Updated: May 27, 2019
In this five part blog series, I explore and break down the five principles of the Alexander Technique in depth (and in order!:)
The five principles of the Alexander Technique are in order:
This post will focus on the third principle: Recognition of the Faulty Sensory Awareness (click the links above if you missed the proceeding articles in the series.)
Faulty sensory awareness is the idea that you cannot know something by an instrument that has gone wrong, and that because of the way we use our bodies has become so distorted in modern society, what feels right to us may actually be wrong, and what feels wrong may actually be right.
My first experience with this principle was in my first Alexander Technique lesson, and I know that many of my students have similar experiences in their first lessons. When my teacher first helped me to reorganize my body, to find a better use of the primary control, I felt like I was standing very forward and shaped like a curved C. When I looked in the mirror, however, I was standing perfectly perpendicular and upright! I couldn't believe it.
What I was experiencing in the kinesthetic sense of my body (or more how I interpreted that feeling) was not accurate at all! My whole idea of what it meant to "stand up straight" or to stand was faulty. I looked at the person in the mirror, who was a more confident, freer, version of myself, and I devoted my life to becoming that person right then.
So what are the bigger implications of this principle and how might it effect you in your daily life or in your application of AT?
Most commonly, this principle means that slumping (most people's normal state of use) feels right and normal; it even feels "relaxed." In reality, your kinesthetic sensory awareness (the awareness that informs your brain about the position, shape, effort and direction of your body's movement) is out of balance. If you relate to the final picture in that cartoon, you probably need a tune up. Another indicator is in tension, pain, discomfort, etc., you feel in the body. This is your body's way of telling you something needs to change, but so often we don't listen.
Faulty sensory awareness can be difficult (almost impossible) to break out of on your own because you are relying on a faulty instrument to be your compass. That is why so many people find it challenging to make any significant changes just through reading about the Alexander Technique because we interpret words on the page with the same faulty kinesthetic and conceptual understanding that we do in our habitual life.
That is why it is so important to have in-person lessons at the beginning of your AT journey and what is why AT teachers put such an emphasis on both verbal and hands-on guidance. I can tell a student to "allow the neck to be free for the head to go forward and up," but if they have never experienced that before, they are going to do what they know, which is probably to either muscularly stiffen the neck and place the head in a position or drop the head backwards in a "relaxed" (collapsed) position.
Recognition of faulty sensory awareness means that you have to be very vigilant about using objectivity to help you in your quest for a better use of the body. Teachers are essential at first. As your instrument gets more in tune, using mirrors or video feedback while engaging in activities can be a great tool to help ensure that you are not relying too heavily on feeling sense.
Alexander, in one of his wonderfully typical ornery moments, said:
I believe it is very unique to this work to begin to develop the habit of asking yourself: am I really doing what I think I am doing? You'll be astounded at how many times the answer to that question is no...