Whenever I come across writing that speaks of similar things to what I have learned through the Alexander Technique, I first wonder if that author has been influenced by the work of F. M. Alexander.
I will read words and phrases that resonate with me in the same way the principles of Alexander’s work resonate with me. I am speaking in particular about
- approaching daily life—and special activities—with a non-doing attitude;
- remembering that I am a unity, not just a collection of parts;
- searching, time after time, for a “means-whereby” that replaces habitual, rushed, unconscious, end-justifies-the-means “end-gaining.”
When I keep these principles in mind, when I set an intention to move, think, breathe, and act with them, my unified whole benefits. I am more calm, less reactive, less tense, and my breath and physical self can expand into spaciousness. And then, I think more clearly, feel better about myself, am content with the present moment, and more optimistic about the future.
Of course, these principles are not unique to the Alexander Technique, and I know that not every writer I resonate with has studied Alexander. After all, his is a technique, a way of approaching the present moment, a way that benefits people by decreasing pain and increasing awareness of inner and outer life, a way towards conscious control.
But it is not the only way.
Since I have been staying at home this last month, I have received, through the generosity of friends sharing links to the Internet, some uplifting and meaningful questions and thoughts that come from people whose main work is not the Alexander Technique. Here is such a one, a question pertinent to our present times. As with any question, whether it comes from someone fluent in the Alexander Technique or not, I explore it with my Alexander Technique skills and point of view:
The question is this: Is it possible to be with difficult circumstances
and at the same time to be at peace?
from Jan Frazier
March 15, 2020
I absorb this question and inhibit my first response, which includes a need to make a decision right away: yes it is possible or no it is not. While inhibiting making that decision, I come to quiet, work in my Alexander way on freeing my neck, preventing further interference of muscular tension, etc. For a bit, I become lost in the world of my working-on-myself process and the ensuing changes in proprioceptive perceptions. That work is of course extremely helpful, and with it, I can, for longer and longer stretches of time, face with less reactivity the difficulties of today’s limiting world. But in doing that work on myself, I may have, for a time, set aside the actual external circumstances of the present. So I am not yet in a position to answer the question:
Can I be with the difficult circumstances and at the same time be at peace?
I experiment. I go to a radio station online and listen to some news. Of course, it is about the pandemic. As soon as I begin to listen, I feel my chest tightening, my jaw tightening, and a surge of sensation inside me, that I describe as “chemical-anxiety reaction,” courses through me.
When this kind of psychophysical reaction occurs to my student during a lesson, I ask the student to pause. I encourage my student to rise up in thought where there is the possibility of global awareness. I ask the student to acknowledge the sensory information that is so alive and present, but to not react to it, and to not narrow focus. I remind my student that any actual chemical discharge of stress hormones that is causing uncomfortable feelings will dissipate; one just needs patience. The task at hand is to not re-trigger more anxiety, more stress hormones. I ask my student to not react to the fact that he or she has become anxious, and rather than narrowly focus on the sensations of the anxiety, rather continue to see out and be aware of the surrounding space. I reassure the student that by inhibiting and directing, the sensations of discomfort will dissipate.
No matter what kind of emotional or psychological state one is in, one can ask oneself to stop reacting; one can ask oneself to think spatially, be aware of the inner and the outer, the sensations from the inside, the stimuli from the environment. And one can ask oneself to cease associative thought and to just be with what is, in the present moment.
That’s what I teach my students. In this moment of listening to the radio, I have to remind myself that if I can teach that, I can help myself in the same way.
I expand my attention: I receive the news—that does not promise a quick end to our COVID-19 situation—and ask myself to cease tensing my neck so that my head will release forward and up in such a way as to help my entire back to lengthen and widen. I find myself…becoming…more myself, more at peace within. I even find myself, for a moment, becoming upbeat, rather happy!
What a very strange state to be in! How can I possibly feel a tiny bit happy while listening to agonizing information?
I realized that I always assumed a certain sensation had to live in me when listening to disturbing news. If I didn’t feel that sensation, I would not believe I had empathy, and then I would not feel right about myself.
But I had a glimmer of new knowledge today. I don’t have to have the same sensation—which is a product of muscular tension and stress hormones—to be present while listening to a news story, and I don’t have to tense myself or become stressed out in order to have compassion and empathy. I have tools, Alexander Technique tools, that help me regulate, that help me regain my equilibrium, physically, but also, very much so, emotionally.
I am not my pain; I am not my stress; I am not my fears. I feel those things, more frequently now than in better times, but I don’t have to hold on, and I don’t have to re-trigger: I can move on.
For now, I will say that it is possible to be with difficult circumstances and at the same time to be at peace, but not continually. I don’t yet know how to be at peace so well that I cease reacting. But I do know how to inhibit my reactions, once I recognize them, and to move on to the next present moment.
I am available to work on the Alexander Technique with you online.