“Just tell me what to do!” – Why direct instructions won’t help you

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The Gopher’s Creed – “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” – pops up in my classes quite often. People come to me for coaching because there is something about the way they are going about their daily activities that is unsatisfactory. And often they want me to tell them exactly what is not satisfactory, and then give them a set of instructions on how to fix it.

But I won’t do that.

I refuse to be drawn, not because I’m mean (though that may be true!) or because I have ulterior motives. I’m not giving my students what they think they want because… It won’t help them.

Here’s why.

1. Too big/too detailed. My student sees the problem as specific and only involving a small number of factors. Usually I look at the student and see the specific problem as part of a larger, more general pattern of misuse. If I gave them a recipe, it would be so big and have so many parts that they’d be swamped.

2. Too unfamiliar. Students think that, because they can do what they “will to do” in familiar acts with familiar sensory feedback,  they’ll be able to do what they plan in acts that are unfamiliar. This is like me thinking that I’ll be able to make my arms function completely correctly the first time I attempt a serve in tennis, just because I can use them to play a recorder!

3. Feelings aren’t fact. FM Alexander got told by his acting teacher to ‘take hold of the floor with his feet’. It took him years to realise the tension in his legs might not have been what his teacher had in mind.

As FM  says, “The belief is very generally held that if only we are to,d what to do in order to correct a wrong way of doing something, we can do it, and that if we FEEL we are doing it, all is well. Al my experience, however, goes to show that this belief is a delusion.” *

4. Doing too much. Most students run into troubles in the first place because they are using too much muscular tension, and often in muscles that can’t possible do the job the student is trying to use them for. And then they want me to give them something to DO to fix this?!

 

So if I’m not going to give my students a recipe to do, what DO I give them?

  • The chance to experience doing less – less effort, better directed effort.
  • An opportunity to think through with clarity what they actually need to do when they carry out their chosen activity. This doesn’t take long, but I find people need encouragement to allow themselves the time to carry out this step. They are too busy making haste to do what it takes to really speed ahead.
  • Knowledge about what moves where and how. A bit of knowledge about the body is priceless.
  • The challenge to keep thinking – even when it seems hard, even when the results feel odd, even if it seems wrong.

So ditch the desire for a set of instructions to do, and take the challenge of choosing to do less and think more.

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the IRDEAT complete edition, p.418.
Image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalphotos.net

Feeling right, or having success… Which will you choose?

ducks

I have been having a real battle in my tennis lessons lately. My struggle is with my backhand. My teacher has given me very clear instructions on the technique of how to hit a good backhand stroke. When I follow her instructions, I have success.

But do I always follow her instructions?

Nup.

Because, you see, sometimes I decide that I know better. The technique that she has taught me works… but it doesn’t feel right. It feels, well, odd, and new, and… Wrong, frankly. And because it doesn’t feel right, more often than not I decide to go my own way, and do what feels right to me.

And the resulting shot stinks.

But it isn’t just me that has this experience. One of my students recently had a very clear choice between walking in the way that she had decided was most efficient and anatomically correct (but which made her feel like she was sticking her rear end out like a duck), or walking in her usual way and putting up with her lower back aching.

According to FM Alexander, it all comes down to a simple choice.* When I play tennis, I can either go about things in my old usual way and get the same crummy results that I always have, or I can actually listen to my teacher and wholeheartedly follow her instructions. My student can walk in the old achey way, or put her trust in the new way she has decided is best for her purpose.

Even when it feels odd, or wrong.
Even when it feels uncomfortable.
Even when I think I probably look like an idiot.
Even if she feels like a duck.

So last week I challenged you to pick an activity and think about what you would actually need to do to complete the activity. This week my challenge to you is to keep refining your plan in odd moments through the day, but to go one step further. Every so often, maybe once a day, put your plan into action. It may feel great. It may feel odd. It might not feel of anything at all. Just give it a go, and let me know how you get on.

 

* FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, IRDEAT complete edition, p.299f.
Image by Tina Phillips www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Be disruptive: challenge the status quo like FM Alexander

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Do you find you just accept things as they are, or are you a person who questions the status quo?

This week I have been reading Michael Bloch’s biography of FM Alexander. I was fascinated by Bloch’s description of FM as a child – an “attention-seeking” boy who was ‘excused’ from regular lessons at the tiny village school in rural Tasmania.

Why?

He was disruptive. He asked too many questions.

In 1946 Walter Carrington wrote down his recollections of FM talking about his schooldays:

F.M. said that they could never make anything of him at school. He used to dispute every statement that was held up for his belief. If they then referred him to a book, he would ask how the writer of the book knew it to be true. They used to send him up for thrashings but he still came back for more.”*

 In a school child, this was a disruptive and precocious trait. FM was extremely lucky to have a school master who was prepared to spend time teaching him one-to-one outside of normal school hours.

And we are lucky too, because it meant that FM’s innate questioning nature was not crushed. It was, in fact, exactly that predisposition not to let anything rest that characterised his explorations to create the work we call the Alexander Technique. He didn’t just blindly accept what the doctors said. He didn’t cave in and find a new job when it seemed as though his acting career was finished. And when his investigations into the causes of his vocal troubles were going badly, did FM give up? No!

We should learn from this. Too often we allow the easy answer to stop us from thinking. We accept the status quo. We label something as a ‘habit’ or ‘just the way things are’ and then assume that they are unchanging and unchangeable.

But we don’t know that – not until we ask. Not until we test our beliefs and our ideas.

What assumptions are there in your life? What can you question today?

 

* Walter Carrington quoted in Bloch, M., FM: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander, Hachette, 2004, p.18 in the Kindle edition.

Image by criminalatt from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“You let the tiredness out!” – Fatigue and Alexander Technique

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Last week I wrote about why it is that working with the Alexander Technique can have a dramatic improvement upon your energy levels. But what about when it doesn’t? What if you experience a short-term fatigue?

The quote in the title is from my husband. When he has Alexander lessons, it is a common experience for him to feel all the usual beneficial stuff – lighter, freer, less muscular discomfort – but also one less welcome sensation. Tiredness.

Similarly, I have had students who experience a tiredness reaction to a lesson so extreme that they could barely keep awake!

So what happened to my husband and my students? Why did they feel so tired? What follows is my best guess on the subject.

 

Habits of body, habits of thought.

In his first book Man’s Supreme Inheritance, FM Alexander is very clear that there is a relationship between movement and thought. He writes: “the majority of people fall into a mechanical habit of thought quite as easily as they fall into the mechanical habit of body which is the immediate consequence.”

So – what we do with our bodies is the consequence of beliefs we have or decisions we make. If this is so – and I believe that it is – then we could create a story of a hypothetical student.

 

I can well imagine that, if our hypothetical student has had a particularly tiring or stressful time, they may well make the decision that, for whatever reason, they are not able to allow themselves to rest. They decide to keep going. And in order to keep going and keep concentrating on their work, they turn on muscles (FM writes about this in Man’s Supreme Inheritance too).

And then they keep them turned on. And on. And on.

They forget, in fact, to turn them off.

So now, in addition to the original fatigue, our hypothetical student is expending energy on the needless use of muscles.

When, therefore, they come for their Alexander Technique lesson, and the teacher convinces them to give up the excess muscular energy that they were using to counteract the fatigue, our student is going to feel the full force of the tiredness that they were originally fighting. In the short term, they will probably feel terrible. But if they allow themselves to rest, in the long term they will feel better because they will have stopped the unnecessary muscular activity that was not just masking but adding to the fatigue.

My question to you is: does this ring true for you? Do you think you might be masking your fatigue with extra activity? If so, can I urge you to stop, allow yourself to feel tired, and rest? It might not be great in the short term, but in the long run you’ll be so much more effective!

Let me know what you think!

Image by Ambro from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘Sit Up Straight!’ – Does Alexander Technique help with self-control?

selfdiscipline

Is there a link between self control and the Alexander Technique?

On Monday morning on BBC Radio 4, the presenters of the Today programme interviewed Professor Roy Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength. In the interview, he suggested that “self control is really the best thing you can give your chilrdren,” and gave an example of a simple way to improve one’s willpower as an adult.

“The good news about self control is that it’s never too late. We’ve done studies even with adults, showing that a couple of weeks of training and practice, even things like working on your posture, can strengthen your willpower … The first study we did, we told people, ‘Whenever you think about it, sit up straight, stand up straight.’ The thing about willpower is that if you strengthen it in one sphere makes you better at everything else.” *

So… If you tell people to sit up straight or stand up straight, their self control improves. And if their self control improves, the evidence is that they become more successful and better liked. So far, so good…

I have a couple of things I’d like to talk about off the back of this interview:
1. How the Alexander Technique can explain the basis behind the positive changes Baumeister witnessed;
2. Why it is that Baumeister’s approach may end up doing more harm than good.
I will cover point 2 next week.

 

Alexander on habits and self control

FM Alexander stated all the way through his books that he believed that the troubles people experienced (with things like bad habits) were the result of what he called subconscious control – depending upon instinct and feeling for guidance, “so that today man walks, talks sits, stands, performs in fact the innumerable mechanical acts of daily life without giving a thought to the psychical and physical processes involved.” **

Alexander wanted us to move beyond this subconscious guidance, and to enliven our reasoning faculties. “For in the mind of man lies the secret of his ability to resist, to conquer, and finally to govern the circumstance of his life…” ***

So how do we bring to life our reasoning faculties? Well, Alexander said we could change to something more beneficial “if once we can clear away that first impeding habit of thought which stands between us and conscious control.” ****

In other words, if we make an effort to change the way we think, then we start to change not just towards more beneficial physical conditions, but more beneficial mental ones too. We will  begin to develop a reasoning facility that will actually help us to keep changing and improving. As Alexander says:

For when real conscious control has been obtained  habit need never become fixed. It is not truly a habit at all, but an order or series of orders given to the subordinte controls of the body…”

And interestingly, this sounds errily similar to  statement made by reviewer Jamie Holmes in his assessment of Baumeister’s book: “One implication is already apparent.Since repeated behaviors eventually turn into habits, improving willpower long term requires a unique strategy—a habit of changing habits, of continually expanding our zones of comfort.”

The way forward?

All of this so far, I fear, may have sounded a bit dry. But it is actually really important. Alexander is telling us that nothing is fixed.

Let me repeat that. Nothing is fixed.

If we begin to use our brains and take a good hard look at the things we do, we can make beneficial changes. If you habitually slump, for example, you can reason out where you would bend to sit if not slumping. You can reason out where the muscles are that do the job of bending your legs. You can find out what a curvy shape the spine actually has. You can think about whether different chairs would need different approaches to sitting. these are just some of the questions you could ask yourself.

You can do all these things. You are resourceful, intelligent, and determined. You have the power to change for the better. So what are you going to start to change today?

 

*Prof Baumeister, transcribed from the BBC interview. The link is in the text above.
**FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.16.
*** ibid., p.58.
**** ibid.
Image (C) STROINSKI.PL

3 steps for changing bad habits

My son recently reported that his teacher had said, in class, that ‘it is important to make sure that when you learn to do something, you are careful to learn the right way to do things. Otherwise, you could develop bad habits. And’, she said, ‘it is very hard to break a bad habit.’

What do you think? Was she right?

I’ll give you a moment to think about it.

Ready? Let’s investigate!

 

The average view of habit.

Most people talk about habits as though the habit is something external to them: “I have this bad habit of slumping,” one of my students might be hear to say. The habit seems to have a separate existence, and has atached itself, carbuncle-like, upon the student. It sneakily intrudes into the student’s day without permission, and certainly without consent. And if the student could just detach this nasty habit, then all would be well.

 

FM on habit.

FM Alexander wrote very clearly against this conception of habits. He said:

“the establishment of a habit in a particular person is associated in that person with a certain habitual manner of using the self, and that because the organism works as an integrated whole, change of a particular habit in the fundamental sense is impossible as long as this habitual manner of use persists.”*

In other words, I have a ‘manner of use’ of myself that is particular to me. It is my ‘me-ness’. Any habits that I have are not additions to this me-ness. They are a part of the me-ness (manner of use of myself).

And if I want to change the habit, I have to make a change to the me-ness.

 

Changing the me-ness

So… It sounds quite heavy, doesn’t it? It sounds like my son’s teacher might be right – changing habits is hard work!

Except…

Making a change to the me-ness is relatively fast and simple. Because we control our me-ness. We just need to change our thinking. So, for example, I could decide that I don’t want to be lumbered with the extra kilos that I gained over Christmas, and that I am going to be more controlled in my calorie intake over the next few weeks.

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Ah!  I hear you say. But that’s just a decision! How are you going to stick to it?

By using Alexander’s secret. He wrote: “all those who wish to change something in themselves must learn to make it a principle of life to inhibit their immediate reaction… They must continue this inhibition whilst they employ the new direction of their use.” **

To carry on with my dieting example, the next time I feel peckish and head for the kitchen, I can stop and, prior to picking up that biscuit, I can remember my decision and renew my decision to carry on with my calorie control.

My son’s teacher is right that learning the best way to do things is important. But changing habits is only as long and hard as you choose to make it. And that’s your ‘me-ness’ at work, too.

The process?

1. Make a decision. Change happens at the speed of thought!
2. When you are tempted to respond in the old way, STOP!
3. Keep stopping your old response, and carry on with your new response.

Give it a go, and let me know what you think.

 

*FM Alexander, Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p,580.
** FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the Irdeat Edition, p,473f.
Image by Ariel da Silva Parreira, stock.xchng

Why exercises won’t help (and three things that do!)

When I was younger I was a devotee of aerobics. I was far too embarrassed about my body to actually darken the doors of a gym, so I used to watch a TV programme called Aerobics Oz Style. Each day I’d get myself into my exercise shoes, turn on the TV, and prance up and down to the music, doing my best to follow the commands of the instructors.

Each episode of the show would have one instructor and at least 2 other people (usually female, often blonde) helping to demonstrate the movements. It was a well-produced programme, and the producers chose their instructors and demonstrators well – they were qualified, well-regarded within their profession, and frequently had been competitors and even winners of Aerobics Championships. (Yes, there really is such a thing!)

This was long before I had even heard of the Alexander Technique. But even then, as a wannabe actress, I had sufficient powers of observation to notice something really interesting about the instructors on the show. They were all doing broadly the same movements at the same time. But they didn’t look the same. In fact, if you looked closely, sometimes you could see that they weren’t really doing the same movements at all. And if you experimented and tried out the different movements – say, with a particular armline – you would realise that the different ways the instructors were moving their arms would actually cause different muscles to be exercised.

The instructors were not deliberately doing slightly different things. I think they genuinely and honestly thought that they were all demonstrating exactly the same movement. And yet they were different.

Why does an exercise give different effects on different people?

Simple: because they’re different people. There is a section of FM Alexander’s fourth book where he discusses exactly this point: that a set of exercises could be responsible for different effects in different people. “how could it be otherwise?” Alexander asks.They exist in different private universes, and have different ideas about how their bodies can and should work.  So just as different people walk and speak differently, so they will carry out a set of exercises differently, and will receive different effects as a result.

So why don’t I give out exercises?

Because it could do more harm than good.

Even if we stuck with the basic principle that giving a specific exercise for a specific problem could help that problem directly (and FM has a lot to say about that), there’s still the problem of the private universes. If it is true that every person will have a slightly different conception of how their body works, what the exercise involves, how to do it, etc., then everyone will do the exercise differently. And I as a teacher can have no real idea of exactly what effects my student will get. I woul be a poor teacher if I recommended something and didn’t know if it would work!

If exercises don’t work, what does?!

In his fourth book, at one point Alexander likens humankind to ill-controlled pieces of machinery. He says that “in ordinary mechanics, if we knew that the control or controls of  machine were out of order, we should at once decide to have them put right before expecting the machine to show the mechanical stability and usefulness of which it is capable.”*

In other words, we don’t need to load ourselves up with more things to do – we need to fix the controlling mechanisms, and get the gremlins out that are causing us to malfunction. And how do we do that? Here are three ideas:

1. Paying attention to what we are doing. How often do you actually notice what you do with your body when you are walking or driving a car? One of my students was shocked recently to discover how tightly he gripped the steering wheel.

2. Having a plan for what we’re doing. Have you ever thought about what you actually need to do to walk, or use a computer keyboard?

3. Not leaping into action. Do you jump up as soon as the phone rings? What about trying to receive that stimulus, refuse to do anything immediately in response, and then think about whether you really want to answer?

Alexander wanted us to think. He wanted us to have conscious reasoned contol of our potentialities. With the best will in the world, exercises aren’t going to get us there. But trying out the three ideas above just might.

*FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.561.

Don’t copy me!

On the weekend I taught a day workshop (about Alexander Technique) at the Bristol Folk House, a lovely venue in central Bristol. Amongst my students for this workshop I had a husband and wife lady of the couple said that they have a six-year-old daughter, and that they had been trying to explain to her what they were doing that Saturday. They had told their daughter that when people are young they move around really beautifully, but that as they get older, for one reason or another, sometimes they don’t move so well or so easily as they used to. And Mum and Dad wanted to investigate whether they could move a bit more like their daughter.

I think this is an eloquent description of something that a lot of people feel to be true. Children seem to move so easily and beautifully, with an artless grace that we adults can only wonder at. How do they do it? And what happens to them – and us – between early childhood and adulthood to cause us to lose it?

What happens to us – part 1

One of the other participants in my Saturday workshop was a lady who had a standing lesson. When I worked with her to counteract the habitual way she pushed her hips forward while standing, she exclaimed that I was stopping her from standing up straight. She then gave an impression of  her school mistress telling her to ‘Stand up straight!’

My student had been out of school for a couple or three decades, yet that teacher’s admonition stayed with her. Words are powerful things. If we are told to do something as a child, and told it strongly enough, it is entirely possible that we will keep doing that thing long after the person who told us to has gone away or lost interest! This is even more likely if we received praise for following their instructions.

What things do you still do, just because a teacher/coach/parent told you? And if you have contact with children, are you careful about what rules you choose to pass on?

 

What happens to us – part 2

My son, when he was younger, absolutely loved a book by author Helen Oxenbury. It’s about a little boy called Tom and his toy monkey Pippo. My son’s favourite little story from the book began like this:

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This is the second major thing that happens to us. We find someone we love, and we want to be like them. So we do what Tom does in the story – we copy the person we love. And we most often choose to copy the eccentricities of the person we love. We copy their walk, or the way they hold their head. Tom begins copying his father’s walk as an act of love.

 

Losing it – or not…

The thing is, we’re all really tempted by the idea that a childlike freedom and gracefulness is just that – childlike, and therefore a thing of the past. We feel nostalgic and a bit envious, and assume that like belief in Father Christmas, our freedom of movement, once gone, is lost forever.

This is a big trick.

If we believe this, we are cutting ourselves off from the truth. We never lost it.

We never lost it.

We listened to our teachers, and tried faithfully to do what they told us (‘Sit up straight!’). We copied those we loved, and did it studiously and well. We lived our lives, and made decisions about what was possible and what was not, and lived accordingly.

All of these acts are decisions. And decisions can be changed.

We have lost nothing. Our natural grace and elegance of movement is still there and waiting for us to rediscover it. And this requires nothing more nor less than a change in our point of view – what Alexander describes as “the royal road to reformation.” Like all roads, sometimes it may get a bit rocky, or may take a few twists or turns. But choose to stick with it.

This is what Alexander says to encourage us:

The brain becomes used to thinking in a certain way, it works in a groove … but when once it is lifted out of the groove, it is astonishing how easily it may be directed. At first it will have a tendency to return to the old manner of working … but the groove soon fills, and although thereafter we may be able to use the old path if we choose, we are no longer bound by it.*

Moving freely and easily is available to us. The path is waiting…

*FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance in the Irdeat complete edition of the 4 books, p.67.

Put the patient down!

Last Friday, I travelled to Southampton to give a talk about Alexander Technique to the women of the NHS Southampton and Salisbury Breast Imaging Unit (part of SUHT).

These women are amazing. They carry out all the mammograms that form the main part of the screening programme against breast cancer in their part of the world. Sometimes they work from their comfortable and welcoming base in Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. More often, they have to drive a large van up to an hour to a town or village in their catchment area. They park up, then spend the day carrying out the scans using the equipment on the van. For every patient who comes through their door, they have to greet the patient, (usually) calm them down, help to position the patient in the imaging equipment, take four images, label everything carefully, then help the patient out the door. They do all of this in seven minutes. Yes, seven minutes per patient.

Some of the patients are small and birdlike, and have – how can I put it? – assets that befit their small and birdlike frames. Other patients are considerably larger, and have assets that are rather heftier. And the mammographers have to heft these assets into the imaging equipment, and help to hold them there so that the images are clear and the patient doesn’t have to come back for a rescan. They do this ‘hefting’ (can’t think of a better word for it!) by extending their thumb and creating a V-shape with their hands, then ‘sweeping’ the assets into the machine (‘sweeping’ is their term for it). And they do this for every patient. Every seven minutes. Every day.

These lovely mammographers are starting to suffer from shoulder and back pain, and RSI-like symptoms in their hands and thumbs. They invited me down to Southampton to give them some tips and advice on how they can work to improve their working conditions and thereby alleviate some of the pain.

So what did I do? Well, one of the things that I did was to look at their hands, and then tell this story…

One of my least favourite household jobs is filling the washing machine had in Australia). One day I was bent over double, shovelling clothes through the door. One of my son’s socks had escaped, and was a few steps away. Without straightening, I walked over to get it, walked back, then put it in the machine. Then I noticed my husband’s hankie, halfway across the kitchen floor. Again, without bothering to straighten, I went to get it. The machine was full. Without bothering to stand up, I got the detergent ball, put it in the door, then turned on the machine.

Then I noticed the cat water bowl was empty. Without bothering to stand up, I picked up the bowl, filled it, put it back. I went on with other bits of cleaning. After a few minutes, my back started to feel tired. I realised that I still hadn’t bothered to stop bending over. I was walking around the house like Groucho Marx! I hadn’t yet stopped filling the washing machine!

My mammographer students were no different. Even though they had stopped scanning for the day, even though there were no patients anywhere nearby, their hands were still ready to heft and sweep. When I pointed this out to them, most of them looked down at their hands, and allowed their thumbs to go limp. They sighed in relief! They admitted to me that, now that they thought about it, they realised that they always kept their hand ‘ready to sweep’ – from first thing in the morning, to last thing at night.

They had forgotten to put the patient down.

My simple suggestion was this. What would happen if the mammographers put the patient down – not just at the end of the day, but between patients?

And what about you? Is your right hand always ready to click the mouse button? Are your shoulders permanently prepared to lift that bag/child/rucksack?

What would happen if you ‘put the patient down’?

 

Hemlines and stuff we do to ourselves

I’m going to tell you a little story that doesn’t put me in a very good light. In fact, it makes me look a little silly. Feel free to have a giggle…

For years, I used to complain about clothing manufacturers. No matter which shop I went to, no matter what skirt I tried on, the hemlines just didn’t seem to be straight. I’d try on skirts, sometimes buy them and take them home, and feel a little cross about the fact that the hem always seemed to be a little higher on one side than the other. And the fault always seemed to be the same side (the right side, in case you’re interested).

It wasn’t exactly earth-shattering – I mean, it wasn’t the bane of my life. On the scale of life crises, it barely rated at all, especially when compared to the RSI I suffered in my arms. But it niggled. Every time I put on a skirt, my eye was almost irresistibly drawn to the hemline. It was like an itch that just wouldn’t go away.

Why couldn’t the clothing companies get it right? And why was it only me who seemed to notice?

By now you’re probably leaping way ahead of me. “It wasn’t the skirts!” I can hear you exclaiming at your screens. And you’re absolutely right! But it took me years – and I mean, years – to make that realization for myself. One day I looked at myself in the mirror, and I saw for the first time why my skirts never hung straight. For the first time, I actually looked and really saw my hips. My hips weren’t level. I was managing to contract the muscles on one side of my torso in such a way that my right side was shortened, causing my right hip to be raised. It wasn’t the skirts that had the problem: it was me.

I think of that day every time one of my students asks me why they haven’t seen a particular truth about their use of their bodies before having Alexander lessons. This usually occurs when they have discovered that they do something that, post-discovery, they label as unnecessary or silly, and they want to know why they didn’t find it out sooner. There are a couple of important points to be made about this.

The first is this. Each of us live in our own private universe (Stephen Covey calls it a paradigm), where everything is right, makes sense, and seems to be logically consistent. In my own private universe, my body was right and normal and fine. Therefore, the skirt manufacturers were clearly WRONG. The hemlines were so clearly their fault and their problem that I didn’t even bother to question it. So if you, for example, like to lift up your whole shoulder girdle in order to reach your computer keyboard, that will feel right and normal to you, and you won’t question it. And that’s completely understandable. We can’t blame ourselves for stuff we don’t know that we’re doing. Let’s have some compassion for ourselves.

But maybe, as my hemlines did with me, something niggles you somewhere at the back of your brain. Like that itch that won’t go away…

In that case, maybe it’s time to use a question from FM Alexander’s toolkit. It’s the tool I used to discover my funny hips. It’s the tool that started FM on his journey from voice trouble to the development of the work we now call the Alexander Technique. Back in the beginning, talking to his doctor about his vocal troubles, Alexander asked this question: “Was it something I was doing … in using my voice that was the cause of the trouble?”

 

Is it something I’m doing to myself that is the cause of the trouble? This is a profound question. A student of mine, a plumber, found this question incredibly powerful. When he got into his van, put his hands on the wheel and felt neck pain, he asked FM’s question. ‘Is it something I’m doing to myself?’ And the answer was yes. He made some changes to the way he was sitting, and the pain went away. He asked FM’s question when his back hurt after picking up his toolbox. The answer was yes. He streamlined the number of tools in his toolbox, experimented with lifting it differently, and his back stopped hurting.

 

This can be a great step on a journey of discovery. Maybe you’ll find out profound things. Maybe you’ll streamline your toolbox. Maybe you’ll be able to take hemline adjustment off your To Do list. But whatever you discover, enjoy the thrill of it, and let me know how you get on.