Let's talk about "directing" or "giving orders."

“Directing” is an action of thought that recognizes & demonstrates how intention is the first part of any movement response. Tricky to describe in words, it is often experienced differently by each person.

Essentially, Directing is a thinking directive about physical action, done before any action happens. But Directing is purely thinking Directions, without any overt action or movement attached to it. In Alexander Technique, what you’re thinking while directing often contains a sort of living anatomy template about how easier motion can happen. Direction is a series of orders in words, designed to undo extra effort usually present in movement preparation.  In a way, it is similar to visualizing, but it is more specific. Goals and actions are not involved, only present tense awareness.

As an example, here’s an off-shoot of Directing, called Posture Release Imagery, invented by an Alexander Technique teacher named John Appleton.  This is a very specific practice of imagining one’s own body to be a different shape than it really is, and noting the results.


Why would it work so well to undo extra effort by thinking of doing something without actually doing it? Because thinking is connected to response. Something happens as a response to pure thought, but it happens often below the level of the person’s ability to sense it. In fact, from brain research, we get ready long before we consciously know we’re doing anything. What we have is “veto power.” Moments right before we are going to do something, we can stop.

The point of Directing is to reorganize how to “get ready” to make a move in an easier way, beyond the clutches of habit and expectation. In a way, Direction is a strategy to take away the need to get ready, to expect. By interrupting the overt “call to action” that the habit is usually in charge of doing, other internal responses of getting ready for the action will occur anyway….but without the habitual preparation. Directing reorganizes thinking to get ready in a non-habitual way. Then when you do stuff after Directing, the most appropriate way to move can be spontaneously selected, using improvisational means.

So how do you know what happened, if so much went on underneath your conscious awareness? You can use your other senses to offer you feedback, in addition to your internal sense of movement and location in space. You can use your environment.  External feedback – such as a video camera or a mirror is handy.  Or they can cross-reference their other senses, which may result in an odd sense of synesthesia.  For instance, one musician described Directing as being a symphony conductor who is using a sort of inner moving x-ray skill to bring a present-tense all-points awareness to bear on the way he was about to do a suspended goal. Then when he did that goal – it happened in a new way, without the unnecessary habitual preparation that was unrelated to the goal anyway.


Just Undo

There is more of a reason to have no reason to change.  So how do some people want to change? I’m really curious how people stumble on the realization that they are inappropriately coping with their situation.  Guess that most people wait until they can’t avoid the truth of pain. A person most commonly gets used to their own habits of movement so completely that the sensation of doing these habits completely disappears into a sense of their own identity.

There’s a survival benefit for preferring what is certain that will preserve the status quo. If you try to move differently, your body will tell you that it feels so unfamiliar. You will avoid moving in a new way because it will feel as if you’re  “not you.” So it’s more likely that you won’t allow yourself to continue doing what is new. People are wired to prefer what feels familiar. For most people, pain is the only obvious signal that something is wrong with the way they’re moving.

On the other hand, there is also a survival drive towards the desire for doing something new, but it’s not as strong. If the daring think less of consequences and they happen to guess wrong, they probably died more often  – before they could pass on their daring genes.

Adapting is a human feature that allows skill development & learning, as well as compensating to mitigate external circumstances. When learning, we design a habit so the building blocks of a skill so it can become innate and later can be used as if the whole behavior chain were second-nature. If we get injured, we’re capable of changing the way we do things long enough to design a compensation habit to avoid pain to make it easier to heal.  Adapting is mainly regarded as a human advantage, because it’s what allows us to learn skills a piece at a time. This feature allows us to train a new habit to add onto the previous habit, without needing to get overwhelmed by having to sense what “standing orders” our previous trained habits are already doing. Habits become innate because it works for humans in skill building and coping with circumstances.

This blessing of being able to adapt is oddly also a built-in feature that backfires on us. Performing a habit will dull physical sensation. This means the more often we do a habit, the more often we don’t know how or what we are doing. Entrainment is automatic – which is both an advantage – and a disadvantage.

If we add habit onto habit, without undoing the previous possible conflicting habits, it can get confusing – even painful. As people get older and have a larger “bag of tricks,” it’s all too common to pull our own body in conflicting directions, without knowing how we’re contributing to our own often painful limitations. This can also happen at an early age, if we tend towards extremes.

The ways around this conundrum involve deliberately disassembling habits previous to training new ones. Actually, that’s also a skill that improves with practice. Surprisingly, it seems to work best to not have a new habit in mind to replace what you’re intentionally subtracting. If you just remove what seems to be in the way, your natural ability to respond more appropriately will resume – by itself. The way you balance and move seems to be self-correcting – to the extent you can get previous unrelated and unnecessary routines out of the way.

I learned these secrets from people who had studied with this guy, F. M. Alexander.