Musings on F. M. Alexander's Directions

by Brooke Lieb

One key aspect of using the directions in Alexander lessons is to understand how they are intended to work. Thinking is the essence of the Alexander Technique, and this thinking influences our whole being. We often observe the muscular changes, but changes occur at every level.

I am always refining, re-inventing, and re-imagining how these directions are meant to be applied, and I found an envelope where I jotted down my musings about this. I didn’t date the envelope, but I would bet good money it’s been sitting on my desk for somewhere between 5 and 8 years.
 

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Want to Change Your Body? Use Your Mind…

iStock_brain_smaller_croppedby Jeffrey Glazer Good posture, less pain, better breathing, fluid movement, even confidence; all are side effects of effective application of the Alexander Technique. You may be surprised to learn that a major key to achieving those goals lies in your thinking. The technique teaches you to utilize thought as a way of solving problems that stem from poor posture and movement habits. Since posture and movement are ultimately controlled by the brain, we can improve them by using the brain, albeit in a different way.

The key is to trust that thinking can create a positive change in the body. For example, the primary tension pattern that the Alexander Technique seeks to prevent is tightening the neck. This is because a neck that isn’t tight is essential to preventing tension in the rest of the body. To prevent tightening the neck, instead of doing something that feels like not tightening the neck, we simply think “I’m not tightening my neck.” Or, to frame it in the positive, think “neck free”.

Before sending the message to yourself to not tighten your neck, bring your attention to the area behind the forehead. Then think “I am not tightening my neck”, or “neck free” from that point. Having your full attention up high behind the forehead will help to prevent the tendency to actively use your neck muscles to create what you believe constitutes a free neck. So rather than do something, simply stick to thinking.

Furthermore, you also want to see out in front of you as you think. It can be tempting to check for an immediate result by feeling for the “right” thing, but often when we begin feeling for something we stop seeing what’s in front of us. The eyes get drawn inward and we lose touch with the environment around us. So, if you begin to feel tense, or you stop paying attention to what you are seeing, then start over. Feeling for the “right” thing will not help. Remember, the key is to trust that your thinking will have an effect. Once you begin checking for a result, or trying to do something muscularly, you’ve stopped trusting your thinking.

My suggestion is to practice sending messages to your body from the area behind your forehead. Send the message over and over again. The key is to think rather than do; the skill is to think without producing tension. Alexander Technique lessons can help you with this type of thinking, and they also give you the kinesthetic experience of what “neck free” feels like. With dedication, patience, and trust, you may be surprised at the results.

This post originally appeared on Jeffrey Glazer's blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/jeffrey.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JEFFREY GLAZER is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. He found the Alexander Technique in 2008 after an exhaustive search for relief from chronic pain in his arms and neck. Long hours at the computer had made his pain debilitating, and he was forced to leave his job in finance. The remarkable results he achieved in managing and reducing his pain prompted him to become an instructor in order to help others. He received his teacher certification at the American Center for the Alexander Technique after completing their 3-year, 1600 hour training course in 2013. He also holds a BS in Finance and Marketing from Florida State University. www.nycalexandertechnique.com[/author_info] [/author]

Fascia, The Body’s Connective Tissue, Can Contract!

skeletonby Witold Fitz-Simon The standard wisdom is that it is only the muscles of the human body that contact and create movement, but it turns out that this is not entirely true. About ten years ago, research began to show that fascia contained myofibroblasts, cells that have the ability to contract when stimulated.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue of the body. It surrounds all our muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and organs, and provides the tensile structure of the body, providing the medium that transfers the elastic pull of our muscles. It holds different parts in place, for example suspending organs from the spine, and allows different parts of the body to move around by creating distinct layers of tissue with surfaces that can slide and glide over each other. Fascia is made up of tight bundles of collagen fibers which are extremely resistant to lengthening. When a person is young and/or healthy, the fibers, bundles and layers are neatly aligned and discrete. As a person ages and the overall good use of their body deteriorates, these fibers can become frayed and stuck together, and can even get shorter. What used to aid and support movement can create limitations and problems. Once fascia gets to that state it can become very difficult to change. It takes serious intervention: either the forceful rearranging of deep tissue massage, or the sustained mindfulness and intention that the Alexander Technique can provide.

Along with collagen fibers, fascia contains extracellular matrix (the stuff that is in between the cells) and fibroblasts, cells that create the extracellular matrix and collagen. The myofibroblasts that have been discovered in fascia are found all over the body and are used in the healing of wounds. As they contract, they pull the edges of the wound together. In fascia, they are found in greater concentration in areas where the tissue is under greater physical stress.

From an article written by Joseph E. Muscolino, author of “Kinesiology, The Skeletal System and Muscle Function,” published in the Fall 2008 issue of Massage Therapy Journal:

“As great and greater tensile forces are placed upon the fascia, more and more myofibroblasts develop from the normal fibroblasts of the fascial tissue. For this reason, myofibroblasts are also known as ‘stress fibers.’ These myofibroblasts can then create an active pulling force that the fascial tissue is experiencing. For this reason, myofibroblasts are found in the greatest concentration in fascial tissues that have been injured and are undergoing would healing. Fascial tissues with high concentrations of myofibroblasts have been found to have sufficiently strong force to impact musculoskeletal mechanics—that is, their active pulling forces are strong enough to contribute to movement of the body.”

Slow and Steady Contraction

The contraction of muscle tissue can be fast-moving, with the ability to respond almost instantaneously to triggers, and is governed directly by the nervous system, either non-consciously through the reflexes of the spinal chord, or directly from conscious intention. The contraction of these myofibroblasts in our fascia is very different in quality, building up over a period of minutes to hours, and was found to be stimulated by changes in hydration in the extracellular matrix of the tissue as a result of stretching. This means that the contraction of fascia would not be directly influenced by the kind of mental intention that direction in the Alexander Technique mode. It does mean, however, that fascia is not as inert as one might have heretofore thought, and this new knowledge gives us a different insight into the mechanism of change that happens over time as the result of continuously applying constructive, conscious direction to the way we use ourselves with the Alexander Technique.

For those more technically-minded, two studies on the topic can be found here and here.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/After-crop1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being. www.mindbodyandbeing.com[/author_info] [/author]