Alexander Technique tip from a Card Shark

To paraphrase a verse in The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, it’s not a good idea to count your poker winnings while you’re still at the table.  The time to do so after the game is over.  (Because of copyright restrictions I can’t print the exact lines here, but you can listen the song at the bottom of the page. I highly recommend this since the actual phrase is an excellent tool for students and teachers to remind themselves of an extremely important aspect of the Alexander Technique. I use it all the time in my own teaching.)

In a last week’s podcast, I wrote about the willingness to take a chance – a “gambling chance” – that seems to be so much a part of the Alexander Technique world.

Applying Alexander Technique principles in your life can be seen as a series of experiments – you direct your thoughts in a way that seems like it might improve the way you function and sometimes it turns out to be useful.  And sometimes it does not.

It’s almost a cliche to say, as I did last week, that you can learn something useful either way.

But let’s say you “win” the bet and your new thought brings about a change that is clearly beneficial.  For example: You’re experimenting with walking and you say to yourself, “I’m not tensing my neck” as you walk, alternating that with plain old everyday walking.  You notice that your walking is easier with the Alexander directing, perhaps by sensing that your feet don’t hit the floor so hard with each step.

That moment of success can be surprisingly dangerous.

How so?  Because the lightness of you feet is a new and enjoyable sensation and it’s extremely tempting for you to shift your focus to to that nice new feeling. And away from the mental directing that made that nice new feeling possible.  It’s all too easy – and tempting – for something like this sequence of thoughts to take place: “I’m not tensing my neck. I’m not tensing my neck. Wow, my feet feel so light as they arrive at the floor. My feet feel so light.  I’d like to keep that feeling. etc etc.”

It’s the kind of experience that every Alexander Technique teacher and student has had.

And it’s a trap because your intent has now shifted away from process and towards result.

Kenny Rogers’ advice is exactly what’s needed here.  Of course you’re glad about the nice feelings or release just as you’re glad about your earnings in a poker game.  But you don’t want to dwell on nice feelings while you’re experimenting with self-directing since they take you away from those directions   And you don’t want to “count your winnings” while the game is still in progress because you need all your wits to play well.

There’s plenty of time for counting after the game…and after the Alexander Technique experiment.


I think it would be interesting for other teachers and students to hear of your experiences with this potential obstacle to Alexander Technique success.

Here’s Kenny’s advice – it’s a great song, but if you want to skip to the key phrase, it’s at about 1.10 minutes:


Image: healingdream /


Alexander Technique tip from a Card Shark — 8 Comments

  1. I really like this, Robert. My trainer Don Weed talks about the danger of feelings, good and bad. In fact, the phrase he uses is “results are no criterion for success.” in other words, don’t assume failure just because the results are poorer than you expect, and don’t assume success just because the results are great.
    Also, I have long believed that Kenny Rogers, and that song in particular, has a lot of Alexander Technique related wisdom to impart. You could just say of beliefs we hold: you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…
    Great stuff. 🙂

  2. I’ve definitely had plenty of experience trying to “feel out” what’s going on, or trying to recreate the “feeling” in an Alexander lesson – unfortunately I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t work (and not to say I don’t still slip into this sometimes – the “feeling” can be so seductive, you might say). But you’re spot on that it’s the thinking that’s important – the process that creates the “feeling” rather than the feeling itself. A dangerous trap indeed…

  3. Thanks Imogen. A colleague once said that your feelings (physical sensations) are really yesterday’s news – what caused them has come and gone. That doesn’t mean they can’t be very useful, but probably not the best guide for how to direct yourself at that moment.

  4. This is what I think of as the Alexander trap – such an important point to keep in mind for ourselves and our students. It’s spot on, not just during AT lessons, but as a general principle of life, and if we could remind ourselves of it more often, we wouldn’t be carried away by ‘success’, or depressed by ‘failure’.
    And that takes me to the thought that it’s a constant process – there’s no end, it’s a chain of ups and downs and perhaps a few flats in between, and we’re in the middle of it, directing away!

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