From the category archives:

Movement & Poise

Sending Presents

December 22, 2011

By Stella Weigel

Having eaten cake which caused her to grow to a tremendous height, Alice exclaims:

‘I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; —but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, ‘or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!  Let me see: I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.’  And she went on planning to herself how she would manage it.  ‘They must go by the carrier,’ she thought; ‘and how funny it’ll seem, sending presents to one’s own feet!  And how odd the directions will look!

(Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

I recently learned at an anatomy lecture that during embryological development the skin which sits underneath the first vertebrae (atlas) redistributes to form the skin of the soles of the feet.  This helps to explain why the receptors in the soles of the feet, provide such a good feedback to orient us in space and alert us to when we are going off balance.  Raymond Dart, anatomist and anthropologist, wrote, “In the human squatting or standing (or orthograde) positions, the dominant segmental skin information concerned in human head balance is probably that coming from the sacral or hind most body segments to supplying the soles of the feet, especially the pads of the toes and heels” (An Anatomist’s Tribute to F. Matthias Alexander, 20 March 1970, reprinted in Skill and Poise).  Alexander lessons encourage us to think of our feet being in touch with the planet, the pads behind the toes and the heels going back and down.

Due to a fear of falling, our common immediate response when we feel off balance is to stiffen; if this stiffening becomes habitual, then our fear response will become more or less a constant.  The possibility of any movement will lead to a perception that we are going off balance, and the fear response is therefore heightened.  This is a vicious circle.

No small wonder then that having developed a habitual fear reflex, I also developed a fear of heights; due to habitual stiffening, my feet were, quite literally, never on the ground.  I also sat in chairs that were too big for me, which caused me to stiffen as much I could.  As an undergraduate I avoided the paternoster lift at all costs, preferring to walk up twelve flights of stairs in order to reach the teaching rooms.

Dart continues, “Man is the creature of fear!  In other words, he is the most fearful (in every sense of that word) just as he can and has become the most fearless of all animals.  This is because he has become the most nearly tip-toed of all the two-footed, or bipedal creatures.  His walking is a constant precarious process of saving himself from falling.  So the primary fear to overcome is his fear of falling.”

The Alexander Technique teaches us to release and soften rather than to stiffen when being taken off balance, to experiment rather than to control, and to be aware that we do indeed possess a choice, either to topple over in a stiffening response
to gravity or to stand in dynamic equilibrium and stability, with gravity as our friend.

Alice sent presents to her feet.  But F.M. Alexander sent presents to us all.  He handed down the directions that help us experience standing on our feet as a pleasure, moving with them as a joy. Take a moment to think of your feet softening, spreading and enjoy being on the ground.  It is a kindness to yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.

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We seem to be more and more nervous, mentally unbalanced and muscularly unfit. Our children are fatter, becoming less motivated and more entitled, showing all the signs of ill health (of course diabetes, but also many are emotionally maladjusted) and they seem to have all the signs of a terrible life ahead of them. They don’t move, or play. They sit at computer games and go online, connecting to sites that are mostly a waste of valuable youth. Some of these sites are criminal and dangerous. They don’t use this time to shape themselves for their futures. And nobody is guiding them either!  They take all manner of drugs and many are addicts before 15. Others are fixated with celebrity and they want recognition as a validation for themselves.  This alone shows a total lack of values and the power they should be developing to make a life in the future. They can only become shallow, angry adults without a shred of the wherewithal to face life.

Seeing such children lumber around deformed and unhappy, I ask myself Why is this? How can it auger well in the future for all of us if these young generations are already so dysfunctional and delusional? Everything about them screams out at the casual observer and these are the young that will run the governments, make the policy and shape the way our world is run.

We adults seeing this, seem incapable of lifting even one finger. So I decided to offer either free lessons or nearly free lessons to some children who I believe need this work. They fill all these criteria of need to change their ideas of self and life. I can’t change the world but I can help one person or even two. Maybe it helps them and maybe it falls on deaf ears, I don’t know, but I am doing this because it is the heart and core of Alexander’s principles to work with the individual. One child at a time.

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Being grumpy is one way of approaching a problem, the Alexander Technique offers another way. Photo credit: Steve Ford Elliot

Coping well.  This is what we can do easily when we are feeling well with ourselves, and what the Alexander Technique can teach us.

When I think about well-being I think about being in a frame of mind and state of being where no matter what I am dealing with, no matter how sudden or difficult a situation is, I can cope. Somehow I know I can cope. I may not like what I have to cope with but I am capable of making the best of the situation.

Well-being is a state of self-possession, poise, and grace under fire. It is a way of life that you can definitely learn for yourself. How do we go from being angry, flustered, or sad in the face of challenging situations—whether it be something major, like the loss of a job, or something small like a traffic jam—to a state of grace and poise? According to F.M. Alexander in his teachings, to change anything we have to be aware of it. We can’t change a situation we are not conscious of. Secondly, we have to think differently than is our usual way of thinking. If we don’t change our thinking we cannot expect to get anything new. 

So how can we change the thinking that is causing a problem? 

Stopping. I mean a dead stop. Not a pause that at this stage of the game will be too weak. According to Alexander, we have to see how resistant our thinking habits are. They will go on with a life of their own unless we realty do stop and ask ourselves, Hmmm, this is a tricky situation here, and usually I am very flustered, angry, sullen, unhappy,  etc. when this sort of thing comes up. How can I respond in a better way here and now? How can I refrain from going into my old way of being at this moment? My old way of Coping?

F.M. Alexander called this Reasoning from the Known to the Unknown. This way of using his mind to unravel his problem started him on a path of development and self-possession that he had never had before. It put him on the road toward POISE.

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Directions #2

June 19, 2010

This is Part II of an ongoing series on “Directions,” one of the basic premises of the Alexander Technique.

Everything we get in the Alexander Technique and in life is the result of a process of direction. There is no result without a process behind it. If there could be such a thing we would call it Magic.

In his book Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1910), F.M. Alexander points out that we are all directing ourselves all the time, but it is all done unconsciously or at best, semi-consciously.

Stopping the unconscious directions is what Alexander called “Inhibition.” It is usually spoken about also using the idea of “Non-Doing.” Inhibition or Non-Doing does not mean flopping into a lifeless lump, or relaxing or thinking into heaviness. It means not doing your old unreasonable mindless directions that have gotten you into trouble in the first place.

As F.M. Alexander further teaches, If we want to reeducate ourselves we have to break down our existing muscular habits by giving a series of conscious directions that replace the old unconscious ones. We have to focus on the new reasoned out directions and not concern ourselves with the desired result. If we do focus on “end gaining” and not the new reasoned directions, we will revert to using our old ways and be back in the old rut.

Its simple really (but not easy) the means yield an end, change the means and you can change the end result.

Related posts: Directions 1, Directions 3

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Doing Nothing

June 15, 2010

“Doing nothing” is a fundamental principle in teaching the Alexander Technique. This odd idea about DOING NOTHING confuses many pupils; it is in fact a habit that the Alexander Technique can help one to develop. In our physicality and movement, “doing nothing” can result in buoyancy. What F.M. Alexander says about this is that in order to stop tensing (or the other extreme, collapsing as dead weight) and then moving, say an arm, the pupil must “inhibit” doing the movement in his habituated and inefficient manner and allow the teacher to guide and move the arm for him.

Only in this way will the habitual tension patterns in the pupil’s arm, and more so his entire self, be able to reregulate. It is in this way that the tension will reset itself into a more appropriate tonus. Our pupil usually will register this as relaxation; it is really a release of the old tension that has been his habitual way of holding the arm.

If he could release this insane tension he lives with, he would do it directly. He is not an idiot. But it cannot be achieved directly. In addition nothing done to him from the outside, massage, “body work” of any kind, therapy or relaxation techniques will last and free him up. These are all at best going to be temporary fixes.

His nervous system must learn to do this for itself. This is what the highly skilled Alexander Technique teacher is able to teach by slowly and gently guiding the student’s movement.

In guiding the student’s movement, the Alexander Technique teacher frees herself in such a way that the force of gravity, the slowness of the movement, the position of her arm and the pupil’s arm, and above all the utter freedom she has in her head, neck and upper back as she works, all act together as a catalyst to the pupil’s long forgotten freedom in the nervous system. It seems to jog the muscle memory so to speak. Then the mechanism frees itself. This is a most amazing sensation when it happens and little by little the pupil learns to not interfere with this state of harmony and grace.

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