Student experience: Kofi Baah

While I can say many things about Alexander Technique that I think will be helpful, I think it's often more accessible to hear experiences from students who are earlier on their own journeys.

Kofi Baah kindly shared this great post in the forum associated with the Fundamentals of Alexander Technique course, which I'm sharing here (with permission) and with some commentary from me.

And with that, over to Kofi...


One year of Alexander Technique

I've been practicing the Alexander Technique on and off for a year now. I thought I'd summarise my thoughts into one place for anyone who's just starting, or is just interested.

Key points

  • Expanded awareness is great for getting out of your own head
  • Inhibition is one of the most powerful skills you can learn
  • Non-doing is a little hard to get your head around, but can really improve your performance in motor tasks
  • The ideas are super abstract and difficult to explain in language, but there's a way in for everyone, so don't stress. It's worth the effort.

Background

I had done mindfulness meditation on Sam Harris' Waking Up App for about a year beforehand. Nothing too serious, 10 minutes a day on and off, but I think it helped me understand what Alexander Technique is about.

I came across Alexander Technique through Michael's twitter and then Substack. I was lucky to have got it straight away after reading this and this and also watching this video.


Note from Michael: interestingly, I think Sam Harris is influenced by the Dzogchen tradition of Buddhism, which I think has some particularly strong overlaps with Alexander Technique. In particular, both seem to emphasise a broad, open awareness and the cultivation of non-fixation of objects within awareness. This is an avenue I hope to explore further. I've had conversations with practitioners of Shi-ne meditation, which is part of Dzogchen, and it feels like we're describing the same phenomena, just with different words. I wonder if experience with the Waking Up course is therefore a helpful on-ramp for my flavour of Alexander Technique.

Some people 'get it' early on, which is helpful to prove that there is a 'there' there and that continued practice is worthwhile. This is not guaranteed though, but its absence doesn't mean you can't get it with practice. Besides, as you will read below, it's common and normal for this initial 'I get it!' experience to fade anyway, only to return later with further practice. This getting it, losing it, and getting it again is a necessary part of the journey. In fact, 'getting unstuck' is at the core of what we're cultivating here.

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These prompts were, and still are, my way in:

  • "if there was a conversation going on behind you, would you be able to hear it?"
  • "would you able to hear a plane flying overhead?"

I'd been chronically stuck in my own head for 2-3 years and had just accepted I'd be there forever, so it was a pretty big release once I entered expanded awareness for the first time.

Experience

The first couple of days, I spent all the time I could in the expanded awareness state because it was euphoric. I'd go on long walks because they were the easiest way in. (On one walk around my neighbourhood of ~20 years, I decided to look for new areas I hadn't discovered. I found a beautiful woodland path, ended up getting trapped in an allotment, and had to scale a fence to get out. It was great.)

What I liked the most was that problems and thoughts would take up the "correct" amount of awareness, instead of collapsing my awareness to the size of them. It was as if my awareness was a certain shape and size I could control, and thoughts would fill up a proportion of that. Sometimes it was a large proportion, and then I'd just take action on the thought or problem straight away (instead of burying it or avoiding it). Otherwise it was something small that didn't need my attention. This reduced anxiety, because thoughts would no longer hijack my awareness and spiral out of control.

After the initial "beginners luck", I found it hard to get back into expanded awareness. I think this happens to most people. I kind of stopped doing it, because I'd just get nervous about whether I'd succeed or not.

Then the course came out, and I spent some time going through the first few sections, and stopped. I thought I got the hang of it by that point, and spent the next couple of months occasionally practicing, but mostly forgetting about it.

I started the course again like a month ago and finished it. I recommend definitely finishing the course if you haven't — if you stopped halfway through because you weren't getting it, there's probably a part of the course that will solve the problem you're having, or you can just ask in the forum and someone will help you out. It's worth the effort to keep trying. Don't assume you're incapable of getting there, because people have managed it, and there's a way in for everyone.


Note from Michael: Part of my own journey here is looking for various 'ways in' that will work for different people. This stuff can be inherently baffling at first, but once there's even a small crack of understanding, more and more light can be allowed in. My role is to develop more ways in and help people get out of various 'traps' that it is perfectly normal to get stuck in. Again, learning how to get out of said traps is one of the key skills here.


I had only really used expanded awareness to get out of my own head, and didn't initially focus on the inhibition and non-doing parts.

Inhibition in particular is life-changing. It stops you being stuck in your conditioned responses to stuff, so you can start deciding where you want your life to go. For example, if there's a bad habit you want to stop, you can observe when the urge arises, and decide whether to engage with it or just let it remain in the background to be replaced by another thought. Inhibition is especially useful if you're prone to interrupting people whilst they speak. I often find myself inhibiting the urge to interrupt someone during conversation, and I'm always grateful that I let them finish.

I haven't implemented the non-doing part into my life much yet, although I did try it once during mini-golf and made a 10x improvement on my previous game. I'd set an intention for the ball to go wherever I decided and then it would just happen, without mistakes and without stress. I want to integrate this a little more. I'm taking it at my own pace though — this is a lifelong skill that i'll improve at over time, so I'm not in a rush.

Stages

This is roughly what my development in Alexander Technique looked like. Your journey might be different, but it might be useful to consider where you are on this scale.

  • "This is woo woo."
  • "Wow! I get it. This is beautiful, I want to stay here forever."
  • "I can't seem to get back there. Will I ever be able to?"
  • "I can tell when my awareness is collapsed."
  • "I can tell what triggers a collapse in my awareness."
  • "I can re-expand my awareness when I notice it has collapsed."
  • "I can keep my awareness expanded for 30-60 seconds, as long as nothing triggers its collapse."
  • "I can keep my awareness expanded for as long as I'd like, as long as nothing triggers its collapse".
  • "I can keep my awareness expanded for as long as I'd like, even against collapse triggers."

Note from Michael: this actually mirrors my own journey, even down to the initial "this is woo woo" suspicions. What I was learning didn't map easily to my existing frames — I was an energy consultant with a physics degree, I didn't really do woo — but the experiences I had were so strong and clear that I knew there was something here worth exploring. I adopted (and still suggest) an empirical approach, testing what I was being taught against the evidence of my own inner landscape. This proved to be an extremely helpful tool not only to prove that this thing is real, really, but also to support my own growth on this journey.


Anyway, let me know if you have any questions, I can probably help. You can connect with me on twitter @k3baah. This is a pretty niche course to be interested in, let alone buy, so if you're here then the chances are we probably have similar interests and would get on. Hope this helped!


And now it's Michael again! Thanks so much for sharing your experience Kofi. And for others who are encountering these ideas for the first time and want to learn more, I suggest you Start Here. I do also have an affordable, self-paced course if you want to go deeper, but as you can see Kofi got a lot just from poking around my free materials.

Michael Ashcroft

Michael Ashcroft

London


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