Alexander talked about the unreliability of our sensory feedback, particularly with regard to bodily sensation, and specifically with respect to the position we carry our heads and necks in relation to vertical.Read More
by Witold Fitz-Simon Every one of us has a "sixth sense." Unfortunately, it's nothing fancy. It's not telepathy, or the ability to see ghosts, or anything supernatural like that. It is pretty cool, in its own way, even though most of us take it completely for granted most of the time. Our sixth sense is a "feeling" sense made up of information we get from our bodies.
Kinesthesia and Proprioception
This feeling sense, called either proprioception or kinesthesia, works a little differently than our other five senses. Each of the traditional five senses, has its own sense organ: sight has the eyes, sound has the ears, etc. The feeling sense is different.
Instead of getting all its information from one source, your brain takes information from organs in different parts of your body and knits it together into one sense. It compiles information from your muscles, joints, tendons and your inner ear to give you an awareness of movement, effort and the position of your joints and limbs. This awareness, your proprioceptive sense, becomes the foundation for the way you sit, stand, walk around or work at the computer. It informs everything you do.
Why it "Feels Right"
Last week on the blog we looked at habits and how hard they are to break. In an nutshell, this is because our brains take complex behaviors and reduce all the different parts that make them up into a single behavioral chunk. This chunk then gets imprinted into our brains with a positive reinforcement mechanism that includes the chemical dopamine. The way we use our bodies, and the proprioceptive memory associated with that use, is part of that chunked behavior. As a result, it feels good or "feels right" to do the habit in a particular way.
Why "Feeling Right" Can Lead You Wrong
Just because a way of doing something has that feeling of "rightness" to it, that doesn't mean it is necessarily your best choice in any given moment. Your proprioceptive or kinesthetic sense often feeds you bad information. The sense receptors in your muscles, tendons and joints register change. If you raise your arm, for example, they tell you that the position of your arm has changed from one place to another. They tell you that the muscular effort expended by the muscles in your shoulder has changed from one amount to another, as well as the rate at which that change took place. After a while, if there is no more change happening, they reset themselves to this new state. They no longer send information to your brain.
This can lead to two problems. If you do the same thing wrong the same way over and over, after a while your proprioceptive sense will no longer register it. Say you tense your neck all the time you are sitting at your computer, your proprioceptive sense will begin to tune it out. This will begin to carry over into other activities. The misuse will get folded in with all your other behavioral patterns and will begin to feel right. You will only be reinforcing the bad habit.
This, then, leads us to the second problem. In order for your sense receptors to pick up any new information, you will have to create change. If you try and "feel out" a part of your body, perhaps to learn more about it or fix it, you will most likely be adding more effort to that place.
Do the Right Thing
So what's the solution to this awkward situation? Change your relationship to your proprioceptive/kinesthetic sense. Rather than getting caught up in the sensations of your body, open your awareness out to include the space around you as well as the information you get about yourself. Rely on that visual and spatial awareness instead. Staying connected to your other senses and the space around you will give your system the message to be a little less compressed, a little less effortful, a little more expansive.
Better still, try taking an Alexander Technique lesson with a certified teacher. They can show you a whole new way to relate to your body that will help you identify and release your bad habits. They will show you how to repattern the way you use yourself to a more efficient and easeful standard.
[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]
Studying the Alexander Technique can seem like a never-ending road filled with mysterious obstacles and seductive bunny trails that often lead to dead-ends. However, it can be less so if you become aware of these potential pitfalls:
1) Doing the directions
Alexander called the directions “preventative orders” because they are meant to stop you from actively shortening your stature, narrowing your back, and pulling in your limbs. Any new found expanded state is a result of getting out of the way of natural upright. You can’t do an undoing, so don’t force yourself to lengthen or widen. Think (wish, intend, imagine) the change you’d like to see happen and then allow yourself to breathe. Repeat.
2) Relaxing (releasing all muscle tone)
The Alexander Technique is about finding an easeful way of balancing, moving, and being; where your mind and muscles work for you, not against you. We are looking for healthy muscle tone without excess, thinking without effort; that doesn’t mean no work. Don’t let non-doing become nothing doing.
3) Letting your feelings guide your movements
If we do what feels right, we are doing our habit. A general rule of thumb: if it feels right, it’s wrong; if it feels wrong, it’s new. This is different from learning to recognize your habit(s), which we all must do. Eventually your kinesthetic sense does become more reliable, but we must move out of the realm of feeling and into the realm of thought to improve even then. Alexander once said, “When the time comes that you can trust your feelings, you won’t want to use it [kinesthetic sense].”
4) Trying to levitate
No matter how much up direction you give yourself, you must still be grounded for it to be useful. A lengthening of the body comes from the ground and goes up. Don’t be so concerned with your head going forward and up that you lift your feet off the ground.
5) Focusing on specific parts without relation to the whole
Concentrating often narrows our view, not allowing us to see the entire system we are affecting. We then start “fixing” specific problems only to move on to the next problem that we faultily perceive to be independent of the last one. We then feel like we’ve accomplished something by “fixing” many little things, but in reality we haven’t achieved anything useful if we don’t account for part’s relation to the whole; in fact, you even run the risk of destabilizing the entire system.
The most common example of this I see is “putting the head forward and up” as if forward and up were a position of the head, not a relationship of the head to the whole body. When we perceive a problem, it’s best to take a wider view of the area surrounding the problem rather than directly fixing it.
6) Believing that the startle pattern is a habit
We go into the startle pattern (head and limbs pulled into the torso like a turtle going into it’s shell) because we are afraid of something. Whether it’s stage fright or fear of falling on the ground; the startle pattern is a reaction to a thought or feeling; either of which can be habitual. If we don’t want to startle, the thing to do is find the thought/feeling that is causing the startle pattern and inhibit (say no to) it. This is not to say that you won’t have to explore why you are having those thoughts or feelings.
7) Inhibiting doing the activity instead of inhibiting the thought of doing the activity
This sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. Inhibiting (or saying no) can end up being plain old stiffening if we are not clear about what we are inhibiting. Are we saying no to the thought (and therefore the habitual reaction) of sitting or standing while doing chair work, or are we saying no to the activity and muscling through? It is helpful to ask, “What am I inhibiting?” then “How am I doing that?”
Going inside to try and figure things out, thinking about what you’re going to do later, or anything other than what’s going on in the moment (being present and aware of your thoughts, seeing the room, hearing, and feeling your contact with the ground) just gets in the way of your goal. Even if you are planning for a future event, it’s not helpful to leave the present while thinking about it.
9) Trying to get it right
One of the most powerful experiences in my practice of the Alexander Technique was in a chair turn with Barbara Kent where I realized that no matter how hard I tried to get it right, I couldn’t sit in the chair without stiffening and plopping down into the chair. Barbara picked up on this and said, “Let’s try it again and this time, let’s both be wrong.” I then effortlessly made it to the chair with no plop. Barbara then followed up with a smile, “It’s never going to be perfect, so there’s no point in trying to be.”
10) Being hard on ourselves
Our habits have gotten us to where we are in life. Thank them, and then gently let them know that they are no longer needed. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction- therefore the more effort we exert in trying to overcome our habits the more difficulty there will be in doing just that.
In my experience it’s much easier to tell when we are headed in the wrong direction than when things are going well. This list is far from exhaustive, but if kept in mind it provides clues about when we’ve fallen off the straight and narrow path and makes the difficult journey of personal transformation easier to navigate.
This post was originally published on alexanderviolist.wordpress.com.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.acatnyc.org/main/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/headshot.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JOHN AUSTIN started pondering and pontificating on the probable and possible reasons for the tragic loss of joy in himself and his fellow musicians as he approached his breaking point in a music conservatory. In fact, he was nearly a casualty of the music “busi-ness" when he stumbled on the Alexander Technique. Since then he's been inspired by his training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique to write in an attempt to better understand what was happening to himself and others. Mr. Austin has an active performing career, blog, and teaching studio in West Harlem, Manhattan.[/author_info] [/author]