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The Importance of Stillness

When was the last time you were still?

Without stillness we are trapped within our habits, whether they are belief structures, physical habits or learnt emotional responses, about the way the world works and our place within it.

It is the separation from these habitual reactions that we as Alexander Technique Teachers try to teach, so that we can begin to see what is really happening around and within us. It is so often very different from what we thought was happening. The very act of stopping opens up a space that is akin to breathing really deeply and looking to the far horizon after a long period of confinement.

The postural improvements and ease of movement that people rightly associate with the Technique are really by-products of this central and fundamental first movement of freeing the attention from its habitual dance. We may start to have Alexander Technique lessons for many reasons – pain, a wish to improve posture or performance in whatever sphere, or in my own case, although I didn’t know it at the time, a wish to change the direction of my life. The only thing that is common to all of us is a desire to explore, perhaps to give up our certainties, our beliefs.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”
TS Eliot – Little Gidding

Learning the Alexander Technique can be one of the most mentally and physically challenging tasks that you can set yourself, but the effects are revitalizing and can last a lifetime. It asks you to try to inhabit your body in a new way and in so doing you discover that “how you stand, how you move, how you live” is part of your construct of yourself, literally part of who you are. If you cannot stand or walk in a new way, what choices do you have in the rest of your life?

So, how do we do this? We can learn to stop what we are doing in order to see whether what we think we are doing is actually what we are doing. To give ourselves a pause from the endless round of stimulus and reaction. It is only when we have stopped that we can decide whether our automatic responses are in fact appropriate or whether they are coming from unconscious learned patterns of thought or bodily use. In the Alexander world we call this inhibition.

The exciting thing about the Alexander Technique is that this can happen on many levels at once and it is entirely up to the pupil which is the more attractive approach. Physically, do we have to take on the physical shape that we do – do we have to tense our necks and shoulders and to frown. How do we stand, what does it feel like to give up your idea of how your body moves and try another one?

Within the mental realm we might start to notice our beliefs and concepts; how do we view the world? Do we interpret cause and effect according to our own particular perspective without being able to see that there could possibly be another and equally valid way of seeing? That not only both perspectives can be true at the same time but many more, and that if we can give the time to stop and just look without expectation we might be free enough to choose another point of view, or to see more complexity and interest than our narrow evaluation had allowed. How much more rich our perceptions can become.

Do you notice that your every emotion and thought has a physical counterpart; sometimes those physical counterparts can become fixed patterns and therefore the emotions and thoughts that they evoke can also be triggered without us even realising, thereby trapping us within familiar moulds. The space that results from stopping gives the time to notice the feelings that accompany the familiar thoughts and see that they in turn are echoed by the physical body. A strange mixture of physical sensations, ingrained reactions and prejudices, likes, dislikes, voluntary and involuntary activity. Each of us may have in turn different aspects of these weird mixtures taking charge at any one moment, but can we stop everything just for a moment?

We cannot choose anything unless we have first stopped, really stopped. We can’t actually stop our thoughts, but what we can do is to try to stop paying attention to them, just letting them flow on as they do. This can be an exhilarating moment – when you discover that you don’t actually have to believe or even listen to the nonsense that is churning around in your head. We call them thoughts but if you try to really listen what they are is a stream of semi-conscious detritus continuously looping around.

Unless we can be stop and be still everything that follows can only be more of the same, and that’s not working, is it?