How are you feeling?

Scrabble letters spelling ResilienceIt’s taken me a long time to recognise my ingrained attitude to experiencing certain feelings, such as sadness, anxiety and anger. Rather than acknowledging and being able to just ‘sit with them’, I have a habit of trying to escape such feelings by finding ways of diverting my attention elsewhere. We all have our own favoured diversionary routes – from escapism into books, films or computer games, to alcohol or drugs, or to throwing ourselves into work and keeping busy. Diverting ourselves away from our feelings can sometimes be necessary but it’s not a healthy automatic default mode.

There was never any deliberate ploy on my part to block out feelings, just a subconscious drive to distraction away from them – usually by throwing my energy into the next job to be done. Through working with the Alexander Technique I’m now more aware of my feelings as they arise and am getting better at acknowledging them. What is particularly striking for me is that I now find myself more able to live with feelings which may be uncomfortable and therefore unwelcome. Developing greater awareness of our whole mind-body self is a key feature of learning the Alexander Technique. Without such self-awareness, it is difficult to make the changes that we might want to make.

People who have taken lessons or done training in the Alexander Technique report becoming generally calmer, less irritable and more optimistic. This is not because feelings such as anger and anxiety are suppressed. Rather, we learn how we can reduce at source, those reactions that are habitual, unthinking and unwanted. The feelings associated with such reactions are therefore less likely to arise, or at least be so strong. We are all conditioned by our previous life experiences; through the Alexander Technique we can shine a spotlight on, and work through, our learnt responses. This means that, for example, when we do become angry, it’s likely to be an appropriate emotional response for us at that time. Moreover, as we’re not overwhelmed by the feeling, then we can decide how we want to use that anger.

FM Alexander adopted the term ‘inhibition’ to describe the practical skill of not reacting unthinkingly to a stimulus, thereby enabling conscious choice over our responses, and providing a route for change. In selecting the term ‘inhibition’, Alexander may have been influenced by its use in physiology, denoting the fundamental neurological process by which any animal organises and regulates itself. More recently, neuroscience recognises the process of ‘intentional inhibition’ in decision making.1 Alexander made it very clear that his use of inhibition had nothing in common with the meaning of emotional suppression employed by Freud.2

Developing the embodying Alexander skill of inhibition, empowers us to reduce over-reactivity, so that we can respond more thoughtfully, and in a way that is congruent with what really matters to us. While we become more attuned with noticing our feelings, we also have the means to prevent them from spiralling out of control. So we can avoid, for example, the vicious circle of stress leading to yet more stress and anxiety. One of my clients with depression talks about how she no longer feels overwhelmed by her feelings and is better able to face them.  

The Alexander Technique does not provide us with an escape from reality, rather, through this embodied practice, we are enabled to live our lives well, with greater resilience to everything that life throws at us.

  1. Elisa Filevich, Simone Kühn, Patrick Haggard. Intentional inhibition in human action: The power of ‘no’. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 2012; 36:1107–1118.
  2. See Jean Fischer’s comprehensive discussion of inhibition on the Mouritz website.