As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I think about coordination a lot. What does good coordination look like? What does someone who is organizing him or herself well look like?
In Alexander Technique school (and in lessons before and after my training), I spent a lot of time unlearning some of my habits of thought and movement based on a system of sound principles discovered by FM Alexander. In spite of this, I spend a lot of time in my old habits and patterns of thought and movement, not all of which are particularly healthy. I slouch at my computer; sometimes I gasp for air when I am in front of a group of people either singing, speaking, or acting; I may take a step on a mountain hike without considering the relative position of my hip, knee, and ankle joints as I bear or shift weight. UNLESS I stop and take time to slow down, think, and coordinate myself in order to choose what I really want, these old habits rule me much of the time.
What I love, and many of my fellow teachers love, is looking at footage or photographs of good coordination. However, we are also often cautioned not to present what “good use” looks like. Many (or most) of the people in these photos have good overall coordination, but they may not know a lick about the Alexander Technique. What could AT do for someone with a natural ability to coordinate oneself with a minimum of tension, a lack of overusing what isn’t necessary? For one, in the case of an athlete or performer, once a person is injured, they often don’t know how to get back to the state they had formerly “perfected.” AT’s principles, the 2 major ones being Inhibition and Direction, can put one back on track after injury. AT can shed light on the means whereby one does what one does.
I realize I’m throwing some unfamiliar terms at you. If nothing else, this post should bring more questions to your mind than it answers and when it comes to the AT, that’s okay. It is about questing, about what FM Alexander termed going from the known to the unknown. It’s a beautiful thing.
Today, I will share with you some great examples of what we in the AT world call “good use.” Use is a term which Alexander Technique teachers and students use to describe how a person does what they do with themselves. Sounds goofy, I know, but if you spend a bit of time reading about the Technique or even taking lessons, this term will begin to have meaning.
Okay, readers, let’s have at it!
Watch the way the old man (Uncle John Scruggs) and woman move out of the cabin and come to sit in the chairs. Neither of them slouch while sitting. The chairs are not places to “park” and collapse their bodies. The man has an overall upright and balanced coordination in his head, neck, and torso. If you go about watching musicians, you will rarely see this level of unified attention to the whole self and apparent lack of tension throughout a performer’s whole being.
It becomes tricky to post photos and videos which illustrate what we call “good use” because it can lead to a misunderstanding of the Technique, what it is about, how to get where you want to get in being a more unified whole. We can look at examples, study them, but ultimately, we cannot simply “copy” good use or coordination. In fact, the Technique is about peeling back the layers of our own unconscious habits of thought and movement so that we can replace them with new thinking that will hopefully lead to better coordination, regardless of how it looks to an outside observer.
Look at the poise in Ashley Lodree’s head, neck, and back and her obvious focus and lack of overall tension, even in the face of getting ready to race.
Baryshnikov, a paragon of good use (although if you catch him when he is not dancing, he is often slouching and in what one might describe as a “collapsed” state):
he can be equally stunning in a still photo
Poise and balance
in a life before sitting in chairs becomes habitual
examples of “good use” abound in times before photography
open and free even in a complex coordination
Steven Shaw, Alexander Technique teacher:
I also began to look for images of African women walking. The more I looked, the less I wanted to stop. It is ridiculous how many examples of beautiful balance and poise one finds. You can do this yourself–search google images for Mozambique women walking, Ghanian women walking, South African women walking, etc etc. As Michael Gelb, author of Body Learning, says (I paraphrase here), the kind of presence you find in people in many traditional cultures lies dormant in most Westerners.
What do you notice?
In the above photo, the woman in the foreground is about so much more than her size. One wonders if an American woman (or man) of any size could comport herself with this kind of presence.
And this, in which the child exhibits perfect balance throughout the head, neck, and torso, even while turning her head and taking a step. Notice the full contact of her right foot with the ground and the flexion in her left knee. Ah, if only we could hold onto our birthright–our natural poise!
(You may have to copy and paste this link…for a while, the actual photo appeared directly on this post, but I think once someone clicks through, it reverts back to the URL with no image)