This is a guest post, written by Carolyn Johnston, Alexander Technique instructor. Check out our schedule to book time with Carolyn.
“The idea of taking the control of the use of the mechanisms of the human creature from
the instinctive on to the conscious plane has already been justified by the results which
have been obtained by applying it in practice, but it may be many years before its true
significance as a factor in human development is fully recognized.” F.M. Alexander
Have you ever experienced a day where you constantly find yourself bumping into things, dropping anything you pick up, and forgetting where you put your keys? When this happens, it may be a sign that one is end-gaining!
Through Frederick Matthias Alexander’s explorations of self observation, he discovered a fundamental truth which he called end-gaining. He explains it as a direct procedure, dependent upon subconscious guidance and control, applied by an individual when endeavoring to gain a desired end. In most cases this leads to a condition of mal-co-ordination and an increase in pre-existing defects or disfunction. Changing ineffective destructive habits requires conscious attention to the means whereby the end goal is being achieved.
Mark Josefsberg, another fellow teacher of the Alexander Technique offers this definition of “end gaining” on his blog:
“The Alexander Technique end-gaining is gaining your end without regard to how you gain your end; how you reach your goal, how you do everything, to achieve anything. We think of what, but ignore how. We leave the present moment, and try to loft ourselves towards the end, skipping over time. Many of us do this our entire lives.”
Developing Constructive Conscious Control
The process of becoming aware of oneself kinesthetically is the first aspect of learning to pay attention to the means whereby we accomplish a goal, be it a complex skill or everyday activity. Kinesthetic awareness not only provides information about our size, (height,
width, and depth), but it also informs us about the angles of our bones in relation to each other.
In other words, it helps us sense the position that our body is in at every moment. It gives us information about movement, such as:
– Quality of movement
This is how we apply mindfulness to movement. Mindfulness is a way of being! Yet, it is also a skill that requires practicing. As humans, we are mostly taught to “do things” rather than, to be. We become “human doings” instead of “human beings.” We base our identity and value
on how good we are at doing things and achieving the desired results quickly. We focus our efforts on climbing the ladders of success as soon as possible without much attention to how we do that.
My Personal Experience with End-gaining
When I was eight years old, I began taking dance classes. Dancing quickly became a passion and I began to dream about becoming a professional dancer, specifically a ballerina that would perform as a soloist or principal dancer!
When I was in high school, I had the privilege of dancing with The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for a couple of years before I went on to study at The Canadian College of Dance in Montreal. During the summer in between my first and second year, I successfully auditioned for a scholarship with the Harkness Ballet in NYC, which presented the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in NYC taking company classes. The college later moved to Toronto where in addition to attending classes, I earned a scholarship to attend company classes at the National Ballet of Toronto. The hope of landing a professional dance position became more intense.
I worked so hard – and the effort that I put into “trying” started to manifest in multiple ways. Hyper focused on the “trying,” I ignored the increasing fatigue. In one class, I completed my first demi and grande plie for the day. Next, a forward grande port de bras… and then collapsed on to the floor. I ended up with a severe case of mononucleosis and various complications for years. It was the end of my dream of becoming a ballerina. It felt like the end of Carolyn.
This was the first time that I had ever experienced depression and nightmares. No one had ever taught me how to take care of myself. Perhaps they didn’t know how to take care of their own selves. To be fair, if they did try, I don’t think I would have listened because of the
intense passionate attachment to my desire.
Most of us are not taught how to become mindful. It is something that we should be surrounded by and taught from the time we are born. For me, I barely existed outside of my efforts toward achieving my dream of becoming a dancer. I pushed so hard that I forced myself right out of my own dream! That is the tragedy of end-gaining.
How to Trade End-Gaining for Mindful Movement
F.M. Alexander wanted to cure himself of constantly losing his voice during his performances of Shakespearean monologues. He thought that by simply altering the position of his head he could achieve his end goal of acting without getting hoarse, but this delusion was replaced by the discovery that his force of habit of pulling his head back and down could only be changed by considering the use of his whole self.
He knew that the balanced relationship of his head, neck and torso, which he called the “primary control” would organize the rest of the system and that it could only be achieved indirectly. Our instinctive or learned habits are so strong that the minute we
think about achieving a goal, simple or complex, the nerve synapsis fire the same pathway over and over. In order to change his habitual response, Alexander found it necessary to stop and consciously reconsider the original objective therefore allowing
himself to have three choices:
– to do nothing
– to do something different, like raise an arm
– to go on and speak the sentence
Whichever he chose, he would project the directions that he discovered, which brought about a new coordinated use of his whole self. The first two options were the easiest to inhibit his habit and maintain conscious directions. Eventually, he was able to maintain the optimal conditions while he was speaking, brought about by the reasoned directions. He cured himself of continual bouts of laryngitis, recovering his acting career and curing himself of asthma by changing the use of himself.
My Job as an Alexander Technique Teacher is to:
- help people kinesthetically realize their habitual response to the stimulus of engaging in an activity.
direct them to pause.
- invite them, with my A.T. hands-on skill, to release their unnecessary tension, simultaneously reorganizing them to a more balanced coordination.
- give verbal directions so that one consciously knows how to cooperate with my hands-on guidance.
encourage students to give themselves verbal directions beyond lesson time and make up their own directions based on their experiences.
- motivate students to have fun exploring, questioning and developing a lively and more accurate kinesthetic sense.
support and respect the individual’s process of discovering and cooperating with their Primary Control, thereby improving the use of themselves physically, mentally and emotionally during every activity in which they are engaged – which is life itself!
If you find yourself engaging in movement without realizing how you are commanding your body to carry out an objective, or simply want to understand your habitual movements in order to feel better, you might consider giving the Alexander Technique a try!