From the Archives: This post was originally published 8/8/2005
When people begin studying something new (especially if it's helping them feel better), it's natural for them to want to learn all they can, right away and be a model pupil. Often, my clients get a great deal of relief when they first start to study, and because they have been in discomfort, they want to do all they can to hold onto the new state they are in. Unfortunately, you cannot hold on to a release. I am not just referring to a muscular release, I'm also referring to a release of a pattern or habit of attitude, perception or behavior.
Muscular change takes place at two distinct rates when going through a course of lessons.
First: There is often a dramatic change within the lesson, which student's perceive and often describe as a lightness and increased ease. This tends to fade over the time between lessons, sometimes in hours, sometimes over days. I encourage my students not to try to keep the changes going. When first learning about directing through how we think to our body, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of using muscle force to put ourselves into the position we think is the right one. This creates tension, and even discomfort.
Second: There is a cumulative shift that happens gradually, sometimes imperceptibly. Over a course of weeks, months or even years, a student's habits have much less energy, gripping or downward pull in them. For example, the visible collapse of a slump may decrease over time. Even though the student is "slumped", the amount of pressure down in the body is a fraction of what it used to be.
Changes of behavior, attitude or perception can happen at a much less predictable rate. I had a student return for a second lesson and observe "I realized my habits are not only muscular. How I react in life is a habit, too." For some, only after many months or years of lessons do they become intrigued and empowered by their own ability to change their overall state with attention and intent.
*For a student who is living with the pain of an injury, this inconsistency in change can sometimes create more pain and discomfort, which must be monitored by student, teacher and any healthcare professionals. In many cases, the pain is resulting from a deep shift in postural patterns and resolves as a more efficient use of muscles develops.
In my own process, somewhere along the way, perhaps 6 years after I had been studying, I loosened my habit of worrying about what might happen. I still have the propensity for worrying, but it is less habitual, and catches my attention when I start running wild in my mind.
I cannot tell my students how long it will take them to learn all that they aspire to for themselves through the Alexander Technique. I also know that unexpected changes in areas of behavior and movement are possible, and completely unpredictable. Each person brings a unique self to apply the Alexander principles to. Each of us brings unique values, desires, interests as well as some common ones, such as feeling easier, lighter and more comfortable in our bodies.
For the most part, during the 22 years I have been taking lessons and the 16 years I have been teaching, it's been mostly a fun process, and I almost always feel better after engaging in the work. The exception that comes to mind is that every so often, when my self is undergoing a total re-organization (at the end of which my un-monitored state tends to be easier than it was before) I go through a period over a week or two where I am uncomfortable unless I am actively engaged in directing my energy. During my teacher training, this cycle happened every 6 to 8 weeks. Since then, it seems to be anywhere from 2 to 4 months.