The Alexander Technique and Focusing
I have been working for 20 years integrating Alexander Technique with Focusing, in what I call Whole Body Focusing. The following is an attempt to share how all this has come together for me. I make no claims beyond my own experience.
Alexander Technique is concerned with unconscious automatic body functioning, and the way these "habitual" responses interfere with the natural flow and functioning of the organism as a whole. Alexander realized early on how difficult it was for one to change these deeply embedded physical response patterns. His life work was to find a way to change unconscious physical habits that undermine healthy bodily well-being.
Alexander teachers focus on change at the level of automatic spontaneous bodily function. We attempt to replace bad habits by becoming aware of and stopping the old physical response patterns from being acted upon as a first step. We then consciously inhibit the desire to correct, fix or change the pattern ourselves thereby avoiding what Alexander described as the desire to end gain. By inhibiting the desire to do anything, and giving ourselves a set of orders to further prevent some form of efforting, we make room as, Alexander says, for the right thing to do itself.
In my own story these new response patterns often seemed to be imposed on the organism from outside, either from the hands of an Alexander Teacher or some internal thought of how I should be without making room for my own inner voice. The technique did not address the story of why the habit was there in the first place. It only addressed the fact that the habit was destructive and that the teacher knew a better way. I concluded that the object of the teaching is for the student to learn to take on this better way of functioning as if it were my own. This is done through a conscious giving a set of orders or directions to the body as a way of overriding the old response patterns, and at the same time inhibiting the desire to end gain, as the teacher adjusts the body to give it a better experience.
I was never fully comfortable with this approach as that inner voice part of me never felt fully heard or appreciated. One day, through a powerful physical experience with a Shiatsu teacher, combined with my own inner teacher, I experienced that change could happen out of my body's own inner wisdom. In fact, change of functioning that came out of my body's own wisdom not only embraced all that I knew from Alexander, but so much more as there was life in it that I could identify as my own. I began to move spontaneously while at the same time having a sensed vision of where I came from and where I might be going. Both inner directed spontaneous movement and inner knowing were happening at the same time. As often happens in Focusing, I seemed to get in touch with my own inner blueprint of how I can be in a very physically alive way. I realized in that moment that what Alexander imposed from without could be awakened from with in, in a form even better than Alexander or I could have imagined.
Alexander also saw that the body had to come alive as a whole in order for change to happen in a part at the level of automatic functioning. He observed that change happened out of a conscious relationship between an activated whole body self and a part and by making room for something new to happen rather acting upon some kind of agenda of how that should be. He observed that any attempt to fix or make better through my own efforts only made it worse and defeated the very thing I wanted to happen
The Focusing process gives us a way to access the body's awareness of its own wholeness as a physical experience that has a sense of inner direction and purpose all its own. The body seems to be energized from within.
Some of the ingredients necessary for a poorly functioning part to change are:
- An activation of the embodied blueprint of how I could be if all the blocks were out of the way starting as a physical experience of the self in movement.
- The presence of the kind of energy that is able to move the body forward
- The continual presence of the whole in relationship to a part that is searching for something more.
Alexander would call this an awakening of the body's "action potential". But there is a big shift in attitude at this point that separates Wholebody Focusing from the Alexander technique although the issue remains the same (change in functioning). Rather than saying that the habit is faulty and destructive and I know a better way, we can help the client embrace the habit and give it all the space it needs to reveal itself in how it has served our lives up until now. We get a body felt sense of what we do and discover it has been there for very good reasons. At the same time, because it is in context of the whole body, the resonating between the two opens up the part to new possibilities it had forgotten or didn't know were possible.
I am working with a man who snores so badly that the snoring is interfering with his relationship with his wife and deprives him of a good nights sleep. I invite him to get a body felt sense of what he does the moment he begins to nod off. Because he knows focusing he is able to go back and be with what happens and describe it. How, when he relaxes and lets go, his jaw drops forward and down and becomes a heavy weight on his windpipe. This causes deep snoring and then a choking off the breathing sensation so that he wakes up and then the process starts all over again. The question is; can we stop this pattern without medical intervention?
These are the steps we follow:
- I invite him to get a body felt sense of what happens and he is encouraged to embrace it, befriend it, get to know it well. We both know from other experiences that change happens out of our unconditional acceptance of what is there.
- This is not easy as the survival pattern is essential to his breathing. We had to create a safe way to be with this pattern.
- I asked him to stand and I placed a hand on his jaw so it wouldn't do what it normally does as soon as he relaxes. Now we could invite the windpipe to sense how it is and more.
What came was that the windpipe was very tense, waiting for the next blow.
Feeling heard in that, the windpipe relaxed a little knowing that my hand was preventing the expected from happening. And then more came; the windpipe began to remember how it would like to be if it could. In doing so it connected up with the neck and shoulders and there was a feeling of "assertive which he liked. It is part of a new edge to his life that is unfolding, to become more self-assertive.
This seemed to be enough for now, although what also came was a sense of the larger story. How, from childhood he has always held himself in check this way. During waking hours he tightens his jaw to such an extent that when he relaxes, as in sleep, the muscles let go and collapse because of the tension that they have been under all day.
We both knew that this experience needed to be repeated and re-enforced and the story heard more fully. We were looking for a change in the way the windpipe functions as well as the way the jaw responds in daily life. As they come more into their own we hoped that the snoring will become less and less an issue and it did!
Here we have an example of a maladaptive survival skill becoming a destructive force in a person's life. And our question is, can we access the body's own wisdom to change this deeply embodied habit? This experience shows us that the windpipe has its own knowing of how it would like to be if it could, and that it has its own way of asserting itself towards this end. At the same time it is clear that the larger story needs to be explored of why the jaw is the way it is. There is a story, a story of how the young boy kept himself safe by not speaking. He learned to control his responses by holding back and tightening his jaw. What kept him safe in early life has now become a destructive force when he relaxes and lets go of control as in sleep.
Focusing brings the whole thing to life. By embracing what we do with a Focusing attitude and just sitting with it with wanting to get to know it better, it shows us what it does and at the same time shows us what is possible. I believe that change happens when functioning is brought to full consciousness in this way.
I am attempting to bridge two worlds using what has been gifted to me from both. Focusing works well in conjunction with another discipline like this. In whole Body Focusing a sense of Me Here seems to be reinforced and strengthened at the very core of this process. It is like the "me here" muscle gets exercised!
Kevin McEvenue is a certifying Coordinator of the International Focusing Institute as well as an Alexander teacher. He has developed a powerful and unique way to help people access the healing power of their embodied self-awareness that brings change in the sense of self and its functioning at the very core of its being. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Wholebody Focusing in Everyday Life" by Kevin McEvenue
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique
The Focusing Institute