New students of the Alexander Technique sometimes ask me (usually after experiencing more lightness or freedom in movement in one of their lessons) how best to apply what they’re learning to daily life. There are a number of ways to answer this, depending on individual interests and needs, but underlying the question is almost always a comparison between the way they usually feel, and the recent new experience. Maybe the new way feels more natural, more integrated, more expansive, or easier. Sometimes people say “I want to feel like this more often! How??”.
There’s more to that answer than I can address in one blog post, but here’s a start: a way to practice that is quick, informative, and easy. You can call it Before, Pause, After.
Choose a simple activity. This can apply to all kinds of things, but to begin, simple is best. Things like brushing teeth or picking up and pouring from a tea kettle work well because we usually do them so automatically, and they usually don’t carry a lot of emotional significance or attachment.
Initiate the activity the way you normally would, automatically, without any extra thought or preparation. For instance, walk to your sink and pick up your toothbrush and toothpaste and start to brush your teeth, or walk to your kettle and pick it up to pour some water into a mug. Maybe try it a few times. See what you notice, and how you feel when you’re doing it, particularly when initiating the movement. Don’t try to analyze too much, just do enough to get a snapshot of that moment.
This is the most important part! Approach the activity (walk toward, or stand near the sink or the kettle). Instead of immediately initiating a movement, use whatever directions, phrases or concepts have been helpful in your Alexander lessons as you pause in the moment before taking action. If you’re new to the work, here are a few ideas to try.
Think these phrases to yourself, or even say them out loud: I’m not picking up my toothbrush or pouring my tea, or… (Really!! Believe it when you say it. This is a moment where you still have a choice about whether and how to take action). I let my weight meet the floor through the soles of both feet, and the joints of my legs can be easy and not stiffened. I can take a moment to look around, and see more of my environment and be more aware of the space around, in back of me, and above me. I can let my neck be free, and not tighten it in preparation for anything. I can use this pause to unclench my jaw and breathe easily. I can temporarily quiet any racing thoughts or need to rush or be done with this.
Pause for a moment longer to let these ideas fully land and to have an effect.
Initiate the movement and notice the difference between the before and after. Do this with a sense of curiosity. Don’t over-think it. There’s no right or wrong.
Though you may notice a difference between the before and after, it really is the pause that’s most important! You might have noticed that none of the instructions in the pause were specific instructions about how to do the activity, such as how to lift your arm or how tightly to hold the object. The movements you made may have felt different; like they took care of themselves, and maybe in a more coordinated and integrated way than they had before. That’s because you were different when you approached them.
Choosing a regular activity to practice this works well because you don’t have to add something more to your day, but you can try it in any way that interests you most. Just keep it simple.