Non-doing: what Alexander Technique teachers call it when someone is able to perform an action without their own habitual routines being in the way. The term “non-doing” is a word used in the Alexander Technique lexicon to describe an experience that is quite common during an Alexander Technique lesson – an effortlessness feeling of doing something without overcompensating. Non-doing is also a special paradoxical non-action strategy used to evoke and sustain the effortlessness or “flow state”of improved coordination.

A student will experience hints of the ability for non-doing by following the guidance of an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands-on coaching. This sensation of physical lightness is a signature result of Alexander Technique lessons. With some paradoxical practice regimens, it is possible to sustain the experience of  non-action as a reliable ongoing exploration without an Alexander Technique teacher being present to coach it hands-on.

How to engage in this ability to experience a significant reduction of unnecessary effort will probably be different from the way you’ve learned nearly anything else. It involves subtracting rather than adding, thus the term non-action. It is a strategic use of the self that will involve new perceptions, self-observation, thinking proactively and a large dose of courage for experimentation.

Usually when someone is attempting to improve their skill at performance or become free from pain, (the top two goals of people who begin study at Alexander Technique,) they have in mind certain improvements they want to do that are supposed to be better replacements for those unwanted routines that they do not want to do. Certainly, training a new routine that replaces an old routine is an accepted strategy for improvement. To put this “better” into practice, a person still has to choose the less practiced non-dominant new skill that may have recently been deliberately trained as a replacement – which can be tricky given certain conditions. Alexander Technique addresses such challenges, going even further.

These tricky “certain conditions” are often hiding underneath a person’s ability to perceive what they are doing with themselves. These include postural mannerisms that unintentionally cause back pain or to retain a speaking accent, unintended perceptual assumptions or attitudes, performance anxieties, or when improvements involving will power or practice will go no further. All these tricky challenges respond to learning the skill of non-doing that Alexander Technique offers.

The way this works is what is paradoxical or strategic about it. The first step is to leave off the replacement routine; it’s deliberately suspended. Instead, a person actively refuses the habitual solution or routine they assume needs to happen as a new sort of preparation to go into action. Alexander Technique people call this to inhibit or to not-do. Curiously, what happens when the dominant default habitual interference is deliberately refused (without specifying a replacement routine,) is a sensation of unpredictable effortlessness or do-less-ness – or flow. The default integration of a little bit of nothing into one’s action is paradoxically surprising.  Apparently, we’ve been doing much more of something unnecessary without realizing it.

Not-doing this gives an experience that is quite real and not an intellectual exercise at all. You must try it – it’s fascinating. It’s a bit like pulling the rug out from under yourself. Sometimes, it feels as if you are jumping off a cliff because habits tend to dramatize their own necessity. But there you are – non-doing the very thing you just declared that you weren’t going to do…and to not-do the action this way indeed feels as if it’s an entirely different animal.

Have any stories or suggestions about how to evoke flow states of non-doing that you have experienced yourself?