Like most areas of expertise the Alexander Technique has it's own terms, or jargon if you like. I have a tendency to use everyday language in my teaching but you will find these terms in most books on the subject and it is not uncommon for them to be still used by teachers. I have included them here so you can be familiar with them if you read or hear them used elsewhere.
Not to be confused with the Freudian use of the word that typically means repression, Alexander's meaning, which pre-dates Freud's, means to willfully pause before responding to a stimulus so that a more reasoned action can be considered and your usual habits can be prevented. This pause may only be a second or less but it's enough to prevent habitual responses and gets easier with practice.
I personally find this slightly unrealistic in real day-to-day living and prefer to consider it a growing skill that allows you to widen your awareness in general so that you can become less reactive to the stimulus of living. Its our unconscious reactions, typically involving excess tension that causes us so many problems leading to discomfort and pain.
Directions are the the manner in which you orient yourself for best use of yourself. Alexander came up with the phrase "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen". It's important to realise that this isn't something you do in a physical way, it's a mental reminder to not pull your head back and down off the top of the spine which is very common and has it's genesis in the startle reflex. If your neck is not tensing your head will naturally roll forward a little as there is more of the skull in front of the joint with the spine than behind it. This is a somewhat idealised neutral resting position but we may move away from it, what's important is that it is available to return to.
Although it is possible to actively direct yourself with a "marshalling of your energies" (take that metaphorically) by reminding yourself to "let your neck be free ...", and allowing yourself to feel expansive and release in all directions, we can sometimes find ourselves being directed when we're simply not getting in the way of ourselves and maybe "in the zone" as experienced by athletes, musicians and dancers, or just being in a great mood.
Mechanical advantage is being aware of how we are best supported by gravity when we perform an activity so that the spine and limbs can remain in a free and lengthening state. And while it is really useful to gain an advantage, it must be remembered that it's the quality you bring to it that helps to create the guarantee of good use of yourself. It is therefore possible to have good use of oneself even if you are in a position of mechanical disadvantage, it is just much harder to maintain.
A classic position of mechanical advantage that is often explored in Alexander lessons is called the Monkey Position (so called because of the suggestive way it makes you look) where you lower your torso in space by bending at the hips, knees and ankles whilst keeping the relationship of the head and spine unchanged. This could be used when washing dishes so that you don't bend your back over the sink, or could be seen as the classic golfers pose prior to taking a swing. It is also how you could keep lowering yourself until you happen to reach a chair so that can remain poised once your are seated. Another position of mechanical advantage sometimes explored in lessons is the Lunge, which allows you to reach forward for something that is lower down. You'll often see this in Tai Chi and other marshal arts as well as a way of pushing forwards with strength and stability.
A fairly literal term simply meaning to focus on the end result whilst ignoring the process that would help you achieve it. End-gaining becomes really apparent when ever you're stressed, and essentially it's the loss of mindfulness that can cause us to move in unhelpful ways potentially leading to discomfort and pain. Alexanders view was that it's a universal habit, and I think even the most experienced of Alexander teachers would confess to falling into this trap from time to time, we're all a work in progress. As a species we're all inveterate end-gainers!
The means-whereby is the process by which you prevent end-gaining and includes inhibition and direction. It is the "how" we do what we do. Using the means-whereby allows us to make conscious choices, to take responsibility for our actions and the way we use ourselves, and to be in the moment. As Alexander put it, "the act performed is of less consequence than the manner of it's performance".
Alexander observed that our kinaesthetic and proprioceptive sense of ourselves can become "debauched" (His Edwardian turn of phrase often makes me smile) through habitual misuse. Essentially, you tune out anything that you do habitually so that you become unaware of muscle tension that you are holding and even loose your ability to orient yourself in space accurately. What is more, what ever you do habitually you will interpret as being "right" so that initial improvident to your posture, if you are slumped for example, you will interpret in some way as being "wrong" and the desire will be to return to the "right". This is what makes learning the Alexander Technique on your own so tricky, your feeling sense will keep leading you astray.
This commonly refers to the relationship between the head and the neck, but it's exact meaning in the Alexander community is often hotly debated. I have some misgivings about it's generally accepted meaning and have written this short essay to clarify my views.
Basically, Descartes got it wrong! We do not have a separate mind and body, and there is no mind/body connection, as that would imply they were separate. Alexander contended that we are an indivisible whole acting as a unified organism. I am not Adrian as characterised by my thoughts, or Adrian as what I see in the mirror, I am just me.
Also the title of one of Alexander's books (Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual) it's a slightly misleading term given everyday language as it implies something superimposed and artificial. All it really means is to be intentionally aware of your movements so that they can be consciously directed through choice, whilst maintaining a wider awareness of the environment and space in which you are moving.
I was having a chat with some colleagues about their interpretation of Constructive Concious Control, and with their permission I have reprinted their thoughts here.
"Delivering a clear message, in an effective manner, to yourself about what you want." - Robert Rickover
"Being aware of your habits (in movement and posture), and changing them for the better." - Evelyn Hess
"To knowingly choose, the most appropriate action, in the environment it is in and in any given moment." - Tulika Shah
"Broad simultaneous awareness of oneself, one's habits, and one's environment along with clear intention for their relationship" - Rajal Cohen
"Consciously not hurting yourself" - Howard Sykes
Not a strictly anatomically correct term, and sometimes called Constructive Rest, it is the activity of lying on your back with your knees raised pointing upwards, feet flat on the floor and your head raised/supported by something firm, typically a book. If you were to stand with your back to a wall you'll notice that your head does not actually touch the wall, and this is normal. That is why your head needs to be supported when lying down on your back as gravity naturally pulls the head back towards the floor and this puts an undue strain on your neck. We're all different shapes and sizes which is why it's common to use a book (or several books, but yoga blocks work nicely too) as it's easier to find the right height of support for you with a little trial and error. If in doubt, it's better for the support to be a little high than too low. The reason that a cushion isn't suitable is that it's harder for your neck muscles to fully release as your head never feels fully supported by a soft base. Lying like this is a good neutral position to allow your spine to release into gravity and give yourself the opportunity to become aware of muscle tension and allow yourself to release it. It is also sometimes called Constructive Rest in the Alexander Community. It's common to lie like this in a lesson whilst a teacher works with you to help you release tension, but it's also useful to do for yourself between lessons and as an ongoing practice.
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