“Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back” came the familiar mantra from Miss G, as she gently tapped the back of my head with one finger.
After a minute or so (one’s sense of time was very different in her teaching room) she asked me, somewhat incongruously – and almost in a tone of curiosity, as if we were chatting over a cup of coffee, “Have you heard of an American singer called Francis Sinatra?”
“Yes Miss Goldie,” I replied, wondering where she was going with this.
“Then are you familiar with a song he recorded entitled ‘I Did It My Way’?”
“Yes Miss Goldie”, my attention dancing now between the anticipation of what might be coming next and the call back to the quiet energy that flowed, under her touch, between my head and spine.
“Well …” she said, stepping back so I no longer had that external reminder to ‘not interfere with head, neck and back’, her voice rising now in a crescendo “… he got it quite wrong you know! It’s not about doing it your way. It’s doing it your way that’s got you into the mess you’re in today.”
I’m saying to myself, “Don’t react! Stay quiet! Head, neck and back……”
“You want to stop doing it your way. Not your way”, her voice quietening now, her hand coming back to my head/neck area. “Not your way, but Nature’s way.”
I began to see that inhibition and direction are two aspects of a way of being; they are inextricably linked.
© 2013 John S Hunter
In I think my second lesson with Margaret Goldie she said, “Now I am going to ask you to make a decision, and it will be the first decision you’ve ever made.”
At the time I found this a very strange thing for her to say. Had I not been making decisions all my life? Had I not decided that very day to get out of bed, to get on the tube and to come and have a lesson with her?
We assume that because we end up taking one course of action rather than another that we have made a decision. But is that the case? Perhaps we have merely acquiesced to impulses following the path of least resistance. The evidence was that I could not decide to not get out of a chair, in fact decide not to do, so what decisions could I make about my life…….?
Miss G’s assertion opened a question for me about what decisions really are, a subject to which Erika attached a great deal of importance (see Tips4Teachers – “…not to do…”).
© 2013 John S Hunter
“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
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