The trouble is none of my pupils will believe that all they need to do is to think and that wish for the neck to be free will do the trick…We are so brutalized by our belief in doing and muscular tension.* – F. Matthias Alexander
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I’m faced with this problem everyday.
So…what’s the best way to help students learn that all they need is a light thought to “do the trick” as Alexander so nicely puts it?
I’ve found that providing an easy to understand analogy can often be helpful. I’ll sometimes ask if they prefer an electrical engineering analogy, or a military analogy.
If they spring for electrical engineering I’ll direct their attention to a light switch in my studio. I’ll then point out that if they want the lights turned on, or off, all they have to do if flick it in the appropriate direction.
It takes virtually no effort to do this – indeed it’s possible make a light switch that activated by pure thought using electrodes attached to your head. Adding effort does nothing to make the on/off process more effective.
Nor does it require any understanding of the complex electro-mechanical system that they are using by flicking the switch. They need to understand the coal or gas or nuclear power system that generates the current. And nothing of the complex nation-wide grid that ensures enough power is available here in eastern Nebraska to activate the lights. And nothing of the local transformers, residential wiring, light bulb technology etc etc that’s involved in lighting, or darkening, the room
By the same token, they do not need to understand or micro-manage all their own “sub-systems” that are affected by a simple mental direction such as “I am free.” or “My neck is free.”
In a sense, the end result is already there and just needs to be chosen – tuned into, so to speak. When the lights are out, and you want them on, that “on-ness” is built into the system and simply has to be selected to bring it into being.
Similarly, when a student is inadvertently compressing him or herself, a freer state is already available. For it to manifest, it need only be chosen.
No force, no effort, no holding onto the thought, no analyzing, no attempt to implement it by force of will.
If a student chooses the military analogy, I bring up the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, 1944.
By the first week of June 1944, Nazi Germany still controlled most of Western Europe. Allied forces, numbering 156,000, were poised to travel by ship or plane over the English Channel to attack the German army dug in at Normandy and open up a path to Berlin.
General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, was holed up in a country estate in England. He had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. When bad weather hit the channel on June 4, Eisenhower wrestled with the idea of postponing the invasion.
Weather conditions were predicted to worsen over the next two weeks and he had many thousands of personnel and tons supplies that were in his words, “hanging on the end of a limb”.
After a promising but cautious report from his meteorologist at 9:45 p.m. on June 5, Eisenhower turned to his adjutant and said “let’s go”.
Let’s go. That’s all he had to do to get the invasion started. He didn’t need to put any effort into that command. Just “let’s go.”
And that’s how we make meaningful changes in how we function – we simply, softly, affirm the change we want.
As Alexander said: “All you need to do is the right thought…and that will do the trick!”
*Quoted in the diary of Sir George Trevelyan, which can be found in The Philosopher’s Stone – Diaries of Lessons with F. Matthias Alexander
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