Forgetting and remembering

Alexander pupils often tell me they keep on forgetting to remember. They are referring to their ability to remember to use the Alexander Technique to enhance their poise and co-ordination. In order to deal with the actual cause of lower back pain, neck tension, sciatica or improve our breathing or poise, we need to be more control over our body which tends to ‘run’ on automatic. Everything we do tends to be automatic such as walking, bending, sitting, reaching… or whatever is our activity. Our muscles have ‘got into the way’ of doing things in a certain manner (reflexes and muscle memory). If we have postural habits associated with the way we hold ourselves or move as most of us do, then these will characterise our posture and every movement we make. Indeed the way we ‘use’ ourselves has a constant influence on our health and well being.

If we’re going to over-come our habits which undermine us, we need to take more conscious control and that’s where the Alexander Technique comes in, as the only method that deals entirely with eliminating harmful use of ourselves by conscious control. It is a proven method that we can rely on and with a short course of lessons we can become relatively self sufficient at maintaining better poise. However……

Taking control over our habits involves us thinking about ‘how’ we are doing things. This involves us being more aware of our poise and movements and thinking ‘in activity’ as the American philosopher John Dewey called it.  We learn to think along very specific lines to ‘inhibit’ unnecessary strain or effort then ‘direct’ to encourage the best use of ourselves,…. in a free and expansive manner. It involves us remembering to think as we do things. It’s only when we think about how we’re doing things can we have any control. Otherwise our habits have a free reign and become more and more pronounced with repetition, so in future years our tendencies and stiffnesses will be even more exagerated and harmful than they are now.

But pupils (not patients) often say that they keep on forgetting to remember to think before they move. Sometimes I’ve asked them how often is it that they forget, and they reply that it’s several times a day. But hang on just a minute! The moment when we realise that we’ve forgotten is precisely when we have actually remembered! If you realise you keep on forgetting, that is the moment you are remembering! None of us remember ALL the time because there are a million things to do each day and our posture and ‘use’ cannot be a focus of our attention all the time. (Although it gradually becomes rather second nature to have a gentle awareness most of the time no matter what we are doing.) When we realise we’ve forgotten it’s then that we have the opportunity to do something about it. Realising that we’ve forgotten is when we have remembered and we should use the chance to make a change for the better.

There is no point in beating ourselves up about being negligent. However every time we realise we’ve forgotten about our poise and to use the Alexander Technique is the moment we can practically take charge of our situation and think. But it’s very important that we do not just ‘pull ourselves up straight’ and try to do ‘good posture’. That haphazard approach will only bring into action the old muscular co-ordination that is the very source of our problem. We need to change our muscular co-ordination and that means inhibiting our reaction to ‘fix it’ and give thoughtful directions to bring about the new co-ordination. So when we answer the phone, we can pause to free our neck first and maintain that quality as we move. Every time we think to make a small change for ourselves, we are reinforcing the new way. Bear in mind that the poise we want is a natural poise and we have an instinct for it from birth. It’s in us and we don’t need to be clever to regain it. Healthy poise is our birthright. And as our body is generally self healing, it will ‘love’ the chance to return to good healthy poise we enjoyed as young children….given the opportunity. No matter how ingrained our habits are, they are not as fundamentally a part of us or intrinsic to our ‘being’ as our instinct for good poise that we’ve inherited through the evolution of our species.

So if you keep on forgetting and realise this, don’t beat yourself up over it. Be grateful to yourself and congratulate yourself on remembering! Then you can do something about it. But be specific…..Stop. Think to release and direct to lengthen and widen as you move. This way we retrain our co-ordination and such problems as back pain, neck tension and inefficient breathing just slip away and become a thing of the past.

Keep up the good work.