In my last blog I wrote about Alexander Technique Directions (a way of thinking intentionally to encourage natural, healthy coordination) and the way these have been traditionally expressed. Each Alexander teacher develops his or her own ways of putting these directions across and helps their students find the directions that work best for them. I’ve found that everyone has their own specific associations with different words or phrases – in other words everyone has their own take on the meaning. So what might be helpful for one person, might bring about a negative response in another, or vice versa.
For instance, in my group classes I often start introducing the concept of directing by having my students experiment with walking while thinking different words (with the instruction to not try to “do” anything with the word, just to “think” it while they walk). We experiment with words like up, down, narrow, wide, open, heavy, light, held, fixed and free. You can try it for yourself right now – just walk and think one of these words for a few paces (without concentrating hard), notice if anything changes in your coordination, and then try out another word.
People have varying responses. Some don’t even notice any response for certain words. Some really get into it and “do” an interpretation of what the word means. Though not the intent of the exercise, it shows how powerfully we want to react to certain words or instructions.
What I find most interesting though, is that, while there are definitely words in that list that the majority of people are drawn to and find most beneficial in making positive changes in how they walk, I have had at least one student report a positive response to every single word. I expect most people to like up and open, free and light. What has been surprising is that I even had a positive response to the word narrow, which, to be honest, I never expected (though many people experience a familiar one, as many of us are very prone to tightening and restricting ourselves in a way that makes us “feel” narrower!). One person reported that when he thought the word narrow it brought him in mind of his skeleton, stripping away all the other stuff that encumbered him, thus allowing him to walk a little easier. Who would have guessed?!
So – this makes things complicated. There’s no one way to use words that helps all people in exactly the same way. Each of us has our own experience and personality that impact the way we interpret everything giving words meanings specific to ourselves. This is one of the reasons why being able to personally interact with your teacher is so useful. What we can do is notice how we react to words, and whether that is positive or negative for our coordination and ease of movement.
In my next blog I’ll be looking at more approaches to Alexander Technique directions that people find helpful. In the meantime I hope you tried my little experiment with words and walking. If so, I’d love to get your feedback. What did you like? And what didn’t you like? Your comments would be greatly appreciated!