In this five part blog series, I explore and break down the five principles of the Alexander Technique in depth (and in order!:)
The five principles of the Alexander Technique are in order:
1. Recognition of the Force of Habit
2. Inhibition and Non-Doing
3. Recognition of Faulty Sensory Awareness
4. Sending Direction
5. The Primary Control
This post will focus on the first principle: Recognition of the Force of Habit.
As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, it is my job to diagnose misuse in the body and to help my students to see what their particular habits are that get in the way of optimal use and alignment.
More importantly, however, my role as a teacher is to give my students the tools to recognize the habits within themselves, so that they can become empowered to make change on their own.
You have to know that and how you are going wrong in the body in order to initiate change. These realizations can range from minor changes (a little too much tension in the shoulder) to major shifts in alignment (sitting in the pelvis and taking the head back and down).
It also means taking ownership over the negative habits in the body. I believe one of Alexander's most incredible personal traits was his ownership and perseverance in the face of being told he could no longer act. When he was encountering vocal issues, the doctors said there was nothing wrong with his vocal cords structurally and vocal rest wasn't helping to heal his hoarseness, so F.M. Alexander famously said to himself (what so few of us have the courage to say):
"Is it not fair, then...to conclude that it was something that I was doing that evening in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble...if that is so, I must try to find out for myself!" (The Use of the Self pg. 25).
And the best tool for this recognition is the objective feedback of a teacher or a mirror. F.M. Alexander made his discovery of the primary control in a room with many mirrors. It is so important to not be afraid to look at reality. Other useful feedback tools can be peers, lying on the floor, pictures and video recordings, as well as sound/aural feedback.
Sometimes these realizations are startling for students, but most of the time they are very enthusiastic and excited to be made aware because they finally feel as though they are finding the answers that they have been looking for a long time. Students will often say to me variations on a theme: "I have tried everything, and I have finally found the missing piece of the puzzle."
As a singer, I had debilitating voice issues that stopped me from singing. I was devastated, lost, and my self-confidence was shattered! When I had my first AT lesson, I finally felt hopeful that I had some tools to help me take control and break out of my own habits. And I was shocked at how unaware I was of my body! I was always a physically active person and took care of myself, but I had such little awareness of my body in my day-to-day activities. I was like a brain floating in space, entirely consumed with the thinking mind. It is impossible to stay in this state and attempt to develop a physical craft such as singing. I felt such relief when I finally began to recognize the habits that were getting in my way.
I think a key aspect of this principle is that AT teaches you to approach this newfound awareness with objectivity. It is never easy at first to realize when we have "gone wrong." To truly engage in this step requires a willingness to relinquish the ego and deep-rooted concepts of how we self identify. After all, doesn't the way we carry ourselves say so much more about us than just our posture? We are working with the entire body-emotional-mental system (or as Alexander says the psycho-physical mechanism).
But there is a neutrality in recognition (the principle is not "judgement on the force of habit"). It is more of a gentle reminder than an admonishment; an opportunity to aim up, rather than down; an opportunity to awaken that moment to the potential of choice, rather than the manacles of habit.
I used to find this quote of F.M. Alexander's depressing. Is that really all there is to hope for? But now I understand that to recognize I have gone wrong is to be aware, to be given the opportunity to go right and to take myself to an even higher conception of myself. It is truly a gift, and I don't want to be right!
So the next time you look in the mirror, look at how you wear your head on your spine. Is it going forward and up, or are you collapsing back and down? Can you recognize and see the force of collapse in your body? In that moment, can you choose to release the head slightly forward and up...and can you choose to renew that moment again and again? Whether you are at home, or at work, or on the bus, or at the gym...and then you begin to take ownership and recognize the forces of habit in your life.