This week, we’re pleased to have a guest blog from Jeremy Cohn, who teaches Alexander Technique classes at Green Shirt Studio. Check out Jeremy’s blog at www.freedominmotionat.com.
I love my legs. They misbehave. They are often tense. But I love them for it.
When I started training as an Alexander Technique teacher, some unrealistic part of me fantasized that by the time I was certified I would have perfect ‘use’ of my system. My tension would be gone. I would be transformed.
Near the beginning of my third year of training, I was beginning to get worried. Early in my first year, we had identified a tough habit of mine–I had a very difficult time directing my legs, particularly my right one. They were often tense beyond my control, and I had trouble allowing movement in my hip sockets or giving the weight of the leg over to a teacher when on the table.
Two years in, not much had changed day by day. Every once in a while, I would achieve a mysterious freedom in my lower body, but I would never be able to trace the methodology by which I had achieved that ease and within a couple days (if I was lucky) the stiffness was back. I had serious concerns that this problem would be with me forever and would limit my ability to be a good teacher. So I started to focus a ton of work on them.
And they got worse.
You might identify with this phenomenon. You have a problem clearly identified that you know needs solving. It is urgent in a way that causes you anxiety. And so you tackle it to the best of your ability. And it backfires. Why does this happen?
In Alexandrian thought, the above process is an example of the pitfalls of ‘endgaining.’ Endgaining is simply going after a result with brute force of will rather than a method which addresses the cause of the problem. This is made especially difficult because causation can be very hard to determine. The reason for this is that the problem that needs work is not always the same as the symptoms.
An example. People who come to me with back pain often assume its because of something structurally wrong with the alignment of their back. However, I often find that it is the poise of some other part of their body that is causing them trouble–most often habitual tension in the head and the neck, but also habits to do with the person’s use of their shoulders, their elbows, their legs; both in general and in specific activities. A pianist I worked with had trouble with pain in her hands; but after working together we discovered the pain in her hands was actually caused not by the way she used them but by inadequate support for her truck caused by the way she used her pelvis and legs while sitting at the piano.
With my legs, I have not yet figured out an exact cause. However, my moments of freedom have come when I have given excellent organization to my own head and neck and allowed that to connect to my pelvis, allowing my legs the ability to function on their own and not have to be tense to make up for poor use in my trunk. Often this is tied to a sense of confidence in myself. I stop worrying about how well I’m using myself when I’m fully connected and good use of my legs comes as a side effect.
This is especially interesting as I noticed something in my third year of training. My legs would get more tense whenever I was feeling more nervous and less confident in myself. So when I was trying hard to ‘correct’ what I saw as a major fault in myself, my nervousness was actually fueling and reinforcing the thing I was trying to change. This was a major breakthrough for me. Since then, every time I notice tension in my legs, I refocus on treating my self as a whole well. My legs have become the canary in the coal mine that tell me when I need to be taking better care with my use and the way I think about myself. If I catch myself over-criticizing them, I just take a breath, say “**** it” (which was some of the best advice my trainer, Daria, ever gave me), and move on. And as a result, I have transformed a cycle of dislike towards them into gratitude for the gift of information they give me. And as I’ve worked to transform this cycle of dislike, they’ve slowly started to change into better organization.
They aren’t perfect. They probably won’t every be. If I am conscious of them being close to perfect, that will be the moment I lose it. But they have gotten better with time. And mostly, I’ve learned how to be better towards them.