Releasing

I’m puzzled by the implication that the Technique instructs us to not interfere (with the right employment of the Primary Control), but not to stop current interference; largely because stopping something we are already doing smacks of releasing, which isn’t considered a valid part of Alexander work.

“I’ve noticed that I get into an undesirable pattern a lot: I’ve learned to “release tension” without necessarily increasing my freedom.”

“It isn’t really possible to know why your recent lesson experience gave the impression that the Technique is concerned with ‘releasing’ or ‘freeing.'”

“I certainly had difficulties for some time with the paradoxical activity of ‘doing’ releasing or thinking that this was required – wrong conception of course, and definitely not what is required!”

The suggested order of events would seem to be:

1. Becoming conscious.

2. Recognising a stimulus.

3. Deciding to not interfere while responding.

Generally, whenever we become conscious we will, on some level, be interfering. If this wasn’t the case – if our default, unconscious mode was one of not interfering – there would be little purpose in learning the Technique.

Assuming we are aware of interfering, we have the option of stopping it. If we’re unaware, we don’t have that option. If we don’t stop it, we can’t then ‘not do it’, since not doing something we are already doing depends on our stopping doing it first. This is a crucial point. If we don’t stop current interference, all we can do, in the name of ‘not interfering’, is ‘not interfere more’.

Not interfering, or not interfering more, requires that we know how we have interfered in the past, just as stopping interfering requires that we know how we are interfering in the present. We can’t consciously stop doing, or not do, something we have, or have had, no kinesthetic knowledge of.

This means that in any decision to not interfere, we either:

a. Recognise we are already interfering as a result of our reaction to a preceding stimulus, cease that existing interference, and don’t re-start similar interference.

b. Recognise we are already interfering, don’t cease existing interference, but don’t interfere more.

c. Fail to recognise we are interfering, while desiring not to interfere.

These three possible ways of responding depend on the level of our awareness. For a beginning student, comprehension of interference, whether current or potential, will be slight, as in (c). As our knowledge of ourselves increases, so will our awareness of how we actively and potentially interfere. I would consider (a) an appropriate and (b) an inappropriate Alexandrian response.

Much of our time, any new stimulus we face will be virtually identical to the one we’re already responding to. In other words, on becoming conscious, we will find ourselves doing much the same thing, still sitting at the desk, continuing with the washing up, the walk, the swim, actively eating, talking, etc. The only difference will be our awareness of what we’re doing.

If we don’t recognize we are interfering, any decision to ‘not interfere’ will be meaningless, since the unchanged stimulus is unlikely to demand any major change in our behaviour, which already excludes interference we are familiar with. If we do recognize we are interfering, however assiduously we may decide to not interfere, unless we actively stop existing interference, we will again be doing nothing new. In both cases, there will be little scope for ‘not interfering more’, given the unchanged stimulus.

If the new stimulus we are confronted with is different to the one we are currently responding to, as in the doorbell ringing, being accosted in the street, learning something unexpected, getting out of a low chair, etc, we face a potential increase in interference. If we are unaware of existing interference, any decision on our part to ‘not interfere’ will actually mean ‘not interfere more than we are already, without knowing it’. Our ability to do that will depend on what potential interference we are familiar enough with to be able to recognize. I would call this beginner’s inhibition.

If we are aware of existing interference, we have the choice of whether or not to stop it. Stopping existing interference, and not restarting it, effectively inhibits any possibility of ‘interfering more’. However, any deliberate decision to not interfere, and to not interfere more than – but without stopping what – we are already doing, will result in far less of a change to our habitual response. Since we can’t not do what we haven’t stopped doing, we will be limited to ‘not interfering more than we are already, knowingly’. This would amount to partial inhibition, at best.

Effective, full inhibition is the process of becoming conscious, ceasing existing interference – as far as we are able to recognise it – and not restarting it. Naturally, for as long as we don’t restart interference, there will be no need to cease anything more, beyond the initial stopping; but in order to begin ‘not re-starting’, we have no choice but to cease existing interference first.

This ceasing will feel like, and in fact, will be, a release. Such releasing could happen many times a minute or once in half an hour, depending on how conscious we are. If we don’t perceive such a release, the odds are we haven’t successfully stopped anything. In all likelihood, if we’re aware of interfering, but not of releasing, we’re stuck.

Since ceasing existing interference requires us to perceive, kinesthetically, both its presence and its absence, the question then becomes, not whether releasing is appropriate, but whether our recognition of what leads up to it is accurate.

Personally, I would discount the possibility that we can be much mistaken in whatever we perceive as existing interference. This is because the main purpose of the Technique is to increase the reliability of our kinesthetic sense; and it would be absurd if we went from a position of knowing nothing about interfering in an Alexandrian context to being wrong about how we were interfering, as a direct result of the learning process.

However, much does depend on what an individual – whether teacher or student – understands by Alexander’s words, “interfering with the right employment of the Primary Control”. A mistaken understanding could result in piecemeal releasing of particular tensions rather than a general reduction of unnecessary (or redistribution of necessary) effort. A far greater risk, though, than over indulging in releasing, would be hanging on to existing interference out of fear of misinterpretation.

As a simple example, let’s say someone is driving, while thinking about next yearÃŒs holiday. In an Alexandrian sense, they are operating unconsciously. Then, they remember the Technique and become conscious. They notice immediately that their neck is tight and their head is being pulled backwards and down. This is unlikely to be a rare occurrence, though it might be more or less severe. Meanwhile, the stimulus of driving (with holiday thoughts supplanted by thoughts of use) is not greatly changed from moments earlier. The only real difference is they are now conscious of it.

They determine to not interfere, as they understand it, from this point on, and for as long as they remain conscious. This might last for any number of seconds or minutes. The question is, since they are already interfering, as a result of their prior unconscious reaction primarily to the stimulus of driving, how do they now not interfere while responding to the same stimulus?

The simple answer is that they stop interfering and they don’t restart. I can’t conceive how the effect of this could be construed as other than a release, if their neck untightens and their head is no longer pulled backwards and down. The alternative scenario is that they do nothing. In other words, they don’t stop interfering. Since they can’t not do something they’re already doing, they carry on driving, in an unchanged state, save for being conscious of it.

Let’s then say they lapse back into unconsciousness, and, a few miles up the road, the more demanding stimulus of a police car appears in their rear view mirror. Having sufficient presence of mind to remember the Technique prior to responding to this new stimulus, they again notice that their neck is tight and their head is being pulled backwards and down. This time, their choice is between stopping (and not restarting) existing interference, or not interfering more than they are already. In other words, they can either release their neck and not tighten it again, or they can maintain an existing tight neck but not tighten it any more.

For me, there is something absurd about setting out to not interfere, or not interfere more, while still knowingly interfering. It is the idealised act of refusing to do something we’re already doing, without stopping doing it first. To my mind, stopping interfering is as inseparable a part of inhibition as not interfering. The experience of release is simply the result of ceasing to send existing messages from the brain to the muscles.

This has nothing to do with (or at least, is a separate issue to) the sending of new messages, through direction; although directing might (or might not) appear to have a similar effect. That is because Alexandrian inhibition depends on kinesthetic feedback, utterly; whereas direction doesn’t, remotely.

3 thoughts on “Releasing

  1. How wonderful!

    I’m struggling with this myself right at the moment and I think I’m about to come to the same conclusion as you.

    This idea of receiving a stimulus and not reacting to it right away, is all very nice but what about the fact, that in real life we are in the middle of reacting to a number of stimuli already at any given point in time. Whatever I want to do – I’m doing something already and chances are, that I’m interfering with what I’m already doing even before I start the new activity. Then there is the added point, that every activity consists of a relationing movement of the axial structure and a gestural movement. As long as I’m not lying down the relationing movement is constantly going on (and to be quite honest I think even then I’m still interfering).

    To take Alexanders classical example: If I’m just standing up and I want to start to speak and wanted to improve the use of myself while singing, I would have to find a way to stand up in a way in which I’m not interfering, because just standing up without interfering with my proper use is a problem for me already. How can I do that if not by learning to become aware of interferences an stopping them while standing up? The only other way than your suggestion I could think of right now, would be to lie down and get up with improved use and then start singing, which seems a bit weird to me …

    Thanks for this input and keep up the good work.
    Oliver

  2. Hello Oliver,

    It was great to read your response to what I wrote. I think it all boils down to having a sense of realism about how we apply the Technique to our lives. In my view, there’s lots of scope for fooling ourselves in this area!

    Nicholas

  3. Mistake.

    I muddled up speaking and singing in my example. I meant speaking all the way through.

    As for the scope for fooling ourselves: I start to suspect that that’s part of the necessary learning process in the alexander technique. Basically we start of fooling ourselves and having little sparks of insight through lessons and study, which we then refine into some new form of fooling ourselves, which might be a bit more constructive than the old way of fooling ourselves and so on 😉

    Cheers
    Oliver

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