Trainee’s Column: Observation-Where True Change Begins

ImageBy Michelle Brake, 3rd year trainee

Observation was the first step F.M. Alexander made in his journey of learning about his habits and the way he used himself. How can this be the first step, yet the one I most often forget? I remember the first time that it really made sense to me. I was at the University of Denver, in my first years of Alexander lessons when I read something about accepting how you are in the present moment, with no judgement and not wanting to change or fix whatever it is you “think” or “feel” is wrong. This concept was a revelation to me. There were so many things I wanted to change about myself, and the idea of observing those things was very foreign to me. I realized that before I could change those habits, I had to find out if I was really doing what I thought I was doing. Oftentimes, the discovery or observation was not what I expected. I then started observing the circumstances around my habits. What caused me to go deeper into or come up out of them?

The enlightening thing is that when I observed these habits in a scientific and unattached way, they began to change on their own. On the flip side, when I let my emotions, desires and end-gaining take control, there was no room for discovering the true habit, much less allow it to change naturally. I had been letting myself presume what was going on, and in my desperate desire to change, would adjust myself into a worse condition. In her book, Voice and the Alexander Technique, Jane Heinrich explains the principle of non-doing as, “to be able to stop, not to do whatever the habitual response is – before more than superficial change can take place.” After this discovery of what non-doing means, many changes took place when working on myself as well as how I accepted or approached my Alexander lessons. I was able to let my teacher work without getting in her or my own way.

Fast-forward to present time. As a third year teacher trainee almost ready to graduate, I am still rediscovering what inhibition truly means, as my end-gaining always creeps in unawares. Pamela Blanc came as a guest teacher into my training course and focused on this principle of observation/awareness with no preconceived ideas. I have been recovering from a shoulder injury, and find the pain is an incredible motivator to end-gain. Pamela’s reminder of simple, unbiased observation of oneself is helping me to notice habits that cause me even more pain. Gradually those habits are getting less, and I’m seeing improvement much faster than before.

Not only has observation helped my own ailments, but also has helped me in becoming a better teacher. It has taken off some the pressure I put on myself to give a “good” lesson or to “help” my practice students. In the first lesson I taught after this rediscovery, I essentially just talked about the same process that I was going through. Things my student had been struggling with all of sudden became clearer. He was able to make some changes even without me putting hands-on. I don’t know who was more excited, him or me! A phrase that various teachers have said to me is, “The Work works.” That is just what happened. Those moments of quietness, of non-doing, of inhibition make all the difference, and they make me so grateful to be learning and teaching the Technique. I look forward to making more rediscoveries with all the other principles. However, observation/awareness is my favorite, for now.

Photo used with permission, courtesy of Michelle Brake