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
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.
Top of Page
Tel: 015395 31781
Newton Farm Cottage
Cumbria, LA11 6JJ
© Copyright 2004 - 2014 Michael Hardwicke