One of the skills that students of the Alexander Technique learn is how to Direct themselves or give themselves Directions.
There are a set of traditional Directions that come down to us from F.M. Alexander, the founder of the Technique. They can be a bit baffling at first, especially without the aid of a teacher.
Therefore, I find when initially introducing the idea of Directing yourself it’s much better to start in a simple way with the bigger picture.
Think of it as learning to see the Forest first. Then the Trees.
And heck, you might just find that the Forest is just enough for you at this time.
Direction is a skill of thinking.
But what do I mean by thinking exactly? And how are you supposed to think?
It’s thinking in conjunction with your anatomy —imagining how you want yourself to be organized.
You want to be organized generally in a way that’s:
- expansive, not contractive
- lengthening, not shortening
- widening, not narrowing
I’ve got a bunch of compression springs in my studio. I often use them with students to help get this idea across.
A compression spring’s at its natural resting length when it’s not compressed.
Compress it and it gets shorter. Let go and it springs back to its natural resting length.
If you’ve one lying around go get it. Or next time you’re at the hardware store buy yourself one. They’re inexpensive.
The physical experience of using the spring can be quite powerful. And you’ll get the idea better than just reading about it.
Take your spring and compress (squeeze) it between your finger and thumb. Hold the compression for a little bit to get a sense of the work you’re doing.
Now stop compressing (stop squeezing) the spring and let it pop back to its resting length.
Do this a couple of times to get a sense of:
- squeezing/compressing/shortening and
- not squeezing/not compressing/lengthening
Think of the bottoms of your feet on the ground and the top of your head as the two ends of an internal spring.
You can choose to compress yourself— just like you compressed the spring—or not compress yourself at any time.
When you Direct yourself to gently be more expansive and to lengthen you are basically imagining not compressing yourself.
The focus is on doing less of something (compressing and squeezing). Not on doing more of something that you think you should do—such as trying to stand up straight and pull yourself up to be as tall as possible.
A very well-known Alexander Teacher, Walter Carrington, is often quoted as saying, “we are squeezing ourselves to death!”
Whether or not he said those exact words, it’s quite true that most of us are squeezing ourselves an awful lot.
And a good way to start changing things for the better is to invite yourself not to as often as you can.
Your body will thank you for it!