In the recent Horizon programme, ‘The Truth about Personality’ (10th July, BBC2), Dr. Michael Mosley – who, a year ago, looked into the health benefits of fasting – set out to explore some personality issues. In particular, he wondered whether he would be able to alter his pessimistic outlook on life – in other words, to “change his mind”!
First, he went off to experience how some emotional states can in fact be measured physiologically by modern technology. He then went on to explore two therapeutic techniques: Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) and Mindfulness Meditation: both of which have produced convincing evidence through brain scans and the like.
I was a regular meditator myself for several years before beginning Alexander lessons. I started with Transcendental Meditation at the age of 20, and felt more sociable and carefree as a person. Meditation also improved the sound I made when I played the violin – to the point where my teacher at the time could hear the difference if my meditation lapsed for a few days!
Six years later, when going through a tricky emotional patch, meditation didn’t help and, if anything, seemed to make me more anxious – perhaps by stimulating my imagination and tendency to fantasise around the difficult emotions I was experiencing. There were moments when I felt quite disconnected from people around me and from the physical world. This may well have been a result of not having a personal teacher to guide me. (Some years later, while training to be an Alexander Technique teacher, I attended a residential retreat in ‘Vipassana’ meditation (which incorporates Mindfulness) and, with the help of the two wise teachers, finally learned how to ‘ground’ meditation in my body.)
But while struggling with anxiety in my mid-twenties, it was having lessons in Alexander Technique that helped me the most. The reason? It ‘grounded’ me; it re-connected me to myself and to my body; it reassured me and brought me into the present moment, just as mindfulness should do.
To return to Horizon, Michael Mosley concluded that he did benefit from both CBM and Mindfulness; that, between them, they helped him “change his mind”.
Alexander Technique, too, is a catalyst for change. It focuses on the body and engages the mind. It is a technique for balance, for choice and for the development of ‘conscious control’. You could even call it “Mindfulness centred in the Body”.
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