I am small in physical build and height. I have been the smallest student in my school throughout my three years of Alexander teacher training. But until very recently, I had not considered how much my body image, perhaps thinking of myself as “small” had conditioned my habits of use and had therefore dictated many of my reactions.
Whatever our height or body shape, we are all capable of similar habits of “smallness.” Self-suppression, fear, self-criticism, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, feelings of unattractiveness and of falling short of our true potential: these are all habits of diminishment, habits of making ourselves “small.”
My whole attitude reflected the image I personally had of my body because I compared myself with others. As we start to compare ourselves with others, we subconsciously begin to make ourselves smaller in the process. As this mental activity is subconscious, it remains completely undetected. It is a habit of mind and body that is typically passed on through the generations by “rule.”
“We are not convinced that the rule is the best, or even that it is a good rule. Often we know, or would know if we gave the matter a moment’s consideration, that in our own bodies the rule has not worked particularly well, but it is the rule which was taught to us, and we pass it on either by precept, or by holding up our imperfections for imitation, and then we wonder what the cause of the prevailing physical degeneration!”
(FM Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance)
In addition, we may take on the peculiarities of a victim due to our experience and environment. This attitude of victimhood is unhealthy, and leads to many behaviours that are harmful. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture, Nikolaas Tinbergen said that normal children quite often show all the elements of Kanner’s syndrome (early childhood autism). In studying the behaviour of autistic children, Tinbergen took note of the circumstances in which normal children adopted autistic behaviour.
“Such passing attacks of autistic behaviour appear in a normal child when it finds itself in a situation that creates a conflict between two incompatible motivations. On the one hand, the situation evokes fear (a tendency to withdraw, physically and mentally), but on the other hand it also elicits social, and often exploratory behaviour –but the fear prevents the child from venturing out into the world. And not unexpectedly, it is ‘naturally’ timid children (by nature or nurture, or both) that show this conflict behaviour more readily than more resilient, confident children. But my point is that they all respond to the environment.
(“Ethology and Stress Diseases”, 12 December 1973)
The gentle hands-on teaching of the Alexander Technique in a non-competitive, non-judgemental environment has allowed me to repeat all my mistakes and learn from them, rather than continuing with the vicious circle of not allowing myself to ever be wrong. With improved Primary Control and greater consciousness, my head is no longer drooping toward the ground, but is now held high where it truly belongs. I no longer need to diminish myself by reacting as I previously did because I no longer think of myself as being ‘small.’ Rather, I ask for a free neck, for my head to go forward and up, for width across the shoulders and length throughout the back. Gradually my self-esteem, self-confidence, digestion, breathing, and much else have improved and the shadow of my former self is slowly disappearing.
Our behaviour and attitude work on those around us, which is why it is of paramount importance that we stop and look at ourselves as individuals. Conscious acknowledgement of our own habits, the necessary condition for change, impacts those around us. Time is of the essence. The possibility of deciding to stop and observe is available to each and every one of us, should we recognize that the “watching and wondering” to which Tinbergen refers, is our choice.
Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.