Friday, May 24, 2013

Alexander Technique Used as a Tool to Prepare for Death

There are times in life when we are called upon to do something which seems terrifying and impossible.  On the outside, we may not always have a choice about what happens to us, but on the inside we always have a choice about how we respond.  The Alexander Technique gives us a way to stop and choose how to react to the stimuli we are presented with; we can choose the habitual and familiar, or we can choose to move forward and up into the Unknown.  From this place of freedom of choice, we can learn to choose whether to let Principle or feelings be our guide,  and we can learn how to move forward in a new and more positive way.

As a performing musician, I am quite familiar with the feelings of dread and anxiety that can accompany the prospect of exposing my innermost Self in front of an audience, facing unknown and unpredictable outcomes.  Thankfully, I have been able to overcome those horribly uncomfortable feelings many times, turning them into positive excitement and successful performances, and the more I practice facing and accepting the fears, the better I get at doing this.  The Alexander Technique has helped me immensely with this, and it has brought me great joy - both during and after performances. (See my blogpost on performance anxiety here:

When I was a beginning Alexander Teacher with very little experience, I was presented with multiple opportunities which elicited a similar fear response, and I was also able to overcome them to good advantage.  Some of those moments felt like being thrown off of a cliff and being asked to fly with wings I was unaware that I had.  Or being thrown into a pool of water at the deep end, unaware that something in me already knew how to swim.

I sometimes look at life and see it as a school for learning how to accomplish or manifest into reality what seems to be utterly impossible.  I see the Alexander Technique as a tool for learning this extremely valuable skill in a very conscious way.  It is a tool for bravery - for helping us move through the inevitable hellish moments of life with greater ease and grace.  I am so grateful when I look back and see that every single time life has confronted me with a stimulus to learn something the "hard" way (through difficulty, suffering, and fear), something in me has in fact carried me through to the other side, and I have emerged from the trial with a deeper understanding and greater strength.

Learning to trust that "something" that carries us through - it doesn't really matter so much what we call it - is where the real work and art of living takes place.  As it is said, "Living is not for the faint of heart"!

The practice of being confronted with the seemingly impossible, facing the fear, and making conscious, principled choices about how to deal with the stimulus, is a practice that it would be better not to ignore, although most people do, most of the time.  F.M. Alexander said, "Anyone can do what I did, if they do what I did.  But nobody wants the discipline."  The first part of that quote used to be the more important part for me, because I wanted very much to know what he did, and how to do it; now I find myself even more interested in the second part.  The practice of increasing our conscious awareness and making principled choices in the face of fear and discomfort is the most difficult, but the most important, discipline.

We don't have to engage in this kind of self-discipline.  But, I personally choose to do so (at least, in general and in theory, when I'm conscious of the choice), because I know that someday I will be confronted with what seems to be the most impossible thing and the greatest Unknown: my own death.  And I do believe that the death of this body I inhabit is inevitable!  I don't know with absolute certainty what will happen when it dies, but it is possible that the prospect of no longer existing in material form (or otherwise? can I really know with absolute certainty? can anyone?) may fill me with the greatest fear response I have ever before experienced.  What if that moment suddenly presents me with the opportunity for a performance of a lifetime?  What if I will be called upon again to do something that seems utterly impossible, and more difficult than everything that has come before?

I would like to have a peaceful, positive experience of death when the time comes. To me, one way  to increase the odds of having that experience (not necessarily the only way or the only right way) could be to see this lifetime as a rehearsal, a learning, a preparation for that moment.  People say, "Life is not a rehearsal," but it is possible that this really means: learn how to perform Life well NOW, so that when death comes, it's just another moment to enjoy.  The rehearsal is the performance, and the performance is the rehearsal.

In any case, when death comes, I would like to be prepared as much as possible; I would like to have my "trust muscles" so strong by then, that I won't hesitate to fly off the cliff or dive off the diving board, into the vast, beautiful, heavenly Unknown.  And since I don't know when that moment will come, I am preparing in earnest.  I don't want to fall off the cliff to my destruction, and I don't want to drown.  I want to rise above my fear, and overcome the challenge.

For this reason, I am grateful for every opportunity life offers me to practice dying (living) well, no matter how difficult, seemingly impossible, or painful.

"Those who die before dying do not die when they die." - German proverb

I would love to hear your responses to this blogpost.  I welcome your comments!


  1. Thank you for your insights!

  2. ...and thank you for your comment, Adolfo! :)

  3. Hi jennifer,
    i got annoyed due to my comments were removed by , nebraska alexander teacher 2 days back.

    Alexander teachers and students know about what is right and wrong.
    Serious students try to do the right thing analysing present condition of wrong thing.

    Love the wrong direction of body , so that we can spend more time to analyse and to do the right direction.

    We can make right direction of the body to wrong direction
    and vice versa.

    Accepting the present condition, by seeing with minds eye and analysing it whether it is right or wrong, and directing the energy towards right direction is effortless.

    Analyse the present angles of the body with in the body and inrelation to the space , and prevent to do bad angles and directions.

    1. Hi Rajesh,
      Thanks for your comment! I don't know anything about a comment that was removed, so I'll just go ahead and respond to your comment here.
      My favorite part of your comment is "Love the wrong direction of body." Whether we use the words "right" or "wrong" is a personal choice, and depends on your own preferences and the meanings that you give to those words. Alexander used those words, but most people these days avoid them, because it is all too easy to misinterpret them. What I think is most important is to find that open, accepting space within us which can love even the things we believe are wrong or not good or unhelpful. It is only then that those things can feel free to move and change into something right or better or helpful. I agree with you.
      I would only like to point out that it might be more helpful to say "body-mind" instead of just "body", because part of the habit that puts us "wrong" is to see these things as separate, when in reality they are inseparable. That said, it can still be useful to speak of them as different things at time.
      Thank you for your input!
      All best,

  4. Hi jennifer,
    you brought wonderful quote.
    'my present condition demands NOW' .

    Where my pelvis now?
    Where my ribcage now?
    Is my ribcage has positive relationship with my pelvis now?
    Are my ribcage,pelvis have positive relation with my spine now?
    Is my torso relation is good with head now?

    Here, there are other wonderful nonsense questions exists!

  5. Thank you, again, Rajesh. I like your questions about having positive, good relationships between parts, and wondering about where things are in space. I also like being open to wondering without needing to have an answer, while aiming towards the Ideal, which - yes - is NOW. :)


Your comments are welcomed with an open mind and heart.