freedom for life

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

Whenever I seek to introduce Alexander’s technique to someone, I ask the rhetorical question of 'what is it a technique for?’ The answer I give is drawn from the title of Alexander’s second book, 'Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual'. Which is a bit of a mouthful and it is all too easy to imagine a present-day publisher objecting to this and demanding something snappy like ‘Improve Your Posture’, ‘Fix Your Back’ or even just ‘The Alexander Technique’. Alexander, I think, would have objected and tried to explain just how well the title does tell you what his work is about, if only you had the technique to stop and be curious as to what is in front of you.

So let me explain what I understand the title means and why constructive conscious control is important for each of us as individuals, in other words why it is a good for us that we might want to invest our time and money in.

The first term I usually start with is the term 'conscious' and, like all the terms in the title, it is a word we approach with our prior understandings, connotations from other theories that can get in the way of understanding what Alexander is writing about. The term 'conscious' in Alexander’s work is used to talk about being aware of ourselves and very specifically being aware of how we are going about controlling ourselves in the activities of our daily lives.

These activities rely on a set of basic actions such as sitting, standing or walking, actions that we learn before we are two and before we have a memory to recall how we learned them. Which means that most of us have no conscious idea of how we do any of these actions, that is we have no idea of the habits of how we control or coordinate ourselves, and lacking any idea, we have no ability to assess the implications of what we have learned, whether it is a tendency to be beneficial to our health and performance or not. We are in Alexander’s language relying on subconscious control and, in doing so, if our habitual manner of controlling ourselves interferes with our postural support, it will interfere with our breathing and therefore our vitality and our functioning generally - in this respect it is not constructive. The interference with our general functioning has many symptoms not least the sore necks and backs that bring so many people to Alexander’s work.

Constructive conscious control involves many things, not least becoming aware of our subconsciously learned habitual manner of controlling ourselves, in order that we can assess the implications of these early habits. We can then replace them with consciously learned habits if necessary, that do not interfere with our general functioning and vitality but rather enhance it. In this move to conscious control we get away from many of the negative aspects of control that people can be concerned about in terms of rigidity, tightness and worrying about the correct way we should do things. Conscious control brings with it a lightness, flexibility and a freedom, which allows for spontaneity. If we follow this path, many symptoms that bother us lessen or disappear - as our general functioning improves – we feel alive. We also find that we become more balanced and successful in performing skilled activities, whatever they maybe.

Amongst the great benefits of practising constructive conscious control is that it allows for constant successful adaption in terms of general functioning to changing circumstances including our ageing, so that we make the most of ourselves and the opportunities and possibilities that life and our current age offers us. So for a teenage musician it might be about instilling habits that will help them avoid career threatening injury as well as helping with the quality of performance. For someone older it may be about re-educating themselves out of habits of moving that are a major cause of their neck or back pain, or to improve their performance skills in a particular area. Or it might be to help prevent problems with movement from occurring as they get older. At any age it might be helping with the recovery and rehabilitation from illness including surgical operations. Or it might be looking at habits which are deeply psychological in terms of how we face and interact with others, which are important and need to be worked with at some point. We all face such challenges at different points in our lives and conscious control is a great help in meeting them. The earlier one starts in some senses the better, but no one is too old to learn if they want to feel more alive and make the most of the opportunities afforded to them.

Published in Lessons from the Chair

I think I must have been twenty six when I went for my first Alexander Technique lesson. The primary reason for going then, as it is for many people, was to find help with a musculo-skeletal problem. In my case it was the sciatica that was at times crippling and limiting what I could hope to do with my life. While my progress was slow in developing the conscious control whereby I could live a full and active life, there were brief glimpses from the start of something different to what I was then experiencing. 

Those differences were not just in relation to my back, but in terms of being less stressed and these, along with the promise of conscious control, lured me further along the way that led me to train to teach Alexander’s Technique. Which has been a good decision and along that way, I have found that my reasons for travelling in that direction are reconstrued in the light of my ongoing experience, not least the ability of being able to live a full and active life, a possibility that seemed distant and was for my twenty-six-year old receding beyond the horizon.
One reason that has remained constant and comes ever more to the fore is using the Technique to adapt to changing circumstances whether they be physical, personal or political. 
Physical changes are present in our lives, whether we like it or not as we pass through the various stages of life from being an infant to childhood and beyond to the point where we start to fail and decline. There is a natural life cycle here which one sees in the way children choose to co-ordinate or use themselves, should that be given half a chance. Unfortunately, what they are faced with, whether it be school seating or small screens, distracts them from this journey into adulthood and they start to distort themselves into ‘distraction from distraction’ as TS Eliot put it and into end-gaining. Rare is the person who escapes this journey and does not need a practice of re-education, such as the Alexander Technique provides, to bring themselves back to themselves and the possibilities that are afforded to them from being present to their own unique arising and growth.

There are in this journey, times when we have to adapt to different levels and types of physicality for which Alexander Technique is most helpful in insuring that such transitions occur without injury and leave us more co-ordinated and integrated than before. Something I am very aware of having recently gone into a ten-day intensive dance retreat not dance fit and then having to readapt to a world where I have to find my freedom not in dancing but in sitting and writing. 
I am also aware of the importance of Alexander Technique to me in adapting to the changing world in which I live, where with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump old certainties are passing. As this old order passes and one waits with uncertainty in the unknownness of the new emerging order to find one’s way forward, I find it useful in avoiding too much ‘hostility’ with regard to changes I regret. ‘Hostility’ has a special meaning within Personal Construct Pyschology which Jonathan Raskin recently blogged about in Psychology Today.

‘Hostility’ is an attempt to ‘cook the books’ when our constructions of how the world is, or how we would like it to be, fails and we start trying to extort others into validating what has already failed in its predictive venture. We all do it at times but not necessarily on such a grand scale as President Trump and his inability to accept that the crowds at his inauguration were substantially less than at President Obama’s. It is easy to spot in others with regard to politics both here and across the Atlantic at the moment; the trick though is to see the beam in one’s own eye first. And, here it is back to basics, the basics of breathing and understanding one’s own position and that of the others that we disagree with. This is what allows politics to work with its inevitable compromises as people seek to work out what they have in common to move forward, despite their profound disagreements, rather than force others into their ways of being. The dialogue at this level, funded on courtesy is the basis of morality, at a more personal level the dialogue gives rise to ethics. Which ever level you are at, the important thing remains not to force your constructions on others but to stop, breathe and be curious about who you have in front of you.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 25 November 2016 17:01

Getting Into Action

I started this blog back during the summer after a conference in Padua where I volunteered to organise the next European Personal Construct Psychology conference here in Edinburgh in 2018. I am coming back to it now, after a gap in blogging that has been too long. As a background it might not seem to augur well for a blog about getting into action and yet that is exactly what I have been doing. In that I have started an Apprenticeship in Movement Medicine, which is a conscious dance practice; put together the plan to bring the conference to Edinburgh; and prepared and delivered a training day for the Hampshire Counselling and Psychotherapy Association – which was in part about getting into action.

The blog has been there on my ‘to do’ list each week, only to get bumped to the next, as deadlines came and other priorities needed attention. Which is a familiar part of life for us all and involves prioritising and choice. Included amongst the choices is a choice of how we react, especially when there is a lot to do and we are in danger of, or actually become, overwhelmed.

That there is a choice there is sometimes missed and, if it is missed, we then lose the opportunity to grow and develop what Alexander would have called ‘constructive conscious control.’ This is the aim of his Technique and as a phrase is rather a mouthful and if approached too cognitively and intellectually misses the simple import of his work, which is that it is possible to gain control of our behaviour over time and channel our energies consciously in the direction we want to go in.

The use of the word control, for some people, including some Alexander Technique teachers can be off-putting, as it is often associated with forcibly making oneself do things by tensing up and discipline, which can be another problematical word for us, as it can also carry some pretty heavy connotations. Yet the essence of the work I do, both as an Alexander Technique teacher and as psychotherapist, is to help people put aside such habitual ways of being and acting towards themselves and to cultivate a ‘freedom in thought and action’ as Alexander put it, that allows them to be more fully themselves and to act as such.’

And ‘freedom in thought and action’ and therefore getting into action, is very much what psychotherapists are interested in, as the Existentialist psychotherapist Irvine Yalom has noted. Elsewhere he has written that the ‘mechanics of action’ are all too often missing from therapy trainings, and one of the strengths of Alexander’s work is the understanding of the ‘mechanics of action’ that it offers. This enhances my work as a psychotherapist. Which in turn, through my training in Personal Construct Psychology with its understanding of personal meanings, relationships and the roles we play, complements my Alexander training in helping people to become aware of their early habits of relating and moving. Habits which when unrecognised can lead to difficulties in personal relationships and musculo-skeletal pain, as they tighten up in anxiety and nervousness in an attempt to control their reactions. It was this part of my work that I presented in Hampshire, and as ever the necessity of knowing what to stop to allow ourselves to breathe and begin to see the possibilities of our way forward were highlighted as a first step in advancing along our way, whether our difficulties are with others or the mechanics of action. And learning how to do this for oneself is central to the Alexander Technique and the development of constructive conscious control for it is also central to any therapeutic endeavour, indeed any endeavour to get to know oneself and be fully oneself, alive and in action.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 19:19

The Way To Language

'There is only endurance, and pain.’ So wrote John Aubrey in 1638 on being caned at school. His coping strategy was ‘to go to another place in my head: the bank of the brook at Easton Pierse, or the tree-lined riverbank at Broad Chalke, where I count the flowers and arrange their names in alphabetical order.' He adds: ‘I do not, I will not cry out. I am not in this scene; I am somewhere else, with the soothing sound of water running by.’ Of the violence repeatedly meted out to him, with its rhythm of blows he says: ‘It is the grammar and rhetoric of violence. A language I will not learn, though the whole school seems to speak it.’

He was twelve when he wrote this. The language is clear, as are the lessons learned of how to cope with the repeated and predictable violence of his school; by resisting crying out; by protecting himself, by going elsewhere in his head, distracting himself from what was happening in the present moment; of a strong and clear decision not learn the ways of violence that he was being subjected to.

It is the kind of story that therapists are wont to return to when they hear it. There is much rage and violence in the world of many different kinds that we are all subjected to. We are all also capable of violence; rage is hardwired in, but then so is love and we are all capable of that too. What matters is what we do with each, and John Aubrey made a clear decision of the kind children often do, of saying 'no' to something and therefore of saying 'yes' to something else, to other things, other interests already present in him. Other interests which form the basis of his later occupations as a gentleman scholar, collector of antiquities, early archaeologist and inventor of modern biography. These interests are already present in his surviving writings of this time collected by Ruth Scurr in an altogether fascinating biography of the man using his own words.

This saying of 'no' and then 'yes' is of as much interest to the psychotherapist, as the Alexander Technique teacher in me. There is an element in each practice, as in all practices of growth that allow for change, of saying 'no' to something, suspending or inhibiting being the professional words my practices have chosen to systematically use, in order to say 'yes' to something different to make our way forward, to have a full and on-going experience of living, and living as well as we can.

There is another matter here, one that first made me think of writing this blog, one that connects to my last blog and the Theatre of War, which I started to write about there. Which is that words can speak across centuries, in Aubrey’s case nearly five centuries, in Sophocles case 2500 years, with a clarity missing in the jargon of mental health and diagnosis. Both men found a way to language and to speak about what was unsayable in their experience and their culture. So it is in therapy, which is a way to language that allows someone to begin to name their experience, to speak about what was unspeakable at the time, which is invariably not without emotion, but allows them to face their history, their past which is intruding on the present, and curtailing their future. And in that place of facing their experience and finding breath, is where real speech about ourselves starts, and life can begin to course again. Alexander work is invaluable in helping to find the stillness to face the unfaceable and good therapy is an act of language finding together in conversation and autopoiesis is the end.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Tuesday, 02 August 2016 20:46

Anxiety and the Mechanics of Action

Looking online, what is most elaborated in articles about anxiety, are how it feels in terms of fear, nervousness, panic etc., the physiological underpinnings of this and the sorts of thoughts that accompany it. One feature of anxiety that can be overlooked is how much it is tied to our anticipations of what is happening or going to happen to us. Yet, from a Constructivist standpoint, this is exactly where we might best begin to understand it. For it is where our ability to anticipate breaks down, where things are beyond our current understanding, that we experience anxiety in terms of a loss of ease, fear, sometimes to the point of being frozen and unable to act. 


In the case of panic attacks, it is sometimes more useful to make sense of what is happening, not so much in terms of our anticipation failing us, but in our anticipation of an imminent threat to our existence. Which highlights one of the puzzling features of panic attacks for people that have them. It is that they often occur when there is no apparent palpable immediate threat – it just feels that way, people react that way. 


A simple behavioural change with both anxiety and panic attacks concerns learning to stop and control one’s breathing. Such a change requires a good working knowledge of the mechanics of action, whereby we co-ordinate ourselves in the act of living, which is something that Irvin Yalom, the Existentialist psychotherapist, has noted is often missing from psychotherapy trainings. It is, however, central to the Alexander Technique which teaches pupils about the mechanics of action and how to consciously co-ordinate themselves for any activity or situation, in a way that gives themselves the control to find poise and the ability to cope actively, and creatively with what they are facing. The Alexander Technique excels in this and is a powerful tool in developing the kind of stance on one’s personal history that is one of the best predictors of psychologically overcoming traumatic life events. What is also very much needed, if successful on-going change is to occur at the highest levels, are helpful ways of enquiring into core non-verbal ways anticipating ourselves and events, such as the ABC model, which I blogged about last time. 


These core non-verbal ways of anticipating life events are tied to the early habits we develop in order to depend on the people we grow up with. As such they are helpful to us as babies and children. Unrevised they will subvert us, as we will then seek to depend as adults on others, as we did as infants or children, which never ends well. Living continually demands of us that we answer and revise, from the moment we are born to the moment we die, the question of whom we can depend on and for what?

Living consciously allows us to answer that question more easily, as it continually reappears in our lives, revising our constructs, as we grow older in the arc of life. For this to happen we need to accept our anxiety, for what it is, a feature our understanding of our lives, that tells us we are uncertain as to what will happen and happen to us. How we construe that anxiety, the stance we take on it is, what is important from a psychological viewpoint for an active, meaningful and rewarding life.

Both practices that I work with, the Alexander Technique and Personal Construct Psychology, PCP, have different strengths that compliment each other in this. The Alexander Technique for its understanding of the mechanics of action and teaching of conscious control in the act of living; PCP as a psychology for living that facilitates the reconstruction that is continually necessary for us to feel alive in the adventure of life and its uncertainties.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 25 March 2016 09:26

Magic Time Part 1

My mother loved food and cooking, it was one of her passions and she spent much of her retirement refining her skills, which gave her great pleasure. In some senses cooking was her religion, cook books were her bibles and, as  in a religious community, you could set your watch by the comings together for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and supper. It provided a daily rhythm to life at home, while her jam making and preparations for Christmas helped set the seasonal rhythm. 

Over morning coffee and afternoon tea there was a great deal of catching up as to each other’s days and wideranging discussions about what was happening in the world and in the family and, inevitably of course, food. The rhythm established would be hard today in a world which is ever more demanding of people’s time. Where smart phones intrude, for some families and couples, 'together time' is becoming a disappearing into different respective virtual worlds, diminishing the time for getting to know each other and impoverishing relationships.

Knowing each other is an ongoing process that can become fatally arrested in a couple, who after an initial bout of getting to know each other, settle into a routine of assumptions about the other, rather than a voyage of continuing discovery, as each changes through living what is hopefully  a meaningful life. Of course the former is all too easy with the increasing demands of work and if a couple has children then their needs are nature’s great diary organiser for life, making it hard is to put aside time for each other and for oneself.

Time for oneself to really stop and think, time for each other, including time for love making, are all too often what people sacrifice in the face of demands on their time. Such time is now often construed as a luxury rather than the necessity that it really is. When it comes to time for oneself, it is time to develop the relationship each of has with ourselves. The first step in this is to stop and not allow ourselves to get ‘distracted from distraction’ by flitting around online and frittering our time away. As we stop we can become aware of our habitual thoughts and attitudes and learn to separate from them, clearing a space for what is emergent of our selves. If we go deeper we find our own deep rhythms of muscle, air and fluid to discover a relationship with ourselves where can really start to learn to know ourselves.

I always come to this need to stop and have a relationship with myself in order to find my way forward. The practice of stopping is foundational to the Alexander Technique and is basic to all other approaches of developing and growing where there is an awareness of the need to breathe, be mindful, as well as coherent and thoughtful in living. Alexander Technique at this level is so basic that it can be taken into all other approaches, allied with them in ways that enhances them, illuminates them and allows them to be better explored and understood by their practitioners. This contention rests on the understanding of use, mechanics of co-ordination, movement, breathing and relationship that underpin the Alexander Technique and the development of constructive conscious control in our relationship with our selves and others. 

I will be elaborating Magic Time in a short series of blogs in order to look at how the small-scale actions that we take set up the conditions for how our lives unfold and carry implications that are of major significance years ahead, implications that we can miss in the moment when we take them and yet establish the habits that determine our lives. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 29 January 2016 18:39

Would it Help?

Teaching this year, I have found myself telling pupils about the scene from Bridge of Spies, where Mark Rylance’s character when asked if he is worried, answers ‘would it help?’ It is a good line and delivered deadpan it is a good gag used again in the film. I find myself repeating the story in part, because when Rylance became the first artistic director of The Globe, he made sure that the Alexander Technique was there at the start in the heart of their work as a theatre. It also gives me a chance to express my admiration for Rylance’s work as an actor in both Bridge of Spies and Wolf Hall. In both he was given the space and the time to show a stillness in which a spontaneous emotion might appear or be stifled, to allow for something else to emerge appropriate to the situation. It’s terrific acting, with terrific presence. And in the process, as in the question would it help?’, something is revealed about our choices in being human, and if we become sufficiently aware, to know ourselves in relationship to others. 


When considering Alexander’s work it is important to remember that he started in the theatre as an actor and that he saw his technique as a means for developing conscious control of behaviour as much as anything. Which in turn means we have choices with regard to the attitudes and approaches that we adopt towards people and situations. Here there is a bridge to my work as a therapist where I am working with roles people have adopted, almost without fail for good reason in early life, which are no longer working for them now and need to be revised in ways that are comfortable for them. 

 

The idea in both practices is to invite people to experiment with putting to one side, the familiar, the habitual, in favour of an emergent change congenial to their overall aim. In Alexander work, there is the constraint that goes always with integrating responses so that we put our breathing, poise and balance first. In doing this, as in therapy we often have to learn how to be with ourselves when anxious, worried, panicked etc. At the beginning this often involves gentling ourselves, understanding ourselves without being critical, before beginning to question whether our worry or anxiety helps us or not. Over time we can learn both how not to be habitually worried or anxious, as well as to deal with the vicissitudes of life, when they come crashing in, disturbing even the ‘best-laid schemes’ which throw us off balance and off course. 

 

When this happens, the pause that gives us space, to stop and consider our response, where our breathing slows, where we settle ourselves to know ourselves, is the right way forward wherever we learn it, whether in therapy or Alexander. There are differences to the area of each learning: in therapy it is in the quality of intimate relationships that emerge; in Alexander it is the freedom and poise of movement that arises. Put them together and then you have something.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 17:58

How To Sing Upside Down

I am awe of the athleticism of opera singers generally, and Wagnerian singers in particular, although not because of the popular misconception that they are loud. Wagner operas are conversational in style and he scored them so that the orchestra gives room for the singers to be heard. So the idea of singing upside down suspended from the set by a wire, leaves me somewhat amazed. Yet it is what Robert Lepage asked one of Karen Carghill’s colleagues to do in his production of ‘The Ring’ at the Met.

She was talking about this at an SCO study day on Wagner and in speaking of the technical challenges her colleague faced, I was delighted to hear her mention the Alexander Technique as the way to meet the problem that allows you to get back into your back and give you the ‘strength’ that allows you to breathe freely. For Karen Carghill, ‘breath is petrol for singing’ and you could easily adapt that to say that breath is petrol for life and it is useful to know how to co-ordinate things well to make the most of your natural capacity to breathe.

Rather than focusing on the mechanics of breathing though, I would rather talk about direction and the relational nature of Alexander’s work. Alexander was very clear that it was the relation between head, neck and torso that mattered and not the position - which is how most people approach postural problems and Alexander’s work. The trouble with thinking in terms of position is that it invariably involves trying to fix things by holding yourself somewhere, interfering with breathing and dynamic movement.

Breathing is something that starts when we are born and continues throughout life. It starts before we master activities such as sitting or standing which are foundational achievements for making progress with all skilled activities which human beings undertake. It also starts before we learn to co-ordinate and control sound for speech. It is useful to note that babies are capable of crying for long periods until they are heard, without any harm to their voice. They do not lose their voice, or become hoarse, they just cry. They have not learned to interfere with breathing by articulating sounds or being upright.

It is only as these things are learned that we can talk of good or bad use, although personally I prefer to keep such terms out of the whole thing when teaching and think in terms of better or worse and what is helpful in a given situation, including singing upside down. Which brings us to the problem of how to stay in you back while hanging from a wire. Well the answer is to think up even if your head is pointing down and here is a relationship that we have within ourselves that is often hidden, one that goes to the deepest layer of muscles that allow us to extend, that attach to our spine, at our core. These muscles allow us to lengthen and for that to happen the head needs to go in a certain direction, which would be described as ‘up’ in terms of our normal orientation and relationship with external space. The ‘up’ though in Alexander is always in relationship to how our heads, necks and torso are connecting and that means in swimming front crawl, up is towards the end of the pool to which we are swimming, or in semi-supine, to the wall behind our head. Remembering this facilitates much more dynamic movement and of course will help you, should you ever be faced with the challenge of singing upside down!

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 13 March 2015 14:16

A Book can Change Your Life

You can use a book to change your life and you do not have to read it! You just have to put your head on it! The actor Jonathan Pryce testified to this in last weekend’s Guardian, in answer to the question: ‘Which book changed your life?’ He answered, “The one the teacher put under my head during the Alexander technique sessions at Rada. I grew an inch and a half.” What he was referring to was the Alexander Technique practice of lying in semi-supine with your head on a book to prevent you from pulling your head back and shortening and narrowing your back. Semi-supine is in some ways the classic Alexander exercise; it offers a balanced way of resting, or relaxing without collapsing, which leaves you lightly energised and ready to get on. Too often people tensely energise themselves in their daily round of activities and the result is that they get to a point where they collapse in a heap at the end of the day, fatigued and set up for restless night’s sleep. It does not have to be this way. Either in the daily round of activities or in resting. It can be hard not to get tensely energised at points and balanced resting is a way of ‘re-setting’ yourself as one of my pupils puts it. However, balanced resting goes beyond ‘re-setting’ oneself if things have gone wrong, even though it is essential at these points; balanced resting is part of the ebb and flow, between stillness and activity, that makes up life, and conscious control applies to both parts of the cycle, even in sleep.

Application to sleeping is one of the most common lessons I give and I have blogged about this in the past, and learning how to get in and out of semi-supine form the basis of this. Being in semi-supine itself though is what is important; some teachers favour a body scan type approach to this but for me this is not as useful as learning how to lightly focus on the ceiling so that everything lengthens and widens of its own accord as you lie there. That is how you find the extra inch and a half if it is there, and it is not there for everybody. The extra height can be welcomed and sometimes not; however, the real value of this exercise comes with the practice of conscious control in resting with the use of the eyes and the expansion that occurs on the floor.

When you get up you have an experience of more poise and balance, and, more often than not, of things working comfortably again. In addition, the released tension pattern allows you to be more aware of when you tighten and shorten, as you start your daily round of activities again, giving you a chance to use the technique and inhibit and direct so everything continues to flow and you move back and forth between activity and stillness – which is the cycle of life, the cycle of living.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Saturday, 08 November 2014 18:36

Living on the Edge

One of the facts of movement is that we move best when we are unstable but balanced. This is often a discomforting fact, something that we would prefer to avoid by seeking stability, predictability, limiting our choices to the already known. Life though has the habit of intervening when we go down this road; at some point we will be caught short. In simple movement terms, if we are trying to move and be stable, then we establish limits to what we can do and make ourselves prone to hurt and injury.

To move into balance, it is necessary to let go of stability, to unknow what we know, to pass through a moment of instability, without balance in order to find ourselves balancing on the edge, ready to step forward into the unknown in order to know it. Alexander Technique is as a process, as Joseph Rowntree, of ‘reasoning into the unknown.’ It helps us find the edge and step forward into a life of uncertainty, discovery and creation. It is there at the beginning of our first lesson, when we stand in front of a chair for the first time thinking we know how to stand.

The invite to place your feet under your hips and turn them out by 45 degrees, releases most people into a free balance, as they stop pulling forward by shortening by placing their weight through the balls of their feet. At the same time, their breathing releases, the gold standard, in terms of feedback of how we are doing. This free balance requires nothing else from us but the placing of the feet and freeing ourselves to look ahead. It teaches us how to stand well, without our usual effort and sets us up for learning the guiding orders in relation to movement and action.

There at the beginning of lessons, we are starting to unknow our most basic patterns of movement, in terms of standing, walking, sitting and taking hold of the world. Beginning there is a prelude to becoming more conscious of our habits, our ways of approaching things and other people. As our consciousness grows, as we grow our awareness, we learn the difference between attending directly to ourselves and being aware our selves with our attention free to gaze, glance and focus in our surrounding worlds. Within our growing awareness, subsidiary to our attention we learn the meaning of the guiding orders, in terms of distinctions between the small movements of the micro actions, that can interfere or co-ordinate the use of our self.

It is perhaps worth noting here that Alexander’s definition of self is very wide and loose and seeks to includes everything of our phenomenological experience. In this I think it can be related to both William James ‘self of selves’ and Jung’s idea of a Self, an archetype of wholeness that emerges in the process of time, in the process which is ourselves. And Alexander’s idea of the primary control, that use of the head and the neck in relation to the torso, is a control in process, that for him was a universal constant in our process of living, that is always taking us to our edges. Tantalizing us forward into unknowing our past and our present by moving forward into a future of increasing wholeness. We are never standing still in this, we are always moving forward with new levels of integration emerging if we work the process, of keeping our necks free, our heads going forward and up as we allow ourselves to lengthen and to widen, integrating ourselves in a daily practice of increasing psycho-physical integration. Through conscious control, we become whole again.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Page 1 of 5