Not liking the feeling - or feeling nothing at all

Well now, this is an odd thing about the Alexander Technique.  Sometimes (especially in early lessons) people make a constructive, positive change, i.e. they let go of some unnecessary tension, and it either feels weird and wrong or they don’t feel anything different at all, even though other class members might be witnessing huge changes happening from their viewpoint. 

What’s the point of it all, then? Aren’t you supposed to feel wonderful and light and floaty and fluffy and happy and be able to dance like Fred Astaire, now? Wasn’t Fred Astaire mentioned somewhere in the introductory lecture? Why isn’t it ‘working’?

Many people do get a nice floaty feeling when they change, but this really isn't the point.  It also makes those who can't feel anything or who feel unnervingly 'wrong' when they've changed even more dispirited that ‘it’s not working’, and some of these students give up. Others have an inkling that there’s something in all this still worth pursuing; to them, the rewards will surely come. It’s not a ‘six lessons and you’re done’ discipline, but an incremental process needing a degree of patience and commitment.  Progress is gradual and incremental.  There’s no end point at which you stop improving, which is why I signed up in the first place and why I’m still at it.

Here are two examples.

1.    ‘Not liking the feeling’.  There are many examples of this I could share from other students and sometimes from myself as a student too.  The most recent happened only a couple of days ago, in an introductory class. “What does that do?” I asked the student who had just changed and become demonstrably more flexible.  “It feels wonky – and weird.” She really didn’t like it at all, it was so unfamiliar.  I asked the rest of the class what they saw, which was nothing wonky, only more openness and softness around the face, neck and shoulders.  Because it was unfamiliar, it was unsettling, even though it was evidently better.  

Over time, should this student choose to continue, her 'wonky and weird' new feeling will probably dissipate; but it just shows how unreliable feelings can be, how they’re no guide for making constructive change.  Mr. Alexanders niece, Marjory Barlow, quoted him as saying, “The time will come when you will be able to trust your feeling; when that time comes you won’t want to because you’ll have something so much more reliable…”  That something is a certain kind of thinking - guiding yourself consciously with  your reasoning.

2.    'Not feeling anything'.  When Don Weed, the ITM head of training, first had lessons, he was only going along (grudgingly) in order to qualify for a module of his university degree.  During the first class he changed significantly, growing literally inches taller in the chair.  “What does that do?  What do you notice?” asked the teacher.  “Nothing.” The other students watching couldn’t believe it because he’d changed so much.  The same thing happened in his second, third and fourth lessons. “What do you notice?” “Nothing.”  The same thing would happen each time and everyone else in the class could see it; he would change and get several inches taller.  In fact, it wasn’t until his twelfthlesson that his cautious, uncertain answer to the question, “What do you notice?” was, “… … something.”  

Almost fifty years later, Don Weed is a world-class teacher, has founded a whole new school of Alexander Technique teacher training and now also trains trainers of teachers.  So, there you go.

Both these instances illustrate why perhaps the Alexander Technique isn’t the super-big hit self-improvement method of choice that it deserves to be.  It doesn’t offer instant gratification and it’s not a quick fix, and people are usually in a hurry for a quick fix.  As Mr. Alexander himself wrote, “hardly one in a hundred would take the trouble.”  

But for those who do ‘take the trouble’, the rewards are as immeasurable as the scope of his work is.

photo by Spencer Dahl for Unsplash