I had the daunting and exciting experience recently of someone coming for an Alexander Technique session who had had lessons with the elderly Irene Tasker, one of the very earliest of those F M Alexander himself enabled to teach the Technique, and whose contact with him goes back to 1913! Irene Tasker had studied with the well-known Italian educationalist, Maria Montessori, who wrote to Irene Tasker, on hearing about her lessons with F M Alexander, “I am glad that you are learning to know what you are doing”. This is a beautifully simple insight into what the Alexander Technique is about – self-knowledge and control which lead to free movement. I was speaking to a doctor recently who works with people with skin cancers and who was lamenting that many men take more interest in blemishes on the paintwork of their cars than in moles or blemishes which persist on the skin. For whatever reasons our ignorance of what we are doing is often most blind to our bodies and to the way we use our bodies. We create the split between the life of the mind and the life of the body.
Now turn your attention to your spine, your vertebral column which is a central part of your structure but also, protects and contains the spinal cord, the continuation of the brain from which segment by segment, nerves arise, to connect with the muscles and other organs and tissues of the body. We all know how significant injury to the spinal cord can be, particularly paralysis, loss of movement. So it is in a way obvious that the functional interaction between the head (our brain and major sense organs), the spine and the raying out from the spine into our extremities, our limbs, is the essence of our active self. In this total system or pattern the area where head meets spine becomes crucial as the place where the inner selfhood of the head is turning into the outward directed selfhood of the limbs, of movement. Muscle becomes particularly important because our thinking is active in the way our muscles behave – both in conscious, voluntary movements, but also in the pattern of tone, of liveliness and sensitivity maintained subconsciously in our structure – head, neck, spine and limbs.
So we can start with the structure but the structure is nothing without the quality of life, or tone in the muscles which will give us a background sense of our integrated wholeness permeated by our life, our will, our habits of tension. It is this pattern, this form of liveliness, which we will use to make movements. This living form depends on us, our awareness, to be what it is. It can be whole and mobile; it can be restricted and rigid. It can be really ours, really us, or it can be ignored, belong to a foreign body. The relationship between head and neck and spine will be the nexus of this flow of control. Freedom of movement and clarity of co-ordination here will mean that control will become something we are, not something we do: learning to know what we are doing, as Maria Montessori realised.