February 28, 2023
End-gaining is a term employed in the Alexander world to describe going for an objective without paying much attention to how that goal is being achieved.
An example might be rushing to catch a bus across a busy street without checking the oncoming traffic…End-gaining is often accompanied by a sense of urgency even when the situation doesn’t particularly warrant it. I remember a pupil coming for a lesson because he’d injured his shoulder raking leaves…for some reason he had been in a big hurry to get the job done and his shoulder had paid the price for his frantic efforts to meet his self-imposed deadline. He woefully admitted there was no imminent threat of a tornado or scheduled heart surgery, and taking a break or two might have well saved him the pain from which he was suffering.
Over the past 3 decades or so, I have worked with many people who were paying the price for some version of end-gaining. One might assume that in so doing I’ve gained a certain amount of personal wisdom which informs my behaviour on a daily, if not a minute by minute, basis…! I certainly assume as much.
And yet I found myself doing a workout on the indoor track at McGill, trying to get back in competitive shape to run few races later in the season. Each time I went to run a fast lap I found myself sore and achy and my running felt heavy, more like lumbering than flowing. And I was slower that I felt I should be as well. No problem said I, let’s go to my old, reliable method for growth and improvement…try harder!! This did help me run a bit faster, but at a tremendous cost: greater discomfort and a level of effort which by far exceeded the modest gains in speed. More was very little more…
Nevertheless I persisted, but by the 4th week I knew this approach was unsustainable. Still, I wasn’t ready to quit. I needed a Plan B. So I stopped and changed my intention. Rather than trying for a particular pace, I decided to focus on running as smoothly as possible….poetry in motion. So I turned off my watch so I could not see how fast I was going and decided if anyone was watching and having a laugh at my feeble effort (so what). And off I went on the first of seven repetitions.
The immediate effect was…absolutely no improvement. And not much change through rep #2. I still felt very heavy and sore and slow. No matter, I took a little break and did the next one….it was worse. No worries I said to myself, stay focused on running smoothly and see what happens but whatever you do, DON’T PUSH. Reps 4-6 were more or less the same. Stay with your intention I said to myself, it’s almost over. And then on the last rep it happened. I was suddenly flowing, there was some spring in my legs, I could tell I was running much faster but there was little sense of effort. It felt slightly miraculous, like I’d been gifted a new set of wheels, straight from Kenya!!
There is a saying in French which goes, “C’est difficile donc c’est beau!” It’s hard and therefore it’s beautiful. For me, finding a way to do something difficult was a great moment. And now if I can just find a way to stay calm next time my daughter refuses to wear a hat or gloves to school when it’s minus 30C, I’ll be well pleased.
I will be teaching in Europe this May. If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, runner, or someone who coaches runners or walkers, I highly recommend joining me for my next Art of Running Instructor Training in beautiful, Bad Oeynhausen, Germany.
May 17-21: Art of Running Instructor Training Course: Click here to learn about the course. Feel to reply here with questions about the course. Please contact George Porter (firstname.lastname@example.org) with registration and logistical questions.