It’s a common thing for Alexander Technique students, whether novice or old hand, to have the experience that doing an activity in a new way feels better, but also somehow… wrong.
The old way of sitting wasn’t comfortable. The new way is. But it just doesn’t feel right, a student might say to me.
FM Alexander wrote about this in my all-time favourite chapter from his books, called ‘Incorrect Conception’. His example was a teacher asking a student to bend at the knees. The student does it in their old habitual way. The teacher helps them to bend their knees in a new, more mechanically efficient way. At this point, FM says, for the student bending the knees becomes
…to all intents and purposes, a new act, bringing with it a new feeling. This time the act is not what he is accustomed to, and so it feels wrong to him.*
In a lesson today I likened this to that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks around at the technicolor world of Oz and says “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.” Dorothy was a bit unhappy in Kansas – it was grey, life was hard, and people were giving he ra tough time. But at least it was familiar.
Our bodies are a bit like that. We move in certain ways, ways that are familiar and normal. We may not always be comfortable, but at least everything feels normal and where it should be and, well, somehow right.
It is only when the joy of the feeling right becomes outweighed by the discomfort that people typically come to an Alexander teacher. They are taught how to conceive of and carry out activities in new ways. But no matter how comfortable the new way is, it isn’t going to have the same sense of familiarity as the old way. It isn’t going to feel right. Not at first, anyway.
The challenge for any Alexander Technique student is to recognise that they’re not in Kansas any more. There’s a new world, and it’s brightly coloured. There’s no map, and sometimes it might not seem the safest or most enjoyable place in the world. But it isn’t the same old same old. It has the thrill of adventure.
Are you willing to step out into the new? Are you ready to risk feeling wrong?
* FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.297.
Image by Matthew Mackerras