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Practice of Jeremy Woolhouse, pianist and Alexander Technique Teacher in Melbourne, Australia

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, music performance, specialised activities, pain relief and management.

When does 'good enough' happen?

Jeremy Woolhouse

Looking to the root of stress, one common theme is that of not being good enough. Musicians might recognise this in the form of ‘not doing enough practice’.  Alexander Technique identifies the struggle which arises and introduces practices which dissolve the context for such judgement.

Am I good enough

When one learns Alexander Technique, one is asked to use certain thoughts in relation to activity - even if the activity is apparently static as sitting in a chair.  The practice of Alexander Technique not only increases awareness of posture and movement, but also of exposes habits of thought.

Kinds of thinking

Recognising which thoughts are constructive and which are deconstructive is essential.  Alexander Technique teachers are trained to recognise and manage the somatic manifestations, and this is the context of the study of cognitive behaviour.  

Perceptive students will recognise the psychological impact of habitual thoughts too.  Symptoms of depression or performance anxiety for example, arise when deconstructive thinking outweighs constructive thinking.

Labeling thoughts

One formal practice of identifying the constructive and deconstructive thoughts is to consciously label them; “now I’m thinking I sound boring … now I’m thinking about last night … now I’m judging … now I’m listening keenly … now I’m sending directions”.  In doing so, one can become aware of habitual types of thought.

Core beliefs

One can consider what core belief is behind the deconstructive thoughts. “I think I’m not good enough” may be the basis for thinking about other people’s opinion, for thinking about doing enough practice, thoughts of comparing yourself to past performance, or to other performers.

This is one example of a core belief.  There may be a few that one person can strongly identify with.  When our thoughts are being influenced by a habit of this type, our coordination reflects this.  To demonstrate; create a caricature of someone who thinks they are not good enough, and someone who is overconfident in their own ability.  Our image will show postural and movement manifestations of the belief our cartoon is acting from.

Changing response to thought

In identifying a negative habit of thought, it may be the thought itself one registers, or the somatic symptom.  In either case, Alexander Technique trains us to respond with the neurological process of inhibition.  In Alexander Technique jargon, Inhibition is a thought which prevents habitual action.  It may be a fleeting pause, but it is an essential practice to stop the engagement of a habitual neurological pathway.

If there is a belief at play that one is ‘not good enough’, inhibition calls for an interruption to the thoughts which fuel that belief.  The following process - direction, initiates positively oriented thought.

As you are, right now

In that moment of inhibition is an acceptance of the situation as it is right now.  Also, an acceptance of the transience of that situation.  (Here is another parallel with ACT, Acceptance Commitment Therapy.)  Inhibition of the habitual reaction give the space for making a choice - something we cannot take for granted.  

Accepting ‘where we are right now’ is a critical stage in addressing end-gaining.  The problem with the idea of ‘not being good enough’ is that we instantly react by either giving up, or trying very hard to show we are making effort.  The latter exemplifies what FM Alexander called ‘end-gaining’.  It is the striving one does to achieve a result, at all costs.  

It leaves no space for considering coordination or the process of just how one will make it to the goal.  It’s concern is that the current situation is unacceptable and instantly demands effort.  The principle which remedies this Alexander called ‘means-whereby’.  It calls for a considered process which ensures at every step one is taking care of one self, one’s coordination and one’s orientation towards the desire.

When we practice like this, we are engaging a methodical approach to work towards ‘being good enough’.  The process however negates this as an outcome, since at every stage, one is doing all one can anyway.  The idea of ‘being good enough’ is fallacious from the outset, but if it is a deep seated belief, it operates from a emotional level, not at rational level.

To explore a possble absence of rationale, ask the questions “for whom, what or when is this not good enough for?”.  'Why would this be the case?'  "Is this relevant right now?'

Enough practice

The musicians’ idea of ‘enough practice’ mentioned earlier also crumbles as one engages the Alexander process.  There is without doubt the possible state of being underprepared, or not having practiced enough.  There is also the occasion of over-practicing - doing so much playing that all lightness and novelty is drained from a performance.

Quite possibly, there is no such a thing as enough practice.  The concept itself may be completely flawed.  If one works to principle and stays with a process, the most constructive practice will manifest the most efficient progress a practice session might offer.  

To engage in a constructive framework, use coordinative thought tools of Alexander Technique.  Listening to the sound produced and continuing to include awareness of the whole self ensure that playing aligns with a greater goal of practice: to create music of beauty and improve on comfort and ease.

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