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Glen Iris, VIC, 3146

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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. 

I don’t have time to use Alexander Technique right now.

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.

I don’t have time to use Alexander Technique right now.

Jeremy Woolhouse

Alexander Technique is an effective method for managing stress and cultivating efficiency. If we use the Technique when we are stressed and rushed, its effect is profound. If we feel we must wait for a quiet moment to use it, we may not realise the potential Alexander Technique has for enhancing and creating ease during performance. Too often, the situations in which we could most benefit from Alexander are also the situations in which we feel we haven’t the time to use it.

I’m hearing you

The thought, ‘I don’t have time for Alexander Technique right now,’ is an alarm bell. Something has triggered a thought about Alexander Technique. The trigger might be very conscious, on the verge of awareness, or subconscious. It could be a realisation that excess tension is creeping in, or that you are interfering with breathing or slumping. It may be a recognition that there is another way of doing what you are doing.

‘I don’t have time for Alexander Technique right now’ is implicitly followed by, ‘so I’m going to keep doing my habit even though I know it will have consequences.’ Most students who come for Alexander Technique lessons are well aware of the cost: it is often the very pain which has led them to seek lessons. Yet at work, in the middle of some task, it may seem as though there is no choice, or not enough time for anything other than the habitual way.

If we have a thought about the way we are working, it is always worth acknowledging and choosing if and how to respond.

Is it worth the cost?

Coming to an Alexander Technique lesson is an investment in your own wellbeing. Using the Technique is also an investment in your work because you work more effectively when you are in good health.

The intention to use Alexander Technique to improve on comfort and performance is not difficult to hold - until it comes to the time when some pressure appears. At these times, the odds are stacked towards a habitual response. The choice to compromise ourselves in order to get the job done is usually the path we’ve followed countless times. This means that we need to create a new, conscious intention to increase our chances of being able to work without cost to ourselves.

It is useful to decide in advance that continuing to work the way you have done is not worth the cost. For this intention to manifest, you must commit to applying this decision to the moments when you are working, and think of the Technique.

The objections to using Alexander Technique

At the time we recognise scope for improvement in our way of working, we make a choice about whether to improve ourselves or to continue as we have done. Some habituated thoughts come to the fore. One of the common ones is, ‘I don’t have time right now.’ This might sometimes be phrased as, ‘I’ll just get this done and then attend to myself,’ or some other variation.

There are also voices in your head which may argue that ‘it’s not that bad yet, I’ll worry about it later’ or maybe ‘one day I’ll sort this out.’ All of these thoughts are the voice of your habit, justifying itself, preventing change. They are habitual thoughts upon which we act whether or not their content is true.

Thoughts are not reality, but they do shape our beliefs and our actions.

The thought ‘I don’t have time for Alexander Technique right now’ is a thought habit, or belief. We can consciously choose a different belief. You can choose to believe, at any time, that there is time for Alexander Technique to help you right now.

In the moment you compromise yourself, if you act from a belief that there is time to do well whatever it is you are doing, you are creating a more positive neurological pathway.

Feeling the pressure

Thoughts objecting to use of the Alexander Technique may be based on a sense or a feeling: for example, a sense that there is not enough time. If, however, we have recognised that the sense of ‘not enough time’ may not be the same as there actually not being enough time, then we can say something like this:

“Even though it feels as if there is not enough time, I’m going to coordinate myself to do this work well.”

In saying this, you’ve acknowledged that a habitual thought or sensation might arise, but rather than act on that, you are choosing something more in line with your health and performance goals.

Try a few variations:

“Even though it may feel like an interruption, I’m allowing my ribs to move so that I can breathe easily while I do this task,”

“Even though it may feel like it’s slowing me down, I’m asking for availability between my head and torso so that I can be well poised while working,”

“Even though I feel like I’m momentarily neglecting my work, I’m inviting buoyancy through my whole body so that all of me can be engaged in the job.”

Using positive thinking

Each of the phrases above has three parts.

The first part serves to inhibit (to choose not to do) the habitual thing, so that we no longer obey the habitual voice blindly. Choose a phrase that addresses your favourite excuses for not doing Alexander Technique; give yourself permission to feel uneasy about it, but be determined to do something different anyway. In doing so you are working on a much bigger picture goal than the task at hand.

The second part is a direction (or intention) for some change in coordination, or change in quality. Anything that you wish to improve on is useful, and you may find it especially handy to choose instructions that you know will improve your performance of the particular task at hand.

Once you have identified your inhibition and direction, the third part of the sentence will help you to integrate these intentions into the work that you are doing. If you fulfil the conditions of the second part of the phrase – “I’m allowing my ribs to move” or “I’m asking for availability or buoyancy” – then you have created a qualitative intention for how you are now going to work: you intend to be poised, engaged, and breathing easily throughout.

The image of efficiency

The feeling of working fast is not necessarily the feeling we have when we are working efficiently.

A highly efficient worker has a noticeable absence of visual rushing or ‘hard work.’ This is the antithesis of the image of a stressed worker, who shows physically the fatigue of rushing and the strain of working ‘hard.’

The physicality of the stressed worker will create a whole lot of sensory information that tells the worker that he or she is working hard. If you have tight muscles, you might feel like you are working hard, but that may not equate to being efficient or effective. Letting go of the misdirected energy may, however, suddenly feel as if you are slacking off. A decrease in tension might deprive you the feeling of hard work, yet this is just what we want - the sensation that we are not rushed, nor doing hard work. We still want to get the job done, but we can use more objective measures than the feeling or sense of rush to gauge whether our effort is appropriate.

Many students have been surprised to find that committing to their Alexander Technique practice has made them feel more relaxed and comfortable without any negative effect on quality, quantity or speed of their work. Some even report that taking breaks and attending to the quality of the way they work ends up increasing efficiency and productivity.

Working to a deadline

Some work situations demand a very specific time frame. If this is a trigger for a habitual misuse, we can recognise it like any other objection, and respond in the same way: “I’m going to coordinate myself so that I may use what time I have effectively.”

In creating this paradigm for activity, we are recognising that our work is dependent upon our healthy engagement in it.

The Universal Constant in Living

FM Alexander named one of his books The Universal Constant in Living. He recognised there was something going on in all of us, all of the time. He called it ‘Use Affects Function,” meaning that whatever we do, the way in which we do it affects how well we do it. Not only that, the way we do things affects our general wellbeing.

Changing, not adding

We already have a habitual way of carrying out our work, and we may never have given it any consideration. Not many people consider the way they move to operate a computer - you just do it and leave the coordination to the unconscious.

Alexander Technique is a way of doing things. The difference is that when we use Alexander Technique, we are conscious about choosing a healthy way of doing things.

Sometimes we have undertaken conscious training in the way we do things. For example, musicians invest effort in refining a technique for their instrument. The practice of Alexander Technique is a little different.

Alexander Technique is a way of doing things which has some unique priorities: it attends to the central coordination as a primary focus, and it organises the whole body in the activity. It demands an inhibition of ineffective habits, and a conscious direction for our coordination and for our activity.

When we adhere to these principles, we reduces the risk of compromise to our general health, comfort and performance while making the engagement of any disciple specific technique more accessible.

In this way, Alexander Technique is not adding something to our work, but changing the way we work. It is not something we do while we work; instead, it actually becomes the way we work.