Like so many of you, people I knew and cared about died or were permanently disabled on September 11. Yet we also came to life that day. I met neighbors I had never known, connected with other Alexander teachers, birth doulas, ministers and healers to help the first responders, supported the local businesses on 7th Avenue in Park Slope where we lived, and found so many sweet, authentic connections. I saw in action what we talk about when we talk about community.
The motivation to begin Alexander lessons came primarily from my curiosity about this method I had heard about for years. The actors and dancers I knew swore by it, saying it kept them injury-free or was a huge help in recovering from the physical demands on people who use their bodies for a living. On a less intellectual level, I felt a nagging pull toward anything body-based, because I suspected that my relationship with my physical self was not what it should be or could be.
The truth is, I had almost no awareness of my body, my senses, or the way I moved through life. I was senseless.
More and more, I'm seeing that stepping back and searching for the big picture in any situation is often all that's needed. Taking the long view is called for right now, don't you think? I'm hearing some discouragement around questions of whether one's individual efforts can make a real difference. Whether in relation to socio-political chaos or about daily mindfulness practice and changing movement habits, folks are expressing doubts about the power of tiny repeatable actions. Is calling your senator effective? Can one big splashy march truly change hearts and minds? Is moving my computer monitor higher or lower really going to stop my neck pain? Is it really so bad to skip a day or two of meditation?
I had my first Alexander Technique lesson 30 years ago. I arrived with a belly full of butterflies and a head full of curiosity. Even then, I was aware enough to recognize the feeling of being on the verge of something significant, the sensation of being carried along by a flow not of my own making.
First in a series of reflections on 30 years of Alexander practice.
The Alexander Technique is a place of refuge. “Refuge” is a Buddhist term that can mean different things to different people, but essentially it points to how the practice of present moment awareness provides a resting place, an unhooking from our conditioned way of being, a return to center, a renewal of wholeness. It’s akin to the notion of “sanctuary,” in the sense of abiding in a sacred space and being protected there. As a practitioner of Vipassana meditation, I am still at the beginning of my understanding of Refuge. As an Alexander teacher and lifelong student, I have daily experiences of what I can legitimately call “taking refuge,” and for that I feel boundlessly grateful.
Awareness = Choice. It’s an equation I have experienced many times under a variety of conditions. Until we’re aware of something, we cannot make authentic and fresh responses, but remain reactive in our fixed ideas. If I want to change a habit, I must first know it thoroughly, catch it as it arises. One of the most common habits is known as endgaining. Endgaining is an Alexander term for getting ahead of ourselves, pushing forward no matter what else might be happening in the present. Endgaining causes dysregulation in the body, is in fact dysfunctional thinking. There are many examples of endgaining in our culture: No pain, no gain. Lean in. Just do it. We are rewarded for reaching the goal, not for the way we get there.
People who come for Alexander lessons anticipate that their balance will improve, and that's almost always a predictable result. Yet most people are surprised to learn that balance is dynamic, not static. One doesn't maintain balance by holding on, but by letting go. Or, to be more precise, by letting flow.