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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Monday, 04 November 2013

The Benefits of Conscious Control

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As a phrase, 'constructive conscious control' draws a blank for most people; it is meaningless both intellectually and practically and therefore something that seems best avoided. Yet, for Alexander, it was the aim of his work and technique whose meaning can be understood quite easily, if the constituent parts are explained separately before being combined together. But this is only illustrative of something that has to be known in practice and practiced until it becomes a set of habits - a way of thinking that is engrained because it is useful. This is constructive conscious control itself. 

When introducing people to the phrase, I usually start with the middle term - conscious. In simple practical terms it means being aware of, the how of, the means whereby, if we are to use Alexander's terminology, we go about things. Normally, we just sit, stand, walk, speak, sleep, think etc. without any thought of how we actually co-ordinate or use ourselves in activity - how we control ourselves. Lacking explanation of how we control our co-ordination or use in these activities, we have little or no awareness of the implications of that co-ordination in terms of functioning or performance. We do not realise that use affects functioning or that we potentially have control of it which allows us to cultivate a use and control that is constructive in improving our standard of functioning and performance over time. 

Pupils when they first start lessons are usually not looking for constructive conscious control. They are looking for relief or improvement with something. Both relief and improvement can and often do occur for some pupils very quickly after only a few lessons. This is good, it is in a sense what they came for, but it does not mean that they have yet developed conscious control. 

This takes more work and a realisation of the importance of prioritising thinking about one's use in life, putting it first, putting one’s own health and functioning first in everything that one does, in the hope that not only is this good for oneself but good for others. So it becomes in time, intentionally predictable, that if you use the technique, you can control your use and influence your functioning in a positive manner, consistently and in increasingly stressful circumstances. 

In concrete terms this means, as with a pupil this week, they have gone beyond welcoming the relief that lessons were giving them in terms of long-term back problems to welcoming the fact that they are aware of when they are tensing and tightening parts of themselves, which they are able to stop and then release into new and improving use and co-ordination of themselves. It is this increased conscious awareness and constructive control that is the aim of Alexander's work and needs to be prized beyond the simple relief and help that Alexander lessons offer and deliver in the short term. With it a pupil moves beyond their teacher with a capacity to apply the technique in ever more complicated situations, with ever more skill in using themselves, in achieving poise and balance.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.