Those two projects, not necessarily in that order, could provide a 5 second description of what a student of the Alexander Technique learns.
They could be the basis a short answer to the question, “What is the Alexander Technique”, when you want to make your interaction with the questioner as short as possible – going through customs, for example.
They might also be a good answer to that question if you want to provide an opening to further discussion. If that happens, you’re likely to come up against another question like this: “Well, how is that fundamentally any different from ____?
Here are just a few of the hundreds of methods, disciplines, processes etc that could end up in that blank: psychotherapy, life coaching, religion, mindfulness, physical therapy, meditation, tai chi, laughter therapy, prayer, yoga – the list could go on and on.
So is the Alexander Technique fundamentally different, perhaps even superior, or more effective, than these other processes?
My personal answer is that the Alexander Technique may be unique in focusing on how our minds and bodies interact and how we can use our conscious thinking capacity to improve our physical functioning.
But that helpful use of our thinking has to take into account the way our brain and the rest of our body is structured, and the complex nature of interactions within ourselves. To do that, we need to become students of ourselves.
For our founder, F. Matthias Alexander, mind and body are really just 2 aspects of the same thing and that every aspect of ourselves is connected to, influences, and is influenced by every other aspect. That basic understanding lies at the heart of his thinking, and of the Technique he developed.
I don’t know of another process that views the human condition in quite that way. And because the Technique focuses a lot on the quality of our postures and movements – which can be observed by ourselves and by others – it’s relatively easy to test it’s effectiveness when we’re applying it to ourselves.
The Technique certainly has a lot going for it, but it’s not for everybody. We’re all unique beings and some of us have temperaments better suited to other approaches to self-improvement.
But if you are looking to find a way to improve your life, and find the basic ideas of the Technique intriguing – or perhaps know somebody who has benefited from it – taking a few lessons or group classes could be one of the best decisions you ever made.
As I said, this is my own take on the Alexander Technique and is certainly not how all Alexander teachers and students view it. I’d love to hear your own answer to the question “What is so special about the Alexander Technique?”, below and/or on Facebook.
The use of imagery to teach or learn the Alexander Technique is, to put it mildly, a controversial topic.
The diverse views were on full display in recent exchanges on the Alexander Technique Forum Facebook Page(1) include everything from general disapproval of using images to endorsement in some or many teaching situations.
Some members have also pointed out that a teacher’s verbal instructions can generate mental images in a student’s mind, so the distinction between using words while teaching – which has a long history in Alexander Technique teaching – and using images isn’t always clear.
Personally, I’ve had mixed results with using mental images.
While I was training in England, I had a great many lessons from a remarkable teacher (not connected to my training course) who used the “string pulling your head up” image during lessons.
On the plus side, that image did get me “out of my hips” in a way I’d never before experienced, and the teachers on my training course, who knew nothing about my unauthorized lessons, commented on it with surprise and approval.
However, when I used that image while walking, as part of a class with late Marjorie Barstow, she stopped me in my tracks and asked what I was thinking. When I told her, she said: “That’s exactly what it looks like! You’re stiffening yourself to try to be up.” When I dropped it, I found my walk was indeed more fluid and I haven’t used it since.
My take from this is that the image was useful for me as an intermediate step, but not as a continuing process. It did get me out a deeply rooted harmful habit of sinking into my hips. But once that was achieved, it became limiting – ultimately because the ideal “location” of the string would have to change so often, and so quickly, to accommodate the many tiny changes in my head orientation that I would never be able to keep up.
My string image had become a little like a broken clock. Accurate, but only twice a day!
I do use some simple images in my teaching to help students locate key places in their body.
For example, when working with students to help them make the best use of gravity, I use simple line images to help them find their centers of gravity, which has proved to be very useful and effective. Those centers are infinitesimally tiny, and tricky to mentally locate without using some form of imagery.
I’ve also found that simple line imagery can be very helpful for students in learning just where their head rests on top of their spine, and then how to tilt and rotate their heads freely.
When examining a question like the usefulness of imagery, it’s always interesting to see if F. Matthias Alexander, the founder of the Technique, had anything to say about it. As it turns out, he never used the word “imagery” in any of his four books, which is not surprising since using it they way I’m using it here really only became popular after his death in 1955.(2)
However, variants of word “image” do appear occasionally, but only once in a way that relates a bit to the kind of imagery we’re talking about here. In his first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, in a section titled “Race Culture and the Training of the Children” he writes about teaching children how to draw:
Now the act of drawing is in the last analysis a mechanical process that concerns the management of the fingers, and the co-ordination of the muscles of the hand and forearm in response to certain visual images conceived in the brain and imaginatively projected on to the paper (emphasis mine). And the standard of functioning of the human fingers and hand in this connection depends entirely on the degree of kinaesthetic development of the arm, torso, and joints; in fact on the standard of co- ordination of the whole organism. It is not surprising, there- fore, that hardly one of these more or less defectively co-ordinated children should have any idea of how to hold a pencil in such a way as will command the freedom, power, and control that will enable him to do himself justice as a draughtsman.
Any attentive and thoughtful observer who will watch the movement and position of these children’s fingers, hand, wrist, arm, neck, and body generally, during the varying attempts to draw straight or crooked lines, cannot fail to note the lack of co-ordination between these parts. The fingers are probably attempting to perform the duties of the arm, the shoulders are humped, the head twisted on one side. In short, energies are being projected to parts of the bodily mechanism which have little or no influence on the performance of the desired act of drawing, and the mere waste projection of such energies alone is almost sufficient to nullify the purpose in view.
But I have already said enough to prove that no free expression can come by this means. The right impulse may be in the child’s mind, but he has not the physical ability to express it. Not one modern child in ten thousand is born with the gift to draw as we say ” by the light of Nature,” and that one exceptional child will have his task made easier if he is wisely guided in his first attempts.
Speaking for myself, I’m convinced that imagery, and its cousin imagination, is an incredibly powerful tool – and that’s precisely why, if and when you use it, you need to do so wisely.
I would love to see your thoughts on this topic – either here or on Facebook.
2. Strictly speaking, imagery has been around for a very long time:
Believe it or not, guided imagery, or simply imagery, has been used for centuries as a medical therapy. Evidence shows Tibetan monks began using meditation as early as the 13th century, imagining Buddha curing disease. Others believe that this imagery technique has been used for even longer, going back possibly to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Today, guided imagery is an accepted form of complementary and alternative medicine and used in conjunction with traditional treatments by clinics, hospitals and health care providers around the world. – History of Guided Imagery
Here’s a great Country Music song – and surprisingly artsy for a Country video! – to listen to while you contemplate imagery and imagination:
I’ve been somewhat obsessed with my walking patterns over the past couple of months, ever since I realized that for for most of my life, I’d been pushing my torso a forward a bit when I walked.
As I wrote in my previous blog, A Simple Hack That Brings A New Ease Into Your Walking, this habit of creating unnecessary work in my torso was deeply rooted – so deeply rooted that even after decades of being an Alexander Technique teacher, I hadn’t noticed it. It was a habit that led directly to harmful neck tension and to a walk that was heavier than it needed to be.
Once I noticed this, I was able to walk with greater ease by being quietly clear in my thinking that the work of walking was coming from my lower body. My torso was of course certainly moving – all sorts of twisting and spiraling – but those movements were in response to the activities going on below. My job was to get out of the way of those responses and not distort them by any efforting on my part.
Of course my old pattern would sneak back in and sometimes it would take awhile for me to notice, but it was getting easier and easier for me to re-direct my thinking and return to the lighter way of walking I now knew how to bring about.
But… a couple of days ago, I was walking to a class and something strange happened.
All seemed well at first but I soon noticed that I was reverting back to my old habit a lot more frequently.
“Why?”, I asked myself.
After a bit of introspection, I realized that the situation was a little different than it had been for most of my previous walks. First, it was an unusually cold day and I had not dressed quite as warmly as I normally would and was eager to get to my warm indoor destination. And second, I felt a little extra pressure to get to my destination soon because it was my job that day to set up the tables and put snacks out.
The obvious question was: Did walking with greater ease also mean walking more slowly? Did I really have to sacrifice speed for efficiency?
As it happened, the streets in my neighborhood are laid out in a nice uniform grid system. I had 2 blocks of equal length ahead of me, flat Nebraska terrain, and a watch with a second hand – everything I needed to conduct a little experiment!
For the first block I was, for the most part, clear in my thinking that all the work of walking was coming from my lower body. My footfalls were lighter, but I felt like I was moving more slowly.
For the second block, I allowed my old pattern to kick in. My walk was heaver, but it felt faster.
The results? No measurable difference in speed! I had been conflating speed with effort. I was like a car driver who tenses his or her body when trying to get somewhere more quickly.
Former scientist that I was, I conducted the same experiment on the way home with the same results.
In some ways, this illustrates a classic Alexander Technique idea that our feelings cannot always be trusted to provide accurate information about what is really going on.
It would be nice if now, after conducting these experiments, my “effort to rush” problem was solved. But of course it doesn’t work quite that way. I found myself slipping into it again a few hours later! But this time it was a lot easier for me to remind myself that I really, really, didn’t need to push my chest forward in order to move more quickly. All I had to do was to simply move my legs a little faster while continuing to leave my torso alone.*
I encourage you to conduct a similar experiment or two and see what happens. You might also find it interesting to observe others as they walk and see what you notice. As I wrote in my earlier blog, and illustrated with videos, you wouldn’t see Fred Astaire, or F. M. Alexander pushing their torso’s forward when they walked!
And you won’t see it in any of the many YouTube videos showing women carrying heavy loads on their heads, as in this 10 second clip:
I’d love to hear what you discover below and/or on Facebook.
She also had figured out a very simple and effective way to use her hands to give the student some actual experience of allowing that that to happen: As they were walking, she’d give the leg that was swinging a very soft push forward.
A lot of students, myself included, found this helpful in allowing their walk to proceed without the customary, and often largely unnoticed, overworking of their legs. The thought, “My legs are just tagging along” will still immediately lighten my walk.
But lately I’ve begun to thinking about walking in a new way – one that I’ve found even more useful in bringing ease and lightness into my walk. It doesn’t require you to have had any Alexander Technique experience. But if you have, it also creates a very nice framework for exploring Alexander Technique directions(1) of the sort: “I am free” or “My neck is free” or “My breathing is free”.
A few months ago, I started asking myself this very simple – in some ways too simple – question: “What is actually moving me forward when I walk?” and it’s close cousin: “What part of me is doing the work that moves me forward?
And then, perhaps even more importantly, “What parts of me don’t have to do anything to walk?” And then: “Are any of those parts, in fact, doing something to try to move me forward?”
I soon discovered that the moment I got the idea to walk forward, there was a subtle push forward in my torso, perhaps the result of a faulty idea of where my torso was located in space. More on this below.
Once I noted that subtle push, I quickly became aware of a little neck tightening taking place at the same time.(2)
It turns out that a lot of people do this to a greater or lesser degree. Once you notice it in yourself, just take a look at other walkers and you’ll see it everywhere.
This does not mean there shouldn’t be movements in your torso when you walk. Your torso has a huge role to play in efficient walking – but it’s not a doing role. It’s an allowing, or letting role, of adapting to the movements of your legs and pelvis.
Nor does it mean that the ultimate decider of when and how you walk is actually located in your lower body. That’s your brain – inside you head, which itself is designed to perch delicately and flexibly at the very top of your spine.
Ideally our brain sends the appropriate messages to your lower body about where you want to go, and how you want that lower part to organize itself to get you there. It also sends messages to your torso about how to freely respond to the work going on below.
But habits of posture and movement built up over a lifetime of stress can interfere with that process.
How can you learn to stop that harmful interfering?
Well noticing if there is any effort in your torso when you’re walking – especially when you start to walk – is a great start. You might then want to play with exaggerating it a little to really sense what’s going on.
This little video shows how you can determine if you have a tendency to think you’re further forward in space than you are – a habit that itself can easily cause you to try to get your torso to the location you think it should be even before your lower body actually does move you there:
A simple exercise you can experiment with on your own is to have one hand resting lightly on your upper torso as you walk to gently remind you of where your front actually is.
Finally, Alexander Technique directions, such as the ones mentioned above, can help weaken habits like pushing your torso forward.
However I’ve found for myself and my students it’s a great help to have an underlying understanding(3) of the efficient distribution of effort in your body so that you can be using the right tool for the right job, so to speak. A kind of “pre-direction” that facilitates the more traditional Alexander self-directions, and which itself can go a long way towards bring greater ease into your walk
Perhaps a driver/car analogy will make this clear. A car that is misaligned can be made to perform as well as possible by a skilled driver but it will never perform at peak efficiency, with a minimum of harmful wear and tear, until the driver takes it to a shop to be properly aligned. And if we have a deep-rooted, unconscious, habit that distorts our “alignment”, self-directing of the usual sort may, for all practical purposes, leave that faulty alignment largely in place.
Put another way, traditional Alexander Technique directing could take many lifetimes to clear some things up.
I’d love to hear what you’ve found by experimenting with this “hack”. Please leave your comments below and/or on Facebook.
1. I’ll be exploring this new framework in later blogs. You can learn more about Alexander Technique self-directions here
2. If you’re not an Alexander Technique teacher or serious student of the work, it’s hard to explain just how embarrassing that was for someone like me with decades of Alexander Technique teaching and learning experience Perhaps a little like a guru forgetting his mantra.
3. Alexander Technique teacher Imogen Ragone came up with this useful phrase while we were exploring the topic of this blog in the course of making this short video.
If you’d like to see what a well-coordinated walk looks like, Fred Astaire provides many examples. Here’s a nice one:
And let’s not forget F. Matthias Alexander, developer of the Alexander Technique. Here he is, in his mid-60s, walking, clowning around and chatting with some of his students, and generally having a good time. You definitely won’t see him pushing his torso forward!
2000 chocolate bars! I do love chocolate, especially very dark chocolate. But I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I wanted 2000. That would easily be about a 5 year supply and the thought of eating them all at the same time (you can see how my mind works) caused me to hesitate. There were weight gain and stomach pain possibilities to consider.
But then, I read the subtitle: “It also gives you the same neurological boost as receiving $25,000”
And that’s what pushed me over the click threshold. And in fact it’s a pretty interesting and informative article if you’d like to read it yourself.
If you don’t, here’s what that one thing to do is, in case your haven’t already guessed: Smile.
That’s it, just smile. As the article explains: “Smiling, as it turns out, has truly remarkable effects. First, doing it actually makes you feel good even if you’re not feeling good in the moment.”
Now smiling doesn’t always come naturally to me, maybe because my parents weren’t inclined to smile a lot. Maybe because I have some morose tendencies. Who knows.
But one thing I do know from my Alexander Technique experience: smiling helps release tension throughout my body. And as the late Alexander Technique teacher Marjorie Barstow used to say: “You always move more easily with a smile”
There are a lot of ways to smile, of course, and some can be a bit forced. They may only get you the benefits of receiving 1000 chocolate bars, or maybe just $10,000.
I believe the most effective smile is one that springs effortlessly from within, perhaps the kind you had when you first saw the picture above. But also by using a simple Alexander Technique direction* such as “I’m free to smile” or “I’m my head is free” delivered to yourself with no effort or expectation.
Give it a try and see what happens!
I’d love to hear your experiences, either by commenting below or on Facebook.
*You can learn more about Alexander Technique directions here.
Not surprisingly, country music singers are real good at smiling while singing sad songs. Here’s one of my favorite examples – psychic death accompanied by a killer smile:
Learning how to usefully self-direct yourself in an effective way is one of the most important skills an Alexander Technique student acquires from lessons in the Technique. It is, to use the title of F. M. Alexander’s second book, truly what “Constructive Conscious Control” is all about.
And to borrow from the title of Alexander’s third book,* self-directing is what enables you to improve the quality of your use of of yourself – how you use your physical mechanism as you go through your day’s activities. Sitting, standing, walking, driving, sitting at a desk, cooking, singing, sports…whatever you do.
Learning how to effectively direct yourself is a skill that does take a bit of experimentation and practice. Alexander Technique directions themselves are incredibly simple. But we humans often like to take something simple and make it more complex, for example by analyzing or judging, or trying to make it happen, or getting caught up in the results of our self-directing.
The rewards of learning how to drop all that extra stuff is well worth the investment. It allows you to go through life without unconsciously creating restrictions in your body.
And that makes you’re life a lot easier, and a lot more fun!
I’ve always been intrigued by the Alexander Technique self-directing process and how it can be improved. In particular, I’ve wondered if its possible to expand, or lengthen, the use of directions without adding the kind of effort or chatter that prevents them being effective.
Effective Direction Extension – that’s what I wanted!
Recently I’ve been reading Eckart Tolle’s** book, The Power of Now, and came upon this simple exercise:
Close your eyes and say to yourself: “I wonder what my next thought is going to be.” Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole? Try it now.
Try it for yourself right now.
You might find that another thought doesn’t appear right away.
I started experimenting with following my self-directions with Tolle’s question. I then use the little “thoughtless” gap that appears to re-introduce my original direction, or another direction, followed again, of course, by the “I wonder” thought. This procedure allows me to effortlessly repeat a direction, or switch to a new direction, for a much longer time than I had in the past.
If you’d like to experiment give it a try. The process can be continued for as long as you like. Personally, I find that after a few minutes I get a little bored with it.
But not so bored that I can’t easily be drawn to repeat the process.
I’ve also experimented with some of my students (both in-person and distance learning) and it seems to be helpful for them as well.
So, once again, I’ve enlisted my colleague Imogen Ragone to explore the process herself in a short video session:
Let me know what you discover, below and/or on Facebook.
* Alexander’s third book is titled The Use of the Self.
When I started reading ThePower of Now by Eckart Tolle I was puzzled by what seemed to be a negative view of the human mind, and of thinking.
As an Alexander Technique teacher it’s always seemed to me that our ability to direct our thinking in a useful way is what really lies at the heart of the work. After all, isn’t “Man’s Supreme Inheritance” – the title of F. M. Alexander’s first book – basically our potential to use our mind to change the circumstances of our lives?
And isn’t that also what he means by the title of his second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual*?
And as the late Marjorie Barstow, the first person to graduate from Alexander’s first teacher training course liked to say: “People think this is bodywork. But, really, it’s brainwork.”
So why on earth is this writer, who so many people deeply respect, intent on trashing thinking, and the thinking mechanism?
It took me a little while to realize it wasn’t the mind itself he objected to – it was our identification with it. That’s what causes thoughts to become compulsive – and destructive.
As he writes:
Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you don’t even know that you are it’s slave. It’s almost as if you were possessed without knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself…
You have probably come across “mad” people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other “normal” people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing of imagining future situations.
In other words, taking you out of the present moment, the only place in which your mind can actually be helpful to you.
As he says, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly”. And:
Your mind is an instrument, a tool. It is there to be used for a specific task, and when that task is completed, you lay it down. As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful.
So really Tolle is not against useful thinking – perhaps we could call that constructive conscious thinking…or even constructive conscious control. He’s concerned with our tendency to settle into useless and harmful mental rant patterns. Destructive unconscious control, as it were.
I believe Alexander was on to this in his many condemnations of what he called “mind-wandering”. To take just one example from Constructive Conscious Control:
…in the sphere of learning something and learning to do something, the shortcoming most frequently recognized is that known as “mind-wandering.”
Now there exists a close connection between the shortcoming which is recognized as “mind-wandering” and the shortcoming which manifests itself as a seriously weakened response to a stimulus to an act (or acts) of self-preservation. – page 13
It seems to me that Alexander’s “mind wandering” is pretty much the same as Tolle’s “identification with the mind”.
Tolle has a lot of practical advice about weakening, and ultimately releasing, that pattern but that’s perhaps a topic for another blog. But this will give you some idea of the approach he takes:
The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity – the thinker. Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated.
I believe that “higher level of consciousness” is, in Alexander’s words, “our supreme inheritance”.
And for me, an Alexanderian approach to moving towards my own “supreme inheritance” is to use simple, effective, easily-testable, in the moment self-directions such as “my neck is free”, “I’m free”, or “I’m not compressing myself”.**
I’d love to hear your experiences, and your thoughts, on this. Please post them below and/or on Facebook.
A recent article in the New York Times, When the Bully is the Boss, explores the effects that a bullying leader has on organizations. Not surprisingly, it turns out bullying doesn’t really lead to better productivity:
…the vast majority of findings point to the same conclusion: Bullying bosses tend to undermine their own teams. Morale and company loyalty plunge, tardiness increases and sick days are more frequent.
Productivity may rise in the short term…But over time the performance of the staff or team deteriorates, and people quit.
And yet, bullies often continue to be promoted.
Which seems nonsensical, but as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I suspect this has something to do with our false notions of how to manage ourselves – carried over into the wider world.
It’s a common belief that if our bodies need improving, a good general way to do that is by increasing the amount, or the intensity, of our exercise routine.
If we’re trying to improve a particular skill, the solution is to study harder, practice longer, push ourselves harder.
More quantity, in other words.
What’s missing is the quality factor. The manner in which we do those exercises, that extra study, the longer practice.
Push ourselves harder to make ourselves better.
Which makes as much sense as fixing a car that not running well by taking it out to the Interstate for a 75 miles an hour drive. (Or the Autobahn for 100 plus miles per hour!)
Revving up the activity of a defective mechanism – or a poorly functioning individual – does nothing to improve the situation.
It just destroys the machine.
And reinforces a person’s harmful habits, and drives them in more deeply.
It’s a kind of self-bullying that can easily carry over into the rest of our lives, including our workplace relationships. And if we happen to be the boss…well heaven help our subordinates!
F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, learned from years of self-observation and teaching others that forceful thoughts or actions are usually ineffective at producing useful change.
What works, he discovered, are well-thought strategies of thought that are brought to bear on ourselves with a minimum of mental force or effort. As he said: “Talk to the body gently and it will do anything.”
Or, as Marjorie Barstow, the first person to graduate from his first teacher training course in the early 1930’s used to say: “Don’t be pushy with your thinking.”
I believe that general rule applies to all our interactions. Talk and behave towards others as you would like them to talk and behave towards you, and everyone will be happier and, in a workplace environment, more productive.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below and/or on Facebook.
Ever since I started teaching the Alexander Technique nearly 40 years ago, I’ve wondered why some students stop taking lessons after the first one or two – despite experiencing significant improvements in their posture and the way they move. Changes they and their friends and family have noticed.
It’s a small percentage of students, but included my 3rd student! Fortunately I was prepared for this by Paul Collins, one of the Directors of my teacher training course in London.
“The point when real change starts to happen is a dangerous one. That’s when some of your students will just disappear.” He said that to a group of us trainees, without giving any explanation.
Over the years I’ve asked many other teachers if they’ve had the same kind of experience and almost all said “yes”.
Recently I’ve been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and was struck by something he wrote which is closely related to one of my possible explanations – but now stands out for me as an aspect I had not fully considered.
Here’s what he wrote:
The ego’s needs are endless. It feels vulnerable and threatened and so lives in a state of fear and want. Once you know how the basic dysfunction operates, there is no need to explore all its countless manifestations, no need to make it into a complex personal problem. The ego, of course, loves that. It is always seeking for something to attach itself to in order to uphold and strengthen its illusory sense of self, and it will readily attach itself to your problems. This is why, for so many people, a large part of their sense of self is intimately connected with their problems. Once this has happened, the last thing they want is to become free of them; that would mean loss of self. There can be a great deal of unconscious ego investment in pain and suffering. (Emphasis mine)
What I take from this is that if an Alexander Technique student is indeed “intimately connected with their problems”, and those are the very problems are why he or she came for lessons – well as a teacher you may have a serious challenge on your hands.
And your student might well disappear as soon as it’s clear that the Alexander process is working for them.
I’d love to hear of other teachers’ experiences with this phenomenon and any thoughts on how best to deal with it. Please leave your comments below and/or on Facebook.
I’ve just started reading Eckart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. It’s somewhat of a spiritual classic and has been recommended to me by several people over the years.
This is not a book review, but let me begin by saying I can already see why it is so highly regarded, and recommend it highly.
I was immediately struck by Alexander Technique resonances that show up almost right away, especially Tolle’s emphasis on pausing as a way of being in the present moment – not caught up in memories of past events or speculation about future possibilities.
Alexander teachers and students will likely see an obvious parallel to the fundamental Alexandrian concept of Inhibition.* However, just how we can effectively inhibit is a pretty contentious issue in the Alexander world, and I don’t want to get into that debate here.
But the usefulness of pausing, or even just consciously slowing down, is something most of us can agree on.
One of the reasons I like this book so much is that Tolle actually inserts his own pause symbol every page or two, after important concepts are introduced. As he writes:
The pause symbol after certain passages is a suggestion that you might want to stop reading for a moment, become still, and feel the experience of the truth of what has just been said.
Such a simple concept – and yet so powerful! I found it totally changed the way I read the book and they way I processed what I was reading. And that helped me get a much deeper understanding of what he was saying and how to make use of that understanding.
It certainly made me realize that I probably would do well to pause more frequently, and for longer periods of time, when explaining Alexander Technique principles to my students. I do tend to get a little over enthusiastic about the Technique and can be guilty of trying to cram too much information into a lesson!
More generally, it’s easy to fall into the habit of speaking or reading aloud on any topic too quickly and not leave enough time for the audience to process what you’re saying. The short video at the bottom of this page shows a short Alexander Technique lesson that addresses this issue.
And even more generally, it’s easy to fall into the habit of doing anything without giving yourself a chance to do it with a little mindfulness.
That mindfulness could allow you to do it in a more efficient, less harmful, way.
Or even nudge you away from from doing it at all if, upon reflection, it would likely produce harmful consequences.
If you have read Tolle’s books, or watched any of his many YouTube videos, have you also seen parallels to Alexander’s ideas? Have they helped you to effectively use Alexander self-directions and/or have Alexander Technique directions helped you to implement Tolle’s ideas into your life? Please leave your comments below or on Facebook.
*Here’s a short definition of Alexander Technique Inhibition by London Alexander Technique teacher Hilary King:
In the Alexander Technique, the term refers to a process which one can learn within AT lessons, in which a person consciously chooses to stop or inhibit a habitual reaction to a stimulus. This allows the individual a moment’s pause, in which to choose whether or not to respond to the stimulus and if so, how to perform an action in response.
As Alexander stated:
‘all those who wish to change something in themselves must learn… to inhibit their immediate reaction to any stimulus to gain a desired end’ – Use of the Self