“Allow my neck to be free,
so that my head can go forward and up,
my back can lengthen and widen,
and my knees go forward and away.”
There are two common pitfalls when learning the Alexander Technique (AT).
- Trying to do it.
- Checking to see if you’ve changed (if you’ve done it).
We teachers address the first pitfall by using passive language : “ALLOW your neck to be free.” We don’t tell you to “free your neck, move your head away from your body;” how could you resist tightening your neck if you heard that?
We teachers also remind you that you are learning to not do, that this work is about non-doing. We sometimes encourage students to think of their directions as “a wish.” You want something to happen, but shouldn’t feel responsible about the outcome.
That last bit, thinking of a wish, addresses the second pitfall as well. We experience almost all effort as something that involves physical effort. (Even Rodin’s statue, The Thinker is in a physical position that we associate with a mental activity.) Inevitably, we want to determine if we’ve made a change. We hold our breath, stop moving, or concentrate on what we’re experiencing, to check and see what’s going on, if we’re doing less. This creates tension, often the exact same tension we’re trying to get rid of!
So what should an eager, well meaning, enthusiastic student do? Be a C student. Show up, be curious, and go along, but don’t try to accomplish much. This takes away the worry and the near constant desire to make something happen. A well-used quote from F.M. is, “When we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself” – we don’t have to do anything more because the right thing is already there, we just need to remove the layers of excess tension.
A few things helped me let go of the worry, and thus enjoy the experiences the AT allows, right away.
- If anything goes “wrong” during a lesson, it’s the teacher’s fault, not mine. This allows me to experience something different, maybe even weird. Now, anything is possible.
- If I notice I’m not doing something “right,” that’s good. “Let’s hope something goes wrong,” Frank Ottiwell, an AT teacher once told a student. From these mistakes, we can learn and improve.
As a student of the Technique, our job is to: say our directions; wish/hope that the directions have a positive effect; know we’re not responsible to make anything happen; and look forward to noticing what is happening.
This counter-intuitive approach removes a cloud over us, and allows our self (body and mind) to experience and absorb what is happening in the moment.
Just like it’s hard to learn while you’re talking, it’s hard to notice when you’re doing.