I’m trying to experiment in my everyday activities with the orders that I know so far but I’m afraid that there’s the possibility of over doing it some times and end up with more muscle tensions than before.
And from what I knew so far, one main goal of AT is to tackle unnecessary tensions so I’m kinda worried about that.
I’m sorry about my not so precise questions but I’m still in the middle between the modern AT and initial AT.
1. General considerations
A few comments are called for before attempting to answer your new question.
First, I want to thank you for asking it and I will take the time to give you a thorough answer, not only for your sake but also to offer others people who may consider having initial Alexander technique lessons the possibility to reflect on the subject with a different viewpoint.
Most students who have had lessons in the modern Alexander technique are deeply impacted by the simplistic somatic ideas which have constituted along the years the core of its advertising efforts and have now become its doctrine. Once they start having lessons in the initial Alexander technique, they have to make great efforts to change their conceptions from a somatic intuitive easy acceptance (“it feels so right that tension should be banned because it is such a bad thing”) to an intelligent, counter-intuitive and balanced reasoning as it is developed by Alexander (in a tortuous way) in his books.
In short, Alexander does not believe in the release of specifics, specific unduly tense region, and in particular, the Neck.
For instance, if we decide that a defect must be got rid of or a mode of action changed, and if we proceed in the ordinary way to eradicate it by any direct means, we shall fail invariably, and with reason. For when defects in the poise of the body, in the use of the muscular mechanisms, and in the equilibrium are present in the human being, the condition thus evidenced is the result of an undue rigidity of parts of the muscular mechanisms associated with undue flaccidity of others. (Alexander, F.M.; Man’s Supreme Inheritance, (Second Ed. Revised, 1918), p. 65)
Behind this little sentence revealing the association between undue rigidity and undue flaccidity, there is the practical idea that if you decide that a symptom of rigidity in one part of the organism must be got rid of, you have to STOP and think in a new way, because if you do something to release that part directly, then you are dealing with a symptom and not at all considering the cause, i.e. the coordination of the movements of all the parts. Releasing one rigid part will do nothing beneficial to change the cause of the undue flaccidity of the other parts which contributed to the rigidity you sought to eradicate.
If there is any undue muscular pull in any part of the NECK, it is almost certain to be due to the DEFECTIVE COORDINATION in the use of the muscles of the spine, back, and torso generally, the correction of which means the eradication of the real cause of the trouble.
This principle applies to the attempted eradication of all defects or imperfect uses of the mental and physical mechanisms in all the acts of daily life and in such games as cricket, football, billiards, baseball, golf, etc., and in the physical manipulation of the piano, violin, harp, and all such instruments. (Alexander, F.M., “Man’s supreme inheritance”, Chaterson Ltd 1910, reprinted 1946, p. 127) The Processes of Conscious Guidance and Control 127″.
Considering the influence of the coordination of all the parts on a specific defect, is it not a strange thing that all the leaders of opinion of somatic STAT have not realised that their flock appear never to feel undue flaccidity, that they always target undue rigidity as the cause of people’s problems?
“The whole organism is responsible for specific trouble. Proof of this is that we eradicate specific defects in process” (Alexander, F.M.; in Fischer, J.M.O.; Article & Lectures, Mouritz, Teaching Aphorisms, 1995, p. 207).
Alexander ’s proposition is for each individual to work with conscious guidance of the whole organism, i.e. the conscious guidance of all the parts of the structure. It is not an easy path because it means subordinating your decisions to a principle, a mental tool which exists only within a related system of concepts, and which does not work because people believe in it, but because they understand it and because they experiment with it. The aim is to learn to coordinate the movements of all the parts, in order to solve specific problems in the process. This process compel us to inhibit reacting, releasing the parts which feel too tense according to what we feel. It compel us to detach ourselves from the feeling sense.
In his perspective, the technique is not a tool restricted to a class of somatic body-workers who want to put their hands on people to demonstrate how unique the gift they possess is, but a social belonging which can help anyone practice experiments of conscious re-education, readjustment and coordination, as long as they accept to take the time to make sense of it and to conduct an inquiry in that direction.
2. Overdoing principled experiments at your stage (2nd lesson)
During your last lesson (z = 2), we discussed a principle. It was the principle of establishing a definite distance, i.e. a mental benchmark or guideline (a mental distance that can be used as a standard to compare, judge other similar distances) to organise a series of movements aimed at a common consequence or “end”.
In practice, we established first that to obtain the same measurable distance between two bony parts, i.e. the exterior of the knees and the exterior of the heels, equal to the ‘benchmark distance’ which I called “base” and defined as the width of your pelvis measured between your two palms with a wooden ruler, you had to control consciously two different movements of the knees and heels, simultaneously.
At first, the only tools I gave you to experiment with this coordination task were two verbal orders of movements aiming at a limit, i.e. the benchmark distance. In other words, this simultaneous guidance of the two movements so defined was aptly subsumed by two verbal instructions aimed at obtaining the correct “pose of the feet” and knees at the same time (simultaneously) so that the “torso and limbs could be influenced and aided by the force of gravity”.
Two definite orders of performance were used: “I pull the exterior of the heels outward to “base” and ”I pull the exterior of the knees inward to base“. The information contained in the expression ”pulling something to base“ refer to the psycho-mechanical act of guiding the movements of two bony parts at a definite distance, i.e. ”a base distance” from each other, defined by the width of the upper parts of the ilium bones.
It is difficult to see how you could overdo this experiment. Yet, it is obvious that it will make you feel tensions where you feel nothing habitually. By using the concerted series of directions of movements, you are directing your mind to bring into action some flaccid part which produce no work in your habitual coordination of the different parts of the torso. If you have been made hypersensitive to feelings of tension by your previous training, it is likely that the situation will appear serious, but it will not last long, as when tissues are brought back into action, they quickly develop both in strength and speed and you get used to the new feeling of balanced tension.
To counter-balance your worried reaction to this unavoidable stage, you need to consider
1. the great mental field that you can start exploring. Ask yourself this question: where before have you had the opportunity to train yourself to make a series of decisions, holding these decisions in mind and performing these decisions and no others simultaneously in actual practice with clear guidelines to control your aim with accuracy? Training for simultaneous decisions in activity goes much farther than physical coordination and physical functioning!
2. the logic of the results of the coordination of the small movements I instructed you to project.
Maybe you can reason yourself and accept the new feelings of tension by studying the reasoning leading to the position you assumed consciously.
There is a cause and effect relation between the organisation of the different bones of the lower limbs and the effectiveness of the support of the spine by the pelvis. If the pelvis is habitually tilted as a result of the geometry of the habitual gesture, the lower part of the spine is leaning to one side and shortening on the other. In Alexander’s words, resting and moving with a pelvis tilted to one side represents a ‘position of mechanical disadvantage’ which tends to shorten the spine. There is then an ‘undue tension’ or ‘unbalanced tension’ throughout the whole torso: on this picture, you will see that there is too much tension on the right and too little tension on the left to prevent the torso from falling to the left.
You can draw or reason out two conclusions from these psychophysical conditions:
- releasing the excessive tension or increasing the tension on the flaccid side will not solve the cause of the pelvic imbalance, which is in the geometry of the movements of the different parts of the lower limb,
- of course, the subject has no feeling about this ongoing state of affair, she feels upright when, for an objective observer, she is leaning to the left. She is standing in this way because she feels that she has has much weight on the right and left leg. When I manage to have her create the movements which change her support system to a correct geometry of mechanical advantage, she invariably will say when perfectly centred: “All my weight is on the right now!”.
Knowing how to direct the movements of the feet and knees both for finding rest and for training equal tension in the abductors and adductors tissues of the lower part of the torso (pelvis) should be a primary concern for any system of gestural training. Yet, you must understand that such system must integrate a training of inhibition because as soon as the pupil will coordinate a series of new primary acts to assume and study the “position of mechanical advantage“, he will be confronted with feelings of tension which were not present before and will tend to stimulate him straight away to return to his habitual feeling of rest!
“The minute you change it, the thing that isn’t a strain feels a strain”. (Alexander, F.M.; in Fischer, J.M.O.; Article & Lectures, Mouritz, Teaching Aphorisms, 1995, p. 205)
When we are a child, the organisation in space of the movements of the anatomical structure is not learned by a conscious reasoning process. As a result, most people ignore the simplest geometrical conditions of support and rest between the torso and limbs. Alexander, in his writings, show that he is aware of that fact and even names it “a principle”, “the primary principle in attaining the correct standing position”.
I found very strange that (a) Alexander never defined the three terms he used in the “primary principle in attaining the correct standing position” which establishes that the “limbs and torso should be aided and influenced by the force of gravity”, i.e. base, pivot and fulcrum, and (2) that the placement of the feet he advocated (Delsarte’s base n°2 which was supposed to represent weakness for the public in the old acting system) was in violation of the rule he so hastily exposed in his first book. I assumed he may have copied the rule from others without fully understanding what it was about.
I do not intend to explain all three terms here because, in our future lessons, we are going to examine in detail and experiment with procedures each of them and all of them in concert, but for people interested, I just want to state that the two other terms are also to do with the organisation of the series of movements of the ankle and foot in 3D space in order to obtain distant effects (“antagonistic pulls“) at the other end of the anatomical structure.
Returning to the case at hand, it is clear on the film of your lesson that without any instructions (orders of movements) for the knees and heels, these parts, heels and knees tended to move with a [strong] habitual tendency toward the production of unwanted shear forces in the joints when you moved your legs: the heels moved closer together and the knees went apart from each other simultaneously as soon as you fidgeted or started a gesture involving the legs. This is also how (by which coordination of the parts) you assumed your sitting posture on the chair.
This seems to indicate that some muscles connecting the torso and lower limbs are slightly overdoing their part and some others are not playing their part in your habitual way of using the legs in sitting.
I did not tell you to ‘release’ the muscles doing too much or to ‘exercise’ the muscles doing too little. I never talked about them. Rather, I had you work with your mind and command a series of well defined MOVEMENTS, and your work was about subordinating two different motor actions to a geometrical task. I said “use the instruction “I pull the exterior of the knees inward to Base” to instruct the first decision of movement” and “I pull the exterior of the heel outward to Base” to subordinate the motor action to a second geometrical task WHILE you were doing a global gesture (pulling the feet back toward the chair). I knew full well that you had no idea of the number of muscles involved in the tasks and even less of the ones originating in the torso that were doing too much or too little. I said just experiment to see whether you can affect the results of those processes’, see whether you can command a given series of ‘primary acts’ not directly involved in the gesture of moving the legs but which provide a new QUALITY to the gesture.
The second thing that we can learn from watching the video recording of your lesson is that you were able by using the verbal orders of movements, one for the knees and one for the heels simultaneously, to perform one qualitatively new gesture (moving the feet back toward the chair) while consciously coordinating the movements of the feet and knees to base altogether. As far as I can tell, this controlled gesture was totally new to you, you had no previous sensory experience of performing this coordination of movements: the new experience was the “unknown” as far as your sensory experience was concerned.
You did not look too surprised nor elated to achieve this coordination on your fist attempt, yet this is the basis of the psycho-mechanic of the Alexander technique that Alexander called the “means-whereby” principle, the continuous projection of orders of movements.
The “means-whereby” principle calls for the ability “to bring to bear on” a dozen or more objects if necessary, and which implies a number of things, all going on, and converging to a common consequence (continuous projection of orders). (Alexander, F.M.; Constructive conscious control of the individual, Integral Press 1923, reprinted 1955, p. 167, “Projection of Orders”)
It is important to note that the adjective ‘continuous’ is not used in the modern sense of the word, but in a technical way by Alexander when referring to the projection of directions of movements. These orders are not to be projected continuously in the sense of all day, without interruption. It is the projection which must be continuous, i.e. the first order and second and following orders must not be projected sequentially, separately, discontinuously one after the other in time, but simultaneously, “all going on” as in the Classical Latin of the sense of ‘continere’, the etymological root of continuous, ‘to contain’.
The common consequence of the direction of the movements of the heels and knees (the four of them) was a different pose of the feet, of the bones of the legs (tibia) and of the bones of the thighs (femur) and it is reasonable to think that the powerful fascias and muscles of the legs which attach to the torso were also used differently from your habit in the reasoned experiment, thereby affecting the torso as a whole in some way as the most powerful muscles attached to the upper and lower leg bones are “muscles of the torso”.
At that moment of the lesson, I made you note that these coordinated movements of the legs had a different impact on the shape of your back, different from your unthinking habitual guidance of the feet and knees when you move your legs in sitting. You looked taller on the chair. I knew you could not feel at that stage this consequence of the conscious coordination of the movements of the feet and knees, but I wanted you to watch the video recording of your lesson to judge whether you could control what I had said afterwards, objectively, by looking at the shape of your torso in the recording before and after you had moved the feet back while directing the movement of the knees and heels altogether. In this way, by reviewing your lesson, you could observe what is not directly apparent, i.e. the relation of cause and effect between a series of movements and the mechanical advantage of the torso. At first, this kind of thinking is not forthcoming without help because modern Alexander technique students are much more attracted by what they feel.
All this experimental procedure was an introduction to the concept of conscious guidance and control, or in more modern terms, an introduction to an action coding system of voluntary gestural coordination of the anatomical structure as a whole.
Converging evidence from many different fields of research suggests that human movements are organized as actions and not reactions [reflexes play no part in postural reactions of subjects without brain damage], that is, they are initiated by a motivated subject, defined by a goal, and guided by information. [emphasis added]. (von Hofsten, Claes; “An action perspective on motor development”, 2004, Trends in cognitive Science, Vol.8 No.6, p. 1).
After this beginning at using a mental benchmark, we started another procedure which was also based on the principle of a conscious mental benchmark to organise a series of movements of different parts of the organism. This time, the conscious benchmark was not “base”, but another concept invented by Delsarte which he called [improperly] “line of oneness”.
I have found absolutely no trace of this idea of spatial ‘benchmark’ or of that particular gauge of “oneness” in Alexander’s writings, yet I was astounded to discover that Alexander (during all his life), and the very first teachers of the Alexander technique (in the 1940’s and 1950 and until Alexander’s death), were all using it in practice. My idea is that Alexander was using this benchmark consciously to organise the movements of the different parts of his torso but that his students were not. Then, when the pedagogy of the technique fell into the hands of the modern Alexander technique teachers, not only the idea, but also the practice became totally lost, to be replaced by the plumb-line concept of lengthening the spine (lengthening the spine on a table top).