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Glen Iris, VIC, 3146
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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.

The disappearing self

Jeremy Woolhouse

It is quite easy to become absorbed in a task and lose a sense of body.  After some time, the body may assert its neglect in stiffness or soreness.  In early stages, it seems Alexander Technique trains us to be aware of ourselves - body and mind - whilst we undertake any activity.  A deeper level exists where Alexander Technique becomes a force integrating technique, body, mind and artistry in action.

Alexadner Technique in activity

Pigeon Holing

One of the ways humans deal with complexity and variety is to create categories.  We unconsciously organise our experiences, objects and environment into ‘chunks’ of information.  To consider one ‘chunk’ of information takes less processing than a whole bunch of small bits.  It is an essential survival skill to process only the most relevant information consciously.

We have some idea, even before a single lesson, of what Alexander Technique is, and what it is not.  We have an idea about what thought and activity our work involves, and what thought and action are not work.  We have some idea of what our coordination is, and what sensations don’t belong in that category.


Alexander Technique challenges this entire paradigm.

Alexander Technique whilst you work

The experiences gained in an Alexander Technique lesson are abstracted from our ordinary work.  Even if the lesson were to be in the workplace, whilst undertaking the usual working activity, the student will probably still consider the experience to be of ‘Alexander Technique’ and view it distinct from ‘actually working’.

The belief operating here is that in the lesson, one puts Alexander Technique foremost.  The priority is improving coordination.  In ‘real life’, the actual work is the priority.  The apparent solution to discomforts of work is to prioritise Alexander Technique, and then continue to work.

This is already a paradigm shift which may make a significant improvement in ease and performance.  Yet it still doesn’t reach the potential of Alexander Technique.

Just doing stuff

Zen masters talk of ‘the self disappearing’.  The principle is that if one is engaged wholeheartedly in a task, and not concerning oneself with ego, then the sense of self dissolves, leaving just the task.  “I am doing this”, is transformed into “doing this”.  

The emotionally loaded thoughts cease.  Concern over weather one is ‘good enough’, liking or disliking the work are examples of thoughts generated by the ego, which dissolve in the state of practice one aspires towards.  The thoughts which detract from our engagement in activity are of the egoistic nature.

Working on yourself working on work

There is a parallel when one applies Alexander Technique wholeheartedly.  The division between the activity of thinking and the activity of doing becomes redundant. There is just ‘activity’.  

FM Alexander used term “self” to talk about the body and mind as a unity.  He discussed “use of the self” to talk about the work we do and coordination both at once.

The activity of coordination and the activity of work are only ever superficially separated.  One cannot work without some form of coordination, neither can one coordinate without some context for coordination.

As one develops skill in applying Alexander’s principles, the activity of coordination becomes integrated with the activity of being alive.  Any work we might undertake is not just applying the use of the self to a task, the very act of the task, at the time of doing it, is in itself the use of the self.

The separation between coordination of yourself and activity is a fallacy

Pupils sometimes protest that thinking Alexander Technique interrupts their work.  Or perhaps that work is interrupting coordination.  Both statements betray a separation between technique and work.

In order to apply Alexander effectively in any given activity, it must be practiced in all activity.  It is counterintuitive for one to improve function in one sphere, and neglect it in the next.

Without prompt, students invariably report unexpected manifestations of improved coordination.  They are surprised that diligence in one are has led to revelation elsewhere.  It is no surprise to the teacher who views all the student’s activity from the perspective of how use of the self affects functioning of the activity.

Attaining embodied practice

Before you study Alexander Technique, you look like you need Alexander Technique - your use is poor.

Once you start to learn, you look like you are using Alexander Technique - your use is improved, but contrived.

When you have progressed enough, it no longer looks like you are using Alexander Technique - your use is improved and looks natural.

With deeply embodied practice it looks like you look like you don’t need Alexander Technique - your improved use is so integrated it looks like a grace you were born with.

(paraphrased from a master teacher)

 

With ultimate integration of Alexander Technique, there is nothing especially noticeable at all about the practitioner.  Someone at this level looks naturally comfortable doing any task.  If there is anything to note, it would only be the absence of the visual stress and strain which ails the bulk of humanity.

Worker and work

The practice of Alexander Technique requires the sending of directions - some quite specific thoughts.  These are catalysts to the action of work.  They create the melding of worker and work.  If separation occurs, coordination - and therefore work - will be compromised.

The wonderful experience that arises out of a successful union of worker and work is that the coordination does itself, and the work seems to do itself.  The coordination improves the work and the work improves the coordination.  To operate at such a level is an aspiration worth pursuing.

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