To practise Alexander Technique is to use thought skilfully. There are some special Alexander Technique thoughts which we use to embrace a greater scope for ourselves, including intentions which give rise to ease and efficiency in work. As we recognise that the way we think affects our capacity for comfort and function, we may naturally begin to align all our thinking processes with the principles of Alexander Technique.
When we experience the effect of the Technique, we start acting from an understanding that we influence our comfort and efficiency by the way we are thinking. Adding the specific thoughts of Alexander Technique ultimately brings us in line with a bigger picture intention for our work - one that includes ease and sustained wellbeing. In spite of its initial impression of complicating things, Alexander ultimately makes our thinking more effective, and our work more efficient.
A journey of self improvement
For those on the journey of improving themselves through Alexander Technique, the specific thought of using the Technique inevitably pops up here and there. If we are doing some work or engaged in an activity, we can be very quick to dismiss the thought. It may seem that engaging with Alexander Technique may interrupt a flow of thought, detract from the task, compromise concentration, be irrelevant to the job at hand, or take too much time to practise.
The excuses are infinite, but rarely hold true. None of the above are qualities of effectively-applied Alexander Technique. The opposite is actually the case.
Interrupting a flow of thought
If one is composing - whether it be an email, a sonata or a joke - it may seem that the task requires a flow of thought. When something distracts us, we lose the flow of thought to the detriment of our work. In those cases, the distracting thoughts are unrelated to the task at hand. With Alexander Technique, the thoughts we use are explicitly connected to the activity we are currently doing - even if that activity is just to think.
‘I coordinate myself so that I can think of the next sentence’ is an example of integrating an Alexander Technique intention with the task of composition. Because we are asking for thoughts which not only support our activity, but positively generate a well-coordinated technique for that activity, the effective use of Alexander Technique will enhance our capacity rather than detract from it.
A distraction is something that draws attention away from where it is intended. Alexander Technique is designed to channel effort efficiently into the activity we intend. It’s just a bigger picture. If the intent is ‘to get job done at any cost,’ then Alexander Technique will be a deterring factor - for the greater benefit! If one is astute enough to intend ‘to get job done whilst improving well being,’ then any engagement in Alexander Technique will only serve to fulfil our goal.
We can use the Alexander Technique principles to manage the true distracting thoughts. We can inhibit following them, and direct our attention back to where we want it.
The time it takes
It may be useful to recognise that the learning of Alexander Technique and the practice of Alexander Technique may differ. When we learn, as the process is new, we might take some time. When we practise, we reference the learning, and we can access it faster. The more we learn and the more we practise, the faster we are able to access the same processes.
When we are at work, or at play, there isn’t the scope for the same detail as in the lesson. Similar to the practice of a music student who goes into great detail working on one bar of music in the lesson, the focused training manifests itself in a full performance. In an instant, the musician is able to recall the lesson and access all the training associated with it.
A thought may be just one word, but if it references what you know or have experienced of Alexander Technique, then it will be meaningful. Master Alexander Technique teacher Cathy Madden is famous for getting her pupils to invent a word. Together, Cathy and her pupil then ascribe a meaning to it consistent with the principles of Alexander Technique. The new word becomes a trigger - an accessible abbreviation for a whole process.
However unskilful or fleeting, any thought intended to improve one’s ‘use of self’ is making positive coordination more likely.
It may seem that Alexander Technique is proposed as something to be practised concurrent with activity. When one is developing skill in Alexander Technique this is perhaps the case, but once one becomes more proficient, the practice of Alexander Technique may fulfil its potential to be integrated with the task.
An organist must coordinate hands on two keyboards, both feet on pedals, read a score with three staves, communicate with other musicians and attend to a host of musical concerns. All these are components of the one activity - playing the organ.
Alexander Technique does not purport to add another separate activity - that of coordination. Instead, it is a technique for engaging with and organising all the components of playing the organ. It informs the coordination of both hand and foot. It creates a functional core support for reading and communicating. It puts the whole body to the service of music and orchestrates the component movements and processes.
Integration of thinking into activity
To be sure, using Alexander Technique is no small ask. It is rife with challenges. However, the practice itself is fundamentally simple; it is our habits of thought and movement which present all the obstacles. Alexander Technique can address these habits and bring your whole self to bear on your work. It is a practice of integration for the mutual benefit of your work and yourself.
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