Doing and Undoing

Recently I was struck by a phrase in a book:-

there is no way that you can ‘do’ an ‘undoing’

The author(*), teacher Richard Brennan is right.  From an Alexander Technique point of view, there is no way that you can ‘do an ‘undoing’.  But it set me thinking – why is this so difficult to explain?

It is difficult.  Every Alexander teacher struggles to express it in words.  We can demonstrate it with hands-on work easily enough, but most students will immediately turn round and ask, ‘How do I do that?’

You can’t ‘do’ an ‘undoing’.

I’m wondering if the difficulty is because in most of everyday life, you do have to ‘do’ an undoing.

You ‘undo’ a button, a knot or knitting by moving your hands and fingers.  That’s doing.
You ‘stop’ a car or bike by pressing a pedal or pulling a lever.  That’s doing.
You ‘turn off’ a tap by twisting or pressing; and a light by pushing on a switch.  That’s doing.
You ‘let go’ of a rope or a door handle by opening your fingers.  That’s doing.

I have struggled to come up with ANY examples of things that undo, stop or let go of themselves.  Certainly not within Alexander timescales – ie. immediately.

We are creatures of habit.  When we encounter something new our immediate reaction is to relate it to something we already know, to help us make sense of the new thing.  It’s why Alexander teachers are always asked ‘Is the Alexander Technique like Pilates or Yoga?’  People are trying to find a link.

So when we ask them to undo, non-do, stop, let go, let the neck be free or whatever else, the student relates it to the 99% of experiences that require action.  It is hard to explain something that has no links into the rest of our life.

60 doing undoing

What we are trying to convey is a little like Dickens in reverse.

‘Please sir, I want some more.’
‘Of course, Oliver, have another bowl of gruel.’

‘Please sir, I want some more.’
‘Of course, Oliver, have another bowl of gruel.’

‘Please sir, I want some more.’
‘Of course, Oliver…’

While we keep asking for more, we keep getting more.  Gruel or unnecessary muscle tension.  Once we stop asking for it, we stop getting it.

How would you explain it?

(*) My review of the book is here, and a fascinating conversation with the author in the comments that follow.

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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Posted in everyday life, habit
One comment on “Doing and Undoing
  1. Thanks for this, Karen,
    Semantics have become a part of the Alexander Technique language, I believe. “Do” is one of those problem words. Maybe because it’s so short it can be used in at least two ways.
    It’s such a drag that we’re not allowed to do anything.
    The Alexander Technique–Do Not

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