5 Alexander Technique steps to everyday happiness: 2. Rejoice that you are fallible

cupboard

In my teaching room, I have a cupboard. It has two main uses. Firstly, it stows my computer away out of sight. This is its practical use. But it has a far more important function than that.

It stores all of my students’ sticks.

Sticks? I hear you ask.

Yes, sticks. The sticks they beat themselves up with.

Mental sticks

Obviously I don’t mean actual physical sticks. I’m talking about something far more insidious, though just as damaging. I am talking about the things that people believe about themselves and say to me during their lessons.

“I have such terrible posture.”
“I sit really badly.”
“My right leg is okay. But my left leg is really bad.”
“I know that my walking isn’t good, but there’s nothing I can do to make it better.”
“If my furniture at work was better, I wouldn’t have this neck pain.”

 

Why these statements are sticks

1. They are examples of what I was talking about last week: they are examples of thinking that is stuck in a groove. They are conclusions masquerading as statements of fact, and the reasoning on which those conclusions are based has long been forgotten. The assumptions are hidden. And hidden assumptions are dangerous!

2. They are conclusions that assume that improvement is impossible. When someone says “I have terrible posture,” typically the unstated ending to the sentence is something like “and it can’t change.” And the student sincerely believes this, because so far they haven’t been able to change what is bothering them. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t change.

3. Because these statements assume that change is impossible, they are a means of abdicating self-responsibility. Think about it. If something can’t change, the how much responsibility do we need to take for changing it? None! Instead, we claim the apparently unchangeable behaviour and use it to make ourselves feel bad.

 

Give up the stick!

This is what I tell my students. I fact, I hold out my hand and require them to give them up! Here is why.

1. Change is possible.

2. Change begins by owning up to the things that we do to ourselves. Or as FM Alexander would put it, we need to “acknowledge in fact that [we] suffer from mental delusions regarding [our] physical acts.” *

3. Doing this is not an admission of failure. It is an admission of power. As soon as we stop beating ourselves up and own up to the unnecessary muscular activity we are doing to ourselves, we have gained power over it. We are no longer slaves to discomfort. We have, in fact, taken the first major step to mastering it.

So give up your sticks. Send them to me – write them down in the comments and leave them there. And then you’ll have taken a leap away from discomfort and towards everyday happiness.

 

* FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.59.

 Image by Mati Martek, stock.xchng

5 Alexander Technique steps to everyday happiness: 1. Get out of the groove!

Forest_path_in_Yvelines_-_France

Last week I wrote an article all about FM Alexander’s concept of happiness. I talked about FM’s desire that we should rediscover what true happiness is all about (in his opinion): being able to take pleasure in even something as apparently simple as sitting or standing. You see, if we take pleasure in even these small acts, then we will be increasing the amount of pleasurable experience over the whole range of our day.

But how do we do this? This question may be a live one for you, especially if you are like many of my beginning students and find even just sitting a tiring and uncomfortable experience. How do we even begin to think about taking pleasure in sitting or standing?

By taking some simple steps, and being prepared to work at them. For the next five weeks I will give you some steps that FM Alexander wrote about that have the potential to improve your relationship with your body in even the simplest of movements. But just reading these steps will not be enough to magically make a change in your life. You will need to have a go at applying these steps in your life. You will need to do a little bit of work.

Do we have a deal?

Okay, then let’s begin!

 

Get out of the groove!

In his first book, Alexander wrote a lot about overcoming mental habits, because he believed that physical difficulties came about as a direct consequence of unhelpful thinking. And when wanting to control mental habits, FM wrote,

“the first and only real difficulty is to overcome the preliminary inertia of mind … The brain becomes used to thinking in a certain way, it works in a groove, and when sent in action, glides along the familiar, well-worn path…”*

I think it is fair to say that on certain topics we all have set views and ideas. But did you know that we can have set ideas on even the apparently simple things in life, like sitting? Alexander describes these using the picture of grooves, or well-worn paths.

Sometimes these grooves are useful and helpful. Sometimes they are not. For example, many of my students first come to class with the notion that ‘sitting up straight’ is good, and slumping (slouching) is bad. They are furthermore secretly convinced that they do the latter (the slumping) most of the time, and therefore work very hard at trying to sit up straight (usually involving arching their back).

There are two problems with this.

1. They have never really thought about what might be involved in ‘sitting up straight’, and so end up using a lot of unnecessary muscular activity in a way that causes them to be tired and achey.

2. Even more importantly, they have never questioned the underlying assumptions of their behaviour model. First, who says they slump most of the time?! And second, why is sitting up straight inherently good, and slumping inherently bad?

(And yes, I know that might be a phrase you thought you’d never hear from an Alexander Technique teacher. But think about it. When you sit on your sofa of an evening with a nice glass of something to watch your favourite movie, do you really want to be sitting absolutely upright? Wouldn’t a nice, efficient slump be more appropriate here? Just a thought…)

 

The task for the week.

So your task for the next week is this. Pick an activity. Pick something simple, like sitting or standing, or getting out of a chair. And think about what assumptions you may have made about that activity. What are you convinced is true? And what if you played, just for fun, with not having those assumptions. What would be possible then?

Sometimes it is our convictions about what it true and unchanging that are the very things that are holding us back. They are the groove, the well-worn path. If we lift our feet from the path, just for a step, then a whole forest of adventure is waiting for us.

 

*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.67.??

 

 

Can the Alexander Technique help me be happier?

Today’s post is all about happiness, and why FM Alexander believed that doing his work could make students happier in their daily lives.

legoplay

At dinner tonight, I told my son that I was expecting a student this evening, even though it is school half-term holiday. He put down his fork and looked at me. “I don’t like it when you have students at night,” he said. “I like it when you have students while I’m here downstairs. Then I get to hear you laughing.”

“You hear me laughing?” I asked.

“Not just you,” he said. “Lessons sound like fun.”

An abundance of laughter is not what students expect when they sign up for Alexander Technique lessons. And sometimes they are surprised when they start having fun. But FM Alexander would not have been surprised at all. In fact, he devoted a whole chapter in his second book to the relationship of his work to happiness: why people experience a lack of happiness, and how doing Alexander’s work can reverse this lack and change it to abundance.

 

Why we are lacking happiness

FM wrote, “the lack of real happiness manifested by the majority of adults today is due to the fact that they are experiencing, not an improving, but a continually deteriorating use of their psycho-physical selves.”*

In other words, because the majority of us don’t use our bodies as efficiently or appropriately as we could, over time our bodies begin to feel the pinch of our less-than-perfect use of ourselves. We get aches and pains. We suffer irritations of body and mind. Our experiences of happiness become shorter and more fleeting.

FM is suggesting that our difficulties in being happy are a knock-on effect of our general lack of understanding of how to use our bodies and minds most effectively. And if we want to experience greater happiness, we need to attend to the way we use ourselves first.

 

How to turn lack of happiness to abundance

Alexander’s view is very simple. In order to experience a greater quantity and quality of happiness in our lives, we need to learn the principles of using our minds and bodies more efficiently and effectively.

He writes, “one of the greatest facts in human development is the building up of confidence which comes as the result of that method of learning by which the pupil is put in possession of the correct means whereby he can attain his end before he makes any attempt to gain it.”**

In other words, if we learn Alexander’s principles, if we actually take the time to think about how to use our bodies even in apparently simple acts such as sitting or standing, we can develop not just an intellectual interest, but genuine pleasure. And FM’s picture of happiness, repeated often in the chapter, is that of a healthy child using its body beautifully and naturally in an activity that interests it.

So, to recap, here is FM’s recipe for happiness:

·        Happiness (or the lack of it) is a byproduct of how we use our minds and bodies;

·        If we want to improve the quality of our happiness, we need to think about how we go about our daily activities, even something as ordinary as sitting;

·        If we can control the means whereby we achieve our goals, we will have success. And this leads to that happiness of a child who is fully occupied in something it loves.

And if we think about these things, then my son – and all our children – will delight in hearing us laugh more often. And wouldn’t that be a great world to be a part of?

 

*FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.382.
** ibid., p.387, p.388.

Image by Afonso Lima, stock.xchng

Can the Alexander Technique cure me?

This post is prompted by the students I have had recently who have experienced significant medical problems. They come to me in pain, and want to know if the Alexander Technique can cure them. I have even been asked if the Technique could help fix a prolapsed disc (like a slipped disc, but worse) without surgery. So… Can the Alexander Technique cure medical problems?

Pretty much…no.

I can almost hear the intake of breath. Yes, the Alexander Technique is fantastic, and any teacher you ask will tell you stories of students who have begun lessons in significant pain and discomfort who experienced dramatic improvement. But the Alexander Technique is not medicine, and does not cure structural conditions. The Alexander Technique deals with functional matters – what FM Alexander called our manner of use – the stuff we do to ourselves that limits us.

ParkBench

The difference between structure and function.

One of the most striking examples of the difference between a structural condition and functioning was FM’s brother, AR Alexander. He suffered severe back injuries in a horse riding accident, so severe that doctors initially believed he would not walk again. He initially walked with two canes, but later with just one. A contemporary described his walk:

When I knew him … he could walk, with a curious swaying motion, for a considerable distance, his trunk very upright and his legs swinging smoothly from the hips. *

Clearly AR had suffered a major structural problem. Yet he not only was able to walk but did it so well that he was accosted by at least one passer-by who was struck by the way he moved.

[A passer-by] stopped  in front of him one day and said, “Sir, I’ve watched you for a long time and I wish I knew what  you have that other peole don’t have.” “I’ll warrant you do,” said AR laconically, and swinging up onto his cane he [walked away]. **

This is the difference between structure and function in a nutshell. AR’s structure was compromised. But he was able to use the compromised structure that he had very well indeed. As a result of the time he spent working with the Alexander Technique, functionally AR’s movement was so free and easy that it invited wonderment.

If you are reading this and you are suffering from pain or discomfort, I bet you have one question for me right now:

 

So how do we know if a problem is structural or not?

We don’t.

This is why I recommend that students seek advice from primary healthcare. If your back is painful, you really should get it checked by a doctor. Yes, I know this is obvious, but so often people don’t take this step!

However, even if there is a structural problem, an Alexander Technique teacher may be able to help you to deal with your reaction to the problem or injury. So often in order to avoid discomfort, we subtly alter our movement to ‘accommodate’ the injury we have. And these accommodations may actually do us more harm than good.

So can the Alexander Technique fix my friend’s prolapsed disc? No! But I can help them use their body more easily and efficiently within the bounds of that structural problem. And moving better may even aid their recovery, making it faster and less painful. And that, surely, must be worthwhile in anyone’s book.

 

* Frank Pierce Jones, Freedom to Change, p. 69.
** ibid.

Image by housey21, stock.xchng

 

Do children benefit from Alexander Technique?

When children and Alexander Technique are mentioned together in the same sentence, it is usually in something like this form: “Children don’t really need Alexander Technique, do they? I mean, when you look at little children, they just move so smoothly and gracefully…”

Well, yes. But…

What about the times when they just don’t? Can the Alexander Technique help children?

ballchild

Why children move well… or not.

FM Alexander was, from the first, profoundly convinced of the importance of his work to children. And as he pointed out in his first book in 1910, children are born with tremendous potential, a potential that we as parents, educators, friends etc. begin to shape almost from the very first day of life. A baby is born with everything it needs to move freely and easily; it is born with an intelligence that soaks up information and impressions insatiably.

Some of what our children take in, we can control; some of it is beyond our intervention. But everything that our children see or do makes an impression. Sometimes the impression made is positive; sometimes it is not. And we parents and educators form the primary source of information and instruction for our children. Whether through imitation or through overt instruction, our children learn what to think, how to think, and how to move through us. And we all, of course, move perfectly, think logically and exhibit open-mindedness at all times…

Hm.

This is why FM Alexander was so concerned about children. This is why he wished to teach children his work: so that they would have a framework of principles and tools that would help them learn how to think and how to move. Alexander wished to prevent our children from suffering the same problems that we adults experience.

Children and the Alexander Technique

FM Alexander taught children. In fact, they seem to be mentioned quite often in his work. The youngest that I can recall seeing at this moment was 3 1/2.* He even opened a school, first in England, then in the USA (it evacuated there during World War 2) because he was convinced that education of children was the key to his dream: “I look for a time when the child shall be so taught and trained that whatever the circumstance… it will without effort be ble to adapt itself to its environment, and be enabled to live its life in the enjoyment of perfect health, physical and mental.”**

 

My own story

My son is seven. He had his first proper Alexander lesson (not from me!) when he was 4 1/2. He loved it, and it made a big difference to the constant arching in his upper back that was causing problems with his flexibility.

He has watched students coming in and out of the house for years now. And just recently, he asked about why they came. So I told him a story about how sometimes people can’t do the things they love to do as well as they’d like, because they seem to get in their own way. And I gave him an example that he could relate to (from memory, about moving arms while swimming). And he asked me for a lesson.

The lesson was duly given, changes happened, and my son’s interest was piqued. He demanded another lesson the next day. And the day after that, he wanted to know about where his head stopped and his neck started. So we got out the anatomy books. Just as Alexander predicted in his second book, my son was hooked.***

 

Recommendations

I think Alexander Technique lessons are great for kids. My son has benefited, and I have seen big changes in other children that I have taught. So if you want to investigate this for your child, go right ahead!Just keep in mind the following things:

  1. Look for a teacher who is happy to teach kids, or who has experience of doing so;
  2. Make sure they have some sort of Child Protection training. In the UK, make sure they have a CRB Disclosure;
  3. Expect them to ask you to stay in the room, and probably to join in!

Our children are the most precious asset we have. It is our responsibility to give them the very best tools possible for navigating their future lives. And I strongly believe that the Alexander Technique is probably the best tool around for the job.

 

*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.82.
** ibid., p.93.
***FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Edition, p.381.
Image by Monika Jurczynska, stock.xchng

How long does it take to learn the Alexander Technique?

Person-Playing-Violin-Posters

“How long does it take to learn the Alexander Technique?”

This was one of the questions that I was asked at the beginning of my group class at Bristol Folk House last night. I love my Folk House students for many reasons. One of them is that they aren’t afraid to ask the questions that I know every student is thinking, but few are game enough to put into words.

It’s a great question, but it needed some clarification. “What do you mean?” I asked.

My student replied that he felt he was having some success in applying what he was learning in class to his everyday life, but he wanted to know how long it would take to be able to do the Alexander Technique really well, and do it all by himself.

Now, my student is expecting a certain type of answer to this question, probably either a time-related answer (x number of months) or an answer about application (depends on how much you practice). Instead, I asked a question in return, and asked the class to answer it. How about you have a go, too!

 

How long does it take to learn the violin?

 

I’ll give you a moment to think of your answer.

 

Got one? Great! We’ll continue. 🙂

My Folk House students gave answers like these:

·        It depends on how good you want to be

·        That’s relative, depending on how much you practice

·        Learning is a constantly evolving process, so you’re always learning

And all of these answers are, on one level, true. How quickly you progress in anything does depend on the quality and frequency of your practice. And learning is indeed a constantly evolving process. But if we settle for these answers, when will be finished learning how to play the violin?

Never.

My Folk House students didn’t look happy with this answer, and neither am I. Never is an unhappy word.

So what if we turned this on its head? Try this for size. As soon as we know that if we pluck or draw a bow across the string of the violin, and that we can change the note by changing the length of the string, we can play the violin. Everything else is refinement.

Can you see that this way of looking at the issue is instantly empowering? A couple of basic facts, and we have the basic tools to go away and work the rest out entirely by ourselves, if we choose to. How fantastic!

The Alexander Technique is no different. In fact, FM Alexander believed that we need to do this stuff for ourselves. Many sources quote him as saying “You can do what I do, if you do what I did.” And what FM did was to work it all out for himself.

As soon as we know that a change in the relationship between our head and our body can make a difference to our freedom and ease of motion; once we understand the power and effectiveness that lies in stopping the unnecessary stuff that is getting in our way; then we have enough basic knowledge to go away and do the Alexander Technique for ourselves.

Everything else is refinement.

Image by Bethany Carlson, stock.xchng

Alexander’s Three Steps to Success in Anything

person-writing

Is there something that you love to do, that you’d like to do better? Maybe it’s your Alexander Technique. Or maybe writing, or singing (my two current obsessions), or running… Maybe you’d like some advice on how to do these things better? Well…

Over the past week I’ve read three separate blogs by three thoroughly different writers, and all three have had the same theme: the importance of doing the work.

The first was by Seth Godin, and was called Talker’s Block. He wrote about the fact that people don’t eveer complain about not being able to talk – they just get on with it, because they don’t necessarily care about the quality of every word they speak. Yet writers can fall into the trap of caring about every word they write, to the point where they can stop writing altogether. What would happen if they just wrote a certain amount every day, and worried about the quality later?

The second article was by Chris Guillebeau. He wrote about the fact that writing a very large number of words, and more importantly, writing them regularly, was the key to his ability to write effective prose fairly quickly. The quality didn’t come first; the word count did.

Finally, author Sarah Duncan told a story about artist JMW Turner, who while out sketching was accosted by an admirer who wished to buy his sketch. When Turner asked for sixty guineas for a sketch that took 10 minutes to produce, the admirer was astonished. ‘Ah yes,’ JMW Turner is supposed to have replied.  ’10 minutes, and 40 years of experience.’ In other words,if you do something often enough for long enough, you are going to achieve a level of proficiency. Maybe even mastery.

This is something my singing teacher has been trying to tell me for… well, I am embarrassed to tell you how long. He doesn’t emphasise quantity of practice. He emphasises consistency and regularity.

You need to do the work.

This is something that FM Alexander also emphasised, and was the key to the creation of the work we call the Alexander Technique. If you read the chapter called Evolution of a Technique that describes the process of creation, you will notice all the references to time or consistent practice and experimentation. For example:

“I repeated the act many times…”
“I recited again and again in front of the mirror…”
“…all I could do was to go on patiently experimenting before the mirror. After some months…”
“It is difficult to describe here in detail my various experiences during this long period…” *

And all these references occur within three pages. There are plenty more in the rest of the chapter.

Doing the work

Okay, you say to me. We get it. If we want to be good at this Alexander stuff, or anything else for that matter, we need to work. But how do we do that?

Helpfully, Alexander told us that, too. He is quoted by a number of writers, including his niece Marjory Barlow, as saying this:

You can do what I do, if you do what I did.

So we need to:

  • Experiment. Try stuff out. Play. Have fun.
  • Do it a lot. By which I mean, do a bit every day.
  • Give ourselves the luxury of time. We live in a culture that expects instant results. This is far too great a burden to place on ourselves. If we give ourselves time, we take away a layer of stress and pressure to succeed. And that means, funnily enough, that we’ll be more relaxed and open, and therefore in the best condition to achieve success.

Success, according to Alexander, isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a mystery. It’s just a matter of doing the work.

And we can all do that. Can’t we?

 

FM Alexander, Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, pp.413-415.
Image by kristja, stock.xchng

Trust vs. Proof: Alexander Technique and ‘Getting it Right’

Today’s post is inspired by my students who ask me ‘Am I getting it right?’ What I want to talk about is:

  • What my students are really asking for
  • How this relates to the difference between proof and trust

‘Am I getting it right?’

This is a common question in lessons. Typically a student had a good experience in last week’s lesson, and they’ve been so inspired that they’ve thought about it all week. They come in, sit down, and say something like, “I’ve thought about this thing all week. And I’m wondering, am I doing it right now?”

That is what the student says. But if I probe, their underlying meaning is usually this: “I think I’m doing better with this thing. But I want you as an expert to agree with that.”

They’ve worked hard. They think they’re doing okay. But they want me to validate their opinion. They want proof.

proof

Proof

One of my favourite movies is called, amusingly, Proof. It’s a little-known Australian flick starring Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe (pre-Gladiator), and is about a blind photographer. Well, that’s the way it was sold. It is actually about a blind man (Martin) who has an overwhelming distrust of other people. He photographs the world so that he has some sort of objective ‘proof’ that their spoken versions of the world are truthful. The tag line on the posters was ‘Before love comes trust. Before trust comes proof.’

Of course, the whole point of the movie was that Martin is setting his standards impossibly high. He expects those close to him to be perfectly truthful and consistent all the time. And he wants proof of this before he will trust them. But there will never be sufficient proof. In the course of the movie, Martin is forced to learn that everyone makes a mistake, and that the nature of love and friendship is such that if he wants friends, Martin will have to trust first, and forgive if necessary.

In other words, trust and proof are not conditional. In fact, they are could almost be said to be mutually exclusive. If you need proof of something, then you aren’t trusting.

Trust, proof and FM Alexander

This is something that FM Alexander had to learn. At the end of his lengthy experiments that led to the work we now call the Alexander Technique, Alexander realised that he needed to have “trust in my reasoning processes to bring me safely to my ends,” and that it needed to be “a genuine trust’ not a half-trust needing the assurance of feeling right as well.” *

Yet in the very next sentence, Alexander says that he decided he “must at all costs work out some plan by which to obtain concrete proof ” that his process was successful.

Hm.

Well, by sheer dint of hard thinking and ever such a lot of practice, Alexander came up with a plan that would give him the concrete proof that he desired. At the time. But when he wrote his final published work in 1941, Alexander could say this:

“Only time and experience in the working out of the technique will convince him that where the ‘means-whereby’ are right for the purpose, desired ends will come. They are inevitable.. We should reserve all thought, energy and concern for the means whereby we may command the manner of their coming.” **

I don’t know about you, but if I had two boxes, one labelled Proof and one labelled Trust, and I had to put this quote in just one of them, I’d be choosing the Trust box.

Lesson of the day

If we use our tremendous powers of reasoning, make a plan, then stick to the plan; if we keep sticking to the plan; then we will have success. It is inevitable. So do you want proof? Or are you brave enough to trust in yourself? Tell me in the comments!

 

* FM Alexander, Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete edition, p.427.

** FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat complete edition, p.587.

Don’t stay being a victim!

chasm

This post is likely to get me into trouble and upset a few people. Why? Because today I want to talk about the concept of being a victim, and the place of self-responsibility in the Alexander Technique.

Over the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve met students who’ve had some really tough things happen to them. Near fatal car accidents, severe motorbike accidents, physical violence, workplace bullying, sudden and severe health scares… Nasty things. Things that we wouldn’t wish on anyone. Some of my students have suffered physical or emotional agony that has persisted, in some cases, for years.

We probably all know people who have suffered something in those realms. Perhaps one of you reading this article today is in a similar situation. And it is you in particular that I want to talk to. Because I have realised something important: my students who have suffered all have one thing in common. They are remarkable for the way in which they handled the events that have struck and laid their lives waste.

How did my students react to being a victim of nasty events or circumstances? By not being a victim.

 

The two meanings of victim

In that last paragraph I deliberately used the word ‘victim’ in two different ways. In the first sentence I used the word as you would speak of a victim of crime; to quote the Oxford English Dictionary, “one who suffers severely in body or property through cruel or oppressive treatment,” or even in the softer sense of “one who suffers hardship, injury or loss.”* In other words, someone who has had something unpleasant happen to them. This is a noun. It is a statement of fact.

Sometimes, however, the term ‘victim’ moves from being a noun, a fact, to becoming a decriptor or a label. It becomes an identity in which people can clothe themselves. And it can be such a danger.

I’m sure we’ve all known people who have failed to move on from an incident which hurt them. Years later, they still refer back to the incident, speaking of it in similar terms as soon after the incident happened. They just don’t seem to be able to let it go. And as we look at them, we see that in some way they are stuck, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, in a way that is not helpful to them or to anyone else around them. It is a painful thing to witness.

This concept of victimisation led author Melody Beattie to write:

“We do not have to be so victimized by life… We are not victims. We do not have to be victims. That is the whole point! … We can do what we need to do to take care of ourselves… If we can’t do anything about the circumstance, we can change our attitude. We can do the work within: courageously face our issues so we are not victimized… We are victims no more unless we want to be.”**

And Melody should know. She survived drug and alcohol dependency, divorce, co-dependency and the death of a child. She knows about pain and suffering, and she knows about the necessity of moving on.

So what tools can the Alexander Technique supply to help with this? Two very powerful concepts – self-responsibility and the freedom to choose.

1. Self responsibility. Think about the event that happened. Ask yourself if there was anything that you did/said/did not do/did not say that contributed to the event. If no, then great! If yes, then you’ve got a great place to start learning and healing and moving forward. This is the equivalent of FM Alexander asking “was [it] something that I was doing … that was the cause of the trouble?”*** It’s a simple question, and yet so very powerful.

2. Choice. The bad event has happened, or is happening. Ask yourself if you are able to choose your response to that event. This is what Alexander did when he began his investigations into how to alleviate his vocal problems. He realised that  he needed to “make the experience of receiving the stimulus to speak and of refusing to do anything immediately in response.”**** For example, one of my students historically had a terrible relationship with her parents. Through reading FM’s words, she decided to see if she could make the experience of receiving the stimulus of being with her parents, but refuse to do anything immediately in response. What she discovered was that she could create the space in which to choose to respond without her usual rancour. What her parents said still irked her; she simply chose not to respond to it.

 

Don’t get me wrong – I know this is a tough ask. I know that what I am suggesting is difficult, and may even seem practically impossible. And yet it is the way forward. I’m not asking you to believe me. Believe Melody. Believe my students. And believe in yourself.

 

* Oxford English Dictionary online, http://www.oed.com
** Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go, Hazelden, pp.209-210.
*** FM Alexander, Use of the Self in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.412.
**** ibid., p.424.

 

Why BBC Apprentice Tom’s back pain chair won’t work!

chair

The BBC TV series The Apprentice finished on Sunday when inventor Tom Pellereau won Lord Sugar’s £250 000 investment. I’ve like Tom all the way through the series, so I was a very happy viewer. There was, however, one moment in the programme when I simply hooted with laughter: when Tom first announced his business plan. Tom plans to create an anti back pain chair that will prevent injury and discomfort. This is his explanation of his business plan about 12 minutes into the final episode:

“The business is to save organisations money by reducing the personal and financial cost of back pain…The business is two-fold. It’s a service to measure the likelihood of employees having back pain, and it’s a set of chairs or furniture that will actually help you to train those muscles so that you’re much, much less likely to have back pain or other problems in the future.”*

Tom’s goal here is a good and noble one (even if Lord Sugar didn’t like it a bit!). Back pain and musculo-skeletal conditions generally are a major cause of workplace absence. When Dame Carol Black wrote a report on occupational health for the UK government in 2009, the economists working with her estimated the cost of workplace absence generally at one hundred billion pounds per year – with musculo-skeletal disorders being the most significnt culprit.**

So Tom’s instincts are correct. Back pain is a major issue in the UK. It is a major issue for employers.

So why do I say that Tom’s chair idea won’t work?

Tom is basing his whole business plan on two assumptions:

1. Back pain is caused by weak muscles

2. A back pain chair can be designed that will fix the weak muscles.

Let’s take these two points.

 

The Fallacy of Weak Muscles

There are any number of people out there, usually trying to sell you fancy chairs or shoes, that will tell you that any problems you may have with poise or posture are the result of weak muscles. Alexander puts it  little differently. He says that such problems are caused by undue rigidity in some muscles and undue flccidity in other muscles; but that the rigidity is found “in those parts of the muscular mechanism which are forced to perform duties other than those intended by nature.”

In other words, we use our bodies in ways other than intended by nature, for whatever reason. Some muscles then have to overwork to achieve the misuse. So Tom’s solution wouldn’t work, because it doesn’t deal with the misuse, and it doesn’t deal with the overworked muscles. In fact, it would try to strengthen the weak ones, so that all the muscles would be overworking!

And just in case the reader didn’t get his point, Alexander said, “all conscious effort exerted in attempts at physical actions causes in the great majority of people today such tension of the muscular system concerned as to led to exaggeration rather than eradication of the defects already present.” ***

 

Chairs are not the answer.

Chairs were the subject of my very first article, Teach the Chairs? In it I talked about the fact that, in Alexander’s view, chairs just don’t solve the problem. And it makes sense. If it is our misuse that causes the muscular rigidity in the first place, can we really expect that just purchasing a piece of furniture is going to fix the misuse?

We are smarter than furniture. Put bluntly, if we want to slump about, not even the fanciest ergonomic chair is going to stop us for long. If we have certain fixed ideas or erroneous preconceptions about what we need to do to sit at our computer, the provision of a fancy chair may make our employer feel better, but the chair cannot work on our misconceptions and change our thinking. Only we can do that.

Luckily, Lord Sugar didn’t much like the chair idea. He preferred the nail files. I admire his good judgement.

* Transcribed from the BBC TV programme The Apprentice. See www.bbc.co.uk/apprentice
** Dame Carol Blck interviewed by Mark Porter on Radio 4, Case Notes, 7 April 2009.
*** FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.62.
Image by winnond, FreeDigitalPhotos.net