freedom for life

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

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Use of the Eyes

Written by 
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

In his teaching room, Alexander had a roundel of stained glass hanging in his window. He would ask pupils to look at it during lessons. I have been thinking of this intentional use of a focal point in teaching a lot since moving to new premises.

In my old teaching room, there was a large window, offering a changing street scene, providing events which would capture a pupil’s attention. This sometimes lessened the need to intentionally direct their attention. In my new room this is not the case. The window does not provide a scene and it has been necessary to create a focal point using an ANTA cabinet and a Wemyss Ware goblet. For pupils this has worked very well; they like the combination and find it an attractive and useful focal point.


The Wemyss Ware Goblet


As a teacher, I find the new focal point highlights better the importance of conscious control of the eyes to pupils. Alexander wrote a lot about the use of the eyes, most often in relation to concentration as solution to mind wandering. As Alexander pointed out, people when they concentrate, fix their eye and facial muscles in such a way that they end up holding their breath.

Learning to focus rather than concentrate is the solution, where focusing is understood as learning to use one’s eyes without interfering with one’s breathing. Learning to focus is one thing. Learning to direct one’s attention where one wills, without tightening or interfering with one’s breathing, is another. Finally, one needs to know where one wants one’s attention in skilled activity and in life. Where one looks determines what one tends to elaborate, what occupies one psycho-physically. Conscious control demands all three skills be intentionally mastered and co-ordinated with one’s breathing.

So it is important to be aware of when we are not focused, when our minds are wandering, when our eyes are scanning for threat, and to learn to gentle ourselves to the point where we begin to find a focus. Where that focus comes to rest is determined by whether we know where we want it to be. Quite often in skilled activities there is a place it needs to be. At other times, when we are pulling down to control a sense of overwhelm, or fixing in flight or fight, when we do not know our way forward, it is the stopping which allows to look and see a way forward that is important, that comes first in the act of living.

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.