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Practice of Jeremy Woolhouse, pianist and Alexander Technique Teacher in Melbourne, Australia

Specialist in working with musicians, RSI, posture re-education, neck, back and chronic pain management. 

Articles on Alexander Technique in life - by Jeremy Woolhouse

Monthly blog articles by Jeremy Woolhouse.  Alexander Technique for daily life, music performance, specialised activities, pain relief and management.

The goals that create Alexander Technique

Jeremy Woolhouse

Goal setting with Alexander Technique

Contrary to popular contemporary goal oriented paradigms, Alexander Technique asks of you to give more importance to the process, than to outcome (for the time you are engaged in the process).  By its very nature, Alexander Technique is a indirect procedure.  It demands the practitioner resist the temptation to go directly to the goal, and instead follow a structured process which at times may seem oblique to the goal itself.   This sometimes gives the impression that having a goal in mind is the antithesis of Alexander Technique.  However, The Technique has no context or meaning without a goal.

The Problem with Goal Setting

When the Alexander Technique teacher asks you to refrain from going straight to your goal, what he is doing is preventing an attempt to reach your goal with habitual methods.  The technical word for this is inhibition.  The moment the student commits herself to her goal, she is liable to neglect her coordination and go for the goal at all costs.  If we were to call this “mindless”, then the procedure we are interested in would be “mindful”.  

If the habitual goal reaching of our student accomplishes the task without any repercussions, then there is not a problem with her execution.  Such people only find themselves in Alexander Technique lessons if they perceive there is scope for improvement in performance beyond the current, functioning practice.  Most of the time, the student has come to the lesson to initiate some change in movement.  She has recognised at some level, that her attempts to reach her goal are causing some negative side effects.  In either case, our process is the same.

A Bigger Goal

Initially, our student’s goal is one dimensional.  It is to achieve an outcome at any cost.  The cost is usually some compromise on coordination - a collapse or pulling down of the torso, an excess of muscle tone, an interference with breathing, etc.  I invite my students to make their goals conditional.  Not just to achieve the relevant outcome, but to do so in a way that has no compromise to coordination.  I go a step further and say that our greater goal might be to achieve the outcome and have improved on wellbeing in the process.

I’ve used the word wellbeing here, in forming an intention (goal), I am just as likely to ask for coordination, ease, fluidity, expansion, grace or whatever words the student relates to which match the hallmarks of positive coordination.

Coordination itself is not the goal

Now that we have our outcome conditional on an improved coordination, the process for achieving our goal must include something that generates this coordination.  In the early stages of learning Alexander Technique, this is often taught out of context of the goal.  Coordination in itself is not the goal of Alexander Technique.  The process is the goal. The goal is for the practitioner to do whatever he or she wants to do and function at their full potential.  Alexander Technique is there to give a framework to make that accessible.

The teacher works with the student to construct a process that engages optimum use of the self in accomplishing the goal.  There is energy directed toward attaining coordination, then maintaining it whilst the steps that take one to one’s goal are undertaken.  It contrasts to our initial process of going straight for the goal (end-gaining) in that one must be attentive to the process and the attitude of the self, inseparable from the action of achieving the goal.  

By following this structure, the goal is likely be attained through an entirely different motion or muscle recruitment.  It cannot help but be an improved method of achievement.  In most cases, the quality of the output is improved, but in all cases, the quality of the individual is improved.

No action without intention

When F.M. Alexander pioneered what he called “The Work” (and we now call “Alexander Technique”) he didn’t set out to improve his coordination.  He set out to recite Shakespeare without the loss of voice that ailed him.  If he ever lost that goal, he could not have continued with the processes he undertook.  It was his great discovery that only by resisting the desire to speak in the manner he always had, and by paying attention to his coordination as the process, he was able to attain his goal.

In a lesson, the goal may become abstracted, but in it’s application, the goal is never lost and indeed becomes inseparable from the Alexander Technique process.  It is the goal that informs the specific movements, whilst The Technique informs the quality of the movements, and the quality of the whole.


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