It's All About Movement

It's all about movement

The Alexander Technique is about movement, it's about moving better as a functional whole. But what does that mean?... better than what? One place to begin may be to ask, what, if any, are the organizing principles of movement? Where do we begin?

From an AT perspective, we see an ever-changing relationship between the head, spine, and pelvis. More than a well-aligned skeleton, these relationships function all the time, for better or worse, in every position and activity. The proper working of these relationships are most visible in the movements of animals, infants, and a few talented adults. Looking to developmental movement in young children, then, is perhaps the best map we have of what the organization of the head, spine, and pelvis looks like and moves like. 

Movement in the context of an Alexander Technique lesson speaks to two things: one is the changing postural relationships as we move from standing erect to a full squat and everything in between - the organization of our hinges. The other is the movement of a structure compressed by muscular tension undoing itself.  (imagine lying in bed and all of a sudden the muscles around your jaw release. not only were you previously unaware of the tension, the undoing of the tension is expansive.) 

What's the problem?

The problem is that we interfere. Interference collapses and distorts both posture and movement. It negatively affects our ability to maintain full-stature in activity and rest. The result or symptoms of interference often include back/neck/jaw pain, headaches, repetitive strain, and other forms of tension and strain that remain both ubiquitous and persistent. 

Interference happens for all sorts of reasons - state of mind, state of body, environment, culture, stress, pain, etc.  It's not overly important to understand why there is interference, but simply to acknowledge that within the swirl that is us, interference happens. In this line of thinking, poor posture is a byproduct of a lifetime of interference, that strain you feel in your neck and jaw is directly related to how you respond to stressful moments, and that back pain isn't the result of an isolated moment of forgetting to lift with your legs. Interference points to one's strategies for dealing with gravity and producing strength, it reflects emotional states, familial bonds and the presence of pain.  In short, it is dynamic and conditioned.

Whatever we do, however we move, it becomes easy to move in the same way the next time. Interference turns into habit and habit becomes interference. We create a feedback loop in which the busiest patterns survive and continually reinforce themselves; in Alexander lingo, use affects function and function affects use

The closed feedback loop of habit and interference eventually leads to a diminished ability to perceive ourselves in space and position. What we're left with is a system incapable of moving with or returning to full stature. Proprioception becomes so faulty and normalized that we don't even know that we interfere! This phenomenon is known as faulty sensory awareness.

A common example of faulty sensory awareness in an AT lesson goes like this:  student A thinks we're working on posture and in the process overly arches and puffs up their torso; when I gently bring them back from all that extra work, it literally feels to them as though they are slouching. Only after consulting the mirror do they realize that their sense of themselves in space and position is a bit mis-calibrated.  

So then:

Problem #1  is that we interfere.

Problem #2 is the normalization of the habit.

What are the aims of the Alexander Technique?

Within this context, the aim of the Alexander Technique is self study:

Aim #1  Familiarize yourself with your interference so you can consciously oppose it.

Aim #2  Re-calibrate your sense of yourself in space and position.  

This is easier said than done. If we could simply will ourselves to have wonderful posture and coordinated movement, we would. The threshold between voluntary and involuntary movement is foggy and when coupled with the aforementioned problems ensure that awareness itself is not a direct line to better movement. 

The basic premise of the Alexander Technique is reeducation. The method is a process to be learned and once learned, a skill to be applied to any activity.  

The basic tools of the Alexander Technique are inhibition and direction.

The practice of inhibition is about finding the pause button. Inhibition empowers us to veto the interference. It leaves space for a new experienceTo regain some expansiveness, you need to prevent the thing that is causing interference in the first place. By pushing pause, by using our veto power, we leave space for something else.

That something else is direction. Directing closes the gap between what we think is happening and what is actually happening. By focusing our attention on un-doing excess tension and the connective postural relationships we are able to consciously create links between intentions and movement, ultimately redistributing tone and energy throughout the whole self.

In the beginning, the job of an Alexander Technique teacher is to speed up the process, to reveal the interference, and provide some framework. The job of the student is to think, to direct their attention, to realize that the desired results are a byproduct of a process.   

In practice this can lead to seemingly small moments of choice to respond to the stress of daily life with lightness and ease. And with continual response, small can be quite profound. Over time, the cumulative result is akin to walking in a light mist - you hardly realize that you're getting wet, but by the time you arrive where you were going, you're drenched. Before you realize it, your back pain is gone, you feel light and less stressed, and people keep saying 'you look different... taller maybe'