End of the summer. Time to get back into a routine. It can be very daunting at the beginning of the school year to get back into practicing. One of the things that helps get me going is a small, easy goal: aim for 15 minutes. Set the timer. It’s manageable and easy. When the timer goes off, you’re done. If you keep going, great. If you get back to it later for another 15 minutes, great. The goal is to start off with 15 minutes. Pick a manageable and measurable amount of time to get going again. You can grow from there.
My best thinking about the technique as of this moment…
The Alexander Technique is about letting go. Yes, letting go of pain and anxiety and habits that we no longer want, but also letting go of our need to see things go a certain way, be a certain way or move in one direction. If we let go of the perceptions we cling to, there is more space for other pathways, directions, and movement in our lives. The letting go process isn’t easy, mostly because we often need to let go of something that we don’t want to or that we don’t even realize we need to let go of. The beauty of it is, Alexander Technique isn’t one more thing you need to do, but rather it is a tool to help you lighten the load and create some space for things you really want to do, be and have in your life.
What is it all about?
Undoing, deturtling, letting go…in support.
The Alexander Technique is a bit counter-culture and counter-intuitive. Instead of giving you exercises and things to do, it is about undoing. Undoing patterns of holding and movement; undoing habitual thinking patterns that show up in the way we hold ourselves and present ourselves to the world. Undoing unnecessary tension and excessive doing so that we can find optimum movement, new ways of perceiving ourselves and the world and letting go of manufactured support and using the support that is already there, right now in the present moment. Most often people start feeling comfortable in their own skin, find freedom of movement they forgot about from their younger days, and have a renewed sense of energy and sense of space the opens up their vision, choices, outlook on life, their neck, back, ankles, elbows and minds, to name a few.
Possibility and potential. More choices, More freedom. And more comfortability. That is what the technique offers. And the beauty of it, you can do less, not more. More space in your back, life and mind. You can breathe again when you make use of the support available to you in this present moment.
More often than not, the Alexander Technique is equated with posture training. In the “Alexander world” of teachers we don’t think about it like this. So I looked up the definition of posture to look at this issue we have a bit more closely.
Posture: A position of a person’s body when standing or sitting: “good posture will protect your spine.”
Synonyms: attitude – pose – position – stance – carriage – state
The truth is the world is right–close to right! The Alexander Technique works with people sitting, standing and the whole thing is about the spine. But rather than thinking about all of these things independently, we are interested in the dynamic movement from one to the other, in other words, the freedom of the spine. How free is your spine while sitting, standing and moving from sitting to standing? Usually when one thinks about posture, they straighten up, they “straighten” their spine. And rarely does anyone look or feel comfortable when “sitting up straight” with good posture. In truth, the spine has 4 curves, so the spine doesn’t want to really be straight and pulled tight. I think of it as a spring. We want the spine to be springy, buoyant, moveable, in any direction. Is this what everyone is thinking about when they think of posture? Or are you thinking about your mother telling you to sit up straight at the dinner table?
A couple of the synonyms to posture bring us a bit closer to what the Alexander Technique is getting at. Attitude, carriage and let’s turn the word pose into poise. Carriage implies movement, while stance implies something static. Even when standing in one “position” there is so much internal movement happening. And that is what the technique is about…the freedom of the internal movement and how that is expressed in every day life, in every day activities and in living. Our attitude, our reactions to every day life and all that is presented to us to deal with affects the quality of a buoyant spine and ability to move as we wish–with more freedom and ease and enjoyment. Posture training isn’t really want an Alexander Technique teacher is thinking about in a lesson. In fact, as I’ve heard some teachers say, we’re thinking about “unpsoturing.” Letting go of holding ourselves up, in and away from things and coming back to a more easy, moveable, free way of living inside ourselves and in the world. If you want to learn how to sit, stand, move, play violin, sing, sit at a computer and any other activity you do every day more comfortably with greater ease, freedom and poise, then try the Alexander Technique, the “unposture” training.
Two quotes from this article that Alexander Technique concerns itself with: the how of things rather than the why and making our nervous system our ally…
“To pose the question that psychiatrists ask their patients, why are we preoccupied all at once with the how instead of the why of things?”
“Self-awareness sets us free. “The great thing, then, in all education,” writes James, “is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.”
The Amygdala Made Me Do It
By JAMES ATLAS
Published: May 12, 2012
WHY are we thinking so much about thinking these days? Near the top of best-seller lists around the country, you’ll find Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” followed by Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and somewhere in the middle, where it’s held its ground for several months, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Recently arrived is “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” by Leonard Mlodinow.
Unlike most pop self-help books, these are about life as we know it — the one you can change, but only a little, and with a ton of work. Professor Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in economic science a decade ago, has synthesized a lifetime’s research in neurobiology, economics and psychology. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” goes to the heart of the matter: How aware are we of the invisible forces of brain chemistry, social cues and temperament that determine how we think and act? Has the concept of free will gone out the window?
These books possess a unifying theme: The choices we make in day-to-day life are prompted by impulses lodged deep within the nervous system. Not only are we not masters of our fate; we are captives of biological determinism. Once we enter the portals of the strange neuronal world known as the brain, we discover that — to put the matter plainly — we have no idea what we’re doing.
Professor Kahneman breaks down the way we process information into two modes of thinking: System 1 is intuitive, System 2 is logical. System 1 “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” We react to faces that we perceive as angry faster than to “happy” faces because they contain a greater possibility of danger. System 2 “allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.” It makes decisions — or thinks it does. We don’t notice when a person dressed in a gorilla suit appears in a film of two teams passing basketballs if we’ve been assigned the job of counting how many times one team passes the ball. We “normalize” irrational data either by organizing it to fit a made-up narrative or by ignoring it altogether.
The effect of these “cognitive biases” can be unsettling: A study of judges in Israel revealed that 65 percent of requests for parole were granted after meals, dropping steadily to zero until the judges’ “next feeding.” “Thinking, Fast and Slow” isn’t prescriptive. Professor Kahneman shows us how our minds work, not how to fiddle with what Gilbert Ryle called the ghost in the machine.
“The Power of Habit” is more proactive. Mr. Duhigg’s thesis is that we can’t change our habits, we can only acquire new ones. Alcoholics can’t stop drinking through willpower alone: they need to alter behavior — going to A.A. meetings instead of bars, for instance — that triggers the impulse to drink. “You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.”
“The Power of Habit” and “Imagine” belong to a genre that has become increasingly conspicuous over the last few years: the hortatory book, armed with highly sophisticated science, that demonstrates how we can achieve our ambitions despite our sensory cluelessness.
Like Timothy D. Wilson’s recent how-not-to book, “Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change,” a primer for well-intentioned parents, bosses, coaches, teachers, psychologists and others in the life-improvement professions, they’re full of stories about people who accomplished amazing things in life by, in effect, rewiring themselves.
Mr. Duhigg recounts the now legendary story of the football coach Tony Dungy’s system for reviving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a loser team: teach them not to think. By instilling in his players an “automatic” response to situations encountered on the field, Mr. Dungy “removed the need for decision making.” Glance at the outside foot of the lineman to see if he’s getting ready to step back… Check the direction of the quarterback’s face to see where he’s going to throw. Don’t react: act. Guess what? The Bucs started to win. (That game, anyway. Then they went back to losing, and he was fired.)
Mr. Lehrer calls this ability to identify and re-program what goes on inside our heads “the science of insight.” Our minds are more susceptible to epiphanies when we’re taking warm showers, watching Robin Williams do stand-up or walking on the beach. The color blue puts us in a more creative mood than the color red: it stimulates our alpha waves by triggering associations with clear skies and oceans.
Why now? To pose the question that psychiatrists ask their patients, why are we preoccupied all at once with the how instead of the why of things?
“It’s a convergence of ideas, really,” says Professor Kahneman. “It used to be that the main explanation focused on emotional or social distortions of thought.” What he and his colleagues on the best-seller list are doing now is to “scientize” brain research, using the tools of our technological age — neurobiology, brain scans, retinal research — to prove that reflection plays a more minor role in our lives than we ever realized.
The 18th-century philosopher David Hume (much quoted by Mr. Lehrer) didn’t have an M.R.I. scanner at his disposal, but he framed the question in much the same way. His major work, “A Treatise of Human Nature,” explored the ways in which habit, or “custom,” rules our lives. Hume’s experiments with perception — how we respond to colors, distance, numerical sets — prefigure the rigorous science of Professor Kahneman. His intent was to show us “the natural infirmity and unsteadiness both of our imagination and senses.” Consciousness, like philosophy itself, stands on a “weak foundation.”
If Hume seems modern, William James reads like a contemporary. Writing toward the end of the 19th century, James addressed the same question that had concerned Hume — how the unconscious operates as a physical process, not just, as Freud would have it, a mental one. In his now-classic essay, “Habit,” he argued that even our most complex acts are reflexive — “concatenated discharges in the nerve-centres.” The hunter spots the bird and shoots. The fencer knows when to parry and return. They perform these acts unthinkingly — they act before they think. But what about people who involuntarily perform acts that are against their own interests, like biting their nails, “snuffling” or speaking with “nasality”? The answer is that we can train ourselves to change if we work at it hard enough. Self-awareness sets us free. “The great thing, then, in all education,” writes James, “is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.”
Are we there yet? The linguistic philosopher John Searle, who has been writing on this subject for over half a century, is convinced we’re on the right track, but have a long way to go. “I’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the philosophical tradition,” he said last week, speaking from his office in Berkeley. “People have always been interested in how the brain works, but we’ve got to see it as a more natural process, like digestion and photosynthesis.” The brain is an organ, too.
Does this mean we have no “agency,” no capacity to act on our own? Or can autonomy thrive within the prison of self-ignorance? “We have to believe it does,” says Steven Lukes, a professor of sociology at New York University highly admired for his work in moral philosophy. “If we seriously thought that our intentions made no difference to how we behave, we couldn’t go on using the language of ethics. How would we go on living the lives we live?” Or doing what we think is right? “People have free will when they ‘feel’ they have free will,” says Professor Kahneman. “If we didn’t believe in it, we would have no responsibility.”
But of course what one “feels,” as we’ve learned from all these books, could well be — indeed, probably is — an illusion. As Timothy Wilson puts it with haunting simplicity: “We are strangers to ourselves.”
Strangers who can learn how to be friends.
The author of “My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale.”