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How do I know if I'm making progress in the Alexander Technique?


Prevent the things you are doing and you are halfway there. F.M. Alexander

Some way into a course of lessons students commonly make an anxious inquiry about what progress they are making.

As our underlying coordination begins to change, it still feels as normal a part of us as our coordination before the start of the lessons. The initial lightness that many students feel with their first lessons is in contrast to the heaviness they brought to those first lessons and that initial lightness becomes part of the normal coordination and is no longer so obvious. Different pains and symptoms gradually recede but these symptoms of misuse are much more obvious in their presence than in their absence and it is only by reflecting back that we become aware of their absence.

When I began teaching the technique some of my students told me about waking up in the night with pain in the arms and shoulders. It was only then that I remembered that I regularly used to wake in the night with pins and needles in one or other of my arms, depending on which side I was sleeping. Somewhere along the way this had stopped, but I could not pinpoint the time when thishad ceased.

However, much more important than a change in symptoms is a reorientation in our awareness and thinking. There comes a point in the practice when we are suddenly “stuck with” the Alexander Technique. What I mean by "stuck with" is that there comes a point we can no longer be unaware both that and how we are misusing ourselves. This can be very annoying, as we begin to discover that we are constantly bringing some level of extra tension and compression into all our daily activities. This tension and compression, much or which was formerly unconscious, now begins to come to the forefront of our consciousness.

At this stage we are impelled to make a change, to undo this tension and compression. It is only then that we start to seriously apply for ourselves the thinking and awareness in which the technique trains us – a process which deepens and develops over time. And half of this process of change is the emphasis on “undoing” instead of “doing” something.This is deeply counter-intuitive process as people want to go directly towards doing something to create a change. But initially this doing is based on their old habitual and unconscious coordination and people simply stiffen themselves as they try to do something different.

Just one or two lessons with a teacher skilled in the use of his or her hands can connect into the nervous system in a way which begins to loosen the underlying misuse, and to result in a dramatic reduction in pain or other symptoms. It is possible to use such lessons as a therapy but the real progress in the technique is when students start to develop the skills to release underlying holding patterns and reactions and then to move actively out of those patterns into openness and expansion.

This begins to alter the underlying neurological patterning and fasial constrictions and is an ongoing process whereby the habitual postural, movement patterns, which over time create ever-increasing limitations and restrictions are conditioned so that we move towards more ease and freedom, a process which can continue over many years, and a process which helps to counteract many of the symptoms and infirmities commonly ascribed to aging.

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