Can we really change?

Cartoon image of earth with caption There is no Plan-et B!As COP26 begins today, like very many people I’m wondering what actions will come out of the lengthy discussions and whether these will be enough to avert the ongoing ecological and humanitarian crisis? 

What does the Alexander Technique have to offer here? Perhaps there are some similarities in approach between what is needed to respond to the challenge of the climate crisis and learning and applying the Alexander Technique?

The first step is awareness that there is a problem, or that things are not how we would wish. Out of awareness can come a desire for change.

Through practising the Alexander Technique our self-awareness gradually grows and we become more tuned in to what would otherwise remain ‘under the radar’. Becoming more aware of our habit patterns opens up opportunities to identify aspects of ourselves that we would rather change. These might include repetitive thinking patterns such as excessive self-criticism, or ‘what if’ thinking; as well as the tension patterns that often accompany our usual way of going about our daily life and which interfere with our poise and ease of movement. We gradually develop a greater sense of self as a whole mind-body being. As such, we can better recognise the consequences of our choices on our own health and wellbeing, as well as how the effects of these behaviours ripple outwards to affect others and our environment.

On a global level there is finally now widespread recognition of the profound negative effects humans are having on the planet. Governments, institutions and industry are, however, still far from being able to ‘join the dots’. They need to shift from looking at specific symptoms, such as say waste disposal, to recognising the inter-relatedness of everything and considering the full life cycle and environmental costs of everything we produce from objects to energy. We still need a greater awareness of how all aspects of our behaviour inter-twine with each other and the complex eco-system of our planet.

Having identified a desire for change, we next come up against the difficulty of actually bringing about meaningful and long-lasting transformation.

Change is difficult, partly because it’s hard for us to imagine anything other than our own current felt experience, so it’s difficult to move beyond where we are now. How things are now tends to feel normal or right on some level, even paradoxically, if this includes discomfort or behaviours that actually aren’t so good for our mental or physical health. We should never underestimate the power of habit.

On a national and global level, change is also difficult, partly because powerful, hierarchical systems of government and enforcement have been set up that protect vested self-interests. These present huge obstacles to necessary change, and can sometimes even be difficult to see through because they permeate every aspect of our culture.

A desire for change and ‘will power’ is generally not going to be enough for tackling intransigent issues or habits. We also need practical methods to guide us through the process of change and to keep us going in the desired direction. The Alexander Technique is such a method, it’s a subtle but powerful route for change. It can be described as a set of embodied thinking skills, based on a set of clear practical principles, and applied in our everyday life. Putting the Alexander Technique into practice involves making space for other possibilities – we need to stop what we’re habitually thinking and doing. This enables us to embark on a process of change starting now in this moment, rather than desired change being something to be continually put off. Meaningful, long-term change is a continual process, as the old habitual tendencies are usually still there. As one example, as I’m writing this, I’m becoming aware of how I’m gradually being ‘sucked into the screen’, so I’m giving a thought to the support coming up from the chair through my sitting bones and I’m seeing past the words on the screen out into the room beyond. As my thinking shifts, my breathing eases and I find myself ‘re-connected’ both within myself and with my surroundings.

What practical methods are there for countering the climate change crisis? We will clearly need a multitude of different interventions and approaches. We will also need activists to continue in their long fight to hold governments and big business to account and to their stated commitments. Perhaps there is a role for interventions such as the Alexander Technique in helping sustain activists in their work?

So, we need to recognise what we’d like to change, we need a practical method(s) to bring it about, and we also usually need some help to achieve it.

It’s very hard to do it alone. People learning the Alexander Technique will need a teacher, at least at the beginning, to facilitate them gaining enough experience to become able to consistently put it into practice in their daily lives. In respect to tackling climate change it’s abundantly clear that collaboration on multiple levels is essential.

Finally, when we say we want to change, we need to really mean it. It’s very easy to say we are going to change but to make it happen requires a deep desire and commitment. Change is seldom easy, even when it is genuinely desired, so we need to stick with the process. What do we really want for ourselves as individuals, what do we want for our communities and our planet?

We can all make our own individual contributions to tackling climate change but these can never be enough on their own. Significant government intervention is required to make structural change at both a country and global level. It remains to be seen whether our politicians are up to the task.

The UK government has been very good at broadcasting commitments to future climate change targets. It is ahead of many countries in setting a net zero carbon goal. But actions speak louder than words. For all its future targets, what is the UK government actually doing now to work towards these? In this week’s budget, climate change was not even mentioned, let alone there being no announcement of vital measures such as improving home insulation. Worse still, the budget actually promoted factors that contribute to climate change – such as cutting aviation duty for domestic flights and announcing new road building.1 Moreover, the UK government continues to actively support new oil and gas projects!2

The Alexander Technique is a method for change. Alexander teachers know from their own personal experience and that of their students, how transformative it can be for an individual. I wonder how, as an Alexander profession and community, we could harness this powerful method collectively to foster social change?