Swimming – thinking in activity

The initial lesson in learning the Alexander Technique (AT) is to become aware of our habitual reactions and to apply the decision to stop. Once we have learned to prevent an unthinking reaction we can choose to apply a response based on reasoned judgment. Responding in this way requires us to attend to ourselves in the present moment. Stopping unthinking habits puts us in the position of being able to exercise choice rather than be subservient to unchecked automatic reactions. The radical difference between our normal patterns of behavior and the process of thinking in activity can be illustrated by the following model. In this model, we see how one pathway leads to a pattern of habitual reactions which result in a ‘vicious spiral’ of misuse, tension, and pain. Conversely, by learning to break the habit, we enter into a ‘virtuous spiral’ of awareness and the freedom to act in a healthy way.

It’s not easy to remain constantly alert to ourselves in this way. We are creatures of habit, and not used to the idea that we can renew our self-awareness from second to second. Inevitably, we find ourselves slipping back into habitual reactions and unthinking habits. However, through the practice of AT, it becomes easier to notice the signals of misuse and to respond in an appropriate way.

Alexander frequently said that only by stopping the wrong can better use emerge, and in the AT great importance is attached to this principle. As the pupil progresses, the understanding of what ‘stopping’ entails matures and deepens. It doesn’t mean doing anything at all so that you collapse in a heap. It relates specifically to stopping the familiar, unwanted, and unnecessary habits of our physical and mental responses. Only in this way can we recognize how habitual these patterns are, and be empowered to overcome them so that we can live our lives with a new and more creative awareness.

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