The flowing present

Habits are patterns of use (behaviour) which we have developed in the past and which still automatically influence our lives in the present. Sometimes, they are so strong that our ability to experience the present moment in a fresh way is disturbed and therefore they prevent us from meeting the demands that we face now in a relevant manner.

The habit of contracting ourselves when reacting to a stimulus is like that, and how much important the reaction so stronger we contract ourselves habitually. Usually we are not aware of this and of how our reactions are affected from it. However, sometimes we begin to feel that something is going wrong, we start to struggle with our habits and look for help in dealing with them. The Alexander Technique provides means and a way to do this.

In the Alexander Technique, we take the simple stimuli of daily life, like deciding to stand up when we sit, and we stop our immediate reaction to it. While we are still sitting, we give ourselves instructions for non-doing, and continue these also on our way to standing up. The more we repeat this procedure, the more we experience our non-doing, which help us to break through the habitual patterns we created in our past, and come into contact with the present, meeting it afresh.

What do I mean by ‘non-doing’?

Non-Doing are the processes inside us on which we have no direct influence, such as our blood circulation, breathing and digestion etc. We can only have an indirect effect on these. For example, our breathing and heart rate change if we go for a run. It is the same with our basic body structure. We are born with a head at the top and feet down at the other end, with a neck between head and torso and two arms at both sides of this torso. We accept this basic structure as obvious and are not really aware of it, as with our blood circulation. Also, we are not aware how our habitual contractions effect it and limiting it. When we look at the structure of our body in the mirror, we see it as something static and self-evident, while, in fact, it is actually renewing itself from moment to moment. Our structure is alive and flowing, although suffering from our habitual contractions.

‘Doing’ is a word we use when we can have direct effect on our body for example when we lift an arm (it should be noted that even in such a simple act, there is much of non-doing involved).

‘Habit’ is the realm between our doing and non-doing, it is ‘doing’ which was created in the past, and effects automatically and unconsciously our activities in the present, so we cannot directly change it. The habit of unnecessarily contracting our bodies, which also becomes a permanent state, even when we are resting or sleeping, is a source of many shortcomings and ailments. Since habits are strong and we usually don’t notice them, it becomes almost impossible to change them. The impossible can only be softened and even changed indirectly by becoming more conscious and friendly with our non-doing structure of the body. But how is this possible if we cannot have a direct impact on our non-doing?

The way we go about this is to apply an indirect approach. For example, we decide to inhibit our reaction to the stimulus to stand up or to sit, and to drop the wish to contract. Through this, we open the way for our non-doing to express itself more and more. By repeating this process again and again, we become able to experience moments of flowing non-doing, of the flowing present.

The art of meeting

When a person takes private lessons in Alexander Technique he learns the art of “the use of the self”, which is how Alexander described his technique. In short, we can say that this use of the self is adversely affected by habitual patterns, which limits its functioning and causes many problems, both physically and mentally. Learning about the use of the self helps us to deal with patterns which are no longer relevant.

When someone then joins a training course to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique he not only deepens this art of the use of the self, but also learns another skill, which we could call “the art of meeting”.

The moment we touch another person, like our pupil, it awakes a strong drive in us to do something to them, to manipulate them in order to influence, to convince, to help or to impress etc. This throws us back to our overdoing habits, which disturb our coming into a non-doing dialogue with the other person, something which is necessary in order to guide them in finding their free use and the freedom to choose for themselves.

The art of meeting enables us to recognize the true and exposed being of the other, to respect it, and then turn ourselves, through applying the art of the use of the self, into a reflection of that being, like a mirror, in which the pupils can then observe themselves while learning how to find freedom from habitual overdoing, thereby becoming skilled themselves in the art of the use of the self.