Letting go of the grip

Where thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

Today, a student asked me if the Alexander Technique was a spiritual practice, if in effect, it was preparing us for death. My immediate response was that the Alexander Technique prepares us for life. But I also get where she was going. The technique boils down to letting go of the anticipatory gripping that we all do, to a trust in the open-endedness of things. There’s very little that we can know for certain despite history, statistics and planning. If we have the trust, we can leave ourselves free to flow. But so often, and for so many rational reasons, we don’t have the trust. It seems more sensible to prepare for the worst by tensing.

Studies in attachment theory point to the ways that early life experiences set the script for how we respond in present time. Pain, injury and trauma etch changes in the brain leaving us reactive, hyper-sensitive and vigilant. Our past experiences combine with the inherent error in human perception, and lead us to habitually over-estimate the tension required for moving. On a day-to-day basis, we are locked into the loop of habit, which saves time, reduces decision fatigue and makes life manageable. But how much are those habits limiting our freedom? How much bracing do we need to do?

I don’t trust in anything like a god, but I do have a certain trust in the energy that makes things grow, in life, and in our capacity for resilience. I think about the brain and the nervous system, or the network of roots and fungi in a forrest that communicate. I think about things things that are both mysterious and measurable.

My student mentioned that it was a lot less energy to live without the grip, but that it took quite a lot of focus to get off clock time and land in the present. I added that it’s easy to get seduced by posture and body mechanics, but it’s remarkable how well the body works on it’s own when we stop hanging on.