Failure and the Alexander Technique / by Ariel Carson

My Love Affair With the F Word

I wanted to write about why failure is an essential element in any Alexander Technique practice, but everything I wrote seemed overly complicated and wordy. I was having a difficult time trying to squeeze out a decent draft from what I had, until I remembered to practice the very thing I was preaching.

The way I was writing wasn’t working, so instead of charging forward without changing anything, I stopped. I let go of the familiar tension that had built up over the process of banging out the first draft, released my neck and back, and allowed myself to grow into more of my full expansiveness. I let my breathing open up, and I acknowledged the support of the ground. I wiped the slate clean and started over.

Failure to engage your habitual mental and muscular patterns of tension in preparation and throughout an activity is key in the Alexander Technique.

We were raised hearing,  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  But in the Alexander Technique, if at first you don’t succeed, stop, recognize how you’re holding yourself, release excess tension, then reorganize into expansion. If you “try try again” without changing anything in your preparation, you will likely achieve the same results as before. And repeating the same action while expecting different results is one definition of insanity… Just sayin’.


I was also hung up on this post being good -- perfect even. I wanted it to be the best blog post on failure ever written, and that immediately shut down any chance of that happening. The second I try to get something “right” my whole body rigidifies. My abs tighten, my biceps clamp down onto my upper ribs, I stop breathing, my brow furrows, and my vision narrows so I can only see a couple feet ahead of me.

To get something ‘right” assumes you already know what “right” looks like or feels like or is, but if it’s your current harmful postural habits that you got you into the place you are now, then you need to go into unknown territory. In order for a truly new coordination to occur you have to surrender your idea of right and allow yourself to be wrong. As F.M. Alexander said, “You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”

Failure is releasing your attachment to finding a “right” way of organizing yourself, and giving yourself permission not to know.

 Every moment is an opportunity for failure, because every moment I have to let go of my idea of right in order to actually respond to the moment and move into the unknown territory of a new balance, support and coordination. To be “right” in the Alexander Technique means to be ever more released, open, present, breathing, responsive, and expansive, and to stay with the process of becoming.

So I’ll end this by wishing failure for you every second of every day. May you never reach a point where you say, “That’s it! I’ve got it now,” because the second you try and hang on to what you think is right, it becomes wrong until you recommit to your process of releasing and reorganizing again.



What happens in your body and mind when you imagine trying to get something perfect or right? Share what you notice in the comments below.