This Alexander Technique, like the ability to read, is a skill with abstract but unlimited applications. What I mean by “abstract” is it’s designed to be tailored by you to anything you’d like to improve, just as what you read about can be used to benefit any interest.
Alexander Technique is learning how to learn. This involves understanding and using the process of gaining mastery over yourself. You practice on yourself, by updating your mannerisms of movement response.
It’s my job here to sell you on the benefits of moving easier to respond to your goals so you can improve in the short run – AND continue making discoveries that have the potential for unlimited improvement!
“How” Is The Question, Not “What”
Usually the reason why a student wants to do any particular activity isn’t judged by their Alexander Technique teacher.
Of course, some A.T. teachers have their own personal opinions they advocate to their students, (such as avoiding high heels.) But one Alexander Technique teacher specializes in teaching women how to walk in heels without suffering! Usually, your A.T. teacher is only concerned with how you carry out your ideals & goals, not what your values or motives are.
What is sold by all Alexander teachers are a collection of principles, taught using specific examples of easier movement. These principles might be a bit mysterious if you haven’t studied a course of lessons….but they are:
- mind-body unity
- self-observation & awareness
- the power to revise even pervasive, “innate” habits
- practice design and ways to note and gain cumulative progress as you practice
- a unique, functional model of self-judgment used to gain conclusions & insights.
Since your mannerisms are present in how you respond and react to what comes at you in every moment, it follows that every move expresses your motives within your mannerisms to some degree or another. Best examples to use for experimenting are those that involve changing physical balance – you’re trying to get somewhere or do something. (However, the one exception is whistling; it is tricky to use as an activity. You must position your lips in a certain habitual way to “get” the sound and can’t really change that around to do it differently.)
Psychological and Philosophical
Alexander Technique also has similar features and benefits to uncovering assumptions of thinking in the field of psychology. Once you design and train a habitual response, motives can become fused into the response and disappear. This disappearing act that habits have make it useful to become aware of your original motives. Once these assumptions are revealed, then you can decide what you want to do about them. You can fulfill your motives in alternate ways that don’t contain the design problems of answering short-sighted goals. So if your doctor has said, “Don’t DO that activity that causes you pain,” there is usually an educational way around. Using the Alexander Technique philosophy can offer psychological insights because practical, physical mannerisms have an effect on social interaction and self-image.
Perceptually Relative Effort
Mostly people taught themselves about how they need to move to direct their actions. These “educated guesses” contain assumptions that can be mistaken as to amount of effort. Commonly, effort levels are unnecessarily heavy-handed, because we can over-ride our natural coordination if it’s “important.” We were probably given that capacity by adapting to survival. Putting activities on routine status saves energy. But, habits can become outdated and exaggerated…”Practice Makes Permanent.” You originally trained yourself to move a certain way because your priorities were “important.” You imagined you “needed” to move in a certain way to get your goals when you were using trial and error for a way to learn the required skill or action, which everyone does. So you justified feeling a bit awkward because you assumed your goal had to be done in this way. Repeat doing anything strange more than five times and it won’t feel so awkward.
Keep What’s Innate? Or Update?
As you train yourself effectively, the goal is for the skill to become innate, (no matter how awkward it feels at first.) Just like computer updates, if you do not use continued learning or something like Alexander Technique to update your skills, it’s seductive to forgot what habits you already were doing. You can seductively leave in-force a standing order to continue a habit indefinitely. In these common situations, you can unknowingly move in opposing directions in ways that are stressful on the body long enough to cause pain. Over-riding natural movement capacity against the structure of how humans are designed to move can cause people to unintentionally cause themselves pain. A little education with the operating manual of living anatomy is handy.
Warning! There’s a Cost!
In theory, updating “better” ways should be applied selectively, keeping the best and streamlining the rest. But movement memories seem to be wired together seamlessly. When you’re dealing with revising habits of movement, in the process of figuring out what is going on, you can disorient your sense of balance or even your sense of your own self-image. It can be a very strange sensation. You’re actually carving new brain pathways. It might make your sleepy, but it also might put you into a distress zone. One where you can’t quite make the new ways fly yet, but the old ways feel discomforting too. Retraining an ingrained habit of movement that has disappeared and become innate requires a willingness to tolerate and use unknown or unexplained results. But how does someone get that willingness?
What you are getting that causes strange perceptual sensations are body alarms about experiencing too much freedom. (For some rare people, all their self-preservation alarms might go off at once!) The teacher or situation must reassure a student that nothing dangerous is happening – when really, the unfamiliar *is* exceptionally dangerous. But how else do we learn, if not from the unknown?
A teacher of Alexander Technique, (or a teacher who deals with situations that *are* factually dangerous) knows ways to make it quite safe so that anyone can feel just a little bit strange. They provide a “safety fall-back” so the old habit is always available if the student needs to retreat.
To want to experiment takes daring and fearlessness or maybe some community support. Of course, some people must train to extend their courage. It’s daring to speak or move easier in spite of fears about what it means to you – (despite not feeling like yourself!) This courage can be a new skill that can be “conditioned” and learned as any other skill.
Really, this odd sensation of effortlessness is weird, but it is the signal you’re heading into new territory. If it has a characteristic of more freedom, then you might be able to make a discovery. That’s a challenge! This new state often doesn’t provide you with words to formulate the new information – that will come later. You cannot decide beforehand what the unknown will be “like.” Each time you’re heading out into new territory.
Of course, the next challenges are to determine the ways to apply discretion and judgment as you select from all those weird, new feelings which results that will help you and which ones to intentionally disregard as random & inconsequential.
We’ll cover that next…