Alexander Technique in Armonk

Means/Ends - The Tip of the AT Iceberg

The Alexander Technique is often represented as a series of breathing and posture techniques that can help us tame our fight-or-flight response, alleviating anxiety and improving clarity and creativity. Although it does produce a profound cognitive and autonomic shift that, among a lot of more fundamentally significant factors, affects our breathing and posture for the better, it is not actually a physical method, but rather a mental one.


The physical changes are just the tip of the iceberg. There is also a whole meta-piece that aligns focus and attention and permits us to use parts of the brain to which we do not usually have conscious access. While the AT is a practical approach to what is alluded to in the Wisdom Traditions and Eastern Thought, its mechanism can be understood in terms of contemporary neurobiology. Because it uses a part of the brain that does not think in words, it is difficult to describe verbally, though it can be effectively taught experientially.


It is the goal of the AT to facilitate the achievement of an end by prioritizing the means, thus setting up the necessary conditions to permit this action to be improvised spontaneously rather than to be responded to habitually. By challenging us to examine what we know and how we know it, it leads to a consideration of complementary kinds of knowing, both physically and intellectually based, which can in turn be represented with imagery and words.


It is commonly thought that faulty physical habits, such as slouching, are simply contrived patterns of usage that can easily be switched back to correct usage. But it turns out that we cannot change a fundamental habit simply by an act of will, because we only know, for example, how to slouch, having no other idea of what the act of standing entails. This slouch represents our default standing pattern. Our manner of standing is the result of the means available to accomplish it. Only once we have learned to perform an act of standing straight do we know what it is like to stand correctly, and only then can we summon on our own the concept required for proper execution.


We need to have repeated experiences of correct coordination from which the brain can form a new template. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the act must come before the thought, and a habit must be formed before we can be capable of invoking the thought at will. To focus on achieving an end will simply result in bringing our preexisting unconscious behavior patterns into play. We need to take a completely new approach to the act, rather than simply wishing to act differently while employing already established means.


Conveniently, our brains are designed to learn and to change. Neurons that fire together wire together, and pathways that experience a lot of use myelinate into superhighways of information transfer that update and override our older memories of how to function as those fall into disuse. Demonstrating a more appropriate means of achieving our ends while explaining the nature of this process is what constitutes AT teaching.