If you tracked any process of self-improvement over a long period of time (your progress in the gym, say) you would probably not observe a smooth and uninterrupted upward trend. You would be more likely to see brief spikes in improvement interspersed with plateaus during which not much seems to be happening. You would even see the occasional backsliding, when things get temporarily worse before improving again.
And yet, you will probably be able to discern in among all the ups and downs a general tendency in the direction of progress. Your good days will get better and better and your “worst” days aren’t even all that bad anymore. You may even reach the point at which your worst performance these days is better than your best attempt of a year ago.
If you are feeling temporarily discouraged by a rough patch in your development, you may be reassured by taking the long view. Don’t compare today’s seeming failure with yesterday’s triumph. Consider an average current performance in relation to one from 6 months or a year ago. Our personal evolution, just like our evolution as a species, is observable only over the long term. (Although for us as individuals, we are talking years, not eons!) Your parents and their parents and their parents all looked a lot like you, but if you go back enough generations, you will eventually find in your family tree some ancestors with a lot more body hair and smaller brains. In some families, you don’t have to go that far back to see this effect.
But I digress.
My main point today is that you do not need to feel bad about backsliding in your lessons. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and state that in many cases, getting worse is a prerequisite for getting better, and therefore something to be welcomed, or even celebrated. Or, if you’re feeling a little grumpy this morning, at least tolerated.
I’m going to discuss two reasons why you should take heart when you’re feeling as though you are making negative progress in your lessons. First, your feelings of deterioration might be inaccurate. Second, even if your performance is truly deteriorating, this may be the necessary first step in a radical overhaul of your technique.
Let’s use walking in an Alexander lesson as an example. Walking is something you learned to do as a toddler. Back then, you probably walked with freedom, joy, and ease. But by the time most of us become adults, our walks get corrupted by a lot of unnecessary effort and tension, with a resulting decrease in the level of joy we experience in this activity. We might even hurt when we walk. So we go to an Alexander teacher for help in relearning how to move.
Very often, when an Alexander student first re-experiences what it’s like to walk without all that unnecessary effort, it feels weird and foreign, and therefore wrong, to him. He misinterprets his improvement as an error. Freed from extraneous movements that formerly corrupted his walk, the student feels as though he were too stiff. “I feel like Frankenstein” is a frequent remark at this stage. Even the emotional impact of walking can initially feel uncomfortable. Students often feel as though they are gliding gracefully but pompously about like kings and queens and wonder what people will think if they dare to walk around like that in the real world. In actuality, they usually look elegant and confident, but it still feels like a mistake to them.
(I have written before about this same effect in the context of a voice lesson, in which students often cut off their most freely sung notes, misinterpreting the new experience of freedom as an error.)
So, before you agonize over declines in your progress, make sure that they are not actually improvements that merely feel like declines. To recognize the difference, tune in to your sense of ease. An increase in ease almost always signals an improvement in technique. If you’re not confident in your ability to make this distinction, try some Alexander lessons, which provide training in the recognition and cultivation of a state of ease.
Tomorrow I will continue with the second reason for not regretting back-sliding in lessons.