What do we get out of it? What are the AT goodies?
Agency – the Alexander Technique empowers us – we can be in our own ‘driver’s seat’, making conscious choices (in the moment) rather than being run by unconscious habit. This provides all the downstream benefits – the AT helps us to live better:
It feels good. We move better. We breathe better. We feel calmer, more centred
Pain may become controllable, diminish or go away.
The Alexander Technique improves our physical wellbeing We look better as a consequence. We experience a sense of wholeness, or of integration, not just physically.
In short – we learn to Use ourselves better.
In the next stage we will want to know:
- How do we develop these for ourselves?
I am putting inverted commas around our concept, because people mean different things by it. E.g. if you had asked me 35 years ago, I may have waffled vaguely about the head and neck. Now I would say more precisely that the ‘PC’ is a relationship between the head, trunk and limbs. The ‘PC’ can also be viewed via the breath. Ideally the ‘PC’ is elastic, not rigid; adaptable to the moment, not fixed in time; and responsive to our attention and intention. In the traditional formulation, when the ‘PC’ is working well, the head is oriented out (ie ‘forward and out’), while the back is lengthening and widening, and arms and legs are releasing outwards.
It is usually clear that a well-organised ‘PC’ is also characterised by freedom and responsiveness in the breathing; breathing and movement generally are facilitated. Movement of the limbs or of breathing does not have the effect of disturbing the well-organised ‘PC’s overall elastic coordination. When we respond via a well-organised ‘PC’ to any stimulus, inner or outer, for example moving in space (outer), or having a thought or experiencing emotion (inner), it means that we do not disturb this coordinated elasticity.
In other words, when the ‘PC’ is working well, not only is the head oriented out, the back lengthening and widening (sometimes referred to as ‘staying back’), and arms and legs releasing outwards; but also breathing is facilitated, allowing freedom and responsiveness (to any demand or change). Further, many people report a sort of ‘grounded lightness’.
In fact, I’d suggest that breathing cannot be truly free and responsive without that particular quality of connected elasticity in the relationship between head, trunk and limbs (which also facilitates the ‘grounded lightness’), which we recognise as having something to do with the ‘primary control’.
A good teacher’s job is to help a person to experience their ‘PC’ working better. This is synonymous with an experience of integration, physically and perhaps also in other ways. A good teacher can clearly articulate the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ and can help the pupil to understand and connect these. We don’t want mystery; we want understanding. Understanding empowers us.
Bruce Fertman, charming man and terrific Alexander teacher, has written a piece called ‘Constructive Doubt’.
I like what Bruce says, and I wanted to pick up on the word ‘rifts’ as I think this is an important issue in our AT community. Is the word ‘rifts’ helpful?
Certainly there are differences among AT teachers roughly according to lineages.
‘Vive les differences!’ say I.
‘Vive les differences’, with an attitude of humility. ‘My way’ is certainly not the only way. I teach in the way that I have been taught and learnt (starting over 40 years ago); and I teach in the way that my own work has evolved during those years. My goal is to maintain an attitude of not-knowing. I have learnt a huge amount from other teachers since qualifying from my very traditional training as an AT teacher. They include teachers from all AT lineages and others. Bruce, I remember being beguiled by your words at a talk you gave in Sydney in 1994. I still assume that I do not have the whole AT picture. I have enough to be able to help a lot of people, to teach them useful skills and a less fixed way of looking at themselves and the world. And I am still learning and having a ball. And I would still regard myself as a fairly ‘conservative’ teacher, if ‘conservative’ means sticking to basic principles. (Yes, cue question here…)
Emphases vary between traditions and between teachers. You can only teach out of your own experience. (This is where ‘rifts’ started – all the 1st gen were teaching out of their own experience, which necessarily were not identical). We mustn’t harden into any sort of position, least of all, one that you got from someone else. So it make sense to both deepen and to widen your experience. My own strong preference, and what I have encouraged in my trainees, is to do this after you have thoroughly steeped yourself in ONE tradition, mindful that it is not the only way, and mindful that other traditions may have pieces that yours does not articulate as clearly.
Here is a metaphor (geography buffs, please allow me some license – it is a metaphor, not a map!:
In the 1400’s and 1500’s traders sailed east around Africa to reach the Spice Islands in the East Indies. It took a lot of time for someone to try sailing west. Eventually it was realized that you could reach the same islands by sailing either east or west – same destination, different route. Main thing was, keep sailing! Certainty about the ‘right’ way to get there was shifted.
For Alexander teachers, keep teaching, with less certainty, out of Bruce’s ‘constructive doubt’, and stay curious. We can learn from one another.
Last time we talked about the quality of your attention and asked, “Have you ever noticed the 2 typical modes in the way we use our attention?” In the one mode, discussed last time, we tend to be heavily and exclusively focused on a particular task, often to the exclusion of all else. The other extreme is when we “mind wander”. Our attention is definitely not “on the job” and we are operating on auto-pilot. An example: You decide to swing by the shops on the way home to get some milk, but then find that you are pulling up at home having followed the usual (habitual) route and having not visited the shops. This exemplifies a sort of “absence” of self, you are not really in the “driver’s seat” but rather operating out of blind habit. This may work, as long as nothing out of the usual crops up, but it is not really conscious or awake.
This is often how we perform many habitual activities, eg how we sit at work, or in the car, or how we respond in a particular situation. It becomes completely automatic, and curiously, it has a corresponding physical correlate. Your body becomes “heavy”, “dead”, un-responsive. (Again, this scenario, repeated day in and day out for years has an effect on the postures that become fixed into our way of being as we age).
Rather than this lack of focus, we want to cultivate a light, active, diffuse field of attention which is more inclusive (of our environment as well as ourselves), in which we are interested in information around us. This allows us to be more present in ourselves as well as in what we are engaged in. Eg Rather than either your field of awareness shrinking to the size of the screen in front of you, or else just drifting on auto-pilot, take an active but non-doing interest in the space around you, and the physical contact you are making with the chair. You can cultivate this much more useful, responsive and awake quality of attention.