Monday, 7 December 2009

Which way is "Up"?

I cried the day my brother died.

I had the rare privilege of having my "Alexander hands" on him as he took his last breath. I felt the energy leave his body. He had had a cardiac arrest 5 days previously which he had survived - physically - but which had catastrophically damaged his brain due to oxygen starvation. Although he was unconscious for the whole 5 days, his body was not limp.

I realised that the energy which held his body together in that hospital bed was not just blood pressure. It was more than Tensegrity. It was that "thing" that we are constantly trying to direct "up".

"Upness", if I can call it that, is the lightness that we feel when we have had an Alexander lesson. It's that sense of being tall and free: no sense of being pulled-down. It's good. Much as we might wish to, we can't actually "do" anything to bring about upness. It's a reflex that's built into our bodies that is always trying to counter the forces of gravity that pull us down. To experience it, we just have to get out of its way (i.e. inhibit the tension that blocks it) and give it direction.

Think of it like a hose pipe lying on the lawn which you want to use to water the plants in the borders. Left to it's own devices, it will thrash around under the water pressure and the flow of water will go almost anywhere except on the flowers as intended. You pick up the hose to stop it thrashing and you direct it towards the flower beds. You are inhibiting the hose's tendency to go in the wrong direction and you are directing it to where you want it to go. You are not trying to make the water flow. It's doing that on its own.

In a lesson - and in your day-to-day life - you should not try to "create" upness. When you are standing, say while waiting for a train or a bus or to get served in a shop, feel your feet and your heels on the floor and allow the floor to push up through your bones until it pops out of the top of your head. If the upness does not seem to be flowing, it's not because it's not there: you just need to release the unnecessary tensions that are impeding it.

You can direct the flow upwards, beginning by freeing your neck and allowing your head to go forward and up. This freedom of the head and neck lets your back lengthen and widen, widening across the upper parts of your arms. You release your knee caps and allow you knees to go forward and away - towards your second toes. Keep repeating these directions to yourself - not necessarily by verbalising them. At the end of each cycle of directions, just check that you are not "doing" anything to make the directions work. Remember to get out of the way to allow the upness to flow.

Don't under any circumstances, beat yourself up if it takes time to master this art of non-doing. The more you practise the better you will understand what is required for you NOT to do!

Oh, and which way is "up"? It's the direction from the bottom of your spine to the top of your head. It's vertical when you are standing and horizontal when you lie down. The flow is always in this direction whatever you are doing.


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  2. I'm flattered that you find my blog posts enjoyable.

    You may recognise the origin of my water analogy as being derived from one of Walter Carrington's lectures? (From "Thinking Aloud" if I recall correctly.)

    However I'm not sure that his explanation of the direction of "up" adds much clarity to my understanding of "upness". Who am I to question his vast wisdom? But I can't help thinking that my concept of upness isn't quite the same as what he was talking to you about.

    Clearly he is referring to the anti-gravity mechanisms of the body and who can argue that this would always be directed in the opposite way to gravity: "skyward". Whilst I recognise that the musculature of the body will always be working to counteract gravity and therfore act vertically upwards, my point is more to do with the internal energy of the body which runs up and down the spine and therefore becomes inclined to the vertical when you are standing in monkey.

    I see his point about falling forward if you were to direct the whole spine in a forwardly inclined way, but doesn't the thought of directing up in monkey apply to each individual joint of the whole body, so if you were to draw arrows, there would be 24 of them on the spine, all pointing vertically up?

    Perhaps this can be resolved by explaining in more deatil what "up" means when lying in semi-supine? Walter appears to contradict himself by saying the direction is "along the spine" - i.e. horizontally.

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  4. I think we are in agreement about the difference between my concept of directing internal energy up and the physiological processes involved in counteracting the forces of gravity. Perhaps I should have said more about lengthening. I'll take a look at the Mouritz link you gave.
    Thanks again for your input.

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