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Principle 2: The Whole Self

The Whole Self

…or “Psycho-physical unity” in Alexander speak. The second of the principles of Alexander’s Technique is about how the brain affects the body, and the body affects the brain. I think most people today recognise this to be the case, but have you thought about the extent to which it is true?

This is a principle that Alexander wrote quite clearly about. Take this quote from “The Universal Constant in Living”, his last book: "The term psycho-physical is used both here and throughout my works to indicate the impossibility of separating 'physical' and 'mental' operations in our conceptions of the working of the human organism. [...] In my opinion the two must be considered entirely interdependent, and even more closely knit than is implied by such a phrase."

We all know the muscles are activated by the brain – not the conscious brain, thank goodness, imagine if we had to think through every movement we make and send messages to specific muscles – “Ok right arm, we’re going for the cup of tea, at the ready bicep….”!! The brain is what sends the messages down the central nervous system then via the nerves to the muscles telling them to contract. Equally, as you will experience in an Alexander lesson, it’s the brain telling the muscles not to contract. So all muscular doing, and non-doing is preceded by activity in the brain, or at least the central nervous system.

But the brain affects the body, and the body the brain in other ways. Think about the way a person suffering from depression might slump down in the front, not have their head on top of the spine, and give off a whole picture of heaviness and “pulled-downness”. Does this body use help or hinder the depressed person? What might happen if he / she let the head rest lightly on the very top vertebrae of the spine? Perhaps Charlie Brown has the answer….

I’m hoping that those of you who have been coming to lessons for a while will recognise also the lightness not only of body but also of mind that often follows an Alexander lesson. Get your head on top of your spine, all the muscles working at just the right level and the breathing going nicely, and it’s almost impossible to feel down or fed up. You feel light in spirit as well as in body.

Another thing that sometimes happen in Alexander lessons (and with other disciplines, I must add) is the moment when a muscle or area of tension is suddenly released in which we have been locking down past emotion, resulting in a good cry. It’s happened to pupils a couple of times in my lessons, and to me personally having lessons tons of times. We lock down emotion in muscles; it’s a bit more evidence for how strong the mind / body connection is.

One other point of note here is not only how the mind affects the body and vice versa, but how every bit of the body affects every other bit. A person who spends their life holding on for dear life in their ankles is definitely going to create problems higher up. A person who pulls their head down on their vertebrae is exerting 8 to 10 lbs of pressure on their spine, do that for years and it will have a detrimental effect on a lot of other parts of the body….

Psycho-physical unity – it’s why the Alexander Technique works.

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