Help! My body’s disappeared!

December 2, 2011

I was recently reading an account by an Alexander Technique teacher, Missy Vineyard, of one of her early lessons in the technique, after which she felt like her body had disappeared. She felt like she wanted to look in the mirror to confirm that it was still there. 

It’s one of the odd experiences people can have when working with this discipline. When things are working well, and you’re not used to it, it might feel like your body is not quite “there” in the usual way. This is partly because there is a relative quietening down of muscle activity. If you think about it right now, if you’re aware of certain parts of your body as you read this – perhaps the backs of your hands or the back of your neck – it’s because there is muscle activity going on there (perhaps muscle activity that you don’t really need).

After a good Alexander lesson, there will tend to be an overall quietening down of a lot of this unnecessary activity, which can produce a sense that you’re not really as aware of your body as usual. But it’s important not to misinterpret what this sensation means.

In my early days of going for Alexander lessons, I wrongly believed the feeling of “my body’s not really there anymore” meant that I wasn’t in touch with my body any longer, that in future I should recreate this improved use of myself by shutting out the sensation from my body, screening it from my awareness.

At first this seemed to work a little, to help me return to what felt like a state of good use, of lightness and freedom in movement, but not for long. I was – I now suppose – simply relying on a conditioned response, produced by the lesson, to this feeling of “I’m not very aware of my body right now”.  When I returned to that feeling, some of the good use I enjoyed in the lesson would seem to return.

What was really happening in the lesson was that a lot of my muscle activity had quietened down. In fact you’re more aware of sensations than normal when you’re using yourself a bit better – it’s just that there’s maybe less going on for you to be aware of. Well, it’s probably also the fact that the new use has an unfamiliarity about it that can create the (wrong) impression that you’re not aware of your body so much.

So yes, I guess I would advise my earlier Alexander self not to try and ignore bodily sensation (this is probably very important – the “repression” alarm bells will possibly be ringing in some people’s heads as they read this). And also, now, I find it helpful to scan my body and notice what parts of me I can feel, and allow the activity in these areas to quieten down a little, allowing myself to maintain more of an easy, poised state.

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