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« Don’t Relax! A new solution for tension | Main | The Posture Myth »
Friday
Sep272013

Ask and you shall receive: Non-doing and the Alexander Technique

 

Non-doing is an elusive term that may conjure up idealist views of stillness, meditation, serenity, and peacefulness. In the Alexander Technique, non-doing is the vehicle for which change is possible. It’s the sweet spot between stimulus and action. In this sweet spot, it’s possible to receive information and make a conscious choice, rather than immediately reacting in a habitual flight-or-fight response.

According to Taoism, non-doing (or “Wu wei”) is living and moving in an uncontrived, natural way. Rather than “trying” to do something, one does it with ease and in an organic way. For example, a tree does not try to grow, or decide to grow, it simply grows.[1]

When you begin Alexander Technique lessons and learn about body mechanics, you are learning a new way of sitting, bending, and standing. It’s great! However, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “doing” this new way of sitting, bending, and standing with just as much tension, stiffness, and mal-coordination as your old, habitual way. It’s similar to The Posture Myth: layers of stiffness and overexertion replaced with more stiffness and overexertion.

Adopting non-doing as a way of being can be challenging, especially in our society where quick, hard evidence that “it worked” is everyone’s M.O. Learning body mechanics and having the knowledge of using your body in an efficient way is an important piece of the Alexander Technique. But just having that knowledge is not enough.

Paradoxically, non-doing is essential for putting your new knowledge of body mechanics into action. It just takes a little patience, curiosity, and an open mind. Let’s explore….

Try the following experiment to tap into your non-doing Self. You can try this standing, sitting, or in your favorite restorative pose:  

1)      Quiet the mind: all that mental chatter is just going to get in the way! Take a moment to quiet your mind and tune in to your body and the space around you.

2)      Ask: Simply ask the question, “Can I do less?” or “Is there any muscle tension I am holding in my body that I don’t need right now?”

Once you pose those questions, I’m guessing that the Inspector Gadget inside of you kicks in (for those of you who didn’t watch 1980’s cartoons, check this out). Once we ask, we go and find, inspect, and try to fix. This is not the way of non-doing! That’s totally doing. So let’s try it this way:

3)    Receive. Wait. Keep quieting the mind. Continue tuning in to your body and the space around you. Receive, receive, receive.

Your body will respond. You will know (without having to look for the answer) if you are holding any muscle tension in your body that you don’t need. Either your body will simply release it, or make you aware of the excess tension.

Excess tension can come in many forms, but some common ways you may experience it are:

Tight jaw/tongue

Holding the belly in

Holding the breath

Shoulders up to the ears

Arms bent and stiff, rather than just dangling at your side

Butt clenched

Lifting the thighs up or locking the knees back

Gripping the toes

As with anything, non-doing is a skill that takes practice. Through Alexander Technique lessons, I help my students navigate these uncharted waters of uncertainty and non-doing. Leaving well-formed and comfortable habits can be challenging. As F.M. Alexander, the founder of the technique, once said, “Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.”[2]

Ask, Wait, Receive. The reward is a new way of being that does not put stress and strain on your body. How wonderful!

I’d love to hear from you: what did you notice when you explored non-doing? Please leave a comment below.

 


[1] “Wikipedia, Wu wei,” last modified September 23, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei.

[2] F.M. Alexander, Articles and Lectures (London, Mouritz, 1995), 194.

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