A large percentage of classical Alexander Technique lesson time is devoted to work on sitting, standing and moving between sitting and standing. As one progresses, this preoccupation persists. There are some more complex tasks that the experienced student may be able to work constructively with, but the teacher is likely to continue to work on sitting and standing. This tenacity is based on profound principles.
Learning in depth
Alexander Technique is rooted in a paradigm of depth learning. It considers learning one thing deeply is far more valuable than to have skimmed the surface of a variety of topics. FM Alexander wrote; ‘A person who learns to work to principle in doing one exercise will have learned to do all exercises, but the person who learns just “to do an exercise” will most assuredly have to go on learning to “do exercises” ad Infinitum.’ (FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, Mouritz first published 1942 pg 217.)
“Exercise” here can mean any activity, be it recreational or occupational. Invoking the principles of Alexander Technique to one application (along with any principles of the specific exercise) demands an uncompromising attention to fine detail of each aspect of the task. It also insists on simultaneous attention to the whole self. We are unfortunately fickle in our attention, and have all acquired habits which interfere with the attention asked for. This makes the situation rather complex, in face of the fact that the principles themselves are quite straightforward.
Working with progressive complexity
In order to make the coordinative requirements of Alexander Technique accessible to the student, the teacher will simplify the task to something basic. Just sitting or standing are the most fundamental forms of activity - that is, most of our activity is done in one of those orientations.
In such seemingly simple postures, infinite refinement is available. Even if one is well poised to begin with, there is scope for deepening understanding and strengthening connections, and merit just in practicing the thinking skill of Alexander Technique.
Why we use Alexander Technique
The point of The Technique is to enhance our engagement and find ease in life. The phrase “thinking in activity” is ubiquitous in Alexander Technique vocabulary. One should not loose sight of the motivation for engaging in The Technique. It is not coordination itself, but coordination so one can do something meaningful. In compliment to this, the simplest postures are an opportunity for establishing a base of positive orientation. They comprise a training ground for more complex movements.
We have a tendency to be preoccupied with things we interface with (such as computers), and take it for granted that the coordinative fundamentals are working for us, simmering away below consciousness. As one begins study of Alexander Technique, the fallacy of this becomes apparent. It behooves the dedicated student to go deep into the processes that underpin bodily posture and orientation of the whole self.
To admit to the fact that there is improvement to be had in something as basic as sitting or standing requires a certain humility. A conviction that one ‘knows how to sit’, is an interference to the process of finding any improvement in poise. This applies as much to the experienced practitioner as to the beginner.
The beginner may actually be at an advantage. The novice knows he or she has every reason to be presented with improvement. The expert may become attached to having some “achievement" to show for his or her investment in, or experience of The Technique. Any holding - whether it be holding on to muscles, or holding on to ideas - creates tension and immobility. Such tension constitutes an obstacle to progress.
Ironically, an attachment to progress itself also falls into this category. Thus to approach each experience without expectation is the most auspicious practice. Zen master Shunryo Suzuki Roshi called this “Beginner’s Mind” and it has presided as a principle to Zen students today. The Zen tradition demonstrates a commitment to finding depth in simple practice. The repeated egoless, wholehearted embracing of the simple forms of seated meditation is at the core of the traditions profoundness.
The Alexander Technique teacher will use many methods to communicate the principles. Various forms may be used to approach the principles from different perspectives. However, the more basic form persistently presents as one with greatest scope for deepening understanding and practice. As Steve Jobs said; “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
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