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Thinking in Activity, Back into Balance

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Brain work

The Alexander Technique is about how you meet a stimulus such as a chair and how you move in response to that stimulus in a co-ordinated manner, in other words how you use your brain whilst thinking about how you use your body and preventing that which you don’t want. If your mind is on another subject entirely, then the chances are that you won’t be thinking about not shortening or coming up in the front, your thinking is reflected in how you move and vice versa. FM Alexander described his work as ‘psycho-physical’ for this very reason, he did not separate mind from body, it is part of the whole system. Whilst you think about multitasking, you might also think about how well you are using yourself during the process.

Whilst certainly the Technique is of benefit to those suffering from back pain, neck tension and shoulder pain, and much else besides, it is not about this, but rather about thinking what you do on a muscular level so as to prevent misuse of the mal-coordinated organism. For this reason John Dewey described the Technique as ‘thinking in activity’, the phrase I used myself on my website for this very reason. It is the thinking that allows the musculature to release into length and width. We always looks at the ‘how’ of any given activity during lessons, the ‘how’ being in our thinking. A chair is used as a stimulus and it’s not so much getting in and out of a chair as how you sit down and get up from it, whether your head is going forward and up and whether or not you are tensing your neck as you rise from the chair or sit down on it, whether you are bending your knees and moving from the hip joint. In fact the chair isn’t that important in terms of sitting down or standing up, rather it is the movement itself which is of importance, the movement being brought about by the head-neck-back relationship. This is all brain work in terms of thinking that you’d like all this to take place as you move.

There are many people who think the Work is about posture and sitting up straight etc. Well, to some extent there is an element of this, although we do not seek a stiff posture with shoulders thrown back, but essentially the Technique is not about posture at all. It is rather a technique developed in one’s brain and thinking ability in order to inhibit that which we don’t want, i.e. shortening and narrowing and direction of  certain areas of the musculature to release into length and width, as opposed to that which we wish to inhibit. Inhibition and direction are two separate things yet they work in tandem with each other. The Work definitely brings about a more collected, calmer approach when asked to rise from the chair or to sit down, with less anxiety and more freedom of movement. This is brought about by directing our thinking towards those parts of our anatomy which we don’t normally think about, namely our ankles, knees and hips. These three areas work together and are very much worth bringing our attention to as we release our ankles, release our knees and bend from the hip joint. This is one example of using your brain whilst thinking about how you use your body, of which are there are many others. The brain is a remarkable thing, as is the human body, and the two are closely interlinked, working together as we breathe and move about our daily lives. Bringing it into its full length and width takes patience and much observation of one’s habits as one moves, but the rewards can be improved health and well-being. Working with a teacher of the Alexander Technique can be enjoyable as well as truly educational, noticing where you are shortening and tightening means that you notice much more about yourself than previously, and it becomes fascinating just how much of this goes on without us being aware of it. However, having become aware of it, it is even more fascinating that we can consciously control this just by thinking, the brain being such an incredible instrument, we can first inhibit our habitual reaction and then direct ourselves into the upright of ‘Forward and Up’.

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