In many practices images – pictures – are used to help you relax, or to enhance your confidence or compassion for instance. In contrast, the Alexander Technique practice of giving yourself directions – thinking in an intentional way to promote positive changes in our coordination – is rooted in being quite specific and literal about what we want, or do not want, to happen in our body. We might think “I am allowing my back to lengthen and widen” or “I am not compressing my back” for instance.
Using images (a mental “picture!”), on the other hand, rather than “real” directions, has had a pretty bad rap in the Alexander Technique community, although I’ve noticed that most of us do sneak a few in there once in a while! Renowned Alexander teacher, Marjory Barlow (1915-2006) is remembered as saying on her training course for Alexander Technique teachers, things like:
“The head can be free on the top of the spine like a ping pong ball playing on the top of a fountain.”
“Imagine you’re carrying blown eggshells in your armpits – you don’t have to look like a penguin.” *
It is my understanding that Barlow, who was the niece of F.M. Alexander (the developer of the Alexander Technique), was quite particular about using traditional Alexander Technique directions (“Let your neck be free, to let your head go forward and up, to let your back lengthen and widen.”) so I find it very interesting that even she would use images sometimes.
I recently worked with a student who was having trouble letting go of the muscles in her back (so it could “lengthen and widen”). I finally suggested she think her back “smiling” and suddenly she was letting go! Not only that she was smiling too! How do you feel if you think of your back smiling?
Apparently Marjorie Barstow (1899-1995), another famous Alexander Technique teacher, is noted for saying, “Learn to laugh at yourselves: you always move better with a smile.” This seems to tie right in with my “smiling back” image.
So, is a picture worth a thousand words?
In my experience, the answer is a resounding, “Occasionally!” I’ve learned that using an image can sometimes be the key in helping a student understand the intent of a specific direction and can be a very useful way for them to think – or direct – at times. While I don’t use a lot of images, for some people they can be extremely helpful.
Did you try out any of the ideas of ways to think I’ve suggested here? I’d love to hear your experiences. Do you have certain images that you find particularly helpful?