F. M. Alexander Technique Michael Hardwicke B.Sc. PGCE STAT
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BODY LANGUAGE - What is Your Muscle Vocabulary?
by Michael Hardwicke

We can hear some of our own muscle vocabulary when we listen in on our sentences: "I'm all tied up right now', 'it's getting me down', 'felt low all day'
"I'm pushed for time'. I'll try and do that', I'm on a real high today', 'do get a grip on things' 'I've got to get to work'. Just notice next time you're in conversation or become aware of your own inner dialogue. We may not appreciate it but our muscles are influenced by these words. Muscles have a background tone and the state of this tone is affected by how we think. If we look at basic muscle physiology we see that brain and muscle are joined via the nervous system. The inseperability of body and mind is clearly seen through the neurological connections to our muscles. A deeper look into muscle physiology and we actually see the calibrating system our muscles (muscle spindles) have, comes under the influence of our thinking, particularly thinking in connection with movement. How you see the action taking place, the quality of your thinking and how you feel about the task will produce different background muscle states. In this way, muscle tone is an expression of our inner vocabulary.

Most of our muscle vocabulary was laid down unconsciously during our childhood. We received a sense of how to organise our muscles from those who handled us and the verbal messages that we were given. Often, these messages contain a lot of 'distorting' and 'doing' vocabulary. For example: 'stand up straight'; 'pull yourself together'; 'grin and bear it' ; 'pull your shoulders back'; 'put your back into it'. We may well retain much of this dailogue in our background muscle tone.

Our muscles will not work efficiently if they operate with restricted or over extended length. Muscles give most power when they contract at their ordinary released length. Any deviation from this and we have to put more effort into get the same effect. This causes fatigue, stress and sometimes, damage to joint structure. The more difficult things become the more our 'doing' muscle vocabulary is confirmed and seems appropriate, i.e. we have to 'try hard' or we don't 'get there'. Muscles on the back of the spine which provide our upright support cannot easily do this if the background length is not the natural length. So we can lose some of our natural easy upright direction which adds to our use of effortful vocabulary.

F.M.Alexander, an Australian actor, discovered at the turn of the century, that a particular vocabulary would allow our muscle system to be set up in a way which would bring about natural ease and efficiency in movement.

He was making experiments with his body 'use' and posture to see how it affected his voice. He thought the position of his head might be important in this way of connecting use and functioning. When he thought of 'putting' his head in a 'right' place or 'keeping' his head 'fixed' in the 'correct' way, he found, disappointingly, that it didn't work. He didn't get improved voice production and his body didn't respond well to this type of instruction.

When he consciously changed his muscle vocabulary and began to work with 'allowing' his head to 'release' forwards and up by 'letting' the muscles of the neck be free etc., his body began to function better; he became more naturally upright and got better voice use.

From this ability to become aware of our muscles' vocabulary and their particular language it then follows, he developed what has become the Alexander Technique. The muscles of the neck, i.e. those that run onto the back and sides of the head from shoulders and spine, often become 'short', 'held', 'fixed' and 'pull' the head back and down. This type of muscle vocabulary can be consciously changed to 'free', 'released', 'lengthened' and 'easy' so the head is no longer restricted and can play its natural part in providing balance and support for may of the body's functions. Through the changes we make in these muscles of the neck, we discover much of our natural poise and freedom.

If you become aware of your muscle vocabulary and find it contains effortful, narrowing and doing expressions, you could experiment with words like 'allowing', 'easy', 'let', 'expansive', 'free', 'release' etc. You could substitute 'allowing yourself to go to....', instead of 'I must get to...'. Just adopting the word 'poise' instead of 'posture' can make a difference to how your body will work for you. We could even think of 'falling upwards' instead of 'getting up out of a chair'.

The possibilities are really quite amazing when we begin to make these conscious changes although it does bring us up against the habits of a lifetime. Even in writing this article, I see many examples of my inner-muscle dialogue besides the one I have consciously set out for examples. The challenge of this process is to be aware and compassionate towards our habits. 'Compassionate' - now there is a useful piece of muscle vocabulary.

Michael Hardwicke is Co-Director of the Cumbria Alexander Training. He has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over twelve years and runs summer holiday and weekend courses in the Alexander Technique as well as giving Individual Lessons in Kendal and Ulverston. Michael can be contacted on 015395 31781 Email: michael@fmalexandertechnique.co.uk

  Michael Hardwicke
Tel: 015395 31781

E-mail: michael@fmalexandertechnique.co.uk
 

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Newton-in-Cartmel
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