When we take Alexander Technique lessons, often what the teacher is asking of us by means of their hands feels unfamiliar and unnatural to us, because it it against our habit, it feels all wrong, but FM Alexander writes about how such thinking is unreliable because it is based on feeling, not on reason. In other words, what feels wrong and unfamiliar is in fact what is more helpful and beneficial to the functioning of our mechanism.
Take for example the balance of the head on top of the spine. The tendency is to pull the head back and down as opposed to forwards and up. If the teacher, by use of their hands, guides the student’s head into the forward and up, it will feel wrong to the student because they have grown so accustomed over the years (or in fact decades) of pulling their head back and down. In other words, the teacher’s guidance is showing the student the opposite of what their habit is. It will feel totally wrong at first, almost to the point of feeling alien, as if they really are pulling their head back and down. But stand the student in front of a mirror and they can see that this is not in fact the case. It was for this reason that FM Alexander used mirrors, both to teach himself and to teach his students. The reflection in the mirror showed what really was the case, not what the student was feeling to be the case, two different things. FM Alexander called this ‘faulty sensory appreciation’. The sense that something felt wrong and unfamiliar based on feeling as opposed to conscious reason.
During lessons it is all too easy to go feeling out what the teacher is asking the student to think about rather than just thinking one’s directions and allowing as we find ourselves at that particular moment, in other words not to interfere with ourselves. Relying on our feelings in terms of where our head is, for example, can be erroneous unless we have a teacher (or in FM’s case, a mirror) to teach us otherwise. Thinking and wishing for a neck free of tension will help us to think of sending our head forward and up. FM Alexander provides us with several illustrations of faulty sensory appreciation in his writings, most notably a man who attempted to hide his thin neck by hiding it within the collar of his clothes, basing how he thought about his neck on feeling as opposed to reason.
Stopping to give ourselves time to make conscious choices about how to move during (and outside of) a lesson helps us to reason things out, to give ourselves time to think things through about how to go about an activity such as sitting or standing. This is why stopping and non-doing are such important aspects of a lesson for it is only in learning to stop that we are in a position to observe our habits with the benefit of having a teacher to guide us. FM Alexander was his own teacher, how painstakingly he stopped to observe himself in three mirrors and wrote his account of how he learned to regain his voice by reorganising his thinking in his second book entitled “The Use of the Self”. Stopping also gives us the opportunity not to rely on feeling as a guide to where we are in space, but rather to base our thinking on reason and to develop a more reliable sensory appreciation.