MAKING A PLAN VERSUS DOING IT MY WAY
“One of Alexander’s most important discoveries was that people have characteristic manners or organising themselves while making movements. He called these characteristic manners of organising oneself in activity ‘the use of the self’.”
“... in the Alexander Technique, what one does is important, but what one does is not nearly as important as how one does it.”
(Extracts taken from the book Reach Your Dreams by Donald Weed)
USE AND FUNCTIONING
The way you use yourself is the way you react, with your entire being, to every stimulation and situation in your life.
In some situations you react constructively, with efficiency, intelligence and elegance. In other situations, less so. Whether you react well or badly, your whole being is present in all your reactions. Your body is alway inseparable from the thinking that animates it.
“Talk about a man’s individuality and character” Alexander liked saying. “it’s the way he uses himself”.
Every aspect of your life is determined by the way you use yourself: your voice and speech; breathing digestion and circulation; your reactions to stress; psychomotor skills, interpersonal relationships, emotions, sexuality.
Use yourself badly, and all you do is harm your health. Use yourself well, and every one of your activities contributes to your greater wellbeing.
Let’s imagine a pianist suffering from what appears to be a physical ailment - for example, carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a painful and possibly disabling condition that affects the wrists of musicians, keyboard operators, and people in various occupations and circumstances. When diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome doctors speak of overuse of the wrist and prescribe rest. If rest fails, medicine offers the choice of surgery or injections of cortisone. Cortisone acts upon a symptom of the the disease: it’s pain. It offers only temporary relief, and it has dangerous side effects as well. Surgery isn't free from risks, and doesn’t guarantee results.
Feeling excruciating pain and having to curtail her musical activities, the pianist of our example can’t but help think that there’s something wrong with her body: the carpal tunnel, which is the passageway on the wrist’s palm side, connecting the forearm to the hand. And she can’t help but be tempted by surgery or the promise of pain relief. But if you watch her play, or if you hear her talk about stage fright, and the difficulty of playing big romantic pieces full of notes and chords, and the fact that she’s not as good a pianist as so- and-so, and the frustrations of teaching bratty children in a crappy suburban conservatoire - well you’ll see and hear a whole person in turmoil, misusing herself at the piano and away from it. Our friend the pianist is often agitated, frustrated and angry. She rushes through her notes when she plays the big romantic pieces, and she bangs at the piano in an attempt to create loud sounds, and she twists her neck when she tries to express the big Romantic emotions in the big Romantic pieces.
Our pianist functions in a certain way. And her functioning is the result of how she uses herself, at the piano and away from it. Her wrists are a very small part of her life, and her carpal tunnel syndrome is a very small part of all her pains, which are physical, emotional and existential. Wrist surgery could perhaps help, but it wont solve her problems.
Hearing this our pianist despairs: “Are you saying I need to change my whole life? I just want my wrist pain to go away”. To her it seems as if I’m telling her to make a single decision: don’t work on your functioning; work on your use instead. This will automatically change your life in a hundred ways.
Use determines function. If you’d like to improve your functioning, your best bet is to improve your use.
And if you’d like to improve your use, your best bet is to improve how you react to life.
Use is inextricably tied with perceptions, attitudes and beliefs.
If you see a spoiled brat who has come your way just to annoy you, you react in a certain way. If you see a struggling child who’d appreciate your loving attention, you react in a different way.
It isn’t easy to change your use, but it’s the one way you really can affect your functioning.
Would your pianist solve all her problems simply by working on herself? Far from it. Working on herself will solve some problems and will make other problems easier to solve. It’ll give her a sense of what is an actual problem and what is a situation that requires thought, which isn't the same thing as a problem. Working on herself will give her new ways of approaching specific tasks in specific situations - including very specific and specialised micro-tasks such as playing a loud chord in the second bar of a challenging piece by a big romantic composer.
Working on herself, she’ll understand when physiotherapy is helpful, and when it’s not. She’ll understand that physical exercises alertly performed are very useful, but physical exercises performed mindlessly only make a painful situation worse. She’ll understand that surgery is sometimes necessary, sometimes optional, and sometimes so harmful, as to be medically scandalous. Then she’ll choose whether or not to undergo surgery. In this sense she will be like the young F.M. Alexander, who set out to examine his troubles with two attitudes in mind: “I may be doing something wrong. I have to find out for myself.”
Our pianist can in fact make a hundred decisions or a thousand decisions; perhaps she must make these decisions. But when she’s alert to her use, these decisions are often easier to make and more constructive in their effects.
The young science of ergonomics has brought interesting innovations into many fields, including furniture and machinery design, the organisation of offices and homes, and the flow of work routines. For our pianist, ergonomics would affect her choice of piano stool (high or low? soft or hard?), the lighting set-up in her practice studio, the tuning of her instrument, and many other things. She won’t be able to find a piano stool that makes her carpal tunnel disappear, but she’ll be able to improve her relationship with the material aspects of piano playing. Better aware of her orientation in space, she’ll change her piano stool, and she’ll also change the way she sits, and she’ll also change her perception of the piano keyboard and her perception of her fears and anxieties regarding the piano ... and before long she’ll have changed a hundred things. Discovery, exploration, trial, and error, creativity, pleasure: she isn't working on her body anymore, but on her use. It’s wonderful to change a hundred things after you make this one change.”
(This extract is taken from the book The Alexander Technique -A Skill for Life’ by Pedro De Alcantara)
HOW DID ALEXANDER WORK ON HIMSELF WHEN HE SET ABOUT SOLVING HIS OWN PROBLEM?
“As a first step, he (Alexander) identified faulty movements he had been making that came as a result of the faulty ways he has been misdirecting himself in the activity of speaking.
Then he concluded he must find a way to stop this misdirection.
Further, in place of this misdirection, he concluded that he must discover a new direction of himself that would “ensure a new and improved use of his head and neck.”
He believed that once he had discovered this new direction of himself, he could then employ this new direction and all would be well.
To discover this new direction, he further concluded that he must “cease to rely upon the feeling associated with (his) instinctive direction, and in it’s place employ (his) reasoning processes, in order to:
1. analyse the conditions of use present
2. select (reason out) the means whereby a more satisfactory use could be brought about
3. project consciously the directions required for putting these new means into effect”
In short Alexander concluded that if he were ever able to react satisfactorily to the stimulus to use his voice (or perform any other activity), he must replace his “old instinctive (unreasoned) direction of himself by a new conscious reasoned direction.”
(This is an extract taken from the book ‘Reach your Dreams - An ITM Introduction to the Alexander Technique’ by Donald Weed)
ALEXANDER USED CERTAIN WORDS IN CERTAIN WAYS WHEN WRITING ABOUT HIS WORK:
“... not in that limited sense of the use of any specific part, as, for instance, when we speak of the use of the leg, but in a much wider and more comprehensive sense applying to the working of the organism in general.” (FM Alexander)
“Repeated orders from the objective mind”
“ ...it is not truly a habit at all but an order or series of orders given to the subordinate controls of the body, which orders will be carried out until countermanded.” (F.M.Alexander)
“ ... direction and directed with use in such phrases as ‘direction of my use’ and ‘I directed the use’ etc, I wish to indicate the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms.” (FM Alexander)
“ ... the conception and procedure of going for an end without consideration as to whether the ‘means-whereby’ to be employed are the best for the purpose” (F.M.Alexander)
USE AND FUNCTIONING
“...in relation to the human organism, I do not indicate by it mechanical activity as such, but include in the phrase all manifestations of human activity involved in what we designate as conception or understanding, withholding or giving consent, thinking, reasoning, directing etc “ (F.M.Alexander)
“ .... i.e. the prevention of misguided activities”
“The act of refusing to respond to the primary desire to gain an “end”
“ ... the principle, namely, of inhibiting our habitual desire to go straight to our end ...”
“ ...the technique is based upon the inhibition of the habitual wrong use - i.e. the refusal to react to a stimulus in the usual way”
“My technique is based on inhibition of undesired, unwanted responses to stimuli, and hence it is primarily a technique of the control of human behaviour” (F.M.Alexander)
“... used to indicate the reasoned means to the gaining of an end. These means included the inhibition of the habitual use of the mechanisms of the organism,and the conscious projection of new directions necessary to the performance of the different acts involved in a new and more satisfactory use of the mechanisms.” (FM Alexander)
“...to indicate the impossibility of separating ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ operations in our conception of the working of the human organism. In my opinion the two must be considered entirely interdependent, and even more closely knit than is implied by such a phrase.” (FM Alexander)
“...is used in this work to indicate established habits, inherited or developed.”
“...without any reasoned conception of what direction of the use of the mechanisms is required for its satisfactory performance.” (FM Alexander)