Body Wisdom, Coaching, and the Alexander Technique
By Connie de Veer, MFA, CPCC
When corporate CEOs head into the woods to read and write poetry,* and groups are gathering all around the world to re-learn the ancient (and almost forgotten) art of listening and sitting in silence to be present in the moment --- somethings up! When companies are willing to pay big bucks to teach their employees how to honor soft arts like intuition,trust-building, and creativity --- that says to me, weve strayed far away from our center and thank God, were finding our way back!
One recurrent theme in all these pursuits includes re-connecting with the body and honoring its wisdom. The body is a perfect barometer for thoughts, beliefs, and emotional states of being. Yet often, we either dont trust the bodys information, or we outright fear it. Many of us regard our body as something to be conquered, or battled with. Our bodies remind us of our needs, and that feeling of vulnerability (mortality, maybe?) can be frightening. Both coaching and the Alexander Technique, although separate and distinct disciplines, are powerful vehicles for accessing body wisdom and re-educating ones habits and overall use of the self.
A Coaching Overview
The Coaches Training Institute offers this definition: A powerful alliance designed to forward and enhance the lifelong process of human learning, effectiveness and fulfillment. Coaching taps into the unique gifts and learning style of the client, who works in equal partnership with the coach, to create a life that is balanced, fulfilling, and growth-centered. Much of this process entails uncovering the clients habits of behavior, as well as thought. Thus, coaching may be described in part, as an educational tool.
A large component of a coachs training consists of creating structures to engage the client in the process of their own life. One sure-fire method for doing that is to ask questions that bring the clients attention to their body. For example, Where in your body do you experience that frustration? or What is your body trying to tell you in this moment? Likewise, the coach is trained to pick up on when a client is blocking an experience through physical armoring.
As a way to feel in control of oneself and not reveal painful or strong feelings, many people go into their heads, meaning they step outside of their own experience and analyze it through logic and rationalizing. The physical manifestation of this dynamic is one of rigidity, shallow breathing, muscular tension, and often eventually, pain. It is then the coachs responsibility to raise the clients awareness of whats going on, ask questions that explore new possible choices,and bring them back home to themselves.
The Alexander Technique
Although the form and method are different, a teacher of the Alexander Technique has similar goals in mind. The Alexander Technique teaches participants to re-train their movement habits in order to improve their overall physical and mental well-being. Subtle to marked muscular and postural changes brought about through a series of lessons can vastly improve existing conditions such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and jaw tension,vocal and breathing problems, to name a few. Likewise, it can teach healthy use of the self to prevent injury and negative responses to stress.
It must be emphasized however, that the Alexander Technique does not follow a medical, or therapeutic model. Rather, it is an educational method that engages the student as an active participant in their own learning process --- just like coaching! It embraces the notion that we are whole beings --- united in body, thought, and feeling. We can choose how we fill the space within and around us --- literally and metaphorically!
The bottom line is, when you change your bodys habits of use, you change your whole self. When you examine your habits, you expose your beliefs. Growth and positive change cant help but be in the offing!
A Few Ways Coaching and the Alexander Technique Overlap
Both coaching and the Alexander Technique are about the development of human potential. They are not about healing, per se, as that suggests that the recipient is passive and necessarily wounded. (Although healing often comes about as a side benefit of both.) Both engage the student/client in co-active space where they are equal partners in their own growth process, and draw upon their innate gifts and resources.
Coaching and the Alexander Technique involve raising ones awareness of unconscious, inefficient, or destructive habits and sets about to develop new, beneficial ones. Coaches look at the big picture of behavior patterns as they emerge over time, as well as, language patterns that reveal habits of thought that do not serve the client.The Alexander Technique teacher works with the student to discover how habits manifest in the body and movement. The founder of the Alexander Technique, Frederick Matthias Alexander, noted that our habits feel right to us because we have adapted to them over time. Much of the learning process in the technique involves allowing for a new kinesthetic experience, thus developing our sensory awareness, to be at greater choice.
Both acknowledge that learning happens in the body. We are NOT separate from our bodies, but united in thought, feeling, and movement. The Alexander Technique asserts that movement is thought, and thought is movement. Coaches concur!
Alexander coined the term end-gaining for that syndrome we all know so well: that of pushing for the end result, regardless of the way we get there, or the cost to our body. He offered instead, the invitation to pay attention to the means whereby you perform any activity and thus CHOOSE how you accomplish the task at hand. This results in a much easier journey --- what coaches may call a compelling way, and may also have a marked impact on onesrelationships and environment.
People often come to coaching because they feel stuck and not at choice in their life. Coaching is a powerful way to explore different perspectives, learn what to say no to and what to say yes to, and to move forward toward realizing ones life purpose and personal values. The Alexander Technique teaches students to get physically unstuck,and to be at choice through two simple principles called inhibition and direction.
Inhibition in the Alexander Technique is not how we remember being in junior high! Rather, it is simply stopping when we notice a habit grip us, and saying no to that choice. The next step in this process is inhibitions partner, direction --- which means a lightening up on the whole self, giving yourself the thought I want my neck to be free, my head to go forward and up (which means not pulling down and compressing the neck and spine), and my back to lengthen and widen, thus allowing for the bodys natural buoyancy and anti-gravity reflexes to function.
The workplace often offers a host of stressful stimuli --- everything from overwork, to office politics, to poor use caused by the overuse of computers, and long periods of sitting. Increased sensory awareness brought about through regular Alexander lessons can deepen the learning and offer a common language of the body that facilitates the coaching process.
The language of metaphor used in coaching draws from a deeper pool when the body is engaged in the process. Through freeing the body, ones intuition and creativity are unlocked. The coach can then call forth those skills and explore ways to integrate them in the clients life. When the body is open, alert, free of extraneous muscular tension, one is a more open instrument for communicating, listening, and learning.
What might become available to individuals and the overall workplace environment if people were really present with their whole selves at work, feeling energized and at choice, and in touch with creativity and intuition!
TRY THESE COACHING/ALEXANDER OBSERVATIONAL EXERCISES ON YOUR OWN:
1) Most of us exist in a continual state of mild to severe startle reflex pattern, that reflexive state we all experience as part of the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, even after the initial threat has passed, we often learn this response and retain it as a chronic habit. TMJ, neck and back problems are only some of the problems that arise when this happens.
This week, notice what triggers you to pull in and down into this habitual pattern:
Is the stimulus for startle reflex internal (thoughts, beliefs, etc.), or external (a screaming boss, heavy traffic, etc.); a bit of both?
Is the stimulus a real threat, or just an old habit lingering from an obsolete threat?
What do you notice when you exercise choice and inhibit the negative response of holding onto startle reflex?
What do you notice when you direct, with the thought My neck is free?
What gremlin messages show up when your body self inhabits more space? (Gremlins are those inner voices that fear change and dont want us to grow. They want to keep us small --- literally and figuratively!)
How will you respond to the gremlins?
2) Where is your focus? When the body is unimpeded and functioning with natural ease and efficiency, the head leads (ever so slightly!) and the body follows. More specifically, the body organizes itself around the gaze. (We are animals after all, and the way animals find food, prey, sense danger, etc., is to follow the eyes and head.) However, many of us develop habits of fixing the head in less-than-optimal positions that over time, have a negative impact on our bodys functioning...i.e., pain, back problems, joint problems! You can easily imagine the many causes for this, from messages were given like Sit up straight!, or You should be ashamed!, --- the whole gamut of physical and psychological stresses we endure.
This week, notice where your visual gaze habitually falls --- horizon-level? The ground? Above peoples heads?
Does it change? If so, under what circumstances?
What habitual (perhaps even unconscious) thoughts accompany your gaze?
What thoughts, beliefs, fears, accompany this posture?
What thoughts and beliefs will you choose to replace them with?
What is that like in your body?
*Poet and consultant David Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, takes groups of CEOs into the woods for poetry retreats.
Connie de Veer is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, trained by The Coaches Training Institute, and an AmSAT certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, trained by the Urbana Center for the Alexander Technique. Her practice, CdV Coaching, is in Bloomington, IL. She is an authorized distributor of Inscape Publishing, Inc., maker of learning resources and assessments. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site: www.cdvcoaching.com
For more information about the Alexander Technique, click here:
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique