Most of us are fairly locked into this dualistic mode of thinking where we regard ourselves as comprising two distinct and separate units called “mind” and “body”. I encountered it myself this evening while using the computer. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable as I’d been typing for a while, letting myself get a bit absorbed in what I was writing.

I noticed this happening – a tightening of the shoulders and a gripping in the abdominal area, which was contributing to my back being a bit sore. Still fairly focused on the writing, I started trying to “Alexander” myself, applying directions and so on. But I realised it was making me worse, till I eventually relented and decided to take a break and change my attitude of mind a little as well.

I guess it’s all too easy to forget that we’re “psycho-physical” in nature, as it’s not a mode of awareness most of us have been brought up with. We tend to think we can choose to ungrip a clenched area of musculature, for example, while doing nothing to alter a demeanour of grim determination or anxiety or something similar.

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It can be difficult to free ourselves from the impetus to hurry, the way we rush to get different tasks over and done with so we can move onto the next thing (I’m trying not to do it now as I type). It’s a tendency that is encouraged by the way we perceive different activities as having stages, like a beginning, middle and an end. But it causes us to tense and stiffen as we end-gain our way through whatever it is.

An interesting way to trick yourself out of this orientation – which was shared at a seminar I attended recently – is to say to yourself, when you’re about to perform an activity (like getting out of a chair, say, or moving your arm to switch on the kettle): “this activity has no beginning and no end”. This sounds a bit goofy but if you can say it to yourself and believe it a little then you’ll tend to find yourself more in the moment as you go about whatever it is your doing, which is… well, the best place to be if you want to improve the way you’re using yourself.

Concentrate! (No, don’t)

February 25, 2009

Something that can create difficulties when learning the Alexander technique is that it’s all too easy to “concentrate” when applying the directions or when attempting to apply the idea of inhibition. For most people this is something that tends to bring a tensing and rigidifying response in the body.

I noticed something like this happening the other day when I suggested to someone lying on the table that he “not try to do anything”, which maybe wasn’t the most helpful thing to say to someone a bit new to all this. He visibly tensed up and seemed to be focusing intently on trying not to do anything, which is understandable.

It’s a subtle business, inhibiting and directing without being too fixated about it. We can help things by reminding ourselves to “turn down the intensity” of how we’re going about it, or to just adopt a more casual, who-cares attitude, however we feel we can do that.

We can also consciously widen our field of attention by just noticing things a bit more, like details of the room or environment we’re in, the contents of our peripheral vision, sounds and so on.

F.M. Alexander makes some interesting comments about concentration in his writings about the technique. He suggested that the need for it which people feel is prompted by the mind wandering that tends to occur when a person is not using themselves well. Instead of correcting the patterns of tension and misuse that are causing our minds to wander, we feel we have to “overpower one set of imperfect so-called ‘mental’ projections and ‘physical’ tensions by a still more powerful set” (from the book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual).

And it’s true that when you look at a 4-year old boy playing with a toy train, for example, he doesn’t seem to need to “concentrate” on it, as we adults understand the term. He’s able to just attend to what he’s doing without any undue strain or effort.