Updated: Feb 3, 2020
The Alexander Technique (AT) is often associated with good posture or good alignment. It is true. If you look at most AT Teachers they do seem to have good posture. Good posture however, is one of the many by-products of being able to direct use consciously. Every day we direct our use. From getting up first thing to going to bed later that night, we make decisions about where we are in space and how we react. Chairs, people, cars, traffic lights all demand our attention and a call to action. This direction is often is thought of as automatic or habituated and a good thing. It is not really until something goes wrong or we feel pain that we attend to ourselves once again..
Direction is the first principle of the Alexander Technique. It can be described as a command given to yourself that helps maintain a good working relationship between the head, neck and back. It is not about making the head, neck or back have one specific relationship that is held in a specific orientation or position. The head position or orientation is unimportant. But rather a request to keep the lines of communication and coordination of the head, neck, back, legs, arms, hands, thinking, emotion organized and working together at one and the same time so they are open to receive.
The Primary Direction is given in the following order: let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen. Take a moment to sit and think that direction. What are the first things that come to mind? Most likely a series of questions which involve defining terms and a moment of disbelief as you wonder, if it is that simple why isn't everyone doing it? All of which are valid, and If you are thinking that it is simple and why isn't everyone doing it, quite simply because the actual application of consciously directing can be quite difficult especially when we think our movement is automated or habituated beyond the belief of change.
The Primary Direction really speaks effectively to the relationship of the Axial Skeleton to itself, to the rest of the body, the emotion and the thinking. Once the conscious Primary Direction begins to become more present within an individuals use, the torso begins to reset its working relationship and the sensory mechanisms start to become responsive to more subtle changes. For the work I do, there is also a Secondary Direction that works with the Primary Direction, to help move an individual through space. There are other directions, more familiar to the AT community, that help maintain the relationship of the arms and legs to the torso.
Direction is an important part of AT and can easily be mistaken for other somatic work and psychological work that seeks to define habits and integrate mind and body. With Direction, we are looking for a conscious engagement that resonates throughout the system and that when requested affects the sensory system as a whole. Visualization exercises can be useful, but are limited in their capacity. Likewise using the imagination or intentioning to illicit specific responses can also be useful but are limited. In all three instances, they rely upon an element of visioning, using the eyes to look and see something or build an image of what we would like to see happen. Often these ideals miss out much of the information needed for change and can lead to further miss understanding or miss communication within the sensory feedback system. An example of such visualizing or imagining would be that of the helium filled ballon and a string. This image is often used to help with going up and it works temporarily as people visualize a balloon moving up through the sky. All Direction is important, as it all works together at one and the same time to manage movement that is constantly changing, reacting to gravity, thinking and emotion among other things.
Direction, while a simple set of commands, in its effect, can have a profound resonance within the system. How effective Direction becomes also relies upon the application of the 5 other principles of the Technique and when all are working together, an individual has a simple and effective way to keep themselves in check and to make reasoned changes in their use effectively.