On December 10th I was watching the excellent Nobel speech by Malala Yousafzai and came to think about one of my Alexander Technique pupils. In a recent lesson he had been experimenting with arm movements. As he reached to touch the top of his head, he moved his head down. When we discussed it he said that moving the head down was natural. I had to agree.
Moving the head down is probably part of the endless variety of movements that can be said to be 'natural'. It does not mean that it is the most efficient way to do it. It doesn't have to be. Contrary to what many believe, it is not that there are some movements that are efficient and thereby 'natural' and some that are inefficient and 'unnatural'. There are a whole range of movements that are all 'natural' but they are not necessarily all equally efficient. This is a bit like mutations in the process of evolution. The traits that survive are not the ones that are perfect, but the ones that are good enough.
What we are aiming at in the Alexander Technique is not to find the perfect movement, because that does not exist, but to ensure the best possible coordination whichever movement we choose to make. The movement could be lowering the head to reach the crown with the hand.
Of course, normally, the reason for lowering the head is that stiffness in the shoulder makes it appear easier than keeping the length of the spine. Lowering the head could be a bad habit. But even this could be said to be natural. One of the most characteristic and 'natural' traits of us humans is the ability to learn. This includes learning bad habits.
Later on in the same lesson my pupil made the comment that the degree of consciousness required by the Alexander Technique is not natural. (You may think that this is a difficult pupil, but he is quite the opposite). Again, I had to agree. It is natural that most movements are performed without much thought or awareness. This works just fine. At least we humans have survived as a species until now without being that much conscious of our actions. The question is whether it is good enough for the future. It certainly isn't good enough if we want change.
Malala in her acceptance speech stressed, as she always does, the need for education, the necessity of learning to read and write. "Read and write? That's not natural", I thought to myself, having the discussion with my pupil in mind. We are not born with the ability to read or write. Reading and writing are human inventions. It is something we all have to learn. It is not natural.
Despite of this, everyone agrees with Malala. (Everyone except a minority of religious fanatics who hopefully are a dying breed). The advantages of learning to read and write are obvious to any thinking human being. The benefits are great, for the individual, the society, and for humanity. The ability to read and write is seen as so important that the right to education is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Learning to read and write opens up new possibilities for learning and development.
Like reading and writing, the Alexander Technique is not natural either. It is a skill you have to learn. Unlike reading and writing, the benefits of learning the Alexander Technique is not that obvious to most people. But like learning to read and write, the Alexander Technique opens up new possibilities for learning and development.
The Alexander Technique is not about narrowing down the options to a limited set of 'correct' movements (which do not exist anyway). The Alexander Technique takes away the limits set by habitual reactions and opens up the possibility to perform any movement or activity to the best of your ability. The number of possibilities are not reduced, they increase.
That's something to think about at the beginning of the new year!
Riktig retning (in Norwegian)