Voyage into the unknown
An Alexander Technique enthusiast and pupil of mine once told me that she feels that her experience with using the technique is like a voyage into the unknown. I thought what an astute observation this is and commented that such an attitude where she is ‘venturing’ beyond what she knows in relation to previous experiences will enable further improvements to her poise and well being.
There are some pitfalls to be avoided when learning something like the Alexander Technique to improve our poise and rid ourselves of habits… One main potential problem relates to trying to ‘do it right’. We have all experienced this feeling when wishing to do well at something, we must ‘try hard’ and ‘do it correctly’. But when we ‘try harder’ we almost certainly stiffen in the process which works against us, and trying to ‘do it correctly’ cannot work either. We have no recent experience of having ‘good poise’ and any attempt to ‘do it right’ will only be based on our current feelings. But our kinaesthetic sense (feeling) is no longer accurate owing to many years of being affected by our tensions and habits. As F.M. Alexander said, “You cannot know a thing by an instrument that is wrong”.* You wouldn’t rely on a watch that was faulty to tell you the correct time, or a compass to guide you if it was inaccurate. Indeed, in Alexander lessons, the new ways of standing, walking and sitting may feel entirely wrong at first because we are so used to doing things ‘our way’, with habits that have developed over many years. But ‘our way’ may be causing all sorts of problems. When we have Alexander lessons we receive expert hands-on guidance so we experience a change in how we ‘use’ ourselves…to walk, sit, bend etc and the new way is almost bound to feel wrong at first. But this doesn’t mean that the new way is wrong; it is just unfamiliar.
When Alexander ‘pupils’ (pupil = anyone who has one-to-one sessions for their personal benefit) have the idea of unlearning instead of learning, they are in the frame of mind that will most help their progress*. What we have to unlearn are our habits, but because these are so ingrained, we probably do not even know we have them until an Alexander teacher points them out to us. If people go on believing that they ‘know’, it is impossible to eradicate anything*. If we put ourselves into what feels like the ‘right position’ when we have defective co-ordination (most of us), we are only getting into a position which fits with our defective co-ordination*. “You cannot do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know*.
When we have Alexander Technique lessons we are ultimately wanting to make and experience some changes with ourselves. This will be different from any experience we have had in recent years, but probably very similar to the way we were as young children; free and expansive and well balanced. With the Alexander Technique we learn to inhibit our habitual manner of ‘use’ which is characterised by unhelpful habits, and with a surprisingly simple but effective way of working we gain conscious guidance and control over our ‘use’. We begin to relearn the natural healthy poise we once had. We are only learning to do consciously, what is actually happening subconsciously in nature with our own children and animals.
The new sensations of improved balanced poise and movement will probably feel quite odd at first but will soon become familiar. Ideally we should approach each new lesson, with the wish to get a new experience. We should experiment to find out “What happens if I do it (stand, walk, sit, bend) differently?”. Don’t prejudge or anticipate; keep an open mind; be prepared to experience walking and standing in ways that feel quite wrong. Then we truly are in the right frame of mind to experience something new and benefit and retrain our subconscious and nervous systems out of the habits. It won’t hurt and it’s not a cause to worry, but new sensations and new experiences can be a little alarming at first but we soon realise it’s OK. Have the attitude to see what happens if you do it differently. That’s when the biggest rewards will come to you. And when we learn the skill of inhibition and greater conscious control over ourselves and our reactions, we are gaining an ability that will serve us all our lives.
Yes, having Alexander Technique lessons is very much like a voyage into the unknown. But it’s a wonderful one.
*The above was written with liberal use of many of F.M. Alexander’s own aphorisms.
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