Pretty much everyone who seeks Alexander Technique instruction is looking for some type of change. Maybe they want to improve their posture, reduce tension or alleviate pain; maybe they want help with a specific situation – to be able to work at the computer more comfortably, for instance, or speak confidently in public; or maybe they are generally interested in a mindful approach to personal development. Whatever the reason, some sort of change is desired.
Earlier this year my good friend and Gestalt psychotherapist, Miriam Granthier, introduced me to the Paradoxical Theory of Change. To explain this Gestalt concept, Arnold Beisser states “that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not. Change does not take place through a coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him, but it does take place if one takes the time and effort to be what he is — to be fully invested in his current positions.”
I was very drawn to this idea, and how it relates to my own work with the Alexander Technique.
As I understand it, this means that true change happens only when we give up trying to change (what we might, in the Alexander Technique, call “end-gaining”) and accept where we are now. I see this in practice every day as I work with myself and my students. Once we give up trying to change something directly (“stand up straight” for instance) we open ourselves up to something else much more useful, sustainable and real, and, paradoxically, we are more than likely find ourselves more naturally upright in the process.
I’ve found this wonderful paradox to be very clearly present working with the “freedom directions” developed by Jennifer Roig-Francoli. This fabulous new way of self-directing uses statements – thoughts – to ourselves along the lines of “I am free to walk” or “My neck is free.”
Here’s an example of how I used a “freedom direction” which shows how this works:
A few weeks ago I was preparing myself an early dinner ahead of going out to teach a class. I wasn’t exactly in a hurry, but I was on a timeline, and was somewhat in that “I’ve got to get this done” mode. This was evident to me by the way I was using my body. I recognized the pattern – the tension – and I wanted to get rid of it! I tried working with myself in various ways using Alexander awareness and directions, but nothing was really changing. I realized I was too focused on the result I wanted, even though this is NOT the intent of AT directing – far from it. What I had missed was the crucial step of acknowledging – or accepting – how things actually were in the present moment. I was familiar with “freedom directions” so I suddenly thought to myself, “I am free to make my dinner… ANY WAY I WANT!” giving myself permission to crash around the kitchen if I wished! Interestingly, as soon as I gave myself that freedom, I instantly released tension throughout my body and smiled! I became happier about making dinner – after all if I was free to do it, I was also free not to do it! I realized I had a choice about it and I chose to make my dinner, which paradoxically changed my mood as well as the way I was using my body!
You can find out more about “freedom directions” in this podcast in which Jennifer explains her discovery:
If you have any thoughts on this or the paradoxical theory of change, I’d love to hear them. Please leave your comments in the space below.