Dart for Visitors Starting With Fetal

As I’ve mentioned before, there are almost always visitors on the course – from all over America and beyond.  In the spring we had two visitors, Camillo and Rosa, who have visited several times before, and they asked Joan if she would show some of the Dart Procedures. In a couple of posts, I will go through each part and what I got from them in class.  Again, it was too much for just one post!  If you want to see all of them now, Luc and Becky made a wonderful video for people who want to see the Dart Procedures in their entirety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnYUvIRZe_

I should also mention that in my 3.5 years at the Murrays’ course, this is the first time where everyday for a week we’ve gone through the Dart Procedures.  And I can only remember less than a handful of times that we’ve done parts of the Dart work in place of chair work.  All to say that Joan never makes a big deal out of developmental movement or anything else but integrates it into her understanding and thus into her work with students at the chair and table.

Joan and Alex talk about this being the part that Dart didn’t write about (in The Postural Aspects of Malocclusion), but what he said when they met him and showed him how they had worked out the procedures was the most important part.   What I will show here is the original version on the floor of what we do in the chair in the daily procedures when we look down, let the hips go back and let the head roll forward.  Joan talks about it being where we get length.

An interesting aspect for me as a dancer is that the feet automatically want to sickle when babies (and adults sometimes, as I do in the video!) are in fetal, which in dance so often people narrowly think of as something you should not do.  That’s what I love about the developmental movement – it shows you that there is a place for every type of movement we have the capacity to do – looking up, allowing the hips to go forward, curving the spine forward, etc.  The only problem is when people get stuck using only one pattern (i.e. sickling their feet when they’re trying to walk, etc.).  The best part is that you can feel that it feels “right,” as if you’ve done it before.

It always seems to me (and I probably learned this from Luc Vanier!) that fetal is the position where everything is allowed to bend.  In harp, it is when my fingers fall and bend into the palm after plucking the string, and in dance when I plié, for example.  Again, the issue becomes when we don’t allow for things to change in relation to what we’re doing – when someone pliés or goes into fetal, but doesn’t allow the back to fully go back or when someone plucks the string and keeps the engagement needed for the pluck even after it’s over.

Here are some beautiful pictures of fetal, in a baby and from a yoga anatomy book:

It is interesting to note that newborns often have their hands near their face, which seems to be something people often do when they want comfort in rest.  Joan uses this in the daily procedures (which I hope to post about soon) sometimes, and it gives tactile feedback.  Here are a few photos of my nephew and niece as newborns with his hands near their faces:


I also had a fellow trainee take some video of me going into fetal.  The curve goes all the way from the head to the tail, which is why when going into fetal in the chair, Joan says to “think of the hips going back.”  As you can see, it’s probably the most protective place we can be where we’re the smallest ball we can be, ankles and arms crossed.  Also, in this position, it always seems to be that the thighs automatically spiral out and the knees go “forward and away” when the feet sickle and the legs make room for the head/shoulders.  I hesitate to make/post videos because I don’t want people to think that there’s some ideal way, but showing is so much clearer than explaining in words.  Everyone moves through developmental movement slightly differently; they are there to explore fundamental coordinated movement and give length/width rather than to “get right.” Yada, yada, yada… If you’ve never encountered the Procedures, they might seem odd.  That, in addition to the older age of some students, is why Joan takes people into them in the chair.  And yes, my hair is super long right now. 🙂

There are also videos advertised as magic ways to calm a baby crying that are basically putting a baby into fetal:

Joan has a story about a violist who was stuck in a permanent slump, and instead of trying to pull him up out of it, she took him further into fetal, and then when he looked up, he came out of the permanent primary a little bit more because she had allowed him to go into the fetal curve in a coordinated way, from head to tail.  Different from the “fixing it” approach by trying to pull someone up, as sometimes happens!

That’s it for fetal!


More from the Institutes

Here’s another sheet from the “Institutes” that shows different stages of development with a couple of notes from Alex:Institutes sheet-p1

He was interested recently in something that Luria (a student of Nicolai Bernstein) wrote about inhibition starting to be present in children around 3.8 years of age.  A student on the course, Yvonne (who helped me tell the following story), brought her Alexander-Technique-teacher sister, Juanita, to the Murrays’ for a week, and Juanita told a story about her niece and inhibition:

Juanita was on a business phone call when her granddaughter, Jada (3 years old), came in very excited and wanted to tell her something.  Juanita told Jada that she was on the phone and asked her if she could wait for a few minutes until she was done with her call.  Jada is really a well-behaved little girl, and she nodded, yes, she would wait, with her big, bright eyes just bursting to tell her the news.  She sat there quietly for just a matter of seconds.  As soon as Juanita turned back towards the phone, Jada would start to tell her story again.  This was repeated several times, and Juanita realized that she didn’t have the ability to inhibit for more than a few seconds.  A good example of how inhibition is developed over time in humans!

On old Olympus towering tops, A Finn and German viewed all hops!

In my post about Joan’s look at the latissimus in relation to length and width, I mentioned Dart’s spirals and nerve/reflex patterns.  I kind of made up the term nerve/reflex pattern to describe a view of anatomy that Alex is a proponent of and that, I think, he got interested in from Dart.  What I mean with those words is the collection of cranial and spinal nerves and what they innervate the muscles to do.  By adding the nervous system to learning about the muscles, it becomes obvious that everything works as a whole in relationship and that it’s useless to work on coordination by engaging isolated muscles.

In writing this post, I looked back from my email and found so much information from Alex on it, I can’t decide which to post.  I’ll start with the facts about the nerves and some diagrams of them.  First, The title of this post is a poem Alex uses to remember the cranial nerves. 🙂

A diagram of cranial and spinal nerves (most of these are also available on Anna’s site (www.atanatomy.weebly.com):

Scan 24Scan 27

Here is another diagram of the cranial nerves:


Alex even went so far one time to make a t-shirt with a map of the dermatomes 🙂

T Shirt - Dermatomes

I’ll write more soon about how Alex relates the cranial and spinal nerves to what he knows about a child’s development.

The Vitality of Alex

I started to write a post yesterday to explain what I meant in the latissimus by nerve/reflex patterns (and I will eventually post it!).  In writing it, though, I started to veer towards the territory of Alex enthusiasms, and I couldn’t figure out how to fit everything, even though it was one topic, into a post.  It felt like a good example of Alex’s energy – boundless when it comes to the Alexander Technique and topics in which he’s interested.

Anyone who has met the Murrays is always impressed by their living example of how fulfilled people can be when working on something that is fascinating and their life’s work (and how “joint-surgery-free” people can be even in their late 80s when they give attention to their use for much of their life).  Much of the inspiration for this blog comes from Alex’s constant veering into various trajectories related to the Technique, and you will see that as I post some of his past and recent interests in the next couple of days/weeks.

Occasionally he and Joan talk about how they first encountered Dart and his ideas.  It was Alex’s questioning of Frank Pierce Jones’s (whose writings and ideas he adores) idea of a specific balance point in the head and how that could be possible if the jaw moves, that led Walter Carrington to ask him if he was reading Dart.  He went on then to read some of Dart’s writings related to the Technique, and he and Joan then met him in London when Dart was passing through and Walter Carrington was out of town.  They tell the story with a little bit of humor about how Dart was disappointed that he was seeing them instead of Walter.  Then they met him again and showed him what they had taken from his writing on developmental movement, and the rest is history!

So much to tell!  Now I’ve veered off too.  I’ll leave you with two videos of Alex that I hadn’t watched in a long time until drafting my original post last night. They are of Alex and me at a conference where he spoke about Dart’s work and how Joan has developed it at the chair.  It perfectly displays his darting mind, love of keeping things light and humorous, and enthusiasm for what he does.  Hope you enjoy!  (And by the way, I was perfectly comfortable in fetal/primary in the chair, although it looks like a long time!)

Primary/Secondary; Length/Width

Joan occasionally talks about the primary curve giving length and the secondary curve giving the width (will write soon explaining these curves for those that haven’t heard of them).  Becky Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier also talk about it in their book, Dance and the Alexander Technique.  It is one of those concepts/ideas that I have heard many times but never truly saw/experienced consciously until recently.  That is the difficult part of learning any skill or working in the Alexander Technique: you can know things intellectually but it takes awhile to see and understand certain things.  And most new understanding in the Alexander Technique comes through experience not traditional classroom learning.

Anyway, I can’t remember what got Joan talking about this recently, but in relation to the length of the back and width of the shoulders, she described the latissimus and a realization she had when seeing the muscle in an anatomy book put out by the British Air Force.  I’ve posted it below.  I think she saw the large muscle traverse the back – with its origin at the sacrum, lumbar spine, and maybe most importantly, at the lower ribs where the diaphragm originates, and then where it inserts at Alexander’s “upper part of the arm” with its spiral and antagonistic action with the pectoral muscles – and she could see how length and width work together.  To me, it sometimes feels like there is direction to the upper part of my arm that is spiraling outward when I’m upright or on the table, and when I look up it widens the shoulders in this outward direction.


On the other hand, the Murrays are not very much body-mapping people, and I think it’s because we all know physiologists, gym teachers, dancers (or anyone who talks about the body for that matter) speak eloquently about anatomy but still have bad use.  As someone who has been in the modern dance, somatic-influenced world since I was about 15 years old, I relate to this suspicion that intellectual anatomy knowledge won’t automatically lead to better coordination.  It is helpful when seen in relation to direction, the whole self, and patterns – as in Dart’s spirals or nerve/reflex patterns – but knowledge of individual muscles probably won’t make someone a better mover or musician.

Wisdom of an Assistant

Three times per year the Murrays take a break, and on some of these breaks we all decide to get together informally with Sally Mcmahan, the Murrays’ right hand woman.  Sally is a total devotee of the work of Alexander and the Murrays and has such great skill/use, which always seems to me like the truth serum of the Alexander Technique.  When we met over a break this year, she started to talk about how it seems like Alexander’s directions were formed out of his own habits.  I’ll explain:

Alexander found that he pulled his head back and down when he thought of speaking, so he found that thinking “forward and up” helped him inhibit and direct.  He also found that taking his head off balance made him narrow his back and lock his knees; thus he thought “back back” and “knees forward and away.”  On the Murrays’ course we tend not to obsess about saying these directions over and over because the thought is that then they just become a mantra that might not be connected to the experience of going up and, if taken as something concrete to think, they can lead to stiffening and trying really hard to be right.  Instead Joan and Alex value giving us the experience of being directed and going up so that it is always based in skill not words.

I think Sally’s observation about the directions makes so clear the connection between inhibition and direction and gives an insight into what Alexander was responding to as he formed his Technique.  In her typical way, she made something that can seem elusive very clear.

About this blog

My name is Claire Happel, and I am a musician and dancer who just finished my three-year training with the Alex and Joan Murray in Urbana, Illinois.  I was first introduced to the Alexander Technique through many of the Murrays’ students – Becky Nettl-Fiol, Luc Vanier, Andrew McCann, Cindy Pipkin-Doyle, Lauren Hill – who taught or helped with classes at the University of Illinois.  In the ten years between my undergraduate years and starting the training course, I longed for information about their work because it so fascinatingly applied to what I did in music and dance.  As a student on the course and now humble, semi-symbolic assistant, I see the many visitors who come from across the country and world to work with them.  It has always seemed to me that documenting the work we do on the course and the topics Joan and Alex are interested in at the moment might be of interest to people not able to come to Urbana.  Hope you enjoy it!

Disclaimer: Please don’t judge based on writing style.  I want to get the information out but can’t spend hours of my day on it, so posts will be in a raw-ish format.

Temple Fay and the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential

The Murrays are always reading and working on some aspect of the Alexander Technique and its affiliated figures.  They are most well-known for their work with comparative neuroanatomist Raymond Dart, and years ago, he worked at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.  “The Institutes,” as the Murrays call it, put into practice the ideas of neurophysiologist Temple Fay, and lately Joan and Alex have been trying to find more information on him.

A short chapter pasted below is from Alex’s website, made by Anna Legrand – http://www.atanatomy.weebly.com.  In the chapter, Fay describes the many steps and abilities required to get to walking.

Temple Fay

The aspect of Fay’s work that Joan has been interested in lately is a position he used to help stroke patients unable to open their clasped hand.  It is the position of my right hand in the picture below (taken by Luc Vanier) – behind the back and looking away from the direction it is going.  The spiraled position I’m in is part of a sequence (more on this later!) we often do to try Alexander work on each other.  It involves parts of the “Dart Procedures” that Joan and Alex developed from his article, “The Postural Aspects of Malocclusion,” and their work with him at the Institutes.  There is tactile feedback at work when the hand is touching the back, with the whole self benefitting from that feedback.

Spiraled with back of hand on sacrum

As I post more things related to what we do on the course, you will see how integrated the “Dart Procedures” are to Alex and Joan’s work and how they use aspects of them to take people “up.”  The “Procedures” also give a clearer understanding of what the whole self is doing in all movements and what developmental patterns underlie those movements.

Last week, Margie Marrs found a book on Temple Fay, but if anyone else has information on him, everyone on the course would be glad to hear about it!

Addendum: Since writing this, Alex gave me a quote from Dart’s “An Anatomist’s Tribute to F.M. Alexander” in 1970 about Temple Fay: “Some clinicians, too, more especially in the neurological field, found evolutionary concepts inescapable. Amongst those in America, Temple Fay, Neurosurgeon at Temple University in Philadelphia, was outstanding. To him, in particular, the involuntary movements during seizures or epileptic fits were simply exhibiting ancestral and beneficial movement patterns reminiscent of piscine, amphibian or reptilian antiquity. He encouraged his physiotherapeutic and psychological conferences to learn form and utilize these and other basic sensory information and reflex symptoms, the procedures by whose employment one might prevent or even bodily eliminate such lacks in bodily control.”