Sensory awareness

Recently I have had the opportunity to work extensively with a couple of men who are a challenge because they 'feel nothing'. Although they are able to release tension and reorganise the use of their muscles, they are unable to feel that happening in themselves. They can feel pain, discomfort, heat etc but not the more subtle stuff.

In mainstream Alexander circles we definitely aim to 'feel'. Teachers have a highly developed, elastic way of using their hands to detect patterns of tension in their pupils which they can then influence. Gradually, the pupil is encouraged to feel these physical adjustments for themselves, so that they can reproduce them on their own.

However, in the early years of experimentation and discovery, FM Alexander did not rely on his sensory awareness because he recognised that it was faulty. When he tried to 'feel' a more efficient way of moving, or of supporting himself, he could see from his reflection that he was simply not achieving it - his familiar muscular habits would win in spite of his intention to change.

Thus, when FM began training others to teach his technique, the emphasis was on direction and inhibition, not 'feeling', as that was deemed unreliable, and indeed it is, at first. As he further developed his technique, so emerged a reliable way of teaching and of learning to develop increasingly more accurate sensory awareness.

One of my challenging pupils is a soldier - someone who has learned to endure pain and hardship; to ignore physical discomfort and 'soldier on'. Perhaps this has trained his sensory awareness to be much less responsive than average; or perhaps, as with the other senses, people naturally have varying ability.

My solution for teaching these chaps is to be like FM was in the early days - concentrating on what can be seen, on what is logical and functional. I know my pupils are capable of learning because they have already mastered so many physical skills in their lives. We just need to worry less about how things feel, and they'll get there:)

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