freedom for life

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

Friday, 30 May 2014

Structure Sets You Free

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We depend on structure - without it our worlds would fall apart. Without power supplies, without transport, without communications, without sanitation, without fields, we would return to a state of nature, which depending on your inclination, might allow for a state of natural grace or a life that is 'nasty, brutish and short.' For my own part, I think any process of getting there would be Hobbesian, depriving us of the many wonderful opportunities that the world currently affords us. That is, if we use our intelligence to think about what a good life is for ourselves, what gives us purpose - and then structure our lives accordingly.

Which can be quite humdrum, in terms of reorganising one's workspace and flat, as I am currently doing, but it sets you free, to do what you want, to be creative in the rest of your life. At this point, I would like to acknowledge my constructivist colleague and mentor Mary Frances for summing this up for me with the phrase which titles this blog: ‘structure sets you free.’ It is a phrase I wish I had come up with, as it nicely captures the importance of structure in, not just how we organise our lives, but how we organise our use.

Conscious control involves an intentional structuring of how we use ourselves. Without it we are prone, in current conditions, to evolve ways of moving, ways of thinking, ways of being, which interfere with our organic structure’s ability to function in terms of breathing, postural support, freedom of movement; all of which affect our ability to function in the tasks of every day life; both in terms of our skill levels and in terms of our health.

Without conscious control, we often rely on what we have learned by chance, to help carry us through. For example, we think that we know how to stand, yet most people stand badly, shortening in stature, holding their breath. And, as Alexander pointed out to John Dewey, if you ask someone who is standing badly, to stand well, they just do a different form of standing badly. To believe that wish and will alone can effect change is really a form of magical thinking. You have to start with ‘intelligent inquiry’ to bring about an ‘intelligently controlled habit.’ Alexander believed that this applied to everything, not just the conscious control of our use.

Here, it is the sequential and parallel working of the guiding orders and directions that structures conscious control, allowing for a freedom of our different parts, within a whole that is lengthening and expanding in activity. This structuring, this putting together of the parts, by allowing them to work together as a whole, is dependent on inhibition, on saying 'no' to what in the end limits us, narrows us, shortens us. Saying ‘no’ to gain freedom is a paradox of the technique. By limiting ourselves this way, by knowing what to say 'no' to, we gain freedom, not just in movement, but in thought and action. Inhibition sets us free, structure sets us free, as long as we know what to say 'no' to, as long as we know the structure we need. And in the use of ourselves, that means getting out of themselves way and not interfering with our organic structure's ability to function.

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.