The novel concept of “not doing” was first called to my attention about a year ago soon after I started weekly classes in the Alexander Technique (“AT”) from Elyse Shafarman of The Body Project (San Francisco).
I’ve blogged about the basics of AT before, but some general information is included below, if the reader is interested.
One particular concept of AT, “not doing,” is relevant to corset waist training, as well as to a number of other things in my life.
A key point I make in my waist-training book, is that comfort while learning to bear up long hours wearing a corset, and while lacing tighter over time, requires giving up. I advise students to not resist the stays, to not try to suck in your tummy and make the lacing down easier, and to not hold your breath.
In other words, just give in and give up to the stays and let them hold and mold you. It might also require some to quit obsessing about results and just focus on the process and journey of putting on your corset, wearing it, and waist training, all the way through three months.
It all adds up to learning to “not do.” F. M. Alexander, an actor in Victorian times, used a different, awkward-sounding word for the concept: he called it “inhibition.” Yet “not doing” is the most difficult of AT concepts to apply. It’s also the most elegant and powerful AT concept of all.
We live in stress-filled times with constant striving and activity. Recently, instant gratification and convenience are the dual sources of many folks’ perceived happiness, and what they most value. I believe these times and these values, result in the fact that many of my waist-training coaching students reach a point mid-training, when they want to abandon the process to which they have committed for three months. If after pursuing goals and striving, they don’t see a downward trend in their weight or in their waist measurement, and fairly quickly, they get discouraged and want to quit. Some do, but most can be coaxed not to give up. Those students tend to reach their goals or come very close. It’s a natural response to want to quit, and a challenge to me, as a coach, to help them overcome.
Some respond to the ideas of AT with apprehension and even derision. There are commentators after the actor, William Hurt’s video session in AT (see below), who call AT “cult-like,” or who deride and dismiss the technique. Strange to me, since the teacher talks a lot about simple postural changes to take pressure off our spines, necks and backs. Sounds good to me! But these commentators don’t hear well, or don’t listen to enough of the introduction, and thus, jump to premature, uneducated and therefore, erroneous, conclusions.
It’s taken me nearly a year to not only hear and read about the concepts, but actually to give them a chance to succeed and help me. I’ve had to give Elyse a chance to elucidate the main principles one by one and then repeat them, a chance for me to see them expressed in her body and movements, and a chance for me to repeat them day after day, with evident success.
I’ve concluded that in order to get an accurate and full picture of AT, one must experience the principles in class (at least four to eight classes are recommended by AT teachers and by me) and after, not just read or hear about them.
What doesn’t seem at all “cult like” and might be more palatable to some than to “not do,” is the approach of writer Patricia Hample. Hample published an essay “Scrap Your To-Do List” in a recent Sunday NYT review section (date not noted but likely one Sunday in April, 2018). She’s also the author of “The Art of the Wasted Day”. What she posits regarding happiness is the same or similar to “not doing” in the AT.
According to Hample, we’ve negated the “lost music of wondering, the sheer value of looking out the window, letting the world float along…liberated into the blessed loss of ambition…The essential American word isn’t happiness. It’s pursuit.” Maybe after all, she says, we don’t need a “to do” list? Maybe we don’t need to “do” yoga, or run to our Pilates class? Maybe we should just sit down in our garden for 15 minutes and look at the sky?
As I’ve begun to simplify my life over the past two years, and limit my daily or weekly activities to things I truly value, reducing my corset work to coaching and writing books, then referring orders directly to senior corsetiere, Sheri Jurnecka, plus spending more of my days in my garden, or recently volunteering at the Animal Care and Control to socialize abandoned kitties, I’ve gradually become almost pain free. At the same time I’ve become more tranquil and content. Some days I just like to sit around in my bathrobe for much of the day, reading a new book or writing a new blog. In the past I would have called that “wasting time.” At first I even felt a bit of guilt! Today I call it “happiness.”
Does that make sense? If so, then by now the AT might be sounding intriguing to you. If you can get to that point, the challenge then becomes: just how do we learn to “not do” something?
Hemple has it right. Moving from pursuing, to just wondering — withholding action or judgment just a bit longer than we used to, not jumping to conclusions (usually negative ones) about why someone didn’t return your text immediately, or dropped out of contact, or didn’t “like” or even respond to your new post, take focus and effort. Tolerating the anxiety of non-response or not knowing the “proper” answer or getting immediate resolution, has been a bug-a-boo my entire life. It feels like abandonment, and likely has something to do with the excessively strict ways my mom treated and disciplined me, and how my dad was absent from the most important events of my childhood and adolescence.
As I’ve practiced having more “not doing” in my life, I’ve benefited greatly in my professional and my personal life. Yes, it will take continued effort for me to learn how to not do–and I look forward to the effort!
(Raven, my long-time web mistress and friend, ran across AT and emailed a link to the actor, William Hurt, in an AT class with a respected AT teacher, Jane Kosminsky. This was during a time I was recovering from a crippling back spasm with neck involvement (yet another one in my life, and the seventh incidence of it). I was particularly open to finding and exploring every single possible source of relief from pain, so I watched the video–and it was one step that immediately reduced my level of pain, and over the long run, positively affected my life. AT is not like any other therapy I’ve studied or tried, but is distinctly different, and for me, powerful in a positive way.
If you have any interest in knowing what a real-life AT session might be like and in seeing if there might be some benefits for you, check out the video. But first, I highly recommend you suspend judgment, keep an open mind, and watch the video all the way through, because there could be something of benefit to you regarding corset waist training, pain, and your life in general.)