'Not Doing' in Daily Life

Nick Branch

 

I first heard of the Alexander Technique from a friend, who described it as a 'cure for bad posture' after hearing me complaining of the lower back pain which had plagued me for several years in my late teens and early twenties. In fact, it was not just sporadic lower-back pain I suffered with, but neck pain, stiff shoulders, a bad knee, a sore hip - the list went on.

 

I wasn't in bad shape, although my injuries frequently prevented regular exercise. Because I considered myself fit and healthy, these unexplained setbacks were all the more exasperating.

 

The first thing that struck me about the Alexander Technique, in contrast to other methods for back pain I had tried, was that it is not described as "treatment". Whilst my physical condition and history were recorded, the Technique is not targeted at curing specific ailments. My teacher described himself first and foremost as a 'teacher', and our weekly sessions were described as 'lessons'

 

This did not make a great deal of sense to begin with, and the lessons themselves seemed somewhat abstract. we looked at standing up and sitting down, and associated movements. We looked at the 'directions' which form the basis of the Technique. Counter-intuitively, we spent a good deal of time focusing on 'not doing'. When learning something new, I expected there to be a skill or an action to grasp and perfect, but the Alexander Technique is firstly about 'not doing'. In fact, learning not to do, in spite of burning compulsion - to intervene, to act, to move, to do - is something which can be applied successfully in many other situations in daily life.

 

My natural skepticism initially told me that these alien concepts might not be worth the time of day and expense. And yet there was something in those early sessions. It was a step into the unknown, and I felt like progress was being made. That many other people before me had had faith in the Technique was a comfort, and that many of these were actors, musicians, performers of the very highest order gave further credibility.

 

One of the biggest hurdles for me was reconciling my investment of time and money not only with myself but with others interested in what I was doing. It is a difficult concept to explain, but the results speak for themselves, and within a few months the random back pain had vanished. I was also noticing benefits I hadn't expected. My reactions were sharper; I felt more confident, more focused. I was not consciously doing anything different, and yet I felt quite different. Whilst practicing standing up and sitting down felt at certain times ridiculous, when I thought about it, I spend most of my life sat on chairs, standing, walking, lying down. To learn to do these things better was to improve my performance in some of the activities I do the most, and yet think about the least.

 

As my confidence grew, I was able to apply the principles of the Technique to other activities in my life, including running, swimming and cycling. Mastering better body use facilitates improved performance, and I became more competent in all these pursuits. I ran half marathons with no lasting knee problems. I cycled a thousand miles in twelve days for charity, without issues. I have become a far better swimmer than I ever was before, and my tennis (previously all forehand and very little else) has developed considerably.

 

I have now been seeing my teacher for three years, for much of this time with a weekly lesson, but latterly with a fortnightly session. With hindsight and experience, weekly lessons helped enforce the new thought patterns. In our lessons we have looked at many different areas of movement, breathing, posture and balance. I look forward to bringing observations of my own use and issues with my learning to someone with so much knowledge, not only of the Technique but of wider anatomy.

 

As I move to a new phase in my life, I remain confident that the Alexander Technique will continue to play a part. Only once you have started to learn do you realise how vast the subject of body use is, and how feasibly limitless are the improvements that can be made.