lørdag 6. juni 2015

Exercise or experiment

We often say that there are no exercises in the Alexander Technique. This is not entirely correct. We have some exercises, like 'the whispered ah' or 'hands on the back of a chair' that are especially designed for practicing the technique. Lying down in 'semisupine' or 'constructive rest' can also be regarded as an exercise.

The point is that doing these exercises, or 'procedures' as we prefer to call them, is not the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique is a way of thinking you can apply when doing the exercises, or any other exercise for that matter. For instance, you are not really doing the Alexander Technique when lying down in the constructive rest position unless you are applying this thinking process.

Another point is that you don't have to do any particular exercise to learn the Alexander Technique, you can apply the technique to any activity you like.

This does not mean that you don't have to practice the Alexander Technique to learn it. You do. The Alexander Technique is a skill, like learning to drive a car or play a musical instrument. The more you practice, the more you get out of it. To practice, you can use any activity as an exercise, but the way you go about it is very important. The fact is that exercises can be dangerous. (I'm not joking, I'm a musician and I know what I'm talking about).

There are some exercises which in themselves are bad, but I'm not going to write about them in this connection. What's important to realise is that any exercise is bad if done badly, and the problem is that that is very easily done. Performing exercises entails repeating the same pattern over and over again. Normally you repeat it in more or less the same manner every time, thereby not only strengthening your good habits, but also your bad ones.

People coming for lessons in the Alexander Technique come with a problem, often they are in pain. Very often, I would say normally, they have tried to solve this problem by doing exercises of some sort. 
Physical exercises of some sort, can be very helpful when dealing with musculoskeletal problems. But contrary to common beliefs it is very rarely the strengthening or stretching of particular muscles that solves the problem. The increased demand put on the system may stimulate a positive change because that is the way our bodies are designed to react. This is why physical activity in itself is a good thing, specific exercises are not necessarily that important.

But there is less positive change if the way we use our musculoskeletal system is hampered by bad habits. Performing exercises badly may cancel out the benefits of general physical activity. This is especially the case when there are musculoskeletal problems that were caused by bad habits of movement. Someone in pain performing exercises badly might unwittingly be strengthening the very habits that caused the pain in the first place. This aggravates the problem and they get stuck.

The problem with specific exercises is that you are looking for a specific result, a specific effect or feeling. This is like doing an experiment and deciding beforehand what result you are wanting to get. Or you could compare it to choosing to go the same route as before even though first time around you ended up in the wrong place. For change to happen, we have to be open to the possibility of any unexpected outcomes.

This means that the best way to go about exercises is not to treat them as exercises, (which is why we say that we haven't got exercises in the Alexander Technique), but to regard any exercise as an experiment.

Performing an experiment means that you consciously follow a certain procedure, staying aware and open to any possible outcomes. While collecting data you suspend judgement. Afterwards you can consider whether to make adjustments. It is a good idea to take frequent breaks and to avoid too many repetitions as they tend to lower the level of awareness.

So, go on practicing the Alexander Technique as much as you can, but don't do exercises, perform experiments instead!

Related blog articles:
Å gjøre Alexander (Norwegian only)

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