How do you use your body and mind? This is what the Alexander Technique refers to as Use, with a capital ‘U’, and it’s a noun. Use includes not just the way we use our body, but also to the way we use our mind and in an Alexander Technique lesson you will be introduced to something called ‘Direction’ and ‘Inhibition’, to which I referred in an earlier blog.
FM Alexander, in his writings, did not separate mind from body, as he saw it they worked together within the human organism. During an Alexander Technique lesson you will be shown how our thinking influences the manner in which we move, breathe, speak etc. Using a chair, a teacher invites the pupil to withhold consent to move, but rather to stop and and prevent the urge to move out of the chair without first having considered how to move from the chair into standing, and finally to give consent to move. Again, it is the ‘how’ to move which initially presents the pupil with the greatest challenge, because of the urge to ‘do’ this at all costs, but essentially it is the ‘how’ to think that is of the utmost importance.
Alexander Technique has nothing to do with getting in and out of a chair, in fact the chair can be taken away and there would still be something to work on in terms of bending from the hips as if to sit down. It is far more to do with one’s manner of thinking, thinking about where one is in space, whether one’s heels are in touch with the planet, whether one’s neck is free and, most importantly, whether one’s head is going forward and up. So you can see that the thought process relates to certain areas of the body but there is no manipulation of these parts of the body, it is merely a thinking process which allows the body to come into improved balance, co-ordination, length and width. This also benefits the way you organise your awareness and general manner, usually people find that they have developed a calmer manner as a result of taking lessons.
A musician may find that they are in pain and not realise that this is due to them making a lot of unnecessary muscular effort whilst playing their instrument, the same goes for singers when using their voices. How they are using their mechanism influences how they function, as Alexander wrote ‘Use affects functioning’. It therefore makes sense that a teacher’s job is to show such a musician or singer what it is that they are doing which is affecting the quality of their performance.
This goes for anyone’s Use, not just such professionals but they provide a good example when it comes to examples of Use. Watching performers who have good Use is also a good way of considering Use, performers such as Fred Astaire, the violinist Heifitz or the opera singer Pavarotti are good examples. If you watch clips of their performances, you will notice the minimal effort they are making with their mechanism, their head, neck and back relationship being good, they make it all look so effortless. This ease of the mechanism is what an Alexander Technique lesson is encouraging, encouraging end-gaining to be a thing of the past (end-gaining is striving for an end without first thinking through how one is going about attaining that end, as we saw when referring to getting in and out of a chair above).
Preventing what we don’t want, i.e. shortening in stature, tightening muscles which do not need to be tightened, rushing and doing in terms of end-gaining is Inhibition. Stopping and thinking through how one is going to move, how one is breathing, is Direction. Both of these are always taught in a lesson and go towards improving one’s Use. No need for special exercises or equipment, you can come to an Alexander Technique lesson dressed as you are, whatever your age, occupation or circumstances and you will find that you will always have something to learn about yourself.