On being an explorer

June 2, 2012

In making improvements to our overall poise and use of ourselves, one of the difficult ideas to grasp at first is that of allowing something to happen, rather than making it happen. Most of us (well, certainly adults) are accustomed to doing things in an effortful way, so it doesn’t feel like we’re doing something properly if we aren’t making an effort, and if we can’t feel something very definite happening in our muscles.

This is a factor that can hamper your attempts to become less stiff and uncoordinated. We can undo some of these muscular knots we’ve tied around ourselves, and learn to do things more easily.

When I’m attempting to show someone how to move more easily, and improve the way things are working, I might say something like “let your knees go forwards” or “let gravity fold you at the knees and ankles” and they will be a bit puzzled and say something like “uh… so you just want me to bend my knees then?” At this point it will be clear that they simply want to do something they’ve done before, selecting a familiar program (“bend the knees”) from a storehouse of remembered kinaesthetic experiences; in this case, one that – in many cases – involves using the leg muscles in a very stiff, controlled way (with an accompanying tendency to stiffen unnecessarily in the back).

To experience a new way of moving your legs, for example, requires a certain bravery or willingness to just let something happen that may be unfamiliar, and that hasn’t happened before. To this end, Alexander Technique teachers sometimes recommend viewing yourself as an explorer. Or at least, someone who is willing to have experiences and perform movements that are alien and unfamiliar to you, kinaesthetically.

The Alexander Technique outlines a fairly clear principle that you want to work to (instead of just trying to perform a movement the way it feels familiar to do so), which is to do with allowing the neck to be free, so the head can balance more on top of the spine, and you avoid narrowing or shortening the back so much… there are many more details but I won’t go into it here.

But the unfamiliar kinaesthetic experiences you might have when working with an Alexander teacher, or working on your own, can be a little unsettling. If we find ourselves standing in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re standing (even if we can see in the mirror that we are) then we might simply want to revert to what feels like standing again, because it’s safe and familiar, even if the new way feels much easier and more pleasant… You can view it as a struggle between your feeling self and your rational, thinking self. 

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