Swapping What’s Wrong For What Is
Working with the Alexander Technique, we soon discover that our use (what we are doing with our musculo-skeletal system) is something that is constantly working either for or against us. But we’re not just using our bodies, we’re also using our minds all the time – and how we’re using our minds is either enhancing or diminishing our sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Too much of the time, our attention is focussed on what’s wrong. The news is full of stories telling us what’s wrong with the economy, the weather, the health service, the youth of today, public transport etc. Without realising it, it is easy to slip into thinking about what we perceive to be wrong in our lives – whether it’s the lack of a partner, an unsatisfactory job, a difficult relationship, health or financial worries. A lot of people, when they look in the mirror, aren’t happy with what they see and their attention is drawn to the things they would like to change, the things they wish were different. Even loving relationships can start to lose their joyfulness if either or both parties get into the habit of focussing on what they perceive to be wrong in the relationship… “I wish he wouldn’t leave his stuff lying around”…”She never asks me about my day”…”Why doesn’t he look after himself better?”…”I wish she wouldn’t watch so much telly”.
When we perceive something as wrong, as some kind of a problem, it’s understandable that our minds will go into problem-solving mode – analysing and comparing with previous similar situations to try to find a match and running through potential ‘what-if’ scenarios to work out worst-case outcomes. In this way, the mind runs back and forth into the past and the future. We spend more time analysing, comparing and projecting than we do experiencing. This often does little to solve the perceived problem but keeps us locked into the feelings of anxiety, disappointment or irritation and keeps our attention on what we perceive to be the problem.
In an Alexander Technique lesson, if a pupil views their aches and pains or their misuse as a problem, then it becomes a problem – something they need to try to fix. Instead of solving the problem, this merely makes it worse. For example, if they are overly focussed on their tendency to pull the head back and down and they try really hard not to do this, they will often end up interfering with the neck muscles in some way (as well as muscles elsewhere in the body) and either stiffen the neck or bring about a state of collapse.
It is this tendency to end-gain, to try to do something ‘right’ that is one of the biggest hurdles for pupils when learning the Technique. It is not just the supposedly physical habit of pulling the head back and down, it is the mental habit of trying to fix it, to achieve a desired result. If we let go of the idea that our misuse is ‘wrong’, we can let go of the notion of trying to change it. It is the trying that keeps us stuck in our habits. As FM Alexander would patiently exclaim to his pupils: “You will try to get up!” when all he wanted them to do was to inhibit and direct and allow him to take them up.
Instead of thinking about what’s wrong, it may be more helpful to think about what is. If, with the help of a teacher, a pupil is sitting with a free neck and they are about to stand up, they don’t need to think about their tendency to tighten the neck muscles. All they need to do is inhibit (that is refuse to give consent to their desire to stand up in the habitual way) and give their directions, which are purely preventative. There is no problem, nothing ‘wrong’ to focus on. As FM said: “You are perfect as you are except for what you are doing to yourselves.” If the pupil inhibits, let’s go of trying to change anything, if they bring their attention to what is, to where they are in the present moment – sitting in the chair with a free neck – they are no longer in end-gaining fix-it mode, they are simply experiencing and their neck will continue to be free.
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.