Mindfulness, says John Cabot-Zinn, one of the original “mindfulness theorists,” is “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Similarly, as Alexander Technique teachers, no matter the approach we take or the reason students come to us for lessons, we teach our students how to change how they do things in the moment of activity while encouraging them to make new choices.
Habits are done “mindlessly.” To make new choices we have to be conscious, mindful. FM Alexander said that the conscious mind must be “quickened,” made more alive. When we are conscious of the present moment as we work with students, we can approach them exactly where they are without judgment. As we do, understanding mindfulness can help us break the teacher/student hierarchy and “pay attention on purpose.” As we notice with our students we accomplish presence in the moment.
Humans tend to have goals in mind. The end is more important than the mindful way to that end. A young singer is having trouble using low abdominal muscles to support her breath. A meditator strains his neck while sitting in meditation. A violinist experiences pain in his elbow as he moves his bow. A person doing yoga finds he has stopped breathing although he learned to go into a yoga position on deep belly breathing. A young dancer is learning to execute a pirouette for the first time and keeps losing her balance. All of these activities can be accomplished in the present moment and with ease, but our invisible habits get in the way.
Understanding how a human body is designed to move, and how that movement is connected to the mind, helps us achieve the movements we desire, by focusing on the how we move to a goal rather than a goal. The focus is during the expanded time of execution and not on the end result. Counter intuitive? Maybe. Effective? Definitely
Kabot-Zinn says that:
Mindfulness is not merely a concept or a good idea. It is a way of being. And its synonym, awareness, is a kind of knowing that is simply bigger than thought and gives us many more options for how we might choose to be in relationship to whatever arises in our minds and hearts, our bodies and our lives. It is a more-than-conceptual knowing. It is more akin to wisdom, and to the freedom a wisdom perspective provides.
The Alexander Technique promotes awareness using constructive thinking. Thinking in activity means staying in a broader field of attention while using our knowledge about our inner balance system to not disturb the actions we are taking. Learning to know how my body performs under habit versus how it works with expanded awareness. This is the wisdom we seek in Mindfulness or the Alexander Technique. The choice to not react is new, refreshing in a moment, and this is what FM Alexander referred to as “Man’s Supreme Inheritance.”
All quotes from Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabot-Zinn