Some Hints for Working with the Alexander Technique

By Stacy Gehman

I have written these “hints” for new students, to use as they begin to explore how to apply the discoveries of F.M. Alexander to their daily lives. I hope that they will serve as reminders of points that are usually made in the first few classes, and that they will help you as you begin the somewhat subtle process of applying what you have learned in class.

1.  Every activity, no matter how apparently simple or complex, is really an activity of my whole self. One way of thinking about this idea suggests that my emotions affect my thoughts and my body; tensions in my body affect my emotions, etc. This is not a bad way to think about it, but there is a subtle way in which this way of thinking perpetuates the apparent separation. What appear to be my body, emotions and thoughts are really three views of one thing, perceived through different avenues of perception. Learning to see the ‘one thing’ in all that multiplicity, is like perceiving a red piece of silk as one thing, instead of as separated sensations of red, soft, and the idea that it is a piece of cloth woven from threads derived from a worm. This idea is not unique to the Alexander Technique, but the Technique is the most precise and useful that I have found for realizing the wholeness of myself in practice.

2.  The Alexander Technique is an indirect process. When my back hurts, it can draw all of my available attention to it; it feels as if I must do something to fix it. Aching backs, etc., can be great motivations to change, but they can also distract me from redirecting my attention to all of me, to find the patterns of activity that are the real source of the problem. Most people occasionally need to seek therapeutic interventions to return to healthy processes of body, emotions or thoughts. The Alexander Technique is not a replacement for any therapeutic intervention, but I have found it to be invaluable for helping me understand therapies that I have sought, and for integrating the changes from them.

These first two hints are really ways of orienting our thinking. The next hint is a specific bit of information that we can use to organize our explorations and experiments with ourselves.

3.  There is something about the relationship of my head to my body that is a controlling factor in how I coordinate myself in activity. When I habitually tighten my neck in an activity, that restricts the free movement of my head, and that pattern of tightening to accomplish the activity continues throughout my use of my torso, arms and legs. When I can stop that initial tightening of my neck, and leave my head free to move as I continue into activity, then I have a chance to discover a new, freer, easier, more effective way to bring all of me into the activity.

4.  If you find, as you explore some activity, that there is some effort, or use of force that feels absolutely necessary, Question It. Do you also tighten your neck along with that effort? Find out where you start making that effort, and play with it – ask your neck to stay free, and think about the directions in which your fingers, elbows, knees, etc. need to move to accomplish the activity. Spend a minute or two really being strict with yourself about what you observe and think about the activity. Then say to yourself, “OK, that was interesting. Now I’m going to let my neck be free, and just do the activity, and see what happens.” I have had a great deal of fun surprising myself after spending a few minutes in this kind of observation and experimentation.

5.  When I think about the relationship of my head to my body, and how I might change it, I ask myself to make the change so small that I barely know I’ve done it, then allow that little change to have its effect on the rest of me. Proceeding in this manner, I have less of a tendency to push myself around, making myself stiff, and trying to make something happen.

6.  When I notice some tendency to tighten up somewhere, I like to ask myself what it might be like not to be tight. I just allow the question to be there, without trying to answer it. Then I wait for the answer to come to me. The answer is usually quick, surprising and pleasant.

And please remember to have fun with this. As A.R. Alexander (F.M.’s brother, and a great teacher himself) said,

“Be patient, stick to principle, and it will all open up like a great cauliflower.”

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