Thoughts on Doing and Non-Doing

chair balancingby Ezra Bershatsky It is almost irresistible to become fascinated with the philosophies that are so perfectly compatible with the Alexander Technique; to revel in the Zen-like mysticism it inspires: “The chair lifts; I don’t lift it," or "I am breathed." For some, this is confirmation of what they already believe. However, I think this only serves to obscure for others and even ourselves what is actually happening.

This topic is of especial interest to me as I have found a wealth of knowledge in the Tao Te Ching: “Wei wu wei,” or “doing without doing,” is a prevalent theme throughout the text, and it offers considerable insight into various implications of The Alexander Technique. As pointed out by Walter Carrington, we cannot lead a life of non-doing, as we would inevitably starve to death. Carrington says that muscular activity in the body is obviously doing; however, to me this is anything but obvious. Would anyone say, “I’m doing my heartbeat?” Another way to define “doing” is as any volitional or potentially volitional muscular response. I say potentially, as the vast majority of muscular responses and coordinations are allocated unconsciously by the brain through the stimulus of a desired outcome.

Doing without doing is a way of accomplishing an end while avoiding an habitual means to obtain it. This might be achieved by changing one's immediate intention, thus delaying the ultimate outcome. For instance, if my goal is to sit in a chair, I can decide merely to sit, which would trigger a complex muscular coordination involving hundreds of muscles contracting and releasing simultaneously and sequentially. My desire to quickly carry out the action of sitting might allow for little new input into achieving the action, so that if the chair is lower than the average chair, I will probably fall into it, expecting to have been sitting sooner. If I wanted to employ a "non-doing" approach, I could first try to have my desire to sit become the outcome of another intention: my knees bending. If I continuously bend my knees, eventually I will make contact with the chair. Such an exercise would begin to reeducate me from my habitual way of sitting, so that when next I go to sit in a "doing" or habitual manner, it might happen more efficiently. It should be said that this improvement will most likely revert quickly to my more habitual behavior shortly thereafter, unless this type of work continues.

It is our goal to accomplish any end by finding a way to allow a spontaneous coordination instead of imposing one; to consider how this action will be achieved instead of predetermining it; to avoid habitual response patterns and allow for spontaneous ones, even if the latter are at first clumsy or less efficient. Once we have established clarity about this goal, the implications for similar or seemingly related philosophies and mystical ideas can be safely considered, and will not be conflated with the principles and workings of the Alexander Technique.

Nonetheless, Carrington is ultimately correct in saying that “doing” is any muscular response, because this definition furthers the understanding of the interdependence of mind and body. We needn’t be aware of what we are doing to be doing it. Even unconscious processes that we could never hope to control directly are happening in us. If they are happening we can say we are doing them; for we are these involuntary processes just as we are our awareness.
When placing hands on the back of the chair and increasing the intensity of the dynamic opposition between the elbows, we are distally initiating movement in our arms, which is a valuable tool for facilitating a spontaneous muscular coordination, thus bypassing habitual patterns, which may ultimately result in the lifting of the chair. To then assert, “I did not lift the chair,” serves no constructive purpose. What it clarifies is that because we were consciously choosing to initiate movement elsewhere without lifting the chair, we avoided habitual response patterns associated with it; and since we identify so strongly with these habitual patterns, when we do achieve the (conscious or unconscious) goal of lifting the chair, it doesn’t feel very gratifying or familiar, and thus has no personal significance for us. In other words, we don’t identify with having lifted the chair. However, the chair did not levitate, and so what must have happened is, “I lifted the chair, even though it was not my intention,” rather than, “the chair lifted.”
I think it is of paramount importance to avoid attaching mystical concepts to this work as it alienates more scientific-minded professionals and clientele, and as teachers we are disparate in our beliefs and world views. Spiritually, mystically and psychologically inclined individuals will have no problem finding these implicit philosophies, some of which tie into the fields of astrology, homeopathy, reiki and crystal healing, classified as pseudoscience—which is not to say that these have no validity. But the Alexander Technique seems so often to find itself conflated with non-scientifically verifiable disciplines, when it was developed through the use of the scientific method, is scientifically substantiated to the degree that it has been formally studied, and would withstand the rigors of thorough scientific testing and peer review. Ideas unrelated directly to AT serve only to obscure our concept of a unified human organism, in which the mind and body are inseparable. Hence, “non-doing” should be taught and discussed with its originally intended implications only, making it safe for any of us to consider its possible implications for other areas of inquiry.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]EZRA BERSHATSKY—A graduate of The Juilliard School Pre-College Division, Ezra has two Bachelor degrees of Music from Mannes College The New School for Music, in vocal performance and musical composition. He is currently training to be a teacher of the Alexander Technique. He has been singing and performing since childhood, and early in his training he discovered that he has a passion not only for making music, but for teaching others. Ezra teaches voice in New York City on the upper west side. [/author_info] [/author]

Taking Action: How Does That Work in the Context of the Alexander Technique? Guy by Brooke Lieb

In light of the recent hate crime, the mass killing in Orlando targeting the LGBTQ community on June 12, I thought about what it was to respond with meaningful, integrated action.

What has this got to do with the Alexander Technique? Alexander Technique often emphasizes “non-doing” which can be mistaken for inaction. Non-doing is more about having the time and space to unpack a response to find what may be habitual and automatic, and gain access to a conscious, reasoned response.

Working with this paradigm gives me a way to question the accuracy or validity of my feelings, both those I label as sensations, and those I label as emotions. I can also question the habits I have around using those feelings to guide my behavior and actions. I don’t want to respond to this latest tragedy comfortably or in my familiar and habitual way, I want to respond accurately and in measure with my examined belief systems.

I want to communicate with the people who feel particularly at risk of being targeted because of who they love or how they look, a danger that may be even more in the forefront of their day to day lives, as a result of this recent atrocity. I want to offer my support. But for me, my kind words are empty if my actions and behavior don't have the potential to generate a safer world for them.

I want to show empathy and connect with my friends and loved ones to show that I care about this issue and it breaks my heart that people are being murdered because of some distorted set of artificial values held by others. Those beliefs are what make some of us a threat to others of us.

I saw a number of posts about taking action, as the more impactful response to this latest in a “much too frequent and much too long” string of mass killings.

So I went to google to find out how to take action. I donated to the Brady Campaign, I signed a petition which I was informed was equivalent to writing a letter.

I wrote to both of my state senators to say I am a constituent who supports strict gun control, and when considering the second amendment as written: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” I support limiting access to and the use of guns to the confines of a well-regulated militia.

So, yes, I have been crying since Sunday, June 12, and looking at my transparent biases and bigotry to take responsibility for the ways I may have inadvertently contributed to the climate in our country by being ignorant and unable to see what I may be a party to. I see that my inaction contributes to the status quo. By the way, I was raised around activists, growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and I take a lot for granted because so many took action during that time in history.

What has this got to do with the Alexander Technique? I am saying “no" to my comfortable habit to remain silent while feeling hopeless. I often keep silent out of my desire to appear non-judgemental and neutral so my clients won’t feel judged in my hands. Silence can be useful in some situations, but silence can also be a way to stay comfortable and ineffective.

So, instead, I am taking action, and being non-habitual by using my literal and literary voice to express my fondest wishes and hopes - that we take the actions needed so we live in a world that values all human life and celebrates creativity and diversity in how we each express ourselves. I wish to live in a world where no one is in danger from another, because of what they have or don’t have, for what they believe or don’t believe. And that we don’t use our personal beliefs to injure each other.

If you want to learn more about some possible actions to take, here are some links:

Contact your congressional representative:

Contact your Senator:

How did your senator vote on background checks?:

Tweet your congressperson:

Support the Brady Campaign to end gun violence:

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists.[/author_info] [/author]

Give Better Yoga Adjustments with the Alexander Technique

wfs.adjustby Witold Fitz-Simon Yoga teachers giving adjustments has become a controversial issue in the yoga community. Classic yoga adjustments tend to be strong, manipulative and often invasive, with the teacher sometimes applying considerable force to push a student deeper into a stretch, or to get the student’s arms and legs into a particular position. If such an adjustment is given skillfully, the effects can be positive. Often, however, teachers yank and crank on the student’s body in such a way that can potentially cause injury. It has gotten to point where some studios offer “consent cards” that students lay on their mats to let the teacher know whether or not they are willing to be manipulated in such a way. One company has even started marketing very attractive wooden chips that you can take with you to any studio to let the teacher know your preference.

Injury in yoga—whether self- or teacher-inflicted—has become the current hot-button issue amongst those who love the practice. Even if the potential for injury were not in question, the way a teacher lays hands on a student can make a huge difference, for better and for worse. There a few different reasons why a teacher might give a student an adjustment. Amongst them are:

  • To take a student deeper into a stretch (e.g.: pressing their back down in a forward bend)
  • To arrange a body part to better fit an anatomical ideal (e.g.: outwardly rotating their upper arm bones and bringing their shoulder blades down their back)
  • To help a student get closer to the classic shape of a pose (e.g.: bringing hands together to achieve binding of the arms in a twist)

Such adjustments come from a misplaced value system where the shape of the pose is more important than the experience of the body doing the pose, where more range of motion throughout the body is always better, where more extreme contortion is an indicator of progress along the path. In this way of thinking, the resistances of the body must be overcome by the force the teacher applies. The student’s body must be made to conform to an arbitrary geometry imposed on the student by the teacher’s eye. This is an unsubtle and forceful way of thinking that will not necessarily have the effect the teacher intended.

From the perspective of the Alexander Technique, the root cause of the problem comes from something called “End-Gaining.” This is a particular way of thinking—one of which we are all guilty—where we put the desired end or goal first and focus all our efforts on achieving this goal. The opposite of this would be one where we are attending more to the means whereby we achieve the goal. It is this “means-whereby” which becomes the important thing, regardless of whether the goal is ever achieved. In the Alexander Technique, this type of approach is called “Non-Doing."

Part of this “means-whereby” you might achieve something such as a yoga pose is an attention to the way the body is organized internally. F. M. Alexander, founder of the Technique, discovered that the relationship of the head, neck and back governs the functioning of the body as a whole for better or for worse. If that relationship is well-organized, we are stronger, more balanced and better integrated in the way we move. If it is not, we are weaker, stiffer, tighter.

The primary focus of a yoga teacher working with these principles becomes creating the best organization of the head, neck and back of the student in any given pose or transition. If the student can be more organized in this way, their bodies will be better able to negotiate the demands of a pose, creating balanced and functional strength and mobility. A teacher working in this way will not only be less likely to cause injury, they will be more likely to create conditions of lasting and significant change in their students.

This post originally appeared on Witold Fitz-Simon's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being.[/author_info] [/author]

Good Posture Means Connecting, Not Correcting

by Dan Cayer I’m not against correcting our posture or body on principle. I wish all it took to rid ourselves of chronic pain and tension was figuring the right angle or position, and tapping our body into place. It’s such a seductive offer; that we need only arrange our body and then get on with the rest of our day.

I object to correcting our posture on practical grounds; it doesn’t work. From my perspective as an Alexander Technique teacher and a person dealing with chronic pain for several years, ‘correcting’ posture tends to tie us further into a tense knot, decreasing our ability to actually enjoy our body. In this article, I’ll offer a short but powerful exercise for connecting with a natural posture.

What Correcting Usually Means

The instinctual response to pain is to fix it or push it away. As discomfort crowds our consciousness, our brain reaches for a solution: “good” posture! Or, at least our idea of it. Usually, this means we push our shoulders back and stick our chest up. On a more subtle level, we may tighten our jaw and squeeze our throat against the discomfort and fear that’s bubbling up in relation to feeling pain. When posture carries the promise of not feeling pain or uncomfortable emotions, it’s easy to try too hard and stiffen ourselves.

I don’t mean to offer the unhelpful advice to never move your body no matter the pain. I only wish to say that when the first step of responding to pain or discomfort is to immediately try to correct ourselves, it only leads to a negative cycle of judgment, tension, and undesired results. We trade one problem, say slouching, for another, rigidly arching ourselves upward in an uncomfortable and ungrounded way.

We’ve skipped right over feeling what it’s like where we are, and flown straight to how we should be. It’s this nonstop flight that keeps us from actually finding a way of sitting or walking or simply being in our bodies that feels comfortable or ‘at home’. By dictating an idealized sitting position, we almost inevitably inflict an inhumane expectation on our body that just does not jibe with our actual structure. Sitting upright with comfort and ease and vitality is totally possible – it’s how we were designed. But we don’t get there by muscling ourselves up, “sitting up straight,” or yanking ourselves out of a slouch.

Connect with Your Self First

The first step needs to be connecting with ourselves. This need not be a big deal or require the services of a psychotherapist. Simply pause before changing your body and feel how you are – in your body, heart, and mind. You are touching in to your current experience. It may feel unpleasant like dipping into a cold pool or even overwhelming. Strangely, this is a good thing. You’re beginning to relate with your body not as a contraption that needs to be ordered, but as a physical and emotional self that has a natural organization and its own way of responding to life (often independent of our wishes).

How to Do It

Here’s a take-home exercise on how to connect, not correct:

When you find yourself out of sorts, imbalanced, slouching, or if pain is present, take a moment or two to notice what you’re experiencing on a visceral level, which includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It may help you to actually breathe in once or twice, with the intention that you are breathing in the full experience. After a moment or two, feel free to make whatever change you wish: roll out your shoulders, connect your sit bones to the chair. Notice if it feels different having listened to your felt experience first.

Widening Our Experience of Posture

Posture may seem to be a wholly mechanical exercise but alas, that is only part of the picture of ourselves. Think of how stage fright or performance anxiety has a strong physiological effect. Our bodies and minds are deeply connected.

Take the example of training a horse. The trainer has an agenda but unfortunately for him, so does the horse. A wise trainer coaxes and works with the horse, allowing the horse to have some room to play out its energy while still being taken through the proper procedures. A horse that’s bridled or reined in too tightly will bolt.

In working with students (and myself), I often find that we hold the reins too tightly in our well-intentioned effort to change body patterns and improve well-being. Over time though, students see that immediately correcting themselves – trying to fix their posture in an instant – is another habit just like slouching.

Posture isn’t about scolding and stiffening ourselves, any more than training a horse is like programming a computer. Gentleness and curiosity are required to make any long-lasting improvements in how you sit and stand. You could try right now: breathing in your experience exactly as you feel it for a breath or two before trying to change it.

This post originally appeared at

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]DAN CAYER is a nationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. After a serious injury left him unable to work or even carry out household tasks, he began studying the technique. His return to health, as well as his experience with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pain, inspired him to help others. He now teaches his innovative approach in Union Square, Carroll Gardens and in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He also teaches adults to swim with greater ease and confidence by applying Alexander principles. You can find his next workshop or schedule a private lesson at[/author_info] [/author]

10 Potential Pitfalls in the Studying the Alexander Technique and How to Avoid Them

ACAT, American Center for the Alexander Technique by John Austin

Studying the Alexander Technique can seem like a never-ending road filled with mysterious obstacles and seductive bunny trails that often lead to dead-ends. However, it can be less so if you become aware of these potential pitfalls:

1) Doing the directions

Alexander called the directions “preventative orders” because they are meant to stop you from actively shortening your stature, narrowing your back, and pulling in your limbs. Any new found expanded state is a result of getting out of the way of natural upright. You can’t do an undoing, so don’t force yourself to lengthen or widen. Think (wish, intend, imagine) the change you’d like to see happen and then allow yourself to breathe. Repeat.

2) Relaxing (releasing all muscle tone)

The Alexander Technique is about finding an easeful way of balancing, moving, and being; where your mind and muscles work for you, not against you. We are looking for healthy muscle tone without excess, thinking without effort; that doesn’t mean no work. Don’t let non-doing become nothing doing.

3) Letting your feelings guide your movements

If we do what feels right, we are doing our habit. A general rule of thumb: if it feels right, it’s wrong; if it feels wrong, it’s new. This is different from learning to recognize your habit(s), which we all must do. Eventually your kinesthetic sense does become more reliable, but we must move out of the realm of feeling and into the realm of thought to improve even then. Alexander once said, “When the time comes that you can trust your feelings, you won’t want to use it [kinesthetic sense].”

4) Trying to levitate

No matter how much up direction you give yourself, you must still be grounded for it to be useful. A lengthening of the body comes from the ground and goes up. Don’t be so concerned with your head going forward and up that you lift your feet off the ground.

5) Focusing on specific parts without relation to the whole

Concentrating often narrows our view, not allowing us to see the entire system we are affecting. We then start “fixing” specific problems only to move on to the next problem that we faultily perceive to be independent of the last one. We then feel like we’ve accomplished something by “fixing” many little things, but in reality we haven’t achieved anything useful if we don’t account for part’s relation to the whole; in fact, you even run the risk of destabilizing the entire system.

The most common example of this I see is “putting the head forward and up” as if forward and up were a position of the head, not a relationship of the head to the whole body. When we perceive a problem, it’s best to take a wider view of the area surrounding the problem rather than directly fixing it.

6) Believing that the startle pattern is a habit

We go into the startle pattern (head and limbs pulled into the torso like a turtle going into it’s shell) because we are afraid of something. Whether it’s stage fright or fear of falling on the ground; the startle pattern is a reaction to a thought or feeling; either of which can be habitual. If we don’t want to startle, the thing to do is find the thought/feeling that is causing the startle pattern and inhibit (say no to) it. This is not to say that you won’t have to explore why you are having those thoughts or feelings.

7) Inhibiting doing the activity instead of inhibiting the thought of doing the activity

This sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. Inhibiting (or saying no) can end up being plain old stiffening if we are not clear about what we are inhibiting. Are we saying no to the thought (and therefore the habitual reaction) of sitting or standing while doing chair work, or are we saying no to the activity and muscling through? It is helpful to ask, “What am I inhibiting?” then “How am I doing that?”

8) Mind-wandering

Going inside to try and figure things out, thinking about what you’re going to do later, or anything other than what’s going on in the moment (being present and aware of your thoughts, seeing the room, hearing, and feeling your contact with the ground) just gets in the way of your goal. Even if you are planning for a future event, it’s not helpful to leave the present while thinking about it.

9) Trying to get it right

One of the most powerful experiences in my practice of the Alexander Technique was in a chair turn with Barbara Kent where I realized that no matter how hard I tried to get it right, I couldn’t sit in the chair without stiffening and plopping down into the chair. Barbara picked up on this and said, “Let’s try it again and this time, let’s both be wrong.” I then effortlessly made it to the chair with no plop. Barbara then followed up with a smile, “It’s never going to be perfect, so there’s no point in trying to be.”

10) Being hard on ourselves

Our habits have gotten us to where we are in life. Thank them, and then gently let them know that they are no longer needed. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction- therefore the more effort we exert in trying to overcome our habits the more difficulty there will be in doing just that.

In my experience it’s much easier to tell when we are headed in the wrong direction than when things are going well. This list is far from exhaustive, but if kept in mind it provides clues about when we’ve fallen off the straight and narrow path and makes the difficult journey of personal transformation easier to navigate.

This post was originally published on

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JOHN AUSTIN started pondering and pontificating on the probable and possible reasons for the tragic loss of joy in himself and his fellow musicians as he approached his breaking point in a music conservatory. In fact, he was nearly a casualty of the music “busi-ness" when he stumbled on the Alexander Technique. Since then he's been inspired by his training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique to write in an attempt to better understand what was happening to himself and others. Mr. Austin has an active performing career, blog, and teaching studio in West Harlem, Manhattan.[/author_info] [/author]