Why High Content?

There was a pivotal moment when I decided I needed to write about Alexander Technique.

When I was still a trainee learning to teach Alexander Technique, (1982) I attended a conference that brought together various lineages of A.T. teachers in Ojai, CA. At the end of the conference, the group got together and asked the attendees if anyone had any questions. I did, and I had the nerve to ask my question too. I asked the whole group of teachers, “What are the principles that everyone who is teaching here has in common?”

Probably in an effort to avoid conflict among what was regarded at the time to be different styles of presenting Alexander Technique, all of the teachers dodged the question completely. Essentially they mumbled something about how important the principles were and pretended the question had been answered. For me it hadn’t, because they didn’t spell anything out. I already knew the question was important, that’s why I asked. What I wanted to know was: where’s the real content? Why is it people spend so much time telling you what they are about to say, how important it is, who else thinks it’s important, what it will mean for you, what you can do with it if you retain this vastly important jewel of usefulness… They seem to go on and on without offering a shred of actual content.

Personally, I did not regard these styles of teaching Alexander Technique that was presented at the workshop as being so very different. I could observe many commonalities, but I couldn’t articulate them very well in words at that point. The reason I had trouble with that is Alexander Technique experience tends to take you beyond having words for what you’re experiencing. It’s the lack of classification that is so fascinating about the experience. So much that you don’t want it to have words. That might bring down the experience toward earth, when it seems sort of unfathomable and elusive.

After getting such an unsatisfactory answer, I merely figured that I had to answer my question for myself, and for others.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to learn enough about how to write to write about this particular subject in order to say something that didn’t give the wrong impression.

Well, it’s been a few decades since then. How have I been doing?


Head Moves

English is tricky when it comes to describing relative movement orientation. On this blog and if you have had Alexander Technique lessons, you’ve heard people mention something called “primary control.” Another name for it is, “Forward and Up.” Still another tag line for the same idea might be, “Head moves, body follows.”

So, what do all these mean? How could there be such different words pointing to the same quality of movement?

I’ve had the benefits of lessons with Patrick MacDonald. He had a nickname, “The Mechanic.” It wasn’t until I had a lesson with Patrick MacDonald that I understood what these words meant, because until then undoing the fixing of my neck was just a floating sensation without me knowing which way my head was going. Hopefully I can offer examples here to clarify what “head forward and up” actually means – without the benefit of having an Alexander Technique teacher’s hands to show you.

Let’s use two simple examples. “Head forward” means the first part of the the sort of movement that happens if someone is tipping their hat, as in nodding “yes.” “Head back” is that part of the same nod that happens as someone looks up, and the back of their head tips downward. Both motions involve changing the relationship of the head to the top of the spine, which can be pointed to by putting your fingers in your ears.

You can try this fingers in the ears thing, using the “yes” motion to indicate to yourself where the fulcrum of motion really is. Leave your fingers as the pointer in your ears and moving your head will allow you to hear if your head rubs against your fingers. The least sound indicates your pointing to the fulcrum. For some people, it’s a bit behind their ear openings and for others, a bit in front or below.

Of course, heads can move in many ways. “Head forward and back in space” means changing the orientation whether the head hangs out on front of the body or moves to end up more in line with the body. Here’s an example of a dance tutorial that illustrates it: http://youtu.be/rZcTrfvyLJc
The first half this video shows, “head forward in space” (in this dance move, the shoulders then move to catch up with the head) and then as the dancer reverses, “head back in space.” (The last half of the video become more complex and doesn’t apply.)

“Up” is always in relationship to yourself – as in “above yourself.”

Simple enough? Now if you tried something like this, let’s talk about the quality of movement you’d want to be using. The quality of the movement you want is easy and effortless, not full of conflict and pushiness.

Hope that helps!