In my last blog I described the first stage of an activity that was part of a workshop I attended, led by Alexander Technique teacher, Meade Andrews. The activity was designed for us to explore the Alexander Technique principle of inhibition – which, very simply, means the act of stopping and not responding immediately to any given stimulus. In the first stage of the activity, we all lay down in semi-supine while Meade gave us suggestions for things to do – our job being NOT to do any of them – rather just be aware of ourselves and how we wanted to react.
For the second phase of the activity the instructions were similar. We lay back down in the Constructive Rest position, and Meade again gave us suggestions of things to do, but this time we had TWO CHOICES:
- DO NOTHING, as we did in the first stage, or
- Do what was being suggested.
This was great! Now I could choose to do those suggestions I liked the sound of (wiggling the fingers, stretching out, getting up and walking around, whatever seemed to be appealing). It was so much more pleasurable when this choice was offered. And it was noticeable that the pause, the stopping, the “saying no” to the immediate response was important – without it we didn’t actually have the choice. It was necessary so we could decide and make a conscious choice of what to act on and what not. That pause might only be a split second – barely noticeable – but was critical for a choice to be actually made.
Then came the third and final stage of the activity. Again we returned to our lying down position and Meade gave us more suggestions of things to do, yet now we had THREE CHOICES:
- DO NOTHING, or
- Do what was being suggested, or
- Do something else!
This time the exercise was, for me, the most enjoyable! At first I really didn’t want to act on any of Meade’s suggestions, or indeed do anything else. But the availability of the two other choices somehow made the act of doing nothing even more gratifying. Saying “No” internally to the suggestions became utterly delicious! I felt like a toddler reveling in that wonderful ability to refuse to do something!
And so, as we discussed our experiences afterward, we realized that, although it may not feel like it, we do, in fact, always have these three choices.
I tried out this activity with a small group class I teach at the Y here in Wilmington. For the first stage of the experiment (where you have no choice – you just do nothing) the participants had mixed responses. Some really enjoyed not having to respond or do anything at all. Others noticed that they got tenser and tenser as more suggestions were given – that actually not being able to follow the suggestions was downright uncomfortable. However, when we got to the second and third stages, things changed dramatically for these people. Even during the second stage (where you have the choice to do nothing or to follow the suggestion) a student who had found it particularly unbearable not to follow the instructions in stage one, actually only did a handful of them once she was given the choice! She said that she felt much more “relaxed” and found she didn’t really want to do most of them after all! And with Stage Three, pretty much the same thing – even more choice and freedom to do what she wanted allowed her to enjoy doing nothing!
So what’s all this got to do with the improving your overall coordination and posture, commonly sought-after benefits of the Alexander Technique?
Well, inhibition – the ability to pause and not respond immediately – is actually the key to the whole thing, and is missing in most other approaches. In terms of movement and posture, in Alexander Technique lessons we learn to use the pause to prevent the habitual tensions that pull us out of shape, allowing us to regain our full height and move with poise and clarity. If we miss out this key step we end up layering new habits upon old, rather than clearing the deck first, so to speak. It gives a neutral starting point.
I encourage you to give yourself time to stop, pause and notice – to say “no” to instantly reacting. Enjoy the deliciousness of your refusal to react our of habit! Giving yourself these tiny moments of choice is a gift – they can end up making a huge difference! I hope acknowledging that you have these three choices all the time makes a difference to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below.