onsdag 10. juli 2024

Vitalism in the Alexander Technique - Part 1

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2, 7 King James Bible).

The stillness of someone dead in contrast to the ever moving living human being - it is easy to understand why there is a belief that living beings are endowed with a special kind of energy or ‘life force’. This belief is probably as old as humanity itself and prevalent in all cultures. This concept is called vitalism.

Since the time of Aristotle, vitalism was the accepted norm in the philosophy of science. Many well-known scientists can be regarded as vitalists, among them Louis Pasteur. But with the development of modern science, the vitalistic view was increasingly challenged. The discourse between vitalists and mechanists is a recurring theme in the history of science.

Slowly, as knowledge and understanding increased, the ghost of vitalism was exorcised from sciences like biochemistry, physiology, neurology, and medicine. It has long since been declared dead. Today it is understood that vitalism is not compatible with science because it means explaining something you don't understand with something you can't explain.

Vitalism has all but vanished from our modern society, but there is one area where it is still alive and kicking and that is in the world of alternative health.

Alexander's vitalism
The Alexander Technique is commonly labeled as an alternative therapy. Unlike many forms of alternative therapies, the Alexander Technique is not dependent on a vitalistic explanatory model. Still, vitalism is rife among Alexander Technique teachers.

The Alexander Technique demands awareness of ourselves in activity. Ideally, it also requires awareness of our beliefs. Our view of the world may influence how we interpret bodily sensations. Vitalism is a philosophy with implications for how we understand, explain, and practice the Alexander Technique. Yet, there has been little awareness of its role in the history and development of the technique.

In this article, I discuss the vitalism in the writings of Frederick Matthias Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique. In future articles I plan to write about vitalism among the teachers he trained, the vitalism in the Alexander Technique literature, and also discuss the potential problems vitalism poses to the Alexander Technique teaching profession. My aim is to increase the awareness of vitalistic beliefs and inspire a professional discussion.

Vital essence
The strongest evidence for Alexander's vitalism is found in his first book, Man's Supreme Inheritance (1910). He writes:
If we grant the unity of life and the tendency of its evolution, it follows that all the manifestations of what we have called the ‘subconscious self’ are functions of the vital essence or life-force, which functions are passing from automatic or unconscious to reasoning or conscious control (Alexander 1996 p.25; Alexander 2021, p.59).(1)
Alexander's belief in the existence of a ‘vital essence or life-force’, reveals his vitalism.(2)

This quote is from Chapter III, ‘Subconsciousness and Inhibition’. There is a possibility that the text was formulated by Alexander's ghost writer, John Davy Beresford.(3) But according to Jean Fischer's ‘notes to the text’ in the Mouritz 1996 edition it is ‘probable that Beresford's influence was confined to the Preface and to Chapters 1 and 2 …’ (Alexander 1996, p.xxxviii), and since this passage was not changed in subsequent editions we have to conclude that Alexander anyway agreed with this view.

Another quote from Man's Supreme Inheritance reveals more about Alexander's views:
I should like in passing to point out that the theory and practice of my system are influenced by no particular religion nor school of philosophy, but in one sense may be said to embrace them all. For whatever name we give to the Great Origin of the Universe, in the words of a friend of mine, “we can all of us agree… that we mean the same thing, namely, that high power within the soul of man which enables him to will or to act or to speak, not loosely or wildly, but in subjection to an all-wise and invisible Authority.” The name that we give to that Authority will in no way affect the principles which I am about to state. In subscribing to them the mechanist may still retain his belief in a theory of chemical reactions no less than the Christian his faith in a Great Redeemer (Alexander 1996, p.3)(4)
Alexander seems to have wanted a pragmatic and neutral position, serving both the ‘mechanist’ and the Christian.(5) But according to Alexander they both will agree on the existence of a ‘high power within the soul’. To Alexander, it was not a question about vitalism or non-vitalism, but about religious or non-religious vitalism. Non-vitalism was not an option.

Vitalism is often revealed by the way a person uses the word “energy”. Broadly speaking, the word is used in three different ways when describing human experience. Firstly, it can be used for actual physical energy, mostly experienced as bodily heat or through bodily movements, directly or indirectly associated with muscular activity. The source of this energy is the food we eat, which for all practical purposes is our only energy source.

Secondly, the word energy can be used metaphorically about our subjective experiences. We can feel full of energy, or a lack of energy, neither of which necessarily corresponds to the energy actually available.

Thirdly, energy can be used to mean vitalistic energy. The most well known examples are “chi” (from Chinese philosophy) or “prana” (from Indian philosophy). Vitalistic concepts of energy are used to explain and describe both specific and general bodily sensations.

Alexander uses the word energy throughout his writings.(6) The most quoted instance is perhaps Alexander's definition of the concept of direction in a footnote in The Use of the Self:
When I employ the words “direction” and “directed” with “use” in such phrases as “direction of my use” and “I directed the use,” etc., I wish to indicate the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms (Alexander 2018, p.35)
This use of the term ‘energy’ could be interpreted as a sign of vitalism. ‘Conducting the energy’ is not necessary. The required energy is stored in our muscles. ‘Projecting messages from the brain’ is sufficient.

Earlier in his career Alexander used the term in a similar way in his 1910 pamphlet ‘Supplement to Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’:
Door Exercise (standing)
…The teacher should then explain to the pupil that when he is standing near the door in the upright position previous the attempt to cause the hips to move back to the door, there is a continuous energy being sent to the different muscles which enables him to stand in that upright position. All that is necessary is that the pupil shall, as it were, cut off the energy which causes the firm position at the hip joints and other parts,… (Alexander 2022 p.141)
In his last book, The Universal Constant in Living, published 1941, Alexander is still using the word energy in a similar fashion:
Those in need of physical development will always be people whose manner of use of themselves is tending to lower their standard of general functioning, and this will be associated with misdirection of energy to the musculature through unreliable and deceptive sensory guidance (feeling) (Alexander 2000 p.43).
Vitalists may use the word force interchangeably with energy. In physics, they are of course two different concepts. In Constructive Conscious Control, Alexander writes about volition and inhibition as “forces”:
We are not interested here in any controversy concerned with the problem as to whether or not volition and inhibition are different manifestations of the same force, or even as to what this force is, any more than the engineer who is using electricity as a power to a particular end is immediately interested as to what electricity is (Alexander 2004, p.91).
Alexander compares the “force” of volition and inhibition with electricity. It could be that he wanted to appear rational and scientific, but to modern eyes the metaphor is vitalistic.(7)

In his 1907 article ‘The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education’ Alexander writes about ‘nerve force’:
Dr Hugh A. McCallum … points out that over 90 per cent of the females suffering with neurasthenia (exhaustion of nerve force) are victims of visceroptosis, … (Alexander 2022, p.92)
The editor of Articles and Lectures, Jean Fischer, explains in the notes:
In the late 19th century many physicians believed there was a fixed supply of nervous energy which acted like a messenger between various parts of the body. It was thought that the stresses and strains of modern life placed too many demands on the limited supplies of nervous energy and that neurasthenia resulted when demand exceeded supply (Fischer in Alexander 2022,p.384).
Alexander saw force or energy as a resource that could be exhausted, and warns against misdirection and waste of energy.(8) To the extent Alexander was a vitalist, he was not into the abundant cosmic energy of modern New Age adherents, as some Alexander Technique teachers claim.(9)

Another example of Alexander possibly trying to give the impression of rationality and scientific thought is his description of cell functioning in The Universal Constant in Living:
The sensory mechanism receives an impression by means of the cell receptors, and this impression is a stimulus to the excitors resulting in a reaction in the form of the production of energy (Alexander 2000, p 112).
Here it seems that Alexander equates energy with nerve signals. This is not entirely wrong as nerve signals must necessarily carry some energy.(10) A few pages earlier, however, Alexander seems to differentiate between the nerve signals and the energy used by the muscles, just as in the first quote from The Use of the Self:
In this whole procedure we see the new principle at work, for if we project those messages which hold in check the familiar habitual reaction, and at the same time project the new messages which give free rein to the motor impulses associated with nervous and muscular energy along unfamiliar lines of communication, we shall be doing what Dewey calls “thinking in activity.” (Alexander 2000, p.86)
Notice that Alexander does not say whether the ‘muscular energy’ is sent to the muscles or already stored there. On page 43 of the same book, Alexander says the energy is sent or ‘directed’ to the musculature.

It is possible that Alexander put different modes of thinking into different categories of “energy”. We saw that volition and inhibition could be different “forces”. Alexander's writing is not clear. It is not possible to say whether this is due to a lack of writing ability or a lack of understanding of the subject, or both.

In Man’s Supreme Inheritance, Alexander argues that ‘the manifestations of what we have called the “subconscious self” are functions of the vital essence or life-force, …’ (Alexander 1996 p.25). This follows, according to Alexander, ‘if we grant the unity of life’ (ibid).

Unity is a recurring theme in Alexander's writing, and he returns to the subject in his second book Constructive Conscious Control. But this time he is unwilling to subdivide “human potentialities”(11) into categories like body, mind and soul. (Vital essence is sometimes equated with “soul”):
In Man's Supreme Inheritance I endeavoured to leave no room for doubt that I base my philosophy and practice on the unity of human potentialities, which, up till now, have been differentiated and represented as “body,” “body and mind,” or” body, mind, and soul.” 
The words “mind” and “soul” are in as common use as the word “body,” and we have all been guilty of using them. Now we do know something about the body, something tangible, but what do we really know about “soul”? And do we know anything more about “mind” as such, than we do about “soul”? ( Alexander 2004 p.46).(12)
Instead, his focus is on practical procedures:
… It will therefore be understood that I have a special reason for giving so many concrete illustrations in my books. Here we have something demonstrable in simple, practical procedures, and free from those intangible phenomena which are too often inseparable from what is known as “mental” or “spiritual” discussion. (Alexander 2004 p.47).
It seems that Alexander by this moves away from overt vitalism. Maybe one of the reasons was to avoid its inherent dichotomy.(13) Alexander did not escape vitalism, however. From the quotes on energy and force, we can see that vitalistic thinking was embedded in his description of human physiology.

Alexander's legacy
When the journalist Ron Brown compiled the Authorised Summaries in the late 1940s he omitted Alexander's ‘vital essence’. The fact that this could be edited out with Alexander's approval shows that the concept was not of vital importance to Alexander nor the Alexander Technique.(14)

Still, his work is based on a vitalistic worldview and lends itself to a vitalistic interpretation. His followers continued in his footsteps to a greater or lesser degree. In the next article in this series I will take a look at vitalism expressed by the teachers he trained.

(1) Alexander continues his explanation of ‘vital essence’ at the end of the chapter:
Returning to my definition of the subconscious self, it will be seen that I regard it as a manifestation of the partly-conscious vital essence, functioning at times very vividly, but on the whole incompletely, and from this postulate it follows that our endeavours should be directed to perfecting the self-consciousness of this vital essence. The perfect attainment of this object in every individual would imply a mental and physical ability, and a complete immunity from disease that is still a dream of the future. (Alexander 1996 p.27, Alexander 2021, p.62).
Note the idea of ‘complete immunity from disease’. Miracle cures are very often associated with vitalism.

(2) We know that an early influence on Alexander's thinking was François Delsarte. Alexander at one point promoted himself as a teacher of the Delsarte Method, and possibly knew Delsarte System of Expression by Genevieve Stebbins:
Every created thing is composed of two parts: a life-power or energy, and a form to show this power in effect (Stebbins 1887, p.33).
(3) It is interesting that the Wikipedia article on Beresford has this comment, mentioning several of his novels:
He has used his novelist's skill to convince the sensitive reader that the age of miracles is not over, and that, in certain circumstances, the spirit may exercise what seem to us miraculous powers over the substance of the body. This he did in 'The Camberwell Miracle' and 'Peckover'; and in this absorbing novel, he returns to the theme, with the study of a man fitting himself to become a great healer.<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._D._Beresford> [accessed 23.04.2024].
If his novels present his personal views, there is no doubt that Beresford was a vitalist.

(4) This paragraph was new to the 1918 edition of MSI. Was it Alexander's intention to prepare the Christian reader for the heavy criticism of ‘faith healing’ later in the book? Or was it an invitation to the non-religious ‘mechanist’? And who was the ‘friend’ Alexander is quoting?

(5) Alexander seems to have had a relatively open mind, but his belief in destiny may be a sign of a vitalistic outlook. Carrington reports:
Yes, he had a thing about fate or destiny. When I was young I used to find it very irritating when he used to say, ‘I believe in everything and I believe in nothing.’ But, looking back, I think it probably was a fair assessment of what he felt about things. There was no-one more rational than he was in the ordinary transactions of life but, at the same time, he had a strong feeling that there is a destiny that shapes our ends (Carrington, Carey 1992, p.16).]

(6) Compilation of Alexander's use of the word energy taken from Man's Supreme Inheritance (MSI), Constructive Conscious Control (CCC), The Use of the Self (UoS), The Universal Constant in Living (UCL), and Articles and Lectures ( A&L). They give an indication of how Alexander used the word. Those concerning conducting, projecting, sending, directing or misdirecting, or cutting off energy are the ones most likely to be associated with a vitalistic concept. (The list is not necessarily complete):
conducting energy UoS 35, confines his energies MSI 38, conflicting energies MSI 116, conscious direction of energy UoS 85, conserving available energy A&L 130, 149, continuous energy being sent A&L 142, cut off the energy A&L 142, directing energy UoS 85, energy and [muscle-] tone MSI 125, energies applied to eradicate the abnormal conditions CCC 148, energies directed into harmful channels (Crisis of 1914) CCC 64, energy directed MSI 136, energy correctly directed MSI 136, energy directed to the proper destination UCL 112, energy more or less misdirected UCL 162, energy of conflict MSI 116, energy only used when accompanied with the wrong thing A&L 267, energy expended in misdirection UCL 16, energy wasted and misdirected MSI 136, expenditure of energy CCC p.116, expenditure of vital energy MSI 111, food procured without energy MSI 18, generating and conducting energy UCL 112, human energy MSI 149; CCC 55, 61, hypertrophy of energy MSI 9, initiative and energy MSI 5, instinctive direction of energy UoS 85, limitation of energy MSI 113, mental and physical energy MSI 136, misdirect energy UCL 62, misdirected energies MSI 38, misdirected energy A&L 206; MSI 161, misdirection of energy UoS 74, 76; UCL 16, 101, 112, 119, misdirection of energy to the musculature UCL 43, misdirection of our energies UCL 101, national energy (of Germany) MSI 103, nervous and muscular energy UCL 86, outlet for my energies UCL 40, production of energy UCL 112, projection of energy UoS 62, psycho-physical energy UCL 177, reserve all thought, energy UCL 81, storing and reserving energy MSI 60, the way energy is directed UoS 62, time and energy A&L 285, time and energy saved CCC 162, waste of energy A&L 114 234; MSI 144, waste of energy due to misuse UCL 3, waste of energy through misdirections A&L 238, waste of time and energy A&L 238, wasting energy MSI xv, will-power and energy MSI 38, 59, [atomic] energy UCL 179.

(7) Alexander Technique teacher Malcolm Williamson is probably referring to this quote, and interprets it as vitalistic, in his article ‘Thinking about thinking’ in Statnews January 2022:
Alexander saw direction as a particular vital energy (see CCC, 91) that we can conduct to the “psycho-physical mechanisms” of our primary control by thinking (wishing, willing) and thereby secure the conditions for optimal functioning in any skilled or normal everyday activity (Williamson 2022, p.21).
(8) See for instance Alexander 2022 p.238 and Alexander 1996 p.136.

(9) In his book Let Your Life Flow, Alexander Technique teacher Alex Maunder puts forward claims that are not supported by evidence:
One thing that Alexander found particularly helpful for this whole process was if he remained connected with the cosmos through mental ‘directions’ projected outwards in space (Maunder 2002 p.19).
… It was the end of the Victorian era. He [Alexander] could not risk explaining his Technique in terms of energy or energy flow for fear of being misunderstood and ridiculed (ibid, p.80).
(10) In the rest of the paragraph on cell functioning, Alexander again writes about energy in a way that could be interpreted as being vitalistic:
The undue and harmful distribution and misdirection of energy for a given need can be prevented by the inhibitor, and in such case the energy required will be directed to the proper destination by the conductor 
If one studies closely the process involved in the generating and conducting of energy as set forth above, it will be evident that it becomes operative through the receipt of sensory impressions, and that only so long as there is unity, and not separation, between the generating and conducting systems can the process remain operative (Alexander 2000, p.112).
Alexander's description of cell functioning is probably derived from a textbook. I have not been able to find a source.

(11) The expression ‘human potentialities’ is interesting. Alexander uses it in CCC and UCL, and John Dewey uses it in his preface to The Use of the Self. ‘Potentialities’ is used throughout MSI, for instance in the chapter Race Culture and the Education of Children.
Alexander's pupil, the author Aldous Huxley was associated with the 1960s ‘human potentials movement’ <https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Potential_Movement> [accessed 10.05.24]. Huxley mentions the Alexander Technique in ‘Human Potentialities’ (in The Humanist Frame, 1961), ‘Latent Human Potentialities’ (in The Human Situation, 1978) <https://mouritz.org/companion/article/aldous-huxley> [accessed 10 May 2024]. The Human Potentials Movement can be said to be associated with vitalism <https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Human_Potential_Movement> [accessed 10 May 2024].

(12) Alexander uses similar wording in The Use of the Self:
It seems strange to me that although man has thought it necessary in the course of his development in civilization to cultivate the potentialities of what he calls "mind," "soul," and "body," he has not so far seen the need for maintaining in satisfactory condition the functioning of the sensory processes through which these potentialities manifest themselves (Alexander 2018, p.107-108).
(13) A friend and colleague suggested that this change from MSI to CCC could be due to the influence by the American philosopher John Dewey. The first part of Man's Supreme Inheritance was first published 1910, Constructive Conscious Control in 1923. Alexander met Dewey around 1916. <https://mouritz.org/companion/article/john-dewey> [accessed 7 July 2024].
Another AT teacher, Amanda Cole, writes about Dewey's influence in her 2016 thesis ‘Marjorie Barstow, John Dewey and the Alexander Technique’. She refers to Thomas Dalton's Becoming John Dewey which cites Alexander's ‘vital essence’. But Cole and Dalton are concerned with Alexander's definition of the subconscious, not his vitalism:
In the 1918 edition of MSI, as Dalton observed, after consultation with Dewey “Alexander no longer imputed immaculate powers to the subconscious. He simply asserted what Dewey had long argued, that the mind and body interact and therefore conscious and subconscious processes both play an important role in human behaviour” (Dalton 119). […] As Dalton observes, Alexander had asserted in the first edition of MSI that “all manifestations of what we have called the ‘subconscious self’ are functions of the vital essence or life force, which functions are passing from automatic or unconscious to reasoning or conscious control” (ibid). Such terminology had already grown in disfavour among philosophers and physicists (ibid) (Cole 2016, pp.91-92).
Cole and Dalton give the impression that the quote containing 'vital essence’ was changed, but only the wording was slightly edited, (compare Alexander 2021 p.59 and Alexander 1996 p.25). (Dalton could have meant to refer to new material on the subconscious added to the 1918 edition, possibly a new paragraph in the chapter on ‘Sub-Consciousness and Inhibition’, see Alexander 1996 p.236).
In her 2022 book Marjory Barstow and the Alexander Technique, Cole describes a possible effect of group teaching and draws a parallel to EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique (Cole 2022 p.201, note 141 p.278). The explanatory model for EFT is based on the existence of “chi”: <https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_Freedom_Techniques> [accessed 7 July 2024]. Cole is probably a vitalist herself.

(14) Compare Alexander 1996 p.25 and p.27 with Alexander 1992 p.15 (Part I, Chapter 3). According to Walter Carrington, Alexander checked and initialled the pages of the manuscript as he read them (Alexander 1992 p.9).

Alexander, F.M., Brown (ed) (1992) Authorised Summaries of F.M. Alexander's Four Books. STAT Books.
Alexander, F.M. (1996) Man's Supreme Inheritance. Mouritz.
Alexander, F.M. (2000) The Universal Constant in Living. Mouritz.
Alexander, F.M. (2004) Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. Mouritz.
Alexander, F.M. (2018) The Use of the Self. Orion Spring.
Alexander, F.M. (2021) Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1910), Addenda (1911), Conscious Control (1912): Facsimile of First Editions of Books on the F. M. Alexander Technique. Mouritz.
Alexander, FM., Fischer (ed) (2022) Articles and Lectures. Mouritz.
Carrington, W; Carey, S (1992) Explaining the Alexander Technique. The Sheildrake Press
Cole, Amanda Jane (2016) Marjorie Barstow, John Dewey and the Alexander Technique: A philosophical constellation, or “Variations of the Teacher’s Art” [PhD Doctorate, Griffith University] DOI 10.25904/1912/1305
Cole, Amanda (2022) Marjorie Barstow and the Alexander Technique: Critical Thinking in Performing Arts Pedagogy. Palgrave Macmillan.
Maunder, Alex (2002) Let Your Life Flow. The Physical, Psychological and Spiritual Benefits of the Alexander Technique. The C. W. Daniel Company.
Stebbins, Genevieve (1887) Delsarte System of Expression. Edgar S. Werner. New York.
Williamson, Malcolm (2022) Thinking about thinking, in Statnews January 2022, Vol II issue 4.

onsdag 5. juni 2024

5 ting du bør gjøre hver dag

Å bevege seg er bra. Å ikke bevege seg er usunt, antagelig mer usunt enn å bevege seg dårlig. Men mer bevegelse er ikke nødvendigvis bedre. For mye av de samme er ikke bra. Mangel på variasjon kan føre til problemer. Vi behøver så stort bevegelsesrepertoar som mulig.

Vi gjør mye av de samme bevegelsene hver dag. Noen bevegelser gjør vi kanskje bare av og til. Etterhvert kan det hende vi slutter å gjøre dem helt. Et godt eksempel er det å sette seg på huk. Vi kunne det alle som barn, men mange får vansker med å sette seg på huk som voksne.

Med årene kan flere andre bevegelser også bli problematiske. Eldre mennesker kan få problemer med å se opp i taket, se seg over skulderen, løfte armene over hodet osv. Selv om du ikke er blant de som begynner å dra på åra kan det lønne seg å holde disse bevegelsene ved like.

De kan være en kontrast til bevegelsene du gjør mye av til daglig. Det kan være godt for kroppen. Det er også bevegelser som egner seg godt til å øve på anvendelse av Alexanderteknikken. Jeg bruker dem ofte i undervisningen.

Her er 5 bevegelser det er fint å gjøre hver dag:

1 Balansere på ett bein
Å balansere på ett bein er egentlig noe vi gjør stadig vekk. Når vi går har vi vekt på ett bein et lite øyeblikk om gangen. Å stå stille på ett bein er annerledes. Det er mer krevende og gir god grunntrening til det å gå og å løpe. Dessuten er det en fin aktivitet for jobbe med både oppmerksomhet, (hvis du begynner å tenke på noe annet balanserer du dårligere med en gang), det å stoppe/vente (inhibition) og å tenke lengde (direction) .
Du kan lese mer om å balansere på ett bein her:

2 Se i taket
I Alexanderteknikken ønsker vi at hodet går «fram og opp». Men når vi ser opp må hodet bakover. Hvordan henger dette sammen?
Hvis du har for mye spenninger i nakken betyr det at du holder for mye på hodet. Gir du slipp på noe av spenningen vil hodet ha tendens til å rotere forover på grunn av vektbalansen, og opp fordi spenninger komprimerer nakken. Å la hodet gå «fram og opp» er å komme tilbake til noe som er mer nøytralt og som gir mulighet for bevegelse, også til å la hodet gå bakover for å se i taket.
Du kan lese mer om å se opp her:

3 Armene over hodet
Å løfte armene over hodet kan godt kombineres med foregående bevegelse. Det er jo ofte når vi bruker armene over hodet at vi har behov for å se opp. Det er mange måter å gjøre bevegelsen på, i tillegg til muligheten av å løfte venstre arm, høyre eller begge. Jo høyere opp du løfter, jo større er sjansen for å stramme mer i nakken enn nødvendig. Det lønner seg å vite noe om hva som må bevege på seg. Kanskje finner du noe nyttig i disse blogginnleggene:

4 Se deg over skulderen
Når vi blir anspent er mangel på rotasjonsbevegelse et tydelig tegn. Å ha «fri» nakke betyr (blant annet) frihet til å la nakken rotere, som når du ser deg over skulderen.
Du kan gjøre bevegelsen sittende eller stående. Begynn i nøytral med blikket rettet forover. Se til siden og la så hodet og resten av kroppen følge etter, del for del.
Observer lengden på begge sider av kroppen. Det er lett å bli kortere på en av sidene. Du kan lære mye om å ha «lengde» som du har nytte av i andre sammenhenger.
Noe annet å observere er hvordan hver ny del av kroppen blir med på rotasjonen. Om du er stiv vil f.eks skuldrene bli med for tidlig, eller kan hende bruker du andre spenninger for å hindre det. Bevegelsen skal være helt lett. Ikke gå for langt. Vær også oppmerksom på om du holder pusten.
Du kan lese om nakkerotasjon her:

5 Ned på huk
Når vi bøyer oss ned gjør vi oss lett kortere. I stedet kan vi se det som en mulighet til å få lengde og bredde i kroppen.
Mange har problemer med å sette seg helt ned på huk, og for noen er det ikke aktuelt på grunn av fysiske begrensninger. Hvis det gjelder deg, gå ikke lenger ned enn at du klarer det uten anstrengelse. Kanskje kan du gå litt dypere i morgen.
Jeg har skrevet om det å sette seg ned på huk tidligere: 
Ned på huk

Litt hver dag
For alle bevegelsene gjelder at du begynner fra nøytral og tenker lengde og bredde. Varier rekkefølgen, kombiner flere bevegelser og inkluder gjerne andre bevegelser du mener å ha nytte av. Det holder å gjøre hver bevegelse en eller to ganger. Ikke gjør mer enn tre. Bevegelsene skal gjøres med oppmerksomhet. Litt hver dag er tingen.

Relaterte blogginnlegg

mandag 13. mai 2024

Ancient Wisdom

I read a lot on the Alexander Technique, both books and online. Sometimes I come across the claim that this or that is “ancient wisdom”. This makes me feel uneasy .

First of all, it is a logical fallacy: Appeal to tradition 

The fact that something is old does not mean it is true or good. Using fallacious arguments seriously weakens the credibility of the text and makes it appear unprofessional.

Alexander teachers who write about “ancient wisdom” naturally associates the expression with something positive. It is all too easy to find negative examples. A case in point is traditional Chinese medicine. It is a main driver for the extinction of rhinos, pangolins, and other species. Lately also causing problems for farmers and others relying on their donkeys for transport.

This is “ancient stupidity”. Ancient wisdom isn't always wise.

What is “ancient wisdom”? Very often it is used about something we have known is true for a very long time. Maybe common sense is a good substitute. We humans haven't changed that much over the last hundred thousand years. What is important in life has not in principle changed.

Of course, we tend today to overlook or underestimate the level of sophistication of ancient handicraft and technologies. In that respect, “modern” isn't always better either.

But all in all, science and technology have moved on. People who write about “ancient wisdom” would probably not go back to ancient times. I often see in books on the Alexander Technique an ambivalent attitude to science. On the one hand modern science, or western tradition is criticised. At the same time scientific research is used in support of the arguments presented. This self-contradiction can be interpreted as a sign of ignorance of scientific methods and seriously weakens the credibility of the text. (Penelope Easten's Twelve Fundamentals of Integrated Movement is a case in point).

Sometimes, this negativity against Western culture gives the impression of prejudice. The same thoughts presented about Eastern traditions would very likely be seen as racism. You can check this for yourself by reading the text, replacing Western with Eastern, and see how it makes you feel.

Ultimately, the use of expressions like "ancient wisdom" is a symptom of habits of thinking. In the Alexander Technique we strive to get rid of habits and come back to a more neutral state. In thinking about the technique and explaining it, this should mean being neutral and objective, as far as that is possible. The Alexander Technique literature shows us that we have some way to go.

Related blog posts
Craniosacral Therapy

søndag 28. april 2024

Nye ideer

I undervisningen forsøker jeg alltid å prøve ut nye ideer. Folk er forskjellige og undervisningen må tilpasses hver enkelt. Selv om prinsippene er de samme er det veldig ulikt hva som fungerer. En ide som er praktisk nyttig for én person kan virke meningsløs for en annen.

Med tiden forandrer vi oss også, (utvikler vi oss, forhåpentligvis). Måten du tenker på i dag er kanskje ikke den beste om et halvt år. Derfor er det bra å prøve ut noe nytt.

Her er noen ideer jeg har brukt en del i det siste.

Å bøye seg ned er en bevegelse vi gjør mye. Vi gjør det hver gang vi setter oss ned og hver gang vi skal ha tak i noe som ligger lavt.

Å bøye seg ned er en bevegelse som gjør at vi lett presser oss sammen. Vi ønsker det motsatte, at vi ekspanderer. Å bøye seg ned er egentlig en veldig enkel bevegelse. Den er nærmest innebygd i kroppen. La beina folde seg sammen og det går av seg selv.

Intensjonen om å komme seg lavere kombinert med at vi holder igjen i beina på diverse måter gjør at det ikke går helt glatt. Vi motarbeider oss selv og ender opp med å presse sammen overkroppen og nakken. 

En ide som kan gjøre at du gir mer slipp på beina er å forestille seg at bekken og knær danner en trekant, og at du lar trekanten bli større jo lavere ned du går. Effekten blir at du lar beina gjøre jobben og unngår å stramme nakken.

Men hva er knær egentlig? Hva mener vi når vi bruker ordet? Vi tenker kanskje på den store klumpen som utgjør enden av lårbeinet, eller kanskje på kneskåla? Men når vi beveger oss er det ikke der bevegelsen skjer. Ser du på bilder av skjelettet vil du se at selve leddet der bevegelsen skjer ligger nedenfor kneskåla. Denne kunnskapen er ikke akkurat noen ny ide, men kan også hjelpe deg til å gi lettere slipp på beina.

Å sette seg ned er en bevegelse mye brukt i Alexanderteknikk-timer. Den viser veldig tydelig om du krymper eller ekspanderer. «Alle» har problemer med den bevegelsen, selv de som lett setter seg helt ned på huk. Vi har ofte dårlige vaner knyttet til det å sitte på en stol, og stolen får oss til å reagere uhensiktsmessig. Men er du av dem som kan gå helt ned på huk kan du unngå mye av det.

Av og til i en time kan jeg ta bort stolen og be eleven gå ned på huk og komme opp igjen. Så setter jeg stolen tilbake og ber eleven gjenta bevegelsen. Samtidig ber jeg ham/henne tenke på å gå ned på huk selv om stolen står der. Uten unntak vil eleven sette seg ned på en bedre måte, dvs. bruke beina i stedet for å skvise kroppen. Prøver du ut denne tenkemåten vil du kanskje oppdage at du kan bøye deg ned lettere og dypere enn du tror. 

Relaterte blogginnlegg

søndag 17. mars 2024

Alexanderteknikk i farta

I blogginnlegget om Alexanderteknikk på glattisen nevnte jeg hvor viktig det er å ta det med ro. Når du lærer å bevege deg på en ny måte er det spesielt viktig å ta seg tid, ellers gjør du fort ting på din vante måte. Du må ta tid før bevegelsen. Ofte er det lurt å senke tempoet på selve bevegelsen også.

Når du lærer Alexanderteknikk er det mye å hente ved å senke tempoet i forhold til det normale. Men vi kan ikke bare gjøre langsomme bevegelser. Vi må kunne bruke Alexanderteknikken når vi beveger oss raskt også.

Den enkleste aktiviteten å begynne med pleier å være å gå. Retningene vi tenker er de samme enten du går langsomt eller hurtig. Når du er vant til å bruke Alexanderteknikken når du går kan du forsøke å sette opp tempoet. Hvis du ikke kan tenke retning samtidig som du er i bevegelse, tenker du på feil måte. Det kan være nyttig å veksle mellom å gå hurtig og å gå langsomt. Neste steg kan være å veksle mellom å gå og å løpe. Du vil finne ut at det er fullt mulig å tenke retning for hode, nakke og rygg mens du beveger armer og bein så fort du bare kan.

Ikke alle bevegelser kan utføres sakte. Du kan for eksempel ikke kaste noe langsomt. Karakteren på bevegelsen endres når du gjør den sakte. Du bruker musklene på en annen måte, og da blir kanskje ikke utførelsen naturlig eller hensiktsmessig. Å sette seg eller reise seg opp veldig langsomt kan være interessant, men dynamikken i bevegelsen blir en annen enn den du bruker til daglig, og dermed ikke egentlig det du har bruk for å kunne.

På kontoret har jeg sjongleringsballer som elever av og til bruker. Det er mye morsomt du kan gjøre med sjongleringsballer, og mange gode grunner til å bruke dem i en Alexanderteknikk-time. ( Hvis du ikke har sjongleringsballer kan du kaste noe annet, en appelsin for eksempel). Hvis du kaster en ball fra ene hånda til den andre er det et eksempel på en relativ rask bevegelse. Utfordringen er å tenke retning både før, under og etter kastet. Å tenke retning sikrer at hele kroppen kan tilpasse seg bevegelsen samtidig som du ikke gjør noe unødvendig.

Når noen kaster ballen fram og tilbake hender det at de blir mer anspent for hvert kast. Det viser hvor viktig det er å utnytte pausen før bevegelsen.

Å utnytte pauser er noe musikere gjør når de øver. Musikere øver raske passasjer i langsomt tempo, men en alternativ måte å øve på er å dele opp passasjen i mindre deler med pauser imellom, og spille delene hurtig. Da bevares karakteren og typen bevegelser. Pausen brukes til mentalt å forberede neste gruppe toner.

En annen bevegelse du kan eksperimentere med er å strekke hånden ut og berøre noe. Når du gjør bevegelsen endres tyngdepunktet og kroppsbalansen justeres. Da er det viktig med "fri nakke", en nøkkel til organisering av balansen. Balansejusteringene skjer i hele kroppen, men du kan lettest merke dem i beina. Prøv å bevege hånda raskt for å berøre noe o g veksle mellom å la knær, hofter og ankler være ledige, eller bevisst holde igjen. Det gjør en stor forskjell for bevegelsen ikke å stramme i beina Samme frihet til tilpasning må vi ha i leddet mellom hodet og nakken.

Andre bevegelser du kan utforske i hurtig versjon kan være å gripe noe, flytte på en gjenstand, bøye deg ned, sette deg eller reise deg opp.

Å reise seg fort er interessant fordi både det å reise seg langsommere og hurtigere gjør bevegelsen annerledes. I normalt tempo kan du la tyngdekrafta hjelpe kroppen forover for å få vekta over føttene. Gjør du det langsomt må du holde igjen og du mister moment. Gjør du det veldig raskt bruker du ekstra muskler (hofteleddsbøyerne). Det er dette de fleste gjør selv i normalt tempo selv om det er unødvendig.

Gjør du en bevegelse der du bøyer deg ned kan du la tyngdekrafta gjøre jobben. Det er ikke sikkert du gjør bevegelsen noe raskere om du aktivt bruker musklene til å bøye beina. Det kan være like effektivt bare å slippe seg ned.

Raske bevegelser krever ofte mer spenning og mer muskelkraft, i alle fall i begynnelsen av bevegelsen. Kan du likevel fortsette å tenke retning og unngå å stramme nakken? En god framgangsmåte for å finne det ut kan være å variere tempoet, veksle mellom hurtig og langsomt. Hva er forskjellen? Kan du fremdeles la nakken være fri? Må du tenke på en annen måte under hurtige bevegelser?

Å bruke Alexanderteknikken når du beveger deg raskt er nyttig for å unngå å bli anspent. Du får mer nytte av teknikken. Når du kan anvende teknikken på denne måten forstår du bedre hva det er å tenke retning. Kanskje kan det også gjøre deg oppmerksom på om du gjør bevegelser raskere enn du behøver.

Det et mulig å bevege seg raskt uten å stresse. Men når vi blir stressa prøver vi ofte å gjøre for mye for fort. Da går det fort galt. Idealet bør ikke være å gjøre alt fortest mulig, men å gjøre hva som helst i et passende tempo. Akkurat som i musikken vil hva som er passe tempoet variere.

Relaterte blogginnlegg

lørdag 24. februar 2024

May the Force be with you

This article is a translated and rewritten version of the blog post "Kraft" in Norwegian from 2012. This version is written for Alexander Technique teachers.

When someone comes for Alexander Technique lessons she is normally much too tense. ("She" is used throughout for simplicity but is meant to cover any pronoun). Naturally, we want to reduce the level of tension, and the focus often turns to not tensing up. This is in line both with the principle of the Alexander Technique of inhibiting unwanted reactions and also with common sense - if you don't tense up, you don't get tense.

Avoiding tension can turn into a problem if it means avoiding anything that requires use of muscular force. Activities in traditional Alexander Technique lessons have mainly consisted of sitting down and standing up. This is great for reorganizing the pupils musculoskeletal system, but apart from getting in and out of the chair, it doesn't demand any use of force on the part of the pupil. The pupil is not required to use the hands, and it is through the hands we very often exert force in daily life.

There are several good reasons for having the use of force as a theme in Alexander Technique lessons
  1. It is useful for the pupils in their daily life. A lot of things we do requires a certain degree of physical force. The Alexander Technique is very useful in those situations.
  2. It helps reduce unnecessary tension. Very often, too much tension comes from tension applied wrong, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In that case, being clear about the right use of tension can help reduce or do away with the wrong tension.
  3. It is useful for understanding the Technique. If you think the Alexander Technique is just a relaxation technique, you have missed the point.

Below I present a series of activities I use in lessons. The aim is to introduce the pupil to Alexander Technique thinking in relation to the use of force.

These are simple activities that can be done even with beginners. For advanced pupils they can be modified into quite sophisticated experiments. Sometimes I briefly go through all in one lesson just to present the principles. Even if the quality of performance is crude, going through this series of activities can make a huge difference in how the pupil, by the end of the lesson, deals with the demands of applying physical force.

Receiving weight through the hands
All activities begin from a neutral position, while doing "nothing". In a standing position, I ask the pupil to hold her hands out in front of her, palms up. I then place a heavy object on her hands. It should be sufficiently heavy to make the pupil sense the change in contact between the feet and the ground. I often use some telephone directories or a small chair.

The pupil's reaction is often to stiffen the arms, lean back from the hips and push the pelvis forward (and so on). I do not address these tendencies directly. There is a good chance they will be reduced indirectly during the process.

I make sure the pupil is aware of the change in contact with the ground and point out that the weight of the object now acts as part of her own weight. It has to go "through" her to reach the ground. We want to let that happen without doing anything unnecessary, which would mean stiffening, bracing or squeezing ourselves.

I take back the object and replace it with another fairly heavy one. This time the pupil will react differently. There will be less of the unnecessary reactions and so the pupil will stay better coordinated.

Lifting an object
I now give the pupil the task of lifting something. I don't put much emphasis at this stage on how well (or not) the pupil is lowering herself to pick up the object, only that she again starts from a neutral position. I ask her to first make contact with the hands and then see if she can take the weight of the object gradually.

The weight is transferred from the floor and into the pupil's body. The weight of the object is still in a way resting on the floor, but now via the pupil's feet.

The pressure of the weight of the object will squeeze and slightly expand the palms of the hands, (as well as the soles of the feet). I explain that letting the body expand is what we want, and it can help to imagine the back expanding just like the hands and feet.

Having the idea of letting the weight of the object cause expansion of the body connects the lengthening and widening with the actual force used to handle the object. This way the process of directing is naturally integrated into the activity and not something extra added on.

If the pupil happens to have a bag or backpack that is not too small, I have the pupil use this as the object to lift. An object in daily use can act as a nice reminder to apply the Technique in everyday life.

Leaning against a wall
The next step is to take weight by leaning with the hands against the wall. The pupil stands approximately arms length from the wall, lifts the arms and comes forward from the ankles to put a little bit of weight on the hands.

When leaning against the wall for the first time, the tendency will often be for the pupil to "relax" and collapse in the middle, the pelvis sagging forward.

I suggest to the pupil to imagine letting the "push" from the wall travel through the arms, though the back and legs and feet and into the ground. This is similar to the weight of an object "travelling through" the body when holding it. The "push" from the wall causes the hands to expand and we can imagine that it also helps the shoulders and back to widen.

We can think of this as allowing the workload be distributed across as large an area as possible, sharing the work among as many muscles as possible.

The second time the pupil perform the activity of leaning against the wall, sufficient tone is maintained and the body stays integrated.

This activity can be varied in a lot of ways. The distance to the wall can be changed, arms can be bent or not, legs bent or not.

Pushing or pulling
I next have the pupil actively pushing something. In my office, I have a clothes stand with a fairly heavy stone base. I ask the pupil to push this to make it slightly tilt, and then play around with receiving the "push" back, thinking of utilizing this push to let the body expand. If done well this becomes a dance of two integrated masses- the stand and the pupil's body.

A useful variation is to pull on the stand instead of pushing. The direction of forces have changed, but the same kind of thinking is required. It can be used in all situations.

A variation I use here, If the pupil is up to it, is to have the pupil lift the clothes stand. It is quite heavy, but can be lifted with one hand by most adults.

Lastly, I have the pupil push me. We stand facing each other, feet placed diagonally, with one hand raised. This is the same position as used in Tai Chi "push hands". This activity reveals the level of the pupil's thinking. It becomes very clear whether the pupil expands or contracts, is "going up" or "pulling down". Beginning from neutral can be extra challenging. The pupil is often eager to try to push me over, and will start pushing way too soon.

Summing up
I often end the lesson or series of activities with something practical, like moving a chair or having the pupil pick up her bag or her shoes. The process has gone from passively receiving weight, via actively pushing (or pulling), to awareness of the use of physical force in daily activity.

The idea for the way of working I have described here is originally not my own. One of my sources is Carolyn Nicholls, especially the "directed activities" we did during my training based on Tai Chi "push hands"; and a workshop with her and Stephanie Smith at the 2004 international congress in Oxford which was my first introduction to working with pupils with hypermobility. My other source of inspiration is Pedro de Alcantara, and especially exercises and experiments found in the second edition of Indirect Procedures, and his trilogy The Integrated Musician.

Related blog posts
Kraft (Norwegian)

lørdag 27. januar 2024

Alexanderteknikk på glattisen

I forrige blogginnlegg skrev jeg om balanse. Noe som virkelig kan utfordre balansen er glatte fortau nå på vinteren. 

Elever har fortalt at de klarer seg bedre på glattisen etter timer med Alexanderteknikk. Kanskje fordi de er mykere i kroppen tar de seg lettere inn om de kommer i ubalanse. Noen har sagt de slår seg mindre når de faller, kanskje det også fordi de er mykere i kroppen. Grunnen kan også være at vi jobber mye med å bøye oss ned, og at vi lettere lar beina folde seg sammen i stedet for å stivne.

Når du glir på isen er det ofte umulig å ikke falle uansett hvor god balanse du har. Å bevege seg trygt på isen handler derfor om mer enn bare balanse.

Når det er glatt må du gå annerledes fordi det ikke er tilstrekkelig friksjon mellom føttene og bakken. Du må kanskje se ned for å se hvor du setter føttene. Å tilpasse gangmønsteret fører lett til at du blir anspent. Som Alexanderteknikk-lærer vet jeg av erfaring at mennesker blir mer anspent og stivere om vinteren. Kulda kan ha noe av skylda, men det kan føreforholdene også.
Den største utfordringen er engstelsen for å falle. Engstelse gjøre at du binder deg og blir enda mer anspent. Bevegelser hemmes og balansen blir dårligere.

Kan du gjøre noe med det?

Alexanderteknikken gjør at du unngår å stivne og beveger deg lettere i alle aktiviteter og kan generelt være til hjelp når du må bevege deg på glatta. Men du kan også bruke teknikken for å jobbe spesifikt med utfordringene du møter når du går på isen.

Du kan trene på å balansere på ett bein. Det vil ikke nødvendigvis forhindre at du faller når det er glatt. Men det er til hjelp når du må gå langsommere. Å gå langsomt utfordrer balansen. Å kunne balansere uten å stramme i nakke og skuldre er en stor fordel.

Du kan også trene måter å gå på som kan fungere på isen. Det hender jeg jobber med dette i timene. Det kan være å gå med bøy i knærne eller å gli med foten for hvert steg. Hvilken måte som fungerer kan være individuelt, og varierer med forholdene. (Selv synes jeg det av og til fungerer bedre om jeg løper på isen i stedet for å gå). Kanskje bør du også øve på å kunne se ned mens du går. Mange har problemer med å se hvor de setter føttene uten å kollapse i overkroppen.

Er du smart og bruker brodder unngår du mange problemer, men det kan fortsatt være nødvendig å tilpasse måten å gå på. Alexanderteknikken hjelper deg å takle det på en fleksibel måte. Å ta av og på brodder kan være en utfordring og noe vi kan jobbe med på timen. 

Du kan kanskje ha nytte av tilnærminger som ikke har å gjøre med Alexanderteknikken, for eksempel å lære fallteknikk: Falle som en banan.

I 2010 skrev jeg et blogginnlegg om å gå på isen. Innlegget hadde tittelen «Spent forventning». Den gang skrev jeg om glatte fortau først og fremst som en interessant utfordring. Med årene og alderen har jeg fått større forståelse for problemet.  For eldre mennesker og for mange med funksjonshemminger, utgjør glatte fortau en reell fare for liv og helse. 

Alexanderteknikken kan være spesielt nyttig for eldre mennesker. En studie publisert i fjor indikerer at teknikken kan motvirke reduksjon i balanse- og bevegelsesevne ved aldring. Men selv om Alexanderteknikken hjelper eldre å bevege seg bedre er den ingen garanti mot fall på isen. I tillegg til å ta timer i Alexanderteknikk vil jeg anbefale bruk av brodder.

Aller viktigst er det å ta det med ro og tenke seg om, noe som kan sies å være i tråd med Alexanderteknikkens prinsipper. Hvis du forhaster deg kan det fort gå galt. Jeg tror fall på isen ofte skjer hvis du har hastverk, tar sjanser eller er uoppmerksom. Tar du tid kan du finne steder å sette føttene hvor det er minst glatt. Kanskje du til og med kan finne en vei utenom.