MacDonald was one of the first people trained to be an Alexander Technique teacher, in the early 1930s, and his observation was based on over 50 year’s experience teaching the Technique.
Our physical structure is perfectly adapted for our life on the surface of earth, with it’s array of forces operating on us 24/7 – gravity, support, atmospheric pressure (the result of gravity), light, heat etc.*
We are most definitely not paying the price for having an upright posture – as some have suggested – to explain the high incidence of common physical maladies, such as back or neck pain. We are, as MacDonald suggests, designed to to move freely, in balance, with minimum effort.
Our problems often occur when we misuse ourselves by unconsciously creating harmful habits of posture and movement. As the old comic book character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”
The Alexander Technique is largely concerned with bringing these harmful patterns to light and learning how to let go of them.
Beyond our amazing physical structure, there is another aspect of ourselves which very few people seem to be aware of: Our innate desire to sit, stand and move more efficiently.
This desire on our part to improve – or perhaps it could be called an extremely strong bias – is what makes the Alexander Technique work so well for so many people. How else to explain the striking benefits in physical functioning so many people experience after having only a few short lessons.
One of the easiest ways you can experience this inherent desire to improve is to experiment with the use of a paradoxical “negative” Alexander Technique direction. We’ll use walking as a framework for you to engage in a bit of easy self-exploration.
Here’s your assignment: With your shoes on, and using a wooden floor or perhaps a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk, take a very short walk and think to yourself, softly and lightly, the phrase “I am not walking.” Then, as you continue walking, throw that thought away for a few steps, and then bring it back for a few steps. Keep the time frame for any one experiment to under 20-30 seconds. (A noisy wooden floor, is ideal for this kind of experiment because it gives you direct auditory feedback on the heaviness of your footfalls.)
This will NOT work well if you’re doing any of the following:
- Concentrating on the direction.
- Trying to keep the direction instead of accepting the likelihood you will forget it and then, when you notice you’ve forgotten it, gently bringing it back.
- Trying in any way to make the direction happen. Your only job is to have a light, but definite, intent.
- Thinking a different thought – for example “This is crazy, of course I’m walking!”
- Getting drawn into the effects of your direction at the expense of the direction itself during the experiment. The time to be interested in results is when the experiment is over.
(A great deal more information on Alexander Technique directions, and how to use them, can be found at New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing.)
What did you notice? If you’re not sure, repeat the experiment and put a little attention to how your feet arrive at the floor – the amount of pressure you feel in the soles of your feet and the amount of sound they make as you walk, thinking the direction, throwing it away, and bringing the direction back.
There’s a very good chance you walking got a bit lighter and more fluid and when you used that direction and when you threw the thought away, and just walked “normally”, you were a bit heavier, perhaps making more noise with your feet.
What’s going on here?
When you say “I’m not walking” you’re effectively telling your body something like: “Don’t walk the way you usually do – your idea of what walking is – and find a different way to walk.” But that’s way too long a phrase for your mind to process, so it’s best to shorten it to “I’m not walking.”
The fact that a very light thought changes the way your whole body functions is pretty amazing in itself.
But even more startling is that the change is always for the better. After all, your body could logically do what you ask by creating a worse way of walking. But in my experience, and the experience of many other teachers and their students, that never happens!
You can do this same sort of experiment with any activity. For example: “I am not speaking” as you speak, “I am not lying down” as you lie in your bed, and “I am not breathing” as air flows into and out of your lungs.
Let me know what you discover, and your thoughts on why the change brought about by this kind of direction is always for the better. Please leave comments below, or post them on Facebook.
*You can learn more about these forces, and how they effect us, here: Gravity Support and Freedom, and the Alexander Technique.
Image purchased from 123rf.com