Body Mapping

I used to believe that to have any chance of stopping harmful habits it was necessary for us to first become aware of what we were doing, for which an accurate bodymap would seem to be a prerequisite. I’m no longer sure this is the case.

Clearly, something other than knowledge of what is going on inside us best regulates the manner of that ‘going on’; and I suspect that attending to the kinesthetic niceties of our behaviour can get in its way almost as much as ignoring our plight in the first place. To my mind, Alexander said as much in his discourses on conception.

That ‘something’ may lie behind what Alexander termed the Primary Control. Most teachers tend to see this as the physical matter of how the head relates to the neck and back. However, rather than try and encourage optimal functioning, based on our understanding of poor use, it might be more fruitful to turn our attention to what once allowed the Primary Control to influence us unaided (ie, before our habits intervened).

The way we perceive the world, and the manner in which we perceive ourselves to be alive in it, constitutes our habitual outlook; and it is almost certainly this that determines how well the Primary Control functions. Unfortunately, the way we approach the process of living while intending to avoid tightening our necks is fundamentally not that different to the way we approach it with no such intention. Poor use would seem to be a constant, either as an unseen presence, or an ever present danger, of our established outlook.

This could hardly be otherwise, since to inhibit something requires its existence – or the threat of it. To circumvent this, we could adopt a different outlook altogether, one which did not bring poor use in its wake. What this outlook might be is a matter of conjecture; but that it exists is indisputable.

There are some fascinating developments of Alexander’s work – David Gorman’s and Peter Grunwald’s approaches spring to mind – that suggest ways in which we might perceive the world and ourselves in it (adopt a new outlook) that would encourage good use, with no attention on our part to its details, rather than have us, as tradition demands, seeking, through an unchanged outlook, to emulate that use by monitoring ourselves kinesthetically.

One thought on “Body Mapping

  1. “I would say this implies it would be useful to develop a strategy to increase our stamina for paying attention. But who wants to have to consciously think of their head and body all the time?”

    Well, yes, the question of how long we can keep our attention going is a big one. Rather than attention, though, I was emphasising perception. Also, what I was proposing does not involve thinking of our head and body at all.

    This needn’t mean not being aware of the body, though. If I run a mile, or if I’m scared (out of my mind), or if I laugh uncontrollably, I’m far more aware of my body than when sitting typing, waiting in a queue, or just ambling about. This is the result of where I am and what I am doing rather than of my attention being deliberately placed.

    To set out to change anything, deliberation is obviously necessary. It strikes me, though, that if there is a way we could approach whatever we do that would automatically put us in touch with ourselves (much as action or fear does) as well as reorganizing our use, it might be worth pursuing.

    This would take away any sense of having to ‘pay attention’ to ourselves – with all the attendant concerns as to how much attention is enough or too much.

    To me, there is a major difference between placing our attention on our neck, head and back, with the intention for a certain relationship to be maintained there, while we get on with whatever we’re doing; and opening ourselves up to the world in such a way that that neck, head and back relationship occurs automatically.

    By ‘opening ourselves up to’ I mean ‘stopping interfering with our perception of’. We interfere in any number of ways; and the reason for my original post was my concern that one of these ways might be our search for, and reliance on, a more accurate bodymap.

    What I’m suggesting is that optimal perception engenders good use; but that most of the time this process is interfered with, resulting in poor use. It strikes me that paying attention, as in traditional Alexander work, to improving that poor use, by addressing it (the neck, head and back relationship) rather than its cause, leaves the impetus for its continuation unchecked.

    That’s my major gripe: we continue creating the conditions for poor use, while attempting to stop its manifestation.

    What ‘optimal perception’ is, remains an open question; but I suspect we’ve all experienced it at various times in our lives.

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