At the end of an Alexander Technique lesson, students may comment on a sense of lightness or ease and a mild bewilderment at how it came about. There may be few instantaneously dramatic changes in sessions. The profound outcome comes about through an accumulation of small change. Understanding this gives insight into how Alexander Technique achieves what it does, and how one can practice with efficiency.
The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
This quote (from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching) is often used to highlight that great journeys start from humble actions. The ‘single step’ might just as well be any step in the journey. At any point, there is just this current step to take. The great journey is an accumulation of small steps.
If we are to walk 1000 miles, we are interested in the quality of each step. A persistence with coordinating each step will amount to a well coordinated 1000 miles. To coordinate 1000 miles seems like an onerous task, but all that is required is just to coordinate this one step.
When practicing this way, our attention is directed to the current activity. Lao Tzu’s quote is a call to be ‘in the moment’ and to acknowledge that each step is significant.
No big deal
Students undertaking Alexander Technique most often have some pain they wish to change. Often times the student has recognised there needs to be a significant shift in order to resolve the issue, but neither knows what needs to shift, nor how to make the change.
Medical modalities like chiropractic and osteopathy may spontaneously give patients great structural changes. It is not unprecedented in an Alexander context for a student to experience dramatic shift and relief all at once, but more common is for such a change to be progressively arrived at.
If a student is attempting to make big shifts, this effort may impose a change on the body. It may also prevent a subtle and sequential progression towards balanced functioning. As master teacher Pedro De Alcantara describes, Alexander Technique is an ‘indirect procedure’. Rather than trying to create the big change, attention to the process is paramount.
Our intention in Alexander Technique is to create a cognitive process which facilitates the body’s innate biological process to function in order to meet our desires. Being clever in thought gets the body working to do what we want.
We do not impose a coordination on the body, we facilitate its natural coordinative process. The biological processes themselves seldom create sudden dramatic change. Indeed, if such is imposed on the body, it rebels.
Small shifts are more readily sustained by the body’s natural processes, and more readily maintained by the student’s practice.
Fitness training is one example. If we suddenly change the intensity of physical demand, we feel bad pretty soon. But if we incrementally increase the activity over time, the body develops the musculature to deal with it.
Training oneself to change coordination is loosely analogous. If there is just one drop of an Alexander Technique idea that you take and practice with, you are training.
Summation is a neurological term for when enough nerve impulses reach a junction for it to fire the next nerve. as you continue to practice, each drop bring you closer to the next phase.
The straw that broke the donkey’s back
Accumulation of small changes works in our favour if the changes are positive, but against us if the change is negative. It is tempting to think that just this once, it is OK to compromise on coordination. To do so is to add a straw to the donkey’s back.
Serious spinal injuries are often triggered by mundane tasks. Someone who misuses themselves habitually may not be aware of the strain in seemingly undemanding tasks. If the task is performed poorly, eventually the accumulated strain is too much for the body.
This is an encouragement to persist with coordinating yourself to attend to the most trivial chore. Though the completion of the act may be an insignificant thing, if we have made the movement with poise we are training ourselves in improved use for tasks we have more investment in. Furthermore, we are bringing ourselves closer to our goal of sustained ease as a baseline for all activity.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of The Technique’s subtle process may be when the difference in coordination is imperceptible. Further confounding the case is the fact that poor coordination leads to low sensitivity.
If using Alexander Technique is not achieving a perceptible change, think back to your first lesson. You may have felt like the teacher wasn’t really doing very much. The change that was initiated though, eventually must have amounted to something worth following up on.
We cannot be aware of all the changes which we initiate when we use Alexander Technique thinking. We especially are likely to be blind to the changes which are affecting our deepest set habits. The potential Alexander Technique has isimmeasurable.
Without immediate feedback, continuing to give oneself clear direction is our only reliable practice. The fruition of practice may be a delayed outcome, but at least we know when we are engaging in the process, we are orienting ourselves away from habit and towards freedom.
When we practice, persistence with making small change will summate into profound achievement.
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