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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.

Self-Awareness and Remembering to Remember

Jeremy Woolhouse

‘Whenever I use Alexander Technique, it helps. But I keep forgetting to use it! Sometimes I get to the end of a job and realise I didn’t think of it once.’

Even when we appreciate the benefits of Alexander Technique, remembering to engage with it can be a challenge. This is all the more difficult if we are unaware of ourselves in the moment in which we are moving or resting with poor quality.

remembering to use alexander technique

Identifying a problem increases the potential for changing it

A key element in improving our comfort and performance is recognising that something is not working. Alexander Technique also asks us to recognise that we have some influence over any negative pattern. The more we misuse ourselves, the less sensitive we become. In an Alexander Technique lesson, one starts to improve on coordination, and this gives rise to improved sensitivity. It is quite common for a student’s experience in a lesson to trigger a subsequent positive awareness.

Spontaneous awareness

Sometimes, without any prompting, we suddenly become aware of some interference with coordination and performance. Spontaneously, we have noticed something not functioning, or not comfortable. The body may make a spontaneous movement of correction.

This is the natural state of self-awareness and self-correction which we are cultivating with Alexander Technique. The more we practise, the more we spontaneously notice.

Since we don’t always have a spontaneous self-correction, Alexander Technique also cultivates a skilful response to observation. It is a process that engages the body’s coordinative intelligence.

Active response

If we are fortunate enough to have a moment of spontaneous awareness, we are faced with a critical moment of choice. Do we attend to the issue, or ignore it and keep our attention on other things? Maybe we have a habitual preference for ignoring!

So often during the day there are little signals that something is less than optimal. These are moments of great potential for improvement. Ignoring these opportunities, we are accumulating moments of misuse and increasing our potential for pain. If we attend to each of these moments, we are actively preventing poor habits and cultivating easeful engagement in activity.

A spontaneous awareness may be some particular physical sensation, but it also may be a more cognitive recognition. If there is some thought passing through your mind about your poise, this is another opportunity to choose to practise Alexander Technique.

Learning to be intolerant

Persistently ignoring poor coordination leads to insensitivity. Without us being aware of misuse, it becomes habitual and this compromises awareness further. It is a vicious cycle.

Every time we choose to use constructive thinking, we are improving the chances of a healthy functioning self-awareness. The less tolerant we are of deviations from optimal poise, the better our chance for ease. Improved sensitivity leads to effortlessly sustained buoyancy.

Input from an Alexander Technique Teacher may uncover layers of habitual compromise and accelerate the refinement our sensitivity.

Not noticing anything

If there is no spontaneous awareness of self, we may need to be a little more proactive. This is also an auspicious move when we are already self-aware. It will help to maintain positive awareness, reinforcing and refining our positive engagement.

In aiming to be aware of misuse, or poor habits, we may be tempted to put energy into finding excess tension or searching for mis-coordination. Since our bodies are wired to respond to our intentions, we may end up creating just what we are looking for. To avoid this, rather than scanning for what is going wrong, let’s put our energy into improving our overall coordination. This addresses any specific issues by pre-empting the problem and practising the solution straightaway. In a state of improved coordination we are more receptive to information about any compromises within the body.

Our intentions for coordination create a yardstick for how we use ourselves, as we notice habits that are contradictory to our intended coordination. Without the new direction, there is no reliable reference point to gauge quality of coordination.

Not needing to know, and practising anyway

One of the great strengths of Alexander Technique is that it has an impact on the whole person in an indirect manner. Engaging in the process can address poor habits we didn’t realise we had until we started to function better.

Knowing the particulars of a certain habit may help in forming directions to overcome it, but we can still use Alexander Technique very effectively without having to delve into specifics of movement patterns or scan the body for tension.

Remembering to remember

When spontaneous awareness is lacking and not giving us cues to address our poor poise, it may be useful to create some triggers to remind us of our intention for positive poise.

During some activity, a moment between component parts is a good time renew your intention. This might be between pages of a book or at the end of a 16 bar section of music. You could choose hitting the ‘send’ button of every email to be your moment to attend to your use of the self. You could use every time you look at a clock or watch as a ‘time to coordinate.’

These are internal triggers - things that you do which you choose to use as a reminder.

Some students have found sticky note reminders useful. Some have been creative with ways to challenge habits: little things like putting the cap on a pen when you don’t usually, and using the moment of taking the cap off again as your trigger to un-scrunch yourself.

One student decided to turn his chair to face backward whenever he left his desk. Upon his return there was a novel situation which created enough of a pause in his habitual routine to prompt an engagement with coordination.

Novelty is great - but when one becomes accustomed to it, it ceases to function the same way. However, by this stage you have also trained yourself to re-coordinate (every 16 bars for example), so you may have generated a momentum of self-awareness.

Focused practice

Our daily activities vary in complexity. The simplest time to use Alexander Technique in activity will be during those tasks which have minimal complexity. Deciding that brushing your teeth or vacuuming the room will be a task dedicated to improving your coordination is an accessible way to develop the skills which enable you to use Alexander Technique everywhere else.

Reminder Devices

If tricks like those described above fail to help, we can call on some technology. Break programs for computer users make maintaining poise throughout a work session more approachable. Apps like ‘Time Out’ blank the screen out for a time you set, reminding you to act in accordance with your intention to include quality of poise while you work. Smart phones have alarms or reminder apps which can also be used for this purpose.

These are external triggers - things that we set up, or which anyway happen in our daily lives. They function when we choose to respond to situations mindfully. An incoming phone call or SMS can be a trigger, a customer entering your workplace, or the neighbour’s dog barking.

Every student will need to find a way that is appropriate to his or her situation. Creativity and discipline join forces to support our intentions for good-quality poise and movement.

A healthy practice

Initially, keeping up an intention for how you are doing your work seems tiring. However, this changes over time. It is analogous to cleaning your teeth. When you are young, you have to be told. It takes an external prompt, which may be met with internal resistance. Before too long, you start to get the idea, and with a bit of effort can pre-empt the parental prod. Although it is a bit of a drag, you create your own practice.

In adulthood, we come to the understanding that it is much better to have clean teeth than not. It feels odd to go off to work or to go to bed without brushing. It’s not so much that teeth-cleaning has become automatic; more that it has become a practice we prefer to attend to than to neglect. It is our preference to do this, and it rarely feels like an imposition.

The experienced user of Alexander Technique will identify with this. We are so much better off for attending to our quality of poise that the effort it takes is never resented. We notice discomfort with its absence, and prefer the effort of engaging with it. The more we practise, the less of an imposition it feels, and the more it becomes an integrated and positive part of life.

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