Principle 5: Inhibition
So we continue our series on the principles of Alexander’s technique. If you missed my posts on the first 4 principles of the Technique you can find them in the blog section of my website.
Principle 5, inhibition, and principle 6, direction, are our two main “thinking” tools of the technique. First, inhibition.
Inhibition in an Alexandrian context has nothing to do with the Freudian repression sense of the word. Alexander meant it in the sense of inhibiting our habitual thinking and / or bodily responses to the general stimulus of life. Rather than always reacting habitually, we can instead allow a tiny moment in which we say no to that which we do not want, in order to instead choose what we do want. I had a lesson with a pupil the other day where she suddenly realised the power of saying "no", e.g. to the tightening of the head on top of the spine when standing - it can be quite a revelation.
The term links back to the neurological way in which the brain sends signals to muscle cells. In very simple terms, there are only 2 types of messages that can be sent out from the brain to the muscles – these are excitatory (to activate the muscle) and inhibitory (to prevent reaction). It is the inhibitory that we are tapping into here.
Some other Alexander Technique teachers deal with this beautifully on their websites. To quote Hilary King MSTAT (hilaryking.net):
“In the Alexander Technique, the term refers to a process which one can learn within AT lessons, in which a person consciously chooses to stop or inhibit a habitual reaction to a stimulus. This allows the individual a moment’s pause, in which to choose whether or not to respond to the stimulus and if so, how to perform an action in response.”
(Hilary King MSTAT)
And to quote from the website of the Poise Alexander Technique studio in Melbourne, Australia:
"Inhibition is a natural process. If we have a compulsion to eat more cake, we are using inhibition when we decide not to. Should we be tempted to go faster on the freeway but inhibit the desire, we stay within the speed limit. The winner in the game of ‘Simon Says’ is the player who most successfully inhibits the response which would otherwise have him or her spontaneously comply with an instruction.
Alexander Technique asks us to consciously use inhibition. We are called on to refrain from action which compromises coordination and/or performance, and in doing so, we create the opportunity for a different quality of action. Inhibition gives us the space to attend to coordination before going into action.”
(Poise Alexander Technique Studio Melbourne Australia, www.poisealexandertechnique.com.au)
For example, you are going to lift a cup of tea. You have been going to Alexander Technique lessons for a while and have started to be aware of your tendency to tighten across the front top part of the chest. So, you want the cup of tea but instead of reaching for it and raising it to your mouth in the usual, habitual way, you take a millisecond during which you say "no" to yourself, think instead about widening across the top part of the chest, think of freeing the neck, and then get your cuppa. It literally takes a second but saying "no" is a very powerful tool for change.
Next time we will look at what we might insert instead into that space between stimulus and response….direction. In the meantime I will be trying to inhibit my desires to have another mince pie or glass of red wine!
A Merry Christmas to all.