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Franis
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From A Dialoguer Who Writes
I'm happy to offer the benefit of my observations. I would love to know how or if you can use what I've been exploring here.

If you'd like to contact me personally to get in touch, check out my website.

August 2009
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Franis [userpic]
How to Get Good Judgment

It may seem to be common knowledge that the Alexander Technique teaches you to have "good" posture to remedy the disadvantages of having "bad" posture, that's a misconception. Why would you want to replace one set of "bad" habits with another set of "good" ones - how do you know what is "good" for you? Any fixed idea about moving a certain way you thought was "good" can become "bad" for you later on.

Preventing stress adapted reactions from causing trouble has been said to be beneficial, but how is this actually done? Wouldn't it be handy to undo your own self-imposed limitations? What a discovery to learn something new about the way you carry your intent into your actions by merely moving differently! Imagine having a new measuring stick to show you how to get from wherever you are now toward the direction that would allow indefinite improvement. Better posture is a side benefit of Alexander Technique, but the more important gain is clearer thinking, perception and judgment.

Our bodies might complain for a number of reasons. We might demand too much specialization from a particular muscle or group of muscles. We may ask unsuitable parts of our bodies to take the brunt of a job, when we're not designed for it. We may have outdated ideas about how our bodies are structured that cause us to move ourselves in eventually painful ways - such as the folly of pretending to have an extra joint in the middle of our backs. We may have imitated the bad posture of someone we admired. We may urge ourselves to "try harder," when "trying differently" would have worked better. We may unknowingly leave out a range of motion that's frustrating us because it later has become essential for improving a favorite sport or art. Or maybe we injured ourselves and kept protecting the spot, even though fully recovered.

Here's what happens: our sense of effort that judges what is and isn't necessary to move, (called kinesthetic perception) gets habitually blunted by adapting to our habits.

Adapting to a habit gradually disappears sensory perception for determining what is necessary. This drawback operates most obviously in gradually limiting the capacity to move. It also works insidiously in gradually narrowing the ability to reason and to deliberately apply priorities in thinking.

Adapting is actually a useful feature that allows us to "get used to" almost any physical compensation. It also works against us. Because of the blessings of adapting, our sense of what exactly is extra unnecessary physical effort quickly disappears.

We can start innocently enough and accelerate into having a problem quickly. For instance, while learning, our correctly sensitive kinesthetic sense decides we might require a new kind of extra effort. We may learn to do an activity because of this effort we used; but maybe the extra effort wasn't really necessary. We might learn the skill successfully in spite of the unnessary overcompensating, rather than because of it.

Now we'll associate this brand of effort with performing the skill. Maybe as we get better at it, we learn to subtract the wasted effort. Then again, more likely we don't. It is often (and understandably) expedient to be satisfied with much less efficiency than is needed. In either case, we will probably feel that the effort we used before is now customary, comfortable and "feels natural" when we perform the skill.

Losing our natural ability to feel subtle adjustments is totally blameless and very insidious.

For instance, if a person often carries a bag on their forearm, he will later find himself holding up his arm when the bag is not on it. If someone is afraid while learning, adapting can mean he will most likely continue doing the skill fearfully. If someone has healed from a temporary injury, a habit of wincing in anticipation of pain can be automatically continued indefinitely, even though pain has healed. Due to rapid growth, teenagers often move their own bodies based on inaccurate assumptions of their size and structure.

Being in any particular position doesn't intrinsically create pain or pleasure, nor does repeated motion; it's over-compensating while getting stuck that creates problems. The really good news for people who have been told by a doctor to stop doing some favorite activity is that they can learn to move without hurting themselves more. In this situation, moving easier will take the stress off problems, but that may not help to change the damage that has been done. Using the least amount of effort and getting the most of what we value out of it makes bodies feel better, and sometimes it will help healing.

Of course, this won't be true if you hold the conviction that getting a certain benefit that requires an excessive amount of effort is somehow justified or valuable. If you ask yourself, "why use so much effort?" and you happen to enjoy massive effort for its own sake... I'd ask, "for what purpose?" and "for how long?" As my teacher has said, "Everything requires effort, it's the kind of effort and what the effort creates that's important." Why pull yourself into a state of dynamic isometric tension when you can just stop what you've been doing to pull yourself out of shape?

If you feel "bad," and you stop what you're doing that causes feeling "bad", it will feel "good." The trick is discovering what are you doing that is why you feel "bad" in the first place in a very physical sense, the way you went from "good" to "bad." Then stop doing it to yourself. The secret has been buried by a habit you trained yourself to do in the past and then forgot about.

Our culture will often trivialize "good" and sensationalize "bad." So it's tricky to remember that "good" feels so subtle, it can slip by under our old standards of what should make a difference. If you give yourself an order to do something and follow it, it will usually always lead you to your original automatic and emotional solutions. If you want to change the result, you must change the process.

If moving effortlessly is so fun, how do we go wrong in the first place? How could we miss something that feels so good?

The way out of our dilemma is to use a different measuring stick for deciding how to subtract what is unnecessary effort rather than doing what "habitually feels right." What makes it tricky is that your habits have become innate.

The big difference is that you would now judge improvement on how easy it felt, after you tried your experimenting. After experimenting is the important timing to look for the differences.

The surprising thing is that improved freedom and ease can feel very unfamiliar; even positively wrong. But if it does feel easier, it's what you want to continue doing. Because of adapting, you can get used to anything, remember?

This is why it's so handy to have an Alexander Technique teacher who is trained properly to help you out with this journey of uncovering habitual limitations. Most people would like help in determining what exactly is the most useful type of "unfamiliarity" that's constructive for their purposes. But it can be done alone by merely taking the time to expose your own habitual assumptions and moving beyond them.

The entire Alexander Technique addresses these issues - and more. Even if you never take an Alexander lesson I hope you've already learned some useful information from F.M. Alexander's principles that you can experiment with from now on. Let me know what happens!