Getting Comfortable with the Alexander Technique
“I am comfortable in my uncomfortableness.”
These were the wise words of one of my Alexander Technique students. But what does he mean? And why do I call them wise?
This student had come to realize that although his postural habits were causing him discomfort, excess tension, and possibly even pain, they were so familiar to him they felt “comfortable.” And yet the new way of, say, sitting, which was more natural, balanced and easeful, felt unfamiliar and strange – maybe even wrong. This is something Alexander Technique students often come up against.
I started thinking more about this dilemma after reading Karen Evans’ blog, Better the Devil You Know, last week.
First I think it’s useful to sort out what we really mean by comfort and comfortable. There are actually two meanings going on:
Meaning #1 – Comfort in terms of what is actually more natural, balanced, less painful, etc.
Meaning #2 – Comfort in terms of what is familiar.
What you gain from learning the Alexander Technique is comfort in terms of meaning #1, though to get there we must often go through the discomfort of meaning #2! Once we get through those unfamiliar, “uncomfortable” stages, we can experience comfort in both senses! It just doesn’t feel like it in the beginning.
An example from my own Alexander studies comes to mind. When I was in the first year of my training to become an Alexander Technique teacher, I had a new experience in the way I used my feet. My habit was to flatten the arch of of my foot into the floor, and my teacher helped me undo that. It felt quite disorienting and unfamiliar – as if I was solely balanced on the outer edges of my feet – and yet I could also sense that I was less compressed, and that stopping pressing into the arch enabled me to be more balanced and use less tension. I went home that evening feeling like I didn’t know how to walk or place my feet. Was I overdoing what I’d learned? I was in that in between stage where my habit no longer felt comfortable (where it had done before), but the new way felt all wrong too. This was quickly sorted out within a couple of days as I became more comfortable (meaning #2) with using my feet in the more comfortable (meaning #1) way!!
So, to get what I think of as true comfort – ease, balance, relief from pain – may mean we have to go through a stage of unfamiliar sensations that don’t feel normal to us. But as we sense the unnecessary tensions and, in some cases like my own, the pain start to peel away, we know that this is very worthwhile.
So I absolutely believe the statement on the home page of my website to be true:
“The Alexander Technique offers a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way… the way nature intended.”
You just may need to go through a little discomfort (meaning #2) to get there!
If you have ever experienced the “discomfort” of making changes that you knew to be positive, were you able to see it through, or did the “discomfort” of the unfamiliar cause you to retreat back to your habit? I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments in the space below.
I adore your student’s phrase, as I am feeling exactly the same way right now. Your student’s statement is succinct and to the point! Thanks so much for this post, Imogen.
I know – it was a great little statement, which I’ve always remembered. Who knew it would turn into a blog post! Glad you like the post, Rena, and thanks for commenting.
Thanks for posting this, Imogen. I read the post that inspired it as well. My habitual tendency is to daydream, hang back, and be an introvert, but I feel much happier, healthier, more engaged, and alert when I’m doing more extroverted activities – such as teaching, acting, speaking in public. Each time I do any of these things, there is a moment beforehand when I feel a strong resistance to being that present and engaged, but I do it anyway and the resistance weakens.
That’s so interesting, Lindsay! I identify myself as an introvert, but have grown to love many more outgoing activities, including teaching group classes too. And you’re right – there is discomfort I have/had to go through to get to the stage where I enjoy it.
This phrase applies to many things in my life, I think! Habits are, indeed, comfortable, even when they cause us pain and trouble. I am working with a physical therapist right now because of neck/shoulder problems, and there are many habitual postures that I need to correct. I have some problems in my cervical spine, no doubt the result of years of imbalance – that likely felt comfortable to me because of familiarity.
I once had a massage therapist tell me I needed to start to experience my muscle tension as pain. Same thing – I’m so used to tension, I don’t “get” the message about making a change. I’m working on modifying that now, and maybe Alexander Technique will be in my future.
Thanks for another great column, Imogen.
I so relate to this blog, Imogen. In fact, becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable has been my mantra these last several month as I extend my energy to my business. So this metaphor goes to the body adapting as with Alexander for me and radiates out to how I am choosing to express through my business. Ahh, gotta love those growth spurts.
This resonates with me on so many levels, Imogen! In many things, I have gone through an initial adjustment phase, having to realize that what seemed comfortable was really immobility and stagnation, and although it takes some work to get moving (in writing, in performing, in moving one’s body correctly, in making healthy food choices), the rewards of true comfort, which is full of freedom and possibility, are worth it. Thank you for this post.
Oh, I am in #2 with my back and wanting #1 to return! 🙂
Nine short weeks ago, I gave birth and my whole body has never been the same since! I think I need to get it sorted though… before I damage myself.
Thanks for the reminder, Imogen!