What’s happening when a person learns Alexander Technique? What would they expect to learn? After having learned A.T. – are there requirements that must be done to continue to gain its benefits?
Part of this answer has to do with the nature of skill and practice itself. Turns out there are different categories of skills – I’m going to describe and contrast two of these: practice skills and perceptual skills. Some of the misconceptions about Alexander Technique has to do with not really knowing that different categories of learning results exist. To learn Alexander Technique means you gain both of these – but the most unusual is the perceptual learning skill.
Some of learning Alexander Technique can come purely through practice.
Of course, there are many skills requiring practice. These sorts of skills will be sensitive to cumulative effort. The quality, timing, direction, relationship and sequences of this effort will determine the nature, speed and the results of this practice.
There are also insights that need to be coupled with practice to get past the pitfalls of unintentionally installing the wrong routines. It’s a pitfall to unknowingly practice what you don’t want along with what you intentionally want, which can become a later nuisance – even to the point of pain. Not knowing what you want to train – (or just being a clueless newbie who mistakes blind repetition for practice) can get you into a double-bind corner. That’s why it’s an advantage to get some tips from someone who has previously gone down the road you’re about to travel. Of course, it becomes an advantage to recognize a potential mentor who is skilled at teaching as well as possessing the skill you want to learn.
What makes Alexander Technique unique is it offers is a tool to clear the slate of the unwanted effects that were installed through practicing by mistake.
As you gain some level of skill using practice, the basics tend to always stay with you. (Although when you haven’t been practicing, it’s often dismaying how far you have fallen behind what you used to be able to do.) Though the potential of where you can go with practice will fade when you stop doing what gives you more advanced advantages, having done the skill at all in the past gives you the understanding of the nature of practice itself. So you’re able to re-train yourself again if you lose your advanced abilities that you gained through practice – you’ll learn faster the next and subsequent times through too.
But – one of the features of this category of “practice” is you need to actually do the practice to get the benefits. The more time you devote to practicing and the high quality of practice you’re able to use, the further you get in rewards of skill.
So along this line – anything you can do to remind yourself to practice will offer faster results.
More unusual, there are also types of skills that come under the category of Perceptual Learning. Examples are the ability to sex chickens and plane spotting, which are pretty specialized skills that most people might never want to learn. As a result, this type of learning isn’t really discussed very often and not much is known about how or if this sort of learning can be reversed. But what I do know that this sort of skill turns into a perceptual ability that cannot be so easily shut off. Strange issues can come from not being able to resist using a perceptual ability once it’s trained.
A personal example for me comes from a livelihood skill that got trained by my standing close to a wall and judging whether or not what I was doing on the wall was level in relationship to the building as I was doing it. I was a muralist, so this skill was very handy to have learned. This odd ability involving my peripheral vision judgment had a backlash. It caused me to not be able to tolerate a specific pupil distance measurement common in my eyeglasses. If this measurement is not therapeutically widened beyond it’s intended function of centered pupil distance, I get headaches. I bless each day the ophthalmologist who discovered this solution for me!
My point is this: perceptions can open and remain open once this sort of perceptual learning has been accessed, like a door that you cannot lock again after it has been unlocked. With this type of learning, it’s as though you’ve been initiated into a whole new world that contains a capacity that feels as if you’ve always had it. It involves a reaction chain on a basic level that “gets an update.” Once you have perceived these perceptual differences and learned to respond to them, you cannot close up this perceptual capacity. (Or perhaps there are ways to close off this perceptual learning that I’m not familiar with. I imagine it would need to work underneath the perceptual reaction to somehow refuse to “go there.”)
This sort of learning seems to happen like magic – one moment you couldn’t do it, and the next you could with increasing accuracy. Even a master of an ability in this category might not really know exactly how they do this thing, but they can demonstrate their ability to do it.
How do you gain this sort of learning? One way this sort of learning is taught by guessing in the presence of someone who can do it successfully. They give you feedback whether you’ve done it or not done it successfully in a binary way. At some point, you gain the ability to give yourself this mysterious perceptual feedback you got from your teacher – then you “have” this skill, poof!
Of course, skills can be a mixture of these different categories. Alexander Technique is like a “hack” for practicing that also affects your perceptual abilities – the kind of perceptual learning that opens your awareness in an irrevocable way. Alexander Technique allows a shift in a mysterious change in perception of ones’ own ability to internally sense and influence internal perceptual response strategies. It’s like your awareness of a sixth sense inside yourself has gotten turned on. It offers a way to attend to yourself as the instrument that drives the result of your desire, somewhat like the benefits of meditation – only you gain the capacity to apply this change with a paradoxical surrender of your goal while in action.
The other curiosity is how immediately A.T. integrates into whatever else you want to affect. To get the benefits of it after you invest in learning A.T. doesn’t need to involve a big time sink. It needs only momentary, pin-pointed intention, like a handy tool you carry in your back pocket. The best time to use this tool is right before you go into action. It involves a tiny, specific perceptual shift of potential self-awareness and a follow-through of action you can use to free yourself that “sets the stage” for success. This action is an intentional physical lengthening of yourself, a sort of system reset order that’s guaranteed to free your own habitual responses. You’d couple A.T. with a specific goal because you want to refine, improve or build it. A.T. also works to sift, mitigate or prevent what you didn’t want that got accidentally mixed up with what you wanted. Or you might just want to change your consciousness.
For me, practicing Alexander Technique enhances pretty much everything else I can do. It’s true multi-tasking in the form of practical mindfulness that refines whatever I’m becoming.