The subjective habit of mind

rediscoverAlexander Technique, Musician's health, Uncategorized

The nature of a situation

Most musicians admit to a common problem: that they feel pain after playing their instrument for more than an hour at a time. This comes as no surprise since playing a musical instrument/vocal production is both a mentally and physically demanding task.

In this blog series, (not just this single blog), I would like to present one possible approach to overcoming the musician’s problem: How to deal with demands of endurance while constructing growing ease.  Knowing that this same problem is shared by many other professions both within and outside of creative pursuits, I fully realise that no single approach, no matter how complete, inclusive and wholistic can be a band-aid for every person who deals with this problem.

I admit that I am not the worlds fanciest writer, and the approach I want to share is multi faceted, dynamic and complex. In addition to that, I know that I am working within a ‘blog’ format, so if you are reading this, you are probably looking for a quick solution.  You might also be fully aware that there are no quick solutions to a problem as personal and sometimes daunting as experiencing periodic or constant pain when it comes to speaking your creative mind and expanding your creative potential.

In my pursuit of wanting to share one possible approach to this problem, I have a few obstacles to overcome:

  • The supposed shortness of our culture’s attention span
  • The complexities of physical pain
  • The interrelated principles of the approach I want to share
  • The individualistic aspects of each reader’s needs, intention and situation

I echo the words of James Baldwin when I say: “I am an optimistic person, because I am alive”, so my pursuit is not impossible.  To reframe it, I just have to express this approach as simply as I can and then take another 50 or 100 blogs and videos to get the various aspects and the interrelated principles across; one principle at a time.

The solution to this problem is embedded in learning NOT to have this problem.  

The nature of a solution

I can see your eyes slightly roll up toward your brow as you mutter or think to yourself:

“Yeah, right…you’ve got to be f!@#$%% kidding me! as if you’ve ever had to get to and stay at the top of your game as a musician!! How could something as scary as my worsening wrist pain be made into a linguistic joke!!!! “

But I couldn’t be more serious! and the depth of my concern for the musician’s problem of endurance and ease couldn’t be more genuine.  As a guitarist and composer, I know about the problem and continuously work with the solution that I intend to present.  For me writing this blog is neither fashionable, safe nor financially rewarding; it’s a matter conscientiousness.    

Here is the thing, historically speaking musicians have always known about the problem of pain, (from Robert Schumann to Glen Gould  to countless others), but it is only a very resent advancement to also know that it is possible to Not have this problem.

The solution to any type of learning is embedded in questioning what we know and how we know.  Questioning our language, understanding and comprehension of the problem and the solutions that we currently employ are primary.

What is a subjective mind?

To echo James Baldwin again, the basis of what is referred to as a ‘subjective habit’ can look like this: Art by Maggie Appleton

A subjective mind isn’t good nor bad, it is simply the state of related a thing to one’s own singular experience alone.  To be human is to have a subjective mind, but to accept that expanding on this is impossible or unnecessary is to dampen our human potential.

To learn to NOT have the musician’s problem is to accept that it is possible to expand on our subjective or single-point-focused mind.  The approach of Alexander technique is one very efficient and effective way to do this and to do it in practice.  (I don’t teach this approach by putting my hands on the learner, because if the learner has language then that is the tool that is used ‘to overcome the subjective habit of mind’).

To play music of any genre or style is to have overcome the subjective mind to a degree.  At its core, music itself is an interrelating process.  The approach that I work with, (Alexander technique without the use of touch), just expands this process so that the musician can continuously make how they relate to music making more relational and efficient, and of course more effective.  As a simple study, I started to look at how the same conductor working with the same composer’s music gets a very differing overall quality out of two differing orchestras.  It’s a fun and fine point of comparison, which one you prefer is completely up to you, but do you notice something essentially different between the quality of movement between the two orchestras?


When I was a little girl….

When I was 11 years old I moved to Rockville Maryland from Tehran Iran.  I had to learn to overcome a non-existent ability to communicate in English.  I had to do it fast, and I had to do it in time and in the situation.  But there was a descriptive framework for overcoming my problem.  There are letters, sounds, words, meanings, a visual and aural system and a subject or situation of communication that provided a groundwork for learning.  Learning NOT to have the musician’s problem with the approach I want to share is similar.

My inner child feeds and matures when I play with a similar concept in relation to movement and posture efficiency (Hence a little fun with colour):

“The method is based firstly on the understanding of the co-ordinated uses of the muscular mechanisms, and secondly, on the complete acceptance of the hypothesis that each and every movement can be consciously directed and controlled.”
(Man’s Supreme Inheritance page 120, Chaterson)

What may sound restrictive (in the above quote), is in actuality very effective for learning to overcome the subjective mental habit that can be one cause of the musician’s problem.

This means I can place my hands on my guitar and not loose my postural coordination.  This means I can learn to integrate my attention and postural attitude and the clarity of the direction of my hand’s attitude and coordination in time and in the situation.  I don’t have to be born into this ability, but I have an inborn ability to cultivate it.  If the linguistic parameters are present, the learning becomes continuous.  Any learning process that is real is continuous.

Next time

In the next blog, I would like to discuss another basic principle for overcoming the subjective habit of mind, but until then do get in touch (yeah, I really mean it, not ‘just sayin’ to appease the blog-structure-gods).

I want to share another quote from F.M. Alexander that leads me to a bigger question than the musician’s problem with pain and beyond:

“And in all such efforts to apprehend and control mental habits,
the first and only real difficulty is to overcome the preliminary inertia of mind
in order to combat the subjective habit.

The brain becomes used to thinking in a certain way,
it works in a groove,
and when set in action, slides along the familiar, well-worn path;

but when once it is lifted out of the groove,
it is astonishing how easily it may be directed.

At first it will have a tendency to return to its old manner of working by means of one mechanical unintelligent operation, but the groove soon fills,
and although thereafter we may be able to use the old path if we choose, we are no longer bound to it.”

(Man’s Supreme Inheritance page 88, Chaterson)

What if we could cultivate the habit of mind that would render everything in this speech no longer so painfully relevant?