freedom for life

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
Saturday, 05 April 2014 17:38

Surfing Spontaneity

March has been a demanding month for me, including the death of my father, with whom I was lucky enough to be able to spend a considerable amount of time with as he was dying. It was a time of being present to him, his breathing, of being emotionally available to him and finding a way to help him die peacefully. I found myself drawing on all my experience and relying on conscious control and the Alexander Technique to help me achieve an occurrence of being where we were both at peace with what was happening. The following is a short reflection on the structure of the process of becoming present through the use of inhibition at its deepest, most profound level both to myself and others.

Standing on the edge, the precipice of the unknown, waiting to see the unknown, to step forward, to speak if required is the gathering place of thought. Being there is a finding in itself, that comes with the ceasing of mental chattering, the monkeys of my mind fall silent, leaving a space, a stillness, time, where I clear the gathering place of my expression. Before I hear myself, before I speak, I experience my spontaneity of expression in my visage. I reveal myself not just to others but to myself. The normal masks of concealment drop for a moment in an occurrence of being, where I truly am myself, empty, moving in response with others and the situation, true to possibilities that glint and shimmer in presentation.

This requires courage, an opening, the achievement of balance on the precipice, the letting go of stability into uncertainty and anxiety, that ends with being and seeing, poise and balance and the courage to step into the unknown, the mysteries and uncertainties of life. It is the beginning of an adventure whose character is determined by the situation and the freedom of expression that I am able to achieve not by doing, but by non-doing, not by striving but by following the spirit of trust in being, my self, my spontaneity, my creativity. 

This spirit of trust, this need to find the edge, to find the way forward, through opening; this surfing of spontaneity becomes possible, through ceasing to follow the path of distraction from distraction, by stopping and being - is for me the mark of an intelligent life, a good life. Conscious control through the application of the Alexander Technique, is the foundation of this not as a philosophy but as tools towards the final destination of a life lived to the full, intelligently and hopefully to the integrity of one’s self and for my father, hopefully his soul.

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
Saturday, 12 January 2013 09:31

New Year Resolutions and The Need To Stop

The turning of the year with the lightening and lengthening of the day brings with it blogs and newspapers full of plans to detox, get fit, change your life, become a new you. Questions abound, as to which fitness plan, which diet, how to stick to it? Experts differ and everybody tends to assume that if you just tell people what they need to do, it happens, despite the abundant evidence of failure of far too many people with their diets, fitness plans, lapsed gym memberships and the like, in trying to change. WHY IS THIS?


It is not as if it is a new phenomena, rereading Alexander’s four books over the holiday season in preparation for an article, one finds the same themes, the same problems, exactly one hundred years ago. The problems persist, despite greater knowledge as to undesirability and damaging effects of certain behaviours, certain habits. For example the consumption of too much sugar is known to be linked to the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other major forms of illness, which waste lives in later years, eating up precious health budgets in care. 


Alexander himself wrote about the corruption of taste that goes with adding sugar to a babies’ milk and how it establishes a habit for sweet things that persist through life. A modern equivalent of which might be giving a child flavoured water, which is laced with large amounts of sugar. Now, specific dietary advice is beyond the normal remit of this blog, what is in its remit is the process of re-education, the process of change and here Alexander has much to say that is as relevant now, as it was, when he was writing. 


Perhaps the most important is the power and importance of being able to STOP and say NO to habit, to suspend it and close it out, in favour of something new, something that is a reasoned chosen choice. Too often no thought is given to what needs to be prevented, where we go wrong, where we have gone wrong, when we seek to help ourselves; too often little thought is given to how we get the fundamental experience of change, that is pervasive and persisting; too often we fail to consider that we might need to re-educate ourselves at a fundamental level, in terms of constructive conscious guidance and control in order to achieve our aims, realise our hopes and our dreams. 


Realising our hopes and our dreams, becoming more fully human in coping with inevitable disappointments that lie along the way, the tracks of our lives, will be the themes of the blog this year. I will blog about them both in the context of developing and gaining constructive conscious control and becoming a personal scientist; that is both within the context of Alexander’s work and Kelly’s work. Kelly, through Dewey can be seen as taking on many of Alexander’s elements of change, and applying them to the topic of human relationships, personal and social rather than the improvement in general function that comes from being well co-ordinated in carrying out the practical acts of daily life. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Saturday, 21 July 2012 00:00

Introducing Inhibition

Withholding consent, refraining from doing what one has always done, stopping yourself from relying on old habits, inhibiting, to use Alexander’s word, is the first step in his technique. The second is directing, but that can only come when one has first inhibited what one does not want.

Published in Lessons from the Chair