In Alexander lessons, we learn to respond to increasing demands with reduced interference, a lively quiet, and greater elasticity. This ongoing exploration informs the entire integrated, inseparable system of self. We refine our tools of attention and intention during ordinary activities (sitting and standing) so that we can bring our refined tools to further adventures.
We potentially learn, via Alexander lessons, to, for example, easily rise from a chair, use our voices, walk up stairs, play a musical instrument, problem solve. We become skilled in dynamic non-interference. We can refine our instruments of self by means that are constantly new. We relinquish the notion of a right answer. Learning becomes much less predictable and far more interesting. Increasing demands seem intriguing. We can respond to the inevitable challenges of life with confidence in our means, rather than anxiety about results. We have become more elastic, and can respond to life more resiliently.
Life, of course, includes surprise demands and sudden challenges. Illness, accidents, mortality, glitches, quandaries and questions can halt us in our habitual tracks or become opportunities to learn further elastic and dynamic responses. Through the experience of Alexander lessons, we can relinquish guaranteed outcomes, refuse to even define the activity, and explore the means of response. The means are learned, deepened and extended by experience. We strengthen our means by using our means in increasingly demanding activities.
The outcome is not our concern. Who cares if you stand from the chair? The means are valuable because they apply to everything.
Recovery from major surgery challenges the entire continuum of self. After-effects of general anesthesia, restrictions in activity due to incision protection or other considerations, and shifting signals from all interior systems are just a few of required post surgical adjustments.
Any change in the integrated instrument of self necessitates overall recalibration. We are mobiles of interconnected systems, in ongoing balance as the winds of life shift.
As teachers and students of the Alexander Technique, we have choices and tools, no matter our condition of self.
Healing requires time, and is unlikely to proceed in a linear or predictable manner. The continuum of emotion-thinking-sensation-movement (which may be sequenced differently, depending on stimuli) has been shifted in axis by surgery prep, anesthesia, surgery, hospitalization and drugs. All systems have to recover at their ideal rhythms, in relationship to each other.
“Allowing time” as an attitude gives a general signal that the integrated self can be trusted. Much as in a hands-on Alexander lesson, we allow the time to have a new experience. We allow the time for a new means of proceeding.
Surgery is traumatic. The essence of identity is shaken, tossed, thrown into turmoil. Allowing time is essential so that a happy curiosity can resume.
We can start small: “if I can’t do this familiar activity in a familiar way, how do I allow an unrecognizable way?”. Then proceed to bigger questions: “what am I learning in this upheaval?”. We can build confidence in our dynamic non interference, in allowing new and surprising solutions. We can allow unfamiliar experience as a means of learning.
Demands provide opportunities to learn new responses. We can ask, as demands increase:
Where is the ground? (Ah, there it is, meeting me where I am)
Where is my attention? Can I allow it to broaden beyond previous experience?
How much less can I fix, do, interfere, make everything like it was?
Of the many possible experiences in ongoing Alexander Technique lessons is that of rising to a demand with an elastic and curious response. We begin with the familiar activity of sitting and standing, and in that activity refine intention and attention, learn to interfere less, allow more. Then we proceed to more demanding activities.
All aspects of self are inseparable and integrated. If we can allow an easier means of moving from sitting to standing, we can allow a new means of learning. We learn to dynamically allow new solutions, and to welcome support beyond our own habitual response.
Life, of course, has bigger ideas than sitting and standing. Challenges sneak or spring upon us. The plot shifts without our prior approval.
Our outcomes are not guaranteed. None of us are invincible, and we all eventually sleep the endless sleep. In the interim, we can allow time, welcome new demands, spring to the challenge and rise from a chair with surprising ease.
Life is unpredictable. All aspects of living shift constantly in patterns frequently beyond our perception. Our only effective skill is in making choices where we can, and relinquishing control where our choice is not an option.
Our instrument of response for the whirls and lurches of life can be refined, polished, shifted and explored. Since the instrument of self integrates all aspects of being (physiological, emotional, sensory, psychological) in a continuum of signals and responses, a change in any part of the system is a change to the entire. We can rise to the challenge of increased demand with a more elastic response. We can use challenge to become ever more refined in our tools of intention and attention. We can welcome challenge as reason to learn and grow.
Essential to effective response to crisis is a happy curiosity: what new skills in elastic response can I learn in this difficult situation? Can I broaden my attention, allow the ground to support me as I spring up, quiet my mental chatter, see the lovely and endlessly complex world outside myself? Can I allow the micro-moment of a new response, over and over again?
Hands-on Alexander lessons can provide a supported experience of happy curiosity as a means of change. It’s not about “getting it right”. It’s about allowing, repeatedly, something new.
There is an entire language of the unified self that we learn as we study the Alexander Technique. During Alexander lessons, we set aside what may seem “wrong” or “right”, and even what “wrong or right” might mean. We learn to minimize stability when availability provides a more effective and satisfying response. We become more comfortable with not knowing, assessing less, experiencing more. This education requires time, curiosity and an ongoing refusal to “make something happen”.
Typically, there is an identified problem that compels us to investigate the Alexander Technique: a sore neck or back; performance issues for dancers, musicians, actors; a longing for deeper comfort and awareness. And, once we begin lessons, the constructive unraveling begins. We may not know what caused the “problem”, and we do not need to know specifics in order to allow a solution. The tools we refine via in person, hands-on Alexander lessons are intention and attention. We don’t become “problem solvers”, we become “solution allowers”.
A nearly universal temptation is to identify the “problem”, then correct by direct means: pull down shoulders that are perceived to be lifted, straighten backs and necks, push into width and length, muscle ourselves into shape. This becomes an endless and fruitless battle, as the elastic and entire instrument of self cannot be pummeled into a cooperative and responsive condition. The corrective battle also requires perception based on a flawed instrument, a belief in what is “right”, and an urgency that undermines curiosity and process. Curiosity is a lot more fun than correction. We are designed to be curious, and we learn more when we are having fun.
The principles of indirection, intention and attention learned in Alexander lessons can be applied to any activity, as the instrument by which you learn and act is improved in refining both instrument and means. You can learn a new language, solve a software problem, engage in political activism, develop an effective business plan, or learn a new, complex piece of music with an instrument of self that allows a solution rather than fixing for a result.
Experiment: your dominant hand is now unable to take weight or pressure, and your dominant thumb is partially immobilized. Pain allows a much reduced range of movement. Attempt, within limits of safety and pain, the following activities: cut with scissors, write a check, brush your teeth, prepare dinner, open a pain medicine bottle with child proof cap.
The above, with the addition of teaching my full schedule of hands-on Alexander lessons since the day after injury, are some of the challenges that are guiding me to recover, renew, relearn. How can I move from undoing to doing without doing too much within the context of injury?
The tools of the Alexander Technique are intention and attention. These are not static tools, but constantly refined and changing means of thinking with the entire integrated self.
My primary intentions as I proceed in activities are: to not hurt myself further, to allow pain to be a friendly signal, and to attend to my unified self in the wider world. I don’t want to push through pain in order to, say, open the pain med bottle. If it hurts to open the bottle, I can: attempt the activity in a new way, give myself the time for a different means, or ask for help from more fully able others. Or, I can decide I don’t need the pain meds at all! I also remind myself that what hurt yesterday or even an hour ago may not hurt now. New means may have occurred to me, and injured ligaments, tendons and muscles may have changed. They are alive and responsive after all. The injured tissues do not function in isolation, but in the larger complexity of my entire thinking self.
A happy curiosity works best for problem solving. This quality of curiosity relies upon a wide attention span, and trust in the abilities of my entire self, rather than a narrowed focus on the area of injury. When my attention zooms to my wrist and what I can’t do, my entire self pulls in and down. I become discouraged and despondent. If, instead, I allow the time to see and hear the world outside myself, to notice how the ground supports me, that my breath can move through my entire spine, and that my instrument of self changes constantly, the solutions seem to do themselves. I am hopeful again.
Injury has also given me the opportunity to notice habits that were previously invisible to me. Writing with pen and paper, which remains challenging, is an example. As I attempt to form letters and proceed from thought through arm to fingers to paper, I notice unnecessary tightening throughout myself. This is not merely bracing against pain (I have some of that too, of course), but most likely what I typically do while writing. I can ask bracing to cease, even if writing then seems impossible. The moment of seeming impossibility is when friendly curiosity comes in handy. I don’t have to figure out the means; I do have to allow the time and curiosity to let the means flow from brain to hand to paper.
Injury, and the full recovery I intend to experience, may thus give me new problem solving skills, and improve my overall use in the process. Within limits of safety and pain, I continue the exploration.
There is no rushing recovery from injury. The entire integrated system of self takes the time needed to repair, renew and relearn. This is not a “parts” repair but an entire self opportunity to do life differently. We are, after all, integrated systems of complexity.
As I recover, renew and relearn from injury (severe sprain to my dominant hand/wrist/arm), the following inquiries seem essential
Q.How can I do what I would like to do within limits of pain and safety?
As is natural after an injury, attention focuses on further protection of the injured and painful area. Although I am in no way suggesting ignoring or minimizing pain, a broader attention to the entire self can be a constructive tool. As I attempt to use my hand to write, teach a lesson, open a door, brush my teeth, I can adjust attention to include how I am contracting in my thinking, how I am disconnecting from the ground, how I am no longer seeing or hearing the evidence of Spring. Once I widen and expand attention, solutions in co-ordination occur to me. I know more clearly what is safe to attempt and what isn’t, and how to problem solve in either case.
I can see pain as a friendly signal of current limits, not an alarm meriting contraction and panic. I can respond to the friendly signal with constructive solutions instead of freezing into an overall mode of protection that typically hurts more, not less.
Q. Can I allow a new way of doing nearly everything?
Injury to a dominant hand brings so many activities, so much identity, under scrutiny. This is also where opportunity lies, the crisis that brings new learning (crisi-tunity). I welcome the time, the uncertainty, the potential unfamiliarity of allowing a new response. This seems to me to be the heart of the Alexander Technique: a means of dynamically refusing to interfere so that uncertainty is the reliable rule, and response to uncertainty a creatively shifting response.
The current U.S. election season has sparked global, national, local and personal anxieties. Uncertainty, tension and an overwhelming amount of constant information exhaust us and deplete us. How can we apply Alexander principles in these stressful conditions?
Our primary choice is that of our own response. Since we bring the entire instrument of self as an integrated and inseparable system to every activity of life, the more we learn to use the tools of intention and attention, and to quiet habitual interference, the more refined our instrument of self becomes, and the more effective we can be as demands rise.
Some specific suggestions:
The steady onslaught of media, social media, news, tweets, posts, can be reduced in volume and intensity. If I find I cannot quiet my internal chatter, I allow the ground and breath to support me, and I reduce the externally sourced noise. Frequent breaks from devices, logging out of social media, reading instead of watching, all give my nervous system a respite, so that I can resume elasticity, and thus retain perspective and connection. I quiet to remain active.
We learn with our entire instrument of self. When we deliberately seek to learn something, we have an opportunity to observe how we learn, what works best, and to quiet habitual thinking, moving, framing. Learning a new language, new music, new choreography, new mediums of expression bring exhilaration and a sense of possibility. We are, then, more expansive, responsive instruments. And, we might have fun, and since we all learn better when we are having fun, we can have fun learning to have fun learning. To hell with doom and gloom. I am learning here.
Democracy requests your very best use of self. What an opportunity we have to explore effective action through refinement of the instrument of self in demanding times! Take your refined self and DO something: register voters, make phone calls, write calm and composed letters to the editor. When we worry, we tighten and tire. We fix our positions, brace for a fall. If we prioritize being effective, we can remain elastic, move with more ease as the political waves get wilder. The active quiet we develop will be essential no matter what comes next.
Alexander students often ask if they need to be recreating the “feeling” of a lesson after their lesson. How else can they retain the experience of a hands-on lesson?
In an Alexander lesson, the teacher’s refined use of self in hands-on contact potentially expands and refines the student’s co-ordination, and choice about co-ordination. It is a co-operative process. Nothing is forced, shaped, or rushed. It’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do. A dynamic undoing builds a new skill of dynamic undoing, which is a very dynamic skill indeed. Years of habitual doing begin to quiet. The instrument of self changes.
The attempt to recreate a “feeling” recruits memory, current sensory feedback accuracy (based on entire instrument of self), and a belief that recreating a previously experienced moment without the context, contact, light, emotions, blood pressure, brain state, and muscle activity of that moment is possible. In recreating this moment, we have to fix ourselves into what the “right” feeling might be. It requires us to return our entire co-ordination to a moment that is almost guaranteed to be inaccurately recalled. Instead of moving into new neural connections, we fix into a recalled mode.
Your tool is your attention and your means is your intention. External attention to the broader, wider, world beyond you, up and out of yourself, connects you elastically to life. Effective intention dynamically refuses to interfere so something new can happen.
Most inquiries into Alexander lessons include the question of length of study needed to achieve outcome. “How many lessons will it take…until my back doesn’t hurt, my voice is more reliable, I no longer slouch/hunch, I can learn music/choreography/lines more easily? How many lessons until I move with ease and grace through life?”
I will emphasize yet again that Alexander Teachers do not diagnose, treat, or cure. We don’t fix parts. We do address the entire condition of self, and how that condition is affected by intention and attention. We engage the student in a process of co-operative learning through the lens of movement.
We learn to learn with our entire selves. All systems of self are related. There is a continuum of perception and experience, an ongoing flow of information and response through our entire systems of self, and of course, our entire self responds constantly to the external world. Stimulus is the sea in which we swim. Choice in response is how we swim.
Alexander lessons provide an opportunity to choose a new response to the activities of life. Our habitual postural patterns interact with all aspects of self. In order to respond differently, we have to cease reacting in the same habitual manner. Our “physical” habits are habits of self, and determine how we perceive ourselves and others in the world.
It is both simple and endless. Learning the Alexander Technique is like learning a new language; any amount of literacy and comprehension is an improvement, but increased literacy of self is ongoing and has no end point.
There is no rush in this learning. Without rush you learn differently. The original reasons that motivated you to begin Alexander lessons may not be the reasons you continue lessons. Once you learn not to rush to learn, the timing of learning may change. The process by which you learn is the whole point.
The Alexander Technique is primarily educational, but also unique in emphasis on unlearning the old and dynamically allowing the new. We can learn by removing what interferes. Then surprise sneaks through.