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Easington, a tiny coastal village. A few houses and caravans. It wasn’t a seaside village like we know of today. It was, however, where I spent my summers when I was very young.
I sat, protected on three sides by chocolate coloured, East Yorkshire coastal clay enjoying it’s cool windbreak quality. I now know this coast is eroding faster than anywhere in Europe and the North sea I was looking at, covers many lost villages. I didn’t know or care about any of that. All I knew was my bum was cool, the skylarks were serenading me in the fields behind, and I was hidden from my family and friends at the campsite, and I felt safe. I felt more than safe, I just was. No school, no timetable, no agenda, no pull, no expectations. I had little experience of school at that point anyhow and those other words meant nothing to me. It was blissful.
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This month’s project was about playing with the phrase:
” the knees can go forward and away“
If you have not had Alexander Technique lessons before, in AT terms, this phrase is called a direction. Simply put, directions are thoughts to bring about how we wish to move (prevent what we don’t want to happen).
F. M. Alexander talked about four main “directions” which are:
Let the neck be free,
so that the head can go forward and up,
so that the back can lengthen and widen,
so that the knees can go forward and away.
As I mentioned, directions are thoughts. They are preventative wishes. In this case, the latter direction is to prevent your knees/legs fixing, holding, gripping and any other manner of things they get up to.
Here’s the process I went through during this exploration:
I started using the direction. The thought of knees going forward and away. I gave the direction (had the thought) in as many positions and situations as I could,
Before I gave the direction (had the thought) I did nothing. It’s important to be in a neutral state (inhibit in AT terms) before giving directions.
I became aware of the present moment. Sights, sounds, sensations,
ready for something and nothing,
I then noticed where I needed to do less, though the simple act of noticing brings about less effort.
In stopping, coming to neutral, preparing to think knees forward and away, my hips, pelvis and legs released. That release continued up my spine, whole back, head and breathing! I was surprised at how much I was doing unnecessarily and how it affected my whole system.
I reflected on my awareness of the way the leg moves. How the leg is a unit, and combined with the trunk, moves rather like an angle poise lamp, in many activities. It is a complex activity when broken down.
Also that the leg spirals unlike an angle poise lamp! The spiral is an important element of knees going forward and away. Released hips/thighs/knees spiral away from each other as the knees and hips bend.
This direction needs release in the hips/pelvis. It prevents the legs from doing what you don’t want them to do. It allows them to spiral following their inherent anatomical/physiological function. You might not notice the spiral happen, but it is happening, from a present moment neutral state.
I invited my knees to go forward and away: For me that is forward and away from each other and away from the back,
invited the thighs to lengthen into the movement,
the back to release away from the knees,
the knees away from the back,
invited the knees go away from each other like off-set headlights,
knees releasing and flowing into the movement.
These invitations can all happen before movement occurs.
Movement happens with ease using the Alexander Technique. To allow this direction to happen with ease, the hips are released and the knees start in neutral ( not bracing back), and the spiral has freedom to happen. It is important to be mindful that the movement arises rather than is “done.” It arises from a thinking process.
Doing the movement is counterproductive. Of course this non-doing movement takes a bit of getting one’s head around it. It is a fundamental element of the Alexander Technique but it takes some practice and it helps to have the support of a teacher.
The exploration reminded me that knees forward and away is an important direction in that it feeds into so much of our system.
- Do nothing, notice the present moment, notice your legs
- Soften, release any perceived tension in the body
- Ease in the pelvis/buttocks
- Ease in the hips
- Soft knees
- Flow through the legs
- Think “knees forward and away”
- Choose to move (or not) allowing the knees to go forward and away
“You have to have the overall intent of going up. And you have got to make sure that you are not bracing the knees, not tightening the adductor muscles, not tightening the muscles at the pelvis and so on. You’ve got to take care not to do those things. Now it will probably help you to think of the knees going forward and away, but do watch out because if you’ve got a yen to do it, to force the knees forward and away, then you will be in trouble. So, remember, the knees forward and away is a preventative, preventative, preventative order.”
“The Act of Living” by Walter Carrington
If you would like to explore what having ease in your legs both in stillness and movement can be like, prevent doing the wrong thing, come and have a few Alexander Technique lessons! Happy to help!
They were on the way to a match. The car was full of excited people all chattering away. They were on the way to a new venue so the driver was using their phone as a satnav. It wasn’t on the dashboard but propped up on the handbrake between the two front seats. The screen could be seen at a pinch but the verbal directions were being followed. Unfortunately due to the noise of the passengers the driver was having trouble hearing those directions. That wasn’t a problem at first.
As the journey progressed they moved into unfamiliar territory so the driver looked at his phone to see what was coming up. It was only for a second or two perhaps. Suddenly there was a scream which made the driver look up. They were within yards of the back end of a bus which had stopped. The car driver banged their foot down hard, but in their panic missed the brake pedal. Their only option was to swerve, out into the oncoming lane. Luck was definitely on their side as no cars were in that lane and disaster was averted. The shock and the thought of what might have been reverberated for a long while.
Oprah Winfrey talks about life’s lessons starting off as a little nudge and then becoming a huge boulder thrown at you calling you to pay attention. I often think about that. The driver who told me about their shocking car journey reminded me about how life keeps calling to us to wake up and pay attention, and it also reminded me about my work.
So many of my clients spend a lot of their life going from task to task, head down, failing to see the full picture, failing to smell the roses. They ignore the many messages their body is giving them and only begin to listen when it becomes a problem. They plough on with stress and pain, and push it out the way to get on with life’s tasks. I think life is too short to to be like that. A treadmill, never stopping.
I don’t think life is about crossing off jobs on a list. Lurching from one thing to another, mind on the next job, not the one you are doing, but sometimes that is what life becomes. It loses it’s sparkle.
The Alexander Technique is often what people turn to when they get a huge wake-up call, when stress and pain get too much. They realise that they need to do things differently. I often see people when their message to look up and take stock has become like a boulder, not a nudge.
Some of my greatest joys are found in moments, when a client realises that slowing down is a good thing. I love it when they tell me they stopped and noticed the present moment. Stopping is an essential part of learning the technique.
Last week a client talked about stopping to look at the snowdrops in the garden when normally they only realise they have gone when the daffodils are in bloom. Actually they usually miss the daffodils too. It made my day. I felt their life was well on the way to being richer.
Perhaps you recognise yourself in this? Perhaps you know you have a tendency to push on. What would it be like to learn to stop and be at ease in the present moment. Easy body, easy mind? Give it a try for the next hour? Stop every 10 minutes and just notice one thing. What’s around you and within you? What can you see, hear or feel?
I’d love to work with you if life is calling to you to stop and discover what it’s like to enjoy being in a body and in the present moment. Get in touch?
Alexander Technique Teacher
Image by Hans Brexmeier, Pixabay
Jane’s December 2019 Alexander Technique Project
Mio Morales, Alexander Teacher, posted a quote, on Facebook, this month. It was about inhibition written by Marjorie Barlow. It reminded me of the ideal way I might have tackled a project, but didn’t. Never-the-less, I did survive the project with inhibition and the Alexander Technique:
It’s a very active thing! Very, very, active. When you’re passive, nothing’s happening.
No, you’ve got to be very much on the spot to inhibit. For one thing you’ve got to be sufficiently awake to see the stimulus coming. Otherwise it’s too late and you’ve reacted.
Inhibition is further back than people think. Everybody thinks they are inhibiting getting out of a chair or going into monkey or making a movement of some kind.
It isn’t. It’s inhibiting your first reaction to that idea, whatever it is. Whether it comes from within or without. And you’ve got to be all present and correct to be able to do that, to be able to catch it.
An Examined Life
The stimulus, that I wasn’t on the spot to inhibit was the effect of a very small house fire/explosion. It kicked off a huge chain of events that have recently culminated, satisfactorily, in the rewire of a large Victorian house.
The biggest task was clearing and sorting 56 years of “stuff” there through keeping every sentimental object from a family of six and everything that might “come in handy” (broken or not).
It was a huge stimulus. A mental and physical challenge. My days and dreams were full of moving items. I felt like I was in a nightmare. A real life game of Tetris.
The job started off quite calm and measured. However, even though many things went to plan, some things did not. We realised we needed to spend much more time clearing the house. It made me try to do things even faster. Pushing myself to physical and emotional exhaustion. The sleepless nights, full of worrying about the job, just made it all worse.
I felt like a hamster on a wheel. I couldn’t stop. The stimulus, that I didn’t spot too well, that I didn’t catch because I had my eye on the end, whipped me along towards completing the first part of the project in time for the electricians arrival.
Paradoxically I had to stop and apply the process of inhibition. It’s the most fundamental element of the Alexander Technique. It felt extremely counter intuitive because my habit is to fire-fight and to push myself to keep going.
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Recently, I rediscovered a poem called Lost by David Wagoner. When I came across it, I remembered that I had read it out to a group of my students when we were thinking about being in the present moment, something that is an essential part of the Alexander Technique. I am so glad I found the poem again:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
This time as I read it, I thought it would make a perfect subject for my AT topic this month. The bits that stood out when I read it were:
The forest knows where you are.
Let it find you.
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