A perfect calibration of engagement and freedom

More like a king

I’ve just been writing a reflection on my journey so far with the Alexander Technique for which we have one group session once a week. I thought you might be interested, and you’re not getting anything else out of me this week, amidst chant transcription exercises, transcribing an interview on the practice of Kirtan chanting, learning my new chant Lilium Floruit, reading about the respiratory muscles, attending my first vocal masterclass and heavens, drinking a well-deserved pint.

The Alexander Technique (proudly Australian) “doesn’t teach you something new to do. It teaches you how to bring more practical intelligence into what you are already doing; how to eliminate stereotyped responses; how to deal with habit and change. It leaves you free to choose your own goal but gives you a better use of yourself while you work toward it.” (Frank Pierce Jones)

NB. “Semi-supine” is a relaxation posture used in the Alexander Technique where you lie on the ground with a book about three finger-widths high under your head, and your knees bent, feet flat on the ground.

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Tomorrow will be our fifth class of Alexander Technique and we are in our sixth week of practice. It’s quite wonderful to look back upon my early reflections and to notice where I am now. There are a whole lot of things I’m aware of that I didn’t use to be. I’m more aware of how my head sits on my neck and what the feeling is when it is fixed, rigid, held in place, and what the feeling is when I am allowing it to be free, even to a small degree. And I’m more aware of how this pattern of control, of self-protection, this fearful and defensive reaction to life manifests in my neck, but is actually an inner attitude that plays out in my whole physicality, thoughts-actions, and in my being itself. To allow my neck to be free is such a simple directive and I watch myself and my classmates almost turn it into a joke. For me, I think this is because I’m actually profoundly confronted by the implications of this directive, my general incapacity to enact it, and the very sobering realisation that probably ever single facet of my life, my behaviour and my physicality is to some degree governed by fear – and the ‘control’ I seek to gain in reaction to that fear.

I’ve been more aware of that than usual and it’s uncomfortable.

Regular practice in semi-supine has been so deeply wonderful and such a gift to me. I have been practising about three or four days out of five and find it to be astonishingly powerful, working in ways that are completely mysterious to me. Most tangibly evident to me: I feel like it restores my body to neutral, and for that, is more restful, more relaxing, more restoring by far than doing some kind of ‘chilling out’ activity or even having a sleep. In fact often I’ll get up feeling as if I have had a sleep. I use it to begin my breathing-for-singing exercises and vocal practice and it is surprisingly potent in accomplishing what I don’t think I would know how to accomplish otherwise – that is, to do my breathing exercises from a relaxed and neutral body rather than kind of ‘on top of’ whatever I would have just been doing. It also provides a very clear break between the precious activity and my vocal practice which is no small thing. I can come off the back of an eight hour day, do my twenty minutes in semi-supine and then practice / sing for nearly an hour with fresh vital energy.

An unexpected result of this practice is that it seems to also restore my emotional body to neutral, and this is of HUGE significance and benefit to me. I am very porous to the world around me and other people’s energies and emotions can impact me to quite a high degree, let alone my own intense emotional life and deep feelings. Being here beginning this course has felt like something of a whirlwind of people, information, demands, new possibilities, new opportunities and it has been an emotional roller coaster with feelings of overwhelm. An additional factor is that I’m without most of my support structures and the main absence I feel keenly is the lack of physical touch, hugs, physical closeness with people I love. This is relevant because without this outlet for my emotional energy it just keeps building until it comes out in crying or irritation. What I’ve found with semi-supine is that somehow, magically, the emotional energy sort of drains away and leaves me relaxed, and no longer under this inner pressure. Also, and very interestingly to me, I’ll be lying there and it’s not uncommon for me to start sobbing in a strong way. The strange thing is it’s not necessarily that I feel sad or in an ‘emotional mood’ either before or after this sobbing. My best way of understanding it is that it is a emotional and physical shaking up, shaking out, shedding and releasing that happens in my musculature as well as through the emotional release.

Something else I’ve noticed in doing the semi-supine is a noticeable drop in my shoulders, and not only do they sit lower, I can also consciously draw them down which is something I did not even know was possible. This release has been accompanied by much tenderness in the muscles there, especially the trapezius muscles. For quite a while there I was almost in constant slight pain / discomfort, and they are still moderately tender, especially after I stand up from semi-supine. I take this as a good sign!

There’s so much more I could say. I’m reading Alexander’s The Use of the Self and there are so many light bulbs going off, and revelations small and large. The questions it is raising are ones such as:

What would it be to extend my awareness to the whole, to the source of my voice and not just what I think in a reductive way, my ‘voice’ is and what it is connected to? What would it be if I did not tamper or interfere with the most blessed and natural workings of the body, but soften, deepen, drop so much deeper than that, right to the inside of the inside? What would it be to place my action here right down at the roots of things, and have that action be so precise, so exactly placed that it need only be absolutely minuscule? What kind of doing is a not-doing, a refraining from doing? Is the very best we can do, to enact ‘right-conditions’ so that life will simply do what life does in us? Where indeed is our agency at all, given that Alexander found, he was completely unable to do what he wanted to do (consciously move his head forward and up) as soon as he had the impulse to speak? What is this tremendous intelligence in the human being that will enact grace in every moment if only it is allowed?

A life well-lived is not a process of error-correction, but living a dynamic posture of readiness, a perfect calibration of engagement and freedom, poise. This is what I long for.