In early Alexander Technique lessons, students are sometime frustrated to suddenly realise they persistently use excess tension or scrunch themselves up in daily activities. Upon hearing this, I offer my congratulations. It is a significant step forward as it indicates the student has acquired recognition, a positive step in making change. To discover you are wrong is to have learnt something.
Knowing there is an alternative
To recognise ‘scrunching up’ requires an awareness of another possible state. The student must have experienced being expansive in gesture before becoming aware of being compressive. When compression is the norm, it isn’t noticed. It is just business as usual. An Alexander Technique experience presents an alternative.
Black and white TV seemed to be a very acceptable entertainment. If we never knew of an alternative, we could still be satisfied with black and white TV. Once given the experience of the colourful alternative, watching black and white suddenly became dissatisfactory. A recognition of choice creates the possibility of freedom.
The habitual ‘scrunching up’ or ‘compression’ might also be labeled ‘tension’, ’pain’ or a host of other things. The recognition which we are talking about is an alternative for quality of movement or thought.
Persistent failure is a cue to change tactics
The beginner’s frustration may be rooted in some misconception. When something isn’t working well, you fix it. This direct approach seems logical, and may work in some situations. When it doesn’t, Alexander Technique has another proposal.
It is an indirect approach. It calls for attention to the head and neck, and the coordination of the whole self relative to the task at hand. The uninitiated are likely to reject this as a possible pathway to improvement, since their concern is with some specific discomfort, or disfunction.
A new manner of moving may also feel so unfamiliar as to seem impossible, or a non desirable option. The Alexander Technique Teacher is able to elicit the pupil’s experience of possibilities. It is paired with an education in the process that the student can initiate independently.
Experience of the alternative makes it a possibility
In a lesson, the student is presented with a new way to do something. Sometimes, he or she may be invited to go back to the old way for a comparison. The student may be reluctant, or downright refuse! When there is an alternative, one is empowered with the grace of choice.
Abstract knowledge of a choice is quite a different thing to having an experience of alternatives. Acknowledging there is a choice is essential, but leaves remaining the work would enable us to make that choice in the very moment it is required. The Alexander Technique Teacher may be able to help the student in the lesson, but the skill of Alexander Technique takes practise to acquire independence with.
An aspiring pupil may be frustrated to know there is choice, but not yet be skilled enough to access it. Oftentimes the choice is only acknowledged retrospectively - i.e. “I could have done that differently”.
Progression in learning
In early stages, a student might notice poor coordination after the event. Intervention is too late! With progresses, one starts to notice during the action the moment one is misusing oneself. At the time of recognition, there is the critical choice to make. To continue on familiar terms, or to engage a different process, such as the one Alexander Technique proposes.
With further refinement, students may become able to identify the moment before misuse happens. Being able to intervene preventatively means that the old neurological pathways are no longer taken, and it becomes easier to choose the improved manner of action.
Eventually, the process of inhibiting the old pattern and directing for the new one becomes so fulfilling, that we may use it when the potential for misuse is not even on the radar. At this level, where there is nothing to notice and correct, the practice is maintaining and improving ease and performance - without need for unwanted sensation to initiate the process.
This is the ideal which we are orienting ourselves towards, right from the time of the frustrated novice. How to progress from incompetency to mastery is the content of the lessons the student takes. But if the novice pupil is recognising movement as being less than ideally coordinated, then he or she has remembered something about Alexander Technique. This point is an opportunity to practise.
Increasing potential for improvement
The recognition of ‘something not working’ is one trigger. We could also use any other event as a catalyst to improve ourselves. Any time one uses Alexander Technique, or has some conscious intention about coordination, the effort is worthwhile. The student who finds him or herself wrong ‘all the time’ is at an advantage, as he or she has an invitation to initiate practice - ‘all the time’.
One cannot correct an action once it is past, but in the moment one thinks of Alexander Technique, one can practise it. Do it now! However inept we may be, if we use whatever skill is at our disposal to improve ourselves, we are increasing our potential for ease and quality performance. Orienting ourselves towards good coordination is a practice which is worthwhile whenever we happen to think of it.
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