If you’ve ever heard anything about the Alexander Technique, it’s likely you’ve come across the term “directing,” or “giving yourself directions.” This might be a little baffling to those not familiar with the Technique.
Simply, “giving yourself directions” means consciously sending yourself specific messages from your brain to the rest of your body in order to bring about positive changes in the way you are coordinating yourself in any given moment. In other words you are engaging your thinking to initiate transformation, and used in conjunction with pausing (inhibition) this is really powerful. It is how we can change our habits.
The “classic” directions for encouraging the natural poise of our upright posture as formulated by F.M. Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique, are:
Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen.
These directions can be quite wonderful, once we learn what they mean with the hands-on help of an Alexander teacher, but can be quite mysterious when we hear them for the first time. They can also be easily misinterpreted without the intervention of an AT teacher when we’re first using them on our own.
The vast majority of people, myself included, when first introduced to these, or any, “Alexander-style” directions, fall prey to two main pitfalls:
- The misunderstanding of what the “forward and up” direction of the head means. The idea of this direction is to prevent the head pulling back and down – a very common and harmful habit causing compression and tension in the neck and throughout the body. So, the direction “forward and up” actually means that the chin may go down a little as the back of the head goes up.
- Even once we have understood this concept, the overriding pitfall of giving yourself any direction (whether “classic” or any other devised by you or your teacher) is that we try and “do” the direction by using muscular effort. In actuality less muscular effort is needed, and this is why directions are generally thoughts rather than actions. This can feel quite unusual at first, as we are so used to achieving everything through effort. But if we are to let go of the excess muscular tension that is getting in the way of natural poise, we need to do less not more!
There are many subsidiary directions to these, depending on our given activity. And over the past 100 years or so teachers and students of the Alexander Technique have adapted, supplemented and found their own creative ways to convey the many and various directions – these mental instructions – we can give ourselves (more on this coming soon).
Next time I’ll be exploring the trickiness of words and meaning and how this relates to the directing process. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you first reacted to these “classic” directions – whether your first exposure was from reading this blog or many years ago! Please leave your comments in the space below.