“Art is violent. To be decisive is violent. ... To place a chair at a partial angle on the stage destroys every other possible choice, every other option.” – Anne Bogart
The Alexander Technique helps us break life-long habits of how we coordinate and support ourselves. We reorganize our muscles, and thereby our bones, in a special way that makes everything we do easier and more efficient.
But as anyone who has ever broken a habit knows, it ain’t easy. The neural pathways associated with keeping us upright run deep! These habits form early as we take on the postures of our primary caregivers, and develop ways to protect our body-mind-selves from things we perceive as threats.
This makes the process of changing our postural habits a mission for our inner warrior, because if we play it wishy-washy nicey-nice the habits will win every time.
In the world of mind-body integration, one sometimes encounters a sort of airy-fairyness in approach. We talk of the need to be gentle, kind, compassionate, loving, and forgiving of ourselves, and I agree!
But I’m here to suggest there is an innate violence that accompanies the process of cultivating true change—violence in the sense Anne Bogart speaks of: to make a clear decision for action, which arises out of the necessary exclusion of all other possibilities.
We learn how to “drive a wedge between stimulus and response,” said Marjory Barlow, a first generation teacher of the Alexander Technique. It is the space between these two elements where infinite possibility and our capacity to make different choices lives.
You want to sit down on your couch.
As soon as you have even just the thought of wanting to sit down, your muscles begin to get ready to sit in the way they’ve been doing for the past thousand times you’ve sat on your couch.
This is called your “preparatory set” – the habitual way you get ready in your body to do an activity you’ve done before.
So in order to sit down in a more efficient way guided by the principles of the Alexander Technique, you have to stop.
- You stop preparing to sit down on the couch.
- You stop being attached to any ideas you have about sitting down on the couch.
- You stop preparing to sit down on the couch so that you can release your neck and back instead.
- You stop preparing to sit down on the couch so that can guide the energy generated out of your impulse to sit into the more efficient coordination of your body you learn from your certified Alexander Technique teacher : )
- And you may just happen to let your hips, knees, and ankles bend while you keep paying attention to your new more efficient coordination.
- It may appear to someone on the outside that you are in the process of sitting down on the couch.
- But you aren’t paying any attention to that, because as soon as you go back to telling yourself that you’re sitting down, your body will go right back into your old habits.
- You may get all the way down on the couch, you may not. The activity is almost incidental because your new priority is your coordination. Are you optimally coordinated or not?
When you stop, you cut off your old habits at the pass.
If you simply “pause” you’ll pick right back up where you left off when you move again.
Saying no to our old habit frees us to say yes to something new.
Saying no to our old habit, means we make a clear break instead of trying to make a clear break.
When we stop pulling down on ourselves, the only way to go is up.
This is not necessarily an easy process. It’s imperfect and messy and old habits really do die hard. But hey, you’re a warrior fighting for freedom in your body-mind-self, and on the other side of that violence, there is a beautiful tranquility to be found.