Dynamic Poise: how directing the mind rationally can replace old somatic habits of guidance
Conscious guidance and control of concerted movements: going back to basics
This workshop is about working on oneself1 with conscious guidance and control and teaching others to work on themselves to establish the basis of a cyclical process of conscious guidance and control in the gestural sphere, so that each participant can continue to explore on her/his own after the workshop either with herself or with others (pupils). When working on ourselves, we do not explore ‘movements’ but our capacity to subordinate to coordinated verbal instructions new concerted movements of all the parts of the torso2, new concerted movements, i.e., integral gestures, which are not part of our somatic habitual experience. We explore the self-regulating capacity bestowed by the power of structured self-speech over the coordination of complex and inhabitual gestures of the whole self.
Working on oneself in this sense means:
- observing the performance of habitual acts by other than the habitual methods of doing according to what feels right3 in which one general order (like “let the neck be free” or “lengthen the stature”) which starts the old train of vicious habitual movements is replaced by new orders (correct mental orders4 of concerted movements) so that physical acts can be performed consciously as an effect of the conscious conception and conscious direction of the mind, and,
- reflecting on the last performance as viewed on a video-recording (ocular demonstration5) and changing our conception of the gesture from a “It happens like that for me, it feels impossible to do otherwise so it must be done like that” to a cause and effect relation6 which leads to a new experiment of conscious guidance and a liberation from the tyranny of the feeling sense over our understanding and our reasoning standard.
The growth of conscious guidance requires three different skills which we will study in reverse order:
- to understand the means-whereby principle7,
- to create a new conception of the “use of the self as a whole”, i.e. a model of coordinated movements of the parts of the mechanism that we intend to consciously guide without reference to our feeling sense, and,
- to challenge what our habitual sense of feeling imposes as the “only right way to do things, according to our subjective habit”.
We will see how reasoning a new model gives meaning to the words we are using so that each participant can think an accurate meaning and no other when using these words for guidance and when measuring8 the results incurred with the help of these orders against the intended model. Conscious control of the antagonistic muscular actions of the mechanism of the torso in all gestures will be performed using video motion analysis with the consent of the participants.
An introduction to the means-whereby principle and the “new guiding orders”.
Most teachers have been taught that Alexander’s preventive orders are one and the same thing as what he calls the series of new orders. In this workshop we will start from a different viewpoint, i.e. that the preventive orders “let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lenghten and widen, etc…” are stimuli used just for the purpose of reminding us [training us supposedly] not to react directly, not to try and get a result by an illusory magical power of repeating words and calling to some “intelligence of the body”. These orders are not stimuli of movements, therefore, they do not qualify as guiding orders of a new coordination of movements.
The conscious guidance and control advocated here is on a wide and general, and not on a specific basis. Conscious control applied in a specific way is unthinkable, except as a result of the principle primarily applied as a universal. For instance, the CONSCIOUS CONTROLLING OF THE MOVEMENTS of a particular muscle or limb, as practised by athletes and others, is of little practical value in the science of living.
The specific control of a finger, of the NECK, or of the legs should primarily be the result of the conscious guidance and control of the mechanism of the torso, particularly of the antagonistic muscular actions which bring about those correct and greater co-ordinations intended to control the movements of the limbs, neck, respiratory mechanism and the general activity of the internal organs. (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance, (Second Ed. Revised, 1918), p. 141)
Bluntly, Alexander makes no mystery that let the neck be free should primarily be the result of the conscious guidance and control of the mechanism of the torso.
- The term ‘mechanism’ refers to the parts of a machine, considered collectively, which produce some functions according to their COMBINED MOVEMENTS. In the case of the mechanism of the torso, the direction of the movements of its parts determine not only its functions (equilibrium, breathing, circulation, etc…) but also its volume, sphape and its relationships with the limbs, and neck.
This workshop will particularly be devoted to exploring how the participant can change, NOT one movement of a part or another, but the coordination of the movements of all the different parts of the torso9 by using “new guiding orders” which describe a coordinated intention of giving consent to a series of definite movements of the parts of the torso & simultaneously, to refuse to give consent to unwanted movements which are unconsciously performed when the subject attempts to project a series of desired movements.
This workshop will explore in depth how we can use our reasoning10 to form a cause and effect conception11 and employ it to self-regulate our coordination in a physical activity, i.e., we will “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”.12
When Alexander says “placing the body in a position” we will translate combining13 prevention and doing in one activity, i.e. combining the performance of a series of coordinated movements of the different parts of the torso with the prevention of unwanted movements which we cannot feel but of which we have had an ocular demonstration and that we know we tend to perform when attempting the former, in order to obtain a position of mechanical advantage.
Conscious guidance in practice
This workshop is not concerned with the theoretical approach of Alexander’s writtings but with the practical aspect of planning and performing habitual gestures. No knowledge of the theory is necessary to join the workshop which is as much oriented toward total beginners as toward seasoned teachers of the modern Alexander technique. We will explore standing, sitting, going from sit-to-stand, leaning forward and back and also raising the hands (on demand we could also explore procedures of conscious guidance in other gestures like going up on the toes, squat, breathing in, breathing out or lunge).
In all these efforts to apprehend and control our mental habits we will experiment with directing our coordination of movements of the different parts of the torso with a series of concerted verbal orders, experimenting whether our mind, when rationally directed,14 will effect the desired coordination.
- 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 lengthening and widening the back in perfect equilibrium.
We will particularly observe and describe the defects15 in the use indicated and study how we can refuse to give consent to the guiding sensations controlling these habitual movements of all the different parts of the mechanism of the torso (“stop doing the wrong thing”).17 of the newly created antagonistic pulls.
If we employ as the fundamental in teaching the principles of conscious guidance and control on a basis of re-education and general co-ordination the following advantages should accrue :
(1) The pupil will be made aware of his specific defects in the employment of his mental and physical organism in physical performances.
(2) When he has been made aware of these defects, he can be taught to inhibit the faulty movements, and his teacher can assist him to gain slowly but correctly the necessary experiences in the correct use of those muscular mechanisms [correct movements] which will enable him sooner or later to govern them properly without the aid of the teacher, and to employ them with accuracy and precision in his game of golf and other physical performances. […] (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance (Third Ed., 1946), p. 135)
- The participants will not be touched or manipulated as the workshop is about working on oneself with conscious (non-sensory) guidance.
- “I wish to make it clear that when I employ the word “use,” it is not in that limited sense of the use of any specific part, as, for instance, when we speak of the use of an arm or the use of a leg, but in a much wider and more comprehensive sense applying to the working of the organism in general. For I recognize that the use of any specific part such as the arm or leg involves of necessity bringing into action the different psycho-physical mechanisms of the organism [bring into action all the parts of the torso], this concerted activity bringing about the use of the specific part. (Alexander, F.M., “The use of the self”, Integral Press 1932, reprinted 1955, Note p. 2).
- Doing according to what feels “right” is the definition of end-gaining given by F.M. Alexander.
- “On broad lines it is evident that the misuses must be diagnosed by the instructor, who may be called upon to use considerable ingenuity and patience in correcting the faults, and substituting the correct mental orders for the one general order which starts the old train of vicious habitual movements. The mental habit must be first attacked, and this mental habit usually lies below the level of consciousness; but it may be reached by introspection and analysis, and by the performance of the habitual acts by other than the habitual methods— that is, by physical acts performed consciously as an effect of the conscious conception and the conscious direction of the mind. (F.M. Alexander, msi, p. 128).
- “In the matter of conception, the first step is to convince the pupil that his present misdirected activities are the result of incorrect conception and of imperfect sensory appreciation (feeling). Now, in this regard I would at once warn those who are inexperienced in this matter that the pupil, as a rule, will not be convinced on this point by discussion and argument alone. A pupil will, indeed, often assure his teacher that he sees the argument, and from his standpoint this statement may be true. But in my experience there is only one way by which a teacher can really convince a pupil that his sense of feeling is misleading him when he starts to carry out a movement, and that is by demonstration upon the pupil’s own organism. A mirror should be used, so that the pupil, as far as possible, can have ocular demonstration as well. (Alexander, F.M.; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (Eighth edition, 1946), p. 79)
- “In the individual the normal processes of education in the use of the anatomical structure is conducted subconsciously, certain instincts commanding certain functions, whilst other functions are conducted deliberately. The effects of this haphazard process have either to be elaborated or broken down, according to the defects established by misuse of the mechanisms, and the first step in re-education is that of establishing in the pupil’s mind the connexion which exists between cause and effect in every function of the human body. (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance, (Second Ed. Revised, 1918), p. 135).
- “Now if we are to understand the “means-whereby” principle on which the teacher who adheres to the idea of unity in the working of the human organism will base his teaching method, we must recognize that the attainment of any desired end, or the performance of any act such as the making of a golf stroke, involves the direction and performance of a connected series of preliminary acts by means of the mechanisms of the organism, and that therefore, if the use of the mechanisms is to be directed so as to result in the satisfactory attainment of the desired end, the directions for this use must be projected in a connected series to correspond with the connected series of preliminary acts“. (Alexander, F.M.; The Use of the Self_ Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis-, (Third Ed. Centerline Press 1946), p. 38).
- “How, then, can you tell when you’re dealing with a genuine expert? Real expertise must pass three tests. First, it must lead to performance that is consistently superior to that of the expert’s peers. Second, real expertise produces concrete results. Brain surgeons, for example, not only must be skillful with their scalpels but also must have successful outcomes with their patients. A chess player must be able to win matches in tournaments. Finally, true expertise can be replicated and measured in the lab. As the British scientist Lord Kelvin stated, “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” (Ericsson, K.A.; The Making of An Expert, 2007, p. 2).
- “What is essential here is a co-ordinated use of the arms, and the only way by which he can secure this is, first, by giving the necessary preventive orders, and then by rehearsing the series of new orders given by the teacher, in which the movement of the arms is linked up with the use of the other parts of the body [Alexander employs ‘body’ for ‘mechanism of the torso’]. (Alexander, F.M.; Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (Eighth edition, 1946), p. 113).
- “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).
- “To this end I proceeded in my vocal work to try to prevent my old habit of pulling my head back and down and lifting the chest (shortening the stature), and to combine this act of prevention with an attempt to put the head forward and up (lengthening the stature) and widen the back. This was my first attempt to combine “prevention” and “doing” in one activity, and never for a moment doubted that I should be able to do this, but I found that although I was now able to put the head forward and up and widen the back as acts in themselves, I could not maintain these conditions in speaking or reciting. (Alexander, F.M.; The Use of the Self, Its Conscious Direction in Relation to Diagnosis, (Third Ed. Centerline Press 1946).pdf, p. 9).
- “I explain to him that his own will (not mine or some higher will), directed in a rational way to bring about a physical manifestation and aided by a simple mechanical principle and proper [mental] manipulation, is to effect the change and thus build a reasoned, real and permanent, not a spurious hysterical confidence which is apt to fail as suddenly as it arose. (Alexander, F.M., “Conscious Control, In relation to human evolution in civilization”, 1912, p. 30).
- “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).
- “The idea, however, of ceasing to do the wrong thing (as a preliminary measure in re-education) makes little or no appeal at first to the average pupil, who, in most cases, goes on trying to “be right” in spite of his experience and of all that his teacher may say.
There are many reasons for this, chief among them being, in my opinion, the fact to which I have already drawn the reader’s attention—namely, that in our conception of how to employ the different parts of our mechanisms, we are guided almost entirely by a sense of feeling which is more or less unreliable. We get into the habit of performing a certain act in a certain way, and we experience a certain feeling in connexion with it which we recognize as “right.” The act and the particular feeling associated with it becomes one in our recognition.(Alexander, F.M., “Constructive conscious control of the individual”, Integral Press 1923, reprinted 1955, p. 82) 16“When you move [the torso forward] you are putting the muscles of the back out of gear, whereas if the head goes forward and up and you move your back back, you are widening your back and bringing the antagonistic pulls of the back into play —the lifter muscles, properly called the anti-gravity muscles. In other words, you must be doing the very thing which you feel will not get you out of the chair. (Alexander, F.M.; 1934, in Fischer, J.M.O; Articles and Lectures, 1995, p. 188, St Dunstan Lecture).