The Centre for the Alexander Technique

Pete’s Blog – Monday 30th January 2017 – Thinking in and Thinking out


Photograph of Peter Ribeaux, Centre for the Alexander Technique

I’ve been reflecting on a couple of ideas recently.  The reflections are brought about partly by working with students and pupils with particular difficulties, partly from reading the latest STATnews (January 2017) on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, in particular the articles by Laura Tuthall and Melissa Kelly and partly by memories of the ATI Conference last October.  These reflections have a degree of continuity in that they harp back to my blog of 11th May 2016.

Firstly, I’ve been surprised by my change in attitude to the study of anatomy over the years and, secondly, I’ve always been intrigued by the question of when to use my hands in order to loosen the muscles around joints and when to compress the joints in order to provoke an expanding resistance (in the manner of the way FM places his hand  on the top of the head of the pupil he is working on in the video clip we have of him).

When I trained the study of anatomy was always a kind of optional extra, only something to be encouraged in order to communicate with the medical profession and related disciplines.  The  result was that I finished up with a pretty scanty knowledge of musical-skeletal anatomy and I don’t think I was the least well informed AT teacher at the time.  Clearly, one can do good work and teach people a lot by teaching the principles of inhibition and direction in a predominantly  “thinking” manner without making exact anatomical reference.  However, questions such as, “What precisely is this neck which one has to allow to be free?” did arise.  Over the years a more precise knowledge came to be needed in relation to fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders, particularly when working with musicians and others with particular requirements.  Now I believe that the more accurately one can locate bones and muscles mentally the more effective one’s thought directions become.

This is where the “thinking in” versus “thinking out” issue raised by Laura Tuthall comes in.  As an example, the shoulder joint (the glenohumeral joint) where the upper arm meets the shoulder girdle is surrounded at the deepest level by a set of muscles ( the rotator cuff) whose name partly belies their function.  They do in fact individually serve to rotate the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa or cavity.  However, acting in concert, they serve along with various ligaments to keep the head of the upper arm (humerus) snugly seated in the cavity.  When this function becomes distorted or slackens the heavy duty movement muscles e.g. the deltoids and teres major, not to mention a number of muscles connecting to the thorax take over this work.  The resultant unnecessary tension needs to be “undone” in order to restore proper functioning of the shoulder joint.  This is where “thinking in” comes in.  “Thinking in” and connecting bone to bone snugly in an articulation is a better fit than “thinking out” which in the worst case can lead to dislocation as described in Melissa Kelly’s STATnews article.

This relates tangentially to some impressions I had when attending the ATI Conference in October 2016.  There seemed to be a view  that, in the interest of marketing the Alexander Technique it was best not to over emphasise the physical (posture, use etc) but rather market  it as a vehicle for gaining freedom to make choices, promoting change and bringing about effortless movement, thought and happiness. Nothing wrong with this, but to confuse what may be appropriate for the marketing of the Technique with what the Technique actually is does not serve it well.  Why not both the psycho- and physical? Whatever happened to the psychophysical nature of the human organism?  Please, let’s not throw the body out with the bathwater and let’s recognise that psychophysical change is unlikely to be achieved without attending to each.  It is  a question of which lens one chooses to use (or both) for both teacher and student. Not to use both does a disservice to the Technique.