Once you have a handle on the idea of observing yourself and then stopping the compressive habit, you are ready for directing. Directing is the natural next step after inhibition. If you have learned to stop some of the most harmful habits, why stop there? The next logical step is replacing the negative habits with more positive ones.
Remember that your nervous system, which is learning not to clench and shrug and grip, now has the ability to learn something new, since it has discovered a more neutral approach to movement. It’s important to remember that the nervous system has its own intelligence and its own language. It will not listen to browbeating or pummeling; that’s not the language it speaks.
Instead, it is “all ears” when you give it a verbal cue or an image. FM Alexander believed that in order to change the body’s understanding of itself, verbal cues were the key. He told people to recite a certain set of verbal cues “one at a time and all together,” like a mantra, along certain neural pathways. Lightness, ease, and freedom from chronic pain come as a direct result of programming a more spacious self-concept. As I say to my students once they have undergone this reprogramming, “it’s the new you!” By that I mean, your whole sense of being has changed because your program for “who I am, where I am, and how I move” is remodeled. The body actually takes on a new shape, because “form follows function.”
Alexander’s verbal cues are written about extensively, but he suggested you recite to yourself:
“Let the neck be free, so that the head can release forward to go up, to allow the whole back to lengthen and widen, the upper arms to release away from each other, and the knees to go forward and away.”
This is shorthand for a very deep-seated and somewhat complicated change in a person’s way of moving, which is why it’s so hard to learn Alexander from a book. You really have to be guided with a set of skilled hands into understanding the subtleties of these words, and to learn to use them without trying to manipulate yourself – no small task.
I find in my teaching that it is also helpful to employ imagery to help the student get the meaning of this bare-bones wording without re-tightening. I’ve used dozens of picturesque and sometimes goofy images to help people release into spaciousness: a ship’s mast, a whale spout, a starfish, a beach ball, drawers, silk fabric draping, etc. It’s actually a really fun and creative pastime to employ these images, and the nervous system responds to them beautifully.
Whether you use words or images or both, learning Alexander Technique is like learning a new language of the mind/body connection, or should I say relearning. You knew this language long ago and your deepest self is happy to come back to it.