Habits, Habits, Habits

One student recently described her learning process as having to trust thinking and moving in ways that seem to be “counter intuitive.” In leaving her normal way of doing the task to do it in a new way, she described it as feeling “quite odd” or “just wrong” even though it was so much easier to do. She was working on finding the movement of her air to support her singing voice. It was very obvious to both of us that her sound was much freer and stronger when she vocalized in the less familiar way.

Her statement led to a discussion about how her singing was markedly easier and was clearly better coordinated and “right” when she chose this new way of working. Even so, it was unfamiliar and the pull of the familiar was SO strong that she had to pay very close attention to avoid going down that road again and again- continuing to choose the less coordinated and harder way to sing.

It might seem that once one has had the experience of how easy something can be and how obvious it is that the old way isn’t really working he/she would be able to immediately change course and follow the new pathway. It would be so nice if changing habits was as simple as having a new understanding of how to do something. In fact, it requires both a new understanding and practice in applying this new understanding until we break from the persistence of the habit. In practice we have to keep on top of our actions and monitor what we are doing to bring them in to what F.M. called “conscious control.”

Another student recently said, “I’m not telling it to do that.” in reference to how he was folding (or not) his hip joints as he sat on the chair. Right – he wasn’t consciously telling his hips not to bend but at some point (conscious or not) he adopted this habit. Then, again probably without awareness, he went on to automatic pilot and has done it in a similar manner for years.

The real answer is yes, we ARE “telling it to do that” at some level that is probably deeply buried in our habitual patterning. And if we want to change we need to create a situation where the older, less efficient habit has a chance to change.

Another student remarked that it seemed funny to tell his knees to bend – he felt as if they were remote objects out there somewhere that should already know what to do. Same thing. His habits are running his movement, and, in this case, jamming his legs up into his torso causing some lower back pain. At some point he learned, possibly through imitation, injury recovery, stress or trauma response, or some other reason, to move in this way. And in reality, his knees are not so remote. They are part of him, and he can have conscious control over how they move.

Much of the work in the Alexander Technique is bringing those habits that are often unconscious to the surface of our awareness so that we can consciously direct ourselves to change them and by doing so, maintain a better use of ourselves.

It is not necessarily important to know how we arrived at our own unique constellation of habitual movements. What is important is that we realize we can do something about them and they don’t have as much of a grip on us as we think they do. They don’t have to run the show.

One might ask if it is worth spending the mental energy on directing themselves and changing their habits. Yes of course it is.

In all of the cases above the unconscious habits are directly affecting their movement performance and quality of life. They are subtly and not so subtly determining the freedom of movement and thought.

In the first case of the singer, her vocal performance and thus her career hinges on this information.

In the second case of the new hips, the student has a whole new relationship to the ground and it has given him at least another inch in his back, frees up his neck, and literally gives him a new perspective on things (from that higher view).

In the third case of the remote knees, his whole gait changed and his back immediately started feeling better once he bent is knees. That nagging back pain stopped taking up his mental space so he could be more present with whatever task was at hand.

What a relief!

It is important not to judge ourselves as we uncover some of these habits that have been dragging us around. Students have said things like, “I’m doing THAT?” or “What am I doing that for?” or “Why do I think that (the old habit) is easier?” and so on. It is not necessary to know why we developed a certain habit. What is important is to move forward with a new awareness and willingness to change for the better. The contrast between the new and old patterns will sometimes uncover the cause of the previous pattern if it is important in the context of the new.

Take an activity that you do every day probably many times a day like sitting down. Focus on the following things and see if it becomes easier:

• There is no need to muscularly pull yourself down into the chair.
• Lengthen out your body before you sit down.
• Send your head out over your knees as you sit down, letting your whole torso follow your head.
• Make sure your hips, knees, AND ankles are all bending (all 6 joints) while you sit.