Wall Work is a procedure that 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 use whilst you are making a movement. On the face of it, the procedure is very simple but it is easy to let mis-use creep in so it is important to try this out in a lesson, with your Alexander teacher, before exploring it on your own.
Selma Gokcen, musician and A/T teacher quotes Marjory Barlow, F M Alexander’s niece and first generation teacher as saying, in 2002, that
“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 can 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 for instance and if you don’t want to look like Baloo scratching his back against a tree, you can try a modified version of the procedure!
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?
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 are with your heels 2/3″ 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 you are still standing there, allow some of your weight to be taken by the wall and become aware of which parts of your back are touching the wall. There will be a gap between the wall and your lower back but sometimes this arch is exaggerated because the lumbar muscles are contracted and shortened. Get to know your own body and notice how much of your own 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 you neck and your back, gently let go of any tensions that pull you off an even balance. Releasing into 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, inhibit, then move freely whilst giving directions. Let you knees release out and away from your hips and your back and 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, your lower back releases and your lumbar arch lengthens out to become more shallow or even disappears – as it does when you lie down in semi-supine.
- Do not bend your knees too far to begin with. It is easiest to 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, refusing 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 you so that the muscles are lengthening – or did you contract in towards yourself and thus make the bent-knee position very uncomfortable to be in 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