Another look at inhibition

I wrote this in response to the question: “What is it about developing one’s coordination that precludes every activity, save inhibition, to bring about a change in one’s manner of use?” I don’t know if I answered the question; but I was certainly clearer, afterwards, in my own mind, on the subject of inhibition.

Inhibition happens a lot of the time without people knowing it does, or calling it that. Take someone who has a tendency to leap out of their chair and rush to do something, whenever the urge strikes them. They decide to change this habit, and to stay in their chair for a count of five first. Whatever they may call it, inhibition of a prior impulse must happen if this habit is to be successfully changed.

It could be argued, of course, that their desire to leap out of the chair is still present, but that they are constraining it with a greater desire to remain where they are; and that this isn’t true inhibition.

I think the notion of doing something different without having first properly stopped doing what that activity is replacing lies at the heart of the Alexander dilemma. Whenever I consider this, I am reminded of Alexander’s example of a cat inhibiting its desire to jump on a prey until it is truly sure of its catch. The original desire remains as strong as ever; but it is held in check by an even greater desire. Thus, it is being inhibited. However, neither the cat nor the person in the chair is applying inhibition to their ‘use’. In our specialised Alexander context, it is often easy to believe we have ‘inhibited’, when what we have done is acted differently, with unchanged use.

Suppose an Alexander student notices their head retracts when they stand. They know this from seeing themselves in mirrors, videos, etc. They also sense it, from their teacher’s hand, and to a certain extent, when alone; but let’s assume, in this instance, that what they sense is ‘it’ happening, or having happened, rather than the manner in which they are causing it to happen; and that instead of waiting to cultivate an increased consciousness of that ‘manner’, they decide to change things by deliberately preventing their head from retracting, throughout the activity of standing. They do this assiduously and end up with a new, better seeming – to them – habit. However, the likelihood is that whatever caused them to retract their head, is still very much present, but is prevented from exerting its unconscious influence by their stronger, conscious desire to do otherwise. In such an instance, inhibition of an unwanted activity has taken place, but inhibition of the manner of use that led to it has not; and that although there has been a superficial, and possibly beneficial change, on a deeper level conditions remain the same. Indeed, from an Alexander viewpoint, they are probably worse.

Such a student is doing no more, or less, than the person in the chair or the cat with its prey. All have a degree of knowledge of their actions and what they have to not do (inhibit) in order to achieve what they want. None is attending, consciously, to their use. For the cat, such inattention is largely irrelevant, since we can assume its use is uniformly reliable. For the person cultivating the new habit of staying in their chair for longer than before, any changes that come about in their use will be by accident rather than design. In the instance of the retracting head, the student knows it retracts, and that they would like it not to. What they don’t yet know, and therefore can’t inhibit, is what lies behind this ‘activity’. For such a student, whose desire is – presumably – to change their use, in order to do what they do differently, deliberately setting out to do things differently, regardless of their use, is like putting the cart before the horse.

In the simplest terms, there is inhibition of action and inhibition of use. Inhibition of action happens all the time. Inhibition of use happens rarely. We can inhibit what we are about to do, by doing something else; but that doesn’t mean we are inhibiting the way we usually do it, or the way we will do whatever we replace it with. Alternatively, we can inhibit the ‘way’ we act, without seeking to change ‘what’ we’re doing at all – although our actions will necessarily change, as a result of our changed conditions.

Unfortunately, in Alexander work, the more students look as though they are ‘doing things differently’, the more likely it is they will have inhibited their actions rather than their use. Those whose actions merely ‘look different’, may, indeed, be managing to inhibit the way they carry them out. To consider T’s question: “What is it about developing one’s coordination that precludes every activity, save inhibition, to bring about a change in one’s manner of use?” I should say that use determines, primarily, the quality rather than the appearance of coordination. Any change in quality would affect appearance, of course; but a change in appearance wouldn’t necessarily affect quality.

It is possible to ‘develop coordination’ (as I understand this term) without changing use one iota. Whether use would change as a by product of developing coordination would depend entirely on the individual. I’ve met people who have changed the way they act and look out of all recognition through one ‘regime’ or another; but their intrinsic ‘use’ doesn’t seem to have altered at all. Then again, I’ve met people whose use appears to have undergone a dramatic change, and who look vastly different, and act in a wholly new fashion, as a result of this, without them ever having had any conscious intention of doing anything differently.

I think the Technique is unique in addressing inhibition of use before, or at most, in tandem with, inhibition of action. It seems to require of students that they bypass their initial perception of a need for a change in what they are doing in order to focus on the way they are doing it. By changing this ‘way’ first, whatever they then do (whether what they first intended, or something else) will not only differ qualitatively from what they would otherwise have done, it will look different, too.

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