A downwards orientation of the self creates a compressing, depressive force. Alexander Technique directions are sometimes abbreviated as “Think Up!” - a universal tonic to downward orientation. The upward direction may stimulate positive engagement with gravity and energise activity. A consideration of the distinction between ‘buoyancy’ and ‘opposition’ may add some refinement to the concept of ‘up’.
The idea of duality in ‘up’ was introduced to me by the master teacher Caren Bayer. As I explored the concept, I found that optimum coordination consistently resulted when two ideas of ‘up’ were embraced. My prior version of ‘up’ intermittently favoured one over the other, and the differences were indistinct. Identifying and integrating the new information has helped to refine my application of Alexander Technique. To communicate the different “ups”, I gave each a name: ‘buoyancy’ and ‘opposition’.
Any object with buoyancy when placed in, on or under water, will continuously exert a movement towards the surface. The force of buoyancy is an engagement with gravity. Buoyancy will always be oriented towards the sky. The image of the submerged buoyant object I find appealing as we perceive this as something very dynamic. Buoyancy allows for movements in all directions, but always there is an inclination towards the surface.
Trees are always striving towards the sky. They are exemplifying a similar force, springing up against gravity. We cultivate buoyancy in ourselves right from infancy, pushing against the floor to lift the head upwards.
Buoyancy is straightforward if we stand upright. But so much of our daily activity involves motions which take us out of the vertical. To put on socks, we create a complex relationship with gravity, moving various body parts into different orientations. We still want buoyancy to keep us light and responsive, but another force is needed to prevent compressing, depressive forces when we move past 90 degrees.
Standing upright, my head is opposing the force of gravity which draws it towards the ground. This is a very healthy toning of a complex system of musculature creating a dynamic response to gravitational force. At the same time as my head going upwards, my tail can release downwards which is a kind of loading the spring of the musculature. The head and tail are serving as opposing forces which create a functional, lively resilience in the torso.
The same dynamic opposition of head to tail applies if we move into the horizontal. On all fours my heads opposition of the tail creates an toned integrity of the torso, making the arrangement stable, balanced and flexible.
In any orientation relative to gravity, there is a relationship between head and tail which is either compressive or expansive. Opposing the compressive forces by releasing into length allows for strong and stable movements into a squat, lunge or into the stance used by martial artists and sports people which Alexander Technique teachers call “the monkey”.
Opposition is a key element in the functioning of the head in relation to the torso. It can manifest anywhere in the body, in any plane. My fingertips can oppose my wrists. My wrists can release away from elbows and my elbows away from shoulders. This energising is a ‘direction’. It prevents an intention for connection becoming compressive.
Buoyancy and Opposition
With buoyancy alone, the scope for each body part to achieve optimal function is not actively engaged. One can be buoyant relative to gravity, but still be compressed in some parts. Opposition alone allows for each part and the whole to be expansive, but it doesn’t acknowledge the relationship to gravity. Therefore one can be expansive within the self, but still be heavy and downward oriented in movement.
The pair of Buoyancy and Opposition are a synergetic force which serve to integrate the whole and energise into a positive expansive movement, relative to gravity. Thinking of both when “thunking up” may refine or redefine a common quick direction.
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