From a talk by George I. Lister at The Northern California Center
for the Alexander Technique - March 2007
Newton’s third law of motion states that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We can demonstrate this quite easily by stepping off a boat onto a dock and observing that as we move in one direction, we need to be very careful as the boat will tend to move in the opposite direction. We have created the action that takes us one way while the same force at the same time sends the boat the other way.
This identical force is called gravity and is what allows us and all living creatures (and everything else), to maintain our place on the planet. Gravity will act as the influence which will keep us from drifting away. Whatever we or any other object weighs is the force in one direction and the earth will respond by giving us an equivalent amount of energy in return. In order to take advantage of all this we must be in equilibrium with the forces of nature.
Living beings all come with some amount of movement. We walk, we crawl, we swim we fly and, as in the case of trees and plants, although usually not moving from one place to another, expand and get longer and broader.
In regards to Newton’s theory, this makes the plight of living beings quite tricky as, in order to be in sync with gravitational forces, we must at all times use ourselves perfectly. Of course, most beings living on the earth do just that. They are absolutely suited to their environment and, although they may not always appear so, they are moving in perfect balance with the forces of gravity. Fish and sea mammals move through water, birds and other winged creatures fly through the air, trees and plants grow towards the light sometimes over, under or around other objects. Land creatures move over their terrain in a beautiful ballet of grace and elegance. It is a well synchronized world, moving and flowing in harmony with the natural environment of the earth.
This equation pertains to the human species as well who, unfortunately through the ages, has managed to learn to be unsynchronized with his environment. Rather than acknowledging and using it as an accommodating force of nature, we have come to consider gravity our enemy – something to be struggled with and fought against. The challenge is that no matter what, be it extravagant power and strength techniques, overwhelming propulsion or any of the advances science and technology bring to us, while living on the planet Earth, we cannot escape the force of nature that holds us together and in balance – the force of gravity.
And according to Newton, the rule of gravity says that we will only get back what we put in.
Now imagine that you weigh 150 pounds. If the theory stands, the energy you will receive back from the Earth will exactly match what you weigh so that you will be receiving in return 150 pounds worth of energy which you can use to come to your full height and to propel yourself from one place to another, sometimes at astonishing speed. This presupposes, of course, that all your physiological resources are working to their optimum and you are not wasting energy by interfering with the natural balance of things. If you are not in balance, you will be demanding more of the Earth’s resources than it’s prepared to give. This is when the struggle sets in. The more we labor to find an appropriate upright stance, the more tension we introduce into the system therefore demanding more and more of gravity. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we struggle, we are only entitled to exactly what gravity knows we’re offering and, in this case, it’s 150 pounds.
The answer to how the Alexander Technique might help us in this equation is that by taking advantage of the principles of the Technique we learn to achieve balance. Many of us through the course of our lives have picked up habits that interfere with balance and take away the equilibrium our systems thrive on. We make ourselves feel that the most basic necessities of life – supporting our own weight and moving from place to place, are filled with pain and hardship. Through the study of the Technique, we learn that we can make choices concerning these habits, and that although our usual way of doing things may have been around for a long time, acquired habits are subject to change. When the interference goes away what’s left is exactly what’s supposed to be there, and the system re learns how to use itself in the best and most efficient way possible.
When I began my study of the Alexander Technique and experienced my first lessons about 20 years ago, I felt that my equilibrium had been thrown off and I had lost my sense of balance. It was astonishing that along with this sense of disorientation, I noticed that I didn’t have to hold on to myself to not fall on my nose. This flood of information was too much for the sense of things I had available at that time. As my learning experience developed, I realized that what I had at first thought to be a complete disruption of my balance system was, in fact, re learning and re adjustment of my body’s physiological comprehension. Alexander termed this “debauched kinesthesia” meaning what we feel as balance, uprightness, etc., is not always accurate.
It is the job of an Alexander teacher to help guide students through this period of adjustment. We own our habitual ways of doing things and the challenge of change includes being clear that new kinesthetic experiences are not necessarily wrong, just unusual. By embracing the principles of the Technique, we give ourselves the opportunity to experiment, learning more and more about ourselves along the way. It is through this learning process that the benefits of the study of the Alexander Technique are to be fulfilled.