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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.

Getting Perspective

Jeremy Woolhouse

“Get job done at any expense” is a modus operandi we’re probably all familiar with.  Persistence of this attitude, the cost to ourselves wears us down.  An upgrade to “Get job done without compromise to self” infinitely improves outcomes.  Staying true to the principles of Alexander Technique transcends even this, and proposes a third paradigm.

gaining new perspective on life with Alexander Technique


Living in a material world

The mentality that ‘compromise is a prerequisite to progress’ is a limiting one.  Yet the culture we live in praises accomplishment and ignores processes.  We are congratulated on achievements when they have a tangible outcome infinitely more so than we are congratulated on achievements of adhering to a practice without such material outcome.  A quantifiable result is considered more worthy than a qualitative process.

Preoccupation with outcomes is understandable.  It is a problem however, when practicing our craft, we so completely concern ourselves with the outcome, that we neglect the process.  In working at a computer, one may be so engrossed in the entering or manipulation of data, that one has no awareness of the physical process involved.  Maybe after an hour of work, one may feel the stiffness or discomfort of sitting and realise that attention has been on the screen, and exclusive of whom is actually doing the work the screen is representing.

Performing artists, elite athletes and manual labourers are at an advantage here as the output of their work is more directly reflective of the quality in which it is done.  The same data may be entered into a computer with slump or buoyant poise, but expressive qualities of an art form are dependant on the poise of the performer.  Similarly strength and efficiency in sport is more directly related to the way one coordinates movement.

No pain, no gain

Even within these fields, however, the mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’ is rife.  Musicians are expert at pushing through physical discomforts purportedly at the service of their creative expressions.  When one is exclusively absorbed in attempting some technical development, compromise of poise may even be presumed inevitable.

Even if we recognise in theory the pitfalls of this attitude, unfortunately, it makes us feel like we are making a noble effort.  We feel the strain in the body and congratulate ourselves on how hard we are working.  We take fatigue and pain as proof that we are doing our utmost in the service of our art, and in furthering our technical or artistic capacity.  Music institutions are the unfortunate breeding grounds for such mentality, and it is not uncommon to hear students compete with each other’s stories of pain.

The physical pains associated with the attainment of artistry are avoidable.  With developing strength and fitness, there may be times of soreness and fatigue as boundaries are pushed, but strain is not prerequisite.    In most work, sport or recreation situations, there is no need for physical pain.  There is almost invariably an alternate pathway to achieving one’s goals.

The pain which has context is perhaps the psychological pain of losing some ‘sense of effort’ we may have become attached to.  There is also a comfort in familiarity.  Adoption of Alexander Technique processes means we may face the emotional pain of unfamiliarity - the fear of the unknown.

No compromise to self

The latter part of ‘get job done at any cost’ may not ever be a conscious intention.  Often it is a habitual response - an unconsciously subscribed to prerequisite to the concept of ‘getting the job done’.

With a little reflection, we can see how this might be manifesting in our work.  And with a little consideration, we may make the leap to the next stage: ‘getting the job done without compromise to self’.  This is a speciality of Alexander Technique.

At surface level, The Technique seems to show us all the compromises to balance and ease which we are habitually making in striving to do our work.  One becomes sensitised to habitual compromises of coordination, and trains in skills to counter historical misuse.

Alexander Technique also insists that there is no separation between the act of coordination and the action of the activity - that the two are synergetic to each other.  And since one’s coordination is a constant influence on activity, it follows that the process will be most beneficial to practice in all situations.

That brings us from ‘job done at any cost’ to ‘job done without compromise to self’ to our third paradigm:

‘Get the job done and improve your ease’.

One could also substitute ‘ease’ for ‘use of self’ or ‘co-ordination’ to stay closer to classical Alexander Technique language.  Or interpret as 'health' or 'wellbeing'.

They key here is that we have expanded the paradigm of thought.  We started with just the job at hand.  We then acknowledged the in-sustainability of this and changed our goal.  Instead of just the task, we included the goal of long term ease and comfort.  

Our original paradigm ‘job done at any cost’ will always fail when considered from a longer perspective.  One can imagine that In 10 or 20 years time, the outcomes achieved at cost to self may seem insignificant.  The accumulated cost to self will more likely be the significant thing.  

We are all looking to have ease and comfort in our future lives.  Alexander Technique offers us an opportunity to do something right now that aligns us with that life direction.

Talking to elders in the family, or critically ill patients, one consistent theme is that one’s own health is paramount.  Unfortunately it takes losing it for many of us to appreciate just how valuable it is.

Alexander Technique proposes a practice that positively promotes wellbeing.  This gives us the context then, to make any undertaking into a practice of improving ourselves.  And since The Technique best functions in context of activity, it is more of a side effect that you ‘get the job done’ along the way.

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