Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Heading in the Right Direction

You guessed it. It had to happen next. Now it's time to look at direction.

It took Mr. Alexander 8 years to develop the "golden egg" of AT - namely directions.

Allow the neck to be free
So that the head can go forward and up
And the back can lengthen and widen
Widening across the upper part of the arms
And the knees can go forward and away
Towards the second toes

"That's not much of a poem" I hear you say "and it doesn't even rhyme!"

I think of it as a mantra which I encourage my new pupils to learn and repeat daily. I've produced a couple of PDFs which they can choose to download and have a copy on their desk or sideboard.
The first (as quoted above) is slightly more proactive than the second and it makes YOU responsible for freeing your neck (without doing it). It's more suitable for the novice AT pupil. I personally prefer the second as I like to remind myself that my neck IS free.

Those of you who are familiar with the AT directions might be used-to a mantra that's worded slightly differently although the essence should be the same. Most of you will not have seen the line about sending your knees towards your second toes. This came from my mentor, the late (and great) Ray Evans. Think of a line drawn down the front of your thigh. You should project this line towards your second toe. Don't bend your knees, just direct them with a thought. Project the line too far out and you will look like you just got off your horse. Project it too far in and you will look like you are trying not to pee yourself :-) A line from your left knee through your groin to your right knee should look more like an upside-down "U" than a "V".

I'll probably return to the individual directions in future posts but that's not my purpose here.

Just as we did when we learned to ride a bike, drive a car, type on a keyboard, dance, play an instrument... I think you see where I'm going with this list... learning to direct begins with a somewhat kludgy effort to hold all the individual aspects together at the same time. As we gradually learn the meaning of each direction, we apply it with less and less thought. Eventially it becomes automatic. I'm so glad that I no longer have to search for each individual letter on the keyboard as I type - otherwise I'd get no pleasure at all out of blogging! So too with giving my directions. These days I apply them one at a time, altogether so I can give directions - all of them - in about the same time it takes to click my fingers.

The process of giving directions is like the principle I described in my recent post on inhibition. At first we apply the directions consciously but eventually it becomes subconscious and the new directions can then be applied - preceded by inhibition - in good time to supplant wrong habits.

I've described the process of consigning conscious processes to subconscious activity in my post "changing the habits of a lifetime". It's not a particularly easy read - especially the first half where I explain the 4 processes of the brain. But if this interests you, I recommend you to read it. This is where I originally proposed my four bullet points to explain the Alexander Technique.

I imagine that you will be wondering whether Alexander's concept of Constructive Conscious Control plays any part in my explanations of applying inhibition and directions at a subconscious level. Let me assure you that the principles of AT always begin with conscious choices - decisions to replace old bad habits with new posititive means whereby we use our body. Life itself is an ongoing process of learning to adapt to the ever changing environment. No matter how much we try, we will never reach a point where our use of the self becomes totally automatic. We must remain consciously aware that our habits are lurking around every corner, waiting for a momentary lapse of conscious control to slip-in and pull us down.

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