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

Friday, 18 April 2014 09:22

The Pause

The word stop has acquired two main meaning in the Alexander world, which sometimes get run together, creating confusion and unnecessary difficulties for pupils. The first meaning of stop is simply to pause, to give oneself time to think about a situation and how you want to respond. Within that pause, one then goes on to the second sense of stop which is to stop or inhibit those habits that are considered unhelpful in terms of functioning before going on to give those guiding orders or directions that are deemed helpful. 


When learning the Alexander Technique, many extraneous features of the situation are put to one side to help develop the necessary awareness of the use of the eyes and the relationship of the head, neck and back which for Alexander formed the primary control by which we can coordinate ourselves to meet and respond to any situation. This is the basis of constructive conscious control and as we practice that we become able to not only create time for ourselves but to put aside responses that are based on feared outcomes to allow ourselves to think creatively in terms of our deepest values.


In other words Alexander Technique effects how we think, what we think and in the end the outcomes we achieve by helping us change our behaviour. I was reminded of this when someone sent me a link to five simple steps for leadership published this month by McKinsey the global management consulting company. The need to pause to prevent oneself getting caught in destructive patterns and connect with deepest values is in there at No2, for changing leadership behaviour by learning to stop what does not work by trying to avoid threat and replacing it with an openness and integrity to learning what will take the organisation forward. 


The link to thinking in Alexander’s work is sometimes missed, yet it is there at the deepest level in his work, as I tried to show with my last blog. It is about being there in any situation, present to the possibilities that are there whether at work or in our deepest encounters with ourselves and others. There is the very simple structure there for all to use and many people talk about it. It is present in spiritual traditions, in sport, the arts, music and leadership. Talking about it is  one thing, practicing it another, and for that you need to learn it, usually from somebody else. Although you can do it for yourself as Alexander did, but then you will have to take the time to discover all the pitfalls he found, if you are to have a chance of succeeding. It is much quicker and much easier to learn from somebody else, particularly an Alexander Technique teacher who cannot only give you the experience but coach you through it, so that you can use it to find solutions for you, your loved ones and in your work that are right for you and integrated with your deepest values, as you experience more fully higher levels of functioning. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair

A Technical Blog

Formally, the Alexander Technique has two parts to it: inhibition and direction. Understanding the two and how they are different can be difficult; what follows is meant to make it easier. First up are what Alexander originally called 'guiding orders' and then 'directions.' Anyone who has had lessons will be familiar with them and the words that go with them, which have a definite sequence in terms of the neck being free, the head going forward and up, the spine to lengthen, the back to widen, the knees to go forward and away, with other directions added in for the feet, arms and hands.

The sequence is vital and I will do a technical blog later in the year on sequencing, when I return to blogging in September, after my summer break. For now, it is simply important to understand that without sequencing the directions in the correct order, everything will break down and not work. To sequence in the correct order is also a matter of keeping all the directions going though the sequence, one after the other and all together at the same time. We sequentially and parallel process them. 

Each direction has two aspects to it, one inhibitory, stopping what you don't want, the other directory and concerned with what you do want. If you have not mastered the inhibitory aspect of a direction first, you will not be able to get the direction right. So, for example, when it comes to the neck being free, you have to stop tightening it and pulling the neck forward before you can release it, at which point the column of the neck will move backwards, necessitating the need to prevent the head being pulled back, which is what the inhibitory aspect of the head going forward is there to prevent.

All the guiding orders/directions should be understood this way, firstly in what they are they to prevent and then in terms of what you want. This means that each guiding order/direction is based on a distinction. The distinction itself is ultimately based on either the shortening or lengthening, or the narrowing or widening of the parts concerned within the overall sequence. If you understand the distinction within the sequence, you have a concept of what you want both in terms of what you want to inhibit and then in what you want to happen. Successful application of the concept within the sequence and within one's awareness, rather than attention, establishes the desired conscious habit. As a conscious habit it allows for increasing levels of control to be established through different areas of one's life - one can then achieve constructive conscious control.

Published in Lessons from the Chair