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Moving Meditation
The Alexander Technique for
Performing Arts Students

Preliminary Edition

Ellen Melamed

University of Arizona
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Table of Contents
Introduction .......................................................................................................................... vii
1 – The Creative Student ....................................................................................................... 1
2 - Discovering the Alexander Technique ........................................................................ 21
3 - Principles of the Alexander Technique ....................................................................... 51
4 – Strategies for Implementing the Principles ................................................................ 87
5 - Basic Procedures ........................................................................................................... 113
6 - Your Work and Your Life … Moving Forward........................................................ 133
The Alexander Technique: It is a name that says little about the dynamic nature of this well-
established and practical method. The Technique educates people on how to live with greater
vitality, achieve increased mental acuity, and alleviate physical pain and tension.

The Alexander Technique (AT) is unlike other methods of “self-improvement.” When I was in
the first year of my three-year training program to become a certified Alexander Technique
teacher, one of the more difficult assignments I was given was to create an “elevator pitch” to
tell people what I was studying. It was easier to say what the technique wasn’t than what it was;
it was not massage, nor was it yoga. It was not acupuncture, or chiropractic care. It was not
psychotherapy, nor was it physical therapy. It was not a cult and it was not a religious practice.
It was not a series of exercises, although in time I, and many AT teachers, understood that the
principles of the Alexander Technique could be applied to all sorts of exercise programs.

So we know what the Alexander Technique isn’t. What exactly is it? Is it education or is it
therapy? Is it both? The Alexander Technique is a course of study, an educational program, that
teaches us how to live more easefully in our mind-body and in the world. For more than a
century, performers, artists, athletes, scientists, educators, creative thinkers, and medical
professionals have benefited from learning this work and incorporating it in their personal and
professional lives.

I was initially drawn to the AT because I had been living for years with serious back pain due to
scoliosis, an often painful, lateral curvature of the spine. I wanted to avoid surgery and, prior to
discovering the Technique, I had been seeking a practitioner who could help me “cure” my
chronic pain. This request was quickly challenged when my first Alexander Technique teacher
made it clear that she would not cure me. Instead, she told me something I had not heard from a
health care practitioner before; she told me that she would teach me how to take care of myself.
I was thrilled to discover something I could learn, and I no longer frantically pursued people or
ways to “fix” my problems.

What an incredible sense of empowerment this gifted teacher instilled in me! It was the first time
that I realized that I could be educated about managing my chronic pain, and that the need for a

viii | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

practitioner to fix me was no longer what I wanted. What I had not yet understood, and what
would only become clearer in time, was that my pain would indeed ease but, more importantly,
my entire life would be impacted by the changes that would occur as I continued my studies.

In addition to reducing my physical pain and constant tension, learning the Alexander
Technique helped me understand the importance of choosing to integrate my thoughts and
behaviors. I began to understand that, to a great extent, it is within my power to live more
consciously, and as a result, more creatively. I started studying when I was in my early thirties,
but one can begin and benefit from this process at any point.

When you begin this work you will develop skills that you can utilize in all your activities, and
for the rest of your life. As you continue to study you deepen your practice of the Technique,
and as a result, you experience a fuller and more passionate way of being in the world. Teachers
and students never really graduate; they are always expanding on their knowledge.

The Alexander Technique is a dynamic practice. As people mature and encounter new
situations, their relationship to the work changes, often unexpectedly, and mostly not linearly.
When we confront a plateau in the graph of our learning, our muscles and our mind will still be
remembering all that we have absorbed; even without our consent, we will continue to change.
Patience and a sense of humor are especially helpful during this transformative and often
bumpy learning process.

Everyone can learn and benefit from integrating the Alexander Technique skills in their life.
Performers have used these skills and strategies to enrich their training and throughout their
career; it is no wonder that universities worldwide offer AT courses as part of their required arts
curriculum. This is especially important because there is a great deal of competition in the
performing arts, and one’s presentation can either hinder or help secure work.

When performers experience the proficiency and expertise in their art form that arises from the
self-confidence they’ve acquired from studying the Technique, they are more likely to do well at
auditions, to become successfully employable, and to enjoy the day-to-day requirements of life
as an artist.

Performers who take a series of AT lessons have an advantage; they have eased their daily
tension, reduced or eliminated performance anxiety, and found renewed joy in their work. These
and other responses to the AT are apparent to others even if they cannot precisely name what it
is they see during a performance.

The Alexander Technique is a practice that can be utilized in all art forms, but those of us who
embody this work know that we have capabilities that are more widespread than what is
apparent in our creative life. In fact, it is not possible to separate out this particular skill set from
everything else that helps us live a healthy life, nor should we try to categorize this Technique as
distinct and apart, as it really is a whole mind-body educational experience.

When working with a certified AT teacher you will notice just how much excess stress you have
been harboring. Your teacher will help you consciously release muscular tension in order for the
appropriate postural muscles to enable you to stand, sit, walk, and perform daily activities
I n t r o d u c t i o n | ix

without strain. In time, you will be able to employ this easeful use of self when you engage in
hobbies, sports, and especially in your professional activities.

Relief from tension begins with a thought and a desire to stop, or inhibit, habitual patterns of
movement that result in overuse and all the accompanying symptoms. This practice of
inhibition, and the awareness and avoidance of over-preparation, are essential in working to
effectively manage stress.

Inhibition disrupts the habits that contribute to disproportionate emotional and physical
responses to everyday activities, as well as to rituals of practicing, auditioning, rehearsing, and
performing. Although examining lifelong habitual rituals and patterns may initially cause
feelings of frustration, if one can avoid focusing on negative self-judgment in this exploration,
there will be promising long-term benefits.

About Moving Meditation: The Alexander Technique for

Performing Arts Students
This book provides a basic introduction to the Alexander Technique for performing artists, but it
is important to note that one cannot learn this Technique solely from reading. It is best to work
with a certified AT teacher because he or she will be able to help you identify habits of thinking
and movement that may not be clear to you, and then guide you carefully and patiently through
necessary changes.

If you are unable to study with a certified teacher, you can still benefit from reading and doing
the detailed exercises outlined in this book. You might want to gather some friends in the
performing arts, establish a reading group, and discuss and explore the work together.

The title of this book is a natural extension of more than 25 years of thinking about, practicing,
and teaching the Alexander Technique, in conjunction with my own meditation practice. Both of
these methods have instilled in me the value of conscious awareness and being present in the
mind-body, but it was not until I began teaching university students majoring in the performing
arts that I learned just how each practice informs the other. The Alexander Technique is a form
of moving meditation; performers would do well to absorb this practice in their life.

You will notice that in more than one chapter I remark on the significance of how we use
language when we talk about and teach the Alexander Technique. I use some words and phrases
interchangeably. The Alexander Technique is referred to as the AT, the Technique, or the work.
We do not profess to fix or cure. We are not therapists, we are teachers, and the people we work
with are students or pupils. I refer to students as she or he. I call Frederick Matthias Alexander,
FM, or Mr. Alexander. When I talk about how we learn the work, I use the words strategy, skill,
or tool. When I talk about what Alexander believed in, I use principles or guidelines. I alternate
FM’s term use of the self with mind-body unity. Psychophysical unity may be called
psychophysical or mind-body health. There exists a specific and identifiable language in the
Alexander Technique, just as there is in most established fields of study.
x|Moving Meditation

In Chapter One you will read about creativity, habitual behavior, and transformation. Chapter
Two gives you a basic overview of the Alexander Technique, introduces you to FM Alexander,
and investigates the mind-body relationship. In Chapter Three Alexander’s principles are
explored, and in Chapter Four you will read about strategies for embodying the work. Chapter
Five reviews basic procedures that you can explore on your own or with others. In the final
chapter you will learn about how to move forward in deepening your practice of the Technique.
Throughout the text you will find exercises that will get you started in your exploration.
Questions for Reflection as You Read Chapter One:

• What if you were graded on intellectual and personal growth, as well as on mastery of
a particular subject?
• What if instructors encouraged thinking “outside the box” instead of requiring you to
search for the one right answer?
• How can you explore the reactions in your body when thinking and responding to
your assignments?

The Old Schoolroom

When I was in grade school in the 1960s, students sat at identical wooden desks, wrote in
standard composition notebooks, performed routinized exercises in gym class, practiced reciting
multiplication and division tables, and learned to spell by memorizing words every Monday and
then being tested on them every Friday. There was not much room for personal expression.

2|Moving Meditation

Figure 1.1: Notice the uniformity. Can you see which of these students are especially rigid? Can you see
who appears more relaxed?

Students who asked too many questions were frequently labeled as troublemakers or slackers.
Some teachers said their students were wild or challenging and shamed them for raising their
hands too often and too enthusiastically. Learning, in general, was prescribed and predictable.

During the last half century there have been tremendous advances in understanding how people
learn. It is not uncommon for children in the early grades to determine and then tell educators
how they learn best; as a result, more schools are accommodating different kinds of learners
without labeling and stigmatizing them. In middle and high school there is a growing focus on
experiential learning. Some students are co-constructors of their own paths to knowledge. We
have indeed come a long way.

Despite these innovations, many of us continue on the expected path of learning and unless we
have the advantage of taking a “gap year,” we attend college or university directly after high
school. Long before we have received those coveted letters of acceptance, we have been asked—
or sometimes told—what it is we want to do when we get older. We are rarely asked who we are
or what we enjoy doing.

We are “all about purpose.” We have goals and we are at university with those specific goals in
mind. Some of us learn best by following our tangential thinking, but we are often encouraged
to avoid tangents; we are urged to stay on track. Whether we know if we are ready or not to stay
on that one path, we are pushed to get where we are going, fast. Our occupation, or career, is
one of the first things we mention when meeting someone new. Even our obituaries state our
work life in the title sentence.
1 – The Creative Student |3

We are rarely asked who we are or what we enjoy doing.

Exercise 1.1: Learning and Creating

1. How do you learn best? Are you a visual, auditory, or tactile learner? What would you
consider your particular learning style(s)? Does your style differ at different times,
depending on what it is you are learning?
2. What is it that you want to do to earn your living? How do you want to be as you do
whatever it is that you do? How do you want people to perceive you in your career?
3. How important is your career in your life? How important is it for other people to
approve of your career choice? Do you think that will change as you age? Describe other
aspects of life that are important to you.
4. What is your “purpose” in life?

A student’s partial response to #3:

I would like to be a member of an orchestra in a midsize city and earn a decent living. It is important for
me to have an intimate relationship, children, and be engaged in my community. I often think that how
other people see me is more important than it should be. I wish I didn’t need that approval so much …

Serious Play
Many of us enter university with our major decided even before we take the first course in that
field. Moreover, we are expected to know something about the subject as opposed to admitting
that we know little or nothing about the topic before we study it. We are pressured to declare a
major by junior year in an effort to make certain all our required courses are completed in time
to graduate. Some of us, for a variety of positive and not-so-positive reasons, extend a four year
college experience into five or six years, often without family or financial support.

The intention at most universities is to immerse students in a specific field of study early in their
coursework, so they can either begin focusing on a lucrative career or prepare for acceptance at a
respectable graduate school. The goal is for students to enter the job market; the well-rounded
scholar of yesteryear is no longer commonplace, nor is she or he especially desirable during
economic fluctuations.

For those interested in attending graduate school, a successful undergraduate performance is

critical. Given the highly competitive environment in most fields, including in the arts, mediocre
grades can be detrimental. The stakes are high in our quest for continuing beyond a college
degree, and there is little room for serious play, particularly after middle school.

The time for making “mistakes” and failing occupies a relatively brief period in the life cycle,
and that time lessens the further we go in school. Experimenting and questioning without fear of
4|Moving Meditation

negative consequences is all but nonexistent. Repeated failures give us the “loser” label and we
are perceived as immature and irresponsible; in other words, we are urged to stop playing after
childhood. Parents and educators remind us to “stop fooling around,” “grow up,” and “make
something of ourselves.” Playing is for children, producing is for adults. Making mistakes is
childish; getting it right—and getting it right quickly—is the key to maturity. This is hardly a
recipe for the creativity so many of us wish to explore.

Universities are in the business of training specialists. The expectation for students is to perfect a
skill, or even better, to perfect a number of complementary, marketable skills. It is a rare
academic program that encourages the kind of messy, tangential thinking that supports
innovative and inventive learners who are willing to take risks and who are willing to fail.
Understandably, the majority of students long for, and prepare for, what they hope will be
guaranteed employability. Unfortunately for creative people, this customary trajectory inhibits
personal growth at the expense of professional growth.

Pause to Consider…

• In what situations can you embrace nonlinear and messy learning, as opposed to
producing something quickly and having a preconceived notion for a product?
• What happens when you take risks, leave your comfort zone, and dispute prescribed

Contrary to the principles of contemporary standardized education, the Alexander Technique

(AT), a practical course of study that transforms how we think and move, encourages a form of
serious play. The learning is not linear, and students are discouraged from behaving as though
they are all knowing. In fact, people who study the Technique are asked to return to a time
when they were expected to question and experiment, when they were allowed to not know and
not always be right. They are not rewarded for giving the correct answers; in fact, they are
rewarded for inquiry, especially when challenging their own motivation and behaviors.

Some AT students are initially fearful of the sense of “infantilizing” that they may experience at
the beginning of their studies. Because they are asked to give up habits of mind and body that no
longer serve them—and then are not rewarded for finding immediate replacements—there is a
loss of familiarity and dependability. Students of the Technique are encouraged to remember
and embody the freedom of movement and ease they felt as toddlers and to question the
habitual behaviors and responsibilities they took on as adults, often unconsciously.

Learning the Alexander Technique asks the student to be comfortable with not knowing because
there are no prescribed reactions or solutions. Under the guidance of highly trained teachers,
students find their own way, and there is no precise time frame or curriculum in which to do
this. Most AT teachers do not deal directly with specific physical or emotional issues; it is the
entire person that is experiencing the learning. This learning process requires patience and trust;
it is an individualized course of study with unlimited practical applications.
1 – The Creative Student |5

Students of the Technique are encouraged to remember and embody the freedom of
movement and ease they felt as toddlers and to question the habitual behaviors
and responsibilities they took on as adults, often unconsciously.

Exercise 1.2: Serious Play and Your Art Form

How would you define serious play? Who in your life encourages serious play? How has this
person been helpful in your art form? Write about your history and any experiences you
have had with attempts at serious play. Consider how you felt when not following the rules
and, either intentionally or inadvertently, producing something creative. How does this kind
of learning inform your art work? If you consider messy learning as part of your specific art
form, what does that look like? How do you incorporate this kind of learning when
attempting to master your craft?

.A student’s partial response to #3:

I have found that allowing myself to be a messy learner encourages me to go beyond what I think my
limits are. Although I am often hesitant to stray from a plan that I have set out for myself, I think some of
my best painting happens when I do something unexpected. It’s just that while I am off track or off my
schedule I sometimes feel like I am wasting my time and I get anxious …

Creative Thinking and Use of the Self

Creativity is something we can cultivate, even though many of us were not born or encouraged
to become professional creators. Unfortunately, some children are forced into a particular kind
of learning early on that does not allow or inspire creative thinking, and in many cases, the
particular culture they inhabit crushes whatever creative thoughts they might have had. This can
lead to an adulthood that is full of fear and one that unintentionally represses artistic expression,
despite a person’s innate potential.

There are, of course, some of us who are gifted with a substantial degree of talent that others will
never possess. Alongside proper guidance and a degree of luck and circumstance, these people
are aggressively guided in cultivating their talents; consequently, they call themselves (and are
recognized as) artists. However, this does not mean that it is necessary to have been born with a
great deal of talent. Given discipline and training, all of us can enhance and foster our creative
capacity to some degree.

Creative students, regardless of their particular course of study, would do well to examine and
embrace what FM Alexander termed use of the self. Most artists do not separate the mind and the
body into two parts. The fullness of our being—the use of the self—is engaged throughout the
creative process. The self incorporates the recognition and embodiment of how one’s thoughts
impact body movements, and vice versa. This process begins with awareness, or presence of the
6|Moving Meditation

Being aware, or becoming aware, is not solely an intellectual endeavor. It is an experience of the
whole self being integrated, conscious, and alive. What we think is as important as what we do;
the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. When we are not actively thinking about what it is
we are doing in any given moment, we are most likely responding habitually, rather than with
conscious awareness.

My work is an exercise in finding out what thinking is.

—FM Alexander

Whatever you think and however you feel is reflected in how you use your body. The headache
you experience after studying for an exam, the tension in your fingers and wrists after typing a
final paper, the chronic clicking in your jaw, and the nagging pain in your back and across your
shoulders are all connected to what you are—or are not—thinking. In Alexander terminology,
we say use affects functioning. How you use yourself is reflected in how you function in your daily

Habitual Learning Discourages Conscious Awareness

The Alexander Technique emphasizes the value of conscious awareness, or conscious control, as
opposed to the habitual learning promoted in most educational institutions. Habitual learning,
or habitual reactivity, is often the result of learning where fear has been inculcated, either on a
conscious or unconscious level. Educational institutions favor correct answers over exploratory
learning—as a result, creative thinking is often squashed. Because of this imposed need to be
right, many of us “learn” to say or do the “right thing” and expect someone else to reward us for
doing so. We see ourselves through the lens of what someone else determines as our success.

As a result, we are tracked into doing things that we do well; this is reinforced when people say
we are “so good” at something. We are told we are a “natural.” Pursuing one’s talent, in fact, is
often expected as part of a family constellation and predetermined by the pressures of blood
line, school, and culture.

A great deal of work and planning are necessary in order to navigate the often unpredictable
and messy life of an artist, especially if this is a life not of our choosing. In traditional
educational settings, this messiness may be excused or tolerated during the process of learning,
as long as the product turns out neat and complete. Inevitably, the end product is always the

The student who is tracked and guided by adults who consistently praise her talents may very
well grow up to be a limited, unhappy adult, and one who is always seeking approval. She may
envy others for their success, all the while experiencing minimal self-awareness and maximum
self-doubt. She may be engaged in behaviors or activities that are not of her choosing, and her
overall performance may not be in her control.

What encourages a tendency toward low self-esteem and lack of awareness in talented and
productive artists? Sometimes it is an inability to be present and fully conscious. Presence can
be frightening, given the fact that as young students we were often “forced to pay attention” and
1 – The Creative Student |7

punished if we did not. Learning—even something which holds our interest—should not be the
result of fearing the consequences if we do not immediately absorb and demonstrate excellence
of the material.

When we talk about the love of learning and reduce the fears that were inherent in the methods
of how many of us were taught, we can alter what happens in the body, as well as in the mind.
Glance around a room where students are taking an exam of consequence. The tension is often
palpable. Watch the way students sit: they are contracted, they frown and tic, they wiggle, and
habitually and unconsciously twitch their legs or curl their hair. Listen for breathing; you might
hear sighs and grunts as opposed to easeful and quiet breaths.

Figure 1.2: Can you describe your "use" when you are taking an exam?
How conscious of your body are you?

Compare this scene with a group of young people who are meditating. Both rooms require
silence but the quality of that silence differs. The meditation room, because it emits a communal
sense of peace, can provide a possibility for transformation. It is from that shared silence that
creativity and artistry can flourish. When we learn to trust that silence and when we are truly
and peacefully conscious in our mind and body, we can begin to understand the meaning of
presence and self-awareness.

The student who is tracked and guided by adults who consistently praise her
talents may very well grow up to be a limited, unhappy adult, and one who is
always seeking approval.
8|Moving Meditation

Exercise 1.3: Being Conscious in Daily Life

1. Select an activity that you do daily. Write about how present you are when you are
engaged in this activity. If you wander, is it in your body? Your mind? Both? When are
you most present?
2. Write about your relationship to your “talent.” Are you a “natural” talent? How much of
the execution of your talent feels habitual? How much feels creative and impulsive? How
confident do you feel about your skills?

A student’s partial response to #1:

Driving is something I do almost every day. When I drive I think about other things in addition to driving,
since I think driving is habitual. I don’t really need to think about driving when I drive. I try not to text or
talk on the phone unless I am at a light. I can’t imagine wasting my time just driving so I usually have to be
thinking of something more interesting, especially at night and if I am tired. I guess I could try focusing on
just driving and that would make me be more aware of being in the moment. But that’s boring, and I just
don’t like being bored …

Silence Encourages Creativity

If we “turn down the volume” of our habitual speech we can access the sense experiences that
exist in us but are often hidden under words. Creative people connect to their sense of smell,
taste, sight, touch, and hearing in order to be fully present to create. When we are quiet we can
develop and fine tune our other senses; we can experience much of what is lost when we fill our
space with chatter. If we silently observe and engage with our surroundings, we listen deeply
and respond appropriately to whatever it is that we encounter.

When we eat in silence our sense of taste becomes prominent, instead of getting lost under
speech. When lovers are quiet they can enjoy a heightened sense of touch. Walking quietly in a
garden, on a beach, or in a bustling city, allows us to focus on our sense of hearing and our sense
of smell. Those silent times when our senses are in the forefront help us connect to and cultivate
our thoughts and sensations. This, in turn, leads us to perceive the world and our relationship to
it in new ways. We may not be aware of anything new in the moment, but these moments build
on each other. Being responsive and reflective in the world is at the heart of creation.

Silence in the body and silence in the mind provides space for focus and presence. If we listen
carefully and pay attention with compassion and without judgment of self and others, we can
allow our silent thoughts, which number in the tens of thousands daily, to change and morph
into something we might later return to in our creative process.
1 – The Creative Student |9

Pause to Consider…

• Why do you speak?

• When is the last time you carved out an extended period of silence with the intention of
accessing your imagination and creativity?
• Can you recall times when you were talking to someone and you could sense that he
was waiting for you to stop speaking so that he could talk?
• Are you ever guilty of this kind of “stingy” dynamic of communication?

If we think for a moment, genuinely consider what has been said, and then gather our thoughts
before we reply honestly and generously, then we will develop more effective listening skills. If
we embrace the silence, rather than try to fill it, we can train ourselves to explore the spaces
between events and discussions. It is in those spaces between words where creativity originates.

Silence teaches us about awareness. Awareness is the forerunner of creativity,

radical transformation, courage … If we are unaware, we live habitually, speak
habitually, act habitually, respond habitually, and live only on the surface of

—Christina Feldman

Although silence can be an exquisite teacher, for many of us it can also be a form of punishment
or isolation. Even if we have experienced the abuse of silence, it would be beneficial to revisit
the beauty and the limitless possibilities of reconnecting with this profound state.

The Alexander Technique helps us examine how we use language and how often we use
language. Students “listen” to their thinking and the resultant actions, and they begin to
challenge extraneous thoughts, words, and movements. As our study of the AT deepens, we
begin to rely on our body—and not only on our words—to tell us what it is that we are thinking
and experiencing.

It is in those spaces between words where creativity originates.

Learning Nonverbally
The body has a vast and expressive language, and unless we are an athlete or a performer, we do
not regularly turn to the body to express itself, that is, to express us. This may be because body
language is often misconstrued and as a result, we try to avoid its messages altogether. There
are situations when speaking with the body suggests shame, conceit, or promiscuity. It is easier,
in many circumstances, to dissuade the body from speaking for us and to resort to verbal
language that, in actuality, may be equally confusing to both the speaker and the listener.

Thus, we use verbal language to explore our feelings, but we may discover that verbal language
actually covers our feelings, rather than articulates them. Usually our conversations volley
between verbal and nonverbal language, but most of us notice the verbal before, or in place of,
10 | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

the nonverbal cues. We do not allow or encourage the body to speak for us. Because silence can
make us profoundly uncomfortable, we use words, particularly in times of stress or anxiety, but
perhaps not always wisely.

Pause to Consider…

• Sometimes we speak when we are uncomfortable in our body. We rattle on because we

believe that if we keep talking, people may not notice our physical shortcomings. We
assume, rightly or wrongly, that our “deficits” are evident to everyone.
• Sometimes we speak when we want people to notice our body. We move in ways that
accentuate different body parts. We call attention to a body part or movement that we
have favored and focused on, and that brings us pride, or at least eliminates our feelings
of low self-esteem or shame.
• Sometimes we cannot find the “exact” words to express an emotion, and we hope that
how we use our body says what it is we want or mean to imply. These movements may
or may not be in our consciousness. When feeling anxious or awkward and our body
language can get us the response we want, we feel relieved. We tend to habitually return
to that familiar state.

The above examples are situations when we use the body to speak, but often we are unaware of
our own methods of communicating. It is as if someone else is in charge at the moment and we
are absent in the experience. Sometimes we may be surprised by the consequences.

Learning to live consciously in the body is a skill that is not fostered in us unless we are using
the body in a particular activity. Even then, the goal of succeeding in the activity is of greater
significance than the process of being in the activity. Body consciousness is unfamiliar to most of
us, and when we are no longer engaged in the specific activity we tend to return to being absent
in the body. We live most of our lives in an unconscious state that is our “norm,” one that is
established and quite comfortable.

Moreover, our nonverbal and unconscious behaviors may be interpreted incorrectly in certain
situations. Sometimes this occurs because people in cultures unlike our own, or ones with which
we are unfamiliar, have learned to interpret and respond to nonverbal cues differently than we
have. Touching and kissing are examples that may be misinterpreted; in some regions these
expressions are taboo unless they are exchanged within a family, or only between people of the
same gender. It is interesting to observe the transformation and acceptance of specific body
language as different cultures occupy the same space. As with words, the language of the body
is very complex and requires a concentrated and conscious learning, as well as a letting go of
preconceived notions of how to communicate via this particular, ever mutable language.

When we study the Alexander Technique, we become more comfortable with exploring
nonverbal cues as an objective practice and not as a judgment of ourselves or others. We do not
compare and compete with one another as much as learn to see accurately who we are and what
is in front of us. Our skill of observation intensifies because how we are looking at someone—
whether they are in stillness or in motion—changes. We learn to follow and analyze the subtle
patterns of breathing and movement in our self and in others. We understand that much of
1 – T h e C r e a t i v e S t u d e n t | 11

nonverbal life has become habitual. In time, we learn to associate emotions and language with
body movements and to bring these correlations into consciousness.

In the Alexander Technique nonverbal behavior is communicated primarily via a sense of touch
and a sense of sight. When we touch someone or we are touched, additional information about
awareness and consciousness is revealed. Offering and receiving touch with sensitivity helps us
deepen our perception of what it means to communicate nonverbally. Looking with the
intention of seeing objectively is paramount. Because breath consciousness is an important
aspect of the Technique, our sense of hearing is also enhanced.

How can we best learn nonverbally, and why is this important for the performing artist? To
begin, we need to quiet the voice, as well as quiet the mind. It is equally important to lower the
volume on the chatter that we do not say aloud but that is spinning incessantly in our head. As
we learn to expand our sensual acuity and focus on each sense separately, we can, in time, call
upon them together and then merge them when necessary. Artists know that a quiet mind is a
receptive mind; it is in the quiet that our senses come to light and creativity can occur.

For example, we can sharpen our sense of sight so that what we see is greater at any given
moment than what we hear. We then learn to reverse this process, so that our sense of hearing
speaks louder than our sense of sight. We can listen for how the breath moves the body; in time,
we learn to see movement of the breath through the body. We “turn up the volume” on each of
the senses and then choose to accentuate whichever ones we want to consciously embrace, but
not necessarily at the absence of the others. Eventually, we are able to move from one amplified
sense to another at will. We develop the capacity to experience everything separately and then
all together.

Exercise 1.4: Nonverbal Communication

1. Describe your relationship to your nonverbal self. Is body language (yours and others’)
prominent in your awareness? Do you express yourself easily through your body? How
has your body language changed as you’ve matured?
2. What is your comfort level with silence when you are around others? Do you put sound
on (music, videos) when you are alone? Do you see yourself as a person who likes to
“chat?” Are you a “generous” listener?
3. Discuss your relationship to your senses. Which senses do you depend on most? Least?
How does your sensory life impact on your art form? How easily can you “turn up the
volume” on particular senses?
4. What is your relationship to touch? Discuss your thoughts about personal space. Is your
comfort level a result of cultural and/or familial experiences?

A student’s partial response to #2:

I am definitely more comfortable with talking than with silence, so I usually have some kind of noise
around me if I have the choice. I don’t see how I speak as chatting; it’s more about trying to get closer to
people. I am trying to learn to listen better, but I’m not sure I’m getting better. Sometimes I talk out loud
just to gather my thoughts coherently. I don’t see a problem with processing externally …
12 | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

Learning with Pleasure

When imagining a pleasurable learning experience, the following scenario in the life of a toddler
stacking wooden blocks comes to mind. A parent or teacher watches as the child works through
this process. As she drops blocks, tries to balance them, pushes and pulls them, the child laughs
and whines. The adult observes and determines how this particular child grasps and processes
information, and then decides how to guide the execution. Some children learn best by watching
adults model the task; others respond well to verbal and visual suggestions, and still others do
better via trial and error. The more effective learning style(s) may become evident during the
child’s development or even during the course of this one experience.

Figure 1.3: What do you imagine she is thinking? What does her body tell you?

It is common for a child to experience annoyance when learning something new. In response to
their own discomfort, anxiety, or habit, some adults intervene and attempt to “fix” what’s
wrong. It is not easy to watch a child struggle, but momentary failure may contribute to her
satisfactorily acquiring knowledge in the long run. If a child is constantly shown the right and
only way of doing something, she is prevented from experiencing and learning from failure. She
is unknowingly developing habits of learning that are geared toward perfection. As a result of
external interference, her creativity may be stifled as she adheres to a linear, neat, non-tangential
thought process.

Creativity often originates in messiness. Getting messy allows for possibilities and helps us to
discover how we learn best in various situations. Messy learning should not be punitive, nor
should it shame the learner. When we gain knowledge with pleasure, we understand that the
process of learning does not need to be arduous; it can be playful. When learning is hurried,
1 – T h e C r e a t i v e S t u d e n t | 13

ridden with angst and the pressure to be right and fraught with a desire only for success as the
outcome, the process is not organically experienced or appreciated.

Pause to Consider…

• What does it mean to learn with pleasure?

• How can you approach learning without focusing primarily on the outcome?
• How do you highlight the process of an artistic experience?

Creative thinking is not always linear or necessarily goal oriented. Thinking creatively
encourages a process of problem solving that is not shrouded in a fear of being right. It can
incorporate all styles of learning and sometimes results in endeavors, experiences, or products
that differ from initial intentions. Ask a working artist how often an intention transforms during
the execution of a work of art; many will say they are utterly surprised at the outcome. In
standardized learning situations, messy procedures are discouraged. Regardless of the end
product, educators need to be amenable to the fact that creativity does not follow a prescription.

In response to decades of overstimulating and overscheduling children and training them to

multitask and fill their time, a trend in some contemporary educational circles has been to
encourage a form of daydreaming, sometimes originating with meditation. Students who
meditate learn to be present with their thoughts and with their breath. The compulsion to
respond to others is de-emphasized. The pressure to create is also not in the forefront, but the
space and thoughts necessary for creativity become available and are encouraged.

Daydreaming, or imagining, visualizing, and fantasizing, allows for unexpected, innovative

thoughts to emerge. Left to their own devices, children will do this naturally and without adult
intervention. Adult guidance that tends to discourage moments of daydreaming, of doing
nothing, instills behavior that is rote, determined, or expected.

When we do not provide a space to do nothing, to daydream and to visualize, we contribute to a

culture that supports responding automatically and habitually to stimuli. People who practice the
Alexander Technique unlearn these habits of behavior and reactivity that develop early in life.
These habits may have been useful during development, but many of them no longer serve us as
we age.

Learning the AT is not dissimilar to learning as we experienced it in childhood, and the learning
that is inherent in all art forms. There are countless moments of freshness, discovery, and
wonder. Alexander Technique practitioners know from working with students of all ages that it
is never too late for re-education, without judgment, and with the focus on the journey and not
entirely on the outcome.

Daydreaming, or imagining, visualizing, and fantasizing, allows for unexpected,

innovative thoughts to emerge.
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Cultivating Intention; Cultivating Patience

Studying the Alexander Technique is akin to creating “something.” Like the artist, the AT
student must first be present and available in order to receive and implement a process of
transformation. For many people, the process of making something begins with an intention.
Perhaps it is connected to an incident or series of events in the past that stimulates the senses.
Creative people allow the memory of a sensory experience to permeate their thinking, to
percolate in the mind-body. They know they must trust the process. They must be patient and
open to a variety of possibilities.

Sometimes our intention begins with a story or is based on an exchange we had with someone.
In whatever way we are called to this inspirational thought, we must be open and available in
our mind-body. What originally sparked one particular sensory experience and prompted it to
grow into a specific art form may have started as a preconceived dance piece, visual work,
musical composition, or a novel, but may have morphed into an entirely unexpected work of art.

So it is with the Alexander Technique. When we start a course of AT lessons, we cannot predict,
as in any process of transformation, where we will “end up” or how long it will take. A student
must learn patience. Before students can enjoy the process of cultivating awareness and the
ability to be present, they must first ask themselves if they are willing to acknowledge the fact
that they may not be as aware as they like to believe, or as much as others have led them to
believe about themselves. In other words, a student must be comfortable with self-reflection.

Begin with an open mind. At a first lesson, a student typically asks me how long it will take to
change or to feel better. I say that I don’t know. There is no set beginning, middle, or end to this
process, and it is assumed that the learning continues long after the formal lessons have stopped.
If we learn to embody the AT principles in daily life, we can tweak them as we age. What my
mind-body was capable of when I was three years old changed when I was ten, and then
changed again and again. In order to maintain a life of vitality and meaning, I will continue to
consciously change and value the challenges with which I am confronted until I am no longer

An open mind enables the body to be open. An open body enables the mind to be open. It is
generally the mind that, at the outset, understands and intellectualizes the experience of the AT
lesson. My hope for my students is to eventually incorporate the AT experience in the mind-
body simultaneously, as these two parts of us—the self—work together and should not be
dissociated. The Technique is not solely an intellectual experience, nor is it only of the body.
Unfortunately, we are often expected to learn in a dualistic fashion; either we live life from the
neck up or the neck down.

It is not constructive to label yourself as being “in your head” or “in your body.” During a series
of lessons you learn that binary thinking is not conducive to creativity, and soon you stop seeing
yourself as one way or the other. Studying the AT requires flexibility in thinking as much as in
movement. Unlike the flexibility we commonly seek when at a health club, we can expand the
definition of flexibility to incorporate availability as it pertains to use of the self.
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Pause to Consider…

• How available is your mind?

• Do you see a challenging situation as a learning experience and an opportunity for
changing your beliefs?
• How available is your body for moving in new and more efficient ways?

Being patient and trusting the process does not necessarily mean that creativity grows without
challenges. Creative people, despite their capacity and talent, do not always experience flow or
ease during their process, even with sufficient time and discipline. Daily stress and certain
psychological traits may discourage artists from embracing their creativity, and this can lead to
performance anxiety or feelings of illegitimacy. This is true not only in the performance or
movement arts; writers and fine artists experience their own versions of performance anxiety,
pretense, or “blocks.”

An open mind enables the body to be open. An open body enables the mind to be

As you embody the work more fully over time and you trust your intentions, you will find that a
“thinking body” emerges. The Alexander Technique teaches you to understand where anxiety or
stress originates in the mind-body, how to manage it when it appears, and ultimately, how to
avoid the onset of crippling feelings and emotions that prevent the flow of creativity.

Exercise 1.5: Trusting Your Learning Process

1. Are you a person who lives from “the neck up” or “the neck down?” In what ways are
you available and flexible in your thinking body? How did your early education and
family life encourage or discourage conscious thinking and moving?
2. Describe how you incorporate the role of intention as you create a work of art. What is
your process? Do you tend to work linearly? Does your work flow? When are you most
present? When are you absent?
3. What are your thoughts about failure? How have your experiences in school informed
these thoughts and influenced your choices?
4. Would you describe yourself as a patient person? How much do you trust the process of
creating? Are you often anxious that what you envision and want to happen will not

A student’s partial response to #4:

My parents say I have no patience but I think that I do. It’s just that my parents and other adults are too
slow in their responses. Sometimes in class I have no patience when professors say the same thing over
and over again. When my music teachers tell me to slow down, I have some trouble because I play better
when I play fast. I don’t like to overthink how to do my work …
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Intuition: Yes to the Inner Voice and No to the Inner Critic

Have you ever had the feeling, after a weak event or performance, that you had known better and
really should have chosen a different path? That “feeling” is your inner voice, that intuitive voice
that we struggle not to hear; instead, we have been taught to turn up the volume on our rational

The rational mind is considered analytic; it is what guides us through our traditional educational
system and seeks correct answers. It is based on logic and calculation and is what we trust most
when making major life decisions. It is what Mr. Alexander promoted as the reliable method of
decision making. At its core, rational thinking is seen as rejecting emotions and instincts.

In daily life, however, we do not automatically separate our rational from our intuitive thinking
and behaviors any more than we do our mind from our body. Think about how you move
through the world. Consider your basic way of being: are you rational, emotive, or a
combination of both?

The inner voice, or the feeling we have in our “gut,” is a gift that we can cultivate. Our intuition,
our emotional intelligence, allows us to know something instinctively by connecting the
conscious and unconscious mind states. Throughout history, despite the resistance from
“expert” detractors in their field, many inventors and creative thinkers have relied on their
intuitive and not-quite-rational thoughts as they discovered scientific theories and formulations.
Those of us whose minds wander, who lose track of time and detach from the problems or
distractions of the moment, give ourselves the permission and freedom to uncover possibilities
not present in our immediate consciousness. In those times we are in the flow. We are most open
to creative productivity.

Artists have learned to develop and trust their inner voice and their intuitive sense as they
generate something new. During the creative process they can embrace a leap of faith and retreat
temporarily from rational thinking into a space of emptiness and not knowing. They can learn to
support that inner voice by incorporating the Alexander Technique principle of inhibition.

Inhibition serves to bridge the gap between rational and emotional thinking. It allows for the
possibility of a space for discovery and integration. When you inhibit your habitual response to a
stimulus, you prevent an automatic reaction from occurring. You give yourself the time and
awareness to consider a more creative way to respond. You notice where in your body your
inner voice is speaking, and you can determine if that voice is critical or supportive.

Some artists say that during prolific periods, memories of their childhood are evoked, and their
response to a creative problem becomes playful and energetic. They know that children
instinctively love to move, live in a constant state of mind-body curiosity, and inhabit an ease
that is their natural way of being. These are all welcome traits to an artist.

Over time and years of schooling, however, children have been forced to sit quietly on chairs for
long periods. The need for—and love of—moving is gradually discouraged, and the freedom
that children innately exhibit transforms into something stilted and contracted. It is not only the
body, but the child’s mind that is stunted when creativity and problem solving are uniformly
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dampened. As they grow, children’s responses to everyday activities become routine, and
conscious awareness of self and others lessens. By the time they are in their teens, many young
people are no longer comfortable with introspection or with physical movement. As a result,
they lose the integration and independence of the well-organized use of the self that is their

When you inhibit your habitual response to a stimulus, you prevent an automatic
reaction from occurring. You give yourself the time and awareness to consider a
more creative way to respond.

In creating art, inhibition can change the habitual course of your routinized thinking patterns. It
is possible to make a conscious choice to trust your intuition and to consider how you
specifically organize and integrate yourself in the process of creating. When you become aware
of self-doubt or judgment, decide to say no to your inner critic. Recognize and acknowledge the
criticism that you internalize so that you can prevent the anxiety related to performing or
producing. Of course this is easier said than realized, but in time, habits of negativity and fear
can be minimized and the joy of making art can be more readily accessed.

Resisting or Embracing Habits; Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Most of us feel comfortable in routine, and we know that certain daily and work structures are
helpful in an artist’s life. In fact, most highly productive artists will tell you that they are most
efficient when their days are structured. They decide what days and times of the day they work
best and allot these specific times for their art work, and they rarely move out of those
designated clusters of time (and space).

Some artists do not like to go on holiday because it keeps them away from their work for too
long at one time; others say that moving away from their work allows them to re-engage with a
greater openness and expansion. It’s best to know one’s own rhythm and to create a working life
plan where adherence to particular times and spaces is paramount for greater productivity and

Thinking about and then implementing healthy structures and circumstances may require
changing daily habits. Despite the preponderance of multitasking (or maybe because of it), many
of us are able to recall, and regret, squandering large portions of our days. Sometimes, at the
end of a day, we cannot remember how we spent our time. It is not unusual to say “Where did
the day go?” This can come to mind after a day of increased productivity and the “flow of being
in the zone”; or paradoxically, it can plague us when we see that we have accomplished little or
nothing at all.

There are many of us who, while in the midst of engaging in an activity, admit that we were not
present at all. Blaming ourselves for this absence is futile, given that from an early age we were
constantly asked what it is we would like to do in some future time. When children are at play,
people ask if they are having a good time. When they are “learning” during the school day, the
question about having a good time is not relevant. Perhaps we are encouraging children to be
happy and present at play more than while learning something for which they may be tested.
18 | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

Unstructured, free time is valuable. Creative thinkers acknowledge that setting aside time to
think and to do nothing in particular feeds their imagination and their process. They make room
for this to occur. This is a deliberate and conscious choice and not a time of being absent.
Discipline is required in order to devote time for making space for thoughts to unfold and to
recall those thoughts at a later time.

Pause to Consider…

• What are some of the habits that inspire your creativity? Which habits impede your
creative process?
• Why would you choose to change some thinking and behavior patterns?
• How can you transform the patterns and power of your habits of thinking and

Habits create routines, and routines can be comforting. Many of them make sense and save time;
certainly we would not want to deliberate every move we make from morning until night. Some
habits are quite beneficial, and they help us use energy wisely, but becoming aware of and
examining our habits can also save energy. For most of us, it is easier to embrace habitual, daily
routines than to consciously and radically transform our days into something that, in the long
run, could actually encourage greater freedom overall.

In order to be available and receptive to experiencing something with new eyes, we need to
revisit and modify how we think and behave. Routines may not always be helpful in this aspect.
When we are stuck and unable to move beyond a specific phase, we need to break the “habitual
loop” that creates the unconscious groove that is ruling our actions. Breaking this loop requires a
strong belief that there may be a new and more suitable way to approach a situation.

This is hard work! Is it any wonder that we continue to behave habitually? However, an artist
is, by nature, a creative innovator. What brings a spectator to admire the work of an artist,
whether it is a reader, an observer of dance or film, or a collector of photography and other fine
arts is the originality and novelty of the creation, as well as the relationship between the artist
and the observer? Art that is powerful and venerated is not the result of habitual thinking.

Art must be fresh, not the product of habit and repetition, even if the execution of the art
involved a degree of repetition in its conception and construction. In order to keep work
original and alive, we first make initial choices and then revisit these choices as we proceed. It
makes sense to not be attached to our first thoughts and reactions, to be aware of our questions
and complexities, and to be available for transformation. Studying the AT is one way to
welcome and embrace creative transformation.

Knowing Oneself: Transformation and the Alexander

The Alexander Technique helps us create and welcome change. Change can cause discomfort or
anger or fear as we begin to let go of familiar ways of being. Stages of transformation can be
1 – T h e C r e a t i v e S t u d e n t | 19

difficult for us to accept gracefully. We may look for recognizable places to grasp and to hold on
to, and we may feel repeated frustration when these places are no longer available to us. Change
is inherently messy.

It is helpful to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the process of change is not linear. As
we study the Alexander Technique, we move forward a few steps and then backward a few
steps, literally and metaphorically. This is similar to what happens when we are ensconced in
our art form; we are delighted to experience “aha! moments” as we move along.

Because change is difficult, some of us discontinue the process and resort to old habits of
thinking and decision making. Perhaps this freedom can be too frightening at any given
moment, and we may elect to study this work when we are at a more stable time in our life. In
hindsight, some of us recognize that as our changes manifested, we did not even realize what
was happening. It can run the gamut; some of us may be aware of and consistently positive
about our transformation, while others may be constantly waiting for changes to occur and not
notice when they do. Our journey may be tumultuous or pleasing, or it may be both.

We all go through life uniquely. Whatever our “nature” or outlook is, if we believe that we are in
a transformative process for a long while and that the journey is not a sprint but a marathon, we
will need to call on our patience for guidance. With that patience, we can embrace the
possibilities that we thought were closed to us and move away from unhealthy, familiar habits.
We can learn to live in our own grounded center.

Exercise 1.6: Trusting Your Intuition to Guide You through Transformation

1. What habits do you have that you find helpful when working in your art form? What
habits would you like to change?
2. How do you feel about change when it occurs and when it is not a choice? How do you
feel about change when you plan it? What kinds of changes frighten you? What kinds of
changes enable you to grow?
3. Write about an event in your life when you listened more to your intuitive mind and let
your rational mind rest in the background. If this was a struggle for you, how did you
cope? If this was an easy experience, have you tried to replicate it?

A student’s partial response to #1:

One habit that I want to keep is that I usually practice at the same time every day, except on the weekends.
This gives me structure and allows me to schedule other things around practice time. It has always been
difficult to get started. Once I’m going I am fine but I do not transition well and sometimes I waste at
least an hour answering emails that I should do at another time. Time management outside of practice
time is awful for me …

If we acknowledge the full benefits of learning the Alexander Technique, as artists and as social
beings in relationship to others, we will embark on this journey with an open heart and an open
20 | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

mind. Once we can embrace the process, we will realize that the results will become a
permanent and welcome transformation into a life of greater ease and enjoyment.

Sometimes when we look back at a period in our life, we imagine that we changed something
intense and profound in a brief moment in time. This is usually not the case. Consciousness and
intention are required in order for life changes to occur. When you practice the Alexander
Technique and accept that transformation takes time, you will begin to understand the value of
intention as you move through your life.

At first the new thoughts and movements may feel stilted and strange, and you will notice how
quickly your mind-body wants to return to a more familiar place, a place you might refer to as
home. As you continue to study, you will return to that familiar and habitual place less
frequently. At some point that familiar home will no longer feel quite right. You will be
surprised to find that certain reactions and movements actually feel wrong, and thinking and
moving as you had habitually done in the past will no longer be acceptable.

If you can visit, you can live there.

—Dr. Emily Davidson

In this chapter we started an exploration into the many aspects of how people learn and how we
can consider the process of learning to be a creative act. We examined how fear and unconscious
habitual behavior prevents the flow of creative thinking and how we might challenge our beliefs
so that we allow for artistic transformation.

In Chapter Two we will discover how FM Alexander, patiently and through trial and error,
applied his own brand of creative learning to develop what has become a practice that has
influenced countless people worldwide. We will begin to explore Balanced Standing, a
fundamental skill in the Alexander Technique.

Figure Credit
Fig. 1.1: Jim Lambert, “1960's Schoolroom.” Copyright © 1964 by Jim Lambert.
Questions for Reflection as You Read Chapter Two:

• What does it mean to be aware?

• Would you say that your daily habits help or hinder you in your role as performer?
• How do you define beauty?

“Alex’s Day”
The alarm rings after a fitful night and too few hours of sleep. I am bleary eyed, my head aches, and my
neck is stiff. I drag myself out of bed, wash and dress, grab a cup of coffee and bite into what’s left of last
night’s pizza as I quickly pack what I need for school.

When I get to my car, I see a ticket on the front window (who notices a fire hydrant at 11 p.m.?) and while
I crumble it and stick it in my bag, I remember that I forgot to wake my roommate, feed the cat, and take
my water bottle. I assume the cat woke her by now so I text her while waiting for the light to change and
some jerk behind me gets on his horn while I’m texting. I shake my head in the rearview mirror and
mumble some curse words as I apologize to my roommate, who will, no doubt, be annoyed and take it out
on me later. She texts back and reminds me that this is not the first time I forgot to wake her so she vows to
no longer ask for my services (her anger is obvious in her choice of emoji!). She tells me she will use her
phone instead, even though the sound is jarring.

As usual, I’m late for my 9 a.m. class, and I am not surprised that the professor keeps picking on me and
asks my opinion about the assigned readings, which she must have figured out I had not read. On the way
to late morning rehearsal, I notice that my headache is worse and now my lower back is aching, too. I pop

22 | M o v i n g M e d i t a t i o n

two Advil (always have a stash in my book bag), but since I don’t have my water bottle I wind up buying a
soda because the vending machine is out of water. I walk into rehearsal late—again.

I get really angry that I had to rush to rehearsal only to find that the prof is late and my neck is really
killing me so I start doing fast neck rolls and I hear the dude sitting behind me laughing. Just when I am
ready to say something snarky to him, I think twice and smirk instead, knowing that most of my
classmates are just like him—stupid and immature—so I shut my mouth because nothing I say will make
a difference anyway .

At lunch I try to catch up on assignments that were due the prior week, but it’s hopeless; there is no way I
can catch up and still perform on the weekend, and show up on time for my shift at Jack in the Box. My
stress level is over the top. The two Advil have barely kicked in, but I won’t take more because I don’t have
time to eat anything (even though it is my lunchtime) before afternoon classes.

Figure 2.1: "Alex" studying on a typical day.

Before I run up the stairs to the third floor, I manage to grab a sad-looking sandwich from a vending
machine. In class I fall asleep and am rudely awakened by the kid next to me, who pushes my head off his
shoulder bag and mumbles something creepy. I give in, pop two more pills and swallow them without
water, and dream about a cup of coffee and pay no attention to anything anyone around me is saying. I
can’t wait until this day is over.

I get stuck in traffic and remember that my roommate is having her boyfriend come over for the night so I
can’t really cook in the kitchen. I’m tired and figure I can heat up some ramen while I call my mother,
who, predictably, will start up with me about last semester’s grades. After our talk I’m stressed, so I decide
to forego practicing and instead microwave some popcorn and play video games in bed.

It is obvious that I need a reward for having had a hard day. I need some distraction. At around 10:30 I
start reading a chapter for class the next day, but by this point my eyes are burning, my lower back is
aching again, and I can’t find a comfortable place in bed to rest my back so I can read.
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I must have fallen asleep; I’m not sure what I’ve read. I get up, see that it’s almost midnight, prepare for
bed, take a stronger medicine (my roommate’s mom’s leftover sedatives from surgery) for my back pain,
and the next thing I know the morning alarm rings and I am still totally exhausted.

“Terry’s Day”
I open my eyes after a refreshing eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I breathe deeply and slowly as I roll
over and get out of bed, pain free. I glance at my phone, happy to see that there’s time for me to prepare
breakfast, read a bit, meditate, listen to music, and stretch for ten minutes. I shower and dress and then
check my e-mail and smile as I open mail from a few old friends, and especially from a new one, who I hope
transfers to my university.

While riding my bike to school, I notice that the desert air is warm but not oppressive. I feel kind of guilty
knowing that my best friend in Massachusetts is probably shoveling her car out of 2 feet of snow (for the
fourth month this winter!) as I ride joyfully through the park, so I stop biking and send a text telling her
that I’m thinking about her.

My two morning classes are interesting, and I‘m looking forward to the weekend when I can do some
research with a classmate (glad I’m teamed up with a bright one!) on a project for one of these classes. At
noon I take a yoga class at the university gym, and, newly energized an hour later, I meet two friends for
lunch at the student union. My friends crack me up when they describe their latest shenanigans at their
fraternity, and I’m happy to have spent time with them.

Rehearsal after lunch is fantastic because I’m sure that what I’ve been working on is really good and it’s
obvious to everyone, and I am glad that the group is attentive and gives me constructive feedback. The
director compliments me on my monologue, and I am thrilled when she suggests that I audition for a new
play in town. I need to prepare an audition piece in a few days and instead of getting stressed about it, I
remember that I always have something ready in my repertoire.

The professor in my afternoon biology class is stimulating and smart, and he seems to appreciate my
contributions, which pleases me since I spent a great deal of time reading (and enjoying) the assignment.
Dinner with my significant other is a blast; we eat some of my favorite foods and listen to great music at a
local club where our friends are playing in a band.
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Figure 2.2: "Terry" after a study period.

Later at home I spend some time reviewing notes from the earlier rehearsal and then I prepare for school
the following day. Before bed I visit with my roommates and IM with my family, who tell me how much
they’re looking forward to my coming home for winter break. I write in my journal, noting that I am
satisfied with a productive and enjoyable day. I am at peace with myself, the people in my life, and with
my work.

“Terry’s Day” and “Alex’s Day” are narratives written by performing arts students in response
to an assignment that asked them to design an ideal day and in contrast, one where all that could
go wrong actually does. The instructions required the students to write about the moment they
wake up until they go to sleep and to include events and behaviors, as well as what feelings
were evoked, in response to their activities.

One objective of this exercise was to encourage students to become comfortable with noticing
and documenting their reactions and thoughts about what constitutes a good daily life. Initially,
they were unclear about how much they should imagine and how much of their reality they
should interject, given that I had asked them to design a day. The intended challenge was to
differentiate between what they believe to be true and what, in fact, is true, and why this matters
to a performing artist.

Pause to Consider…

1. Is there such a thing as the truth?

2. Are you aware of your reaction when you say or hear something that is not accurate?
3. How do thinking and talking about truth and fiction impact your life as an artist?

Contemplating these questions is imperative for living a life that is one of integrity. Once we
determine that how we experience ourselves in the world is an accurate portrayal, we can then
free ourselves to create worlds that blur those lines. We can safely question our definitions about
truth and creativity. This ability to question critically is something that many artists and creative
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people choose to explore. The conception and process of a work of art often originates from the
idea that first and foremost, we really know ourselves or long to discover who we are through
our creative process and resulting social interactions. How many people do you know who can
honestly say “I know who I am and what I want and I know how others see me?”?

When you reflect on the two narratives, notice the similarities and differences in each piece of
writing. Examine what you see as each writer’s “truth.” In “Terry’s Day”, the language is
positive and upbeat. Terry appears to be engaged in life, grateful for good friends, and cognizant
of feelings in reaction to behaviors. In “Alex’s Day”, there appears to be emotional and physical
anxiety, as well as pain. In careful reading, we spot patterns of behavior that result in alienation,
non-productivity, and distraction in Alex’s writing; these are traits that are not conducive to
creative contemplation.

How many people do you know who can honestly say “I know who I am and what
I want and I know how others see me?”

Something else you may notice is how both narratives attempt to include the writers’ awareness,
moment to moment, of what is occurring internally, as well as externally. There is an awareness
and response to the environment, the situations, and the activities. When asked to document
their day, these writers began to appreciate how what they think and how they act is in direct
response to what they perceive to be their experience. Further examination may bring them to
an understanding of the embodiment—not just the intellectualization—of their lived

What is the value of such exploration? Awareness is a prerequisite for all creative human
endeavors, and awareness is one of the fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique.
Learning and practicing the AT begins with cultivation of awareness. This is not a practice that
one learns in a short time, nor is it beyond reach. In fact, it is always operating in our
consciousness if we choose to nurture this part of ourselves. It is a well-known premise that
what we pay attention to grows.

The Technique requires that we attend to our mind and our body regularly and that we
understand that although the systems appear to operate independently, in terms of overall use of
the self, there is no distinction and no separation between the mind and the body, as they
function simultaneously. One does not precede the other; the mind and the body work in

Awareness is a prerequisite for all creative human endeavors, and awareness is

one of the fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique.

Deepening awareness is not a linear process. Although our learning can expand over time, we
may need to return again and again to the initial understanding of the “self” in both our physical
and mental development. Learning the AT requires patience; as a result of this kind of self-
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examination, you can expect to be rewarded with an ease and acceptance of yourself and others
that may have eluded you prior to studying this work.

One approach to promoting awareness is to focus on how we relate to our external

surroundings. We imagine ourselves as part of a family or a community; perhaps we connect to
others based on gender, class, or ethnicity. When we see ourselves in relation to others, we may
be concerned with how others perceive us; as a result, we work hard at being loved and
accepted. We size up our environment to see what is familiar and safe. But how many of us
consistently notice, and return to, cultivating our own mind-body relationship as it directly
relates to ourselves, as well as our environment?

It is normal to feel frustrated in response to experiencing an increase in self-awareness. Often

people say that learning to know one’s self well is not necessarily a guarantee that change can
occur, and some would prefer to adhere to the adage “Ignorance is bliss.” And yet, there
continues to be a considerable fascination in understanding how we best relate to ourselves and
to each other. Notice the countless books, staged dramas, and films that portray characters who
are “at war” with themselves or with other people. These fictional and/or autobiographical
characters are of interest to us precisely because we can identify with them and their angst as
they try to find their place in the world.

We all know people who practice yoga and meditation religiously but are still unable to
cultivate inner tranquility. We may question why, despite their determination, this is the case.
What we may not appreciate is that unless we are engaging in moment-to-moment practice,
inner peace will continue to elude us. Many people who meditate in the mornings are surprised
when they have difficulty feeling a sense of ease during the course of the day. They learn that
the presence and awareness that meditators aspire to is not solely reserved for sitting on a

What actually engages us is the process of the experience of awareness, even though we are
convinced (or we have been told) that reaching a prescribed goal is our preferred or only focus.
Regardless of the outcome, the ever evolving search for understanding the complexity and the
process of the human predicament continues to captivate many of us, particularly those who
identify as artists or creative thinkers.

The Alexander Technique can help us understand that so much of what we become is impacted
not only by the amalgam of our genetics, our feelings, movements, and behaviors, but also by
the broader culture in which we live. As a result, it is imperative that we examine ourselves in
our entirety. We cannot separate the mind and the body, any more than we can determine
precisely how we become who we are. Our lifelong exploration must include how the body and
the mind impact each other and how over time we experience aging and the resulting changes.

This use of the self is a basic premise on which FM Alexander based his theories, and when he
expressed this at the turn of the twentieth century and at the beginning of the 1900s, his were
considered radical thoughts. Today, it is common knowledge that we are the sum of our parts—
all of our parts.
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Exercise 2.1: Awareness

1. Write your version of an “ideal” school day. Begin your narrative with waking up and
end it with going to sleep. Include all activities and interactions with others, write
chronologically, and include your responses to and feelings about these activities and
2. Write your version of an “awful” school day. Follow the directions in #1 above. Try to
capture an actual day that you’ve experienced, or create a composite of several of these
days. Be realistic and avoid anything that is too fantastical.
3. Write about what you would have to change in version #2 so that it more clearly
resembles version #1. Be clear about what changes are possible; we are, after all, still
inherently who we have always been. It is important to realize that in making changes
we are mostly uncovering or discovering who we are. We are not striving to become an
entirely different person.
4. Create and write about an ideal day that revolves primarily around your art form.

A student’s partial response to #3:

When I wake up I am really not very conscious of anything or anyone around me. My roommate says I
always look annoyed or frustrated even when I don’t feel it. I think it would be good to start noticing how
my body responds when I’m frustrated because that‘s what she sees. I’m too transparent and would like to
change my facial expression when I don’t get what I want. This happens in school, too. If I don’t notice
first what it is my body is doing, I cannot change it. When my music professor gives me negative feedback
in class, I need to see where in my body I am tightening while she’s talking, and still listen to what she
says at the same time. I get defensive when she criticizes me and I prefer that she doesn’t know that …

A Brief History of FM Alexander

Frederick Matthias (FM) Alexander, the oldest of eight children on a farm in Tasmania,
Australia, was born in 1869. He suffered from respiratory illnesses during his childhood and was
removed from a traditional school. Although he did well when taking exams, he was not overall
a superior student. In fact, he found fault in the rigors and routines of the traditional system of
education, and when he left school at seventeen years old because he had to contribute
financially to his extended family, he apparently had no regrets.

Early on, Alexander saw little value in the educational system of the day. Later in life, his
opinions about formal schooling did not waver, and the curriculum and environment he favored
at the school he created for children reflected his thinking that the use of the self, the wholeness of
the mind-body relationship, was fundamental in a young child’s education.

In order to earn money he began working at a tin mining company in his late teens. His true
interests, however, from an earlier age, had been twofold: he loved horses and he loved the
theater. He moved to Melbourne before he was twenty, worked at a variety of odd jobs during
the day so that he could study theater and music in the evening, and began what was to become
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a successful career as a professional actor and reciter of Shakespeare. Unfortunately, Alexander’s

career was interrupted early on as he began to suffer from vocal problems that interfered with
his passion and his ability to perform.

FM Alexander devised his Technique—over many years—as a last ditch effort to save his career.
He had noticed, when reciting, that he was not able to maintain the level and clarity of his
speaking voice throughout the recital. He would often refuse work, not because he was
uninterested, but because he feared that his voice would fail during the recitation; not
unexpectedly, during one performance, he did lose his voice entirely. This experience proved to
be a turning point. Alexander was deeply distressed that his acting career was destined to be

The medical professionals he consulted were at a loss as to how to cure Mr. Alexander of his
malady. They could find nothing organically wrong with him. Many doctors suggested
complete rest and enforced silence prior to performance, which resulted in only temporary relief.
When he finally confronted his primary doctor about the possibility that this syndrome resulted
from something he was doing to himself while performing, as opposed to a virus or bacterial
infection, the doctor could not pinpoint what it could be. Alexander was convinced that
somehow his actions were responsible for his malady and he was now left to his own devices to
try to resolve this dilemma.

With the help of his brother Albert Redden (AR) and while watching himself as he moved in
front of a number of mirrors, Alexander was able to sharpen his skills of observation. He
eventually began to see that the ways he was “holding” his head depressed his larynx and
resulted in gasping and sucking in of his breath. This led him to understand that if he stopped
pushing his head back and down his voice would retain an ease and power that it had been

It became clear to Mr. Alexander that how he had been using his mind and using his body—his
use of the self—resulted in his inability to continue to recite. Alexander recognized that
although he was influenced greatly by the traditions and customs of his time and his culture,
ultimately, it was his individual responsibility to react consciously and to make intentional
choices regarding his actions and reactions. He felt that individuals have a choice as to how to
respond in any given situation.

Much has happened in the last century that has resulted in the acknowledgment and
appreciation of FM Alexander’s discoveries. Prior to his death in 1955, confirmation that his
work was indeed based in scientific theories was provided by persons of influence: the
neurophysiologist Sir Charles Sherrington and the anthropologist Raymond Dart were
prominent supporters of the Technique. By 1941 Alexander had published four books on his
Technique, and the educator John Dewey wrote the foreword to his second book. Prominent
intellectuals in the early twentieth century, including George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley,
studied the AT. Contemporary performers, including the actors Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Paul
Newman, Kevin Kline, and William Hurt; the dancer Trisha Brown; and musicians Madonna,
Sting, Yehudi Menuhin, Paul McCartney, Julian Bream, and James Galway, have studied and
praised the Alexander Technique.
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It became clear to Mr. Alexander that how he had been using his mind and using
his body—his use of the self—resulted in his inability to continue to recite.

An Overview of the Alexander Technique

This notion that how we “use ourselves” results in how well we perform any given task was not
a familiar concept in general, and most certainly not in the medical field at the time that
Alexander was formulating his beliefs. He was initially suspect in the world of medicine,
especially since his theories early on were not yet scientifically proven. Inherent in his initial
discoveries was the idea that “less is more,” a concept that is gaining acceptance in some areas of
holistic health care but remains controversial today in most fields of allopathic medicine.

Mr. Alexander was indeed ahead of his time. It is only in recent history that health care
practitioners are incorporating many of his theories because there is a greater understanding of
the relationship between the mind and the body. We have witnessed, in a variety of settings, the
fact that how we think has consequences in our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Medical
providers are beginning to recognize that it is our thinking, our breathing, and our outlook on
life that influences how we feel and how we perform.

First and foremost, the Technique is not a quick-fix program. Nor is it an instant and unswerving
cure for pain relief, although most people report that, after a series of lessons, their chronic pain
has decreased substantially or is, for the most part, completely gone. The AT is a technique that is
under all other techniques. It is not a magical experience; it is a practice that, with desire and
patience, one can learn. Alexander is known for having said “You can do what I do if you do
what I did.”

Over time, the novel ways the Technique teaches us about being in the world is incorporated in
everything that we are and that we do. Most people, when beginning their studies, know that it
teaches graceful movement. What we soon learn is broader and often unexpected; we learn how
to think and react more appropriately.

Pause to Consider…

When we learn the Alexander Technique we …

• change habits of a lifetime that may have helped us survive in our past but no longer
serve us
• become happier and more easeful, less fatigued, and less anxious, more productive
• experience a greater satisfaction in our relationship to ourselves and to others
• learn that life is about choice

To fully reap the benefits, one should learn the Alexander Technique in the hands of a certified
teacher. You are reading this book now and it will introduce you to this work, but ultimately, if
you want to embody the Technique, it is beneficial to be with a teacher who has had years of
training so that the teaching is geared to your individual needs. The relationship of trust and
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safety that is created with your teacher is paramount to your practice, as it will enable you to
explore the changes that may not always be easy to implement.

Because we see the AT as ongoing education, a respectful dynamic between the teacher and
student is critical, and the teaching should be flexible as the student’s understanding of the work
deepens and intensifies. This is a shared experience; the teacher learns as much as the student.
She continues to learn beyond her initial training and throughout her years of teaching. The
teacher is required to use her thinking and her movements during her session with a student as
introspectively as she expects her students to do. It is said in the Alexander community that
when a teacher gives a lesson, she also gets a lesson. The seasoned AT teacher is someone who
practices what she preaches.

Figure 2.3: An Alexander Technique teacher's hands directing a student.

What actually happens during a private Alexander lesson? As you read further you will learn
the specifics of a lesson, although each lesson is different. The teacher may have an agenda, but
the trajectory of the lesson is dependent upon the student’s concerns. In the case of group
lessons, some teachers will gear the course to the needs of the specific students or the
organization; others will offer a series of generic lessons. During most initial lessons, the AT is
explored in daily life; in this text, we look more specifically at how the Technique impacts the

Alexander is known for having said “You can do what I do if you do what I did.”
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The Alexander Technique was created before the advent of computers or the practice of modern
medicine or our connection to a variety of athletics and hobbies as we experience them now.
How people spent leisure time and how they used their bodies for work and in daily life has
altered dramatically. As a result, when we apply the Technique these days, we must be aware
that change is inevitable, and that how we teach and learn this work today can no longer
precisely resemble how Mr. Alexander conceptualized it.

This idea may upset traditionalists who continue to teach the AT as it was taught years ago, but
for many of us it is imperative to adapt the basic principles and procedures to our lives today.
This does not mean that we can afford to lose the fundamental essence of the work, because the
theories will always be applicable. If we want the next generation to study and carry on
Alexander’s work, it must be made available and of interest to people of all ages and capacities,
and it must be adaptable to contemporary times.

The Power of Habit

Even though there is an emphasis in the AT on doing less, the Technique is a practical study that
can be applied to most things that people actually do. Students of the AT focus on how to do
something—but also on how not to do something. It is odd in our culture to appreciate this way of
thinking as valuable and productive, given that, other than in meditation practice, we are
supported for what we do and not what we don’t do. Our society tends to value thinking over
doing only when it manifests as a (tangible) product and directly relates to an outcome.

Consider how we evaluate student progress and how test scores play a significant role. Because
of the correlation between high test scores and acceptance to select universities, students strive
to learn more about how to take the test and remember less about the content. Students learn
the “habit” of test taking. There is financial success for corporations that teach test-taking
strategies, and it is only recently that educators are beginning to question the overall value of
standardized testing when measuring academic as well as personal growth.

If we examine the habit of test taking and reflect on how we learn this habit, we discover that it
is routinized and formulaic. We are instructed on how to eliminate, look for key words, and
manage our time well. When answering multiple-choice test questions, we are not encouraged to
elaborate or to try to understand the material in depth. We are asked to respond quickly,
automatically, and what might be considered habitually. This manner of habitual thinking and
responding is limiting; at the very least, it does not consider the different ways that people learn.

Contrary to this kind of normative education, the Alexander Technique asks us first to examine
the value and power of habit in our life. Some habits enhance daily life; we (aim to) eat and sleep
regularly, bathe often, and brush our teeth, exercise, drive, or walk familiar streets, and we
create various rituals that make our days easier and more fulfilling. Many of us, however,
engage in habitual behavior that does not contribute to a more satisfying life and can result in
emotional or physical discomfort. We know that our habits of excessive drinking or taking
drugs, smoking, or eating unhealthy foods result in poor health. What we may not consider is
how our daily habits of walking, breathing, sitting, standing, working at a computer, and
engaging in sports can, over time, establish patterns of consistent body pain. In time we may
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come to realize that as we continue to perform these repetitive tasks with minimal pain in the
present, we could be creating chronic pain that manifests later in life.

Developing an awareness of certain habitual behaviors and their negative outcomes is not an
easy task. We need to acknowledge that we have habits that at one time may have served us but
no longer do so and that we are ready to consider changing them. This is a state of
contemplation that requires effort. It means that we learn to suspend judgment and self-
criticism as we begin an exploration that has no predictable outcome.

The results of personal transformation are not usually foreseeable; in the Alexander Technique
philosophy, we consider it valuable to not know how things will turn out. A student may leave a
successful AT lesson feeling free of physical pain, but the teacher is equally interested in
encouraging a fundamental change in the student’s thinking. She may ask the student to
observe and note behavior and patterns until the next lesson and she may suggest that the
student do something different, but she will probably not give a prescribed assignment that
adheres to an agenda. In other words, she will not provide any one correct answer or any
specific ways of doing things that result in specific outcomes. She will support her student’s
attempts, but an experienced teacher will not aim to “fix” the student’s problems.

What we may not consider is how our daily habits of walking, breathing, sitting,
standing, working at a computer, and engaging in sports can, over time, establish
patterns of consistent body pain.

The hope is that the teacher and student will learn together and guide the student without a
preconceived agenda; instead, both will be comfortable watching transformation as it unravels.
If students can cultivate the patience required to explore behavior and actions, they will develop
a lifelong skill to tackle future difficulties. Stressful situations may become less problematic if
responses are not habitual.

Exercise 2.2: Looking at Habitual Behaviors

1. Create two lists, each one containing approximately eight to ten entries. Label list #1:
“Habits that I would like to no longer engage in.” Label list #2: “Habits that I would like
to learn.” These can be emotional or physical habits or both.
2. Rewrite each list in the order that you think you are most willing to begin to change or
attain, with the easiest ones on top.
3. Select the first or second entry in each list and write a sentence or two about why you
want to change or employ this habit and what you would need to do to begin this

A student’s partial response for Lists #1 and #3:

I would like to stop interrupting people when they are speaking. I believe that I am interrupting because I
am not really listening and I guess I am more interested in what I have to say than in what the other
person is saying. It matters to me that the other person thinks I am smart.

In order to change this habit I would need to decide to not speak until the other person either pauses or
asks me a question. I would also need to give up caring so much if that person thinks I am smart …
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The Process of Investigation

Pause to Consider …

• What does it mean to investigate one’s inner self and one’s relationship to the greater
• How do you determine which of your habitual behaviors are advantageous?
• If habits are instilled early in life, can they be (permanently) changed?

According to the New World Dictionary, to investigate means to “trace out” or “search into, so as
to learn the facts; to inquire into systematically.” The Alexander Technique suggests that we do
investigate “systematically,” that we aim to understand the development of the human “being”
and how we function.

A first step in this investigation requires us to develop powers of observation as Alexander did
when he realized that what he thought he was doing, he was not actually doing. Because he
started to meticulously observe his own movements in mirrors and to notice the unconscious
thoughts prior to and during each movement, he discovered that he had been interfering with
more natural, easeful movements that he experienced as a child.

FM was highly motivated to change his habits of movement because his livelihood was
threatened. Physical or psychic pain is a signal that something we are doing is self-destructive,
and that may be enough to motivate us to explore who we are. Some of us want to prevent
discomfort in the future. For others, there is a never-ending desire to continually self-evolve.
Examining who we were, who we are in the present, and who we would like to become, is
paramount to our development and to our overall happiness.

We can begin this process of investigation with a curiosity and an interest. We can cultivate a
habit of being alert and also an objective and balanced approach to developing our mind-body.
John Berger begins his seminal work Ways of Seeing with these words: “Seeing comes before
words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” There is no judgment in this initial
observation by children.

What does it mean to “see” with a child’s eye? We begin life as nonverbal; we rely on sensory
actions and reactions to connect us to ourselves and, in time, to others. Early in life our
movements are uninhibited and exploratory, but at some point we may have experienced
shame, or feelings of guilt or resistance connected to specific activities or events, and these
resulting sensations inhibit our natural flow. Our objective exploration of daily life may be
influenced by words like no or don’t. These constant dismissals and reprimands not only situate
in our mind’s response, but in our body’s response as well. Our “investigation” of the “self”
shifts to incorporate imposed, and perhaps unfavorable, suggestions.

A first step in this investigation requires us to develop our powers of observation

as Alexander did when he realized that what he thought he was doing, he was not
actually doing.
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During lessons it is useful to understand intellectually what we were like as children and to
actually simulate that experience in order to undo learned, unhealthy habits and reeducate our
psychophysical, or mind-body, unity. This means that with guidance, we can rediscover, or
uncover, how to move and think with the poise that we had as toddlers.

The Beauty of Movement; the Beauty of Temperament

One problem that develops as we move from childhood into teenage years is that our
burgeoning personal habits of movement are not entirely graceful, nor are they especially
efficient. What might be perceived by a mature person as easeful movement may not be
“beautiful” or desirable movement to a young adult. In other words, during the growing years,
it is often the cultural concept of beauty that triumphs over ease. Although moving with greater
ease is as much an internal process as an external one, it is external beauty that is coveted and
culturally desirable. This is true despite the proverbial reminders that we cannot “tell a book by
its cover” and that “beauty is only skin-deep.” It is society and family that dictates what we
value rather than the beauty of the human form as it functions properly.

Figure 2.4a: Notice this young dancer's neck. How might she move with ease to avoid chronic neck pain?
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Figure 2.4b: Notice the ease in this family portrait

Figure 2.4c: Can you see the grace and beauty in these women?