Making light of it

Sunset over Portobello beach One of the things people love about Alexander lessons is when they experience movement and actions as feeling pretty effortless. For most of what we do in life, we unknowingly make more effort than we need to, simply because we get stuck in habitual but less efficient ways of doing things. It can be joyful to experience walking, reaching, lifting etc as being light, smooth, fluid and easy.

As well as being able to move with less effort, I’m also interested in the way that thinking can also seem less effortful. John Dewey, the great American Educationalist and Philosopher described his own experience of the transformative power of learning the Alexander Technique. This included an escape from ‘habits of mind’, enabling greater freedom and flexibility of thought. [1]

I’ve previously talked about the way in which we use the one word ‘thinking’ to cover all sorts of different mental activities. There are many different types of thinking and each has its own quality. Typical ways of thinking have a quality that is very focused, rapid and rather rigid. We’re actively encouraged from a young age to concentrate and to try hard when thinking, so that can easily become our norm. But we’re also capable of lighter thinking that is more open, slower and gentler.

Through the Alexander Technique we can experience a re-calibration of our whole mind-body self, so that we are able to quietly and calmly observe our surroundings and ourselves, staying present and alert. This quality of thinking also tends to be less judgemental and more compassionate – we become more self-aware but not self-critical.

It reminds me of Carl Rogers: ‘When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner”. I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.’ [2]

Developing a different way of thinking takes time and practice – the sort of embodied practice that is gained through Alexander lessons, and which can seem effortless.

1. Woods, C, Williamson, M, Fox Eades, J (2018). Dewey and the Alexander Technique: Lessons in mind-body learning. In R Heilbronn, C Doddington, & R Higham (Eds.), Dewey and Education in the 21st Century (pp. 83-100). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.

2. Carl R. Rogers (1995). A way of being. Mariner Books, Boston, USA.