One of the guiding thoughts which we use with the Alexander Technique is that ‘the head leads’. Even in a movement such as sitting down in which the sitter’s head is taken on a journey back and downwards, the Alexander Technique asks that we see what happens if we work with the thought, as we move, that the head is leading. Leading is not the same as doing the movement. Or, again, as you raise that delicious slice of pizza towards your mouth, what difference does it make if you think and act with your head leading the rest of you towards the heavenly experience of biting into the dripping crispness, rather than the sudden lunge of your eager jaws towards the approaching pleasure. That lunge is not the head leading but the head separating. And we are not talking good manners here, but freedom and wholeness.
Let me give you an illustration from the room in which I am sitting, with my head being drawn towards the paper I am writing on in the excitement of shaping ideas. Our large ginger cat approached the door out of the room (which was almost shut) and endeavoured unsuccessfully to lever the door open with his nose and snout – the gap was not big enough and the friction too strong. For an animal on four feet, the head leads forward in an obvious way and the neck and head have an obvious role as a kind of limb, a mobile part of the body useful for moving and holding things. The four-footed creature’s head flows on from the horizontal orientation of the spine, whereas for us the direction is vertical. The “head” in “the head leads” is really our attention, the light of our attention. It is the free control of our attention which we are preserving and nurturing with the Alexander Technique, I believe, and that free control needs our integrated presence in the freely connected parts of our structure. We cultivate a knowledge of our physical structure so that we keep the interest and attention belonging to our head connected to the rest of us. The head belongs ‘up’, on top of the spine even if we are going forward or are working in the space below our head. So the head leads the rest of us; it leads but does not get disconnected. If it does, we are liable to suffer, both in the quality of our attention and in the way we look after ourselves. We will have cut our own heads off. And the head leads us out into the world, into what interests us. There are two significant features of this process. First, we move from the quiet attention concerned with something known, our structure, into something unpredictable, exciting – the world out there! Secondly, the Alexander Technique is about discipline and patience and slow change, but it depends on an energetic conviction about what we want for ourselves, how we want to be, where we want to be connected to. That’s the essence of “the head leads”. That’s what allows the leading to happen. From peaceful presence to free expression.