It’s Week 5of my online Alexander Technique course pilot, and this week’s Thinking-in-Activity lesson is Bending. To begin, let’s find our middles. A standard habit of thought is to consider the ‘middle’ of the body to be somewhere around the belly button. Nope. Re-mapping is required if this is how you think about middle.
The mid-place of our body’s structure is at the hip joints. Now that’s another body mapping challenge, as we often think of the iliac crest as our hips. Nope. They form the pelvis, and the pelvic bowl. Keep going. Hip joints are further down.
The best way to find hip is to stand with thumbs along the crease that forms when you lift your leg up from the knee, like a prancing horse. That’s the locale of the hips, and believe it or not, it is also the mid-point of your body. Legs/feet are the same length as head/torso.
Now, back to bending. We bend, most efficiently, ease-fully, and comfortably, when we move from the hips, NOT the imaginary waist. We are multi-jointed and move at joints. Hips, knees, ankles.
Drop a pen on the floor and before picking it up, employ Alexander Technique thinking: Observe Self. (Note your impulse to pick up the pen, without thought.) Inhibit/Pause. (Don’t pick it up. Just stand there.) And finally, Direct: ‘I move back with the pelvis, and forward/over with the head/spine.’
Here’s to healthy and happy bending (see youngsters above)—-
Standing at the kitchen counter, I survey the assembled: crock pot, cutting board and paring knives, a large silver bowl for scraps. A motley pile of apples drains in the colander. Not the beautiful orbs purchased in local orchards this time of year, our farm apples are un-sprayed and untended, leaving them much enjoyed by birds and yes, worms. This means plenty of slicing and dicing around imperfections. But, oh, my. The good bits are so good. Tart and sweet all at once.
With vats of apples to process, I can get ahead of myself. This is known in Alexander Technique parlance as ‘End-Gaining.’ Charging to the finish line, so to speak, with nary a thought for how best to get there. This means my wrists hurt, the right hand thumb tight and unhappy from an awkward repetitive motion, until I make the choice to notice.
The noticing is termed ‘Inhibition,’the pause in the midst of habit. Next is ‘Directions.’Gentle guidance. ‘Let the hand fan outward.’ Ulna and little finger aligned. So simple, this kindness to oneself.
This week’s post is a nod to the season’s fine American tradition—-The Summer Road Trip. Think hot macadam, windows down, music on the radio, pulling into a drive-in restaurant to order hamburgers, fries, and shakes, traveling a few more hours, selecting a motel where you can park right in front of your room, IF you don’t see this out front: NO VACANCY.
We long to see a VACANCY sign blazing after a day on the road. But in the motel that is our body, NO VACANCY is what we want. All rooms occupied, i.e.- embodied. That’s us at our best! We study and practice The Alexander Technique for this very reason—-to be fully in residence, present to ourselves and others.
A motel vacancymeans empty rooms, unoccupied space. For a road traveler, that’s good news. For a resident of a body, not so much. When teacher-training, one of my Alexander Technique mentors would tease me about my ‘phantom limbs,’ referring to my legs from the knees down. They were there, but absent from my body awareness and only vaguely included in my body map.
A common territory unoccupied by many is the back, not only the back of our torso, but the entirety of our back self: back of legs, back of pelvis, backs of arms, back of neck, back of head. All that is ‘back’ is often disregarded, probably because sight is such a strong sense, and we don’t see our back selves when glancing in a mirror.
Include your back selfin a scan of your body, and check to see that all rooms are occupied. NO VACANCY indeed—-
Truth-telling. Not enough of that in this present political age. Since I’m not in control of our society’s unleashed lying habits, I’m proposing to start here:
Be honest with myself.
Hmmm. As in, a long, hard look in the mirror? What I see there these days is my mortality.
You too can stare death in the face with a read of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and OtherLessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. It is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, but I found it to be bracing and yes, refreshing. Death is acknowledged. No lies. No subterfuge.
My Alexander Technique teaching studio has two skeletons in daily use, along with multiple anatomy tomes. Some students are uncomfortable with considering the bones beneath their flesh, and a bit of light-hearted cajoling is required for a engaged lesson of curiosity about the body and its structure.
Facing the truth of death and decay is to embrace living. In a death-denying and truth-negating culture, this can be a radical practice. Let’s begin with some courageous honesty all around, and who knows, we could be contributing to a new cultural norm; telling the truth!
“Debauched kinesthesia.” This is my all-time favorite F.M. Alexander phrase, which he used to explain how unreliable our sense of the physical self can be. When we have spent years in habits of mis-use, our habits will feel right.
When a student first experiences balance, they report feeling too far forward. And yet there they stand, beautifully poised and present. But, this balance isn’t habit, thus it feels wrong.
F.M. was so exasperatedwith this phenomenon, he advocated taking into no account how we feel, and relying solely on Direction (our thinking) to bring us to ease and optimal use.
I’ve concludedthat my thinking AND my kinesthetic sense can both serve in the duties of bringing greater poise and presence.
Notice where you arein this moment, checking in with your kinesthetic sense. Now, add F.M.’s direction:
‘I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’
The very day I sat myself down to write to you about Monkey, I came across a news story of a former Pennsylvania church burning to the ground. This building was intended to become a ‘museum’ of all things Davey Jones and The Monkees. Well. Can’t pass up that serendipity, so here they are! Adorable. Love the turtlenecks. This news story took me back to my teeny-bopper days, when Jones had me and many other pre-adolescent girls swooning. (He’s the one bottom left.)
The Monkey found in Alexander- Technique-Land is ‘a position of mechanical advantage.’ Beware of the word ‘position,’ as it does not refer to fixity, but rather to a human movement pattern.
Ohio University singershave taken ‘Monkey’ and run with it this fall, or rather, sung with it. And to great good effect. What is it and why does its use result in ease and freedom?
Monkey consists ofallowing the hips to move back in space, torso (with head leading) is ever-so-slightly forward of the hip joints, which brings the arms forward of the legs and torso, able to swing freely in jungle-monkey-fashion. A picture (or two, or three) is worth a thousand words:
Play with Monkey the next time you find yourself standing at the kitchen sink. (Thanks, Alex!) Observe what this ‘position of mechanical advantage’ gives your back, arms, and neck. Work with your structure and hopefully find yourself a little bit of ease——
Here’s a research project for you….find your sit bones! Although we assembled in a Worthington Ohio church and were not seated on a boat dock, singers at Capriccio Summer Camp went in search of their bony protuberances (the ishium) of the pelvic bowl, also called ‘rockers’ (yes, you can rock on them).
There they are,the two ‘loops’ you can see descending from the pelvis. Although our thighs rest on a sitting surface, they are not the gravity bearing structure as when standing. When seated, gravity is traveling through the head, down the spine, along the pelvis and through the sit bones, into the surface on which you find yourself seated.
As I writethis description and think through its implications, my legs are now doing less work and there is more ‘give’ at the hips, always a welcome change since I live with osteoarthritis and have a total hip replacement on my left.
Also,when I allow my sit bones to receive the path of gravity, I find my back muscles do less work as well. This is always a relief. Back muscles have work to do, yes, however, we often give them way too much to do.
Let the design of your structure, head on spine, spine meeting pelvis, rockers beneath pelvis….let this support you, and your muscles will provide the tone and effort needed. Just enough.
Study the first two vertebrae of the spine: Atlas(C1) and Axis(C2). The Atlas is wide and strong and gladly supports your head, just as the Greek god, Atlas, supported the world. The Axis is so named because it is here the head moves. Gently move your head left to right; that’s the Axis at work. With these light and lovely movements, you can begin to acquaint yourself with this primary place of balance in the body.
The head-meeting-spine location is between your ears and behind your nose. You can also find it by running the tip of your tongue along the roof of your mouth, beginning at the backs of your front teeth. You will feel the ridges of the hard palette, which give way to pliant tissue, the soft palette. Right above the place where hard palette becomes soft palette is where head and spine meet.
And so we come toan aspect of Alexander Technique study called Body Mapping, created by Alexander Technique teachers Barbara Conable and Bill Conable. Beginning with the basic premise,”As we think, so we move,” the student of Body Mapping acquires an accurate mental map of the body’s structure, allowing the body to move according to its inherent design and intended function.
Find yourself a good anatomy tome, and just look. My favorites are: Albinus on Anatomy, Robert Beverly Hale and Terence Coyle, and Atlas of Human Anatomy, Frank H. Netter, M.D.
Map your head and spine relationship, and soon! Singers at the Capriccio Summer Camp have been up to the task this week. Thank you, camp singers, for your curiosity and your willingness to learn something new. I am in admiration—