30. The spine is alive

Recently I was watching a boy of about eighteen months whom I know quite well and who is now established on his feet.  He was playing with an older child, still about his size, an unusual situation for him, and I think her confident and competent movement led him to be more adventurous.  As he moved there was a wonderful slightly gyrating interaction between his head, pelvis and feet.  You could describe what was happening as the boy protecting himself from falling.  That is accurate but, I think, does not touch the more basic need or orientation of the child to be vertical, or to remain in relationship to the vertical.  In an obvious, slow-motion way he was using what Tristan Roberts, an expert on balance, calls ‘anticipatory pre-emptive action’.  He is learning to match his movement intentions with changes in the environment, all the time with reference to what Roberts calls ‘the behavioural vertical’, which boils down to being the direction in which I must push against what is supporting me in order to cope with what is happening, and in order to try to fulfil my intentions, without falling over.  So ‘the behavioural vertical’ is a living, intelligent direction, although not usually our conscious concern.  So the static vertical direction we recognise in relation to the ground and gravity is only the basic reference for our experience of uprightness and of the vertical spine.  In his experience of space, the child is intent on moving things in space, picking them up, placing them, handing and receiving things from his playmate.  He is finding himself in earthly space.  But his coming upright, and the interaction with his companion is already taking him into a different realm of behaviour in which you could say that the two young people are starting to live as forms which are not side by side, but creating a shared space in which they each thrive as an individual.  As the two children play they are finding themselves both in this space of life and also in the other space which has more to do with substance and static distance.  The ‘behavioural vertical’ expresses the interplay between inner and outer realities.  This explains, I believe, why, even when the human being, the human spine, is not actually vertical (when we bend, or even lie down), we are able to keep a connection with, an awareness of, this inner uprightness, which is what our certainty of the continuity of the self, as we move through space and time, depends on.  At root the Alexander Technique is about remembering to embody that inner spine of self-awareness.  It begins with play, and perhaps ends with play too.

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