Wall work is a procedure you can begin to use quite early on in learning the Alexander Technique. Providing you practise this with awareness and resist the temptation just to turn it into an exercise, you can learn a lot about your body use whilst making a movement. It can also help you reduce tension and ease backpain. The procedure is very simple but it is easy to let mis-use creep in, so it is important to try this with your Alexander teacher, before exploring it on your own.
Marjory Barlow, F M Alexander’s niece and first generation teacher stated:
“FM had people working against the wall in the first training course. He used to say that the wall serves the same purpose as the table – an objective criterion, only in the vertical.”
When you practise wall work in a way that helps you improve your use, you will find that you can utilise it at times when you would like to practise the Lying Down Procedure but cannot do so. Try it at work, or waiting at a bus stop for instance. (You don’t want to look like Baloo scratching his back against a tree, so use a modified, reduced version of the procedure!)
This is not about seeing how many times you can go up and down the wall. Neither is it about how far you can bend and slide down into a squat. This work is all about noticing what habits come into play during movement and learning about HOW you tend to move.
The Wall Work Procedure
All you need is a smooth, flat surface such as a wall or door, to lean your body against. As you practise the procedure, you can use the feedback you get from the wall to learn about what is going on in your body as you move. Do you notice twisting or arching, do you pull yourself off the wall, or push yourself back onto it for instance? What do you notice? Do not push your back against the wall. Allow it to gently ease and be supported by the wall.
Remember to inhibit: say ‘no’ to rushing or forcing your movements; to falling into the trap of doing lots of deep bends and end-gaining; and say ‘no’ to any habits of mis-use that you are aware of, or to any new ones that you notice during the procedure.
Give yourself directions throughout standing and all your movements.
Place your feet as wide apart as your hips, with heels 3″ away from the wall
Your head is unlikely to touch the wall (although your hair might touch it) and if it does, this suggests that you may be pulling your head back or retracting your chin stiffly. Free your neck and allow your head to go forward and up, so that the distance it is held away from the wall, is about the same as the height of books that you use for the Lying Down procedure.
While standing, allow your weight to be taken by the wall and become aware of which parts of your back are touching the wall. There will usually be a gap between the wall and your lower back. However, sometimes this arch is exaggerated because the lumbar muscles are contracted and shortened. Get to know your own body and habits. Notice how much of your back you are allowing to release towards the wall and how much you are holding away from the wall.
What does this tell you?
Have you tightened your neck? Is one side of your body pulling away from the wall in a twist? Is your lumbar region arched and the muscles tight? Can you feel what happens in your ribs when you breathe, or are you fixing your ribs so that they barely move?
If you notice any twists, arches etc in your back, resist the temptation just to ‘fix’ it and ‘do‘ the change by pushing your back into a new position. Use the directions to free your neck and your back, gently letting go of any tensions that pull you off an even balance. Allowing a tiny change that you can maintain freely, is of more value than just pushing yourself into a new position – that will probably revert back to the old one, as soon as your attention moves elsewhere.
- When ready to bend your knees, pause, then move freely whilst giving directions. Let your knees release out and away from your hips and your back. Consciously control your movement, so that you slide a little way down the wall. Maintaining a free neck, free your hips, knees and ankles. Allow your pelvis to move freely so that your coccyx drops downwards as your lower back releases. Your lumbar arch can begin to lengthen out to become more shallow or even disappear – as it does when you lie down in semi-supine.
- Do not bend your knees too far to begin with. Only go down to where your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you move, keep allowing your head to direct forward and up, so that you maintain an upward flow through your body even though you are sliding down the wall.
Pause briefly with your knees bent and keep giving yourself directions. Refuse to tighten anywhere in order to hold the position. Allow yourself to breathe freely
What do you notice?
Is your back free and lengthened or did you pull yourself into an arch or twist as you moved? Are your knees directing out and away from your hips so that the muscles are lengthening? Or did you contract in towards yourself and thus make the bent-knee position uncomfortable to maintain for any length of time?
Unless you are just recovering from an illness or injury, you would be well to note Dr Barlow’s words in his useful description of using wall work ‘If you find this position tiring after quite a short time, then you are indeed in a mis-used state’ ~ The Alexander Principle – Wilfred Barlow – p 117.
- Before you straighten your legs again, inhibit, think and give yourself directions. Take care not to push yourself upwards with your legs or pull your head back and over-arch your torso as you move.
- Keep reminding yourself to have a free neck and allow your head to lead you into the upward movement, with your legs following your head. Think your back back towards the wall – don’t just push it back as ‘doing’ will just curl your spine and contract your abdomen. Ease your heels towards the floor. Allow your back to keep freely lengthening.
What is your back like now?
As you straighten your legs a slight arch will return to your spine but your back can keep being free and more lengthened than before – but did you tighten and over-arch, pulling your back away from the wall? Many people do so and this is one habit of mis-use that you can learn to let go of with this procedure.
The more you can notice about your tensions, distortions or lack of inhibition, the more information you have for when you explore the procedure another time. Keep inhibiting, keep directing, keep freeing yourself throughout the movements, both going down and up. Gradually it will feel easier to do and you will be able to avoid pulling your body around as you move.
- Remember: Stop and Inhibit ~ Think and Direct ~ Then Move