Where is Your Focus?
Last week during the floor class we indulged in a long, tangential discussion that is now changing the way we all work during the class. We begin each floor class by establishing a free neck, tongue, jaw, eyes, a lengthened back, and free breathing while lying on our backs. Knees are up with feet flat on the floor, as in a traditional Alexander Technique “lie down.” Our detour came at the beginning of class with one of the first movements of bringing a knee up to the chest. A student’s question led to a wonderful, revealing discussion.
The question was, “what am I supposed think about, what part of the body should I focus on, while I move my knee?”
It became clear that focusing only on the knee coming up to the chest disturbed the rest of the student’s body and disrupted his head-neck freedom along with the length and width of his back that had just been established. His neck tightened, breathing stopped, lower back arched, and his leg was heavy.
When his focus stayed mainly on freeing his head and neck along with maintaining the length and width of his back, his knee came up much more easily. The knee came up in relation to the active direction and alignment of the back and torso and was not the primary focus of movement even though it was the part moving through space. It took practice for him to move his knee while continuing to give attention to the parts of his body that “weren’t moving.” Likewise, it took practice to keep the active direction in the whole body and not do the opposite of what he was doing by pushing his lower back into the floor, which would also lead to tightening his neck and holding his breath.
As the focus of the movement became clearer, the movement became easier, and there was no sudden moment of “umph” or muscle contraction when the movement started. The movement of the knee and leg came from the ongoing flow of energy moving throughout the whole body.
This tangent revealed something we often do while moving:
We become enticed by the body part that is moving through space, and we lose track of what is happening to the rest of our bodies. This happens often and in many situations.
This “tangent” actually came at the perfect moment, because as we talked, the reason we start class on our backs and why we establish the head, neck, and back relationship (Alexander’s Primary Control) before we do anything else became clearer and clearer. And it was clear why we do seemingly simple movements at first: We do them so we can learn how to maintain the Primary Control while moving.
The discussion turned to how easy it can be to focus only on the moving part and how that can throw us off balance in almost any situation, causing us to lose the support for the entire movement. This applies to dancers moving their legs, squash and golf players swinging the racket or club, as well as to simple movements like bringing a fork or spoon to one’s mouth.
Try it yourself while you climb the stairs: When you lift your leg up for the next step, keep your neck free, torso long and wide, and let the leg move in relation to the rest of your of your body. Allow the leg to come up to the next step while you keep your main focus on keeping your head over your supporting foot. This will keep you supported while transferring your weight up on to the higher level.
Play with how you use your attention. You have many choices. Notice which choices make the movement easier and effortless.