This is a series of questions and answers that occurred a while back. Hopefully, it will show that progress can be made, in a matter of days, or weeks, without a teacher; and how important self exploration is.
Self Help Dialogue
First Email: �I’ve been looking at some websites and am interested in learning the Alexander technique on my own. I understand that you’re interested in hearing from people trying learn it on their own – any advice would be appreciated!�
First Reply: I’m not sure if you read what I’ve written at www.positivehealth.com Check out the Jan 2001 issue. Or at www.dodman.org, under Alexander. If you go through the procedures I suggest in that article you could then come back to me with any questions you might have.
Alexander work is all about self discovery. Nothing I can say will help you half as much as whatever you discover for yourself. The key is to uncover something you weren’t previously aware of.
Try what I suggest in that article. It doesn’t matter if nothing unexpected appears to happen; but look closely, because I’d be surprised if nothing did!
Let me know how you get on.
Second Email: �Thanks for replying. I’ve had a look at that article you mentioned and tried out what you suggested – and there was definitely some kind of effect which is hard to explain – I guess the best way of describing it is a feeling of ‘lightness’! But now that I’ve tried that, I want to know other things that I could try. It feels like I’ve made a start, but want to do more, I’m just not sure what! I know I should probably relax and not push it, but it’s just good to feel that there’s hope for me at last..!
Is it really possible to learn on my own, how much difference would it make having a teacher?
Thanks again for your help!�
Second Reply: �Learning the Alexander Technique is a slow process. It can be very frustrating because so often little appears to be happening. It would undoubtedly be faster with a teacher.
Learning on your own is not impossible but it can be a painstaking business. It’s not easy with a teacher, either. I’m happy to dialogue with anyone who want to pursue the process; but all I can really do is act as a foil and an explainer of that person’s experiences. To do that effectively means I have to ask them what their experiences are.
To return to my original suggestions in the article you read: did you do the one with the palm of your hand placed on the back of your neck? What was your experience of that? Did you, for example, feel your neck tighten at any point? This is probably the most important question I can ask you. Try the experiment again, if you like. It should only take a minute or so.
Also, which procedure was it that produced the ‘light’ feeling?
Third email: Thank you for your response. Going back to the suggestions in your article, I did try putting my hand on my neck whilst standing up and I was surprised at how much it tightened. But when I moved my hand away and stood up again, I couldn’t perceive any sort of tightening at all. I’ve tried it several times since but I’m still struggling to really feel what my neck is actually doing.
I felt that ‘light’ feeling when following your directions of using my hands to rotate and move my head and then letting go, but moving as if my hands were still there. As soon as I moved my hands away and started moving my head again, it felt completely different to how I feel normally, it was comfortable, but more than that, movement felt light and easy, as if my head had suddenly become weightless.
Something else I’ve found helpful is an article I read elsewhere, I haven’t been able to find it again, but I’ve an idea it might have even been you who wrote it. It was basically describing someone’s experience when asked to imagine they were holding a heavy bucket of water in each hand. I could relate a lot to what the writer described. When I tried the suggestion, and realised that I normally hold my shoulders pulled high up, and back. Just allowing my shoulders to relax and fall down has made a great difference and made something as simple as just walking a lot more comfortable. It still feels strange to relax that way, and I can’t from the feeling that I’m leaning forward, but when I look in the mirror, I can see that I’m not and that I actually look more balanced and ‘upright’ than I ever do normally.
Although I feel like I’ve made a good start with the things I’ve learned already, I know there are a lot of other things I need to realise about myself and that it will take time. I get backache a lot and standing for any length of time is extremely uncomfortable, almost painful. And at 25, I really don’t think I ought to be feeling this way, so I’m determined that I’m going to learn the Alexander Technique, even if progress is slow.
Anyway, thank you for listening. I appreciate that the help you can give me now is limited but any sort of suggestions or feedback or links to articles or books I could read would be greatly welcomed!
Third Reply: I’ve had a fair bit of correspondance concerning the self help article I wrote; but of all the feedback I’ve had so far, none has been so spot on – textbook, really – as your last email!
Seriously, what you said is absolutely fantastic for me because it proves (unless you’ve been having lessons on the side) that the two key learning processes involved in the Technique can be experienced by someone on their own, relatively easily.
Now, if you were to rest on your laurels, nothing much else would be likely to occur; and you might think little had been learned. Conversely, if you were to begin having – and paying – for a series (minimum 25, no maximum) of 30-45 minute lessons with a teacher, you would probably find the two key things you’ve already learned blossoming into a clearer and clearer
understanding of how you use yourself in everyday life.
The third choice is devoting some time to learning more on your own; and the difficulty here is genuinely giving yourself at least as many dedicated minutes where you are paying scrupulous attention to what you are doing as would be the case if you were visiting a teacher.
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can imagine, this isn’t so easy! However, if you find it too difficult to devote the necessary time, I hope at least you will recognise the failing is not necessarily in the self help method.
The two key processes I mentioned are, first and foremost, the experience you had of your head pulling backwards and down (in relation to the spine) that you could feel with the hand placed on your neck but that you could not feel in your neck. The immediate task before you is simple: first of all, you need to keep repeating this procedure, until you can feel what you’re doing with your neck IN your neck. There’s no short cut here, I’m afraid. It will take as long as it takes; and it won’t all come at once, so you have to keep refreshing yourself as to how extreme the pulling backward and down is.
Secondly, once you recognise yourself (from within the neck) doing this (pulling your head backwards and down) you need to learn to stop doing it, whenever you can. You can assume that what you do with your neck and head when you sit and stand you will also do pretty much whatever the activity, albeit on a lesser scale.
Those two things are probably more than enough for one lifetime.
The other key process you’ve had a glimpse of concerns freeing the neck in a more subtle way. What I wanted to convey in the slightly convoluted procedure I described was that we could free our heads in such a way that they could be moved by an external force (our own or our teacher’s hands); but that we could also free our heads this way when they weren’t going to be moved at all, because that freedom would influence our neck and head region (and the rest of us) beneficially – just as our habitual lack of freedom influences us malignly.
Does this make sense? Is it what you think happened when you experienced that ‘light’ feeling? Perhaps most importantly, would you be able to recreate, not the feeling (trying to do that is usually fatal) but the thought of freeing the head in other circumstances?
That’s the other task: to think of freeing your head (so that it could, if necessary, be rotated or tilted on its axis) while engaging in as many of your ordinary occupations as possible.
How’s that sound?
Concerning the heavy buckets article: yes, that was me. I’m not sure where you read it; but if you go to www.dodman.org and then click on Alexander, then Correspondence, and then Before and After, you should find what I originally wrote somewhere in the second half.
The most staggering thing for me is that when this happened I was maybe in my mid thirties and I had been told for years by my wife and mother about my shoulder deformity but I had neither recognised this kinesthetically nor visually. It was as if, because I felt kinesthetically okay, I believed I didn’t look anything but okay, too. As I mention in the article, it took only one Alexander lesson (which had little to do with the principles of the Technique) to open my eyes to the reality. The rest was up to me; and a year of pain followed as I ‘let go’.
One other thing: you’ve touched on a crucial issue with your experience of standing differently, feeling ‘wrong’, but verifying in the mirror that you are in fact ‘right’. This is the meat and drink of lessons: being guided through movements that ‘feel’ wrong, having the assurance of your teacher they are in fact right.
Last of all: although you’re right not to want too much backache at 25, I think backache can have as much to do with a person’s mode of life as the way they use themselves; but use is certainly relevant. I had serious backache earlier in life; and I did eventually have a eureka experience with
it, much as I had with my shoulders; but I have to admit that came after an awful lot of lessons. I wouldn’t recommend anybody to have heaps of lessons.
I do have a couple of back related procedures; but I’ll save them for another time. Don’t feel you have to keep this correspondence going at any particular rate, or at all. Contact me again as and when you feel inclined. For my part, it’s a pleasure to put into words what I think.
In fact, with your permission (and leaving out your name) I would like one day to add this correspondence to the end of the ‘self help’ article, which is actually on the same dodman website.
Fourth Email: Hi, it’s me again!
Well..it’s been a while since I last wrote. I’d like to be able to say that I’ve made some progress with your suggestion of repeating the procedure to feel what I’m doing in my neck. I have spent some time trying but it’s surprisingly difficult. I thought once I consciously realised what I was doing in my neck, that I would soon be able to feel it, but it’s proving harder than I thought. I was feeling optimistic after reading your last message too, I felt like I’d been successful with the procedures in your article so I’d be able to do more!
Having said that, I have made some useful obvservations just by paying attention to myself and looking in the mirror at how I stand, walk etc. I’ve also been thinking about what you were saying about freeing the head and I do think that is what I felt when I experience the light feeling. I’ve been trying to think of my head as ‘free’ and ‘light’ in the hope that it might go some way to decreasing the tension in my neck, even though I can’t feel it, and sometimes it does seem to help and I do feel more relaxed and comfortable but it doesn’t last.
I have a very bad posture, people were telling me that even before I was even in my teens and it just seems to have got worse. It’s very visible to me, particularly when I catch sight of myself in a shop window, but even face on, I can see it. I’ve desperately tried to ‘stand up straight’ but got frustrated because even when I put in a huge effort, I still didn’t look properly ‘upright’. That’s why reading about the alexander technique was so interesting to me – I’d already discovered for myself that attempting to stand up straight was painful and uncomfortable and basically, completely unsuccessful so it was great to find that there might be another way. The way I hold myself is all wrong, which I’ve realised for a long time, I just didn’t know in what way it was ‘wrong’. As I said, looking at myself in the mirror has helped, but it’s also raised some concerns. I’m worried about my lower back. It’s difficult to exlain, but basically, it doesn’t seem to curve. When I bend to touch my toes (which I can’t!), the length of my spine is almost entirely straight, with the curve (it’s quite an exagerated curve too) beginning at around my shoulder blades. But nothing I do seems to curve that lower part of my spine. I can arch it back with no problem but that the only way it seems to move which is a bit worrying to me. I’m hoping that it’s simply as a result of a bad posture.
Anyway, you’re welcome to use this correspondence on your site, without my name. I will persevere learning on my own and I will hopefully make more progress.
Bye for now,
Fourth reply: I wouldn’t feel too disappointed, if I were you. It might seem like an age, but after three weeks of Alexander lessons I knew nothing about what was going on in my neck. It took me ages to pick anything up; and that was with specialist attention.
90% of what lessons do is force you to pay attention to what’s going on during them, that’s all. I’m sure, if you could pay attention alone as much as you would if you were with a teacher, you’d progress almost as rapidly.
Persevere. There’s a lovely expression Alexander’s brother is supposed to have used: something like – stick to principle and it will all open out like a giant cauliflower. I don’t suppose you’ve grown many cauliflowers; but the way they change, from looking like just another empty cabbage plant for months on end, to a huge white flower head in the blink of an eye, is amazing.
Concerning your posture. Could you try a couple of experiments? Stand with your heels a half inch from the skirting board of a flat area of wall. Slowly come back to lean against it and notice which part of you touches first – usually either bottom or shoulder. Whichever it is, deliberately
allow the part that hasn’t yet made contact to do so, so both your bottom and shoulders are lightly pressing against the wall together.
Reach a hand around and verify you can slide it into the gap between your lower back or waist and the wall. Reach up and hopefully you will find there’s a considerable space (two or three inches) between the back of your head and the wall, too. Tell me if this isn’t the case.
Now, let yourself come away from the wall the smallest amount you can, so you’re free-standing again. Notice what it feels like. It’s probably as near as you’ll get to ever knowing what ‘upright’ is, without having somebody tell you or without seeing yourself in a mirror or on video. As a rule of thumb, the degree to which this new way of standing ‘feels’ wrong will be the degree to which ‘feeling right’ when standing in your normal way is likely to ‘be’ wrong!
When you do this, check you haven’t reverted to your ‘old’ way by allowing yourself to sway back to the wall again and verify what touches first. Ideally, bottom and shoulder should touch together.
While you’re at the wall, you could try slowly sliding down it, letting your knees bend while remaining in contact with both bottom and shoulders. Notice whether, by the time you reach your limit (this is usually defined by the knees and ankles not being able to bend further without the heels lifting off the ground) your lower back has come against the wall, too. Check by
sliding your hand into the gap as before. Ideally, there should be less of a gap, if any at all.
Another interesting experiment is to take a kitchen chair, place it back to front against a wall, and sit astride it, with your entire back � including bottom and shoulders and lower back – nestled against the wall. Notice how this feels; and notice how it feels when you slide forward on the chair so you’re away from the wall an inch or so.
Now, return to leaning against the wall again, bottom, shoulders and waist well back. ‘Hinge’ forward from the hips, so your back leaves the wall. Then lean back again, and see if your entire back returns into contact with the wall. Let me know how this goes.
Are you able to squat easily with your heels remaining on the floor? If so, it’s a great position for the back. If not, it’s a habit worth cultivating. One of the best ways is taking hold of both sides of a (strong) door knob, and lowering yourself down using that as support.
Squatting is something all children and most adults can do easily: it’s actually considered a position of repose. I remember teaching a class of adolescents once who were bored stiff by what I was saying, until I got them all to try squatting, which none of them could do without falling over. They were only just out of childhood themselves. I blame school and an over reliance on chairs.
Concerning your non pliable lower back. If you’re really worried I would recommend getting hold of some Feldenkries exercise audio tapes; they should help you loosen up a bit. Fedenkries work is extraordinary: I find it stultifyingly boring to do, most of the time, but it’s completely effortless in terms of blood, sweat and tears, yet it has an amazing effect.
One useful Alexander procedure, if you can dedicate yourself to doing it, is lying in semi-supine. To save me the sweat of describing this, check out: http://www.thetechnique.co.uk/semi.htm or: http://www.chiropractor.demon.co.uk/html/Lyingdown.html
You might do all the above and identify some problem areas and end up wondering how on earth you will ever get anything right; so it’s important to emphasise that the Technique is about stopping doing the wrong rather than doing the right.
For instance, once you recognise you’re tightening your neck and pulling your head backwards and down, the solution isn’t to ‘put’ it forwards and up but to stop tightening the neck, whereupon it will go forwards and up of its own accord. It’s the same with every area of the body. The bad posture you recognise in yourself will be the result of things you are doing, that are below the level of your senses. The more you pay attention to what you’re doing – without trying to change it – the more likely the things you need to stop doing will come to the fore.
Stopping doing those things while still ‘not trying to change is the big challenge!
Let me know how you get on – particularly, how you ‘feel’ when you come away from the wall fractionally and stand unsupported. Remember – don’t try too hard. Ideally, nobody who’s learned the Alexander Technique should look as though they’re putting it into practice. There’s an
expression, epitomised by a stiff, set, zombielike look, in the profession – ‘Alexandroid’. To be avoided at all costs!
Fifth email: I’ve been trying the experiments you mentioned. When I tried leaning against the wall in the way you suggested, it was actually my shoulder that touched first. This surprised me because I alway feel that I ‘slouch’ so I thought my shoulders would be further forwards. There was about 3 inches between my head and the wall, but I thought that would be a bad thing as I thought the head was supposed to be in the same ‘line’ as the shoulders and bottom? There was a smaller gap between my lower back and the wall, but it was still about 2 inches. When I moved away from the wall, it did feel strange, it felt like I was leaning forward. But I did find it very difficult to stay like that as whenever I leant back on the wall again, my shoulders were touching first. However, when I ‘hinged’ forward from the hips and leant back again, my bottom and hips tended to touch the wall at the same time, but my no other part of my back came any closer to the wall.
As for sliding down the wall, I tried this, but I’m a bit confused about what you said about reaching the limit which is usually when the heels lift off the ground. I can barely slide down at all without the heels lifting, but if I lift them, I am able to slide all the way down, until I’m sitting on my heels, with my bottom and shoulders touching the wall. But the gap between my lower back and the wall never reduces.
When I used the kitchen chair, my lower back was closer to the wall, but not touching. When I ‘slouched’ a bit though, my entire back rested flat against the wall. When I gently moved away, it did actually feel quite comfortable but I also felt like I was leaning forward too much.
Squatting with my heels remaining on the floor sounded like it would be fairly easy and I didn’t think it would be a problem. So I was surprised to find that I can’t even get close. Even using something for support as I lowered myself down was difficult and if I let go I’d fall over!
I’ve read about lying semi-supine before, but I was put off because I’d find it difficult to lay that way for so long. But if it could be beneficial then I will try and put some time aside to do it. I just hope I can stay still for that long!
I’d never heard of Feldenkries before, but I had a look at a couple of websites and it sounds like it could be useful to me. To be honest, at the moment I feel like I need all the help I can get!
It is a bit difficult to restrain myself from ‘trying’ to stand up straight all the time, even though I know I shouldn’t do it. Especially as I’m coming to realise that my idea of ‘standing up straight’ probably isn’t quite as ‘straight’ as I imagine. As for stopping what I’m doing wrong, I’m not completely sure of exactly what I’m doing that’s wrong. I’ve always thought I had a very ‘lazy’ posture and that was the reason for it being so bad. So it’s hard to grasp the idea that ‘stopping’ doing something is going to do anything other than make matters worse – it’s not easy to come to terms with the idea that I’m actually ‘doing’ something to make my posture that way.
Anyway, thank you again for your help and support with this – I’ll continue with the things I’ve learnt. I’m going to try the ‘wall’ experiment a bit more, and hopefully it will start to feel a little more ‘normal’ to stand that way.
Fifth reply: Just a short note. There definitely should be a gap of an inch or two (or three) between the back of your head (unless you have an unusually elongated back of the skull – which some people do) and the back of your back; so if you’re leaning against the wall, as I suggested, the head shouldn’t be touching.
That’s why, in semi supine, books are traditionally put under the head, to prevent it pulling or lolling back.
If you lean against the wall, shoulders and bottom touching, with a hollow in the small of your back, your legs should be more or less straight. As you slide down the wall, you’ll probably only ‘travel’ six inches or so, but during this time your knees will bend and go out over your toes until there’s a fair degree of angle there. The resistance to further movement seems to centre around the ankle area.
If, after sliding six inches, you find the hollow in the small of your back is still there, that’s
okay; but have a go at ‘easing’ it back – ‘push’ it back if you have to. It might feel like you have to tighten your stomach to do this: that’s okay. Try sliding back up the wall and having the hollow return; then sliding down again and losing the hollow. It’s important this happens by degrees rather than all at once. In other words, if you only slid half the distance you could, the small of your back would be somewhere between the two extremes.
This relates very much to what you do with your back when you sit.
By the way, I’m afraid I did mean the soles of the feet remain flat on the floor at all times!
If all this is difficult – and especially if straightforward squatting is, too – reflect on the fact that your body has probably spent a number of years not moving in an ideal fashion and various muscles will have shortened. I recommend squatting as something you could do – or try and do � regularly. Watch you don’t pull the back of your head down, though.
Concerning the notion of you needing to stop doing something you’re already doing rather than needing to ‘do’ something else. It’s difficult to say with any certainty, but generally excess muscle tension is the problem. Sometimes, though, especially with slumping, there is a lack of muscle tension. It sounds to me, from what you say about feeling as though you were slumping when you allowed your lower back to go back to the wall (added to how you ‘always feel as though you slouch’) you were ‘doing’ too much in your attempt to sit ‘up’. However, how you sit ordinarily – at work, while eating, watching TV – I have no idea.
I find semi supine exasperatingly boring; but if I were you – in pain, concerned about your posture, etc – I would do it religiously; but I would probably try and tie it in with something else, like listening to an improving tape or even reading. Someone somewhere devised a reading aid for lying on the floor with. you could use a sheet of glass supported on books if your arms got tired. Or just use the time to meditate.
Part of what semi supine is designed to do is enable you to stop both physically and mentally.
Keep the questions coming.
Best of luck.
Sixth email: Hi, I’ve tried what you said about sliding down the wall, and if I do tighten my stomach, I can push my back right up against the wall – it isn’t easy though! Is this something I should try to do regularly?
I had another look at your website too, I hadn’t paid much attention to your photo on the home page before, but now I’ve noticed that you’re actually squatting in the way that I’ve been finding impossible! You make it look so natural & easy – relaxing even. It’s just hard to believe that you can make something I’m finding immensely difficult, look like the easiest thing in the world! I have been trying though, I’m just not exactly sure what the best way is to try. So far I’ve been using something for support to lower myself down, and then just trying to ease my grip with my hands and trying to suport myself on my own. There is no way I could let go at the moment because I’d just fall over.
I’ve also had several sessions of lying semi-supine. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stay still for so long, but I’ve actually found the main problem is staying awake – which I didn’t expect as normally I can’t get to sleep lying on my back at all. I had thought it would be a good idea to try and use the time more constructively than just lying there, but wasn’t sure how. I might try and find a way of reading comfortably. It would keep me awake as well as making the prospect a bit more appealing. As for the results so far, well, the first time I tried it, I did notice quite a difference when I stood up and walked around. My back and general posture just felt different. I actually went and stood against the wall, just to see if I could tell what I was doing differently, and I found to my surprise that both shoulders and bottom touched together. Even more surprising, it was still the same when I did it again a few minutes later after I’d walked around a bit more. The first time I’d tried that, I couldn’t even hold the posture for more than a couple of second after I’d moved away from the wall, but this time, I just seemed to be doing it effortlessly.
I’ve been tyring some Feldenkries exercises too, just some that I found on the internet which concentrated on the lower back. The first time I did them, it was slightly alarming the number of popping and cracking sounds that were coming from my spine, but it didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, more the opposite really, I felt a kind of relief. And when I got up afterwards, my lower back felt really good, so relaxed. It was kind of like not noticing the sound of the air conditioning until it goes off and everything goes very quiet. There had been so much tension and discomfort in my back, but I only became aware of it when I realised it had gone. It was what I’d felt after lying semi-supine, only to a greater extent. But I’m definitley going to continue with both as I really feel the benefit aftwerwards.
It’s hard for me to say whether I have an excess, or a lack of muscle tension. Although, I suspect that when I’m standing or walking, there is too much, because I feel so self-conscious about people seeing me ‘slouching’ that I try to stand up straight. But I’m not sure about when I’m just sitting watching tv or whatever. Except that I find it uncomfortable to sit ‘normally’, with my feet on the floor. I usually sit on my feet, or with my legs crossed under me, people have commented on my always having to sit in ‘weird’ positions, but I’m not sure what my posture would be like, or whether I really am slouching, or if there is a lot of muscle tension. On the subject of muscle tension though, there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve felt some tension in my neck. It’s usually when I’ve been doing something when there’d presumably be more tension than normal, like when I’m leaning over the sink brushing my teeth. But it’s still something I wasn’t able to feel before. I’m just hoping that I’ll start noticing things like that more and more. I do think my neck and head are really the main problems with my posture, or at least, they are the most visible. Because I walk my my head pushed forward and down. Almost like someone looking at the floor, except that I hold my head the same way when I’m looking straight ahead. I do have a tendancy to look at the floor when I walk though.
I don’t know if what everything I’m doing will improve my posture, which was my main aim, but even if it doesn’t, I’m enjoying the things that I’ve been learning and I’m really pleased I started with all this.
Sixth reply: I’ve been – and will continue to be – coming and going a lot these days; so, again, only time for a short note.
First – the photo. That wasn’t chosen for me squatting, particularly. It was just a still from some video footage my son took: we were on top of the South Downs, resting after a steep climb. So, it genuinely represents me ‘resting’ rather than me doing anything strenuous that might look good!
I’m lucky in that I’ve always found squatting both comfortable and relatively easy. I think in your case it’s important you persavere until it becomes at least possible and maybe eventually a pleasure. It’s such a ‘natural’ position for a human, everyone in possession of full control over
their limbs should be able to do it.
Concerning you wondering if you should ‘push’ your lower back to the wall – no, not really, but so much depends on how bent your knees are. Can I ask you if, when you are lying on the floor in semi supine, your lower back contacts the floor, or whether there’s a gap there? If there’s a gap, it
suggests the msucles in that area are extremely tight and that you will have to be patient and wait for them to ‘let go’. However, if there is no discernible gap (it’s sometimes worth hugging your knees to your chest and lifting your pelvis off the floor to ‘iron’ out any kinks present) then you
could probably conclude that if, when you are sliding down the wall and you get as far, position wise, as you were in semi supine (in other words, if you and the wall suddenly became horizontal instread of vertical you would look as though you were in semi supine) any gap between your lower back and the wall is the result of an effort you are inadvertently making.
That’s a bit of a complicated sentence. I hope it makes sense. What it means to imply is that rather than making an effort to ‘push’ your lower back back you could instead think of ‘releasing’ it back, just as if you were doing the same while lying in semi supine, which you will be doing if there is no gap then.
One interesting point: you mention spending a lot of your time when walking around looking down at the ground. I would suspect that when you do this you will be thinking in an associative way about something far removed from the present.
Try this: next time you catch yourself looking down at the ground, focus on it: the paving slabs, grass, whatever; then, maintaining your focus on whatever your eyes settle on, slowly look up until you are looking out at eye level. Avoid staring at any one thing; but avoid glazing over, too. I believe that as long as you stay focused on your surroundings, you will find it difficult if not impossible to ‘think’ about anything very much; and you won’t look down. However, as soon as you start ‘thinking’, don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking down again.
I don’t know how much of a ‘thinker’ you are; but I believe one of the major causes of poor use (and posture) is what I call absence from the present; ie, thinking about the past or future, while the body runs on autopilot.
Having said that, a certain sort of ‘thinking’ is required to put the Alexander Technique into practice. Try focussing first, though.
Seventh email: Hello again, Well, I’m still trying the squatting, but it still isn’t easy. It’s starting to feel slightly less ‘unfamilar’ though, if that makes sense – as though I might have a chance of being able to do it at some point. I wouldn’t say that it feels at all ‘natural’ yet though, it’s hard to imagine actually being able to do it comfortably.
When I’m lying semi-supine, there is a bit of a gap between my lower back and the floor, it’s not very big though, it’s narrower than my fingers, so it isn’t far from touching the floor. Sliding down the wall to a position as if I were lying semi-supine, there’s still a bit gap between lower back and wall. I can push it back, as I mentioned before, but it’s hard to get it back without making an effort. I did try to just ‘release’ it, and it did go back a little way, but still no where near touching the wall. Are you saying that I’m making an effort (conscious or not) to keep my back ‘arched’ in that way? It’s an interesting thought – I would say that I’m not because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything, but when I think about the situation with my neck and how I wasn’t aware of that tension either, it’s hard to say one way or the other.
I was interested to read about your comments about thinking while the body is running on autopilot. I probably do that quite a lot, especially whilst walking. I don’t walk anywhere without listening to my discman because walking (particularly to and from work)is so dull. And I do tend to ‘daydream’ quite a bit and think about all sorts of things rather than focusing on the present. But I will try out your suggestion of trying to focus on my surroundings and see if it makes a difference to my habit of looking at the floor.
Seventh reply: To answer your question: yes, I would say you probably are pulling in your lower back without realising it; but, as I mentioned before, the ideal answer is not to ‘push’ it back (which would only set up two antagonistic forces) but to stop pulling it in. The only way to do that, really, is to
become aware of the effort you are making; and I’m afraid the only way to become aware is to pay attention as much and as often as you can to what you are doing.
I would particularly suggest paying attention whenever you sit and stand because those are the times when this tensing activity is most prevalent. You could try placing the back of one hand against your lower back so you can feel manually what happens there when you move from sitting to standing and vice versa.
I know what you mean when you say walking is dull; but it’s useful sometimes to get into the sort of frame of mind that a prisoner might be in who walks out of a dank, dark prison into what is for him or her would be a relatively exciting world: it’s a matter of familiarity that makes you or me relatively indifferent to our surroundings while someone who has been starved of them finds them supremely exciting!
Something that might be helpful is to look at the world in 3D. Truly focus on what you’re walking amongst. I used to think, well, of course we see in 3D; but a teacher once had me stand at a window (which was in a house on a hill) and look out over the South Downs; and as he explained what he meant I suddenly, and for the first time for many, many years, saw depth in what I was looking at.
It was an awesome moment; and perhaps the most awesome fact of all was that I could switch it on or off at will. The knack was rather like the knack of seeing those magic eye pictures, only far easier. What it did require, however, was an effort of will to chose to do it. This possibility is
open to us every moment of every day; and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I can confidently say I spend most of my time looking at the world in anything but 3D.
It has been my experience that seeing the world in 3D alters the way I think and act. I suspect perception may affect conception as profoundly as conception does use. Anyway, it’s food for thought.
The dialogue ended here.