Before becoming an Alexander practitioner, I would get very sore from tasks like vacuuming, cleaning the bathtub, or raking leaves. Luckily, Alexander bequeathed us an approach to movement that helps everyone perform tasks such as these with greater ease and less strain. Originally labeled as a “position of mechanical advantage,” over the years it became known as “the monkey.” The monkey allows you to keep your torso integrated without collapse and your arms relaxed, while getting your support from hinging at the ankles, knees and hips. Working from this position helps you move about without injuring yourself because you are in a supple, neutral position and all body parts are able to move freely in any direction (like a monkey). The picture above shows a young girl guided into monkey by none other than F.M. Alexander himself, who is demonstrating a masterfully executed lunge.
Bipedalism is no fun. It has many pitfalls; our center of gravity is far above the ground, and the fear of falling is ingrained in us, so that our tendency is to become rigid rather than stay supple when we need to move around. Monkey position lowers our center of gravity and allows us to hinge using the three lower extremity joints. Those joints work in tandem; when one hinges, so do the others. Once we have flexed those joints, as long as our arms are not held, but rather hang lightly off the shoulder joint, we are ready for movement in all its forms: spiraling, reaching, lifting, and yes, raking.
One key point: if you collapse your head either forward or backward, you will lose the “mechanical advantage.” Also, if your hips press onto the tops of your legs, you will not receive the full advantage. Your torso must act as a lever, so that your back stays long on the diagonal and your head aims out. A qualified Alexander teacher can help make sure you are not compressing yourself, but rather are staying released and movement is at its most efficient.
So when you attempt to rake your leaves this season, keep this simple formula in mind: stay away from the leaves. Try your best not to collapse towards the leaves, but rather keep your torso on the diagonal but elevated. A lunge position works best. If you overgrip the rake, you are sunk. You will be using too much neck and shoulder tension. Rather, your whole body’s musculature should be evenly balanced so that effort is evenly distributed throughout the system. The whole thing can be easier than you think if you realize leaves are actually very light! With that mindset, maybe you won’t dread household chores as much…. Maybe.
Note that under the heading of Lessons, you will find some photos demonstrating the above principles.