Welcoming The Unfamiliar
We’ve had two books assigned to us to read before the Alexander training begins. One is The Use of the Self by F. M. Alexander. It’s a concise little primer on how he developed his ideas and their application. One of the things that I am beginning to enjoy about this work is the way certain concepts that are taken as read in yoga have been analyzed and broken down in great depth.
One such idea is that we cannot always trust our senses. In my yoga classes I will give a student an adjustment—say, even out their hips in a standing forward bend—and their response will be one of disbelief. The new placement of their pelvis relative to their legs feels completely off. They have become so used to the habitual, unbalanced way of carrying themselves that their nervous system has recalibrated itself so that the imbalanced state has come to feel like the norm. Alexander calls this “debauched kinesthesia.”
The question the student then asks is how can they know when they’re not doing the pose properly if they are so reliant on this faulty sense of what “feels right.” My response is to encourage them to become familiar with the new sensations, the new information that they are receiving in class and look for that. Of course, that then only works for a while, until the nervous system readjusts itself. Then trying to achieve the new “feels right” will take the student past balance and further in the opposite direction. An attitude of continual enquiry, of constant willingness to have fresh experience moment by moment is necessary.
Here’s what Alexander has to say about it. From The Use of the Self :
“I can assure my readers that anyone who will follow me through the experiences I have set down, especially with regard to ‘non-doing’, cannot fail to benefit; but I must emphasize that they will not be following me unless they recognize:
(1) that knowledge concerned with sensory experience cannot be conveyed with the written word, so that it means to the recipient what it means to the person who is trying to convey it:
(2) that they will need to depend upon new ‘means-whereby’ for the gaining of their ends, and that they will ‘feel wrong’ at first in carrying out the procedures because these will be unfamiliar.
(3) that the attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience, and this “unknown” cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.
(4) that to ‘try and get it right’ by direct ‘doing’ is to try and reproduce what is known, and cannot lead to the ‘right’, the as yet ‘unknown’.”