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The Importance of HOW

Art, in whatever form, gives an outlet for self-expression. When a painter puts colour to a canvas, when a musician makes a sound or a dancer points a toe, it is a way of putting out in the world some interpretation or some expression of the self, which can hold transformative power for the viewer or listener.


This is why the artists I work with yearn to be in the mode of making their art. They get into the flow of creativity, almost by ‘losing’ themselves in the process. It is a source of great joy to witness artists working at this level. It is equally a source of dismay when they come ‘limping’ into my studio, their brush, guitar or pen in hand, with a problem.


However you choose to name that process, however you experience yourself when immersed in that flow, creating art puts physical demands on your body. And sometimes those demands are more than your body can take.


Strain, fatigue, restricted movement and usually a resultant failing confidence can bring people to my door. This physical experience is detracting too much from what was once a pleasurable creative experience. If they are ever to return to their prolific, high level of performance or to practicing their art enough to enjoy improvement, something has to change.


Many’s the time they will attempt a change in what they are using – a new brush, a different strap, a ‘better’ chair – but what stays unchanged is the way they approach their task. How they are thinking about the task and therefore how they are moving their own body is where the problem lies. An insidious ‘efforting’, a belief in the need to try harder, put more time in, push a bit further will all serve to increase the problem and extinguish that easy expression and creative spirit.


“But I’ve done it this way for years. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you know.” is often what I hear, and my usual retort is; “How do you know – have you tried yet? Would you like some help, perhaps?”


All it takes is a change in understanding which comes from a different experience of moving and a fresh look at how you produce your movements. With help it is very possible to change. It is possible to become aware of your movements and reassess what is necessary and what is simply a waste of effort – and then stop. As a result, full creative expression is unleashed again and more often than not the performance just keeps getting better and better.


I have been working with a bagpiper recently (not something I envisaged when moving to Canada from England!). Lisa had been having discomfort in her arm which she couldn’t relieve and which was seriously getting in the way of her enjoyment of playing the bagpipes; a musical form that she simply loves to immerse herself in. She decided to take a course of study with me. As she analysed her movements and her ideas, changed her approach to the task and reassessed what was required of her breathing to blow, her arm to squeeze, her fingers to change notes and her shoulders to support the pipes; her whole experience changed.


What used to demand a crippling amount of energy – and breath! – now feels easier and natural. Because she has stopped clamping so hard in her ribcage, she now has more lung capacity available to her. Because she now understands which muscles she needs to use in her arms, and which not, she has no pain in her forearm and her fingers can move faster, with more precision. In essence, she is performing the task more efficiently, she can express her musicianship more freely and the sound is more tuneful and flowing.


I also had the opportunity to watch a painter using a wall as her canvas. She explained that she couldn’t make large movements in her shoulders without losing the ‘line’ of her brushstroke. She worked on her understanding of what she needed to do to hold the large brush, where the movement had to happen in her for the brush to reach the wall, where the movement had to happen for her to move the brush over the surface of the wall and as she reassessed and changed her understanding of the amount of pressure and the amount of muscle force she had to use, the class participants ooh-ed and aah-ed at how the strokes appeared on the wall and how the line seemingly flowed forever.


The end result was a very pleasing mural that she stood back to admire. She could actually see which brushstrokes she had made with tight muscles and which were created with the smoother, easier movement in her shoulders. She was hooked!


So next time you experience something that is detracting from the expression of your artistic ideas, you might want to ask yourself, “Is it something I’m doing that’s causing this problem?”


This question was posed by the person who, I believe, showed genius in his exploration of how the mind and body interact. F M Alexander (1869-1955) spent his lifetime studying and sharing with others his discoveries which came from his need to resolve his own self-imposed obstacles to a career as an actor.


His writings have left us an important body of work, the depths of which are still being tapped, which encourages a conscious disciplining of our thinking so we can take charge of and evolve our full potential of mind and body.




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