It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy


Why do we hit the Hard Key so often?

It’s more than just the catchy, somewhat risque, title of the 1982 country music hit by Janie Fricke.  (And, yes, I’ve embedded a video of the song at the bottom of the page even though it’s a bit too crossover for my taste.)

It’s also the reality of using Alexander Technique directions designed to bring about greater freedom in your body.

The Alexander Technique is incredibly simple – “too simple” as the late Marjorie Barstow used to say – but more often than not, we don’t make them easy.

Why is this?

As the comic strip character Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We humans have a proclivity for complicating the simple.  Take, for example, the Alexander Technique direction, “My neck is free.*”

It’s hard to imagine anything simpler.

When I introduce this Freedom Direction to my students, I go through great lengths to show them some simple, very short, experiments they can use to test it’s effectiveness.  I also explain that all they need to do is lightly think it.

They are not to attempt to implement it.  Or add anything to it.  Or even understand it.

Or have any concerns about forgetting it.  When they notice they’ve forgotten it, they can just gently bring it back.

And yet…when I ask them after, their first experiment, what they were actually thinking, they often say things like “I was concentrating on the thought.” or “I was trying to do it right.” or “I tried keeping my neck free.” or “I tried keeping the nice feeling I got when I first used it.”

So we have to go through it again, sometimes a couple more times, before they really start to get just how incredibly simple the direction is.

And – true confession! – I’m sometimes catch myself falling into some of the same traps as my students.

After many years of teaching, I think I’ve become pretty adept at explaining this and other directions to my students, and anticipating the most common complications they are likely to add.

But it’s always an interesting lesson for my students, and for me, about our inherent tendency to make the simple complex.

Here’s a podcast I did with New York City teacher Mark Josefsberg about keeping directions simple:

Other podcasts about Alexander Technique directions can be found here.


Have you experienced the tendency to complicate directions? If you are an Alexander Technique teacher have you seen it in your students?

What strategies have you used to help yourself or your students to “keep it simple”?


*Earlier – and less effective – versions of this Alexander Technique direction are “Neck to be free”, “I am freeing my neck,” and “I am letting my neck be free.” The newer Negative Direction version is “I am not tensing (tightening, squeezing, fixing etc) my neck” is, in essence, the same as “My neck is free,” which is shorter and does away with some students’ concern about the word “negative.”

Here’s Janie’s song:

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /



It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy — 3 Comments

  1. Pingback: What Part of No Don’t You Understand? | Body Learning Blog

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