How to learn the Alexander Technique? Incrementally.

toothpaste and brush

The other morning I found myself musing on the unlikely topic of cleaning my teeth.  I was actually cleaning my teeth at the time, and, as usual, I was thinking about how I go about the process of brushing my teeth.  (Doesn’t everyone?)

I discovered something new.  Despite thinking many, many times about how hard or soft I was pressing, I had always judged this pressure based on the effort I was using in my arm.  But I could also be using the feel of the bristles against my gums.  It actually turned out to be a really good indicator of how hard I was brushing.  A whole new dimension to tooth-brushing.

But what really got me musing was the question, ‘Just how important is this discovery?’

In the grand scheme of things it is neither big nor important.  I don’t have problems with sore gums, so it’s a small thing.  I know that people can have huge, dramatically life-changing experiences through the Alexander Technique.  I’ve had a few myself, like my very first lesson with the wonderful Estella Cauldwell.  But these experiences stand out because they don’t happen that often.

More often the Alexander Technique works incrementally.  Baby step by baby step.  Little at a time.  Gradually.  A slow and steady dripping.  Pick your choice of words or metaphor.

Sometimes we only register it as significant when we stop and add up all the tiny little things.  There’s a famous quote from FM Alexander that reads (*):-

 “The evils of a personal bad habit do not reveal themselves in a day or in a week, perhaps not in a year, a remark that is also true of the benefits of a good habit”

Now there’s a man who understood the power of ‘incrementally’.

I’ve never heard anyone put a figure on the number of tiny little things it takes to make a great big huge important thing.  Come to that, I’ve never tried to put a figure on it myself.  But every now and again I stop and look back to how things were.  That’s when I realise that some great big important Alexander Technique things have snuck in without me realising, and transformed my life.

As for the tooth-brushing question, well, it’s prodded me to build greater personal awareness, and to make better use of the information available to me.  I think that makes it important, in an incremental way.


 (*) Man’s Supreme Inheritance, IRDEAT edition p.16

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CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

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Posted in asking questions, change, everyday life, improvement, progress
4 comments on “How to learn the Alexander Technique? Incrementally.
  1. Great post, Karen.
    For me, incrementally is the only way to go, especially with the Alexander Technique. I often tell my students not to try to get it right. I tell them to just get a little bit better. I think it takes some pressure off. Go for slow, never-ending improvement.

    • Hi Mark, glad you liked it. I love that distinction; right or a little bit better. Could be another chart for my teaching room wall there. The idea of never-ending improvement is very uppermost in my mind at the moment, probably because I’ve just started re-reading The Universal Constant in Living. For me it’s one of the most wonderful ideas in the whole of the Alexander Technique, but quite hard to get across.

  2. sonialiff says:

    Hi Karen
    Your thoughts about how many little changes add up to one important thing triggered some thoughts for me. Those writing about innovation often distinguish between ‘incremental’ change, by which is meant gradual improvements in an existing model or approach, and ‘radical’ change, by which is meant a significantly different approach to the problem / different type of solution (which might lead to big changes in performance, functionality or whatever). On this view no number of incremental improvements will ever make a radical change (they are a different kind of change). I don’t know whether there are parallels with what you are writing about (maybe just different terminology?). But say, for the point of arguing, one is making lots of progress in reducing the tension that one is adding in to a movement, would that ever lead you to discover that you could achieve what you wanted to by not doing that movement at all? More positively I am not sure that the change you describe in your post is incremental in this sense since it is a complete change in perspective!

    • Hi Sonia,

      It is an interesting distinction between the size of the change and the size of the difference of approach. Maybe the way you go about making the changes is crucial. I think that someone who only ever aimed to improve the existing model and never looked beyond the next narrow improvement would probably get a very different result from someone who was looking for improvement in a broader and more fundamental sense. A question: if you used ALL the Alexander tools at your disposal in your aim of reducing tension, could you avoid approaching the problem differently?

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