Psycho-Physical Habits

“This is the principle of the whole work – not to do something but to think. We redirect our activity by means of thought alone.” FM Alexander

One of the first things an Alexander Technique teacher will explain is that the Technique is not a therapy or a treatment but rather a re-education of the neuro-muscular system. The pupil is there is learn, to discover how to apply the principles of the Technique to their daily lives. The teacher is not there to ‘cure’ or to ‘fix’ but to guide the pupil towards a better understanding of how they may be ‘misusing’ themselves and how they can change that. No matter how wonderful a teacher’s hands are or how good a pupil feels after their lessons, long-term change will only be experienced if the pupil takes responsibility and practises what they have learnt.

Most pupils come to lessons willing to practise – they may even be thinking: ‘Just tell me/show me what I need to do differently so that I can get on and do it’. Fair enough, we can’t expect to learn a new skill without putting in a bit of practise. That’s how we learnt to ride a bike, to write, to play the piano, to roller-skate etc. And we like to have concrete, tangible things to do so that we can feel as if we are achieving something, that we’re making progress.

The problem is, if we practise a new way of ‘doing’ (eg the act of sitting down or standing up), hoping that we’re getting it right and trusting that if it feels right, it probably is right, we’re likely to be reinforcing our old habits. We are addressing the end result of the habit (the bit that we can see or feel) and that’s like dealing with the symptoms but ignoring the cause – because the habit is not purely physical, it is psycho-physical. What we mean by ‘psycho-physical habits’ is that we don’t just do something, we have the thought or idea to do something which then triggers a response from our brain to our muscles.

We need to practise new ways of thinking rather than new ways of doing. We are learning how to think in a conscious, constructive way. It is the inhibiting and the directing that we are practising, not the act itself. Our actions (our ‘doing’) change not through effort or repeated trying but as a result of the change in our thinking.

Note: these posts represent my current thoughts and experience of the Technique and will probably be most helpful for existing students and new teachers of the Alexander Technique.

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