What To Do With Mistakes

Last time I talked about sticks, and how beating ourselves up over our mistakes really gets in the way of the Alexander Technique.  It’s part of being human to make mistakes, and to get things wrong sometimes.  You can’t avoid it.  So what are the alternatives to beating yourself up?

Well, first of all, calmly accepting that mistakes happen is a really good start.   But once you’ve managed calm and acceptable, there are more proactive choices, such as:-

1. Deal with it
Sometimes we have the option of going back and fixing the consequences of our mistakes.  We can buy a different shampoo, replace the broken dish, apologise to the offended relative, give the too-small trousers to charity.    Not a comfortable option, but far better than the stick.

2.   Learn from it
Almost every mistake has something in it that we can learn from(*).  In fact, this is how FM Alexander developed his technique, by methodically making and learning from his mistakes(**).  It might be some new information to remember, a skill to master, a new and better perspective to adopt, a better understanding of how things work.  It might be something about you, about your hobby, job, family, environment or the world at large.  It might be a huge learning curve or a tiny little adjustment in ideas.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is taking it on board and using it to improve the actions and decisions you make in the future.

You can choose either one of these.  Personally I try and use both whenever possible.  It makes life, and the Alexander Technique, so much more rewarding.
image: www.freeimages.co.uk
(*) I realise there are a minority of mistakes you just cannot learn from.  These are usually the result of extreme circumstances.  If you are unlucky enough to encounter one, don’t let it put you off learning from all the rest.
(**)  He turned it into an art form.  Read Chapter 1, ‘Evolution of a Technique’ from his second book ‘The Use of The Self’ to see how he went about it.

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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23 comments on “What To Do With Mistakes
  1. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    great to suggest about the fm ‘USE OF THE SELF’ .

    Fm story is the alexander technique.
    The three or four pages is all about the alex technique.

    Why cant you make that story available every where and every website of the alexander technique?

    It just a story a drama, is not it?

    From the uncomfortable thing ,if we use our brain just 30 seconds we can search the comfortable thing.

    And your blogs are very educative based on fm real story and his words.

    • Hi Geetha,
      good to hear from you again, and thank you for the lovely comments. Wouldn’t it be just great if we could all put that chapter up as a page on our websites! I suspect that whoever owns the copyright to the books might raise an objection or two. I’ve been wondering whether a summary of the story would be enough. It would get the message across, but then we would lose the impact and authenticity of Alexander’s own phrases. I can’t decide – what do you think? Karen

  2. “I make as many mistakes as it takes…” – Yisrael K. Feldsott, artist & trained as an A.T. teacher 1976-1979

    • Hi Franis, what a wonderful quote! Feldsott has captured brilliantly exactly what Alexander did in his experimentation. It ties right in with the follow up blog I’m writing this week, I hope you don’t mind if I use it there. Karen

  3. Franis and Geetha – apologies to both for taking so long to reply. I’ve been on a week-long intensive Alexander workshop. If you’re ever in the UK in August it’s a fantastic way to learn the AT. http://www.facebook.com/#!/itmsummerworkshop

  4. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    i compare FM with the electric lamp inventor ‘thomas edison’ .
    How many times he failed to achieve his end?
    But he did finally by analysing the present conditions of use a satisfactory result can be brought about.

    Every body in the world moving through reasoning processes.

    Fm says , ‘we cant find a right thing from a bad instrument’ .

    Any how fm technique is breathing reeducation technique which improves the posture.

    The misconception of breathing is very dangerous.
    Fm found the human breath is just like ‘wishpered ah’ .
    A reflexive exhale is the ultimate aim of the FM.

    Really how much he struggeld to reeducate the breath directly involving the diaphram to take a reflexive inhale.

    He only explained one and only excercise for the breath that is the ‘AH’ .
    If you know any other excercise, please post it here.
    He told just leave it alone.

    The ‘AH’ sound coming from the mouth like a moving train with out gaps and stops , and a reflexive inhale with no gaps and automatic pauses between in,out breath.

    If you wish to explain some thing more, please explain?

    FM is great.

  5. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    sorry, i mis spelled some words in my last comment.

    A reflexive inhale and respiration is the ultimate aim of FM.

    Is this correct?

  6. Hi Geetha,
    Isn’t that a wonderful story about Thomas Edison! The story that he didn’t fail, he successfully found out what didn’t work 9,999 times (I can’t remember the exact quote) is one of my favourites.

    The issue of breathing is quite complex. You’ve asked some great questions and I ‘ve thought hard about how best to reply.

    FM undoubtedly did a lot of work with breathing and the whispered ‘ah’. I believe early on his career he was known as ‘the breathing man’. In an age before tuberculosis vaccines existed it was a major preoccupation right across society. But, as you can probably imagine from some of our previous exchanges, I don’t teach it quite this way. Yes, breathing is a reflex activity (both inhalation and exhalation), but rather than teach students directly how to breathe properly, I teach them to stop interfering with what they are doing in a general way. If they are stopping the unecessary muscular activity involved in standing, walking, bending, dressing, driving and so on, they are also stopping the things that are interfering with their breathing. Occasionally we look more closely at breathing in a lesson, usually at the request of a singer, wind or brass player, but the approach is still the same, to get out of your own way, and give the body space to do its own thing.

    Which leads me to the topic of what the Alexander Technique is, or isn’t. Have you read the place in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual where FM says “I have been criticized for “keeping things back” because I would not give in my book instructions and set exercises that people could do at home by themselves… I will not be guilty of adding to the mass of literature on the subject of exercises” ? (Part II, chapter 1: p. 291 in the IRDEAT edition). When you read through his books you find that actually what he wrote on breathing is only a very small part of his total output. In trying to explain and describe his technique he wrote about loads of other stuff – prevention, re-education, working to principle, using the reasoning mind, the need for all-round general usefulness in any technique and so on. Not surprisingly, this has lead to a great diversity in how people define and teach the Technique.
    I hope this helps

    • Geetha.d says:

      Hi karen,
      i agree with your explanation of preventing the unnecessary muscle tension in activities improves the breath.
      i think whishpered ah is a tool to register in the memory, what muscle tension is needed to a satisfactory respiration?

      An excercise of one or two wishpered ah’s remembers us , what is the present satisfactory breath condition when used in combination With other alexander directions of good use.

      Is this reasonable to do 2 or 3 wishpered ahs , per every hour or 2 hours in a day?

      • Hi Geetha,

        Your last question is really hard for me to answer – you see I’ve never done a whispered Ah. Never seen it, done it, taught it or been taught it!

        So let me approach it this way. You say your intention in practising a whispered Ah is to register in the memory the muscle tension necessary to breathe. Rather than trying to register, and then to reach a fixed amount, why not keep decreasing the amount of tension you put into breathing? Work consistently towards doing less, then less, then less, then even less. In fact, experiment to find the absolute minimum. You’ll know if you dip too low, because the breath won’t happen, and then you can put a little more back in.

        And another question to keep you busy – how do you define a ‘satisfactory breath condition’?

        Enjoy your experiments

  7. geetha.d says:

    hi Karen,
    what your explanation is 100 percent true.
    FM had been criticized by others that he wont give much instructions and exercises how to do the technique.
    and some body criticizes he publishes his books for publicity of his technique.
    and some NON alexandrions comments that he was copied from some other techniques or people.
    how sad was this ?

    ‘ alexander given lot of information from his books.
    he always banging banging banging banging………………… in his books like
    ‘ analyse the present conditions of USE , a satisfactory USE can be brought about;.

    he knows that if he explains too much about the instructions how to do the technique , the quality of his book losts.
    iam impressed by one word from him’
    ‘ THE END YOU GET MAY NOT BE TODAY OR TOMMORROW , but one day it will be sure’.
    when ever iam doing too much if i remember the words, i really get what alexander real intension was.

    even though i know iam not progressing rapidly DOING the alexander technique.
    iam mixing different teachers voices and making another mix , iam analysing and i think one day
    it will be sure.

  8. Hi Geetha,

    You are right, Alexander does go on at length, in many places, about the important of use, and analysis, observation and our reasoning processes. Sounds like you are working on all of these! I love the idea of reading lots of different teachers, and learning from the different approaches. If you stick to it you will certainly keep making good progress. Karen

  9. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    breath we cant control directly.

    Seeing your last comment i got some questions.
    1. Whether we are holding the breathing muscles and holding the breath or viceversa?
    Which is happenning first,
    holding the breath or holding the muscles.

    I think this is like chicken first or egg first question ?

    Alexanders whishpered ah may answers the above question?

  10. Hi Geetha,

    I’m catching up on my comments this morning! I think that when someone holds their breath, they can do it one of two ways. Either they can hold tight to all the muscles connected with breathing, OR they can just not move any muscles at all; the choice is theirs. Karen

  11. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    i liked your sense of answering my question about BREATH misuse .

    In the last blog, i asked you one question, what is knee?
    You told one excellent and a commonsense
    statement, i.e

    I unterstood after experimenting this commonsense statement.

    Thanks for your kind support.

  12. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,

    alexander technique is some thing about directing the force in a right direction but not in wrong direction.

    I asked my friend ,
    sense the feet while walking and bend the toes and arc the feet to prevent the hard stride.
    This is a good example , thinking and preventing the misdirection in the walking activity.
    But, one truth to notice here is there is no need to bend the toes while lying at rest.

    Inhibition,direction of toes, feet while walking.and as naturally the student still thinks of primary, secondary directions while walking.

    Do you have any information on walking on feet and about feet which helps me ?

  13. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karan,

    This is the alexander fundamental slogan.

    Some where FM told’ finally i found if i not breath i breath’ .

    Walter told some where , ‘KEEP THAT LENGTH’ .

    Based on the above phrases, your explanation about the wishpered ah, MAY be true.

  14. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    why FM discovered alexander technique?
    I think , to prevent the sucking of the inbreath.
    why we are doing alexander technique?
    The same answer.

    I think, the diaphram is attached to false ribcage, sternum,lumbar thoratic connectors.

    FM Discovered a unique approach to free the breath(diaphram) indirectly on a daily use basis , by using the whole whole whole(head neck torso(diaphram connectors) and limbs ) prevention of misdirections .

    The pity guy POSTURE simply and automatically follows.

    I promise to GOD, in my life i wont forget FM whole story , and physco-physical unity.

    Do you give me some information about physco physical unity and the diaphragm??

  15. Hi Geetha,
    I’m getting to some more of your questions! Personally, I do the Alexander technique for a lot more reasons than just to stop the sucking in of the inbreath; however, if you are considering the question of breathing in detail, then the relation between psycho-physical unity and the diaphragm is a great question.

    You’ve already got a very good grasp of the anatomy of the diaphragm, which is complicated. By the time you’ve considered all the supporting musculature, and the disagreement in the medical world about how that works, the picture is enormously complicated.

    What makes psycho-physical unity so great is that we don’t actually need to worry about all these small details. We need to put our attention to our use as a whole, to stopping the unnecessary muscle tension, and just letting the diaphram and the ribs (which are equally important in breathing) get on with the job. Our system will sort out the fine detail for us, if we stay out of our own way.

  16. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    you told when some body holds breath in one of 2 ways.
    1.they can hold tight all muscles connected with breath.
    2. They not move them.
    This is wonderful answer. And i want to analyse your comment.

    Fm told our feeling is untrustworthy in more or less in our daily activities.
    if the student has faulty sense of holding the breathing muscles then breath tightens. And
    if the student has faulty sense of moving the breathing muscles then the breath tightens.

    Then your answer to my question is not sufficient i think!!

    Let us assume,
    ‘suppose, i released the entire breathing muscles and i wished to NOT TO BREATH, then what happens’ ?
    My answer is, the breathing muscles tightens.

    So, the releasing of breathing muscles alone is not sufficient but consiciousness what are we doing with breath while synchronizing the muscles with our intension to breath still necessary for to breath satisfactorily.

    And iam not accepting your false idea on wishpered ah.
    FM intensionally discovered the ‘wishpered ah’ for some useful purpose ,so that they help for FM directions.

    Finally i believe breath is an indicator of present physcophysical state.

    How you explain wishpered ah?and what is your idea?

    • Hi Geetha,
      It may help to separate out some of the threads in what is a great discussion. The part about either holding all the muscles tight or simply not moving them describes the only two physiological options available.
      As you pointed out, it doesn’t address the question of the student’s awareness of what they are doing, which is something else entirely. I can think I am not moving, but in reality be holding tight, or I can think I am not moving and actually be not moving.
      And, of course, when you start moving, for breathing or anything else, it involves a very different sort of thinking from simply not doing anything.
      This dilemma led Alexander to the conclusion that he had to stop relying on his feelings for guidance, and instead trust his reasoning processes to guide him in activity. The ‘in activity’ part is very important.
      I think your description of the whispered ‘Ah’ – to help with giving directions – is as good as anything I can come up with. If practising the whispered ‘Ah’ is helping you, that’s great, stick with it. Karen

  17. Geetha.d says:

    Hi karen,
    thanks for your kind and good information.

    I think we hold our breath EITHER ONE Of the two ways .
    1. By holding our breathing muscles.
    2. By not moving the breathing muscles.
    In these statements iam not satisfied with ‘EITHER ONE’, Word while directing.

    Actually, you written the above words in one of your comments in this same page. Please check…..

    we can replace ‘either one’ with a word ‘BOTH’ .
    Then your statement may much improve and makes us not forgetting ‘T0 Breath’.

    I think we hold our breath both or alltogether in the two ways .
    1. By holding our breathing muscles.
    2. By not moving the breathing muscles.
    In these statements iam satisfied with ‘BOTH’, Word while directing.

    Since, being we are physcophysical ,
    ‘EITHER ONE’ Is not a better word i think.

    ‘every thing one after the other alltogether’ is a best phrase.

    But not,
    ‘either one , one after the other alltogether’ .

    Wishpered ah, helps you also.
    It not helps me alone.
    It helps to everybody to notice generally how to breath.

    Since iam believing you, iam writing this.

  18. Jagadish.nv says:

    Hi karen,

    after a long a time, i have a doubt.

    What parts used for brething?
    Ans@ lungs

    being an FM student my answer is,

    we breath with neck head back(torso)
    we breath with primary control guidance
    we breath with the body.
    we breath with primary,secondary directions.
    How you describe this.

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