inhibition and directions

Paradoxically, it is the determined, concentrated striving to achieve goals, from an early age considered the mark of the successful person in a competitive society, that might make him or her lose more and more freedom and balance in the relationship within the primary control, as this often involves stress, strain and inattention to the optimum use of the self. Sometimes, this loss of freedom and balance within the primary control makes it difficult for an ambitious person to achieve his or her goals; sometimes, this is the hidden price paid in order to fulfill them. Therefore, it is not surprising that the center of gravity of the Technique lies in Western cities and not in the Ashrams of India.

To deal with this problem, common in varying degrees to all people in the modern world, the teacher of the Technique directs a student’s attention to the connection between primary control relationship and stimuli and habitual reactions.  The student learns to identify those stimuli that are small or large, subtle or less subtle, which he or she habitually, often unconsciously reacts to, while losing freedom and balance in the relationship between neck, head and back. This process repeats itself over the years and, increasingly, negatively affects a person’s functioning. The more a student sharpens awareness while learning to identify this process through practice, the more he or she is able to change it.

According to the Technique, the point at which one can bring about change in oneself is the critical moment at which one reacts to stimuli. The student of the Technique learns to inhibit habitual reactions to stimuli and instead, alert and aware, present to the here and now, he or she gradually and increasingly chooses an alternative way whereby less freedom is lost within the primary control relationship. Based on mental action known in the Technique as sending directions (for the use of the primary control), this way allows re-awakening and renewed fine tuning of the primary control relationship,  gently restoring its balance.  Gradually, through power of thought, constructive conscious control of the self replaces the automatic, harmful reaction pattern.

The primary requirement in dealing with all specific symptoms is to prevent the misdirection which leads to wrong use and functioning, and to establish in its place a new and satisfactory direction.

Frederick Matthias Alexander

Sending directions is a challenging, sometimes elusive, mental practice that takes on an ever-widening form as learning progresses. At the outset the student’s registering of these directions, conveyed simply through the hands of the teacher which express the way in which he or she sends directions, is largely unconscious, like a distant sound or a beam of light, and the student begins by learning first of all how to express it verbally. In time, the more the student patiently hones his or her sensory appreciation and gains experience in its use, the sending of directions takes on a refined, more accurate and quiet strength – receiving new, more concrete and clearer meaning. Still, it remains difficult to describe in words.

The delicate mental practice of inhibition and sending directions constitutes the foundations of the use of the self according to the Technique (“the means whereby”). As the student becomes more adept, gradually learning to integrate them into his life, he realizes their positive effect on his functioning, which gradually improves. Along the way, students also discover that the space thus generated between stimulus and automatic reaction has additional deeper, fruitful and unexpected benefits.

This is a fascinating learning process involving a degree of patience, perseverance, determination and courage since it deals with changing habits of a lifetime, qualities that make it endlessly rewarding. Bear in mind that throughout the process, student and teacher are supported by a very important advantage: The learning process of improving the use of the self is largely one of recollection and re-learning, as the relationship between neck, head and back is a natural and simple one forgotten and worn down over years. So even if the beginning is not always easy, anyone, of any age and in any condition can progress wonderfully in this learning process – as long as he or she chooses to keep going.

Another thing one discovers on this road is that practicing the Technique is a pure and groundbreaking (even if modest and subtle) art form. Over and above the direct benefit, or the capacity for verbal description, there is no limit to the degree of joy and inspiration one can derive from it. In fact, of all the surprising qualities that I continue to discover over the years, what I mainly learn all over again is that basically the Technique simply makes me smile.

Conscious control, like painting, is creative. What you create is a new use of yourself. This creation is a constant renewal: nothing static or fixed about it. The self, mind-and-body, is creating-and-being-created, all at the same time.

Goddard Binkley, painter and sculptor, Alexander Technique teacher