Addressing the Gorilla in the Room: How You Attend to Yourself During a lesson
We are going to look at the many ways that we can attend to ourselves that may make it harder or easier to learn the Alexander technique. Alexander himself said that our sensory perception is faulty, (in case you don’t know about faulty sensory perception check out our article about the five Alexander technique principles) and so we rarely know with any accuracy what is happening in our body. We have acclimated to our distorting habits, so our sensory perception is telling us everything is OK as is, although it isn’t ok!
Beyond what we feel in our body, rightly or wrongly, there is also the question of how we attend to ourselves.
When we step back to look at our habits from a conscious perspective, we need to question what sort of attention we are promoting and whether it offers the best vantage point for observing ourselves.
Everyone takes for granted that paying attention is one thing they do that they don’t have to question.
But in reality the way you pay attention is a big component in the creation of our bad postural habits. When we narrow our focus in an attempt to pay attention to our bodies, we actually prevent ourselves from being aware of how our bodies function as a whole,, and so we work against the very thing we are trying to learn. This tendency to narrow our attention in order to learn is such a strong habit that we don’t even know that we are doing it.
The way we attend to ourselves and the energy we put into it, is all important when we are looking to “allow” something new to take place. Focus can be narrow or diffused: in most cases people have learned to use a narrow focus to attend to things and narrowing further to a pin point when trying hard. However, narrowing one’s focus often brings tension and a lack of perspective, which also sets off a habitual response, going against our goal to change our habits.
When we are learning the Alexander technique we are like a conductor directing ourselves to have an improved response to a situation.
One of the effects of directing ourselves with a narrow focus is to draw our bodies down to what is below us. Since directing is how we use our conscious mind to change our compressive muscular response, we need to understand the pitfalls of a narrow focus which can lead us into a downward compressive direction that we are unaware of.
Opening our focus a step further, even though the change we are looking for in coordination is within us, we need to expand our focus to the space around us to gain a perspective of our inner state of coordination.
Similarly to an artist who needs to be aware of the negative space as well as the objects of the painting, an Alexander pupil needs to have a perspective of the space around them as they direct themselves. This perspective and vantage point will allow them to quiet down their end gaining responses more effectively. (in case you do not know about End-gaining, check out our article on the five Alexander technique principles.)
In short, being aware of the space around us is an essential component of directing ourselves out of our downwards, compressive habits. Once we lose awareness of the space around us, it is certain that we will be pulling down as we focus too tightly inwards on our bodies.
Laurie Kline and Michael Ostrow have been teaching the Alexander Technique for 25 years.