Today, I found myself asking the question ‘Why are you practising the Alexander Technique?’ – just from curiosity, rather than any particular existential crisis. And I waited for an answer, rather than assuming I already knew all the ‘usual’ reasons – the sense of well-being, the tools to deal with pain and stress, the depth and breadth of the work, the pleasure of being able to help people … all true and valid, but this time I waited for the deeper wisdom of the heart/mind, or gut instinct, for something personal to me, rather than the answer from the head. What need has been and is still being met for me in two decades of immersion in this work?
And from somewhere a deeper knowing arose. That what I need and receive from the Technique is – ‘To be comfortable’.
This surprised me – it is not the answer I gave to my directors of training or family and friends when I applied for training. It’s not the narrative I give to students or others who enquire today, ‘How did you get into this work?’.
To be honest, I didn’t think much of this one as an answer – ‘to be comfortable’. It seemed small, unadventurous, selfish. But there it was, and had a ring of truth to it.
I did remember that I have often used the phrase ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ as a strapline for classes or workshops for groups of meditators, desk-workers etc. And I always explain that for those of us pedantic enough to care, one of the original meanings of ‘comfort’ was ‘with strength’, rather than cosiness or consolation.
To be comfortable in this sense could mean being able to do or be whatever is most effective and helpful in any given moment from an authentic sense of security and strength, whether sitting quietly, working, or any other activity – and the Technique has certainly helped to give me that.
These musings also helped me to notice how attached I am to the pursuit of comfort, in its usual sense – my idea of hell these days is not to have a warm bed to sleep in or a bit of time and space to myself. This is something to be aware and wary of, as my forays into Buddhism have clarified the obvious, that nothing in this world will stay the way you want it forever. I think all of us have a growing awareness of that fact in these distinctly uncomfortable times, and the feelings which that engenders are certainly causing us discomfort. It takes strength sometimes not to give up, not to react from fear or anger, but to renew daily the intention to respond in a useful way.
While it can certainly help us to be more comfortable in many ways, paradoxically, the Alexander Technique is first of all a tool for dealing with reactivity to change, not for helping us hang on to our attachments. To be comfortable in one’s own skin is a good first step to dealing with reality more effectively and enjoyably. Whether we are trying to play an instrument, have a difficult conversation or change something in the world, it is more likely to happen with ease and effectiveness if we are not in pain or bound up in habits of reactivity. To have the mental, physical and emotional resilience to deal with the ‘full catastrophe’ of life without hurting oneself or others is a blessing. I find that I’m happy with my reason for doing what I do, and privileged to have the opportunity to do it.
What is your ‘deep’ reason for doing this work? What need does it meet for you?