Alexander Technique cultivates skilful use of thought. It undeniably trains positive thinking. It differs, however, from other practices commonly grouped under the ‘positive thinking’ umbrella. Practicing Alexander Technique principles may help in assessing the value of other ‘positive thinking’ practices, and assist in making them constructive.
One of the few technical terms in Alexander Technique is “direction”. Direction is a thought which has intention for action, but no imperative for action. It is an invitation without demand for direct result. It encourages an indirect response from the coordinative faculties. It is distinctly unique to Alexander Technique. When other modalities seem to have parallels, it is an opportunity to clarify and deepen our understanding and practice.
‘Positive thinking’, or ‘visualisation’ practices are often focusing directly on results. They differ from Alexander direction in that they are concerned with an outcome. Alexander directions are skilful thoughts we construct to orient ourselves towards an outcome. The neurological act of directing is a process which may only be applied at the moment, thus directing is a process or a practice.
Directions are about one’s own coordination relative to action and environment. Whatever other psychological practices one undertakes, for e.g. visualisation, these are distinct from Alexander Technique thinking. Employing directions whilst working on visualisation would infuse the visualised action with cues for positive coordination. Visualisation is a secondary tool, direction is a primary instrument of change.
Not looking for bad habits
Very early in Alexander Technique lessons, students discover fantastic ways in which habit has covertly interfered with coordination and effective function. We are very quick to see a plethora of things we are ‘doing wrong’. Tensions may become overwhelmingly obvious and the temptation arises to create a list of things to ‘not do’.
Directions ask for a change which is mutually exclusive to the unwanted state. Rather than asking ‘not to tighten’ a direction may ask for ‘release’. This literary manipulation is also known as ‘positive framing’. A focus on a negative trait is feeding it with attention which may unwittingly stimulate it. Our intentions are better phrased positively so as to cultivate that which we actually want.
If one notices tension or poor functioning, one can then make a choice about how to respond. Thus the observation of negative traits is incorporated into the process of skilful thinking. To ignoreor shun negative thoughts, emotions, pain or unpleasant sensations, would be to deprive oneself of information invaluable to optimising comfort, ease and function.
Since we are also choosing not to engage in a habitual reaction to negative thoughts or sensations, this process is related to ‘acceptance’ in the popular ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) psychology practice. It is not an acceptance of perpetual discomfort, but rather acceptance of a current state. This must be paired with an acceptance of the possibly for change.
Alexander Technique includes all present psychological, physical and environmental elements. It contradicts advice to avoid negative thoughts or experiences. Whether the negative thoughts or experiences are bad or not depends on how one reacts to them. The process of directing oneself is a process of choice. It empowers the practitioner to stay positively oriented in face of negative stimuli.
As an example, Alexander Technique neither encourages nor discourages being around negative people. Instead, it proposes that for whatever situation at hand, there is a positive way you can coordinate yourself. If the practitioner is staying in easeful coordination, pessimism ceases to be infectious. Negative thoughts lead to compromises in coordination, so by choosing positive coordination, one is creating a predisposition to positivity.
Adapting yourself to the situation
Good coordination increases the ability to change and adapt, thereby cultivating immunity to getting stuck in negativity. The process of directing oneself is an interruption to persistent cycles of thought. Change in the physical response prevents the downward spiral of negative thought leading to tension and discomfort leading to more negative thought.
“There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile” as the old rhyme goes. In the same vein, a slumped, collapsed posture will harbour depression and a tight, tense posture will foster stress. The physical and psychological/emotional are inextricably bound. Bringing the self into good poise is creating a host for balanced psychological/emotional wellbeing.
The ability to frame negative experience in a constructive way also paves the way for skilful planning. To exclusively think of positive potential situations means no contingency or skill is developed for an unexpectedly negative turn of events. The advice to do avoid thinking of negative situations is perhaps better framed as ‘promote clear intention for positive outcomes’.
If a negative potential situation presents, there is guaranteed to be tightening or compromise to coordination. Directing for positive coordination in that moment prevents the thought from imposing stress upon the body. Once the potential situation looses its immediate negative sensation, the thought is no longer problematic. If it is not held in physical sensation, it is is free to pass. The scope for modifying thought is increased and a positive management of the situation is far more likely to present itself.
Some pop psychology suggests persistence in positive thinking will result in positive events. Whilst we can work on changing our perception of events, we can also cultivate skills which can help us in any situation.
Exclusively focusing on positive events may create expectation. Expectation is accompanied by tension and apprehension - of the event’s ultimate presentation, lack of presentation, or both. If one creates the expectation of positive outcome, one has also created the capacity for disillusionment. Alexander direction is void of expectation. Practicing the skill of coordinating well decreases attachment to outcome as one develops the capacity to be confidently coordinated in any eventual situation.
Since directions state what one wants, they may be associated with affirmations. Directions are not simple statements of a desired state, they have verbs included, and are action steps to orient one towards the desired state.
Because they involve some immediate change, the scope of direction is greater. Augmenting affirmations to include constructive practice right now would improve their practice. Directing yourself as you give yourself an affirmation adds an immediate satisfaction. This may in itself be more rewarding than the potential for later perfection.
A Psycho-physical practice
Alexander Technique is a psychological process. It is also a physical process. Since there is no distinction between the two in our living experience, the effect of integrating psychological and physical practices is profound. Whilst a distinct process in itself, Alexander Technique can frame and contain the practices of other modalities to enhance their effectiveness.
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