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Principle 6: Direction

Direction is the next of the 7 key principles of the Alexander Technique. To my mind it is one of the main tools we have in the Technique. Please do go back and visit the blog on my website here for passages on the other key principles.

When we “direct” we are giving instructions to the mechanical body in a conscious way. Obviously, messages to the muscles are usually delivered at a subconscious level, and a good job really, or we would have to spend all day instructing the bicep and the gastrocnemius, etc, when to kick in and when to stop! The muscles work together in such a complex pattern that conscious instruction is not a possibility.

So directing (or “ordering” as Alexander called it) are conscious instructions we give ourselves. The set of directions most widely accredited to Alexander goes:

“let the neck be free, so that the head can go forward and up, so that the back can lengthen and widen, so the knees can go forward and away”.

However it is best to let a teacher guide you through these directions as there is a danger the new pupil of the Technique will just “do” the directions instead of directing; or will interpret the directions in their own way. For example, the direction of allowing the head to go “forward and up” is very easily open to misinterpretation – we should never, ever thrust or push the head forward. To my mind, the forward direction of the head is to do with allowing the heavier front part of the head to counterbalance the expanding back, almost like a see-saw. I say “heavier front part of the head” because it includes the extra bones and tissue around the jaw and the mandible.

It is well worth our while keeping these key directions in our minds because when they are all used they direct the whole of the body. A “lengthening, widening back” means the whole of the back, from the top of the neck to the tips of the gluteus muscles, from the tip of the left shoulder to the tip of the right, right across the whole of the back, and beyond.

It is worth noting that Alexander also meant the directions to be introduced one on top of the other, in other words we keep the first direction going as we introduce the second one, for example:

“let the neck be free”,and then

“let the neck be free, so the head can go forward and away”, and then

“let the neck be free, so the head can go forward and away, so the back can lengthen and widen”, and then

“let the neck be free, so the head can go forward and away, so the back can lengthen and widen, so the knees can go forward and away”, etc.

Of course, once we have familiarised ourselves with the concept of directing, we can use as many of our own directions as we please. Personally, I keep Alexander’s primary directions above in my mind but play around constantly with other directions. The language or the images that accompany these directions change on a daily basis, or sometimes even more frequently. In this way the Technique can become playful, poetic, even artistic in the way we use it. For me, the Technique is different every day and so it is never, ever boring. When we go to Alexander lessons the usual course of events is for a turn on the table, followed by a turn at the chair / stool doing sitting and standing work. On the surface or to an observer this may seem repetitive, but in the brains of the teacher and the pupil this should never be the case as the tools of inhibition and direction can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways every day. Furthermore, the inhibition and direction can be thought of as a journey; as we continue with the Technique we develop a greater and deeper understanding of ourselves, our habits, and how to quiet them.

Please do contact me or come for a lesson if any of this is unclear. As usual with the Alexander Technique, it is so much easier to understand during the experience of a lesson than via the written word.

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