By its nature, Alexander Technique is indirect. It deals with unfamiliar sensations, and proposes new ways of thinking. Since its effects may also be very subtle, especially in the early stages of learning, students may be unsure if their practice outside of the lesson is “right”.
How to tell right from wrong
There is not always a clear sensorial experience which defines coordination as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Any sensations which arise do, however, consistently provide useful indicators to the degree practice is positively orientated.
If one is looking for a specific sensation to know if one is ‘doing it right’, then this effort is misdirected. The sensation of being well coordinated is the outcome of a process, and the skill of Alexander Technique is engaging such a process. When a pleasant sensation results, attaching to that as being ‘right’, may distract the aspiring pupil from practicing the thinking process which brought about the sensation.
Labelling something ‘wrong’ also has drawbacks. We want to keep as many options open as possible and whilst there are some we need to avoid to remain safe, there are often ways in which ‘wrong’ things can be made to be healthy, well coordinated acts. Our attraction to familiar experiences also prejudices us against unfamiliar ones, and a new, well coordinated movement may be categorised as ‘wrong’.
Labels of ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, carry emotional associations. We all relate to the negative feeling of ‘being wrong’ or ‘failing at getting it right’. Though it may sound extreme, these negative feelings may arise from the human capacity to extrapolate. In the current situation of struggling with a new skill, we can end up triggering an emotional response such as ’I am a failure and no one will like me’. A change in paradigm away from definitions of ‘good’ or bad’ avoids such emotional pitfalls.
We want to engage Alexander Technique without having to simultaneously assess it. The process of The Technique has more refined intentions, and a more specific framework than “trying to get it right”. Viewing The Technique as a continuum - a movement towards (rather than away from) perfect coordination, allows it to have infinite potential for improving oneself. It is not just “getting it right” and stopping there, but continuing to advocate healthy thought and movement.
One can use the yardsticks suggested below as indicators of how positively practice is oriented. If we are facing in the direction of good health, and have an intention towards this, we are on the path. The study of Alexander Technique develops a strength in moving along the path in a positive direction.
Practicing rather than assessing
You may still be constructive in your practice even if you don't relate to any of the below. These sensations are not the practice, and to go looking for them will only get in the way of them arising. The experiences are the results - if you notice them, use the information intelligently to refine your practice.
'The experience you want is in the process of getting it. If you have something, give it up. Getting it, not having it is what you want.’ F.M.Alexander
Sensorial experience indicators:
An indication things are not working optimally. Discomfort is a positive indication if it is exclusively discomfort due to unfamiliarity, but if it has any sense of strain, then this is a negative indication. Pain may present in new or unexpected ways or locations; sometimes this is an indication that there has been some local change which is yet to be integrated.
A positive indication, sometimes described as effortlessness, lightness, buoyancy, expansiveness or decompression. Similarly a sense of flow, poise, grace, seamlessness or continuity of motion indicates efficient movement. Improvements in stability and balance are also related.
Change in tonal balance
A reduction or absence of tension is positive if there was too much tone, which is common. There is also the possibility that the preexisting balance was lacking in tone sufficient for the activity at hand. At any rate, if something is changing in the distribution of tone, it is an indication The Technique is making changes. It needs to be assessed in combination with the other factors listed. A positive change in tone may have the sense of being indefinitely sustainable.
Change in performance, whether it be a specialised skill, an everyday activity, organic function or an improvement in the body’s response to conscious intention all reflect the degree of engagement in Alexander Technique. This may be the case even if there is no change in pain or comfort and function becomes the critical yardstick for improvement.
Indications a habitual pattern is bypassed are positive, so long as the overall coordination is supported, not compromised. Sensations of being asymmetric without being unbalanced may be present. Sensations described as odd, weird or unfamiliar are fine if they also seem easeful or natural. This gives rise to more adaptability, availability, spontaneity or choice about orientation.
Change may appear indirectly in spontaneous movements of coordination - where it seems the body is correcting itself without effort. What FM Alexander referred to when he said; “the right thing does itself”.
Clear thinking, precision in action or concisely defined movement are positive indicators. A sense of calmness, lack of stress, no pressure, having all the time one needs - all are encouraging experiences.
These are sensations - feedback from the field. What we do with this information is critical. There is a ‘right effort’ one can make, which could be described as ‘an intention to coordinate well’. If this intention is absent, then you are not using Alexander Technique. To be using Alexander Technique well, is intentionally orienting yourself towards positive coordination.
The positive indicators above are characteristics of ‘positive coordination’. Note that ‘intention’ is something which is consciously initiated, but may or may not be consciously implemented - i.e. the system may respond to the intention to coordinate with changes which were not specifically instructed, but are consistent with fulfilling ‘positive coordination’.
Leave aside concern for whether something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Use the information at your disposal - in this article, from your lessons, and from your sensorial experience - to continue to consciously orient yourself toward positive coordination, refine your direction, and clarify your intention.
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