When most people think about the Alexander Technique, and the discoveries of F. Matthias Alexander, they think about topics like posture improvement, pain relief, moving with greater ease, and more efficient breathing.
In other words, how we can learn to improve our physical functioning.
Yes, of course, there is a background understanding in the Alexander word that mind and body are really two aspects of the same thing – that changes in one will always have some in the other. That, for example, we may well feel better and have a more positive attitude towards life after releasing physical tension.
But the idea of using the Technique to work directly on mental or emotional states is generally not a feature of Alexander lessons. And this is probably all for the good; we are, after all, teachers – not therapists.
However, since I’ve started emphasizing Alexander Technique negative directions in my teaching, some of my students have taken to using them to work directly on their emotional and psychological states.
Initially I was a little skeptical, but after the good reports continued to pile up I was forced to re-think my position.
Here are a couple of examples:
A student who had initially described himself as a “control freak” came in one day after about six lessons and announced that he had been gently telling himself: “I am not controlling others’ thoughts or actions.” After a few days of this, he found that indeed he had let go of the worst aspects of his controlling behavior at work and, over the next few weeks, it had extended to his wife and children.
Another student, a singer, spontaneously announced during a lesson that she had always been a harsh judge of everything she did – a pattern she felt she had picked up from her hyper-judgmental parents. There was a pause and she said, “I wonder if I could use negative directions to change that pattern.”
I didn’t see her again for a few weeks and when she walked in to my studio she announced: “I am not judging myself or others. That’s what I’ve been using for the past month and it had changed my life!”
Interestingly enough, she also said she had started with “I don’t want to be judging myself or others.” but that didn’t seem to work. She then remembered how much I had emphasized the importance of “I am not” and in the moment statements about what you don’t want. As she said, “I took ‘I am not tensing myself’ which I know works, and changed it to ‘I am not judging myself’ and then letter added “or others.”
There seems to be something about negative directions that makes them generally more amenable to spontaneous experimentation. But the same general rules apply whether you’re addressing the physical or the mental: It’s best to keep the directional phrase short, start with “I am not”, and choose something you know you can do, but don’t want to, – and say “no” to that.
I’ve been using them myself for some time and I’d like to share my favorite. It comes out of some of my earlier metaphysical readings and assumes that God (or, if you like, some other force for good) is always showering us with good things and that the only reason they don’t manifest in our lives is that we push them away for one reason or another.
The usual kinds of positive affirmations that go with this might be: “I am allowing God’s good to come into my life.” and “I am freely expressing God’s good in my thoughts, words and actions.”
The problem with these is that one may not be capable of “allowing” or of “freely expressing.” just as in a more traditional Alexander Technique direction: “I am letting my neck be free” we may not be capable of the “letting” and so it’s more useful to use something like “I am not tightening my neck” since we definitely know how to tighten and we know what “no” means.
So, I came up with: “I am not restricting the flow of God’s good into my life.” and “I am not restricting the free expression of God’s good in my thoughts, my words and my actions.”
Have you been experimenting with negative Alexander Technique directions? Have you ever used them for changing emotional or psychological states? What has been your experience?
Here’s a podcast about negative directions I did with Alexander Technique teacher Amy Ward Brimmer:
Other podcasts about negative directions can be found here.