Our habits are a safety blanket, they are familiar and protective - after all, they have got us this far in life, right? So it takes a little courage to make the decision to let them go and try doing something differently. This is the practice at the heart of AT, which we call "inhibition" - deciding not to react unthinkingly according to our habits - and "direction" - giving ourselves an alternative set of commands or directions to initiate a new way of doing things. A new way of doing things is new and therefore unknown, and therefore a bit scary - we can't know what it is until we experience it.
Two articles have come to my attention this week which relate to this "reasoning from the known to the unknown" (as the great philanthropist - and chocolatier! - Joseph Rowntree described the Alexander Technique).
Firstly, Malcolm Williamson - violist and AT teacher at RNCM - has written this wonderful article A Technique for Musicians (Alexander Studies Online), in which he discusses how much of music tuition relies on the assumption that both teacher and student implicitly know how they are doing what they are doing and how to make useful changes:
"The most usual way of teaching music is the “do as I do” approach. But by watching the teacher demonstrate, you have
to guess how it’s done. You watch carefully and then, mostly by hit-or-miss, you have a go and hope for the best. Even the teacher cannot tell you exactly how she did it. And, as for you, not only are you unaware of your teacher’s past experiences and mental preparation, but your own preconceptions condition what you observe and recognise as relevant. There is a whole area of hidden ‘know-how’ that is brushed over and tacitly assumed."
AT uses conscious thinking to restore our natural balance and poise in place of our acquired habit patterns: we do this in order to give the subconscious mind a sound framework within which to find the optimal way of performing activities: whether that means practising viola, completing a pike somersault, washing up or putting on a pair of trousers.
FM Alexander said: "When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself"
In practising AT thinking, our purpose is to prevent ourselves from interfering with our own best possible functioning by doing less unnecessary activity (tightening muscles by habit) thereby leaving ourselves free to do the work we actually want to do (conduct a symphony or run for the bus).
The researchers behind the second article that caught my eye this week have begun to discover the way in which the subconscious mind runs through all the possible ways of moving the body to find the optimal one: "the right thing doing itself": The Brain Searches for the Best Way to Move the Body (article from Neuroscience News). By practising AT, it seems we can give our nervous systems a helping hand in this process of searching for better ways of doing things!