Each day after Joan and Alex give turns, we do work teaching each other in the chair. It is what Joan calls the “procedure for the day.” It always seems to me that Joan chooses to do things that she feels are essential for helping people to lengthen and widen. And of course, being the Alexander Technique, they are not exercises you copy but instead tools to use elements from with a student when you feel that it could help them go up.
Here is a video of Alex taking me through them in the chair at a conference:
Basic Procedures in Chair
And I’ve made a shorter video (thanks to videographer Sally!) of it here that starts with me already looking down:
Broken Down Version
First, let me say a few things that stand out to me in Joan’s approach to having-us-take-people-through-whatever-procedure-she-decides-on-that-day:
One thing Joan emphasizes in this is to keep your hands off and observe. The only places where we put a hand on is basically when we get people out of or into the chair. I can see/feel why Joan insists on this, especially for the developmental movement that is transposed onto the chair. I often feel that when people put hands on while I’m looking up/down or going into the spiral, they often just interfere with motion that already is built into my system and wants to happen. Also, when people have their hands on and think they are great at fixing the student all the time, they (and I) often lose sight of just observing the student’s habits and making a useful decision about what might be help them find length/width.
Also the Procedures are very “not static.” Joan changes them in small ways everyday depending on what has happened that day, and if something comes up for someone during it or someone forgets what to do next, they can always experiment and see what happens. It’s just a chance for us to move people around and keep our own use. The Murrays also don’t make a big deal about students teaching other people or having hands on from the beginning of their training. In Joan’s training, she had to wait until her 2nd or 3rd year to put a hand on and finds that it made a bigger deal out of it than was needed and made people nervous to do it.
Looking down at the top of the sternum:
Joan often recommends tapping a person at the top of their sternum for this because people often won’t do as you describe.
She says that looking at the top of the sternum gets the primary curve going all the way from the top of the spine where the head meets it, which in turn makes the hips go back. Sometimes we also say here, “Look down at the top of the sternum to let the hips go back and the weight of the head roll forward.” Obviously, as you can see from where I end up at the start of the next video, the intention inward takes people into a fetal/primary curve. It’s also interesting that the movement of the head forward here makes your want to rotate towards supination (another example of the head’s affect on the whole).
With your eyes closed, search for a hand:
Joan finds that everyone almost reflexively closes their eyes in the fetal curve. If you have your hands on the back of a person’s neck/head while in fetal and you have them open and close their eyes, typically you will feel the secondary and primary curves engage respectively. Here, Joan felt that even searching for a hand engages the spiral, and I think it might be while we’re still in primary (not engaging the secondary curve in the spiral). Anyone with an idea about that, please let me know. I think that Joan is always looking for what fundamentals we need for movement because of Dart’s quote, “You can only forward as far as you can look back” and because of the importance of the trigeminal nerve (connects tactile sensation on our face to motor functions of sucking/biting/chewing) when we are firstborn to help us breastfeed. Here’s a video of me doing it and a picture of a baby finding their thumb in the womb:
Roll back leading with the hips/tail until your back touches the chair (bring hands with you); Then think hips back as you roll forward:
Often in this people will want to push back with their shoulders, and Joan will put the crook of her hand between thumb and index finger right around their underarms so that they go back with their hips first instead of shoulders (if this is confusing, let me know and I’ll take a picture/video of it). Also, almost everyone is really good at letting their hips go back before rolling forward if they take the time to give it thought. It seems like an act of antagonistic action. Here’s a video of me going backwards and forwards in fetal:
Looking up to spiral to both sides:
In this, we first have people look up, which Joan relates to getting past the mother’s pelvis when you come out of the womb (the first large spiral of your life! Every baby turns as they come out of the canal head first). Again Joan connects it to Dart’s quote about looking back. Then as the student turn their head to one side, we ask them to slide the hand of that side along their thigh (for tactile feedback) to their tail leading with the elbow. The back of the hand ends up touching the sacrum/tail/chair in this way that beautifully spirals the arm in pronation as you look back. It helps people go into the full spiral, and I also find that it helps me to let me front arm rest on the thigh on the side to which I’m turning (sounds complicated but watch video!). Then we let people unwind. These might seem like unnecessary steps, but it’s basically just a process to get people lengthening and widening easily through a spiral. It works best when you use the intention/direction of your eyes to look up and then to the side and back to get you to sitting. Here’s the video:
Looking up to spiral and then looking up and around again to find the double spiral (double helix of our DNA too – Alleluia!):
The first part of this is exactly the same as the spiral I talked about above, but after the person is fully in the spiral, you have them look up and around to the other side like there is a flock of birds overhead while their shoulders stay in the previous spiral. This is the amazing flexibility that you have at your top two vertebrae (sometimes the teacher will give a little feedback against the shoulders to let the person know if they are keeping them still in the opposite spiral or unwinding them with the head). Then Joan has us “think up” to look down at the front shoulder, and she says that this is so that the person does not bring the head off the spine in an awkward way (it happens all the time if not given thought in this!). Then the person unwinds. Here’s a video:
When a person is fully wound with the head opposing their shoulders, they are in the position that a dancer is in when they use “spotting” while turning and are about to let their body unwind as the head stays looking at their chosen destination. Or what happens when we look forward but our arms/legs swing underneath us.
Last, but not least, we look up in secondary:
This shows just plain secondary but it is what Joan finds to be the easiest way to get someone out of the chair. There are two videos below: one shows me looking up and staying in the chair and the other shows Sally getting me out of the chair. As you can see, in both my head resets in primary.
When Sally gets me out of the chair, she thinks of moving herself forward to bring my head over my feet (which is one of the keys to getting someone out of the chair). She also puts her hand right at the back of the skull behind the ears where the head meets the sternocleidomastoid muscle. This is a place where people have to learn to “not do” and just have a hand that is rested on the back of the head. Sometimes Joan will have the person extend their hand like a star in secondary and release it on the head, which can get rid of any gripping. It is also a place (like any other where we put a hand on) where the direction of the teacher is very obvious to the student, and they will feel it immediately if you are collapsed onto them or rigidly pulling up from them instead of having your own balance/poise.
Here are the two videos: