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Practice of Jeremy Woolhouse, pianist and Alexander Technique Teacher.

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, specialised activities, pain relief and managment.

Phases of Alexander Technique

Jeremy Woolhouse

When studying Alexander Technique, each student will progress in an individual way.  There are, however, some common themes students may be able to relate to.  A consideration of progression can help to put into perspective one’s own experience and development.

phases of learning Alexander Technique

 

As we develop a skill, we move along a continuum:

unconscious incompetence
conscious incompetence
conscious competence
unconscious competence

Initially, we don’t know how poor our skill is.  When we realise our lack of skill, we have progressed.  As we gain some skill, we have to think hard to engage it.  Eventually the skill manifests effortlessly.


Overcoming inertia

One of the hallmarks of Alexander Technique is an improvement to pupil’s sensitivity.  After beginning lessons, students invariably report that in daily activity, they have gained more awareness of habits of thought and movement.  

Negative effects of habits begin to reveal themselves and students develop an understanding of how habitual patterns may be creating discomfort or hindering performance.

Since this comes as a revelation, it suggests students were previously unaware of habits (or the effect of a habit).  This is quite a common state.  Much the way we ignore the pressure of a watch band once it is secured, human nature is to ignore the unchanging stimuli of habitual motion.

The tactile input of the Alexander Teacher addresses the problem of being unaware of compromised coordination.  Observation and instruction pair with the physical input from the teacher to stimulate more awareness.  


Disorientation - confusion

Confronting situations are often great educational opportunities. Confusion is uncomfortable, but may be one of the most constructive phases.  

When a student is confused about how to coordinate, it suggests a recognition that the habitual method is unsatisfactory.  It indicates the habit is being challenged and an experiment is underway.

The new coordinative method Alexander Technique proposes may feel so alien as to seem very wrong.  The student may be progressing well, but be buffeted by the discrepancy between the comfort of familiarity and the novel feeling of the new coordination, even if it is associated with improved function.


Confusion may also arise if one is trying to choose the ‘right’ movement.  If attention is geared towards ‘getting it right’, this may not be so constructive.  The intention is benign, but we don’t really know what ‘right’ is.  

If we want the body to use its coordinative intelligence, we need to be open for a non-conscious change.  We want to be available for coordinative options not previously considered.  

The more experienced Alexander Technique practitioners seem to have cultivated a void of certainty as to ‘where things should be’.  They have attained such competence in the practice of accessing natural coordination, that there is a profound confidence in the body’s intuitive functioning, and distrust in conscious direct placement.

Searching for a ‘correct position’ is another cause of confusion.  Alexander principles maintain that a position will correct itself if the coordinative process is functional.  

Not knowing what position is ‘correct’ is better than to have an erroneous idea and stick to it.  Attending to the process and allowing a change in position to arise is an auspiciouspractice.

With experience, the feeling of disorientation yields to a confidence in one’s own support, and the process of the technique.  As one progresses, one may find the questions which were once confounding become irrelevant, and confusion dissolves.


Deterioration - reverting to habit

By the end of one session, a pupil usually has appreciable difference in poise.  It may be experienced as fluidity, lightness, ease or a reduction in pain.  This effect does fade over time.

Typically 3 or 4 days pass before beginner students no longer feel the immediate effects of a lesson.  The factors which influence this are infinite and individual.

Left to it’s own whim, the body returns itself to the familiar state, rather than the improved state experienced in the lesson.  The pattern which has been established longer, has the more magnetic pull.

By consistently reinforcing the new manner of movement, the new efficient pattern becomes less foreign.  As the student develops an appreciation of the change, the improved use becomes more independently accessible.  


Generating Momentum

In each stage of learning there are forms the teacher might use to enable to student to experience a different poise.  These procedures are useful for the student to practice to give some form to the Technique.  They are in inroad into embodying the principles.

As the student begins to understand the principle behind the form, the technique becomes easier to apply beyond these teaching forms, into daily activity or specialised work.  

Initially, the thinking process of Alexander Technique seems laborious.  As with any learning, when one begins, the incompetence in the new skill is rather discouraging.  The student who can keep this in perspective and practice with patience may pass this stage swiftly.

Students sometimes are overwhelmed with the idea that every action will require specific thinking.  This is like brushing your teeth.  Children have to be told, and need to make a special effort.  But adults fully embrace the routine and do it because it feels better than not doing it.  One still need to make some conscious decision to brush teeth, but it is no longer an effort to make that choice.

As awareness is refined, recognition and intervention become much more spontaneous.  With more practice, the ability to create an effective solution improves and both the body’s willingness to change and capacity to execute new coordination develop.

An exploratory approach keeps the practice from becoming limited to previously experienced coordination.  Trying out different directions and applying the technique to novel situations promote an auspicious attitude to change.


Plateau, forgetting

The learning curve of Alexander Technique may be likened to learning to ride a bike.  Initially, it’s very difficult, but once one gets some momentum, it’s not so overwhelming.  

Students might get to a point where they have addressed the initial concern which first brought them to Alexander technique, or perhaps just reached a plateau in development.  When the novelty of the initial experience of Alexander Technique passes, a clear intention helps to motivate continued practice.

Persist practice creates a structure which maintains skills learnt and prevents reversion to superseded patterns.  Staying with the idea that one still doesn’t know how to coordinate can help avoid the seductive pull of the familiar habitual pattern.  If we acknowledge that there may yet be compromising habits which we are unaware of, we can transcend that limitation.

Also similar to riding a bike, it is easier to maintain momentum, than to stop and start again.  Continuing to use Alexander Technique sustains optimum functioning and paves the way for deeper integration and broader application.


Expanding Practice

Most people start Alexander Technique due to physical discomfort.  The most remarked on changes are the sensations of ease and lightness, or the resolution of pain.  

Alexander Technique goes much deeper than that.  

When we apply the principles to the plethora of life activity, our practice expands.  It goes beyond relieving discomfort to promoting ease and heightened performance.  When we apply the principles universally, there is a paradigm shift in thinking.

It can be said that Alexander Technique is about freedom to choose.  It functions at a deep neurological level.  It fosters presence ‘in the moment’ with all associated benefits.  It challenges habits of thought, opening pathways for mood and attitude choice.


Maintaining Practice

There are inevitable cycles within study of any profound teaching.  Returning to the basics after some time, one will approach the familiar forms with new perspective.  Deeper realisation can arise and the contrast to the first experience highlights progress which has been made.

When one practices to principle, there are actually no basic forms.  The same principles apply regardless of the task.  To engage in the work whilst performing some refined skill can be just as educational, invigorating or rewarding as sitting some very basic posture, or doing some menial chore.

Gathering different perspectives is valuable - weather it be from an Alexander Technique teacher, or a book on Alexander Technique.  The grace and ease which we are aspiring to can appear in other non-Alexander forms too.  Dancers, musicians or athletes might offer inspiration.  Considering how these models obtain their form helps us to deepen our understanding and practice.

Other modalities offer new perspectives.  Our general life experience we can view with Alexander Technique in perspective.  The technique is after all, designed to enhance engagement in life.


Getting Stuck

Invariably there are times when we experience frustration.  Maybe we are not achieving the same improvement as before, maybe we’ve let practice slip, or feel like we’ve forgotten just what it is we were doing that worked.

Often times there is some judgement attached to feeling stuck.  One may feel useless, irresponsible or like one has wasted all this effort.  If these thoughts as recognised as just thoughts, not realities, perhaps one can be content with being stuck.  

Strange as it may sound, this is already moving from being stuck.  

It signifies a move from trying to achieve something, to just being where one is.  It takes us out of the goal oriented paradigm into a process oriented paradigm.  Once we are able to work with process, we can engage in the moment and do what we need to do.

Striving to make change is a persistent obstacle to making change.  The only place we can work constructively in, is that place we are at right now.  

This does not contradict the merit in having a goal or vision.  It is to recognise that from where we are right now, we can orient ourselves in that direction.  Thus a process is initiated.


Embodying principles

The more one practices, the less one feels like one is practicing.  It initially seems there is work of Alexander Technique that must be applied to this activity and that activity.  Eventually, the principles become embodied and manifest universally.  The way one moves, thinks or acts becomes integrated with the process of Alexander Technique.  

It still requires some attention, but becomes part of the make up of who the person is.

At this level, the Technique is a fundamental for coordination.  And since no activity can be done without some coordination, it become the basis for all activity.  Even to describe it like that is inaccurate - it is inseparable from activity and inseparable from the practitioner.

 

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