Blog Series: Understanding The 5 Principles of the Alexander Technique - Part 4
Updated: May 27, 2019
In this five part blog series, I explore and break down the five principles of the Alexander Technique in depth (and in order!:)
The five principles of the Alexander Technique are in order:
1. Recognition of the Force of Habit
3. Recognition of Faulty Sensory Awareness
This post will focus on the fourth principle: Sending Direction (click the links above if you missed the proceeding articles in the series.)
Sending direction is arguably the most challenging for students to grasp because the word direction has several meanings. To help me convey the different meanings, I will be using quotes from Patrick J. Macdonald's book The Alexander Technique As I See It. Patrick Macdonald was trained as a teacher with F.M. Alexander himself, and I think he is very clear in his explanation of the different meanings of direction.
The first definition of directions of movement is the most familiar to us because we know them and use them in every day life (up, down, right, left). These are muscular movements, like lifting your arm or walking across the room or swinging a golf club or to engage in any act such as speaking, singing, etc.
According to Mr. Macdonald: "These movements are controlled by the various muscles which contract or relax with accordance of with voluntary and involuntary messages sent from the brain" (56).
Makes sense. Again, this is the idea of direction that we are most familiar with and is pretty self explanatory.
The second meaning of directions are what I believe Alexander is referring to when he actually refers to "sending directions" as a principle. These directions, according to Macdonald are "an expanding...flow of impulses...particularly along the spine" (57). These are the electrical messages or pulses within the head, neck, and spine that need to be consciously directed in order to expand the body (centrifugal force) rather than collapse (centripetal force).
As Macdonald says, the "actual muscular movements matter less than [these] little impulses - what Alexander calls directions - that go on inside" (57). In other words you have internal directions for the PC that are more important than the secondary direction for action or movement you are try to accomplish.
So in other words, these internal directions go on inside of the first directions we learned about, the directions for movement.
These directions should be inhibitory, to stop centripetal (down, contracted, and collapsing) direction, and then be replaced with centrifugal (upward, released, and expansive) direction along the spine. They have verbal directions associated with them that will become very familiar to the AT student as they are repeated frequently in lessons: Allow the neck to be free, for the head to go forward and up, for the back to lengthen and widen, for the feet to send to the floor.
And this finally leads to the final meaning of direction:
The third meaning of direction is the overall direction of the body in relation to gravity which can either be centripetal (down and collapsing) or centrifugal (upward and expansive). The goal of the Alexander Technique, ultimately, is to have centrifugal direction throughout the body.
However, since we are multi-dimensional, this necessitates the directions for the primary control, otherwise we would just be trying to pull ourselves up directly, which is ultimately another form of collapse and muscular constriction. By directing the primary control, we indirectly achieve a overall sense of "up" in the body in relation to gravity. It is a wonderfully light and easy feeling in the body, where the joints feel very free and the body seems to work together in harmony. It is this universal UP direction that has kept me so passionately intrigued by the power of this work.
So to summarize:
One should consciously send directions for the primary control (#2) prior to and during any activity (direction for movement #1), which will result in a light and freeing centrifugal force that opposes gravity (direction to oppose gravity #3).
If these explanations have you a bit confused, don't worry. It makes way more sense when you actually sense these directions in your body in a lesson.
In fact, your body is very intuitive when it comes to grasping these concepts if you allow it.
The most important thing to remember is that it is all about consciousness. Thinking in activity, as Alexander called it, is all about consciously directing your use of the body while you engage in anything and everything.