What Do You Notice?

That’s the most persistent question in Alexander Technique lessons — what do you notice?

When you get in and out of a chair, what do you notice? Do you sense your neck tightening and compressing? What’s going on with your lower back? Do you find yourself holding your breath? Do you start compressing your whole torso when you simply think about sitting down? Do you lock your knees?

When you walk, what do you notice? Is one shoulder taller than the other? Are parts of your back collapsed? Do you sense yourself over-striding? What’s leading? You should lead with your head. Are you thinking your directions? Think your knees forward at all points in the stride.

When you take a breath, what happens with your neck? When you speak, what happens with your neck? Do you sense yourself compressing? Do you notice you’re tightening your whole torso when you speak? Do you notice that the stimulus to project your voice causes you to compress more than if you were having a quiet conversation?

My first Alexander Technique teacher didn’t think I was going to come back after our first lesson. For the first 15 or so lessons, she thought she was failing with me. Why? Because I had a hard time with the question, “What do you notice?”

At the beginning of our work each day, she’d always ask me, “Did you have any Alexander moments since our last lesson?” And I never had any.

I’ve seen that most people don’t have my problem with articulating what they notice in their body when they deal with various stimuli.

So why am I so disconnected from my body? I think it was trauma in early childhood. Like a budding porn star, I learned to disassociate from my body. Ever since then, I’ve spent my life in my head instead of my body. It’s a big challenge learning to connect again, to notice what is going on in my lower back as I sit down, and to articulate this back to my teacher.

Despite this problem of mine and despite my continued reluctance to engage with the question, I’ve made at least average progress through my lessons.

(A friend told me the other day, “I don’t think I’ve known any student who’s had as many doubters as you’ve had.” That’s because I was so unaware of my body when I started and had a helluva time following my Alexander directions. I appeared sunk in my hips, collapsed in my back, down in my trunk, and lost in bad habits of use.)

So perhaps it is not so important to be able to answer this question? I’ve made great progress while still engaging it reluctantly and haltingly. Perhaps the kinesthetic experience of working under the hands and verbal instructions of a good Alexander teacher are enough to guide one to good use? If so, then others can learn the same way.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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