by Jim Froelich
I once worked with a very good clarinet player practicing a very difficult piece of music. He was convinced it was especially hard. Every time he got to the most difficult section, it was as though he thought, “here comes the really hard part.”
But when he gave up trying too hard, he was able to manage the difficulties much better. It was a difference between struggling to play well and just playing. This got him over the hurdle, and then he could approach it this way, on his own, every time he played it.
Performing an activity, musical or not, can introduce difficulties. Today I’d like to outline a few simple steps used in the Alexander Technique to help help reduce mental and physical strain. These are things you can learn to do on your own.
The first step we’ll look at is thinking of an activity that you find difficult.
Does just thinking about it introduce any change in your tension, state of mind, or both? If there is a change, is that something you already knew, or is it a new discovery?
Now actually do the difficult activity. Do you notice any of the same changes that happened when you first thought of the activity? Did you find it was hard to notice this in the middle of the doing?
Let me add a more specific approach that I call “the easy drill” (borrowed from a teacher named David Gorman). The reason this works well is that people often respond to a difficult task with their whole being, adding tension of which they’re unaware. The “easy drill” invites a different response.
You can look at this in activity, and it is fruitful to explore it in your yoga practice. You can also use it with more routine tasks such as such as cleaning or sitting for a period of time. The gist of this is, if you approach a task thinking, “this is going to be hard,” your system complies and makes it tough.
So let’s work with a thing that’s hard to do. Take a small bit of it, and do it as easily as possible. But be willing to give up for now other things you want to happen.
For a musician, for instance, you may want to have good tone, accurate pitch, correct rhythm, have the notes be clear…the list can be long!
For someone doing yoga, it could be about remaining stable, increasing strength and flexibility, or looking good or “correct” in the pose.
Now, use common sense and be safe (you don’t want to give up looking where you’re going if you’re driving), but be willing to give up anything you feel you “have to” do, even big obvious things, in order to practice easiness first, before the other aspects.
After you do this, add in other aspects one at a time, without sacrificing the ease. Go back to just doing the activity easily if other aspects affect this.
You may notice ways of thinking that influence your success. In the case of the clarinet player mentioned earlier, notice that trying could mean (or feel like): this thing I’m trying to do is hard, and will take much effort.
Someone could get into a spiral of using more effort to perform an already effortful task, making it harder and harder.
To quote Yoda addressing Luke Skywalker, “Don’t try, do.”
The Alexander Technique helps people gain awareness and free themselves from unneeded tension, which affects their ability to work and be at their best. This tension is usually part of a larger pattern of the whole self, a combination of thought, perception, physical sensation, emotion, and other aspects of one’s whole experience.
Another way to address tension is to seek the guidance of a teacher who can help you notice if anything in your approach impairs your ability to perform a task well. Then the teacher can show you how to restore your natural ability to work with ease.
At Solaluna we are scheduling a series of Alexander Technique classes, beginning with a free class Monday September 15, from 7:00 to 8:15 PM. Four more classes will follow on September 22, 29, October 6, and 13.
In the class we’ll look at features of general movement and invite you to bring any activity that you wish to explore.