Taking Control of My Fear
My first Alexander experience was in January, 2016, at the Alexander Technique Denver training course. I had no idea what to expect. I was really confused when I was holding my violin ready to play and the teacher told me not play, but to think about my feet resting on the floor. What? Think about me? It never occurred to me that how I used myself while playing the violin was the key to undoing built up tension in my body. I felt so empowered to realize that I was the one in control of my habits and tension. My experience was so significant that when I walked out the door thirty minutes later I knew I wanted to train to become an Alexander Technique teacher.
Fast forward to my second year as a trainee in the Alexander Technique, I got an audition for the Evergreen Chamber Orchestra. I needed to play three excerpts and a solo piece, and with four weeks to prepare, I took my time applying my Alexander skills while learning the excerpts and polishing my solo piece. I made myself the center of my practicing, observing my use before and during my playing. Some harmful habits I noticed in reaction to the violin included tightness in my rib cage, locked knees, tense hands and fingers, a shortening in my neck, locked jaw, and a stern fixed expression.
Using this knowledge to my advantage, I simply started to change my thinking. I asked my body to do less in the places I felt tension while continuing with a total awareness of myself. Sending direction from my brain to my body such as: “Allow my neck to be free. Allow my ribs to be easy. Allow my legs to be easy and free.” I also brought my violin into Alexander class and teachers and fellow trainees helped me with my use as I played.
The day of my audition I began my practice with an Alexander procedure, active rest. Lying down on my back, I went through some directions, taking time to allow for ease and freedom in my body before playing through my music. Before practicing each piece, I stopped. I said no to my familiar patterns of tension. I worked on standing and holding the violin while allowing freedom of my neck, ribs, and noticing the contact my feet were making with the ground. I did this before, and, as much as I could, while playing each piece of music. As I drove to the audition, I continued to work with the freedom of my neck. As I walked into the building, I continued to think about the contact my feet were making with the ground. As I got out my violin, I continued to notice the movement of my ribs on my inhales and exhales.
When it was time for my audition, I walked into the room with complete control over my body. I wasn’t nervous. I was fully present in the moment, able to make pleasant small talk with the conductor and concertmaster who were listening to me. As I prepared to play, I took a moment to notice my neck, arms, hands, ribs, legs, and feet. I played my solo piece with control over my fingers and my bow. I made a couple mistake as I played, but I successfully let go of my reaction of disappointment in myself, and I was able to continue asking for freedom in my body.
As I finished each piece of music, the conductor and concertmaster asked me to play a line again suggesting to try it louder or with more bow, taking note of how I responded to direction. Without my Alexander skills, I would have been completely paralyzed in reaction to the fear of thinking I had done something so terribly wrong that they had to ask me to play it in a different way. But that is not how I reacted. Instead, I continued to be aware of any tension in my body and continued to ask for freedom in my neck, breath, etc. and did what they asked.
As I left the room I didn’t worry if I got the part because my preparation and experience was so different than any other performance situation I had ever experienced that I was already celebrating the amazing changes I made in mind and body, and my response to fear. Though, I was able to continue with my celebration as they accepted me as a member of the orchestra.