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The Basic Principles of the Alexander Technique | Barbara Maloney

Basic Principles

The Alexander Technique allows us to rid ourselves of patterns of physical misuse, even when we are not able to accurately perceive them. It is the nature of habit patterns that, over time, we lose awareness of their existence. As a result, what is wrong begins to feel right, and what is right feels wrong. Fortunately, mind leads muscle, and intent shapes action. We can learn a process for consciously redirecting action in order to restore accurate sensing and healthier coordination.

skull_cropsmBasic Principles

The necessary first step for creating effective change is often overlooked. We need first of all to stop or inhibit our habitual muscular patterns. Typically we strike out to overcome a habit without first releasing the muscular holding and related responses that make up the habit. With this approach we are more likely to burden ourselves with additional tension than to bring about lasting change. Students discover, with the aid of a teacher’s touch, how a selective focus on doing less can allow shoulders, arms and low backs to release into more comfortable postures. Inhibiting also provides a stop or pause that creates a moment’s space between an intention and the response that follows. In this moment lies our opportunity to change that response.
It is important to recognize that change begins not with the movement but with the mental preparation before the movement. Just before we act is the time to interrupt our habit with a direct thought for a new line of action. Teachers of the Alexander Technique call this directing. In a lesson the teacher helps a student pair the release brought on by inhibition, with the clear intent of directing. Together they effectively override habitual responses. The subsequent movement is lighter, easier and more fluid.
The skills of inhibition and direction are applied with particular attention to the relationship of head, neck and torso. The dynamic balance between these areas determines the quality of movement in everything we do, from breathing to running to sitting at a computer. We think of this therefore as an area of primary control. When the head is delicately poised on the top of the spine the buoyancy inherent in our natural posture can function effortlessly. The subsequent freedom of movement brings a sense of being lighter and yet more grounded. Physical awareness improves as pressure and stress are reduced. We are able to more accurately perceive both body position and levels of tension. This helps us to maintain better personal use in all that we do.

Primary control is a fundamental principle of body mechanics that applies to all vertebrates; the head leads, the spine follows and limb action is organized in response.

Inhibition is the nervous system’s most basic requirement for organization. It is the selective “not-doing” that is the counterpart of every properly coordinated action.

Direction is a mental message that allows for the carry through of a desired action.