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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Thursday, 03 May 2012

How Do We Know?

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This is one of the four fundamental questions that philosophy seeks to answer according to Kant, it is also something central to applying the Alexander Technique to develop Conscious Control. It is a question that most new pupils come to ask in learning Alexander’s technique, as they realise that they can no longer rely on their sense of feeling, it is unreliable, the judgements it contains are not to be trusted.

Now, if you have the time you can engage with Kant, who has much, that is of use to say; you will hopefully emerge wiser, but it will really do you no good if you are trying to learn the Alexander Technique. In lessons what you think you know is immediately thrown into question when it comes to simple acts like sitting, standing walking, let alone anything else – feeling is not enough. Something else is needed.

One needs a standard and fortunately there is one there – the gold standard when it comes to judging how one is going at any given moment. That gold standard lies not within one’s attention but within one’s awareness of one’s breathing. If one’s breathing is released, relaxed and easy, even while exerting your self, you are going to be going well. You will also find that if you have a back problem for example your back will be supporting you to the best of its ability.

Good support and good breathing go together; there was a reason why Alexander was known as the ‘breathing man’ and it is just this. Now the great thing about using breathing as a standard is that relaxed, easy, released breathing is hard to fake, it is a continuously reliable feedback loop that goes with you over time.  The feeling of standing straight, tall, is too often illusory. We are too good at thinking this, only to be proved wrong, as Alexander students too often find when they start lessons – if you pull forward habitually when standing, straightening up through freeing one’s neck is going to feel like leaning backwards.

There are other answers to the question of how do we know, but this is the best in terms of the on-going immediacy of experience. Longer term we know from being aware of the success of ourselves in applying Alexander’s technique and finding the release in breathing; the lightness in being and sense of well being that go with this, along with an improved sense of balance, as well other indicators of improved functioning. These though are indirect outcomes of aiming for conscious control of our use and not direct attempts to sort out our problems.

Direct attempts almost, if not always go wrong, we need to stop, and when it comes to many complaints it is as an absence of something that indicated our success and achievements in relearning how to sit, stand, walk, talk or understand others. Absence of pain if we are lucky is an outcome, always to be welcomed, it is not something to be looked for; the way markers, are gathered instances of consciously released breathing; developed over time into conscious control of ourselves – which is something worth aiming for.

No blog next week as I am away. 

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.