Jacob Heringman, lutenist - Diary
Too much time has flown since the last Diary entry, and alas, this will also have to be a quick one.
Iím into the third week of my course, and itís going wonderfully. Life has changed a great deal, and each day has been a bit of a voyage of discovery. Iím very pleased with the way itís going, and Iím sure Iíve done the right thing embarking on this project.
But itís hard work. The first five hours of each weekday are taken up with the course (travel time included). I come home very tired; undergoing change is always tiring, I think.
Then, I have the afternoon and evening to squeeze in all those things that Iíve previously had all day to do--the various aspects of being a musician.
It doesnít leave a lot of time to spare for diary entries and such things, though itís exhilarating, and therefore gives me additional energy. Iíve enjoyed the lute playing more than I have for a long time, which is encouraging, and I can feel the Alexander work benefiting my lute playing.
Oh, dear! Twelve whole days since the last Diary entry. Iíve become much less diligent with the Diary since my course began four weeks ago. I suppose thatís to be expected. Iím busier than before, and Iím soaking up lots of new experiences. This is, I think, a time to take in things, rather than produce things.
A typical day begins at 0645 or 0700. At 0800 I leave for the course, walking. Iím coming to value this walking time greatly, as itís time to reflect as well as to exercise. Both of these activities have been much neglected of late, and it feels great to be doing them again. At 0845 work begins. Every day there is Karen, who runs the Alexander Technique Studio; there is Jean, the assistant director, who is with us four days a week; there is Alison, also there four days a week; and, on a typical day, there are 3 or 4 other teachers from a large pool of teachers most of whom come in to work with us once a week. So in a typical week, we (the students) work with a dozen or more different teachers. This is a fantastically valuable experience, because different teachers bring different perspectives. We work until 1215 (with a half-hour tea break at 1015), at which time our "school day" ends. Except that once a week each student has a half-hour private lesson at that time.
What do we spend our time doing? Very difficult to describe briefly. Please look at this website to learn more. But our work consists, in a nutshell, of learning to free ourselves sufficiently from the tyranny of habit (mental and physical) that we are enabled to choose for ourselves how to respond to whatever stimuli life throws at us, instead of responding in the habitual and unthinking way. What does this involve? It involves becoming aware of habitual tension in the body and learning how to perform simple and complex acts in as mechanically efficient a way as possible, i.e., without wasting energy. We all use far more energy than the necessary amount to do simple things like sitting down or standing up or climbing the stairs. And we think we need to do these things in a certain way. Weíre convinced that without this huge expenditure of effort it just wonít happen. The Alexander Technique teaches us mechanical efficiency. The first step is awareness: getting to know your body and learning to listen to it to the extent that you can identify physical tension and let go of it. Letting go is thus in a sense the second step. You have to identify it before you can let go of it. Then, the third step: change. Change is difficult, and painful, because of the incredibly strong power of habit. Hence the near impossibility of doing it without a teacher. But change is liberating, if it frees you from habit and enables you to have the freedom to choose how to react, how to "use yourself". Change, in this context, by the way, is not something you DO at all; it something that HAPPENS to you as a consequence of awareness and letting go. This is important.
Itís quite clear that if you use yourself efficiently, which means not being pulled down the front or the back, and not holding on to your leg muscles during all your waking hours, etc. etc., your breathing becomes much more efficient (letting go of physical tension frees the breathing so it can do itself better). When the breathing is freed, the digestion and circulation also improve. So the health benefits are obvious.
Itís also important to remember that this is mainly about letting go of things, of stopping them. Itís not about doing as much as it is about undoing. When I mention to people that Iím training as an Alexander teacher, they often snap to attention, sitting bolt upright in their chair. People have the idea that AT is posture training. It is not. Most people, when told to sit up straight, will substitute one set of physical tensions with another. This is about undoing the habitual tensions, so that the inbuilt mechanism of poise (observable in children) can do its thing. If you undo the faulty use of yourself, and learn to stop (to "inhibit") habitual response, "the right thing will take care of itself". If, that is, we learn to allow this to take place.
The other point to note, and perhaps the most important one, is this: habits can be mental or physical. For example, we all have lots and lots of inbuilt tension for all sorts of reasons and identifying it and letting go of it is a lifetimeís work. But we also have lots and lots of prejudices, presuppositions, preconceptions, assumptions, and most of them are unconscious--but they run our life for us. They decide for us how we should react in a given situation. The Alexander Technique is just as much about becoming aware of and letting go of these mental habits as it is about physical ones. (Who wants to spend their life as it were asleep, totally unaware of their freedom to choose?) In fact, the overwhelmingly clear and obvious fact that emerges when you begin to work on these things is that the two are inseparable. In an Alexander lesson the teacher helps you identify physical tension you were unaware of. As you progress in this, you start to change physically (I am actually a different shape than I was six years ago, literally), as you learn to sit, stand, and move with greater freedom and poise. But you also start to change mentally. Itís unavoidable. You wake up; you start to become aware of your mental habits, and to begin to let go of them. Hence the great power of the Alexander Technique.
This was just the briefest sketch of what the Alexander Technique is about. I could go on for hours, and I donít know if this snapshot makes any sense to people who are not familiar with the Alexander Technique.
faced every day with thousands and thousands of choices, but we deceive
ourselves into thinking that we must do this or we must
Anyway, coming back to a typical day, I come home exhausted at about 1300, and start my working day as a musician, which can take me into the evening. Itís a long day, but I find that the Alexander work gives me strength and inspiration for the musical work. And the benefit to my playing since I started with Alexander lessons six years ago has been huge.