Principles and Concepts of The F.M Alexander Technique
Written by Timothy Gordon

Thinking in action.....

The Alexander Technique is all about and concerned with "The use of the self". 'Use' being the way or - as it is understood in the Alexander Technique Principles - the method that we use to apply our psychophysical self in achieving our daily interactions, labours and professions. The 'self' in the Alexander context is understood as the unified combination of the physical and mental, it must also include within this the emotional and feeling systems, and these need to coordinate and exist all together as the individual self, or the conscious self from which we operate.

'Alexander made the following interesting observation 'that all tension physical, mental and spiritual begins in the neck'

The technique focuses on ‘The way we use and manage ourselves’ rather than 'Trying to be in a correct or right posture’ and looks distinctly at ‘The whole and integrated oneness of being the self’ instead of just ‘focussing solely on the physical body as the subject to treat per se’.

In this relationship of mind, body we can create and practice with the assistance of Alexander's discoveries a more holistic and composite view of ourselves and perhaps bring an indirect and corrective perspective on our behavioural patterns and also too influence the attitude we bring to the world around us.

Our attitudes and habits inform the way we use ourselves, which in turn affects our functioning, reactions and flow.

The Alexander Principles:

Psychophysical Unity: (Mind and body consciousness working as one unified whole). The knowledge that the perceived self consists of mind-body consciousness. These aspects naturally work best when in harmony with each other, rather than thinking of them separately. Not ignoring or having one dominating over the other but connecting them together in a cooperative, balanced and coordinated way. When we understand this and practically experience it through the method of the Alexander Technique, we can then learn to act more wisely according to the balance and integrity of this alliance. We can then become more aware of 'how' we do things and utilise the Alexander Technique Principle throughout our daily lives and in our related activities in a very real and practical sense.

'The Alexander Technique makes us more susceptible to grace'

The Primary Control: (The head, neck and torso, interconnection and flow). The head, neck and back relationship is already there, it's what we do to to it that may disturb that relationship. Changes can occur to our 'use' without our noticing, as in if we constantly overuse our neck and shoulder muscles, shortening and contesting the once present ease and flow. We may constantly pull down in stature or collapse our heads on our necks, tilting the weight of the head back and down at different degrees, shortening and compressing our necks as we go. For example, from sitting to standing or perhaps in repeated squatting or kneeling movements or even in just our day to day work. Repetitive movements can potentially make us prone to pain and injury.

Those people who work long hours in a natural environment, tending to the land, growing crops and doing a lot of the work without machines, show us an efficiency and ease in the way they work that is mostly unknown to us city dwellers. They have fully adapted to adopting the best way of doing this in their surrounds. They incorporate within themselves, their body, mind, sprit, the work that they do and the way they do it. In our city life, this experience is most often denied us and we are often challenged to find any way we can to combine all of our innate qualities together in our daily lives and professions. In the relationship of the head leading the body, it does so in the most calm and efficient way possible by easing forward and up on top of the spine to assist in the lengthening and widening possibilities that exist in the spine, thorax and rib connection. This series of directives also assists in the freeing up of the breath and bringing about a calmer demeanour throughout.

Habitual Patterning: (Learning to let go of our old and engrained habits) Habits are the ingrained patterns of our psychological memory and physical responses that we adhere to along the timeline of our lives. They show up as a patina in and on our bodies forming a historic record of how we have reacted and adapted to life's challenges.

We form habits to deal with the the intricacies of living in the social world and working within the structures of our conditioning. Habits can be constructively aware habits and also destructively unaware habits. The way we react and 'do' things is where these habits lie, within our house of habit. Habits are the unquestioned fellows of an undemocratic governing autocracy.

Conscious Inhibition: (To stop and not react as we would ‘normally’ or ‘rightly’ do, to an external impulse or stimulus). Inhibition is a learned ability that uses our conscious mind to create a fresh space for changing old habits. We can learn to stop (just like the lioness before darting into action) before we act and in this space introduce new ‘directions’ to connect our mind and bodies. What we feel as being 'right' or 'normal' may not, in reality be accurate or serving us well. We can learn to recognise that our habitual or automatic response to a call to action is where the 'house of habit reigns' and it reigns deep within our patterns of behaviour. This is where we may occasionally falter in not using ourselves to the best of our ability, in reacting too quickly or even automatically and without pausing first to think in a fully coordinated fashion.

Inhibition is one of the most powerful aspects of the technique because it gives us the ability to change our reactions. It also differentiates the Alexander Technique from other body-mind techniques in its goals and methodology.

Inhibition can be a powerful recourse, in that we can change if we create the space, platform and opportunity to do so.

Conscious Directions: (To consciously give oneself a reminder, in a sequencing of ideas): As in Alexander's ‘conscious directions’ of thinking: 'Let the neck be free of habitual positioning and fixing, to allow and let ease the head to go in a forward and upward flow and direction on top of the spine and neck, to let the torso/spine engage together in a lengthening and widening engagement'. Alexander suggested a method to counteract this: stopping and pausing before going on to act or react, then freeing the neck in noticing if there is a habit of tightening, fixing or compressing in that area and letting it ease out, thinking the head up on top of the spine/neck and practicing non-interference to the head, neck and back relationship (HNBR) while acting out a given task. Alexander said 'the head leads and the body follows'. Naturally this principle should follow form and go about its work without us having to think too much about it. You can observe this proficiency consistently in the animal kingdom and in the way the lioness stops to observe, builds her energy and focus, extending her spine with her head leading and then springs forth into bountiful action.

We can then learn to go on to consciously direct the limbs, joints and muscular and skeletal architecture and address old ingrained rigid holding patterns of muscular contraction and compression to bring our physicality, mind and emotions into a more integrated state of balance and freedom. One influencing or being in reflection to the other.

Non-Doing: (Allowing the thing to happen). This is the tick, the allowing of ones physicality to teach us through an internal listening to it, rather than our intellect dominating when it comes to our body. A release of rigid thought processes and a letting go of built-in, age-old habits, can allow the body's own intelligent guiding system to function as it was designed to do.

End - Gaining and the Means - Whereby: (seeing results as more important than process) Focusing on achieving the end goal regardless of the approach and consequences. We can gain power over this by focussing on the process and getting joy from the learning as we go. The end or goal is therefore determined by the means-whereby.

Concepts:

Coordinated breath: (Allowing the breath to happen) From Alexander's perspective when the body is fully coordinated and free from unnecessary tensions and habitual contractions the natural expansion and contraction of the respiratory system may take place, thereby affecting and indirectly changing any problematic restriction in the breathing process.

Mind wandering: (The inability to consciously stay with oneself physically) Always looking for stimulus outside of one's being. Distraction becomes the norm for a lot of us, in the sense of not being able to focus well. The inability to carry out a task or objective to its fulfilment, is something our contemporary distracted world struggles with. This is due to not residing with the self as a whole but decoding it into separate parts. We can improve and change this by staying with Alexander's directions and methodology and working on ourselves in the moment.

Soft focusing: (Seeing without straining) Allowing the eyes to relax and soften in their sockets and to readjust to a more natural alignment. Learning to actually see what is there rather than 'trying' to see what is there. We often fix and position our gaze in an attempt to gain control, possibly over our balance or simply we have stopped allowing the eyes to 'be' they also can overwork. We can learn to ease the brow and adjust the eye line to a more advantageous state giving ease to our balance and also ease to our exchange with others.

As an example of this: We need not fix our focus constantly up when we walk or run, which may take the head back and down onto the neck but alternately look at letting the eyelids relax and see softly forward in front and toward the path we are stepping into.

The startle pattern: (The fight or flight response) A physiological reaction that happens in response to a perceived harmful occurrence that sets the spine tingling and the body into a red alert, whether the threat is real or not. Alexander addressed this and offered a remedy that is called inhibition and directions.

Proprioception: (Sensory Awareness) The ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding the positioning, motion and its equilibrium within our governing framework.

Being grounded: (Staying centred and weighted) Learning to remain with oneself by staying with one's feet on the ground, or rather into the ground and our torso and limbs free and balanced especially in times of challenges, stress and decision-making moments. This can be especially beneficial and supportive when one has the 'jitters' or has to perform publicly.