Right and Wrong

ApplicationThought creates. We create and re-create our version of ourselves constantly. We may say “ I used to be a worrier but now I’m much more relaxed about life” for example. We recognise that we have changed in some way.  If we get stuck in a pattern we do not like we need only remember that we can change that aspect of ourselves.

Events in childhood shape our views – we may accept certain viewpoints and reject others based on our experiences and choices. I remember the story of two  brothers whose father was an alcoholic. One was also an alcoholic and the other never touched alcohol. When asked why, they both replied in the same way – ‘With a father like I had, how could I be otherwise?’

The important thing to remember, however,  is that we are the ones in control.

How we behave in any given moment reflects our current version of ourselves and who we are. If we change our thought about ourselves then everything changes – we literally re-create ourselves according to our new version of who we are.

It is common for us to go through life trying to get others to change their behaviour towards us and get very frustrated because this never works.  The only possible change is our thinking about ourselves.

Say, for example, we have been neglected.  This neglect has led us to decide we will never treat others the way we have been treated. So we then go down the other extreme, giving of ourselves to the point of self-sacrifice. This can cause us all sorts of problems. But then, one day, we realise that our ability to give like this stems from the very neglect we condemned. If we had not experienced the neglect, we could not have known its opposite.  This understanding frees us to come back into harmony and balance for ourselves. We have created ourselves as loving and giving – we can drop the self-sacrifice, the extreme opposite of neglect, and enjoy the loving, compassionate person we can now experience ourselves to be. Life is all about experiencing who we are and changing anything we want to change about ourselves. We can re-create ourselves as many times as we like. As far as others are concerned, we can only be an example of how it is possible to live.  Any striving towards an imagined perfection, “getting it right”  limits us  hugely and can often leave us feeling miserable in the process.

There is no such thing as a fixed ideal, a right and wrong.  From a personal perspective, neither is there such a thing as good or bad.  Nobody ever deliberately sets out to do something which they consider bad.  They can always justify it from their own perspective, even if we consider what they do to be completely unjustifiable from our perspective.

In education, in particular, we need to re-define what we think of as right and wrong, to teach our children to enjoy making mistakes to improve their experience of learning.

Alexander criticised the teaching methods of his day:

Under the ordinary teaching methods, the pupil gets nineteen wrong to one right experience. It ought to be the other way round.

There may well come a time when we stop teaching our children what is right or wrong or even material that has right or wrong answers, teaching them instead to make good mistakes, thereby discovering their own answers instead of collecting data out of memory.

Alexander also stated:

The old idea of trying to be right has remained with us, in spite of the fact that conditions have changed and our right is wrong.

Everyone wants to be right, but no one stops to consider if their idea of right is right.

From a historical perspective, our ideas of right and wrong are not fixed – society’s views change all the time. It is no longer acceptable to hang someone for stealing a loaf of bread, for example.  It is currently OK to end someone’s life, against their wishes, in a war situation or if ( in some societies) it is an execution. It is not generally OK if we help someone, who wishes to die, to end their life, even though this act could prevent a great deal of suffering.

Yet thoughts change, the rules change,  and what we think of as right and wrong changes too. Not long ago, there was huge stigma in many countries, including Britain and the USA,  if you were unmarried and pregnant – enough to drive people to attempt suicide. Now, in a number of these countries, many people have children and see no point in getting married and nobody cares about this!

Our world is experiencing unprecedented change at this time, and this is happening faster than ever before. As the rules continue to change and we continually re-define what is considered acceptable and unacceptable, we have to be prepared to change too, connecting within ourselves on a physical, mental and spiritual level and observing who it is we choose to be in the very powerful ‘now’ moment.


The Power of Thought

ApplicationIn a very real sense, it can be said that ‘we are how we think’.  We think about moving, for example, and neurons are triggered to ‘fire’ to make the movement happen. Nervous impulses travel throughout the body via synapses. Extra synapses form in circuits that are frequently used, making it easier for nerve impulses to follow those particular paths. Things get easier with practice because more ‘ thought pathways’ are created. We are a whole series of ‘thought pathways’, synaptic connections. And these pathways change if we think differently.

Thoughts are powerful. BrainGate, for example, is a technology, a tiny chip implant, that enables paralysed and injured people to use the power of their thoughts to move objects.  We relate to the world via our thoughts. While many people see the glass as half full, many others see it as half empty. Our experience of life itself is subject to relativity. We can only know ‘happy’ if we are familiar with ‘sad’ , ‘big’ if we know ‘small’ , what it means to be ‘anxious’ if we understand ‘calm’. And it is possible to choose where we want to be on the spectrum.

It may seem hard to believe but we really do create our own reality.  Look at it from this perspective:
The universe is a gigantic copying machine. Whatever thoughts we send out there get copied, possibly many times, and then sent back to us in the form of life experiences. The key is in the very first thought. So, if we send out “ I want more money/ love/ job security/ better health” etc.,  what we get is more wanting because I want is our very first thought. Similarly, I need brings us more needing, lack brings us more of that too.

We have to change the way we think about ourselves, our situation – assume, and really feel, that we already have whatever it is that we really want, and allow that to be played back to us.  This opens all kinds of new opportunities for us.

Never feed fear, anger, doubt, guilt and similar emotions. Switch your mind to the other end of this spectrum and feed instead love, compassion, joy and fun, in whatever way you can. When starved of thought – time , fear has no option but to disappear. Then we can allow something different into our lives.  So the next time you are caught in a downward spiral of emotional turmoil, stop, detach and simply watch what happens, then move back up the spiral.

Don’t look back – you’re not going that way. Move forward and up.  Do what you’ve always done and you’ll repeat the pattern again and again. You’ll get what you’ve always got.  You’ll feel how you’ve always felt.  Allow something different to happen, emotionally, mentally and physically and notice the change. Don’t take it too seriously, either, play with it. Lighten up – literally! Let go of self-imposed limitations. You have nothing to lose but your stress.

2012 is being billed by many as the end of the world. What if it’s the end of the old world, the old way of doing things and the beginning of the new?  This involves change.  We are already seeing massive amounts  of change in the world, and not just weather patterns.

People are thinking differently. They don’t, for example, want to continue with a world where huge amounts of money are spent on weapons to enable us to fight and kill each other while children die of hunger.  A change of thought on a worldwide basis could change all that overnight, of course, and we’re not at that point yet.  But if you look around you’ll see there are changes.  Countries are beginning to talk about reducing arms, finding peaceful ways to eliminate conflict; young people in many countries are questioning ‘the way things have always been’.

Whatever doom and gloom the media is endlessly doing its best to portray, there are also many signs of hope, of communities coming together to create something new in a spirit of co-operation and mutual help. This thinking also has a ripple effect.  Life can be simpler, perhaps. And do we really need so much ‘stuff’? ( Possessions are a bit the toys in a childcare nursery – you can play with them while you’re there but you can’t take them home).

The way we live, respond, feel, can all change.  Change your thinking and everything around you can change.


ApplicationWhen we go to see an Alexander teacher or a therapist, or even a GP because we have a physical problem like muscle pain, our intention is usually to find relief from the pain.  What we may not realise is that we are asking for relief from our pain without changing anything else.  We really want to remain exactly as we are but without the pain, a kind of  ‘do some magic and make the pain go away but don’t involve me in this.’

Yet it is only when we do get involved in our own bodies, our thinking and emotional responses, from all possible levels, that we can learn to remove the cause of the pain and move into more freedom and ease in all areas of our life.  We have to acknowledge that we have a role to play in the solving of our problems. This very acknowledgement then means we have to allow change in our lives.

If, for example, we are aware that we are tightening the muscles of the neck and compressing the spine, we have the option that we can, to a degree, stop doing that and allow something else to happen. There is nobody ‘in charge’ of what happens in our bodies except us. Becoming aware of what it is that we are doing to ourselves which contributes to the stress, pain, tension or whatever we are experiencing, allows us to change our thinking and, therefore, the experience itself. Pain, stress and tension are not always inevitable.  There is a lot we can do to help ourselves.  This may not be easy, however. We get used to how things are. Our patterns of behaviour and habits may be ingrained.

Nicholas de Cusa, a 15th century philosopher, talked about the great dangers which came from the mind becoming subservient to the authority of inveterate habit. Such was the power of habit, he said, that most men prefer death to giving up their habitual way of life.

We can always operate from a position of choice. There are usually no problems with doing something we want to do or choose to do. Problems occur when we run on auto-pilot, allowing habitual reactions to rule us, rushing blindly from one response or act to another with no thought of how we are doing it, only the end-gaining.  Thoughts take seconds, inserting a few stops / pauses and some re-thinking into a day will not only pay dividends, it will actually save time and effort, even though it may not feel like that at the time!

We can become so used to the tension we hold in our bodies that we see it as ‘normal’.  We even (in moments when we get some insight and realise we actually are very tense) try to justify this, saying things like  ‘ we need some tension – some adrenalin is good for us’.  We imagine, too, that moving from being tense, ‘pulled out of shape’ etc to looking more aligned and without all that over-contraction in our muscles will make us feel great. Not always.  I remember the story of a colleague who worked for some time with a young handicapped child. One day the child released a good deal of the tension which had pulled her body into terrible contortion. Her mother cried with joy at seeing her young child stand up almost straight for the first time. The little girl, however, was not so impressed and complained bitterly that ‘that man’ had made her go ‘all crooked’. That was how it felt to her.  The contortion of her body was what felt right and normal. She had become used to it.

Similarly, we get used to emotional turmoil, overburdening ourselves mentally, we don’t want to change our image of ourselves.  ‘I am a perfectionist’ is spoken with a certainty that, even though this perfectionism is causing massive problems, there is no way it can be changed. It’s ‘who I am’.

In the years I have worked with the Alexander Technique, I have discovered that anything can be changed, as long as we have the willingness to allow change.

The Alexander Technique and Mental Health by Bridget Malcolm

It’s about Control, Choice, Change and Consent
ApplicationMany people are aware of the value of the Alexander Technique in helping sufferers with back and posture problems, muscle aches and pains, headaches and stress. It is also used by musicians, actors and by sportsmen and women to help with performance and has proved invaluable for women in pregnancy and childbirth.

Not so much is written about the benefits of this wonderful technique in the field of mental health.

In an Alexander lesson or class, students are taught to become aware of how they undertake daily activities such as standing, sitting or walking and to notice where they are holding unnecessary tension. By learning to pause and then become aware of their unhelpful holding patterns, students can then be taught how to release and let them go simply by changing the way they think. The Alexander Technique is not a therapy which is done to people, rather a self-help tool which students are taught to apply for themselves. Thus students are taught to engage fully in the process of learning, to take responsibility, exercise choice and give or withhold consent for the teacher to work with them i.e. they learn new skills about how to take more care of themselves and make their own decisions about the pace at which they wish to learn.

Underpinning the Alexander Technique is the concept of psycho-physical unity i.e. that mind, body, emotions – and some would say “spirit” – are all integrally linked. Thus when people “let go” of unwanted tension in their muscles they may also let go of the emotions trapped in them. Whilst not a therapy as such, people often feel a sense of well-being and relaxation following an Alexander lesson as well as being able to move more freely. Thus the Alexander Technique can, and does, have a therapeutic, and in some cases, cathartic, effect.

Since the Alexander Technique teaches people to be more “present” and “in the moment”, it helps them to become aware, not just of how they habitually use their bodies, but of the behavioural habits they use to respond to the day-to-day stimuli of life. Students then have the choice whether or not they wish to change these habits, and to think about things in a different way, thus giving them a greater feeling of control over their lives. Additionally, by learning to be more “present” in themselves, students learn to become gradually more self-accepting whilst admitting of the possibilities of change – if they so choose.

As an Alexander teacher, I use gentle hands-on guidance, verbal explanation and feedback to help people find greater ease, freedom, control and choice in their everyday lives. By enabling students to connect more to, and take ownership, in an holistic way of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves, the Alexander Technique enables people to be truly free.

Bridget Malcolm works at the Oxford Practice in Malmesbury.

The Alexander Technique for Therapists

ApplicationMany people who work as a therapist or with healing, for example in chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, Reiki, reflexology, find that they too need treatment for neck/back/shoulder pain, stiffness or tension as a result of the physical ( and other) demands of the work they do.

As an Alexander Technique teacher, I have worked with many therapists for a number of years and have helped them to discover that not only can they themselves find greater ease and freedom of movement but that considerable benefit is then passed on the client too.

If the therapist is in pain, stiff or ‘lacks connection’ in some way to themselves, the client is in some way impacted by this. It is therefore in the interest of both therapist and client for movement to be as free and unrestricted as possible.

Many people, for example, think they are ‘grounded’ when in fact they are not allowing nearly as much support as they could from the connection under the feet. Once they discover this support, the body responds with a lightness, lengthening and release of tension they may not even have been aware of.

How well are you connected within yourself?  FM Alexander, founder of the Technique,  said that we have to connect within before we can connect out.

From a physical point of view, we are talking mainly about muscle connections and neural pathways. As an example, arms which are connecting to the shoulders and neck instead of through the musculature of the back and through to the feet, will cause the flow of energy to be less. It can even mean a stiff neck and aching arms or shoulders for the therapist.

‘You translate everything, whether physical or mental or spiritual, into muscular tension’ ( FM Alexander).  I constantly see the truth of this statement in the work I do. What we call emotion can be included here too. But even when the emotion is released, the person may still be moving from an old pattern, put in place when the ‘emotion’ first caused movement to be restricted. It is important to be able to guide the client to an understanding of how to allow a movement pattern to change, as this will not usually be automatic. Allowing change is not easy. Often ‘ change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life’ ( FM Alexander).

Many people recognise that they want to ‘do something about themselves’ and look to a therapist as someone who can ‘fix’them.  The Alexander Technique recognises that the only person inside the body 24 hours a day is you and works to teach you how to ‘fix’ yourself, becoming aware of your old habits and allowing change. The hands on aspect of the Technique, which helps to unravel excessive muscular tension and distortion in the body, complements this to enable you to have a new experience of everyday actions and of being fully present in the body.

A therapist who believes he/she is responsible for ‘fixing‘ a client’s problems risks being drained far more than is healthy, by this. It is important, especially now, to be careful about who you give your energy to.