It’s About The How

The Alexander Technique can be hard to describe because it’s not about what you do, it’s about how you do it.

Although it informs, the Alexander Technique leaves the choice of activity (or response) up to you.

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It doesn’t have mandatory movements, patterns, or physical exercises. Instead, the Alexander Technique brings practical intelligence to the things you choose to do; to include more skilled use of yourself in activity - and to grow through the process.

But should I exercise? What about Tai chi? Bodyweight Training? Dance? Meditation? Etc.. Are these in line with the Alexander Technique?

Yes.

Because it deals with balance, posture, movement, and awareness of how thought and physical responses interact it can be applied to a surprising number of things. Most activities you choose can become a framework for your practice.

These things might include work tasks, performance, exercise, communication and social interaction, or everyday activities and movements.

The difference from how you normally do these activities is that instead of doing them unconsciously - you practice placing just enough attention on yourself in activity (in particular to your neck-head-back in relation to your ground) to foster the whole body response as you do these things.

This practice acts like a flashlight to your awareness to help you discover the personal ways you may be limiting yourself through overly compressing/ collapsing/ or tensing yourself in these actions. To discover how you get in the way of your full stature, and to influence a change in the pattern of your movements and action through conscious attention (to encourage the whole self to respond with length and expansion) is the game.

Going ‘UP’

Going ‘Up’ is a fundamental experience of the Alexander Technique.

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Cultivating this whole body response to gravity is a central aim of both the Alexander Technique lesson and of a personal Alexander Technique practice; and how to tap into this response during your everyday life is a real skill.

To describe the experience with words always falls short, but it’s helpful to work towards a shared understanding. John Nichols, an Alexander Technique teacher in New York describes it as,

” ….this natural, whole body response to gravity so that from the contact of your feet on the ground you’re opening up all the way through. You have this springy dynamic that takes you up through your spine and opens you through the thorax, the back of the shoulders, the hips, everything is coming up and out in response to the contact of the feet on the surface of the planet.”

Going ‘Up’ can also seem elusive in that you can’t get directly. Instead, the response shows up (or emerges) when your attention and attitude, biomechanics and muscle tone, inhibition and activation of various aspects of our motor commands and movement, all come together together with just the right timing in just the right way.

But once you consciously set up the conditions to tap into this whole body response - you go ‘Up’.


Here are a few more things people notice about it

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  • It often comes with a feeling of kinaesthetic lightness; as if you’re lighter in weight or ‘floating’ in movement.

  • The experience is of it happening to you, with you, or through you - as opposed to you doing it. It’s an unconscious process.

  • It makes you more, rather than less ready for movement and response

  • You lighten upwards instead of pulling up

  • It can involves opening up and out, like a flower in bloom

  • It’s expanding the self vs. compressing the self; as in expanding into the space around you (height, width, and depth).

  • Under touch, the person ‘going up’ feels lighter and easier to guide or move - like a responsive dancer as opposed to a collapsed or overly tight dance parter.

  • It often occurs with state of open focus as opposed to a narrowed focus

  • It’s clearly not yet communicated to others well without direct raw experience, nor accessed easily enough by students without significant skill

  • For most students it is a self-reinforcing experience; it feels good so you want more of it want it to stay

  • It can stay through further change and growth, but once you try to hold onto and keep it the same you loose it

  • It’s opposite includes all the various forms of compression (through pulling down or collapse, or tightening/ constriction in movement, posture, and reaction etc..).

  • Once you’ve had the experience of ‘going up’, it becomes much easier to talk about the Alexander Technique, to read an alexander Technique book and know what in the world the author is getting at, and to articulate at least one clear result of the practice.

  • The going up response is not exclusive to the Alexander Technique.


Pause the Prediction

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Perception is our belief of what happened.

It’s the combination of the unconscious prediction of our movements and the world around us, with our self observations*.

When our prediction and our observation combine to create and determine a perception, we generally feel we know what happened. But what happens when we pause the prediction?

Given that prediction in movement is involuntary, this likely isn’t possible. But what if we simply remove the whole idea of the act from our minds before (and as) we act?

Talking but not talking…

Walking but not walking…

Playing the piano but not playing the piano…

This concept seems totally crazy… until it happens. Artists, athletes, and people of all backgrounds have describe something similar when in a state of flow - when things just ‘happen to you’ or ‘happen through you’.

So what happens when you pause the prediction? Where does the ball land?


* Biological Learning and Control: Shadmehr and Mussa-Ivaldi).

Muscle Tone, States, and Dancers

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One way to simplify how you think about yourself in space is to imagine possible dance partners: The collapsed/ sluggish dance partner; The tight/ stiff dance partner; The disconnected dance partner; or the responsive dance partner.

Collapsed / Sluggish

The contact you feel with this dancer is that of heaviness. When they are closer to a place of stillness than movement (such as sitting or standing still) they are under-engaged and often look or feel compressed, deflated, or like a ton of bricks. Imagine trying to pick someone up who doesn’t want to be picked up…they often can’t be moved.

Tight / Stiff

This person is doing the opposite of the collapsed/ sluggish dancer; It’s as if they are trying to hold themselves off the floor. They’re over engaged and often look or feel tight, strained, anxious or inflexible. The interesting thing is that may also feel heavy, but in a different way; they too cannot easily be moved internally or externally.

Disconnected

This person is often a mixture of the two above: They’re both collapsed and sluggish in some parts of themselves and tight or stiff in others. Often they’re quite flexible in some ways, while being very rigid in others; as if to unconsciously compensate for going over in one area. Moving with them often really depend on your own organization as a means to provide the consistency (or framework) for easeful movement - but if you’re heavy, tight, or disconnected yourself, then the other person will likely be difficult to move with.

Responsive

The responsive dancer feels attentive, calm, and ready to move. They’re not leaning on you for support so you don’t feel weighed down by them, and they’re not stiffened up so they don’t block your movement or their own. The seem like they’re listening to your every move and thought, and to their own internal intentions. They’re present and they emanate presence. They feel light under your touch but not flimsy or held, and when you move together they respond quickly and without the need to ‘get ready’ - they’re already there but they’re not far ahead of your movement - you get to be a part of a dance with them.


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In life we all have our habitual states that follow one of the above characters more than the others. It may even be the case that we need all these different states to navigate life.

Moreover, we often flow in-between these states as we embody ourselves in action; sometimes we even combine them in different ways (For instance: Heavy and collapsed but then held tightly or pulled down in a compressed way).

Nonetheless, there seems to be a certain aliveness that comes when being in the state of responsiveness that is a truly remarkable way to live. Like the curiosity of a toddler in motion looking around and responding to the world in flow.

Cultivating thought, intentions, and practices to access more responsiveness from head to toe in yourself is a game worth playing.