F. M. Alexander Technique Michael Hardwicke B.Sc. PGCE STAT
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SPACIOUS THINKING, EASY MOVEMENT An "Expansive" View of the Alexander Technique
by Michael Hardwicke

The Alexander Technique is concerned with poise rather than posture. By this means of re-education we find a more natural ease and a much more reliable and resilient way of being two legged vertebrates. We also find our actions have a greater efficiency with less build up of muscular tension and we acquire a greater degree of choice about our responses.

One way to understand this Alexander process and how to enter into it is to appreciate that we affect our muscles in two ways. The way we usually understand how we all affect muscle is to contract it and bring about a movement in a joint. The muscle gets shorter and moves one bone closer to another. Physiologists call this the 'alpha' system and how well this system works depends on the other way we are constantly influencing our muscles.

This other system may be thought of as a background toning system and physiologists sometimes refer to it as the 'gamma' system. Through this connection to our muscles we are constantly influencing the tone and length of muscle. Just thinking about making a movement affects the muscle on this system. If you were just, say, sitting in a chair and thinking about getting more logs for the fire, you will be influencing the state of your muscles. How you see the action taking place , the quality of your thinking and how you feel about the task will produce different effects. If when we consider a muscle we see the nerves as linking sensory feedback systems, brain and motor units then we see that mind and body are inseparable in this respect ,that is, our thoughts affect our muscles.

Sometimes we're thinking in a narrow type of way. Our attention can get focussed in a restricted way and through this we set up our background muscle tone in a limiting way. So that when we come to actual do something ( alpha system) the muscles do not contract and exert power efficiently. This can makes us narrow our attention even more. " Trying is emphasizing the thing we know already" .This quote by F.M.Alexander, the founder of this technique illustrates the way we tend to keep "trying" in the same way. Have you ever had the experience of going to do something , finding it difficult and getting more frustrated as you try harder? There is a tendency to push on without being able to see any other possibilty.

F.M.Alexander called this type of contracting attention-'end-gaining' and this idea is fundamental to his teaching and the reason we lose our natural ease and poise. When we 'end-gain' we have to make more effort and the result can lead to aching muscles and all the various distortions that can happen in people's functioning. For Alexander it was losing his voice that was the symptom of his narrowing attention in performance that made him study what he was doing with himself.

What happens when our attention is expansive ? With a more spacious type of attention we can include more of ourselves and our environment in what we're doing and the influence on our muscles is an enhancing one. When we come to move with this kind of background set-up our muscles work more efficiently and we experience our natural ease and poise.

The Alexander Technique deals with our reactions to things . We learn to have an awareness of ourselves so that we don't let information/stimuli bring about a narrowing of our attention. We learn to consciously direct ourselves in such a way that we remain expansive. Students of the Technique say we " leave ourselves alone" i.e. we refuse to narrow around incoming stimuli and allow things to be what they are. This means we're much less limited in our responses and new possibilities can emerge in what is an incredibly versatile system.

Consider what happens to your attention when your phone rings. Does your attention narrow to this call on you so that you lose some of your natural openness and display this in how you move to reach the phone? This could lead you to remain compressed and shortened during the time you are on the phone.This is where the Technique enables us to remain expansive and avoid such a reaction. The main way we learn to do this is by leaving free the muscles in the neck, the ones that run onto the sides and back of the head. These, perhaps more than any other muscles, reflect our tendencey to contract our selves. That is we attempt to do things by fixing the head on top of the vertebral column which immediately robs us of some of our main lengthening reflex.

A little experiment in moving may help here. If you were to lie down on the floor and then come back to standing you may see how effort , use and attention are connected. In doing this you may notice some parts of this movement need more effort. Try it a little more slowly and look at these places. Whats happening to your attention in these 'sticky', effortful places. Can you sense how the attention narrows here ? What happens if you don't push through but pause and let your attention expand instead.In this pause sense the space around you, be aware of whats behind you and above you. Then continue and see if the movement changes. Do you find an easier route to standing? Often in making experiments like this we discover a lot more natural rotation and turning movements. This 'spirallic' part of our nature is an aspect we often miss as adults.

As young children we have a naturally expansive attention. Unfortunately much of our upbringing is often about channelling and restricting this. We learn to concentrate and end-gain and generally try too hard. Another aspect of our muscle physiology will help us understand that our continuous narrowing doesn't just affect the contractile part of a muscle. A muscle consists of a lot of connective tissue which tends to ' adapt ' to the shortened contractile part of the muscle it wraps around. This means we come to a movement with some of our narrow habits, restricting the muscle in the way we leave the connective tissue. Hence, there is releasing work to do in this Technique as well as learning to be expansive in our responses.

It is a great challenge to stay expansive and unlearn the habits of a lifetime. If we do this we find the Alexander Technique touches every aspect of our lives .The challenge of this process is to constantly refuse to close and fix around the events of our lives and remain open and free to repond in ways we may not have imagined.

MICHAEL HARDWICKE has an Alexander Technique practice in Cumbria and Lancashire.He is Co- Director of the Cumbria Centre for Alexander Teacher Training, runs a one year Development Course, Summer holiday courses and weekend courses in the Alexander Technique. Michael can be contacted on 015395 31781.

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  Michael Hardwicke
Tel: 015395 31781

E-mail: michael@fmalexandertechnique.co.uk

Newton Farm Cottage
Cumbria, LA11 6JJ

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