Constructive Conscious Control

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Throughout his books, Alexander emphasizes how necessary it is for us to learn to have a positive conscious control of our use and psychophysical mechanisms. This concept is explored in great depth his book The Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. The quote below illustrates how Alexander brought this into his teaching:

'Take, for instance, the oft-repeated act of ‘sitting down’. In this act, the subconsciously controlled person, as soon as he touches the chair, instead of allowing it to support him, proceeds, as he would say, to ‘sit down’… This means that he has performed the act of ‘sitting down’ in accordance with his subconscious conception of it. In other words, he has ‘slumped’…. and remains oblivious to the misuse of the mechanisms involved and to the irritation and pressure associated with the harmful posture… which, unfortunately for him, feels natural and comfortable.

On the other hand, when a person sits down or stands up in accordance with... constructive conscious control, the process involves an adequate and continuous state of increasing awareness in regard to the use of the mechanisms, so that immediately there is a wrong use of these mechanisms, the person…. becomes aware of it, and at once substitutes a satisfactory use for the unsatisfactory use.'

The Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1932, p189) Mouritz; Gollancz

In other words, when we become aware of our habits of mis-use which cause problems by interfering with the way we wish to be in the world and the way the body needs to function, we can consciously choose to inhibit them, before consciously directing ourselves to act and move with a new, satisfactory use.

It is important to remember that this process of conscious control 'should be in process, not superimposed' (F M Alexander ~ Aphorisms) and that we are aiming to make conscious a way of being that most of us took for granted when small. Most children are naturally poised and free in the way they express themselves and move, running, sitting and playing with great ease. Unfortunately, the majority of us tend to lose this wonderful use of our bodies as we get older, because of our habitual, somewhat unconscious responses, to many different situations.

For instance, these are some factors that result in even small children developing patterns of mis-use:

  • imitating the manner of use or mis-use that we observe in the people who are important to us and are around us
  • being put in pushchairs, or using chairs and tables that are the wrong shape or height for us
  • numbing ourselves for long periods of time in front of television and computers
  • tensing and contracting down into ourselves as a response to the upsets and stresses that we inevitably experience
  • accidents and illness
  • developing attitudes towards the way we should act in the world, such as feeling the need to be driven, or perceiving oneself to be helpless

Gradually, these reactions and patterns of behaviour tend to become somewhat fixed and often result in the usual range of problems such as headaches, back pain, feeling down and so on, that we are all familiar with but think we have little or no control over.

A curious little poem by the psychotherapist R D Laing illustrates some of the knots we can unconsciously tie ourselves up into, as a result of how we feel and react to something - in this case, another person:

JACK You are a pain in the neck
To stop you giving me a pain in the neck
I protect my neck by tightening my neck muscles,
which gives me the pain in the neck
you are.

JILL My head aches through trying to stop you
giving me a headache.

R.D. Laing ~ Knots ~ Penguin 1969

What a relief it is when we can learn to let go of some of these habitual ways of reacting to each other and the world!

In Alexander lessons, we learn to re-discover much of the freedom of use that most of us once had, through developing a new awareness and conscious control over the way we use our bodies and many of our thought processes. This work is not the same as that done in psychotherapy and some deeply entrenched habits and attitudes may need to be addressed through that medium as well, in order to bring about changes in our emotions and behaviour.

By using the technique of inhibition, we can choose not to react in our habitual manner to stressful events, which usually entails some negative thinking plus an immediate tensing-up in ways such as are described above. We can choose not to 'wind ourselves up', 'becoming up-tight' or feeling 'down in the dumps'. We can also learn to direct our activities so that we consciously use our bodies more freely, positively and expansively, gradually coming back to, or discovering, a more comfortable way of acting and being in our bodies.

Alexander was aware that at a later date, people may wish to research the Technique that he had developed and he stated:

'When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the Work is exactly what is being done in nature where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously'

F M Alexander ~ Aphorisms.

So far as I am aware, no research has been done that conflicts with this but instead, tends to support Alexander's theory.