freedom for life

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

Friday, 18 October 2013 18:50

The Use of the Eyes

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.

Published in Lessons from the Chair