Guest Blog: Frances Butt, Alexander teacher, talks about "Just enough effort and no more"
I struggled with poor co-ordination from early childhood. Poor at sports throughout school, as a university student I tried getting fit by running, but it didn’t go very well. Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to build up any distance and I gave up after a while. Years later, I developed arthritis in one hip and both knees and needed a hip replacement. And I was in my forties! What was going on?
All my previous attempts to improve physically had involved correctives of one type or another: build up this muscle group here, strengthen those quads, work on that core! You know, the usual things you hear. But all these activities had only served to worsen my condition.
Then I had my first Alexander Technique lesson and heard the phrase “using just enough effort to complete a task and no more” for the first time. This describes one of the reasons Fred Astaire’s dancing was so exceptional. His dance routines may have been demanding and arduous, but his exquisite economy of movement made them appear effortless. I was intrigued.
Later that same year at the ITM summer school in Cirencester, I heard another, shorter phrase which sounded to my ears at that time more achievable, and which made total sense: “doing less.” In fact, it made such good sense to me, I found myself picking up the training course brochure…
Many, if not most of us, go about our lives unwittingly using more effort than necessary to perform all our activities. Whether it’s sitting, speaking, walking, or picking things up - you name it - we use too much muscular energy and often with the wrong body parts, for good measure.
These inefficiencies may, sooner or later, present problems. Someone might, for example, come up against an inability to improve at a specialized activity beyond a certain level, e.g. playing a musical instrument or a sport.
Or perhaps, over time, certain physiological symptoms present themselves, such as neck tension headaches, or (as in my case) musculoskeletal imbalances. Common solutions to problems like these include physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic and osteopathy, along with a host of other proven and less proven therapies.
The Alexander Technique is different to other approaches in that it is more educative than therapeutic. It involves the psycho-physical re-education of the person concerned. Alexander lessons are an opportunity for a student, with a teacher’s help, to get to the root causes of their difficulties and limitations and reason out ways of eliminating them.
There are all kinds of reasons why people employ more muscular effort than necessary to perform a task. An obvious example is someone with military training, who may have become accustomed to carrying themselves rather stiffly. A music teacher may have inculcated certain ideas into their students regarding how to hold or play an instrument which, though they may have been appropriate for one player, have proven harmful for another.
We pick up particular ideas, good and bad, about how to carry out a movement, and these ideas will produce particular good and bad movement patterns. Over time, without our knowing anything about it, bad movement patterns may wreak ever greater havoc on the workings of the human organism. My story is but one example.
Gradually and over time I have, along with many other Alexander students, I have massively improved my thinking, my movement strategies, my physical co-ordination, my economy of movement and even my energy levels, which makes sense of course, because less effort means less wasted energy. One of the first things I noticed over the first few months of studying this work was reaching the end of the day and having another good hour or two of energy left in me to enjoy.
So, I’ll conclude by asking the question:
What would your life be like if, in everything you did, you used just enough effort as was necessary, and no more?
Frances Butt (https://www.francesbutt.com)