F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Technique, famously said: “We can throw away the habits of a lifetime if we use our brains.” Why then, after weeks, months – even years! – of Alexander lessons and working on our own, during which time we have experienced many obvious changes for the better, haven’t we completely “got it”?
I gave a short answer saying basically that while our habits can be dispatched quite quickly with effective Alexander Technique directing, there is no guarantee they won’t come back to bite us. Nor does it mean that our body will change at the same speed as our habits of thinking.
A helpful way of thinking about this a little more deeply is to examine Alexander’s concept of “Use” – a term he borrowed from horse trainers.
What did Alexander mean by “use”?
Use refers to the habitual and characteristic manner in which a person moves and uses their body, all the time, whatever they are doing. Our use is influenced by our thinking and by our emotions and to bring about changes in our use, we need to allow changes to take place in our thinking and in our reactions to things. – From Alexander teacher Hilary King’s excellent Glossary of Alexander Technique terms.
Alexander further distinguished two kinds of use: “Conditions of Use” and “Manner of Use”.
“Conditions of use” refers to the state of our coordination and physical structure that exists – whether we are directing ourselves or not.
“Manner of use” refers to the effectiveness of our self-directing. Over time, improved manner of use will improve the conditions of use. Improved conditions of use make it easier to improve manner of use.
Although it’s a bit simplistic, I’ve found an automotive analogy useful in thinking about and explaining the interplay between these two “uses.” A badly-designed and maintained car – one having, in a sense, poor conditions of use – might be driven by a skilled driver and thus have a good manner of use. Over time, this driver might well make some necessary repairs and useful adjustments, thereby improving the car’s conditions of use. And that, in turn, will make it easier to drive the car well.
In the same way, if you learn how to work on yourself effectively (improving your manner of use), you will improve your conditions of use over time. And that will make it easier for you to continue improving your manner of use.
It’s a very powerful positive feedback loop but there can be periods when one of those two “uses” (usually conditions of use) seems to get behind the other. And that can lead to frustration and impatience.
When my conditions of use seem to be lagging behind for an extended period of time, I’ve sometimes found it useful to explore other methods of self-improvement. For example, I’ve used, and benefited from, chiropractic, a specialized form of physical therapy, and cranial sacral work. Other possibilities could be exercise, nutritional coaching, psychotherapy – the list goes on and on.
These methods have in common the possibility of addressing harmful patterns for which Alexander Technique self-directing may not be very effective – at least within a reasonable time frame. For instance just one lifetime!
But I’ve learned over the years that in the moment – right this second! – it’s Alexander Technique directing that is probably going to be most useful for me to make a positive change in the my physical functioning.
In other words I would do well to mind my manner of use.
And here’s an article I wrote on this topic some time ago: What’s the Use?
I’d love to hear your experiences with conditions and manner of use. Have you ever been impatient with your progress? How did things resolve themselves for you? What is your advice for new students of the Technique?