Stepping Into the Unknown

“Everyone wants to be right. But no-one stops to consider whether their idea of right is right.” FM Alexander

One of the challenges we face when changing habits, is our tendency to rely on our feeling to tell us what is right. If it feels right, then it must be ok, right? Because we are creatures of habit, doing things in the same repetitive way, we have developed an association of certain sensory feedback with certain movements. We have, in effect, made a recording of certain tension patterns and linked them to the everyday activities we take part in. This is what it feels like to sit down, to slice an onion, to laugh, to play the violin etc.

The trouble is, just because something feels right, that doesn’t mean that it is right. If we have developed a habit of standing with the torso leaning back, then, when we are guided into a more vertical position, not only does it feel wrong, it even feels as if we are leaning forward. Over time, our sensory feedback system has recalibrated itself so that it interprets the lean-back as upright. FM referred to this as ‘debauched kinaesthesia’ or ‘faulty sensory feedback’. What ‘feels right’, only feels right because we have done it that way so often and it has become familiar – we have trained ourselves to associate a certain feeling with a particular response. To a smoker, it may feel right to have a cigarette after very meal because that is what they have done over a period of time. An unhappy relationship may still seem preferable to being single because it is familiar (the comfort zone isn’t always comfortable).

When learning to sit/stand or do anything in a non-habitual way, if we try to rely on what feels right, we will be guided back to the same way that we have always done it. To make a different choice, we need to completely let go of our idea of what looks right, what feels right, what is right. And this isn’t comfortable. When we first learn to sit down without pulling the head back and down, it feels wrong. The sensory feedback that the brain is receiving does not match the familiar sensory feedback associated with the act of sitting down and we can almost experience a sense of panic. Our belief system kicks in, telling us that it isn’t possible to sit down in this new unfamiliar way and there’s a strong pull to revert to the old tension pattern which feels right. Allowing the ‘wrong’ feeling and not getting pulled back by the ‘right’ feeling is what we call stepping into the unknown.

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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