A threefold process is at the core of Alexander Technique. Together, these three practices offer a concise springboard to its application. The acts are simple, the effects profound.
The Alexander Technique’s principles manifest in movement, poise, thought and disposition. In training to use Alexander Technique, one will study principles explicitly, or implicitly in procedures guided by the teacher.
Aiming to maximise The Technique’s scope and provide a readily accessible utility, I present a digest of three practices to newcomers. These practices are fundamental to Alexander Technique application at all levels of expertise.
Three Pillars of Practice:
Observation - Inhibition - Direction.
Every second, our brains are assaulted with thousands of incoming bits of information. In order to function, the brain filters the vast majority from consciousness. The act of observation is to bring certain of these stimuli to conscious attention. Observation in this sense, is analogous to tuning a radio to a particular station, selected from a plethora of broadcasting frequencies.
Alexander Technique is concerned with information about the body; the points of contact with support, relative position, musical tone, balance and so on. At its core, Alexander Technique asserts the inseparability of mind and body, so it is also critical to note one’s mood, disposition and manner of thought.
Any orientation we have in ourselves is relative to the environment we are in. Visual, auditory and other fields’ information is needed to determine an appropriate response to the environment. We also have many cues from the environment about our balance and position in space.
Observation thus becomes a practice of unifying the ‘internal’ and ‘external’, that is, the ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ environment. Any time something comes to mind that makes us consider the use of Alexander Technique, (pain, performance preparation, etc) an act of observation gives us invaluable information for which to make decisive action.
Sometimes the act of observation triggers a spontaneous modification. If such a movement arises in a coordinated way, it is welcome. If it is an habitual reaction - then Inhibition becomes crucial.
The neurological impulse which is sent to discontinue muscle action is called an inhibitory impulse. Thus FM Alexander coined the phrase “inhibition” to describe the instruction to refrain from action. Sometimes this is expressed as ‘release’ or ‘undo’.
Inhibition is a conscious intervention to reaction. We are predisposed to habitual responses. Once we begin habitually, if we then try to modify action, we add tension to tension and are destined for failure. Inhibition is the method of preventing inappropriate action - preferably before it happens.
Inhibition not only functions in movement. Habituated thoughts or emotions may also be inhibited. Inhibition is a process which gives us choice in how we respond. Before we can choose a coordinated response, we must avoid the interference of habitual tendencies.
In the first lessons, Alexander Technique may appear to be oriented towards relaxation. Inhibition stops us doing too much. On its own, it may leave one relaxed, but passive. For The Technique to be practical, observation and inhibition need to be paired with a process which generates coordinated action.
‘Direction’ is a conscious intention or invitation for coordination. It is a thought, manifesting as a movement, which determines the quality of action. It may be directly or indirectly associated with the movement of a specific activity.
Positive direction is characterised by flow, grace and expansiveness of movement. Direction is a force which unifies the mind and body, making motion connected and balanced.
Since we are interested in engaging the body’s own coordinative intelligence, Directions must be thoughts which intend for quality or movement, without being insistent on specifics. When intention becomes an impressive, the system may contrive a response and make compromises in order to achieve the requested motion. Framing Direction as an invitation, allows for the body to respond in novel ways which cooperate with its coordinative processes.
To any activity, Direction is an added instruction, or desire to be positively oriented. If attention is exclusively on the specifics of a task, Direction is an expansion of that attention to include a consideration of the coordination of the whole self. The spacial movements we make are determined by the activity at hand. The quality of this movement is established by one’s Direction.
To “send a Direction” is to have a clear intention for a certain quality. Direction has no immediate volitional movement. One invites the desired quality, rather than insists on its manifestation.
The specific thoughts one employs as Directions will be detrained by the task at hand. The study of Direction is most suited to practical instruction. However, within this blog you will find many Directions relating to general coordination, or specific activities which may be informative and inspirational.
Observation, inhibition and direction need not be practiced in the sequence presented above. Any one of the three can be the entry point to constructive intervention. However, all three must be present for change to be sustainable.
Sometimes observation yields nothing of note. This is especially relevant when a dysfunctional pattern fails to register due to its familiarity. The practices of inhibition or direction both send new neurological impulses, and are likely to lead to an observable change.
Observation gives us the context for our coordination and the information needed to act appropriately. Inhibition prevents the reoccurrence of habitual or dysfunctional action. Direction coordinates the quality of whole the self in the chosen activity.
Direction cannot function optimally whilst habitual or reactive patterns are engaged. Habit may conflict or override the invitation for coordinated movement. Furthermore, without inhibition, directions risk becoming imperatives. Inhibition will be lifeless without direction and observation alone is not a dependable resource.
Any activity which is characterised by unified engagement of observation, inhibition and direction, will be orienting the practitioner to improved coordination and aligning him or her on the pathway to improved ease and function.
Image copyright www.123rf.com/profile_foto168