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 and express our lives.
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 '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. Then we may also become more aware of 'how' we do things as we begin to utilise the Alexander Technique Principles throughout our daily lives, in our related activities in the 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 that relationship that may alter its function and 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 systematically and 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. Or alternatively dropping the neck and head too far forward so we stoop and reduce our natural length and freedom of movement of the head on top of the spine. For example, as in from sitting to standing or perhaps in repeated squatting or kneeling movements or even in just in our day to day work, whatever it may be.
Repetitive movements can potentially make us prone to pain and injury if we are not consciously directed and redirected to a better ‘use’ of ourselves.
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 - in other words, people from traditional backgrounds - show us an efficiency and ease in the way they work that is mostly unknown to us city dwellers. These people of the land have often fully adapted to adopting the best way of doing this work in their surrounds. They incorporate within themselves, their body, mind, sprit, the work that they do and in the way they do it. They demonstrate a degree of efficiency, harmony and endurance in their actions that we could as city folks hardly be able to endure or imagine to in the same circumstances.
In our city life, this aforementioned 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 as the Alexander Technique suggests it does so in the most calm and efficient way possible by easing the head forward and up on top of the spine to assist in the lengthening and widening possibilities that inherently exist in the spine, thorax and rib connection. This series of directives that are contained in the technique also assists in the freeing up of the breath and brings about a calmer demeanour throughout and generally an altogether better ‘use’ of ourselves. This is a process and discipline that ultimately is less harmful to our bodies and more productive to our enterprises. This is meant In the very sense of a connective relationship to our body, mind and spirit and its actions and demonstrations in our daily lives.
Habitual Patterning: (Learning to let go of our old and engrained habits). Habits are the ingrained patterns of our psychological and emotional memory and the instances of that pattern of thought. Habitual patterning tends to show up in the 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 deep psychological, physical and emotional challenges.
We form habits to deal with the intricacies of living in the social and economic 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. We simply do not know the effect that they have on our lives and determinations going forth other than that they be restrictive if not refreshed or questioned. The Alexander Technique has a particular way of addressing these issues in its most unique subtle and gentle approach.
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 about the consequences of our actions. Too many times we need to refrain from acting too quickly. This is called ‘end gaining’ in the Alexander principles. Going somewhat blindly toward the goal without acknowledging that the process is what we should be paying attention to.
Inhibition is one of the most powerful aspects of the Alexander 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. Because of the principle of experience of refusing to act automatically to a given stimulus and regrouping thought, body and emotions to a coordinated physical response toward the outcome we wish to achieve.
Inhibition can be a powerful recourse for us all, in that the knowledge we have through the Alexander work can change the space, platform and behaviour of our daily 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'.These are wonderful directions to free otherwise stuck situations physically and go about loosening up restrictive performance in the body architecture.
Alexander suggested a method to encourage that this fixation of responding and habitual freezing of the postural response could be redressed by : stopping and pausing before going on to act or react, then first and foremost freeing the neck and in consciously noticing if there is a habit of tightening, fixing or compressing in that area and then 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) before reacting to a given task and action.
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 perhaps the lioness stops to observe, inhibits, then builds her energy and focus, extending her spine with her head leading and then springs forth into bountiful action. The success of her endeavours are determined by many unpredictable circumstances coming in by chance. Still, she has given herself the best means by which she may be or may not be successful in her goals. The 'use' of herself almost mostly guarantees a successful outcome or a successful learning session at least in applying herself to any given situation she may find herself having to adapt to and in her ultimately achieving a successful outcome.
'We can then go on to learn through the Alexander directions to better 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 a reflection of the other. Looking to refine our ‘use’ to accommodate our ever changing and challenging environment.'
Non-Doing: (Allowing the thing to happen, to do itself). 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’s use. 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 so. As in breathing, which is a coordinated engagement that needs no special way for it to come about, except by allowing it to.
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! Missing out on the technique, the nuances and steps that are integral to getting the best from your outcomes and future performance. Avoiding the inherent and subtle values of learning and degrading in some way its importance. So we can miss out on that discernment and application to our wider experience.
We can gain power over this by focussing on the process rather than the goal and getting joy from the learning as we go. The end or goal is therefore most determined by the means-whereby and the necessary engagement and reaction to the challenges at hand.
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. This can be facilitated by an Alexander teacher who can guide with their hands and give specific directions to unfold a way of undoing restrictive and compressive actions or habits in the body that restrict the best outcome in acquiring the restorative processes of the body functioning and in the breathing process per se.
Mind wandering: (The inability to consciously stay with oneself physically and mentally. An inability to focus on the task at hand for the extended time that is necessary to fully appreciate the experience). This is the issue of always looking for a stimulus outside of one's being and one’s attention.
Distraction becomes the norm for a lot of us, in the sense of not being able to focus as well as we are capable of doing. 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.
Alexander wrote in his book Man's Supreme Inheritance "That conscious guidance and control, as a universal, must be the fundamental of future education". We can at least first give focus to the ‘use of ourselves as an integrated whole and functioning system that has the potential for creating a better experience of our purpose in this world.
Soft focusing: (Seeing without straining) Allowing the eyes to relax and soften in their sockets and to readjust to a more natural alignment. This is about 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 just 'be' The eyes also can overwork and can become habitual in the way they work and the gaze they use. 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 if we care to do so. This is advantageous as it allows an exchange that is not exaggerated in any way. It seeks only a relationship that at both perspectives seeks harmony and wisdom.
As an example of this: We need not fix our focus or frame our focus constantly on when we walk or run, which may take the head back and down onto the neck or alternatively look down but alternately look at letting the eyelids relax and see softly forward in front and toward the path we are stepping into. This may improve the action we are accomplishing somewhat in our quality of experience of how we do and what we do, when in action and accomplishing repetitive movements.
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.
Copyright Timothy M. Gordon,
July 27, 2020