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Active Rest Procedure

The Active Rest Procedure 

This is another name given to the Lying Down Procedure, which is practised in the semi-supine position as below, both in Alexander Technique lessons and, ideally, on a daily basis throughout our lives. It is also known as the Constructive Rest Procedure

If you would like to read more about this procedure you may like to read my notes on how to use the Lying Down Procedure.

 

Lying Down Procedure

The Lying Down Procedure is included as part of most Alexander lessons and is taught with the pupil lying on an Alexander table or couch. The names for this procedure proliferate – it is now also known as Semi-supine, Constructive Rest and the Active Rest Procedures.

This procedure is used in lessons whilst the client lies in a semi-supine position, usually on a table. In workshops, students will learn this lying down on the floor. The teacher gently touches and guides him or her, ‘working on him’, to help him develop his awareness and to learn how to let go of old habits. The pupil will be asked to use his thinking and give himself directions whilst this is taking place, in order to bring about changes in the way he uses himself and his body.

All Alexander clients are encouraged to use the Lying Down Procedure on their own, ideally on a daily basis for 10 – 20 minutes at a time, in order to work on themselves. This needs to be practised whilst lying on the floor, rather than something soft like a bed, which will not give the body adequate support. However, floors alone can be hard and drafty, so use something like a rug or thin yoga mat underneath you. Lying down in the open air can also be great, looking up at the sky or into the canopy of a tree above you, can be very special.

For further information, you may like to read my notes about using the Lying Down Procedure

 

 

Position of Mechanical Advantage

The Position of Mechanical Advantage was the term F M Alexander gave to a position we assume when bending forwards by flexing the hip joints in a way that allows the spine to remain lengthened, rather than curling over.  Many children naturally use this type of movement and position, as in this photo. However, as we grow up, we often lose this easy body use with free movement in our hip joints and resort to contracting our bodies as we bend forwards, which compresses the spine and interferes with our alignment. 

Toddler using Monkey Position

In Alexander lessons we explore using this way of moving and this procedure has been given the nickname ‘Monkey Position   It is very adaptable way of moving and protects our backs whilst bending. We can use a small monkey for actions such as picking up a chair, or hinge forwards into a deeper movement if we wish to examine a dog!

 

Position of Mechanical Advantage

Wall Work

Wall Work is a seemingly simple procedure that may be familiar to other disciplines but it is the way that it is performed, that is the most important aspect of using it in the Alexander Technique. This procedure may be used in lessons and it is also an activity that even new pupils can begin to use, to work on themselves in their own time.

The pupil leans up against a flat surface such as a wall or door, bends the knees to slide down the wall and then straightens the legs to come back up. However, this is not performed umpteen times as an exercise in order to strengthen the legs. Using the procedure, perhaps even just once or twice, freely, in an aware, unforced, lengthening manner, is deemed to be of more value.

Wall work may be used for pupils to learn about what is going on in the body, whilst standing and then whilst moving, so that they can:

  • Begin to develop their awareness of their habits and patterns of use and mis-use
  • Learn to inhibit any urge to rush into performing an action without thought
  • Learn to inhibit habits of tension and distortion
  • Give themselves directions during an activity, so that they can bring about changes in their use and the way they perform the procedure

The wall work procedure has also been adapted in order to help people perform a squat. This moves into the realm of applying the Alexander Technique to another discipline. The procedure is performed with the back against a gym ball, which can then roll up and down the wall, supporting the pupil’s back during the procedure. This is described in some detail in:

Master the Art of Working Out ~ Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields ~ p92

Lunge

The Lunge is a procedure taught in the Alexander Technique, with the aim of maintaining freedom in the hips, knees and ankles whilst moving with the back lengthening and widening. The use of the body in a lunge is similar to the way monkey position is performed but the procedure is often more active and flowing. Alexander teachers use both monkey position and lunge many times whilst giving lessons.

Initially, the pupil starts with both feet together, then places one foot forwards, transferring most but not all of the weight onto the front foot with that knee bent and the back leg lengthened (but not locked). Then, most of the weight is transferred onto the back foot with the back knee bent, whilst the front leg lengthens out and away. It is easy to fall into the trap of end gaining with a procedure such as this whilst enjoying making the movements backwards and forwards. But then we lose awareness of our use, so that our freedom and alignment can become compromised. It is necessary to think carefully before moving so that you stop such mis-use and it’s just as important to continue giving yourself directions throughout the lunge procedure.

It is not possible here to give a full description of the procedure and it would be necessary for your Alexander teacher to demonstrate and teach you how to use the lunge so that you are aware of your use and allow your movements to be free.

The lunge is a useful way of using the body during a number of everyday activities, for instance when using a vacuum cleaner, sweeping, gardening, pushing, pulling, sawing and picking up light objects from a low surface. The lunge is also utilised in fitness training and sports. where the movement tends to be far deeper and this too can be explored in AT lessons, so that people can focus on their use as they perform the movements.

F M Alexander using a lunge whilst teaching

Habit

Habit

Habit, in the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology is defined in several ways but the two most relevant here are: ‘Generally a learned act…’ and ‘A Pattern of activity that has, through repitition, become automized, fixed and easily and effortlessly carried out’

The poet John Dryden (1631-1700) said something that F M Alexander would have appreciated when he stated that “We first make out habits, then our habits make us”. 

Eminent psychologist William James urged us to be aware of habits before they get fixed – “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state”.

We all have habits and many of them tend to be unconscious once fixed, so we are unaware of them and they are indeed ‘unseen’ by us as Dryden pointed out. It is these unconscious habits that often mean that we mis-use ourselves and our bodies, so that we end up performing tasks in an unthinking, habitual manner, that results in our decveloping aches and pains for instance. These patterns of mis-use can be addressed in Alexander lessons, where we can learn to loosen the bond between a stimulus and our habitual response to it.

F M Alexander discovered when he was developing his eponymous technique that it is very hard to let go of our habits, even if they don’t serve us, because as soon as anyone has an idea of performing an action they begin “to do the act in the habitual way’ because the ‘faulty habits feel right’. FM realised that the only way to change the manner in which the act is performed ‘means giving up the lifelong habits of use that go with it, and employing in its stead a new use which feels wrong’. In other words, our habits ‘feel right’ to us, even when we know they do not serve us.

In order to be able to let go of habits, Alexander developed the method, still used today in AT lessons, of giving people the experience of

1) “receiving a stimulus to gain a certain end and refusing to react to it, thereby inhibiting the unsatisfactory habits of use associated with his habitual reactions”.

2) “of projecting the directions for the new and more satisfactory use in their proper sequence… whilst the teacher at the same time with his hands makes him familiar with the new sensory experiences associated with this new use”. The Use of the Self – F M Alexander.

This process starts off with aiming to change ourselves during simple activities such as sitting and standing – it’s surprising how many habits we all have that interfere with our making such movements simply and smoothly! As the pupil begins to be able to inhibit and give directions, more complicated actions can be explored, such as using a mouse or picking objects up from the floor.

“We can throw away the habits of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains” – Aphorisms ~ F M Alexander. 

When we say ‘no’ to our old unhelpful habits of body use and these changes of use are incorporated into our daily lives, we not only lose many aches and pains but we become freer to act through choice rather than just out of our habits. Alexander talked of our mental habits as being “mind grooves” and says that once the mind “is lifted out of the groove” we can “use the old path if we choose (but) we are no longer bound to it”.

Stop

Thanks to the Co-operative bank for the original design which I have adapted!

Monkey Position ~ The Position of Mechanical Advantage

‘Monkey Position’ is the nickname for the Position of Mechanical Advantage as F M Alexander called it, and refers to the position that is ideal to utilize when bending forwards whilst standing. To use this position, we hinge and fold forwards at the hip joints with the knees bent and the ankles freely folding so that the knees can direct out over the toes. The movement is made whilst maintaining the length in the spine – without arching the lower back, curling over, or shortening the neck by pulling the head back and down. It’s a really useful movement to use when chopping the veg or putting on your shoes!

It is unfortunate that this has been called a ‘position’ as this makes it seem a static way of holding the body, rather than allowing the body to move naturally, as in sitting down and standing up – or landing from a jump, when our legs act like springy shock absorbers.

 

Child landing in monkey position

The monkey position is a very basic and natural movement seen in most small children but it often gets lost as a way of moving by the time we become adults. However, it is used by many sportsmen such as cricketers and golfers, plus people who carry heavy loads and need to look after their backs. Of course it is also used by our close relations, the monkeys!

This way of bending forwards protects the back, whereas the common pattern of misuse that many people fall into – crumpling forwards and pulling the head back – compresses the spine and creates back strain, particularly if a heavy object is being picked up. In many cases, this unhelpful way of moving can lead to disc prolapse and problems such as sciatica. you can also read how it can be particularly useful to use during pregnancy, childbirth and after.

Patrick Macdonald (in his book which is aimed at Alexander teachers) sites the case of Finnish lumber men in the arctic circle who found that in their daily work, which was very hard, it was essential to keep a straight back and use their joints (the Monkey position) if their backs were not to break down under the strain’ p 21

Patrick Macdonald ~ The Alexander Technique as I See It

The monkey position procedure as taught in Alexander lessons is a stylized version of this natural movement and is used to help pupils regain (or find) the hinging movement in their hip joints and to allow the spine to retain its full length as they bend forwards. Once learned, pupils can then use this way of moving to look after their backs in everyday life activities.  For instance, when performing actions which require a deep monkey position, such as picking an object up off the floor and those that only require a small version of monkey, such as washing the dishes.  A small monkey position is also very useful to use when coughing and sneezing, so that the somewhat violent spasms produced, are less likely to damage the back – osteopaths gain a number of new patients each year, who have hurt their backs this way. 

The same principle may be applied to squatting or bending forwards whilst sitting. So we can fold our bodies forwards whilst hinging in the hips, knees and ankle joints and maintaining the length of the spine, in order to perform actions such as moving a chair, riding a bike or playing the guitar.

We can also modify monkey position so that we can use lunging movements when active and playing tennis or sweeping floors, for instance. In this way, we use the strong, major structure of the hip joints and protect the smaller and more vulnerable bones and discs in the spine, as we bend and move around.

Cambridge University Hospitals and the NHS have produced a useful patient information leaflet on the monkey position.

Alexandroid

Alexandroid – this is an unofficial term and is best avoided if a pupil may take offence or tends to be vulnerable.

However, ‘Alexandroid’ is sometimes used by teachers, with gentle humour, to describe an Alexander pupil who is trying too hard to get things right and is ‘doing‘ the Technique, in particular the directions to think ‘up‘ along the spine.

The outcome of this over-doing, is frequently a rather stiff, stilted and even a trance-like appearance and a reluctance to allow the head to move whilst walking, which can look odd and somewhat robot-like. Walking in this restricted way can also be very unhelpful for instance, if you are going down a busy road like Oxford Street. In such places you need to be alert, free to move your head to see where you are going, plus be able to dodge around the crowds with freedom and alacrity.

Alexandroids are particularly common in Introductory Group Courses, when participants are often asked to walk round the room whilst giving themselves directions. Fortunately, because they are in a group, people can see what this looks like and can see the humorous side to this unofficial A/T term!

Usually, once the Alexandroid tendency has been pointed out to people, they are able to laugh and free up their movements so that they are more comfortable in themselves and look more naturally poised.

I hasten to add that this use of the term ‘Alexandroid’ has nothing to do with the Russian music group of the same name…

Whispered ‘Ah’

The Whispered ‘Ah’ is a procedure developed by F M Alexander in order to free up his jaw, throat and vocal cords. It is simply a way of making an ‘Ah’ sound, on a whispered outward breath but it needs to be performed in a very specific manner, which allows the vocal mechanisms to be quite free. Alexander found it to be a powerful tool that he could use in his search to eradicate his vocal problems.

When the whispered ‘Ah’ is performed with a good understanding of the Alexander Technique, by someone who has developed the ability to inhibit their mis-use and to give themselves directions, it can help them strengthen their voice and improve their breathing. Because of these beneficial effects, the whispered ‘Ah’ has been found to be a valuable tool for vocalists and singers, who use it as a way of looking after their voice and helping their vocal mechanisms to work efficiently.

Doing the whispered ‘Ah’ procedure can also have a calming effect, as it can gradually deepen and slow down our breathing, also allowing our nervous system to become calmer. Another type of application for the whispered ‘Ah’ is for people to use it when stressed, whilst stuck in traffic jams for instance. By quietly sitting and releasing their jaws in this way, people can avoid the pattern that one can see so often in frustrated drivers, who clench their jaws, grind their teeth and become more and more tense. Using the whispered ‘Ah’ like this, is a good way to help oneself avoid tension headaches, plus drive more comfortably and safely.

You can also read how it can be useful to use whispered ah during childbirth.

Faulty Sensory Appreciation

Faulty Sensory Appreciation comes about when we do not receive accurate sensory feedback about our physical condition and use.  This feedback comes to us through our kinaesthetic and proprioceptive sense mechanisms.

As Alexander discovered: I had proved in my own case and in that of others that instinctive control and direction of use had become so unsatisfactory, and the associated feeling so untrustworthy as a guide, that is could lead us to do the very opposite of what we wished to do or thought we were doing’.

F M Alexander ~ The Use of the Self p23

This concept has been given a clever and up to date description: ‘Think of Faulty Sensory Appreciation as Fake News from your senses

‘The Alexander Technique for Young Musicians’ p4

This can be illustrated by someone who habitually slumps over when sitting.  This slumped position will ‘feel right’ to them even though they can see in a mirror, for instance, that they have ‘bad posture’.  The converse is also true.  If this person comes to an Alexander lesson and the teacher helps them to re-align their body use, the pupil may initially experience this new way of sitting as ‘feeling wrong’.

The fact that our usual body sensations and feelings ‘feel right’ to us, makes learning the Alexander Technique on our own, even with the help of books, extremely hard to do.  This is because we continually revert back to our misuse, which feels familiar and therefore ‘right’ to us, so it is very hard to bring about any change in the way we use ourselves, because the new improved use initially feels wrong to us. With an Alexander teacher’s help and guidance we can, with time, re-educate our bodies so that we gain a more accurate sensory appreciation and understanding about our use.