When 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.