Challenge. ‘A call to someone to participate in a competitive situation or fight to decide who is superior in terms of ability or strength.’
We talk about challenging ‘ourselves’. But if you look on Google for a definition of ‘challenge’, that’s the first one that comes up. Even if you’re only competing against yourself, there is this idea of struggle, which is seen as a good thing.
Remembering Alexander’s directions, when engaged in vigorous physical activity, is a kind of a challenge in itself, a mental one, but the main priority is to prevent ourselves from going wrong.
Head forward and up.
Back lengthening and widening.
Knees forward and away from each other.
In other words, don’t tighten your neck, pull your head into your body, shorten and narrow your back, stick your bottom out, move as though your pelvis is part of your legs when it’s actually part of your back.
Don’t hold your breath, let your body breathe.
Keep your back wide.
Don’t pull yourself down, keep going up. Stay light, by letting your head move up out of your body.
You can’t do any of this. You have to allow it.
Even when properly working with these directions, as an end in itself, you’re working for moments. Moments that are, as my teacher used to say, given to us.
For ordinary people engaged in a big physical challenge, the decision to remember Alexander’s directions is likely to get weaker, not stronger. The preventative messages get lost at the time we need them most.
Challenges like triathlons are likely to put us under stress. But the more vigorously we’re doing something, the weaker the will to think, direct, allow, becomes. When the messages stop getting through we can get into all kinds of trouble.
TCUP is an acronym English world cup rugby winning coach Clive Woodward came up with: ‘Thinking Clearly Under Pressure’. There are people, leaders, who can do that.
But, at least for people with no special ability or strength, there has to be a place for working quietly for greater ease and integrity. Some of us can’t afford to be drawn away from that priority. We just have to keep working away at it. Old Alexander Technique teachers talk about staying in your back. It’s a hell of a challenge. But it would probably be wrong to call it that.
Anyway, it’s a slow process.