Unfamiliarity breeds content – after a while. Today I was introducing a new student to the Alexander Technique for the first time and she arrived at the quite common experience in this situation, as we were working with the movements of sitting down and standing up, that she had “forgotten how to sit down”. I had led her, with her consent as far as she could consent to the unknown, to stop sitting down in the usual way she sat down. There is a two-fold influence here. The more we are rushing into an action without clarity and freedom the more strongly are we likely to become tied to this way of doing it.
My new student, who left me with a glow of pleasure on my face (and hers), as we worked more with this everyday movement, experienced that she could face the change from moving with fear to, now, moving with confidence. This is a classic Alexander Technique realisation. Lack of confidence, fear of hurt or failure, tend to narrow us down, decrease our options, force our actions. The Alexander Technique seeks to break this tightening spiral by an act of stopping, of prevention, and to use thinking to build a confidence of control which includes not rushing into action. The very insecurity we feel, because we lack presence in our actions, leads us to rush and to forfeit even more of our freedom. So, the experience my new student had today of having forgotten how to sit down came about both because I was leading her towards what F M Alexander calls “a plunge in the dark”, a new way of entering into the act of sitting down, and also because she had freed herself from her habitual way which was wedded to the performing of the movement with thoughtless rush and effort.
Perhaps most significant for us today with our longing for relaxation is that, with the Alexander Technique, when working with a sense, say of unwanted tension in the neck, the approach is not to try to achieve relaxation of the neck. The reason for this is to avoid getting caught up in a self-conscious preoccupation about the state of tension or relaxation in a small part of ourselves. We speak about the method of the Alexander Technique being ‘indirect’.
For me the heart of this description is that we are breaking the tight sequence of cause and effect which emphasises the shortest, quickest journey from A to B. When we work, indirectly, with prevention, that impulse of prevention is about engaging the muscles to bring about what we do want which, in itself, will involve the releasing or relaxing of what we may sense as symptomatic tension. So the essence of the indirect quality is that we are not focusing on correcting faults, but rather on a new and possibly, confusing, experience. The student finds herself somewhere not obviously intended, without an obvious connection to where she just was, mentally and physically. Such surprise is the benign sister of fear and the beginning of confidence. So, stop, and explore what you want.