Use of the Self- How You Treat Yourself in Activity Changes You

Home > What is AT > Concepts > Use of the self

Use of the Self

How we use ourselves from moment to moment matters. If you are overtense when sitting during work or study, you are doing more work than you need to. If you are free and light, your actions will be more efficient, have better performance and you will feel less stressed.

By

Hank Hadeed

PhD, M. AmSAT

A central tenet of the Alexander Technique is “use determines function.” In other words, the way in which we use our psycho-physical organism in the activities of life has a profound influence upon how well or poorly we perform those activities. Alexander compares us to a piece of machinery that we use to perform some particular function. If the machine’s parts are allowed to deteriorate through a lack of maintenance, through abusing the machine, etc., then no matter how well designed the machine, how superb the quality of its components at the outset, its capacity to do what it is intended to do will also deteriorate over time, and may finally cease altogether. For example, we may own one of the top-rated automobiles, with precision parts and superior design, but if we mis-use the brakes, mis-use the clutch, neglect tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotation, etc., then the car will eventually perform no differently than the most inferior clunker from the used-car lot. The car has a function: if we interfere with its ability to carry out that function by misusing it, it will function progressively more poorly and will eventually break down. The principles of the Technique are designed to prevent such mis-use when it comes to the human machine. Alexander says that we must educate ourselves to know what *not* to do, and then to *stop* doing those harmful things. Returning to our car illustration, we must learn that too much brake or too little acceleration, for example, are mis-use; and then we must stop those actions.
​​
This being said, we may find, during the course of our Alexander Technique practice, as we become more and more adept at using ourselves well in the activities of living (i.e., not misusing ourselves), that the way we function in the world begins to change. For example, perhaps our respiration improves, or our blood pressure moves toward a healthier range, or we discover than we have a greater athletic capacity, more endurance, are less prone to fatigue. We may find that our capacity to read and study is increased, or we may find that we no longer lose our temper so often. Or maybe we find that our beliefs, our opinions, somehow don’t seems as certain as they once were. Whatever the specifics, these changes in functioning present their own significant challenges. They may even be somewhat alarming, because they challenge our sense of self, the habitually constructed image we have of who we are and the generalized background feeling “tone’ of our habitual muscular actions. We rely on this sense of self to provide us with a kind of emotionally and psychologically stable place from which we can interact with others and with our environment. The Alexander Technique challenges and, in many ways, subverts this habitual, safe self-experience.

Alexander says that we typically value moving from the unknown toward the known, the safe, the stable, the comfortable. But Alexander Technique practice reverses this process, and places primary value on the ability to go from the known to the unknown (this, according to Alexander, is a sorely needed skill in our contemporary world: the pace of change from the known to the unknown is so rapid and dramatic that we require, to maintain our health, an improved ability to deal with it appropriately).

So, when we discover that who we are (and who we believe we are) changes as a result of Alexander Technique practice, that our attitudes, our interests, our abilities, our behaviors change, how do we best address these resultant challenges to our habitual self-image? Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, we do this by persevering in our practice of the Technique! The Alexander Technique both provides us with the skills to effect significant change in our habits and behavior, and *also* provides us with the skills to manage the resultant changes in a healthy way.

By practicing the Alexander Technique, we become more comfortable with the uncertainties of life, we focus less on the past and future, become less anxious about accomplishing pre-determined ends, and are able to direct our attention instead to what Alexander calls the “means whereby.” We begin to value and embrace change in ourselves, and see that fixed ideas, fixed opinions, fixed attitudes, fixed behaviors, are associated with the mis-use of ourselves, and that they actuality restrict our ability to live life more deeply and fully. As our use improves, through eliminating mis-use, change becomes one of our best friends, rather than our adversary.

Please enjoy reading about the Alexander Technique on our website! Feel free to contact us for more information or to try out a lesson with an AmSAT-certified Alexander Technique teacher today.