Alexander Technique - Top Tips - Discovering your Balance Line

Balance is a metaphor for life: there are always going to be things that knock you off balance, but it is how you react to these knocks that determines what you become in life. You can more easily swing back into balance if you have an awareness of your true centre - your core - and the way you release your energy into the world. The Alexander Technique saves the excessive energy that normally over-tenses your muscles, and frees it for more creative purposes - artistic creation, resolving emotional conflicts, spiritual attunement, expressing yourself and improving physical abilities. In order to sit, stand and walk with the minimum of muscular tension and energy exertion, you first need to develop an accurate, conscious sense of balance. The following practical exercise will help you establish this sense of balance in your body. From this new-found equilibrium you will be able to develop a calm sense of inner poise, and support a healthier posture. Discovering your balance line is the foundation for developing body awareness, which will help your movements to become free, integrated and more flowing.

DISCOVERING YOUR BALANCE LINE

Notice how you distribute your weight over your feet. (An examination of the wear on your shoe soles and heels wil1 show you; they may be more worn on one side than the other.) Be aware that as you sway forwards (above right) more weight comes on to the balls of your feet, and that as you sway back- wards (above left) more weight goes on to your heels.

1. Using a long mirror, look at your line of balance. An imaginary line passes from the crown of the head, through the point where the skull sits on the spinal column, down through the shoulder joint, the centre of gravity in the pelvis, the hip joint, the kneee joint and straight down through the heel and into the ground. Don't be surprised to find that your line tilts forwards, like most peoples, or backwards.

2. Standing evenly on both feet, make your mind a calm instrument of awareness, so that you become attentive to your bodily tensions and any contortions of posture, as well as to your breathing.

3. Now let yourself sway gently and slowly backwards and forwards. Feel the whole line of your body moving softly from your ankle joints, as you sway like a tree in the wind. Feel how, if you come too far forwards you have to tense your lower back muscles in order to stay upright. If you go too far backwards you will notice that you have to tense your stomach muscles in order to keep your balance

4. Make the swaying movements smaller and smaller until you start to notice, for a fleeting moment, that you are in your optimum line of balance. When this happens you will have a sensation of up-thrust from the heels, all the way to the top of the head. Your spine feels stronger and your head balances in a looser way on top of the spinal column. You will notice slightly more weight on your heels than on the balls of your feet.

5. Continue to make the movements smaller and smaller, until you finally come to rest in this position of perfect equilibrium. Don't try to hold this position but just enjoy the sense of having attained conscious balance.

6. If you wear Masai Barefoot Technology shoes (MBTs) there is an inbuilt instability in these shoes that makes you practice this exercise all the time - whether you remember it or not.

PRIMARY CONTROL

Look at these two images, they depict the typical mistake that most people make, on the left pulling the head back and down - due to chronic bad habits, emotional stress and tension, or sudden shock and fear. Now look at the image on the right. This represents primary control, a perfect, freeing balance of the head on the top of the spine (at the atlanto occipital joint, which is level with your ear lobes). It is a bit like tucking your chin in whilst keeping your neck back. This gives a feeling of lengthening along the neck vertebra whilst allowing the head to rotate slightly forwards on the top joint of the neck. Of course this result is achieved indirectly through a thinking process (see "directions" later on) rather than directly by physical manipulation. However it does give a hint of what "primary control" feels like.

SITTING AT A DESK

It is of crucial importance how you sit at your desk. Never slump like the crooked lady at her desk. First sit with the feet flat on the floor and sway backwards and forwards until you can position the head in a balanced line with the weight of the head balanced over your sitting bones and the centre of gravity in the pelvis. Then tuck your chin in but keep your neck back - so that you can feel a lengthening along the nape of your neck. Then swivel forwards from the hips and type at your keyboard so that you can keep a straight back and look down at your work (but do not drop the head down towards the desk !) like the straight lady at her computer workstation.

POSITION OF THE PELVIS

What is of crucial importance is the angle of the pelvis. Most people want to lean backwards on the chair for support and end up with a rounded spine and tilted pelvis (see picture on the left). If the back can be straightened and the angle of the pelvis tilted more forwards (see image on the right) the pelvis will be balanced and the weight will fall onto the sitting bones. There is now structure and support from the crown of the head down to the sitting bones at the bottom of the pelvis.

HOW TO PRACTICE THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Much time is spent practicing standing and sitting on a chair, because this gives an opportunity to "allow the head to go forwards and up" whilst "allowing the back to lengthen and widen". Ther is perfect balance and minimal energy expenditure during the movements.

When lying in the semi-supine position it is possible to achieve nearly total muscular relaxation whilst continuing to give "directions". The back becomes flatter, longer and wider as the back muscles relax and the back comes into fuller contact with the ground supporting it.

This image gives an idea of the main directions,"allow the neck to be free" whilst "allowing the head to go forwards and up" whilst "allowing the back to lengthen and widen" also "keeping the back going back" whilst "allowing the legs to lengthen away from the hip joints to the feet". There the soles of the feet meet the counter-thrust of gravity and this support from below and the sense of perfect balance enable you to maintain the freedom of the neck in an unforced and effortless manner.

The Alexander Technique in Brief

The Alexander technique is designed to inhibit our stressful reactions to life, reducing muscular tension and anxiety levels so that we can relax and achieve more by doing less. Students of the Technique learn how to re-establish a sense of conscious balance in the body, to develop a calm sense of inner poise and to support a healthy posture. Movements become freer and more flowing, the body feels integrated and you live more in the moment with a heightened sense of awareness and enjoyment of life. Many Alexander Technique Teachers seem to think that it is almost impossible to describe the Alexander Technique in words without the experience. Certainly the concept without the experience is useless, but part of the problem also lies in Alexander's terminology, which is now over 100 years old, victorian and rather dated. This is one reason why I wrote the book and also why I am proposing some changes to Alexander's terminology (see "Terminology" page).


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