After their first Alexander technique lesson, pupils will almost always report that they feel lighter and less tense. But after a few hours, that tension will often come creeping back. Dismayed that a single, hour long lesson hasn’t permanently unravelled the accumulated tension of many years, I’m often asked; what can I do to stop the tension from returning?
The answer, unfortunately, is…nothing.
I don’t mean there’s nothing you can do, I mean that what you can do is nothing…which now that I think about it may be functionally the same as saying there’s nothing you can do depending what you mean by…let me explain…
Non-do your best.
In the Alexander Technique there’s a concept known as non-doing, which is basically the idea that some things can’t be achieved by taking positive action. Instead, you create the correct conditions for the desired thing to happen and then you wait for it to happen by itself. In fact, any attempt to force it to happen, or make it happen more quickly, is guaranteed to end in frustration.
If this sounds like a bunch of new-age mumbo jumbo, think about what happens when we go to sleep. Setting aside those of us who take sleeping pills or ask a friend hit them over the head with something heavy, we don’t actually do anything to fall asleep. Instead, every night, we lie down in a quiet, dark environment (horizontalness, quietness and darkness being three of the conditions normally required for sleeping), and we wait, hoping that eventually we’….zzzzzzzz.
If this fails to happen, perhaps because we can’t quiet our minds down after a busy day (a quiet mind is yet another condition for sleepy time), we just have to wait longer. Furthermore, the more we think about the fact that we’re not sleeping and scrunch our eyes closed hoping to speed things up, the less likely it is that it’ll happen.
First time Alexander pupils are in a similar boat when it comes to preventing tension from returning. All we can do is create and maintain the correct conditions for the body to release tension (or more accurately to not respond to stimulus with it in the first place) and wait. That’s it. Through continued lessons, those conditions become more and more the norm within your mind and therefore in the body, but no amount of effort will make this happen, not effort in the traditional sense at least.
We can’t know what we don’t know.
We can’t prevent tension from arising in our bodies by fixing them into “correct” positions (in fact we’re likely to create more tension by trying). All we can do is release it when we do become aware of it. Paradoxically, the moments when we realise that we’ve yet again lapsed in our awareness, are the moments we should be most pleased about. These moments are the fledgling muscles of our stronger awareness, pulling us back to the here and now from wherever we drifted off to.
The tension you notice today may well be tension that you were incapable of recognising previously. As this process continues, tension that would have been invisible to you today becomes so obvious that you’re completely incapable of missing it, or even accumulating it in the first place. Through this process, you free yourself from the pain that came with it.
To repeat, it’s impossible to remain aware of our condition through every minute of the day. But it is possible to notice more often when we’ve become too zeroed in on something, or drifted off into a daydream. With time, these moments of awareness become more and more frequent, and the amount of tension which builds up in between them becomes smaller and smaller. There is nothing we can do to rush this process, but there are things we can do to slow it down.
It’s natural to want to get results, especially when achieving those results will free us of pain, or allow us to perform more effortlessly, but achieving results in the Alexander technique requires different strategies than in many other things in life. Many of us are taught that to achieve, there are certain things we must do. But when it comes to freeing ourselves from the harmful effects of these patterns of overactivity, the best thing we can do, is non do them.
 Guys, there’s another thing our bodies do which falls into this category…↩︎