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The Means-Whereby Principle. Part 1

How to Apply the Means-Whereby Principle to a Skilled Activity

Although the means-whereby principle is central to our work, applying it to an actual skill is by no means easy to understand or to put into practice. How, for instance, do we apply the Alexander Technique principles to juggling? Should we simply stop and give our directions before tossing the balls in the air, focusing on ourselves without concern for the "end"? This is how many of us approach such an activity, but in practice this amounts to a form of end-gaining, which we quickly see in a room full of Alexander Technique students running around the room chasing balls while trying to juggle.

One of the reasons why such an approach does not work is that, when we give ourselves such an obvious goal, we very quickly become more interested in juggling than in paying attention to ourselves. Because our main focus is on tossing the balls, the compulsion to "do" overcomes the desire to pay attention to ourselves. The desire to simply try and push ourselves to get the thing right is far stronger than our ability to stop and to think through a new way of approaching the activity.

To make real progress in approaching a skilled activity, we have to remember that the purpose is not to learn to juggle (to use the example) but to use ourselves well, and this requires that we focus our attention primarily on ourselves, not on juggling.

We have to spend time giving directions and restoring the primary control, as the basis for approaching the activity in a completely new way.

As we'll see over the next few posts, this involves a long-term process that begins with taking time to give directions and restore the primary control, and then layering on elements of the activity, until you can perform the entire skill while continuing to pay attention to yourself as your primary focus.

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