A question of Conception: How to coordinate the movements of the different parts of the torso in Bending the Knees to the best advantage
“Every moment you have to balance yourself. As you move, you have no hands on you. The only difference you can make is in how you organize yourself from moment to moment”. (Hermelin, Shaike; in Rootberg, R.; Living the Alexander technique, Vol. II, Aging with poise, 2018, p. 27)
This workshop is about working on oneself with conscious guidance and control when BENDING THE KNEES. The principle is simple: to assume a position of mechanical advantage you have to give consent to a series of decisions of movements of the different parts of the mechanism. We want to make these decisions consciously and learn to control objectively whether they are implemented in practice.
1. Conscious guidance of a series of movements
This workshop will explore in depth how we can use our reasoning1 to form a cause and effect conception2 and employ it to self-regulate ourselves in a physical activity, i.e., to “study the means of placing the body [torso parts] in a position of mechanical advantage, when the work will naturally devolve on those muscles intended to carry it out, and the neck will be relaxed unconsciously“.3
To move in and out of “Monkey” which is one of these “positions of mechanical advantage”,4 we will experiment with directing our coordination of movements with verbal orders,
- orders of definite performance, i.e., decisions to give consent to definite directions of movement of parts to organize a series of coordinated movements of all the parts of the torso and limb,
- orders of definite inhibition, instructions to refuse to give consent to subconscious decisions of movement which feel “right” but are wrong for the purpose of bending the knee in perfect equilibrium.
We will particularly observe and describe the defects5 in the use indicated and study how we can refuse to give consent to the guiding sensations controlling these habitual movements (“stop doing the wrong thing“). In refusing to reproduce these motion defects we will document the case made by Alexander which affirms that adopting the new way of bending the knees feels absolutely “wrong” and gives a particularly marked sense of insecurity in connexion with the maintenance of equilibrium.6
2. Conscious control of a series of movements
Conscious control of these movements will be performed using video motion analysis with the consent of the participants.
This workshop is based on the teachings of F.M. Alexander’s books, particularly “bending the knees in a new way“, CCCI, p. 83 and, “bending the hips and knees as hinges“, MSI, p. 171 (the study of these passages is not a prerequisite to participating in the workshop).
- “The first step in re-education is that of establishing in the pupil’s mind the connection which exists between cause and effect in every function of the human body. (Alexander, F., M., “Man’s supreme inheritance”, 1910, Charterson Ltd, Methuen & Co., p. 141.).
- “It is only by having a clear conception of what is required for the successful performance of a certain stroke or other act, combined with a knowledge of the psycho-physical means whereby those requirements can be met, that there is any reasonable possibility of their attaining sureness and confidence during performance. (Alexander, F.M.; “Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual”, “*Uncontrolled Emotions, and Fixed Prejudices*”, p. 133).
- “The desire to stiffen the neck muscles should be inhibited as a preliminary (which is not the same thing at all as a direct order to relax the muscles themselves), and then the true uses of the muscular mechanism, i.e., the means of placing the body [torso] in a position of mechanical advantage, must be studied, when the work will naturally devolve on those muscles intended to carry it out, and the neck will be relaxed unconsciously. (Alexander, F.M., “Man’s supreme inheritance”, Chaterson Ltd 1910, reprinted 1946, p. 58).
- “The position of mechanical advantage, which may or may not be a normal position, is the position which gives the teacher the opportunity to bring about quickly with his own hands a co-ordinated condition in the subject. Such co-ordination gives to the pupil an experience of the proper use of a part or parts, in the imperfect use of which may be found the primary cause of the defects present. (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance (Third Ed., 1946), p. 115).
- “Therefore before he attempts any form of physical development he must discover, or find some one who can discover for him, what his defects are in the uses indicated. When this has been done he must proceed to inhibit the guiding sensations which cause him to use the mechanism imperfectly; he must apprehend the position of mechanical advantage, and then by using the new correct guiding sensations or orders, he will be able to bring about the proper use of his muscular mechanism with perfect ease (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance (Third Ed., 1946), p. 58).
- “Now suppose that the teacher, after drawing the pupil’s attention to the very disadvantageous manner in which he has been using himself during the process of bending his knees, gives him some help, and succeeds in inducing him to bend his knees to the best advantage in the general use of his mechanisms. When this occurs, the act of bending the knees becomes, as far as this pupil is concerned, to all intents and purposes a new act, bringing with it a new feeling. This time the act is not what he is accustomed to, and so it feels wrong to him. Henceforward, whenever the conception of bending the knees comes to this pupil (whether in response to his teacher’s directions or through his own initiative), the choice lies before him of bending them in the old way (i.e., at great disadvantage to himself) and “feeling right,” or of changing the manner in which he performs the act and “feeling wrong. […]This sense of insecurity is particularly marked in connexion with the maintenance of his equilibrium in the acts of standing, walking, etc., in accordance with the newly acquired feeling. And so it comes about that, when a pupil is faced with the alternative of using his mechanisms badly and “feeling right,” or of using them well and “feeling wrong,” he is apt, as we say, to lose his head, does not stop, therefore, to consider (that is, inhibit), and falls back upon “feeling right.” (Alexander, F.M., “Constructive conscious control of the individual”, Integral Press 1923, reprinted 1955, p. 84).