What are Alexander’s directions?

Our thoughts lead, and our body follows:

FM Alexander’s approach to directing thoughts and intentions is a fundamental aspect of the Alexander Technique, aimed at improving coordination and overall body functioning.

One of the core principles is that the way we use our selves, affects the way that our mind-body will function.

If I take better care of my thoughts and movements, and work according to the natural order for my coordination and movement patterns, then I will get the easiest and best movement I can in this moment. So its a double win. The more I manage myself now, the better things will be in this present moment, and in the future. Every time I stop to think about how I’m thinking and moving will benefit me now, and be a good investment for my future. If our energy was like money, then we would be in budget now, which makes it more likely we’ll be in budget later, and have invested for the future too. Is that making sense?

The first line of Alexander’s classic directions is:

“I wish my neck to be free…”

The directions he provided offer a structured sequence to guide and manage our mental focus. It starts with the intention, “I wish my neck to be free.” This initial thought sets the stage for releasing tension and allows the head to move with ease, to be unlocked so that movement in any direction is as easy as any other direction.

The next line emphasises the head’s relationship with the spine as it lengthens, followed by the widening of the back – each thought encourages the body to restore itself. These are not movements in themselves, but the thought which leads the body wisdom’s movement. This is not about stretching and fixing. Quite the opposite. These thoughts agree with our natural design and the more we think about setting up the best conditions for our activity, the easier we can live and be during this activity.

The second line is:

“So that my head can move in such a way that my back lengthens and widens…”

This delicate thought is about allowing the head to move so that the spine returns to its full easy length and torso to its full easy width and depth. Sometimes we say ‘head forwards and up’. This is easily misunderstood as a movement, rather than a direction. Please get a qualified Alexander Technique teacher to show you. It is not just what you think, it is about the delicate quality of How you think that matters too.

Please read that paragraph again.

We don’t need to, or want to, push or pull ourselves around trying to force ourselves into correct positions. Alexander didn’t believe in positions. Quite the opposite. The work is about restoring freedom and flow and ease. He discovered what works well in mammals – cats, dogs, horses – the head leads and the spine follows. He found a way to restore that coordination consciously using these organising principles in everyday activities. Meaning we can relearn to move with less strain, have less wear and tear and enjoy easier and lighter movements at will. These are self-help tools.

Take the brakes off with this subtle thinking

What we are doing in Alexander Technique sessions is to create the inner conditions, in our mind, nervous system and muscles, so that we can easily allow this primary coordination to be restored again and again throughout our day. It is not about correcting ourself, fixing our posture, holding ourselves stiffly – more that we wish to ‘take the brakes off’ again and again. Whether we need to or not. This is not about noticing and correcting.

We have Alexander’s process, stick to principles and keep applying these thoughts again and again.

We are working with our habits, where we often unconsciously stiffen our neck or spine, tighten our shoulders, pull our knees up or puff our chest out. These are all natural as part of the fight/flight reflex, something scares us and we hunch our head into our neck/torso to protect this vulnerable area from attack. Someone attacks us (verbally or in our memory or imagination) and our body may puff up to look bigger than we are to scare off our attacker. Fine and useful in extreme moments, but our evolutionary reflexes are easily triggered by ‘another phone call’, someone calling our name, seeing how many emails we have, or FB likes we don’t have! All these can stimulate a fundament fight/flight response of tightening our head/neck joint and stiffening our spine. This is like trying to drive a car with the handbrake on! It’s not just me who’s done that, is it?

What happens in nature, is that if ducks had a fight, then would then shake it off, flap their wings and reset. Or a lion might run around, shake themselves off, then rest and reset. This is what we can learn to do consciously without the drama of shaking and flapping! Rest and reset, in micro moments.

Back to our directions, the third line:

“Out and away across the upper arms” our thoughts move from our ‘primary control’ head/neck/back relationship now to our limbs – extending our thoughts outwards across the upper arms. This thought is helpful in that we aren’t trying to fix our arms or shoulders into any position. There is no right position.

We are promoting the easy relationship between head/spine/pelvis primarily and then our limbs – its about having our body work in the right order. This thought allows the front and back of our torso to be equally wide and easy. We aren’t making ourselves look right for the front view on a photo only, only to be pulling our shoulder blades back or in, which would narrow our back. I want both for you. Out and away across the upper arms allows us to unsqueeze, or unstretch, our arms into our torso thereby allowing ease in all the joints of our arms and shoulder girdle.

The last classic line is:

“Knees forwards and away”

The final direction in this sequence highlights specific natural directions, with “knees forwards and away.” This articulates the intention to encourage the knees to be free to move in a manner that promotes balance and coordination. Remember we are unconsciously scrunching from fight/flight and sending thoughts and wishes to restore fullness and ease throughout our whole self.

Memorizing and vocalizing these directions yourself, little and often, can serve as a powerful reminder to attend to your coordination first. It serves as a mental checklist to promote and prioritise the way that movements are executed with lightness and intention, fostering greater mind-body awareness and encouraging efficient activity. In essence, these directions create a roadmap for improved coordination and movement quality.

“I wish my neck to be free

so that my head will move in such a way that my

spine will lengthen and my back will widen

out and away across the upper arms

knees forwards and away.”

From unconscious habits, to conscious control of the individual

As Alexander Technique practitioners, we apply these directions to our daily activities and movements. We use them as a tool to remind ourselves to prioritize coordination, which, according to Alexander’s principles, is essential before engaging in any specific activity. By cultivating this heightened awareness and integrating these directions into our thought process, we pave the way for more graceful and efficient functioning in our daily lives. Coordination becomes the cornerstone of how we approach tasks, ensuring that we move with intention, lightness, and a greater sense of ease.

Incorporating these directions into our daily routines is akin to “watering the environment for our body’s wisdom to flourish and be in charge,” as Alexander suggests. It’s a deliberate and continuous practice of nurturing our body’s inherent intelligence and coordination. With consistent and delicate attention to these directions, we empower ourselves to move through life with improved poise, awareness, and grace, aligning with the core principles of the Alexander Technique.

If you’d like to explore any of this in more details, and have a new experience outside your habitual ways of thinking and doing, please contact your local Alexander Technique teacher and set up a one-off consultation lesson. Your body will thank you!

Written by Lucy Ascham, Body & Soul Energy Expert

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