Western medicine and western society have a tendency to treat symptoms, rather than aiming to get to the root cause of particular problems. For example, dishing out vast quantities of anti-obesity and type II diabetes medication, rather than tackling the underlying issues, such as the food industry’s wholesale corruption of our diets.
We have all been deeply immersed in this culture from birth. So, our understanding of the Alexander Technique is not always immune to this more superficial way of seeing the world, and we can sometimes find ourselves over-focusing on specific ‘symptoms’. For example, as we become more self-aware, tension in the neck or jaw, or tight gluteal muscles can exert quite a pull on our attention. Using our core Alexander thinking skills of inhibition and direction, we are often able to reduce the tension or tightness. That’s a good thing in itself and is, indeed, one aspect of inhibition. But it’s a bit like Whack-a-mole – new symptoms are likely to just keep coming up, or the same ones may recur.
Early in my professional training I came across the work of US Alexander teacher, Missy Vineyard. She helped me understand that if you really want to change, you have to get to the root cause of the problem. After all, FM Alexander’s lightbulb moment in developing his method came when he realised that it wasn’t the act of speaking that ‘put him wrong’, causing him to stiffen his neck, contract his torso and grip the ground with his feet. Instead, it was something that happened before that – it was the mere thought of speaking.
A practical example, if I want to change the way I habitually walk, I need to create new neurological pathways. It’s not enough to tell myself “I’m going to walk, but with the wish for less tension and tightness”, as the very idea of walking is still likely to kick off deeply embedded habits. I’d be better off deciding not to ‘walk’ and instead re-framing my intention. For example, “I’m ‘not walking’, but I am heading out the door”. As long as I’m clear what my actual intention/goal is, then I am freed up to focus on my core Alexander thinking (not going into habit, letting my head lead etc).
Of course it’s never going to be that simple, as we’re complex beings and life can be very challenging! We will never be able to get to the root cause of everything, nor will we always be able to completely overcome the impact of some of the more profound experiences of our lifetimes. So, we will always be noticing where we are ‘doing too much’ and wishing to do less. But this is only one part of our ongoing work with ourselves.
With the Alexander Technique we’re working at the very fundamental level of how we think / react / anticipate in every aspect of life. FM Alexander’s final definition for his life’s work was that it is ‘a method for the control of human reaction’ . Now, while that’s not exactly a snappy strapline, it is a neat description of a most powerful method which enables greater agency and self-development.
- FM Alexander. The Universal Constant in Living. Third Edition 1946. Mouritz