Saturday, 1 February 2014

On 14:13 by Victoria Stanham   No comments
The Alexander Technique is a study of our reaction to stimuli.

We are bombarded by stimuli constantly. They come in all forms. 

The following could be one way of categorising them, according to our degree of awareness of them as "stimuli",  and hence our freedom to choose our response:

1) Known Stimuli we are are aware of and therefore are able to choose our response; for example I am aware that the phone ringing is a stimulus that asks a response of me, but I have taught myself to release my excess tension before picking it up.

2) Known Stimuli we are not aware of and therefore respond habitually; for example I am not usually aware of the cold as a stimulus and therefore usually find myself over tensing my body in my habitual response to "keep the cold out" (although I doubt that putting my shoulders to my ears actually makes me any warmer)

3) New Stimuli we cannot possibly be aware of and therefore trigger a startle or fear response.

I want to talk about this third category.

The most obvious example is any loud noise, but we can generally release our tension quite fast to those.

I'm more interested in those new stimuli that trigger a psychological fear response; for example learning something new.

I started taking tango lessons this month. I go once a week to mixed levels class. Despite several years of Alexander Technique practice, and being in quite good physical shape after almost as many years of Pilates, I was still fairly tense in my first few lessons.

"Why?" I wondered, "I have fairly good coordination, I can think and feel my body through quite complex movement sequences, I am used to giving and following leads through contact... Why the tension then?"

Simple, it's new... and I want to be good at it. I'm falling in the same old trap that Alexander talks about in his books: the student goes to the teacher to learn something new (and therefore UNKNOWN to her) and yet expects to know it instantaneously (by KNOWING I mean fully embodying the knowledge).

Same thing happened again yesterday, but this time I was trying to learn a yoga pose flow (or vinyasa flow as they call it) from a video. I got myself all set up: yoga mat, yoga pants, om-attitude, Alexander Technique coordination knowledge... and hit play. In no time I was trying to "do it right" all over again. This time I had to stop and laugh out loud at myself. The teacher is a recording in a video for god's sake!!! Who am I trying to impress?!

This time however my own laughter helped me step out of my habitual pattern. I realised, "I can stop the video". That simple. I could pause the recording, give myself time, rewind to look at the thing again and see if I understood all that was required for each pose, figure out my own set of guiding orders (no need to follow the video instructor all the time). So many options!!! And after seeing the recording a few times, experimenting on myself a bit, and giving myself permission to get it all wrong anyway, I was able to do the simple sequence and ENJOY it!

Every time we try to learn something new we need to acknowledge that we DON'T KNOW IT YET, and that we are not expected to really. The first few times all the stimuli are going to be new and we can go into information overload quite quickly. So TAKE YOUR TIME to allow each piece of the puzzle to find its place in the big picture, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to make mistakes and to experiment. HAVE FUN!

Image Attribution: Jerzy Dzieciaszek, [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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