Where is this work taking you?
That’s what I was asked in a conversation about the processes Alexander Technique can take us through. My conversation partner was telling me about his growth toward greater wholeness, and his question to me led me to reflecting on what Alexander Technique means to me.
The first thing Alexander Technique signified to me was recovery from persistent pain. I gradually learned how to say no a damaging habitual use of my mind-body self. The change in the way of using my body led to different conditions in my muscle tone, so that muscles and body parts do their jobs appropriately. I keep doing this work because it helps me to maintain that and because I see the changes it helps others make that reduce pain.
Improved performance in dancing and violin playing is another constant benefit the Alexander Technique helps me with by improving self-awareness and control of subtle reactions. Both of those activities for me involve a great deal of self-pressure to get things right and the stress of being observed. As I became more aware of my own subtle reactions and unnecessary efforts, I’ve found greater balance, flow and joy. Continuing to apply Alexander Technique to dance and violin playing makes them both richer (and less stressful!) experiences.
But I think what this work fundamentally means to me is changing the world, in two ways primarily. One is by helping other people learn how they can reduce pain. The more I learn in my studies of pain neuroscience, the more I understand why the expanded awareness, reduction in unconscious psychophysiological reactivity and improved muscle tone developed through the Alexander Technique are so important.
The other way I see this work bringing change into the world lies in the essence of the work: conscious control to choose how we want to act as individuals and as a society.
When we fix ourselves in a posture – whether physical or mental – we block free flow, connection and integration. We place self-imposed limits on ourselves. When we instead choose to not react and to observe, direct our intention and let go of tension, however, we become balanced and flexible. Movement becomes available to us and we come to present in the here and now.
F.M. Alexander discovered that how we coordinate our head and spine with the rest of our body affects everything else in our body-mind self – how we move, think, feel and even what we’re able to see about our own selves. He is famously quoted, “Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.” The technique, which he called “the work,” gives us a method for constantly observing and testing our preconceived ideas of what is right – in how we use our body as well as in every other aspect of our lives.
By learning to organize our body in a way that allows us to stop using unnecessary effort, we begin to release excess tension, criticism and correction, instead opting for a ‘direction’ that organizes us and enables us to see with greater clarity how we are reacting. We improve our ability to notice our automatic reactions, and pause to ask ourselves if we are acting out of habit or a true choice. We pause to put a space between the stimulus and the reaction, creating the possibility of another option that perhaps we have not yet even conceived. We take responsibility for our reaction instead of focusing on the stimulus. We let go of what blocks connection. We allow change to happen. We choose.
Alexander believed in the ability of human beings to awaken and to develop a conscious, reasoned use of the whole mind-body self in the activities of life. Working as he was during the first and second world wars, he thought that we have the key to changing the world within ourselves. He proposed that the way to achieving peace on an individual, interpersonal and global level was to put into practice a process of reasoning out a way of coordinating ourselves that involves stopping automatic and impulsive reactions, and that only in this way could we change the automatic and impulsive reactions of society.*
As we apply Alexander Technique to life, we introduce this conscious use of our selves into our activities and our relationships. We have the possibility of cultivating our consciousness and reducing reactions controlled by unconscious habits. We can pause, knowing that although we cannot always choose the conditions around us, we can choose our response. And that changes everything.
* Man’s Supreme Inheritance: Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution, F.M. Alexander, 1910/1946
Wishing you a healthy and happy fall,
DiscoverEase in Movement