This article presents a simple entry point for beginners to Alexander Technique. Those with experience will recognise it as a core practice for using the Technique at any level. Leaving space for customisation, expansion and refinement, let’s start with an ABC: Availability, Buoyancy and Continuity.
Availability, Buoyancy and Continuity
Asking for some availability is like making free time in your diary. It might mean cancelling some unimportant thing to create space for something else to happen.
In Alexander Technique, we use the word inhibition to describe a choice ‘not to do’ something. Becoming available to change creates a possibility for new qualities of movement or being. When we release some tension that has made us unavailable, we improve our chances of accessing the spontaneous coordination we see in children.
Alexander Technique is a framework for change. However, we may not know what needs to change, or how to initiate change for the better; asking for some specific change, like putting your head into some position, is not appropriate. Accepting what we have in the present moment is the first step to finding freedom. We ask for availability to change, and availability to be just as we are.
There is a non-conscious part of the brain that coordinates the body. It functions well when we free ourselves from poor habits and don’t consciously hold positions. If we were to impose change upon ourselves, we would use a preconceived idea about movement or muscle tone, and this would limit our possibilities.
As a starting point for using the request for availability, we can invite availability for:
- change or stasis
- difference from familiar or habitual coordination
- muscle tone to increase or decrease
- movement or stillness
To make ourselves available, we might need to relax a bit, but too much relaxation means we become unavailable for action! In order to keep ourselves available for animation, we add a condition to our request. Availability must take us into a positive orientation: one we shall call buoyancy.
Buoyancy is an effortless force, effervescent and dynamic. It is the graceful, expansive orientation of the body we see in elite athletes and performing artists, in children and in animals.
When we are upright, buoyancy is the body’s natural response to gravity. When lying down or leaning, we can create our own opposition, such as that between head and tail. We might call it expansion, length or width. The intention for buoyancy may be in any position – buoyancy is more of an orientation than a place.
We have the intention for buoyancy, but do not deliberately engage muscles. It is an invitation rather than an imperative. The Alexander Technique word for this kind of thought is direction.
Ask yourself to be available, so that you can be buoyant.
As well as being buoyant, any availability must also have some continuity through the body. We wouldn’t want to create availability in one place at the expense of another; instead, we want to improve availability everywhere. Doing this will address any specific needs along the way.
Continuity is not just thinking through parts of the body: it also implies continuity in time. We continue to ask for availability as we invite buoyancy, and we want both of these to continue as we attend to other aspects of our coordination. These intentions continue into whatever activity we are doing.
Ask for availability, so that you can be buoyant.
Invite continuity of that quality throughout the whole.
Intend for that quality to continue into your activity.
ABC: the nearest thing to instruction in how to ‘do’ Alexander Technique
The relationship of the head to the spine is fundamental to poise and movement. FM Alexander called it the ‘Primary Control’. When it is a positive relationship, the whole body moves and balances better. Taking care of Primary Control brings us into an optimal condition for any performance.
Primary Control is ‘primary’ in both senses of the word. It is a principle that is fundamental to all others, and it is the first step of a process.
In attending to Primary Control, the core practice of ABC would ask for:
A: Availability in the neck
B: for the head to be Buoyant
C: to ensure the Continuity of this quality throughout the torso and body,
(C) to Continue into action
This correlates to FM Alexander’s classic ‘Directions for Primary Control’
Availability: allow the neck to be free
Buoyancy: so that the head may go forward and up
Continuity: in such a way that the back may lengthen and widen
(Continuity): all together one after the other
The ABC of Availability, Continuity and Buoyancy is not a replacement for FM Alexander’s words, but a complimentary set of words pointing us to the same goal: improvement in ease and performance.
As a contemporary perspective on Primary Control, ABC may serve to deepen understanding and application for those using traditional directions. FM Alexander himself continued to refine his instruction over his lifetime, and wrote extensively about the limitations of the words he used.
The three aspects of ABC must be combined if they are to function effectively. If one aspect is neglected, the practice is compromised. If we have some availability, but lack buoyancy we will not have graceful poise. If buoyancy and availability do not have continuity though the whole body, there is less scope for a the whole body to flow in movement and create a positive affect on our work.
When combined, each A, B or C practice enhances the others. As we progress through each stage, we are organising the central coordination so that the limbs may best function. This improvement of the general condition enhances any specific action.
When to use Availability, Buoyancy and Continuity
Ultimately, we would like all our activity to be from the perspective of ABC. The more practiced one becomes, the faster and more profound the embodiment of the process.
- Idle moments are an opportunity to practise – for example, when you are at the traffic lights, or in a queue. In these moments, there is minimal challenge or distraction from practice.
- Many students like to make some dedicated time to practicing ABC. The classic Alexander Technique lying down practice known as Semi-Supine is one such context.
- Chores or menial tasks are a great way to start applying Alexander Technique in action. Brushing teeth, gardening and housework are some examples of tasks that Alexander Technique transforms from mundane to educational.
- Integrating ABC into routine practices like yoga, exercise or meditation improves the scope for these practices to fulfil their potential.
- When there is a high-risk activity, using ABC can help navigate that. We are naturally more mindful when lifting heavy furniture, climbing a ladder and so forth. ABC is a framework for being constructively mindful.
- Pain is a message that something is not optimal. To take pain as an invitation to use ABC gives you something positive to practise: it increases the chance of pain abating and prevents conditions from worsening.
- You may have identified other areas in which you particularly care about coordination. The demand on yourself (and hence your coordination) is raised when you perform, present, or are interviewed or assessed. Your performance will be dependent on your coordination, and attending to the ABC process is an auspicious part of performing.
Any time you think of it, using ABC is a proactive, positive practice. To think you need it all the time may be overwhelming, but the only chance available to apply it is right now, this very moment. Take every opportunity for practice, but especially the present one!
The ABC framework is a simple in-road to the rich and profound application of Alexander Technique principles. There are infinite ways to engage with the process, and considering alternatives deepens our understanding of how to use thinking constructively.
The ABC method here is readily accessible, memorable and convenient. Please put it to good use!
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