I walk to my local coffee shop every morning because they make an excellent Americano, and because the staff and customers there know me well enough to know they don’t know me well enough to offer unsolicited advice or insights about “what I am learning”. Instead, they give me welcome encouragement, applaud mobility progress, and generously allow me my own experience. All in all, a good interaction and a gift, in my estimation.
During my walk today, I experienced about a minute of walking normally, as in without thought to pain, no limp, and nearly my former pace! This came as a joyous surprise. Then, pain renewed its presence, and my limp returned, but the minute of walking without concern gave me huge hope. The increments of recovery add up in moments.
I recall when I was initially taking Alexander lessons 25 years ago a moment of walking on the street in Brooklyn when I realized that I was not narrowing my shoulders in order to move. It was a moment of revelation, and one that inspired trust in the process of the Technique, as well as hope for continuing to improve my use.
My 13 year old nephew, Gabe, showed me how to moonwalk this morning. Although I can’t claim to have mastered this skill, his lesson broke the increments down to doable sequences, and gave me a sense of possibility. For a moment in watching Gabe, all movement became joyously accessible.
Improvement in the overall coordination of the self requires shifts on all levels, especially the aspect of belief. We don’t believe that we can do something in a new way until we have the new experience. Alexander students classically learn a new way of moving in life through the experience of chair work, and begin to see what is necessary, and mostly what is unnecessary, in that ordinary experience. New experience in a mundane activity changes all aspects of possible experience when one learns to actively allow the increments to add up.
In recovery from any major injury, new neural, muscular, emotional connections are made, for good or for ill, through new experience. No one outside yourself can tell you when and how and why fresh understanding arrives. But at last, concept and experience, with good use in mind, can unify, resulting in the joy of surprising ease, even for a moment.
I am restless by nature and wired for speed. Although I have experienced injury and recovery previously (fractured ankle, hernia surgery), I have always recovered with astonishing speed and resumption of function and mobility. A combination of my Alexander skills and a strong motivation to move well again powered my previous recoveries.
This injury, requiring a long term rehabilitation, cannot be hurried. My Alexander skills have certainly helped me in reducing compensation and unnecessary accommodations, as well as assisting me in managing the emotional consequences of being temporarily less mobile than I prefer to be. Strong motivation to recover serves me to a point and then becomes an end-gaining urgency that does not serve recovery. Impatience thwarts progress when I push too hard.
There is a subtle balance required of me now that reflects the conscious response to stimuli that that Alexander Technique embodies. I must have a clear intention, and then do from undoing, activate without doing too much. This is a total response, integrating emotional, physical and mental aspects on a continuous basis.
Given that I am currently unable to be physically active in my familiar manner, all aspects of my sense of self are impacted. My means of processing emotional and mental information has had to change, as my previous means-whereby has involved movement, exertion, and an exploration of activity on many daily levels. Exertion in the physical manner is not currently available. And thus, I am exploring a new experience of being quiet and stilled, yet remaining dynamic. How to remain dynamic in stillness is what Alexander students and teachers learn to embrace, willingly and joyfully. My current relative immobility puts this learning at an entirely new importance, and not one that is always comfortable.
I multi-task far less because I can’t be attentive to potential pain and also multi-task. One task at a time is what I can reasonably do. I am beginning, reluctantly, to welcome internal quiet, learning to wait for the bus without pacing, embracing the sadness of not running daily, welcoming the winds of stillness in an active fashion.
Patience is not one of my virtues, at least in terms of patience with myself. I can be endlessly patient with my students as they learn the skills of dynamic non-interference, thinking with the whole self, and new co-ordination. With my own self, and particularly with a long and arduous recovery, my impatience tempts end-gaining, frustration and despair. I am wired for speed and mobility, not for the slug-paced slog of recovery from a serious injury.
My daily graphs of pain, mobility, flexion, mood and sleep are indicating, despite my rattling impatience, that the trends spell progress. Evidence in being able to walk to work, with a frustratingly slow pace and much care, also indicates progress. Previous to injury, I walked to work easily in 12 minutes. Currently, the walk plods along requiring about 40 minutes. Impatience demonstrates itself with a sense of narrowing myself and a general pulling down. Thinking my Alexander directions changes my experience to one of appreciating that I couldn’t walk at all a few months ago. For some moments, I even enjoy my experience, which is a rare gift these days.
Incremental progress in recovery does add up eventually (hear my impatience?) and tips over into the proverbial corner to increased function and mobility. Learning the Alexander Technique involves incremental progress that also tips over into a new sense of conscious control of the self. After 22 years of teaching the Alexander Technique, I guess I should know about patience.
Over the past several weeks, I have experienced set-backs in pain levels and mobility that have dismayed, disturbed and depressed me. Just when I seemed to have achieved more comfort and flexion, my experience changed, without discernible explanation, to challenging pain and nearly non-existent flexion (which spells minimal mobility).
One of my wise and dedicated students, a professor at the University of Washington, suggested that I begin keeping a graph of my experience so that I can see trends in a larger fashion. And so, with her expert support, I began noting levels of pain, sleep. flexion, mood and activity. It is so tempting, and so very human, to become over-involved with today’s pain/activity/flexion and believe that current levels are permanent.
The larger view applies to learning the Alexander Technique also. As you become more keenly aware of your habitual reactions, they become louder, so that you may believe that you are regressing, when actually ease, calm, and overall co-ordination may be improving. These qualities may be much more difficult to chart; a graph is too mechanical for such qualities. The point is that progress in use of the self and in recovery is not linear, and may involve perceived regressions, experienced set-backs, and inexplicable leaps. The self needs to organize on many levels that are integrated and inseparable, especially in recovery. A long term view that is in balance with present awareness is a continuing balance of perception.
Pain is deeply discouraging; trust in the spiral process of recovery is conceptually appealing but realistically shaky. If I can recall my 25 years of Alexander study and all the spirals, set-backs, plateaus and breakthroughs I have experienced in that journey, perhaps I can bring a wee bit of patience and trust in process to this more acutely painful and urgent recovery.
I will see what the big picture reveals.