I didn't set out to write a blog with a stupid millennial boy band reference. It just turned out that way.
This series is going to feature a breakdown of the basic Alexander Directions--taken one at a time. One...direction...at a time. Get it?
Ok, now that you've stopped laughing hilariously, you are probably thinking 'what are these directions you speak of?'
Directions are postural 'thoughts' you give yourself. The relationships that help to create length and space in our poise are very delicate, and cannot be forced with muscular effort. Trying to pull yourself into good poise actually results in tension and shortening. By definition muscles contract to work. Nor can they be forced to released, at least not without a qualified massage therapist following you around constantly and working on you while you perform every activity, which would be expensive and impractical.
However, our minds and bodies are one and the same, and so specific thoughts can encourage these relationships to free up without muscular effort. If you doubt that our thinking can have an impact on our bodies, try this: get up, walk around the room habitually. Good job. Now, try the same thing, but picture your body is made of air. Well done. Did your movement change? Did it fell lighter, easier?
This is an example of a gross use of thinking. Directions function on the same principle, but are more specifically targeted, aimed at enlivening our natural suspension system. There are four main directions that F.M. Alexander developed as being primary--having to do with our central postural system--and secondary directions that help to promote freedom in specific 'parts' of the body(arms, elbows, ankles, hips). These directions all have significance separately but, like the boy band, really reach their full harmony, effectiveness, and appeal together.
And like the boy band, not every member is the same, and there is a definite formula to how to take them in order to achieve success. So, with the help of the One Direction Wikipedia entry, here we go on our first direction in the 5 part series; 'Allow the Neck to be Free'.
Why is this direction important, and why does it come first? Because it is the gateway to everything that happens afterwards. Like songwriter Liam Payne, it is not the flashiest direction, but without it, the more interesting ones(such as 'Head Forward and Up', the Harry Styles direction) would not be able to do their thing. Ultimately, every muscle in our body is networked in to the incredibly complex mass of fibers that make up our neck. Because of that connection, if the neck is shortened or contracted, everything in your body shortens and contracts. As Walter Carrington, the great A.T. teacher, said "When we say free the neck; we in some ways are saying free the whole body". Neck tension also pulls the head out of alignment with the body, preventing other directions in the sequence from being possible.
Literally, if the neck is tight, the following movements cannot occur. In addition, it interferes with the torso's ability to spiral with ease, as the spirals of muscle encasing our torso end at the neck, keeping us from having the flexibility we need in the torso to move and balance easily. Lastly, neck tension coincides with one of the first manifestations of the startle reaction--the response that tightens our body in a fight/flight/freeze way in response to a threat. Freeing the neck is the first step in unwinding this caustic and often un-useful response.
Like Liam, it might not be the cutest, it might not have the strongest voice, it may sometimes not seem to have the most engaging personality. It is really hard to get a read on sometimes. But without it, you wouldn't know you were beautiful, and how terrible would that be?
So...to take this direction alone:
Find a quiet moment, in a healthy seated relationship (feet touching the floor, not slumped on the back of the chair or braced upwards) or constructive rest. Simply, think the thought 'my neck is free'. Speak it gently to yourself in your mind's eye--neither a command or a formless image, Don't try to do anything after thinking it--resist the temptation to try to 'do' the suggestion, resist the temptation to try to feel whether it is working--trust it. Try not to hold your breath. Perhaps count to ten in your mind to make sure you are giving it space to function. Then, give your direction again. It might feel slightly different. This is a sign something has subtly changed. Repeat 5-10 times, and then go back to what you were doing--if you turn your head gently from side to side, does it feel easier to move?Does it take less effort to let it spiral?
Some people find an alternative phrasing helpful: Try 'allow the neck to be free' or 'allow the neck to melt into length' as other ways to phrase this direction. See if you can include the whole neck, not just the back: Let it be three dimensional: front, back, and sides.
Try working this practice into a daily activity. Does it give you just a bit more freedom?
That's it for this week. Check back next week, when we will be discussing 'Forward and Up'--the Harry of the group, which is really what you came here for anyway, right?
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.