Tips4Teachers – “…not to do…”

“When you are asked not to do something, instead of making the decision not to do it, you try to prevent yourself from doing it. But this only means that you decide to do it, and then use muscle tension to prevent yourself from doing it.”1

FM Alexander

How fortunate that Ethel Webb, whose ear was attuned to when FM Alexander said something worth taking note of, recognised the significance of these words spoken by him to a pupil during a lesson and wrote them down so that they could be preserved as one of the “teaching aphorisms”.

FM’s pupil, although he or she might have been saying inwardly the words “don’t do it, don’t do it!”, nevertheless had the intention to do it, and the body responds to intention not words.

One way I explain it to pupils is as follows:

The physical body is analogous to a well-trained animal, always listening to it’s master’s voice, waiting to be told what to do, wanting to obey and carry out what is asked of it. However, the language that we use for our inner and outer talking is not one either the animal or the physical body understands very well. In the case of the latter, every time we feel an impulse to act in some way we begin to stimulate neural activity, and muscles get ready to do work. The trouble is that we are so often very unclear about what we want, or don’t want, to do. The poor body gets contradictory messages and, like the animal in our analogy, begins to get stressed.

By making a decision and having a clear intention, the body begins to respond in a quite different way; sometimes mind and body can, like horse and rider, be as one. We are moving in the direction of greater integration.

This is not easy. Many people avoid making decisions, little realising the psycho-physical consequences thereof. Making decisions means taking more responsibility: it also means confronting the very deep-rooted patterns of so-called individuality to which we are very attached.

Fortunately there is another “individual” waiting to be discovered, but more on that another time.

Erika Whittaker told me once, much to my surprise at the time, that what Alexander really wanted from his pupils was that they would learn to make their own decisions. Over the years, this has come to mean more and more to me.

1. Teaching Aphorisms: The Alexander Journal No 7, 1972, published by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Also published in Articles and Lectures by Mouritz (1995).

© 2013 John S Hunter

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3 responses to “Tips4Teachers – “…not to do…””

  1. Fran Engel says :

    There is also an interesting brain fact that offers a measured, scientific explanation. Measured by MRI activity, evidently humans prepare to go into action quite a bit of time before they realize they have made the conscious choice to act. Humans have only 1/64th of a second to veto, change or carry through with the action. Essentially, humans don’t have free will…we have “free won’t,” just as Alexander Technique teaches by using inhibition.

    This fact means that the way a person prepares to act before they know the instant they might decide to act must also be addressed. F.M. Alexander’s solution of “Giving Directions” is an answer for this issue. That is why it’s important to give the Directions while avoiding going into the action stage of beginning the response to move…and to give them often.

  2. Monika Gross says :

    Thank you for this essay, John. I enjoyed it, as well as your insights after your lesson with Erika Whitaker. I often say to my students that as a human being, you are both the jockey and the horse. Be the jockey who communicates with delicacy, with “light hands”, “soft hands”. Somehow I do find it is so much better that they immediately begin to think into learning how to use their own light, soft “jockey hands” and that I try to be very cautious then not to take over being the jockey for them myself overly much with my hands.

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