Jonathan Conjurske Interview
Never Too Late to Change!
Vivien: Hello and welcome to The Schapera Show where Viv and Neil explore this big adventure called life. Our guest today is an up and coming young colleague of mine, Jonathan Conjurske, who is an Alexander Teacher, Musician and Creative currently teaching at IU in Bloomington, IN.
Hello Jonathan, thank you for coming on the show.
Jonathan: Thank you for having me!
Vivien: Yes! I’m excited to have you as my guest because I’ve been watching your progression over the past 6-7 years and I think your story is especially inspiring to all the people out there who are wanting to do something a little different with their lives, and who want to walk their talk. Actually, to be honest, I was beside myself with excitement when you got the dream Alexander Teacher’s job – a professorship in a University. I mean really, there are so very few opportunities for employment for Alexander Teachers, and you landed yourself such a position. Really well done … but I also know you worked hard to get there, and had to put quite a few puzzle pieces together to gain that post. Jonathan, can you tell us more about your background?
Jonathan: Yes, I received a master’s in oboe performance from the University of Michigan in 2017, and I trained at Alexander Technique Ann Arbor, certifying as an Alexander Teacher in August 2020. Now, I teach the Alexander Technique at the IU Jacobs School of Music.
Vivien: Oh yes, the Alexander Technique, the hardest thing on earth to explain and describe! But Jonathan, I think we need to give it a bash on behalf of our listeners, don’t you?
Jonathan: Yes, of course we should, but I’m going to let you do the honors … haha …
Vivien: Haha … yes … that was nifty … give me the hard job. Let’s see how I choose to explain it today … I suppose I could say it’s like a user’s manual for your body/mind unity – because in the Alexander Technique you really learn how body and mind are not separate, and we learn how to become more effective at getting good clear messages from our brains to our bodies. But for me the power was in the way that this is taught – because AT teachers guide the student through these new experiences of self, and of course they spend 3 years learning the hands-on skills that communicate this new kinesthetic experience.
Jonathan: Yes, that’s the deal with the AT isn’t it – it is a kinesthetic learning like learning how to ride a bicycle or, very pertinent to me, learning how to play a musical instrument. And of course, that’s how I come to actually get a job in a School of Music. Because although many will quite rightly associate the AT with stress and pain reduction, the truth is that it is equally used for enhancing performance – I mean, really, what could be better for musicians than learning how to send good clear messages to our breathing mechanism, our fingers, our abdominal muscles and so on?
Vivien: Yes! Exactly! Let’s look at your journey with the AT, Jonathan. How old were you when you began lessons?
Jonathan: 2016 – 24 years old, my undergrad teacher knew about the AT, then I met Michele Obrecht in Ann Arbor. Even when I heard of the AT I knew I would become an AT teacher, and I led with asking about training, and she said the first step is private lessons.
I had only ever attended one workshop, once, and so Michele was my first AT teacher.
Vivien: And Jonathan, what attracted you to the Alexander Technique? What motivated you?
Jonathan: I had difficulty learning music. I experienced a lot of anxiety and disconnection in early life. I was feeling stuck, not knowing how to move forward or in which direction to go.
Alexander Technique felt like coming home to myself. Not only did the Technique help me sort out my oboe playing, it gave me the courage to move forward in life, make new decisions, and create my own path.
Vivien: Hmmm, that’s a really interesting wording – because you say you began the AT because you felt “directionless” – and that’s a key word in the AT, isn’t it – the word “direction.”
Jonathan: Oh, Haha! Yes … that is one of our key principles … because when we consciously send messages from our brains to our muscles, we call those messages “directions.”
Vivien: Yes, being a psychologist as well, I do enjoy the way our unconscious minds play around with words. But I shouldn’t get sidetracked, let’s delve a little deeper: What struck you most in your early experiences with the AT?
Jonathan: There was one particular lesson that struck me – when I brought in my oboe and played the famous second movement oboe solo from the Brahms Violin Concerto. Michele had a hand on my back, I was standing, she had me think about the space around me – took me through that – and when I played, I thought “No! This is too easy!!!”
Of course, I couldn’t maintain that but my whole being said: “Yes that’s what I want more of, that’s the direction I want to go in.”
I didn’t have physical pain, but a lot of anxiety. Growing up “different” in a rural community (Brussels,Wisconsin – 2 bars and a church, and an old grocery store – don’t blink or you’ll miss it – everyone knows everyone’s business) causes one to feel out of place. When everyone “knows” everyone, you don’t have the freedom to truly discover yourself.
I’m really glad I had the oboe because it was a source of validation and identity. However, if anything that one does, becomes too much of one’s identity, then it’s like one limb of the tree got too heavy.
Vivien: Jonathan, I love your imagery! It sounds like you’re an artist too!
Jonathan: I’ve always been a visual artist – starting with sidewalk chalk – I was a “stick and a rock” kid – no one to play with – I’ve actually done more visual art than music!
My paintings look like deconstructed sheet music.
Vivien: Yes, I can see that!!!! Jonathan, what else do you do???
Jonathan: Pottery, grow plants, I’m into crystals, nature, contemplative studies.
Vivien: So, with all of that in your life, why do you need the Alexander Technique?
Jonathan: For example, when I paint, I have the canvas – then I do the first shape. Then other components appear in my mind, on their own, and then I paint them – the painting intuitively comes to me. That’s an AT process for me – specifically inhibition. Pausing, not rushing ahead. Allowing the process to unfold.
Spatial relationship – the relationship of parts in space – this is also very AT.
Vivien: So, the AT is an integrating force as well as an inspirational force, is that right?
Jonathan: Yes, it’s like an art. There is a science aspect – but a human being in action – that’s art. Life is an art. The act of living is an art. If we have too many rules, or we are too prescriptive we can miss out on our creativity, on our originality, on our spontaneity, our freedom to choose – I tell my students “Don’t should on yourselves” and they giggle.
In order to be an artist, you have to have been forced to observe instead of participate. Viv, I feel like you weren’t a super-popular kid growing up?
Vivien: How did you know?
Jonathan: Because you’re also a strange fruit, march to the beat of your own drum, made a way forward for yourself.
Vivien: Oh, Jonathan, haha! “Strange fruit” indeed. Yes, I would venture to say that is the truth for almost every, single one of us AT teachers, don’t you think?
Jonathan: I do. And us AT teachers become the representatives of the AT. It’s important not to get too obsessed with “What the technique is – like getting out of a chair correctly” and more focused on being freer, more available, more open-minded, more flexible, more creative – this is a better embodiment. Most AT teachers have very diverse interests and ways of expressing themselves.
Vivien: Do you also feel that the AT “saved your life?”
Jonathan: Yes! It was the most empowering thing that I’ve ever done.
Jonathan: Before I found it, it was all about the oboe and I love the oboe. However, if one limb gets too heavy it breaks, and so, the technique gave me the freedom to grow more tree limbs, generate a better balance within myself, reach out more. Surprisingly, my oboe playing has improved since I’ve taken a step back and I’m having a lot of fun playing now!
Vivien: Yes, the thing about tree limbs – I love this imagery – is that they are matched by the roots under the ground that we can’t see. And, of course, the roots are bringing in the nutrition and the sustenance, so that really depicts how much the AT enhanced your life. Perhaps it didn’t save it in the sense of “mortality” but saved it in the sense of a strong incarnation.
Vivien: You’ve got music and art!!! Have you done any art courses?
Jonathan: Not at college level
Vivien: You mentioned that you’ve recently learned pottery?
Jonathan: Yes, I really like pottery – you learn some principles, but you have to take that and make it your own, you won’t turn out like your teacher. Throwing on the wheel has many parallels to AT…..how you center yourself is the main thing, in my experience. The clay has a memory and it starts recording the minute your hands go on. Certain clays are more forgiving haha
Vivien: Jonathan, let’s go back to your Alexander teaching – do you have any moments yet that particularly touched you?
Jonathan: Yes, one of my first practice students when I was in training, a lovely German woman who I met at the community swimming pool, told me after a few lessons that her father has such bad sciatica pain she thought it was her destiny too, but that she had now realized that’s not true. A few lessons later, I asked if she still had pain, and she smiled and said, no, it’s all gone. Also, the quality of conversations she would have with her children also had more ease, which surprised both of us.
I also had an older student who I could tell was raised very traditionally: the changes in him were profound! He began doing things because he wanted to, not because he had to. At one point he wrote in an essay: “All I need to do is ‘be’ and ‘become’ and any excess tension dissipates immediately.”
Both the untraditional student and German student were middle aged…. which just shows that it’s never too late to change. Working with both people was such a privilege and very inspiring. Turns out old dogs can learn new tricks, or unlearn unhelpful ones, if they choose to.
Vivien: What’s it like being thrown in at the deep end and working with groups of students from all over the world?
Jonathan: In some ways, it’s been really hard to deal with. I feel like I’m better one on one and with smaller groups, so yes, it really is being thrown in at the deep end.
Viv: But you’ve told me what great feedback ratings you get, right?
Jonathan: Yes, the feedback has totally taken me by Surprise. One student was changing all semester long. Shook my hand at the end of the class. I said it seems like you’ve changed. He blushed and smiled and said Yeah, I’m a lot happier now.
Viv: So really, you helped him change the trajectory of the rest of his life in the same way as the AT changed the trajectory of your life, and my life. Wow, Jonathan, can you let people know how to get hold of you and find out more?
Jonathan: Yes, my website is: Jonathanconjurske.com
And I am on Instagram:
WEBSITE: in the making, can have the domain to you by the end of next week
Facebook: Jonathan Conjurske
Vivien: Thank you! You have been listening to Jonathan Conjurske, Alexander Teacher, Musician and Creative on The Schapera Show, where Viv and Neil explore this big adventure called Life. We’re going to take a break now, and when we come back, Jonathan is going to share some more valuable insights with us about the Art of Living. How great is that!
Vivien: Hello and welcome back to The Schapera Show where Viv and Neil explore this big adventure called Life. Today we are talking to Jonathan Conjurske an Alexander Technique colleague of mine, who landed a professorship at IU in Bloomington. Jonathan, are you ready to continue?
Jonathan: Yes, I am!
Vivien: I find that when I teach, that’s when I learn the most. What 3 insights did you learn, since working at IU?
Jonathan: When I teach, I am the only one that can make a mistake. People can be really tricky.
To have patience
To have fun!
Vivien: How do these 3 impact your teaching?
Initially, I offered a lot of material per class because I wanted the students to learn. I’m realizing that less is more, people need time and space to process new information. Rushing and cramming never works in the long term. Initially, the Alexander Technique requires a lot of slowing down and we as a society are so used to rushing around and striving for results. Growth can’t be forced or rushed, each student is on their own path.
When I can be myself, laugh, and make a game out of the content, class runs smoothly and people learn. The best teaching happens when people are having fun. We play a game called ‘stop, walk’ where the students have to do the opposite of what those directions typically mean. The game keeps the students on their toes and engaged in the process of making new decisions that go against deeply engrained habits and there is always laughter involved.
Lastly, one of the most challenging things about teaching for me is to be able to meet a student where they’re at in the moment without preconceived ideas or expectations. I am learning to pause, observe, and listen in order to be of service to each student. For example, no two pianists sit at the piano in the exact same way, or move in the same way while they play. I feel successful when I’m able to suspend my assumptions as to what ‘all pianists need’ and instead provide feedback and guidance to the unique individual in front of me.
Vivien: It’s so hard to explain the AT to people because it is so layered, and goes so deep into how we are in the world. Do you have anything to say about the depth of the Alexander Technique?
Jonathan: I spend a lot of time reflecting on the relevance and untapped potential of Alexander’s work today, in the year 2023. What did he mean when he called his work a ‘technique for the control of human reaction’?
People are so emotional and so quick to react. Quick to rigidly take sides. Social media has only intensified the situation. The AT teaches us to pause and engage our consciousness, thereby engaging choice. How can we learn to observe without judgement? In other words, how can we come back to self, in a non-reactive way.
Vivien: Oh, so we shouldn’t react with judgment?
Jonathan: Judgement can be quite constructive in certain circumstances. However, where does judgement come from, what undertones does it carry, and what or who does it serve?
Reactive judgment is often a product of upbringing, socialization, conditioning. With this kind judgement in play, we become a product of the past, instead of a product of our souls.
Vivien: So, then you’re saying, the AT frees us to express our souls in the here and now?
Jonathan: Yes, that’s it. I’ve transformed the Right vs. Wrong question into a Yes vs. No question:
Right and wrong is an external, moralistic judgement. Who decides what’s right and what’s wrong? For me it is more personalized – more simple, more clear if I ask myself: “For me, is this a Yes or a No?”
The Alexander Technique is more than just about posture or one’s physical shape. What do we really learn while getting in and out of a chair? Posture is a wonderful benefit, however something deeper and more fundamental is happening in a lesson.
Vivien: What is the deeper, more fundamental thing that is happening?
Jonathan: A growing ability to be present and available. Freedom on a fundamental level. In my experience, the harder I try to change, the more I stay exactly the same.
This might be a stretch, but what is fun about Alexander’s approach is that it’s kind of like flying a plane, it is very subtle. For the record, I’ve never flown a plane… from what I understand though, is that if you turn the direction of a plane by one degree, the passengers won’t notice a difference. However, a series of subtle one degree turns over time will affect the final outcome destination significantly. When I first began lessons, I was not so aware of what the teacher was ‘doing’ with their hands or what was happening. Somehow, playing a complex musical instrument, an activity that I had regularly practiced and was familiar with, was suddenly uniquely new and effortless. The Alexander Technique showed me that things could be different without having to force or make a huge effort to achieve results.
If we can meet ourselves with compassion in the present moment, we can begin to let go of the past and move beyond our self-limiting beliefs. We might surprise ourselves by how much we can influence the direction of our future and our happiness.
Vivien: Thank you, Jonathan. And well done!!! Can you tell us again how we can get hold of you if we want to learn more:
Jonathan: Yes, thank you. My website is jonathanconjurske.com
Facebook: Jonathan Conjurske
Vivien: Thank you everyone for joining us here on The Schapera Show, and thank you Jonathan for coming and sharing your inspiring and insightful story with us here. We’re going to take a break now, and when we come back, Neil will be giving his report from the Spirit Realm.