Last week I attended the annual conference and general meeting of the American Society for the Alexander Technique. I attended many excellent workshops, but the one that is foremost in my mind, for now anyway, is a workshop led by Alexander Technique teacher Meade Andrews entitled, “So you think you can inhibit?”
The word “inhibit” is used in a very special way specific to the Alexander Technique. It has nothing to do with the more common, Freudian, meaning of the word. In “Alexandrian” terms, the word inhibit “refers to the positive and healthful capacity of the individual to stop or prevent an unnecessary or harmful behavior.”1 My first blog, Alexander Technique and the Power or Pausing, discussed this concept, even though I didn’t use the word! Indeed giving ourselves a moment to pause before reacting, a moment to notice how our body wants to react (and is even beginning to react), gives us the chance to assess and decide if this is actually what we want to do – a chance to internally say “no” to that habitual way of doing things – stopping and pausing gives us choice.
In the workshop we did an activity to play with these ideas, and I found it very interesting and informative.
First we all lay down in the Constructive Rest position. While we were lying there Meade offered us suggestions of things to do – ranging from things like wiggling our fingers or toes, to checking our watch for the time, to standing up and walking around. She even asked us to think about our most pleasant experience of the last three days! Meade also changed the way she made the suggestions – some were downright orders, others were gentle invitations. Our job, however, was to NOT do any of her suggestions! We were just to notice how we wanted to react, but not actually do anything! Having practiced the Alexander Technique this was not an unfamiliar concept, but the process was interesting and not always easy.
I realized I had the hardest time inhibiting – that is NOT doing the suggestion – when it was something I found appealing. To NOT think of my pleasantest experience of the last three days was very challenging indeed. Some of the movements she suggested sorely tempted me, others did not. I know from past experience, that not doing what I was told was very challenging, and I was always very quick to react to try and follow instructions or orders as quickly as possible, without a moment to even assess whether it was the right thing for me. Going through this process in the workshop – hearing the suggestion, noticing how my body wanted to respond while mentally reminding myself that “no, I am not going to do that” was fascinating. When Meade suggested wiggling the fingers, for instance, I was instantly more aware of my fingers, even though my job was to not wiggle them – even before my brain had consciously grasped what was being suggested, my body was preparing to respond – my fingers were preparing to wiggle
There were two more stages to this exploration, which I will discuss in my next blog. In the meantime how do you notice yourself reacting to instructions, suggestions or guidelines given by others…or yourself? Do you feel you have the option to stop and say “no?” Do you jump when the phone rings? Do you give yourself permission not to respond immediately – to do nothing, even for a moment? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
1 Missy Vineyard, How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live (Marlowe & Company, 2007) 10.