Like Alexander, and teachers of his method today, God had a great interest in the condition of people’s necks. You might even say that, like us, He was obsessed with their neck tension – although it’s also fair so say He took this obsession to a different level altogether. Consider what He said to Moses after the golden calf incident:
I see this is a stiffnecked people. Now let Me be, that my anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them… (Exodus, 32: 9, 10)
Here’s the back story:
Moses had been up on the mountain top for awhile receiving God’s commandments. The people had lost faith in his return – and in God. They built a golden calf to worship and began sacrificing animals to it.
God had just led them out of Egypt, saved them from Pharoh’s army and provided for all their needs. Yet just a little delay in Moses’ return, and they reverted back to their old idol-worshiping ways.
It’s not surprising that God was angry when He saw what they had done. But why did He use the phrase “stiffnecked people”? And why is that same phrase (the Hebrew word is kashe-oref – kashe: hard; oref: scruff of the neck) repeated again in Deuteronomy 9: 13 and 14 and several other places in the Bible? After all, God didn’t rail against their stiff shoulders, stiff arms or stiff legs.
What’s so important about that particular part of our anatomy that God should make specific mention of it in His anger?
Take a moment to think about where your neck is located and what function it plays in your life.
Your neck is the vital connecting corridor between the most important parts of your body, your head and your torso. These are two parts of you that are absolutely necessary for you to survive as a living human being.
A surgeon will tell you that there are as many distinct structures in your neck as in all the rest of your body. Air, food, nerve pathways and life-sustaining fluids such as blood and lymph have to pass through this narrow region of your body. And because the structures of your neck are packed so closely together, they require an absolute minimum of excess tension to function at their best.
Clearly its important for your general well being that your neck freely allows what might be called efficient “biological connections” between your head and torso. But it’s condition also has a huge impact on the “mechanics” of your functioning: your posture, coordination and your ability to move efficiently.
Your head weighs between 10-12 pounds and it is poised at the very top of your neck. I often hand my new Alexander Technique students a sack filled with 12 pounds of sugar and ask them to hold it in their arms for a few moments to get an idea of what this feels like. Most are amazed that they’re carrying so much weight on top of the necks.
If your head is lightly balanced on top of your neck, very little muscular effort is needed to keep it there. But if that balance is compromised, you’re going to have to hold it up with a lot of muscular effort. In other words, you’ll have to stiffen your neck to keep it from falling forward, or to one side.
And if your neck is stiffened, that tightness will cause compensatory tightening throughout the rest of your body, harming your ability to move freely and efficiently – not to mention restricting your breathing, putting pressure on your internal organs, etc.
Think for a moment of people you know who have stiff necks. Watch how they sit, stand and move and you’ll see what I mean. Chances are they move comparatively stiffly and awkwardly.
And then think of how they adjust to changing circumstances in general and how flexible they are in their thinking. Very likely you’ll notice a certain mental rigidity that mirrors their physical stiffness. (It is for good reason that the word “stiffnecked” is often translated in the Bible as “stubborn”.)
If we are indeed made in God’s image, then it stands to reason that He would be displeased when we would take poor care of ourselves. Stiffening our necks is one of the quickest and surest ways to do just that.
And learning how to release undue tension in our necks – a major focus of Alexander Technique teaching – is one of the best things we can do to improve our overall functioning.
So, back to the original question – was God the first Alexander Technique teacher?
Sure, He recognized the importance of the state of humans’ necks, just as Alexander Technique teachers do today.
And He did make an explicit connection between neck tension upright posture: In Micah 2, verse 3 He declares: I am planning such a misfortune against this clan that you will not be able to free your necks from it. You will not be able to walk erect.
But I would argue that on balance He wasn’t such a great Alexander teacher.
Threatening to destroy someone, or prevent them from walking upright, because they are tensing their necks is hardly going to encourage them to release that tension. You certainly don’t see Alexander Technique teachers today using this particular teaching procedure!
We are more likely to suggest that our students gently direct themselves out of their harmful tension patterns, perhaps by using a phrase like “I am not stiffening my neck”.
I think the best we can say about God’s teaching – if that’s in fact what he was trying to do – is that it was very much a work in progress.
It was left to Alexander, and those who have followed him, to figure out how to teach people to effectively release the kind of tension that God was upset about.
Here’s a podcast interview I did with Amy Ward Brimmer on this general topic
What do you think about God, stiff necks and the Alexander Technique? Do you know of similar references in the texts of other religions? I’d love to hear from you.