In my last couple of blogs I’ve been exploring how we use thinking and words in our Alexander Technique practice in such a way as to promote positive changes in our coordination. One of the roles of an Alexander Technique teacher is to help his/her students understand the intended meaning of these directions through hands-on guidance, as well as visual and verbal cues. Because each one of us has our own unique way interpreting different words, the teacher can also help find ways of thinking – directing – that are most helpful to each individual student.
One approach to directing that I’ve found extremely helpful is using “Negative” or “Inhibitory” directions. These type of directions were, to my knowledge, first described by Missy Vineyard in her book, How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live. The idea with a “negative direction” is that you are telling yourself what you do not want to do. For instance a traditional Alexander direction might be to think, “I’m letting my neck be free.” The “negative” version would be something like “I’m not tightening my neck.”
Try them both out, and see if you notice a difference. You might even like to try adding “No” to the beginning, so “No, I’m not tightening my neck.” I personally find it very helpful and empowering to add the “No!” to my thinking. Who knows, maybe I’m a rebel at heart!
I don’t believe there’s just one way of thinking that’s right for everyone, but I’ve found that many of my students are more successful using the “negative” version as they seem less likely to try and free their neck by doing something with the muscles (the opposite of what’s required), and are more likely to let go of some tightening. The “I am not…” statement seems to help many of us be clearer with ourselves about what needs to happen, or rather not happen.
The Alexander Technique is basically a process of eliminating our unhelpful habits of excess tension, so we are actually learning to do less not more. F. M. Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, famously said, “When you stop doing the wrong thing the right thing does itself.” It seems to me that using negative directions gets right to the heart of this principle. There’s something very powerful about saying “No” to what you don’t want, mentally telling yourself, “No, I am not [fill in the blank!]” They’re also highly adaptable, and you can come up with whatever you need given the situation and/or your particular set of habits.
Did you try out any of the ideas of ways to think I’ve suggested here? Have you come up with any negative directions of your own that you find particularly helpful? Please share your experiences in the comments below.