Doing less

Noel Kingsley - teachingIn our work with the Alexander Technique I am constantly reminded of how in our society we are constantly striving to do better at things. There is a sort of underlying principle of ‘needing to get things done’; to complete incompletions; to achieve more; fit more things in the day and generally ‘try harder’.  Such philosophies and attitudes actually get in the way when we want to improve our posture.

During an Alexander Technique lesson earlier this morning I asked my client ‘not to do anything’.   He replied “What, now?”   He was asking me if I meant he should not do anything at that precise moment.  So I said “Yes, don’t do anything!”  So he immediately did something with his muscles to brace himself and hold some sort of ‘good posture’.  It’s a baffling thing, that when I ask some people to ‘not do anything’ they make a great deal of effort in the process. This is of course the exact opposite of what we want; I wanted him to release tension, not make more.

Inhibition is the keystone of the Alexander Technique. It is only by  inhibiting our responses to stimuli, withholding consent to a movement or action, that we actually have the opportunity to think and change ‘how’ we do it. Only when we pause for a moment do we have that split second to make a choice against the habits of a lifetime; but by so doing we can actually make enormous changes in how we feel, perform, function as a healthy human being.

In the Alexander Technique lesson, I may wish to move a new client from sitting to standing.  We do this in quite a controlled way so that we can overcome habitual tensions and retrain his musculature out of the bad postural habits; we wish to eliminate the harmful tensions that get in the way of our natural poise, the poise we had as young children.  So I want my pupil to ‘leave himself alone’, to not help, to not stand up in his usual manner so he gives me the chance of moving him in a different way, with less effort and better balance, to move while lengthening and widening in stature. He cannot possibly know ‘how to do this’ for himself as it is outside his normal experience despite having done so as a young child. We are simply refreshing his ability and eliminating the harmful posture habits that interfere. Get rid of those interfering bad habits and it will all work beautifully well. So he needs to learn to inhibit; to stop. Then we establish the Directions of release, lengthening and widening, then he allows me to move him by inhibiting his reactions or desire to help.

So I ask my pupil to not do anything as I move him from sitting to standing, and as a new pupil he may say “What, do you want me to stand up, now?”  And I explain that no, I do not want him to stand up in the way that he knows how. I am going to ‘stand him up’ in a way that he does not know. That is quite different. Only when he ‘leaves himself alone’ and does not try to do it, will he give me the chance of giving him this new experience. So I ask him to ‘Stop’; to do nothing. That does not mean stiffen. It means, do not do anything at all. “Leave yourself alone.”   But so often in the first lesson or two, some people have immediately jumped up out of the chair, using vast amounts of effort and stiffness; far more than necessary.  And if they ‘try hard’ to do it better, they’ll use even more effort, because we are indoctrinated to believing that ‘trying harder’ means making more effort and this could hardly be farther from the truth.

In Alexander Technique lessons, we need to find ‘neutral’. We want to discover more quietness and stillness in a free and un-held way. We want to find more freedom and to use less effort when we do move. Even sitting can involve half the effort most people make yet still remain sitting upright. We should approach it differently and ask ourselves “What happens if I do it differently? Let’s experiment.  Every time in the Alexander lesson we want to experiment with doing things differently; not as our old habits may determine. Let’s make choices against our habits; firstly inhibit, then invite the lengthening and widening, by thinking directions. It is only by using our conscious mind that we can change the habits of a lifetime and we’ll regain so much of what we had as young children it’s likely we’ll be surprised at how good it can be.  Yes, life can be that good.