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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.

When knowing less, is more

Jeremy Woolhouse

There is a myth prevalent in society today that more knowledge is better than less.  When it comes to how we relate to our manner of using ourselves, knowledge in itself is not as valuable as one might think.

With no recognition of how the way we use ourselves impacts on our performance (or experience of pain), there is no scope for engagement in self improvement from the Alexander Technique perspective.  The knowledge of principles is part of the way we initiate change.  A recognition of our capacity for change is also useful.  Observation and awareness are also indispensable.

I’d like to consider though, the way in which we define knowledge.  If our concept of knowledge is facts or theory, our lives can be fulfilled by wikipedia.  A deeper knowledge comes about through personal experience.  Knowledge can also be considered as a skill acquired, as well as information committed to memory.  

In lessons in Alexander Technique, there is a time where the student becomes aware of “faulty sensory appreciation”.  That is, she discovers that what she feels or thinks is happening is different from what is actually happening.  This is usually evident early on in relation to position in space - the student feels she is “slumping” or “not sitting straight” when she can see with the aid of a mirror that in fact, she is poised in upright.  (The reasons for this are discussed under the heading “faulty sensory appreciation” in another post.)

It would seem the logical thing to expect is that the teacher gives the student the knowledge of her habit so that she can recognise it and correct it.  There are problems with that approach.  If she is unable to perceive her habit, she will need a mirror beside her constantly to keep the information up to date.  Without that feedback, she will most likely presume she is not in her habit, because she feels normal.  

If her habit is to hold her head forward, the student’s overwhelming impulse to that information will be to “fix” it by pulling her head back.  This may leave the well intending student feeling she is doing “the right thing” when all she has achieved is adding pulling back to pulling forward.

A more profound approach is to take an indirect procedure*.  If the student knows she is pulling her head back, she is best served by inhibiting any desire to change it.  Then to invite the whole body to bring itself into a balanced coordination.  Details of that procedure are beyond the scope of this article, but those who have experienced Alexander Technique first hand will relate to it.

Note that with the indirect approach, the knowledge of the student’s habit is not given great importance.  By attending to the whole, she is doing the best thing to bring about resolution of the specific.

When a student is in a state of confusion as to where they are in space, this is a place of immense potential.  Such a student is at an advantage over one who thinks she knows where she is.  The confused student is free of misconception.  Also she is relieved of the temptation to directly “fix” a problem because she can’t see what it is.

The challenge that the confused student has is to embrace this uncertainty rather than reject it and return to familiar territory.  If one learns Alexander Technique by its principles, then engaging the technique will be effective whilst still in this state of unfamiliarity.  

FM Alexander was once quoted to say of the work, “it is moving from the known to the unknown.”  If one applies the skill of Alexander Technique, confusion dissolves without need for direct answers.


*Indirect Procedures is also the title of and excellent book on Alexander Technique by Pedro De Alcantara.

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