Believe me, I get it. The Alexander technique has a coolness problem. By which I mean that getting into and out of a chair is not cool. Kung Fu is cool, Yoga is cool, even Tai Chi is cool in an ancient, silk pyjamas kind of way, but sitting in a chair over and over again? Not cool.
The first time I watched a video on the Alexander technique I could almost smell the lavender and patchouli oil through the screen. There was an nice looking old lady, talking in her best soft, soothing voice™, about necks being free and backs being wide. Everything was so slow and quiet and…boring. Why on Earth would anybody go for lessons in this? Why on Earth would anyone teach it?! Where was the athleticism? Where were the secret one-touch death touches passed down from generation to generation? Where was the Lycra?!
So instead, I tried yoga, and kungfu, and tai chi. Mostly kung fu. I even got good enough to teach it for a while. But as I progressed from practicing forms (pretty cool), to unarmed fighting (cool), to fighting with swords and staffs (sooo cool!!), in the back of my mind was the feeling that I still wasn’t getting to the root of things.
For all the talk of the “spiritual side” of the martial arts, of the unity of mind and body which is supposed to go hand in hand with these disciplines, all I was really learning was a bunch of stuff that hopefully I’d never have to use. I wanted more.
So I took an Alexander technique lesson. A free 30 minute taster lesson to be precise. I figured that if it was as boring as it looked, all it would have cost me was 30 precious minutes of my life.
Only it wasn’t boring.
In half an hour, I learned more about myself than I had in years of training. Things I probably wouldn’t have learned in any other way. At least not as immediately.
I learned that I held more tension in my body than I would ever have imagined. I learned that despite believing that I had excellent body awareness, I’d had no idea this tension was there, even though, as I also learned, I was manifesting it in almost every movement I made. I learned that if I could prevent this (which I absolutely could not, but luckily my teacher could help me), I could feel, in both body and mind, lighter and more at ease than I’d ever felt in my life. Most surprisingly, I learned all of this by getting into and out of a chair.
The beauty of the Alexander Technique is rooted precisely in its ordinariness. There’s nothing to distract you from the central task of self exploration. Just you, a teacher and the task of sitting in a chair.
This simplicity means that in my personal journey of the self, through the self, towards the self, I didn’t also have to think about my journey towards a back bend or to not getting punched in the face. For me, and I suspect for a lot of people, it’s too difficult to do both.
The opportunity to be really present in the carrying out of a simple task. To break that task down into its component parts and to observe yourself, as you try to carry them out consciously, is an experience which it’s difficult to understand unless you try it for yourself. But I can say this; the only way to do it, is to forget about looking cool.