Category Archives: Direction

Choosing our future

Yes Scottish Independence flag

It can take a little while, when learning the Alexander Technique, to begin to believe that such huge potential can be opened up by simply becoming more present in oneself and taking a tiny moment before responding to life’s myriad stimuli. When we don’t go down the usual immediate reaction route, then we gain the opportunity to be curious, to ask questions and allow new possibilities to emerge: ‘Do I really need to scrunch up my shoulders to reach for my cup of tea’?, ‘Can I find more ease and calm while sitting here?’, or ‘Are my beliefs and opinions stuck, or can they respond to changing circumstances within a shifting world’?

What would FM Alexander have made of the current state of the world? He was born well before the welfare state came into being and he lived through two world wars. In his lifetime he noted a: ‘…growing tendency towards disunion instead of unity, towards dissatisfaction instead of satisfaction, towards enmity and discord instead of good-fellowship and peace’.1 It would seem that little has changed! His writing of more than 70 years ago remains just as relevant to today’s politics; he observed: ‘Under the present plan, politics and deception are interdependent. The individual seeking re-election will resort to forms of deception to which he would not stoop in other walks of life, particularly in the matter of making promises which he has not the least hope of fulfilling…’ Alexander suggested that we don’t always give ourselves time to question and that we can easily be ‘carried away by ‘…oratory or personality or both.’1

So, what was Alexander’s solution to this unsatisfactory state of affairs? He was clear that the foundations of the state (political, social, educational, industrial and moral/religious systems) ultimately rest on the condition of all the people who constitute it. The implication is that if we want to make far-reaching changes at the community/national/global level, we need to start by first reflecting on and be willing to change ourselves. FM Alexander’s method provides an extremely effective means for personal change. We can discover how we can have more choice over how we act and react moment by moment, and how we connect with others and the world around us. We learn to pay more attention to the means by which we achieve our aims, rather than just fixating narrowly on the desired goal (endgaining). This clarity of intention and more holistic (mind-body-environment) view makes it more likely that we will ultimately be successful, whether the goal is a personal or a wider one.

The Alexander Technique gives us a practice with which to engage more profoundly and productively with the world. At its very heart lies self-awareness situated within the context of one’s surroundings and fellow humans, together with the ability to choose for oneself rather than being stuck in habitual ways of thinking and doing. Such self-determination at the individual level might ultimately enable change in the bigger picture.

So looking more widely, the people of Scotland and England appear to be going in very different directions. In Scotland the avaricious, self-interested narrative of Thatcher did not take hold nor, more recently, have the lies and misconduct of Johnson/Cummings been disregarded. Here it seems that individual responsibility does not mean ‘everyone for themselves’, instead there is a greater sense of the importance of the wider community within which an individual co-exists. So I for one, now have a very different stance towards independence than I did the first time I lived here over 30 years ago.  Perhaps in the coming year there will be time to question, to be curious, to openly engage…and to choose our future?

1Footnote: FM Alexander Constructive conscious control of the individual. Second edition, 1946. Mouritz p182–185.

Thinking differently about thinking

You might have heard it said that the Alexander Technique is ‘all about thinking’ but for many people this can come as something of a surprise when they first begin Alexander lessons. What’s more, they often find it hard to imagine that, outside of lessons, they could possibly be able to think about it very much at all – life is just too busy!

Thinking

But what do we mean here by ‘thinking’? The English language uses this one word as an umbrella term that encompasses a whole range of different types of conscious process. Here are some of the many ways in which we can think: we can analyse, calculate, evaluate, criticise, conclude, decide, anticipate and recollect. We also imagine, visualise, believe, create, and day-dream. Then again, we can observe, contemplate, appreciate, intend, choose and wish. I would say that the nature of Alexander thinking shares most in common with this last set of terms and least in common with the first.

Applying the Alexander Technique involves two distinctive ways of thinking that FM Alexander called ‘inhibition’ and ‘direction’. Practising inhibition involves developing greater conscious awareness of ourselves, such that we are more able to choose whether and how to respond in any given moment (rather than the default mode of reacting instantly and habitually). Over time this practice leads to a general quietening down of our whole self, so that our minds race less and our muscles tense less and we’re less likely to over-react to what life throws at us in the moment.

For me, ‘direction’ is thinking spatially from an embodied perspective. This means that, whatever I’m doing, my mind-body lies at the centre of my awareness, and this is organised around my head and spine as its axis. Like inhibition, the character of direction is expansive – a light brush stroke of attention that sweeps around, not an intense focus. For example, when I’m standing, I’m directing if I simply think of where the crown of my head is in relation to the ceiling and in which direction my weight is going. Such thinking will indirectly and beneficially impact on my posture (in this moment) in a way that simply thinking ‘I’ll try and stand up straight’ never could. So, inhibition and direction are not our usual ‘doing thinking’ but more a ‘state of being’ thinking.

Through the Alexander Technique we learn to think in a more embodied way and to develop and refine our natural skills of awareness, so that we can take in our environment and ourselves simultaneously. This ‘expansive awareness’ (external and internal at the same time) is a natural attribute (animals and young children have it) but it’s a skill that we increasingly lose as we grow up – largely because we’re constantly encouraged to pay very focused attention to the task in hand. For most people, most of the time, attention switches between external and internal; and the internal attention switches between feelings/sensations and thinking. The Alexander perspective is different, so for example, while I’m looking at the computer screen writing this post, I am also seeing the room around the screen (obviously not in focus), hearing the sounds outside, and I have a sense of my sitting bones in contact with the chair and the movement of my fingers over the keyboard as I choose what words to write next.

My experience, as well as that of my colleagues, is that Alexander training, and practising inhibition and direction in daily life, lead over time to an overall shift in our way of thinking. In general, we become less judgemental, not so self-critical, not as anxious, and less likely to fixate narrowly on our goals. Instead we become calmer, more optimistic (yet more realistic), more accepting and compassionate, and more open-minded, experimental, playful and quietly confident.

For many of us, it can often feel like we’re subject to a near-constant stream of random mental chatter, full of ‘what if…’ and ‘I should….’ thinking, as well as self-criticism and such-like. Engaging with Alexander thinking replaces some of this chatter in a very simple and effective way – better directing our mental energy, and with resultant benefits such as less tension and a calmer state of mind.