Zero settings

Updated: Oct 22, 2018

So, you're just standing there minding your own business when something somewhere starts niggling.  You wriggle around a bit to try and ease it up, and it kind of works briefly; but the discomfort keeps returning and even worsens, over time, until...

Eventually you might be so desperate you'll try anything, so you book yourself some Alexander Technique lessons. You discuss this recurrent problem. The teacher takes a look at you and puts his or her hands, delicately, on your head. An odd thing happens; you feel something somewhere relax.  Great - but then - zikes, you feel as though you're about to fall on your face, or keel over backwards. What's going on? It feels really WRONG. 

It feels wrong because it's unfamiliar. You don't normally stand in this more relaxed way. That doesn't make it wrong. In fact, you may just have de-wronged yourself a bit. 

If your customary 'zero' setting involved you standing at an angle of three degrees off absolute minimum effort required to stand, and you just changed that, you're bound to feel as though you're off by three degrees now. 

This is just one example. There are zillions of ways you could be using your musculature with wonky settings. Wonky use can creep up on us. We only notice it when we start hurting; we may have been wonky for years. 

When I was about sixteen, my brother pointed out that I walked 'leaning forward', as if against a high wind.  Looking in my reflection in shop windows as I passed them, I couldn't deny it.  I started holding myself back to correct this and gave it little further thought. BUT - I hadn't stopped using the muscles that were pulling me forward first. So, I was now pulling myself forward AND backward at the same time, doubling my trouble.  

This might sound a bit mad, but it's very common.  Many of us build up odd movement patterns like this; countering 'this way' with more of 'that way'; and yet another way, and another... and the things we do become normal to us - our personalised 'zero' settings. Small wonder, then, that when we stop any of these patterns we feel weird, or off balance. 

When you try to change a movement pattern and it 'feels wrong', you've encountered one of Mr. Alexander's discoveries: the unreliability of feeling. 'Feeling right' won't help you out of the jam. Reasoning out the solution is the only, er, solution; working out what's needed - and what isn't.

In his last book, Alexander wrote,

“When a certain degree of misuse has been reached, the deceptiveness of these impressions reaches a point where they can mislead us into believing that WE ARE DOING SOMETHING WITH SOME PART OF OURSELVES WHEN ACTUALLY WE CAN BE PROVED TO BE DOING SOMETHING QUITE DIFFERENT. This is equally true of things we believe we think.”

I wish he'd also put that last sentence in capital letters, and perhaps in bold, too.  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were all a little more suspicious of the 'zero settings' of our beliefs, as well as our movements?