“Relax”, “relaxing” and “relaxation” are words said often in lessons. But not by me. In fact, if you listen carefully, you will find me avoiding these words like the plague.
Many people, Alexander teachers included, link the Alexander Technique with relaxation. I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the concept of relaxation is a can of worms. And FM Alexander wasn’t too keen on it, either.
“Relaxation” comes with a heap of baggage attached. Almost everyone has been told to relax, or done relaxation exercises(*). They know what it ‘thinks’ like, they know what it ‘feels’ like. In other words, they have lots of preconceived ideas about what relaxation is; and Alexander lessons are all about challenging preconceived ideas, not reinforcing them.
Most relaxation exercises require you to sit or lie absolutely still, and empty your mind of everything. The Alexander Technique is about increasing the agility of the brain while you are being active. Sounds downright contradictory to me.
This is the wriggliest worm of all. If you ask someone to show you relaxing, and watch really carefully, you will almost certainly see their ‘relaxing’ involves over-tensing some muscles, and collapsing others. FM Alexander wrote about this problem a number of times, quite scathingly. He says;
“The usual procedure is to instruct the pupil, who is either sitting or lying on the floor, to relax, or to do what he or she understands by relaxing. The result is invariably collapse… and if … persisted in, there must inevitably follow a general lowering of vitality which will be felt the moment regular duties are taken up again”(**)
So what words do I use, if not “relaxing”? Stopping the unnecessary muscle tension.
Sometimes other ways of putting it help.
- letting go
- being loose
- being free to move
- moving easily
- allowing your body to find its natural shape
And so on. Each student has to find the phrase that clicks with them. Sometimes we get quite creative with our vocabulary. But never, ever, “relaxed”.
(*) I am not condemning relaxation exercises. They serve a very useful purpose, and if they help you, stick to them. But they are not the Alexander Technique.
(**) Man’s Supreme Inheritance, Part 1, IRDEAT edition page 25