The Use Of The Self

When I see somebody’s use of themselves, I’m looking at how they talk to themselves. Unnecessary compression results from a punitive attitude to the self. I rarely find someone with terrible use who’s at ease with himself and I rarely find someone with good use who hates himself.

Take someone who complains of tight shoulders. What’s going on is that they are subconsciously tightening their shoulders. But what’s underneath that unnecessary tightening? I bet a punitive attitude to the self, a feeling that I am not good enough, that I need to make myself smaller so others won’t hurt me.

Another client might discover that he unconsciously tilts his head to the right. That feels normal to him. He goes through life with a weird tilt while he feels like he’s straight. So what is going on underneath that unnecessary compression that’s pulling him to the right? It may well reflect strain in his self-talk.

When people are happy, they are at their most buoyant. When depressed, they are pulled down.

Comments from other Alexander teachers:

* Emotional shields, makes people feel safer.

* This not only true some of the time, it is always the case. We address habits of mind along with all other habits of use, don’t we? How can it be otherwise?

* I agree wholeheartedly, Luke. And the ‘wholeheartedly’ is important, too, because it’s not necessarily when we can release/cease the unhelpful self-beliefs that we begin to flow better in our self, but when we simply drop the judgements about having the beliefs in the first place; giving ourself our whole-heart. I work in both arenas as one all the time now.

* You can’t address someone’s posture without addressing their emotional state. And many postural habits make people feel emotionally safer, and that need to feel safe needs to be respected.

* Luke, I mused and mulled more over what you say in your first post, and find it very interesting, and worth while to ask the questions you ask. It is a bit like me asking myself – and others sometimes – what I am really up to when I am doing something. What am I really up to right now, pulling my shoulders up and typing on that keyboard? I mean, apart from typing, pulling up my shoulders, and responding to your post, what am I really up to? And I find that I am in a desperate hurry to get my word in! Hence the pulling up of shoulders…. Your questions are definitely worth asking and considering.

* The Law of Correspondence was a statement that the inner and the outer are reflections of one another. But like musical notes, the same tone played in a different moment, or with different companion notes, could be part of a different effect. Having feelings is not an imperfection.

Nathaniel Branden wrote in his book, The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life:

In my early forties, I decided I wanted to experience a form of body therapy known as structural integration (or, more popularly, “Rolfing,” after the originator of the method, Ida Rolf). This process involves deep massage and manipulation of the muscle fasciae to realign the body in more appropriate relation to gravity, to correct imbalances caused by entrenched muscular contractions, and to open areas of blocked feeling and energy. When treatment is successful, it leads to a general freeing up of the capacity to feel, greater awareness of and sensitivity to one’s own physical processes, improved overall coordination, superior balance, and increased energy. Not everyone gains these benefits to the same degree (or at all), but for me it was very much the right treatment at the right time in my development. I felt lighter than I had in years. I experienced a general deepening of self-awareness. I felt freer emotionally. I felt as if walls within myself had dissolved. And I had more energy. I was not surprised that I felt better. What did surprise me-what I was completely unprepared for was the change in my perceptiveness concerning other people.

During this period I was leading a number of psychotherapy groups, and my clients volunteered that they could notice changes in me week by week as the Rolfing progressed. I had had very little formal training in working with the body in psychotherapy, yet I found I was now able to “read” bodies to a new and astonishing degree. Slight changes in facial expression or eye movements, shifts of posture, subtle variations in ways of standing or sitting, changes of skin color, alterations in breathing patterns all suddenly seemed to convey volumes of information to me as clearly as articulate speech. It was as if, in becoming more transparent to myself, I had shifted to a space that allowed others to become more transparent to me.

Nathaniel Branden wrote in his book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem:

* [When we look at someone at peace] we see eyes that are alert, bright, and lively; a face that is relaxed and (barring illness) tends to exhibit natural color and good skin vibrancy; a chin that is held naturally and in alignment with one’s body; and a relaxed jaw.
We see shoulders relaxed yet erect; hands that tend to be relaxed and graceful; arms that tend to hang in an easy, natural way; a posture that tends to be unstrained, erect, well-balanced; a walk that tends to be purposeful (without being aggressive and overbearing).
We hear a voice that tends to be modulated with an intensity appropriate to the situation and with clear pronunciation.
Notice that the theme of relaxation occurs again and again. Relaxation implies that we are not hiding from ourselves and are not at war with who we are. Chronic tension conveys a message of some form of internal split, some form of self-avoidance or self-repudiation, some aspect of the self being disowned or held on a very tight leash.

* We deny and disown our emotions when we (1) avoid awareness of their reality, (2) constrict our breathing and tighten our muscles to cut off or numb feeling, and (3) disassociate ourselves from our own experience (in which state we are often unable to recognize our feelings).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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