple!)

3. Let go of your attachment to the goal (completely!)

4. Recognize that by letting go of your goal, you access a place of All-Possibility, where you have infinite choices. You can now organize those infinite possibilities into just three options to choose from. You can:

(a) Go ahead and carry out your intended activity/goal;
(b) Do something completely different; or…
(c) Do nothing at all.

Alexander found that he needed to choose options (b) and (c) many more times than option (a) in order to deeply let go of his attachment to the outcome, so that he was finally able to move with freedom, ease, and spontaneously good coordination.

5. Allow the choice to happen, carrying you into activity or not.

6. Ask yourself, “What happened? What did I notice? What did I observe?”

7. If you’d like to make improvements to the result of your activity (for example, you might wish to improve your intonation when playing an A Major scale), be clear about what you would like to be different the next time you do it. How could you modify your thinking the next time you carry out that activity?

8. Repeat, giving yourself ample time again to enjoy Step #1.

THAT… is how to think clearly, and how to practice and improve any skill with great efficiency.

For better or for worse, we get better at what we practice. If your practicing time includes ANY mindless, repetitive, boring practice, you will get better at playing your instrument in a mindless, repetitive, boring way. I don’t think that’s what you want, is it?

This process may seem tedious and painstakingly slow. However, that’s just an illusion, because your rate of progress is likely to increase dramatically, and you will need to spend much LESS time practicing. This is the concentrated, deep, REAL work of becoming a great musician, with an always-improving technique and pure depth of heart… IF that’s what you want.

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What to Do When “There Isn’t Enough Time to Practice”

alexander technique teacher cincinnati musicI’ve had an extremely busy weekend, filled with essay-writing, videotaping myself, a workshop for string players at NKU, and our second Art of Freedom annual “Non-Performance” (more about that later, once I have pictures!).

So I’m pretty exhausted, but it’s now time to dive in and start practicing for my trip to Cleveland on Tuesday, to rehearse and perform as a member of Apollo’s Fire all week.

I’d like to share a few notes with you about what WORKS BEST for me when I only have a couple of days to prepare for an important first rehearsal. Maybe you’ll find the ideas useful for yourself one day! This is me talking to me:

  • First of all, accept that the amount of available time is the sufficient amount of time. Don’t stress about it; just do what CAN be done – not what you think OUGHT to be done.
  • Rest when tired. Don’t overdo. If you feel like you might be getting sick, make being well your top priority over everything else – even practicing. SLEEP. Even if it’s during the day!
  • Be sensible with healthy food choices, but allow yourself to enjoy what you eat, too. No rushing.
  • TRUST!! that those years of preparatory work learning how to play your instrument and make music have built up an incredibly strong network of neural connections in your brain that will serve you well when you need to call upon them; your job is simply to TRUST your system and get out of the way.
  • Play through the music you’ve been given, but don’t worry about practicing what you can already play the first time around; you’ll have plenty of time to practice more AFTER the first rehearsal. Practice the parts you DON’T get right the first time; but leave them as soon as you can play them two or three times. 
  • You’re not expected to play perfectly at the first rehearsal! After all, that’s why you have six 3-hour rehearsals and plenty of empty hours over several days in which to get to know the music. Don’t expect too much and you won’t disappoint yourself.
  • When approaching your instrument, when lifting your instrument, when beginning to play, and while playing – ALL THE TIME – make awareness of your head-neck area your #1 TOP PRIORITY. Wondering about the freedom and ease in the neck is your #1 KEY to excellence in playing your instrument and making music.
  • Do not overfocus on the notes on the page. Refer them back to the awareness of your neck. Neck first, notes second!
  • Do not overfocus on your instrument, or your hands, or any other part of your body. Neck first, everything else second!
  • Everything relates back to the head-neck’s freedom to be easy. This is THE KEY, so USE IT and TRUST IT.
  • Try it out now, and try it out in the car on the way to Cleveland, and in the first rehearsal. Everything is a big experiment. Stay open to wondering what will happen, and you’ll be SURE to learn. When you’re learning, failure is impossible. So, there’s nothing to fear. Only endless happenings to look forward to and enjoy…. RIGHT NOW! :)

Just writing this out for you gives me joy!  I had to share it with you because I enjoyed so much more ease in my practicing a few minutes ago when I started to really pay attention to my neck more than to the notes or the music.

After all, what I see on the page is something that is happening within my visual system inside of my head – not something happening out there on the music stand. And once I “bring it inside”, what I’m learning needs to pass through my neck before it can get into my hands and my violin.

The freedom and ease of my neck is absolutely essential for me to play at my best. And when there’s very little time to prepare, it becomes all the more important not to let any anxiety about the future enter into the picture, because that would just make me tighten my neck – and then my coordination would be impaired.

So… now that I’ve written down what I’m newly discovering (for the ten thousandth time!) with such enthusiasm, it’s time for me to get back to practicing! Why? Because I have another workshop and a class to teach tomorrow… and I won’t have much time to practice. So, I’d better make the best use of my time right now! :)

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A Well-Musician Chat about the Alexander Technique

alexander technique musicAwhile back, I was interviewed by clarinetist Cara Gray for The Well-Musician, a website for musicians which is unfortunately no longer in service. I’ve decided to re-publish the transcript of that interview here so that it can still be accessed. Many thanks to Cara Gray for her kind interest in my work!

 

A Well Musician Chat with Jennifer Roig-Francoli, Violinist and Alexander Technique Practitioner and Teacher
(Interview published by Cara Gray in 2014)

While interviewing Jennifer Roig-Francoli, I have the feeling I’ve found the ultimate “Well Musician”. Jennifer is a violinist, performing this week with Apollo’s Fire a baroque orchestra based in Cleveland, and a teacher of her version of Alexander Technique which she calls the Art of Freedom. As we begin our Skype chat, I feel my tension melt away just talking to her.

TWM: Tell us how you got started with your interesting career?

JRF: I’ve been a certified Alexander Technique teacher since 2007 and I’ve been practicing meditation all my life. Just in 2013, I finally was able to integrate everything I do – teaching, meditation, plus my violin performance career (I’ve also been a violinist my whole life). I have continued to perform professionally, on both modern and baroque violin. But it’s taken me years and lots of soul searching and investigation and practice and experience to bring all of these elements, plus my spiritual life and my philosophy together in one thing and the result of that is what I call the Art of Freedom for Musicians.

I use The Art of Freedom to keep it kind of open because I also work with surgeons, but right now I am focusing on Musicians.

TWM: What is The Art of Freedom?

JRF: It is Alexander Technique, but it is my own personal take on Alexander Technique and how to learn it. I’ve expanded it – it’s like Alexander Technique Plus! 

TWM: So, how would you describe core Alexander Technique and how does your take on it change?

JRF: Alexander Technique is notoriously difficult to describe because it is something that is so different from everything else. It’s not a therapy. It’s not a treatment. But it has so many things in common with those, mostly yoga… but it’s not exercise. It’s a mind/body technique to help people with stress relief, tension, chronic pain – to help people change their habits and thinking and their movement. Alexander Technique helps people with so much that it’s very hard to specifically describe.

TWM: Is it physical in any way?

JRF: Traditional Alexander Technique is a hands-on experience for the most part. There are teachers who believe it is essential to have the hands-on and if you are not using hands, it’s not Alexander Technique. I do not see it so black and white. And I find that in my teaching, what I do most is talk to the person about what they are thinking and look at their thinking patterns.

What you think is what you get in your body and in your life – so I’m helping people to discover what their thinking habits are. What is getting in the way of achieving whatever they want and then helping them learn how to stop thinking that way (that’s the key). I give them alternative ways to think. These ways are going to help them with their lives – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually – everything that you are can be improved if you change your thinking.

TWM: Alexander Technique could be used for many different people in many different professions.

JRF: Yes, but what I bring to Art of Freedom is specifically applying all of this to music and musicians.

One of my specialties is performance anxiety. People come to me with lots of performance anxiety – and I’ve been there! I actually didn’t have performance anxiety for much of my life – even when performing for large groups as a soloist, but when I changed direction and made music a lower priority in my life and started playing the sections in orchestras I started getting anxiety, which didn’t make any sense!

So I started using Alexander Technique myself to learn about what I was doing to get in my own way. I’ve overcome my fear of flying, my stage fright – my life has improved so much! I actually came to Alexander Technique for neck pain in the first place and it solved so much more. 

TWM: How did you learn Alexander Technique?

JRF: I was one of those lucky people who had a dramatic, very fast improvement in like two lessons. My neck pain was gone (which had been there for months and months). So I fell in love with Alexander Technique but I couldn’t understand it. So I decided to go and do the teacher training course, not because I wanted to become a teacher (in fact, I really didn’t want to), but to learn what this technique is about. It’s a 3 year training of 1600 hours. I took 4, 4 hour classes a week. Half-way through the training I realized I was absolutely going to love teaching, so immediately after graduating I set up my practice and had a full practice built within a year.

TWM: How is the demand for Alexander Technique, and do you think it is growing?

JRF: It is a challenge because it is so difficult to describe and it’s not really in the mainstream yet. It was in Oprah Magazine and there have been major medical studies done that prove Alexander Technique helps with back pain, for instance, so that helps. Since it’s usually taught one-one-one and most of the practitioners are artists – musicians, actors, dancers – and our type tends to not be very practically business-minded, so we come out of Alexander Technique training not having a clue how to market or spread what we do and we have this thing called Alexander Technique that no one understands.

TWM: So how did you go about growing your business and getting clients?

JRF: The most important thing was that I had a very strong belief I could do it! I practice what I preach and I made a very clear goal – I wanted 15 students a week within two years. Then I figured out the steps it was going to take. And one of the steps was to do workshops. I did introductory workshops at mostly music schools. I would offer my services at the workshops and typically 10-20% of the workshop participants would want to work with me. I also launched my website and did lots of word of mouth. And whoever I talk to, I end up telling them what I do in a way they can relate to, then they are interested and very often they come and take a lesson. And within one year, I had 20 students per week!

TWM: Since your version of Alexander Technique focuses more on talking than touching, do you teach virtually as well?

JRF: Yes, I teach via Skype. Most of my practice is hands-on – and I don’t want to eliminate that from my teaching – but I am not excluding the ability for me to teach without my hands. Of course it opens up a much larger client base as well.

TWM: Any final words of thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?

JRF: Three amazing things have happened through my work with Alexander Technique: 

  1. My violin playing has changed dramatically. To be honest, I hardly every practice any more. I go for literally months without touching my violin, then I have a performance, like last year in Carnegie Hall. And when I don’t practice, I actually sound better when I pick it up again. It is rather miraculous.
  2. I used to be the shyest person you can imagine. And now I love teaching workshops to hundreds of people and I love public speaking. All of those fears are gone. And it didn’t work on it. It was a side-effect of Alexander Technique.
  3. I want to feel at home when I am on stage. You sound better at home when you play for yourself. And I don’t wear shoes at home, so I decided not to wear shoes on stage… I played in Carnegie Hall barefoot! It was one of the best experiences to be myself on stage and I loved it.

TWM: What is your advice to get started with Alexander Technique?

JRF: If you want to try Alexander Technique lessons, think of it the same way as you would look for a music teacher. You might not like the first violin teacher you go to, so you look for another one. You might try two or three before you find the right teacher for you. Everyone is different.

TWM: What’s on the horizon for you?

JRF: I recently started teaching a certification course.  It’s a series of classes in modules of six-week sessions.  If you do the first four modules, you can receive an Art of Freedom Level 1 Certificate. These are currently offered in Cincinnati, but hopefully I will be able to offer them online and on-location in the future.

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The SHOCKER: You are Free to be a Bad Person!!

Ok, folks. Here’s the crucial key that most people seem to miss!

YOU ARE FREE TO BE EXACTLY WHO AND HOW YOU ARE RIGHT NOW, and
YOU ARE FREE TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN DIRECTION.

Alexander Technique CincinnatiWhen you really grasp the full significance of this, you will come to realize that you are just as free to go in the “wrong” direction (a direction that is unhelpful and causes suffering) as you are to aim in the “right” direction (a direction that is helpful and relieves suffering).

This is the reality: you are free to choose to think thoughts that hurt you, and you’re free to do the wrong thing.  You’re free to stiffen and tighten your neck. You’re free to collapse and pull down, and you’re free to compress yourself so much that you can’t breathe or play the flute.

You’re free to make your life more difficult, and you’re free to make yourself progressively less happy. You’re even free to do that to other people.

At first glance, this may seem obvious to you. And most of us want to be and feel “good”, and to do the “right” thing. We want to be helpful and healthy and establish good habits that bring happiness to ourselves and others.

But how often do we truly exercise our TOTAL FREEDOM with CONSCIOUS AWARENESS, as opposed to acting mindlessly on the HABIT of wanting to be good, while simultaneously judging ourselves (and others) and pushing ourselves around like SLAVES TO OURSELVES, chained by FEAR?

If we want to realize our true freedom, that means first granting ourselves the freedom to be exactly as we are in this present moment, whether we are aiming up or down, in or out…into love and peace, or into fear and suffering.

What would happen if we could stop judging ourselves RIGHT NOW for going “wrong” and simply notice the reality of all that we are, with full acceptance?

Can you grant yourself the freedom to be bad, go wrong, and mess up? Or do you stop halfway and only give yourself partial freedom, because it’s terrifying to imagine what might happen if you recognized the staggeringly immense freedom that you already have?

Can you trust yourself to choose goodness if you have total absolute freedom – free of fear – to not be good?

The thing is, you’re already hurting yourself, pulling down, stiffening, and tightening…thinking unhelpful thoughts throughout the day, every day, even though you want so much to be good. You’re HUMAN.

ALexander Technique musiciansBut just as you’re free to keep doing that, you’re free to wake up and NOTICE when you’re going down, and you’re free to stop judging yourself for it and being afraid of what you might do if you actually gave yourself permission to experience freedom without fear of judgement and consequent punishment.

Ultimately, we are afraid of ourselves because we don’t trust in our own essential goodness.

YOU ARE FREE TO BE FREE
AND YOU ARE FREE TO TRUST YOUR ESSENTIAL GOODNESS!

Only once you’ve truly returned to yourself your birthright – your freedom to be FREE as you are in this present moment – only then are you TRULY free to choose a different direction. Only when you stop judging yourself for being bad and wrong are you fully free to realize and aim into goodness.

How can you know if you’re going in the “wrong” direction if you haven’t let yourself fully experience the supposed “wrong-ness” of this moment? Sometimes, the “right” direction is masquerading as the “wrong” – but how will you ever be able to discern the true reality if you’re too busy running away from the person hiding behind the mask? Do you really know who you are??

Angels are sometimes disguised as devils, and devils as angels.

How will you know which one you are (or who anyone else is) until you stop to look and live the complete reality of who you are in this moment? If you stop and experience yourself as you truly are right now, then maybe you’ll see that we are BOTH: angel and devil, light and dark, Yin-Yang all in one. THAT is when you suddenly have the true freedom to choose where to put your attention, to choose the life you want, to be who you want to be.

Freedom, ease, love, joy, beauty, bliss, light…..it’s all within the infinite world that you ARE, and you can only know it by experiencing it. In order to experience it, you must seek it within yourself, and in the seeking it, you will find it. What do you wish to experience?

Focus on being wrong, and you will surely find the experience of your “wrong-ness” – again and again and again. And it will hurt – both yourself and others.

Do you want to be and experience your goodness? Know that you ARE essentially good, despite possible appearances to the contrary. Notice the reality of this moment, and do not judge yourself! Simply notice, and choose to see the good – in yourself and everywhere.

Find the ease, find the quiet, find the good, find your loving heart.

It’s all so easy, if what you WANT is ease!

Do you want to play your instrument and make music with ease? That’s easy, too.  But first, you must find the ease in yourself. And before you can do that, you need to notice the reality of this present moment and give yourself the absolute, total freedom to BE WHO YOU ARE RIGHT NOW – and give your music its freedom to be as it is right now, too.  The good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.

What could be easier than simply being aware of the reality of this present moment, just as it is?

Enjoy!!!

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*Chained woman image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Free man image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is the Root of ANXIETY and How Can I Make it GO AWAY??

Alexander Technique and performance anxietyDo you experience performance anxiety sometimes?

I do. Not very often, but sometimes. And not just in the context of musical performance. Sometimes, it’s just in conversation with a person I’ve never met, or in a place I’ve never been, or triggered by a very new and unfamiliar situation.

What is this anxiety? At root, of course, it is a variety of fear. Fear of the future, fear of unknown possibilities. It doesn’t really matter what the context is; what matters is how we experience it.

Anxiety and fear may come in a thousand varieties, but at root it’s always the same thing – a separation from an essential part of ourselves, a lack of awareness of another possibility, a certain lack of presence and mindful awareness of this present moment.

Whenever I feel anxious or scared or afraid, there is something important happening that I’m usually not aware of right away, and that is how and what I’m thinking.

When I’m scared, something in me is thinking, “I’m scared” and BELIEVING this is essentially true, and I’m identifying myself with this experience. To believe “I’m scared” is to identify myself with the experience of fear. I am tricking myself and convincing myself that there is no other reality beyond my awareness of this experience.  Ultimately, I’m thinking and believing, “I am fear”.

But is fear really who we are?

In that moment, perhaps it is. But, that can only be a fraction of who we are!

The key is to question our thoughts and our belief in those thoughts. I can ask myself: “If I believe I am fear, what is the result of thinking and believing that thought?” How do I react? What happens in my body, my thoughts, my mood, my attitude…and how does it lead me to behave?

When you believe you are afraid, what happens? Try it out. I can guarantee you that if you believe you’re afraid, you will in fact feel afraid – and the sense of fear will increase the more you think about it.

But what would happen if you noticed yourself thinking, “I’m afraid,” but you stopped to wonder if it’s actually true. Is it true that you are afraid? Is it true that you are identified with fear? Is it true that this is who you really are? Is it true that you are made of fear – that fear is your essential nature?

Impossible! Here’s why. Have you ever noticed that the part of you that is observing your fear is simply observing your experience of fear, but it is not itself afraid?

Can you stop identifying yourself with your experience of fear for a moment and shift your attention to the observer in you? Can you identify with the part of you who notices and wonders and gets curious about the fear? Can you shift your attention to that objective Witness within you and focus on that “You”, even as you continue to experience and feel what your body-mind is feeling?

Now, let’s pause for a moment and ask another important question: What is Love? What is unconditional Love? What is true Love?

To me, real Love is embodied in exactly what the Observer-Self is doing:

The Observer-Self notices and observes, without judgement.
The Observer-Self pays attention to the suffering part of me who is getting sucked into and lost in the scary land of fear.
The Observer-Self watches and cares for that small, compressed, tight, and scrunched-up part of me.
The Observer-Self is loving me by staying with me – totally present – closer to me than anybody else could ever be – filled with compassion and understanding – loving me unconditionally – allowing me to be who I am in this present moment – letting me have my human experience – giving me the freedom to express an infinite range of human emotion – listening to me and my every innermost thought – following my movements of mind and body – and caressing me with its tender, light touch of awareness.

The Observer-Self is not other than Me.

Alexander Technique and LoveChoosing to identify myself with THIS aspect of myself is choosing to focus on Love. Fear may still be present, but the more I identify with Love, the more my fear dissolves. Ultimately, the light of my Self-Love shining into my soul will dispel the darkness of my fear.  Fear tends towards death; Love is Life itself.

“Even though I walk in the shadows of the valley of death,
I shall not fear, for Thou art with me.”

And where else would that reassuring, comforting Presence reside, but within my very own heart? If that loving Presence lives within my every cell, how could this guiding Observer-Self be anything other than That which dispels my fear?

So…. “Seek and ye shall find”!

Seek love and you will find it. Seek fear and you will find it. Which one do you want?

Don’t you want the love to live within you, so you can live in it all the time, and feel it, and swim and bathe in it, and send it all out from your heart and into your music, to touch and warm and soothe yourself and the hearts of every soul you make music for – and more?

This is what I choose to think. It makes me happy. It lifts me up out of fear and darkness. And I know it helps others to feel lighter and happier, too.

Examine your thoughts… and notice the results.

You can choose. What do you really want?

LIVE IT NOW.

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Why Is It So Hard To Teach Yourself??

Alexander Technique CincinnatiI had an interesting experience last week that I’d like to share with you.

I had just taught a great lesson, and what was so great about it was that I was teaching my student how to be her own best teacher; and while teaching her that, I was teaching myself and getting really inspired.

But the really interesting thing occurred to me right AFTER the lesson, when I started wondering why I don’t work with myself – teaching myself the Alexander Technique – in the same way that I teach my students, and with the same kind of disciplined regularity.

That’s when I realized with more clarity than ever that there is a crucial distinction between learning with someone else teaching you, and working alone without a teacher.

So, why is it usually so much harder to teach oneself? Why is it so much easier to do this work with someone else?

The primary reason it’s more difficult is that we need to assume complete responsibility for ourselves when we’re alone. We need to muster up the courage, the desire, and the self-discipline to be both teacher AND “disciple” (student) of oneself.  The student in us craves having a teacher telling us what to do and needs that; and the teacher within us needs to accept the directorship of the student, gently guiding the student-self with compassion, understanding, clarity, and strength.  

The “self-teacher” needs to take responsibility for the “self-student”, and this is not an easy thing to master! To begin with, the desire and motivation to take on the task of self-teaching-learning needs to be extremely high. This is why people in pain or with major issues can sometimes make the most progress by themselves; they are highly motivated to change.

But what if the motivation to change is not very strong? Then the “self-student” becomes complacent and lazy, and doesn’t make the time to do the work. That’s not good news for the student who has no external teacher, because habit will always be around, waiting to catch us in a moment of mindlessness so that it can take us down where we do not want to go. This is why it’s best to have someone else teach you until you’re really fully “weaned” and ready to take on the big responsibility of all aspects of your own life. (Of course, how often your teacher teaches you is usually up to you.)

Happily, after today’s lesson, I realized that I can make it easier for myself. I realized that in a lesson, the teacher focuses on just a few things at a time, and the student then goes home with just a few things to keep in mind.

Why not do that for myself? Why not do that for YOURself?  Why do we think we need to tackle everything at once, and improve everything all together?

In fact, making only one small change DOES change everything else, because everything is connected. Everything else WILL adjust itself. So… I think I can become a better teacher for myself if I only ask one or two things of myself each day… or even every few days… or every week.

What ONE thing can I focus on today, that would be easy for me to remember?

What ONE thing can you teach yourself today? Tell us in the comments box!

*Image courtesy of Supertrooper at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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