6. “Let me support you” said the chair

Up to now these small explorations have been an overture, working in different ways with the basic theme of the Alexander Technique of the power of saying no, choosing not to react, prevention, not-doing or doing less, stopping.  It is using a ‘no’ to reveal or allow a deeper, stronger ‘yes’.  In a lesson with an Alexander Technique teacher, or as a student working on yourself, by yourself, you will come back to this, ever and again, as the foundation of your Alexander Technique practice.  In establishing these foundations with a student I will use firm surfaces – simple flat wooden chairs, surfaces to be on which are not so soft that you lose the experience of clear contact between you and the floor or table.  Your attention is then given to the simple and almost indescribable experience of contact with the intention of turning that contact into the richer, more human, emotional experience of support.  ‘Support’ is a very rich concept encompassing stopping something from falling or sinking, through the basics needed to maintain life, through all the kinds of sustenance and comfort we can give or receive which ‘back us up’, keep us going, carry us.

As you stand, or sit, if you are standing or sitting on a surface which allows you to experience the contact between you and the thing underneath you, then you can start to explore support.  What is significant and interesting about this experience is that it is not static, fixed, dead.  Often the first thing you will notice, or which a teacher who is working with you will help you to notice, is that you are not allowing the contact to be as supportive as it can be.  You are endeavouring to support yourself by your own muscular activity, pulling yourself together.  Allowing the chair to support you means you will be letting go of something, you will be releasing.  You are in this scheme of using ‘no’ to reveal a ‘yes’.  And the ‘yes’ is not to become just a relaxed, heavy thing sitting on a chair, or lying on the floor.  Allowing contact to become support alerts us to the multiple qualities of what supports us, of how we take in and make real what is there to support us in our immediate environment or in the wider context of our lives.  We let go of internalised support – muscular, emotional – and discover support that breathes between us and our world, near and far.

I can’t resist here quoting from the end of the last of the essays of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, which captures his spirit of lively trusting curiosity.  So, from “On Experience”: “We seek other conditions because we don’t understand the use of our own, and go out of ourselves because we don’t know what it is like within.  Yet it is no use for us to mount on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk with our own legs.  And upon the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting on our own ass”.  Through discovering support we can explore the full scope of our nature – within and without, the elevated and the lowly.

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