It’s all movement
I’m not sure how to break this to you, but you are moving.
Right now, whatever you are doing, you are moving. Even if you think you are keeping perfectly still, you are moving.
In fact, if you try to keep absolutely still, you achieve this apparently static condition by a combination of movements, which balance each other out and give an appearance, at least to a casual observer, of stillness. In other words, you achieve “being still” by activating lots of opposing muscle groups.
The technical term for this is “movement”.
I cannot overstate the importance of this idea. It is not just key to understanding Alexander’s work, it is key to understanding ourselves and how we operate.
When I say that our physical organism operates in such a way that it is in constant movement, I do not mean wriggling around like a restless toddler, or fidgeting. I’m talking about continuous balancing, adjusting and organising movements that go on throughout your system all the time, which usually go completely unnoticed.
This is a normal condition for a living organism.
Unfortunately, we clever human beings can override this normal state of affairs with our own ideas and beliefs.
When I began having Alexander Technique lessons many years ago, I did what almost all students do, including my own beginning students today. When my lesson was over, I would try to hold on to the nice new condition. I would try to keep my head, body and other bits where I thought the teacher had put them.
When he patiently explained that he wasn’t putting me in any particular position, and that my attempts to “keep it” could only undo the good work we had done in the lesson, I probably nodded and smiled, and at some level I understood the words. But that didn’t stop me trying to keep it.
It took me a long time to fully understand what it means to see the human body, especially my own, as a complex constellation of interrelated movements. And what I would like to do, if at all possible, is to save you some time. Because, I can tell you with hand on heart, life is so much better if you can see yourself in this way.
It changes the way we experience ourselves. It changes the way we see and solve problems in ourselves. More importantly, it elevates our understanding of Alexander’s work and changes the way we direct ourselves in activity in very positive ways.
For these reasons, it is one of my top priorities as a communicator of Alexander’s work to help you get away from seeing yourself as an ‘object’ in a particular place having a particular position, and to start seeing yourself as a dynamic, living, constantly evolving system of interweaving forces, with near infinite potential for changing interrelationships, flowing onwards through time.
Slumping, and other myths
Seeing ourselves in this more dynamic, fluid way can have tremendous practical benefits. Here’s a classic example.
What I would like you to do – without hurting yourself – is to take a moment and have a good old slump.
How’s it going? How does it feel?
For some it might feel uncomfortable (btw, if that’s you, stop), but for many it will feel pretty good, perhaps even a relief. Either way, the key question is: how did it happen?
How did your body parts get from where they were at the beginning of this post to where they are now? I can’t know how it is for you, of course, but most people who do this in my presence will tell me that they “let themselves go”, or possibly that they “relaxed”, or something along those lines. Some people will even try to blame gravity for the whole thing.
What if I told you that your slump is actually a movement that you are making? What if I told you that it takes muscular effort to create and maintain that slump of yours? The polite among you might respond with “pull the other one, it’s got bells on”, or possibly “dude, what have you been smokin’?”
Now, if you were here with me and having a lesson, I could demonstrate the truth of my claim quite easily, because all I would have to do is work with you in such a way that you stop some of that muscular activity.
When you stop all that unnecessary muscular action, the relationships between your body parts will almost certainly change. These changes are fairly predictable, in the sense that when you stop imposing your favourite ideas on your system, it will drift back towards its natural state.
In other words, when students come into a lesson with a slump, and then we do some work and they begin to let go of their muscles, they don’t slump more, they slump less. Q.E.D.
(By the way, you can stop slumping now.)
(If you want to.)
You get what you think
Okay, so this changed point of view is important for Alexander teachers and students, but what if you aren’t able to take Alexander lessons just now? Is this concept going to be of any use to you?
Well, do you ever get stiff and achy when you have to sit or stand somewhere for a long time? I hear this from people generally — not just students. People say that they get stiff if they have been ‘sitting still’ for a while.
The point I’m repeatedly making here is that, left to its own devices, your body is never still. However, within your own system your rules and beliefs are far more powerful than mere facts. If you believe in fixed positions, your system will quite happily hold a fixed position in order to comply with your beliefs.
And that “belief” doesn’t even have to be particularly prominent. If you have ever been told to “sit still”, if you have ever tried to “sit still” or if you have ever used those words, trust me, that concept has taken root and is working its mischief. To borrow an excellent title from an excellent book: what you think is what you get*.
The good news is that the fixed position, which results in you feeling stiff and achy, is an imposition. It is a set of perfectly balanced, opposing movements that you are creating in exactly the same way that you create your slump. And the demonstration of this ‘truth’ is exactly the same as it is for the slump: if you stop those muscular actions, you will get less stiff. Q.E.D.
Sitting or standing for a long time doesn’t make you stiff. Holding your system in a fixed position makes you stiff.
The even better news is that you get what you think. If you can start to believe that you are the dynamic entity I’ve suggested rather than a solid object in a particular position, eventually your system will start to pay attention to the new rules.
Been there, done that
I speak from personal experience.
Of all the landmark events in my Alexander journey — those moments when I suddenly realised a significant change had taken place — the one that still impresses me most is the day in 2003 when I had to travel to Germany for a workshop.
For the purposes of this story, you need to know that before I encountered Alexander I couldn’t drive my car for more than an hour before my back would seize up and the pain would force me to get out of the car and stretch and, if possible, lie down for a bit.
On this fateful day, I arrived at Heathrow without my passport. This meant that I had to drive back to Bristol to fetch my passport, drive back to Heathrow with it, and continue on a later flight.
I did the maths. I sat in the car for six hours, sat on a plane for an hour and a half, got on a bus (45 minutes), then a taxi (another 30 minutes because we got lost), which is a total of 8 hours 45 minutes of travel without getting stiff at all. I had finally understood what it means to be in constant movement and life was different from then on.
So, does that sound useful to you?
Next time you are stuck on a plane, or in a dull lecture or in a theatre, try to remember that you are not actually stuck. You are not ‘still’. You are a dynamic, living, constantly evolving system of interweaving forces, with near infinite potential for changing interrelationships, flowing onwards through time.
* Donald L. Weed D.C. What You Think is What You Get, an introductory textbook for the study of the Alexander Technique, ITM publications 2004. Copies available HERE
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