Early thoughts on post-training in the Alexander Technique: the persistence of habit and my old friends “anxiety” and “slouch”

I graduated end of July, and my mind is set to consider this year a transitional one in order to build experience and experiments rather than prioritise building a practice. However, I am fortunate enough to be gaining some experience with paid teaching and a couple of new students which makes this one strand of my working life real. Today’s blog entry, though, is about exploring and accepting the persistence of habit in that transition from training in AT into post-training as ATT in making.

If my life experience in the everyday were like a textile being woven on a loom, the AT threads would be the warp and my daily routines, practices and challenges the weft. AT as a constant thread. To imagine it in this way allows me to try and avoid loosing the thread as I find myself in the process of picking up my life not entirely where I left off.

I was a full-time academic, Spanish cultural history, with a part-time interest in making jewellery. Before training I was stressed to burn out point. AT training was the space and time to re-learn (learn even) to pause, breathe, give myself directions, be compassionate to myself, let go of the past and look forward with peripheral vision rather than intense focus.

During training, as I worked on myself and AT, in the ‘outside’ world I remade myself in the archives as someone who can identify historical photographs and processes and advise on preservation, storage and management of these cultural artefacts. I continued to make jewellery. I began to weave AT into these practices as a work in progress.

AT training has meant that I have developed self-care approaches to working on things that are either new, regular but simple, or that I picked up during training because everyday life was the subject of our practice. It can be automatic or at least come to consciousness to use monkey when doing short activities or actions like sorting papers on a table, cutting the bread, cleaning my teeth, or opening the front door using the lower key. But what about longer processes and activities which suck you in so you forget to break them up into manageable components with realistic time frames and expectations?

I woke up in pain on Saturday, a familiar line across the top of my back. Whereas before training I would have wondered what on earth had I done to hurt myself, as if one action were the cause. I would have sought a quick fix. My body wanted help, and I had the good fortune to be given the possibility of having a lesson with my first teacher on Monday, so I took it. The anticipation of a lesson made me feel safe, I began to feel better and so I recognised my old friend “anxiety”. My “anxiety” involves my upper torso: the shallowing of my breathing and the subsequent loss of flexibility in my rib cage. That very morning I lay in semi-supine and noted the tightness across my upper torso and began to give myself directions. Slowly, more thoroughly and thoughtfully, I took responsibility of myself in order to understand what I had been doing repeatedly and what had I forgotten repeatedly. I mapped the discomfort as a learning process. I noticed my parasympathetic system awakening. I felt taller and more comfortable and at ease after this. So what did I think had happened in addition to giving “anxiety” permission to steal my oxygen?

My old friend “slouch” had crept in and made itself at home in certain activities. I might monkey when consciously tipping vegetable peelings in the compost, but my old friend “slouch” had noticed I was less conscious at other times. Now, post-training, I was available to prepare teaching materials on a new course on historical photography in the archives due in September. A proposal made earlier in the year, accepted, was now a very welcome but large elephant in the room. I had not noticed as I increasingly spent longer at the computer that I was curling over to focus and concentrate, and “slouch” snuck in and I forgot I had other options, like monkey, pause, walk away from the keyboard and do some thinking about approaching the deadline whilst taking a walk around the garden. Break up the task into smaller components. Be kinder to yourself, and don’t aim for perfection but to be as best prepared as you can be on the day at this stage of the journey. So “slouch” shortened me at the front, interfered with my digestion and my breathing, allowed tension and pain to re-inhabit my back in its familiar little furrow.

So, I will now endeavour to be more aware of the doors I leave open when startled by that friendly, welcomed, but alarmingly large elephant in the room called change, deadline, or dream come true. In order that my old friends “anxiety” and “slouch”, when they come to visit me, perhaps feel slightly less able to hang around for long enough to create havoc or, should I really say, discomfort. Fear not, they will continue to return my entire lifetime, and rather than panic, get frustrated, moan or despair, I will hope to say hello, thank you for coming because I did leave the door open, but please don’t mind me whilst I bring back my attention to my new friends “direction” and “inhibition”.