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.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

More About Inhibition

My previous article on inhibition was recently cited in a paper on inhibition posted on www.mindplusbody.co.uk. That article equated inhibition with self control and came to a conclusion that inhibition was "A state you find yourself in".

I decided to post this article to address these points and hopefully to add clarity to the understanding of inhibition in the context of the Alexander Technique.

First of all let me summarise what I was trying to say in my blog post:
Inhibition allows us to suppress our subconscious habitual responses to stimuli. Because our awareness of a stimulus occurs a fraction of a second after we have responded to it, we must apply inhibition subconsciously so that it can afford us a window of opportunity to choose a better consciously directed response. Practice will, in time, develop a simple act of 'saying "no" to a stimulus' into a state of being and the new consciously chosen responses will become the new habits.

In a lecture Mr. Alexander clearly distinguished his use of its meaning from that in psychotherapy: "Many people would take exception to the word 'inhibition' but this inhibition is not the inhibition that we usually hear of... It is not the inhibition of supression".

The opposite of inhibition is volition. "Volition [stands] for the act of responding to... stimuli [with] psycho-physical action (doing), and inhibition [stands] for the act of refusing to respond to... stimuli [with] psycho-physical action (non-doing)"

Self control, on the other hand is perceived as self-denial: the act of denying yourself; controlling your impulses; the trait of resolutely controlling your own behaviour. Controlling emotional responses such as "angry, upset, shy" as quoted in the BodyPlusMind article is in the realm of self-control, rather than purely inhibition. Emotions transcend the simple stimulus-response mechanisms that pure inhibition deals with. However, we don't ignore their effect on the body. The indirect approach of inhibition and direction can affect emotional states via the process of psycho-physical unity. For example, it's not uncommon for a pupil to burst into tears in a lesson as a direct result of releasing tension. That tension would have been the physical manifestation of an underlying emotional state.

Frank  Pierce Jones described it perfectly:
...I found that the paradigm of inhibition that had been demonstrated for physical movement could be applied equally well when the activity would be classed as mental or emotional. ...any emotional disturbance affects [the field of attention] immediately and can often be perceived as a change in the level of muscle tone before a reaction in the autonomic system has begun. Anger for example has a characteristic pattern that is easily recognizable.  [When stimulated into anger] I turned my attention to my neck and shoulders. I found that I could inhibit a further increase in tension and allow the muscles to lengthen; and that as long as I did this I could carry on a rational conversation in spite of my inward agitation.

I would never describe inhibition as "a state you find yourself in". Finding yourself in a state happens at a level of conscious awareness. It follows-on from the subconscious stage where inhibition must actually be applied. It implies a lack of positive conscious control. Inhibition is an attitude of mind which will result in you being able to choose the state you find yourself in.

In my original blog post I described someone who is exercising inhibition as calm, confident and un-flappable. This is not to suggest that they do not appear alert and poised to respond in an instant to any given stimulus. There is no inevitable time-delay in receiving a stimulus and responding to it in a consciously controlled way. This is because the inhibition and the choice of response have been applied in sufficient time for a response to appear instant. It often amuses me when a group of AT teachers get together and try to out-inhibit one another - like a blinking competition where the winner is the one who blinks last.