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.??