Position of mechanical advantage

I’ve always been intrigued by what this means, and how useful it and its derivatives actually are for normal activities. What I mean by ‘normal’ is obviously dependant on lifestyle. Personally, I do a fair amount of sitting around but also a fair amount of physical activity. I’ve always found ‘monkey’, from its shallowest form, where the knees and hips and ankles barely bend, to its deepest, as in a full squat, invaluable. Also, the ‘lunge’.

However, last year I spent several months working part time Continue reading “Position of mechanical advantage”

Narrowmindedness

Hello,

At www.forwardandup.com, under the heading “Narrowmindedness”, Maaike talks about receiving the latest quota of emails from AlexTech and how:

“The AT teachers on the list are so absorbed in defending their views that everything that is not AT is seen as heretical. Or at least, that’s what some contributors fear. Continue reading “Narrowmindedness”

Releasing

People often decry ‘releasing’ as not being a proper part of Alexander work. This attempts to explain why I disagree.

I’m puzzled by the implication that the Technique instructs us to not interfere (with the right employment of the Primary Control), but not to stop current interference; largely because stopping something we are already doing smacks of releasing, which isn’t considered a valid part of Alexander work.

 

“I’ve noticed that I get into an undesirable pattern a lot: I’ve learned to “release tension” without necessarily increasing my freedom.”

 

“It isn’t really possible to know why your recent lesson experience gave the impression that the Technique is concerned with ‘releasing’ or ‘freeing.'”

 

“I certainly had difficulties for some time with the paradoxical activity of ‘doing’ releasing or thinking that this was required – wrong conception of course, and definitely not what is required!”

 

The suggested order of events would seem to be:

 

1. Becoming conscious.

 

2. Recognising a stimulus.

 

3. Deciding to not interfere while responding.

 

Generally, whenever we become conscious we will, on some level, be interfering. If this wasn’t the case – if our default, unconscious mode was one of not interfering – there would be little purpose in learning the Technique.

 

Assuming we are aware of interfering, we have the option of stopping it. If we’re unaware, we don’t have that option. If we don’t stop it, we can’t then ‘not do it’, since not doing something we are already doing depends on our stopping doing it first. This is a crucial point. If we don’t stop current interference, all we can do, in the name of ‘not interfering’, is ‘not interfere more’.

 

Not interfering, or not interfering more, requires that we know how we have interfered in the past, just as stopping interfering requires that we know how we are interfering in the present. We can’t consciously stop doing, or not do, something we have, or have had, no kinesthetic knowledge of.

 

This means that in any decision to not interfere, we either:

 

a.����� Recognise we are already interfering as a result of our reaction to a preceding stimulus, cease that existing interference, and don’t re-start similar interference.

 

b.����� Recognise we are already interfering, don’t cease existing interference, but don’t interfere more.

 

c.����� Fail to recognise we are interfering, while desiring not to interfere.

 

These three possible ways of responding depend on the level of our awareness. For a beginning student, comprehension of interference, whether current or potential, will be slight, as in (c). As our knowledge of ourselves increases, so will our awareness of how we actively and potentially interfere. I would consider (a) an appropriate and (b) an inappropriate Alexandrian response.

 

Much of our time, any new stimulus we face will be virtually identical to the one we’re already responding to. In other words, on becoming conscious, we will find ourselves doing much the same thing, still sitting at the desk, continuing with the washing up, the walk, the swim, actively eating, talking, etc. The only difference will be our awareness of what we’re doing.

 

If we don’t recognize we are interfering, any decision to ‘not interfere’ will be meaningless, since the unchanged stimulus is unlikely to demand any major change in our behaviour, which already excludes interference we are familiar with. If we do recognize we are interfering, however assiduously we may decide to not interfere, unless we actively stop existing interference, we will again be doing nothing new. In both cases, there will be little scope for ‘not interfering more’, given the unchanged stimulus.

 

If the new stimulus we are confronted with is different to the one we are currently responding to, as in the doorbell ringing, being accosted in the street, learning something unexpected, getting out of a low chair, etc, we face a potential increase in interference. If we are unaware of existing interference, any decision on our part to ‘not interfere’ will actually mean ‘not interfere more than we are already, without knowing it’. Our ability to do that will depend on what potential interference we are familiar enough with to be able to recognize. I would call this beginner’s inhibition.

 

If we are aware of existing interference, we have the choice of whether or not to stop it. Stopping existing interference, and not restarting it, effectively inhibits any possibility of ‘interfering more’. However, any deliberate decision to not interfere, and to not interfere more than – but without stopping what – we are already doing, will result in far less of a change to our habitual response. Since we can’t not do what we haven’t stopped doing, we will be limited to ‘not interfering more than we are already, knowingly’. This would amount to partial inhibition, at best.

 

Effective, full inhibition is the process of becoming conscious, ceasing existing interference – as far as we are able to recognise it – and not restarting it. Naturally, for as long as we don’t restart interference, there will be no need to cease anything more, beyond the initial stopping; but in order to begin ‘not re-starting’, we have no choice but to cease existing interference first.

 

This ceasing will feel like, and in fact, will be, a release. Such releasing could happen many times a minute or once in half an hour, depending on how conscious we are. If we don’t perceive such a release, the odds are we haven’t successfully stopped anything. In all likelihood, if we’re aware of interfering, but not of releasing, we’re stuck.

 

Since ceasing existing interference requires us to perceive, kinesthetically, both its presence and its absence, the question then becomes, not whether releasing is appropriate, but whether our recognition of what leads up to it is accurate.

 

Personally, I would discount the possibility that we can be much mistaken in whatever we perceive as existing interference. This is because the main purpose of the Technique is to increase the reliability of our kinesthetic sense; and it would be absurd if we went from a position of knowing nothing about interfering in an Alexandrian context to being wrong about how we were interfering, as a direct result of the learning process.

 

However, much does depend on what an individual – whether teacher or student – understands by Alexander’s words, “interfering with the right employment of the Primary Control”. A mistaken understanding could result in piecemeal releasing of particular tensions rather than a general reduction of unnecessary (or redistribution of necessary) effort. A far greater risk, though, than over indulging in releasing, would be hanging on to existing interference out of fear of misinterpretation.

 

As a simple example, let’s say someone is driving, while thinking about next year�s holiday. In an Alexandrian sense, they are operating unconsciously. Then, they remember the Technique and become conscious. They notice immediately that their neck is tight and their head is being pulled backwards and down. This is unlikely to be a rare occurrence, though it might be more or less severe. Meanwhile, the stimulus of driving (with holiday thoughts supplanted by thoughts of use) is not greatly changed from moments earlier. The only real difference is they are now conscious of it.

 

They determine to not interfere, as they understand it, from this point on, and for as long as they remain conscious. This might last for any number of seconds or minutes. The question is, since they are already interfering, as a result of their prior unconscious reaction primarily to the stimulus of driving, how do they now not interfere while responding to the same stimulus?

 

The simple answer is that they stop interfering and they don’t restart. I can’t conceive how the effect of this could be construed as other than a release, if their neck untightens and their head is no longer pulled backwards and down. The alternative scenario is that they do nothing. In other words, they don’t stop interfering. Since they can’t not do something they’re already doing, they carry on driving, in an unchanged state, save for being conscious of it.

 

Let’s then say they lapse back into unconsciousness, and, a few miles up the road, the more demanding stimulus of a police car appears in their rear view mirror. Having sufficient presence of mind to remember the Technique prior to responding to this new stimulus, they again notice that their neck is tight and their head is being pulled backwards and down. This time, their choice is between stopping (and not restarting) existing interference, or not interfering more than they are already. In other words, they can either release their neck and not tighten it again, or they can maintain an existing tight neck but not tighten it any more.

 

For me, there is something absurd about setting out to not interfere, or not interfere more, while still knowingly interfering. It is the idealised act of refusing to do something we’re already doing, without stopping doing it first. To my mind, stopping interfering is as inseparable a part of inhibition as not interfering. The experience of release is simply the result of ceasing to send existing messages from the brain to the muscles.

 

This has nothing to do with (or at least, is a separate issue to) the sending of new messages, through direction; although directing might (or might not) appear to have a similar effect. That is because Alexandrian inhibition depends on kinesthetic feedback, utterly; whereas direction doesn’t, remotely.

The Evolution of Low Back Pain by John Gorman

The Evolution of Low Back Pain by John Gorman.

I first became aware of John Gorman when he wrote an article for The Alexander Review. He was an engineer who had had a number of Alexander lessons and wanted to share his insights on how the spine worked. Afterwards, I recognised his name in connection with chairs and back supports he was marketing.

Much later, a pupil of mine said she had visited a chiropractor whose main piece of advice was that she should slump more. This confused her since I appeared to have always maintained the opposite. The chiropractor’s name was John Gorman. Then I saw an advertisement for “The Evolution of Lower Back Pain” in STATNEWS and learned that his engineer’s interest in the spine had caused him to train in McTimoney Chiropractic.

Initially, I found his ideas hard to grasp but put that down to a general disinterest in mechanics. Then I realised it wasn’t that I was being obtuse; my difficultly was in accepting a theory diametrically opposed to what I believed.

By the time I finished the book I was in much less doubt about the validity of his arguments. Now, months later, although an element of scepticism remains, I think his ideas should at least be considered by anyone interested in how the spine works and what might, or might not, be done to enable it to function better.

I came to the Alexander Technique with a bad back and have been trying to find out more about it ever since. Books, even Alexander books nowadays, give the sort of generalised advice for good use everyone is familiar with. The benefits of maintaining an upright posture, especially when sitting, are so widely recognised that the human tendency to fall short of this ideal is assumed to lie behind most back problems.

John Gorman agrees that our way of sitting is the main culprit, but he thinks the more we attempt to put it right by “sitting well”, the less good we will do ourselves. As he says, “It is when we are sitting relatively upright that the mechanical situation is worst”.

He explains how the two lowest discs of the spine are naturally wedge-shaped (the thick end of the wedge faces forwards) and how they should not be forced beyond parallel sidedness, otherwise two things may result. The first is a warning pain. The second is a tendency for muscles in other areas of the back to go into spasm, causing “clamped joints”. Undoing clamped joints forms the basis of his work.

He recommends trying to maintain the wedge shape of these discs at all times, since, as he says, “Even when the pain level is very low, (only a slight ‘feeling’), the warning pain can still turn on clamped joints”. Little mention is made of any activity other than sitting that can cause this, but the implication is we become progressively less tolerant of general misuse the more our two lowest discs are subjected to sustained, undue flexion. Much of his book is spent explaining why it is virtually impossible to sit in an ordinary way without this occurring.

The problem is due to the tendency of the pelvis, when relaxed, to tilt backwards. His engineer’s answer is to use specially designed chairs which ensure the alignment of the lower vertebrae by providing pelvic support. Similar props are also available for use in a car. Where such devices are impractical, such as at a meal table or desk, he suggests dispensing with a backrest altogether and adopting the muscular balance of what he calls “Alexander Sitting”.

The alternative solution is for us to slump. As John Gorman puts it, “When we do sit slumped all the joints of the spine will be flexed and all muscles and ligaments will tend to be stretched to a natural length.” Somewhat surprisingly, he also says, “For most people slumped sitting will actually have to be learned. We are so used to trying to ‘sit up straight’ that most people cannot easily sit slumped”.

He relates this to sitting on a conference room or dining chair. “If the pelvis is placed sufficiently far forwards to produce a complete slouch it is a satisfactory sitting position and much better than sitting up against the backrest of such a chair as we are normally told to do.”

Clearly, most forms of sitting involve positioning ourselves reasonably far back in a seat and then leaning against the available support. But unless we are prepared to stiffen muscularly in order to prevent it, our pelvis will usually tilt backwards, putting pressure on the front of our lowest vertebra and causing a levelling of the two wedge-shaped discs.

John Gorman estimates that during such sitting, with the pelvis tilted back by about 40 degrees, there will be approximately 20 degrees of flexion in the two lowest joints of the spine and little anywhere else. He compares this with slouching on a settee, where the pelvic tilt will be greater at 60 degrees, and the back will appear much more bent, but because the flexion is spread evenly over all eighteen joints, individually it will be only about 3 degrees. In this way, the wedge shape of the two lowest discs can be maintained.

Needless to say, slumping is recommended only as a natural part of sitting and not of any other activity such as standing or walking. John Gorman’s use of the word “natural” is interesting here, since he poses the question, “Why don’t more naturally living people have the same problems?” His answer is simple: uncivilised people don’t sit, they slump.

It’s difficult to know where to look for evidence of this. Slumping and slouching are hard to define, anyway; but the diagrams in his book do show an alignment of the spine similar to that of a deep squat. Squatting is incontestably natural, and a position of repose for half the human race. Perhaps we should be looking at slumping as an inferior, but easier to achieve, version of this.

Understanding a mechanical theory is one thing; accepting it as an idea is another; but translating that into practice, in order to verify it, is virtually impossible when you can neither see, nor feel with any precision, what is going on.

Certainly, my pelvis tilts backwards whenever I sit and lean against the support of anything but a very straight backed chair; this is especially so in a car; but I can’t begin to say what happens to my wedge-shaped lower discs. I do get “feelings” in my lower back from time to time, but I don’t know it these are warnings of an impending clamped joint. So whether it is better for my spine, and for me, to spend lengthy periods fully flexed in a slump, or flexed at one end only while sitting upright, is unclear. Perhaps my sensory appreciation requires more intensive re-education, or more of a suspension of traditional Alexandrian belief than I am ready for.

What did Alexander discover – and why is it important?

This is an attempt to put into lay language what can sometimes seem overly complex.

What did Alexander discover – and why is it important?

When we consider what we pay attention to, from the minutiae of our daily lives to the big picture of the world around us, it is extraordinary how much we take for granted the continued smooth running of our bodies and minds, on which all else depends. The work we do, the food we eat, the attitudes we have, all contribute to, or detract from, our health; but our primary influence – the way we do what we do – remains outside most peoples’ awareness and control. This is what the Alexander Technique seeks to address.

F. Matthias Alexander was a reciter who had made a considerable effort to train himself optimally for the purposes of performing. He carried his body and projected his voice as he had been taught by experts in the field; but he found his vocal health and general presence faltering.

Over a period of years, he studied himself, using mirrors to gain an objective viewpoint of his actions, and contrasting this with what he felt subjectively.

He discovered a discrepancy between what he believed he was doing and what he was actually doing. In specific terms, his kinesthetic sense told him his carriage – not least the carriage of his head – was as he intended; while his eyes looking into a mirror told him a quite different story.

His discovery that he was not doing what he intended, and also that what he intended was not necessarily for the best, began a train of investigation that culminated with him becoming a teacher of ‘use’ (pronounced as in ‘useful’). By this, he meant the way people ‘used’ their minds and bodies in everyday life.

For Alexander, the mind and the body were indivisible. He believed the way people thought lay at the heart of the way they acted, and that the way they acted was the primary cause of their physical ills. He reached this conclusion after experimenting with changing his own patterns of thought and noting the subsequent changes in his physical habits.

This led to his conviction that the way we think in response to a stimulus largely determines whether we contract or release into movement, and whether we are impulsive or considered in our actions. His claim of mind/body indivisibility was far reaching for a turn of the century rural Australian who had no background in medical science; but today it seems little more than common sense.

So, how do we apply Alexander’s discoveries to our present day lives?

Most of us will be familiar with seeing ourselves in a mirror or shop front, not particularly liking the way we are, and making a few adjustments before going on our way. Next time we come across our reflection, we discover the changes we made have not lasted, and that we have reverted to type. We may make the same minor changes again, before moving on.

The odds are, we will have any number of habits of carriage and use we are unaware of; others we are familiar with but that we mistakenly believe are useful; others that may be the result of something once deliberately cultivated but long since forgotten; and still others that are fully intended but that we fail to recognise are not being accurately carried out.

These discrepancies may lead to nothing more severe that the occasional ‘twinge’, or moment of unease, or they can lead to our becoming totally incapacitated. Nobody can say what the effects of ‘poor use’ will be; but it certainly will not be for the good. What is certain is that we cannot expect to be aware of the way we really are until we see ourselves from an objective standpoint. We would be selling ourselves short if, once we understand the degree of harm we have inadvertently been doing to ourselves, we failed to act.

For anyone who wants to change their ‘use’ for the better, some sort of re-education of their kinaesthetic sense is essential. The reason for this is simple. However much we may desire change, and however aware we may become of what needs changing, because we have a mistaken sense of the way we are, any corrections we make will be suspect. We will almost certainly replace one set of poor habits with another.

Alexander devised a teaching method, the Alexander Technique, specifically designed to recalibrate the kinaesthetic sense, and to bring it into line with our conscious intention. For anyone who would like to know more about the way they function in everyday life, Alexander Technique lessons are an eye opener.

Some insight can be gained by self study which, when persisted with, can be extremely rewarding. Generally, though, because the way we feel is not the way we are, being guided by our existing sense of ourselves is fraught with problems of reliability.

The major benefit of learning the principles of Alexander work is that doing so enables us to uncover whatever it is we are doing to ourselves that is harmful and to stop doing it. This is different for each of us, but there are certain common areas of imbalance. The way we hold our heads, the way we flex our spines, the way we swing our arms and legs, all contribute to the way we are, as a whole.

Learning, first, how we are, enables us to gain insight into the differences between this and the way we believe we are. It can be disconcerting to realise how far the two are apart! Understanding, , how we ideally might be, and experiencing this at the hands of a teacher, enables us to recognise that change is always an option.

Eventually, with some Alexander training, we can have true choice, perhaps for the first time in our adult lives. We can, of course chose to continue as we are, even though, kinaesthetically, we now understand this is not ideal for us; but we can also choose to make a change, knowing our recalibrated kinaesthetic sense is sufficiently reliable to enable us to recognise good from bad, or better from worse.

Without this knowledge – that we are not necessarily as we seem – and the kinaesthetic appreciation gained from lessons – that we are more out of balance than we know – we will be unable to change anything with any degree of lasting accuracy. This is because, until we know what harm we are doing ourselves, we will not be able to stop doing it.

Even the most glaring (in retrospect) habits cannot be stopped until we recognise them for what they are. To do that requires an objective view of ourselves, which cannot be provided by our existing kinaesthetic sense. What we feel ourselves doing will almost certainly not be what we are doing. A teacher (or a mirror, or video) provides this objective view, which enables us to learn to stop doing what is harmful, while establishing a more reliable kinaesthetic sense in order not to revert to type afterwards.

An often asked question is why something as important to human survival as our internal sense of ourselves, which determines every move we make, should ever ‘go wrong’. The only satisfactory answer is that the complex lives we lead as adults require more learned behaviour than we evolved to cope with. When something occurs that places a greater demand on us than our existing habits can deal with, unless we consciously attend to the way we react (which we will have done when the habits were originally learned, in early life, but are unlikely to do now) we run the risk of overdoing our response, without knowing we are doing so.

When this largely unconscious process is repeated sufficiently often, we run the further risk of an existing, appropriate habit pattern being gradually overlaid with a new, less appropriate one. This new habit then becomes the norm; until it, too, is superceded. Over time, we will move from an overall position of ‘good use’, with a repertoire of smooth running habit patterns that are appropriate for the tasks at hand, to one of ‘poor use’, where – increasingly – less appropriate habit patterns are utilised to service our day to day needs.

This is the conundrum that lessons in the Technique are designed to circumvent.

Inhibition and the dangers of verbal ordering

If giving orders is linked to the good use experienced during lessons, in real life it is almost always linked to poor use. This is because we are seldom prompted to give orders in daily life other than during ‘bad’ moments. Is there a danger here?

Whenever I read about the power and effectiveness of directing, I suspect its importance is being overemphasised at the expense of inhibition.

Most of us can readily imagine, as children, sending messages to pull our heads backwards and down in response to a variety of stimuli. It isn’t hard to see how we might not always have stopped sending every last trace as each separate stimulus abated. Over the years, this would have grown into a permanent instruction on a subconscious level not only to maintain a residual tightness in our necks but to increase it incrementally at every opportunity.

In Alexander terms, this is our legacy. As students, when we give directions to lengthen and widen, their effectiveness depends on the prior inhibition of our acquired tendency to shorten and narrow. Unfortunately, we tend to act as if these processes were one and the same; but direction has to remain apart from our kinesthetic sense, whereas inhibition depends on it.

I generally explain my thoughts on this by asking any willing listener to tighten his or her neck. They usually agree the effect produced comes from messages sent by the brain to the musculature, and that to maintain such a state those messages have to continue being sent. I then ask them to �think� of their neck releasing, while continuing to send messages to tighten it. There is rarely much sense of releasing reported. Finally I ask them, instead of thinking of their neck releasing, to stop sending – first some and then all – of the original messages to tighten it. Gradually, their necks release.

These messages are conscious and deliberate. Had they been subconscious and habitual – as they are in most of us – the ability to stop sending them and release the associated tension in the neck would be dependant on raising that tension to awareness. Thinking of the neck releasing, while continuing to send unchecked subconscious messages for it to tighten, is not the answer.

In order for deep and lasting change to occur, we have to refer to the distinguishing characteristics of these subconscious messages, which are the kinesthetic effect they have on us. There is no way we can withhold consent for their despatch other than through our perception of their non-arrival. Inhibiting in response to a stimulus prevents the onset of customary tension; in situations where we have already responded, it will be experienced as a release of existing tension.

Directions are given to aid and abet this process. While we are able to inhibit those messages to shorten and narrow whose effect we are aware of, any further desire to lengthen and widen must stay aloof from the kinesthetic sense that might otherwise try and carry this out directly. Our hope and expectation is that a consciously projected wish – no more than a cerebral formulation – will displace some contradictory subconscious messages and prevent them being sent, thereby enabling us to become kinesthetically aware of their non-arrival. Again, this will be experienced as an absence or release of customary tension.

As each strata of previously hidden instruction to shorten and narrow makes its presence (or, more accurately, absense) known, we have the opportunity for further inhibition; and as its hold on us weakens – always assuming we continue directing – more messages from a subconscious repository we can assume to be bottomless become unearthed. In this way, inhibition and direction work hand in hand.

One of the particular dangers of verbal ordering, at least as it was taught to me, is its disassociation from this reciprocal process. A decision not to respond to a stimulus in an habitual way but instead to intone a series of sub-vocal phrases, with little reference to what those phrases mean or to the parts of the body to which they refer, hardly allows for the inhibition of contradictory subconscious messages that prevent (or at least severely hinder) them from being carried out, other than in a purely Pavlovian way.��

There is another danger here. It lies in our human tendency to apply the Technique more assiduously during bad times than good. When functioning well, we are likely to become blas� about the means-whereby; only while operating below par do we pay particular attention to inhibition and direction.�

Any new student who has had a series of lessons where they have been encouraged to give orders while their teacher has worked with them should have at their disposal a conditioned response of lengthening and widening linked to the repetition of those same orders outside the teaching room. Initially, this may work, despite the lack of meaningful inhibition. Over time, however, with verbal ordering likely to be resorted to increasingly when a student finds him or her self in a poor way – that is to say, actively shortening and narrowing, but with little understanding of how to inhibit this – a secondary conditioning will become established, based on how they are then.

The risk is of this secondary, ‘pulling-down’ conditioning growing at the expense of, and eventually superceding, the initial, ‘going-up’ model, leading to a deepening spiral of poorer use. The inevitable result would be the perception that ordering no longer worked, or had a detrimental effect, followed by a return to lessons, or else cessation of all interest in the Technique.

This may happen with non-verbal directing, too, if we approach it with insufficient attention. Personally, I find it only too easy to give directions without doing much more than going through the motions. Unfortunately, it seems that any process designed to alter an existing situation, if it is followed by rote, runs the risk of anchoring us more firmly to what we want to change. I suspect this phenomenon could account for many of the difficulties encountered during training.

The conclusions I have come to are that verbal ordering, at best, is a useful reminder of where we want to go, but is no different to any other form of affirmation, and could become a liability; and that directing without inhibiting is little more than a specialised form of positive thinking.

While there is nothing wrong with such approaches as prescriptions for change, even transformation, in our lives, inhibition, potentially at each and ever moment, remains the key to progress in the Technique. It is inhibition, assisted by direction, that helps reawaken the dormant links between our bodies and our minds.

Putting this into practice is a tall order, and I can’t say I live up to it; but that’s mainly because I forget to inhibit rather than because inhibition is particularly difficult. Arguably, a far greater challenge to students of the Technique than discovering how to apply its principles is learning to recognise and maintain the individual awareness of current conditions on which any success in carrying them out depends.

Judging from the available literature, inhibition is not something many teachers like to consider, even though they presumably spend large amounts of time instructing others in the skill. This is a shame, since everyone has a unique viewpoint, which it would help for others to know. As Alexander work grows, and grows away from its source, it becomes increasingly important for individuals to be clear, not so much about what it is or how it works, but how they make it happen for them.

The creative power of thought is a fascinating subject, central to Alexander work but going far beyond ‘directing’ in scope and application. I have always marvelled at how whatever is running through our minds at any one moment affects not only our bodies but our entire appreciation of life. What is odd, though, is how little control we have over this, how our automatic reaction to events determines the way we live rather than any preferences we may think we have.

This is where conscious control comes in; but I would love to know how to make it easier to exert. It isn’t difficult to understand why inhibition and direction should be hardest to apply when they are most needed. After all, however inappropriate our subconscious reactions may seem now, they were laid down by us in good faith at testing moments of the past. Nevertheless, it would be illuminating to discover what evolutionary purpose was served by making undeniably obsolete habit patterns not merely resistant to change but antipathical to health and therefore, presumably, survival.