The Whole Bodied approach boils down to these three fundamental ideas:
- The body's systems are radically interconnected, and they are endowed by evolution with the natural potential to work with easeful and efficient coordination.
- Over our lifetime, we accumulate postural, movement and cognitive habits that can interfere with this coordination, causing needless suffering and getting in the way of our best selves.
- Through evidence-based practice in the Alexander Technique, we can be empowered to become aware of, take responsibility for and ultimately change those habits, allowing us to return to natural, whole bodied coordination.
The body's systems are radically interconnected, and they are endowed by evolution with the natural potential to work with easeful and efficient coordination
Like every other animal, you are endowed with an incredible, complex and effective body organized by a brain that has been honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. The functioning of each of your body systems directly affects the others, and your amazing brain has the potential to direct each to work together by the most efficient means possible. You can witness this in the coordinated action of wild animals, children at play, and even a house cat organizing a leap to a high shelf. Your brain can easefully conduct a lively symphony of organization toward activity: eyes and head leading the rest of your body, your spine allowed to be long, your muscles toned without excess tension, your breathing flowing without undue force, and your senses fully engaged in the world and the action ahead of you. Just as important, when activity is done, your brain can orchestrate a gentle return to baseline, releasing any stress of activity into rest, recuperating the muscular and cardiovascular systems and allowing the digestive and immune systems to function appropriately. Your brain can coordinate your body as one whole system, performing the appropriate amount of work to any situation -- neither too little, nor too much -- and in accordance with natural design.
Coordination like this is handled by non-conscious areas of the brain: a cheetah is not micromanaging the placement of its feet over uneven terrain, the firing of its powerful muscles, or the placement of its tail that lets it make sharp turns at enormous speed. Like other animals, you have been endowed with specialized parts of the brain that work together to coordinate your body, such as the cerebellum for movement/muscular coordination. The cheetah's consciousness is directed toward the goal of taking down the antelope, maintaining intention without interfering in the function of other parts of her brain. As a human, though, you have a uniquely developed prefrontal cortex that lets us think in ways no other animal can. This affords humanity many gifts, including the ability to engage flexibly in many different activities. Our prefrontal cortex can partially take over control from deeper areas of the brain so that we can learn new things that are not basically pre-programmed, like how to read, throw a ball or perform Shakespeare. And for humans, even basic movement patterns like walking are less preconfigured compared to other animals, a consequence of walking on two feet and one of the reasons it takes human infants so long to move like adults compared to other animals. Humans have tremendous potential as a result, and when our conscious thinking and learning is working in coordination with the rest of our brain and therefore our body, the results are amazing. When we see this coordination in others, such as Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky, we can not help but be moved.
Over our lifetime, we accumulate postural, movement and cognitive habits that can interfere with this coordination, causing needless suffering and getting in the way of our best selves
But our greatest strength as humans -- our brain's plasticity -- also makes us vulnerable, since we can unknowingly override natural coordination with maladaptive learning with our uniquely powerful prefrontal cortex. Habits feel like nothing to us because we are used to them, so they can be difficult to identify or change on our own. The symptoms they bring about can also seem unrelated because of the complexity of our interrelated body systems. This combination means that we are often entirely unaware of the habitual interference plaguing us. This means that we tend to engage in even more conscious interference in an attempt to improve our situation, eventually layering new habits over old ones. Children have generally had fewer opportunities to learn interfering habits, and this is part of why children often (but not always) demonstrate excellent natural coordination, and that as we get older our coordination often (but not always) deteriorates with accompanying problems of pain, disability and disease as we accumulate the habits of a lifetime. This can have complicated, rippling effects through our whole system.
Because the brain is responsible for coordinating the body's systems, habits of mind create physiological realities in how we use and experience our bodies; none of this means that any problems you are facing are "all in your head," just that your nervous system has a role to play. (It also doesn't mean that all problems come from miscoordinating habits, of course.) Habits can be like using the emergency brake in a car then forgetting you've set the brake. There are times that it is necessary to throw the emergency brake, but driving with it engaged will leave you with a vehicle that feels overburdened until components start breaking altogether. Sometimes these habits have stories attached to them, and sometimes they seem to come about from nothing. We can pick up interfering habits in all sorts of ways:
- From explicit instructions about how we are "supposed to be," like the notion that good posture means lifting your chin and your chest or tightening your abdominal muscles
- In response to erroneous information about our bodies, like being told that we are klutzy, ugly or "too" something (short, tall, skinny, curvy, etc.), including from well-intentioned professionals (e.g. misdiagnoses, inaccurate structural descriptions or pessimistic prognoses)
- In response to social conditioning, such as along gender lines, in which women are generally made to try to occupy less physical space while men are expected to take up more, both of which cause physical and mental stress
- In response to physical or mental trauma, like walking differently even after an injury has fully healed or keeping your head down to avoid being noticed
- Completely unconsciously, as in unconscious imitation while learning how to move, or patterns picked up completely by accident
Through evidence-based practice in the Alexander Technique, we can be empowered to become aware of, take responsibility for and ultimately change those habits, allowing us to return to natural, whole bodied coordination
Luckily, our uniquely human flexibility and our evolved prefrontal cortex can be also used to release these habits and restore our natural coordination. Consider the example of the slouch. Most advice would be to straighten up, perhaps along with exercises to strengthen core muscles. This is equivalent to pushing the accelerator harder while leaving the emergency brake engaged. The Whole Bodied approach is to release the emergency brake: to stop the habit and thus stop fighting yourself, rather than layer something more on top of it. In the case of the slump, this means letting the shortened muscles at the front of the slump release to their full, natural length so that the overall coordination of the spine (and the rest of the body) can be restored. The upright posture that results will feel easy and light, instead of hard and tiring following traditional advice. Getting outside of your habits means discovering new possibilities and the freedom to choose. The way that Whole Bodied accomplishes this return to natural coordination is called the Alexander Technique.
The Alexander Technique is a hands-on, evidence-based practice of neuromuscular re-education. The Alexander Technique is a smart way of solving body problems that considers your whole movement pattern, which includes how you think, and with words and gentle touch exposes interfering habits and illuminates new coordinating possibilities. With the Alexander Technique, and unlike many therapies, we do not do things to you. Instead, we do things with you, giving you the helpful tools you need to make and maintain changes yourself. The Alexander Technique is fundamentally about education, and therapeutic benefits are a byproduct of your genuine learning. This includes an expanded awareness of your self and your environment and the means to use your prefrontal cortex to release your interfering habits. You develop a unique intelligence with your body that lets you bring your best self to any challenge. Over a century old, the Alexander Technique is both time-tested and continuously improved. It uniquely combines knowledge of:
- Biomechanics and anatomy, including sophisticated understanding of how our bodies are designed to function holistically, without excess tension, and common ways that people distort this function
- Cognition, especially how we think (or don't think) in motion and activity, with a focus on becoming aware of our habits so that we may change them and learn new ways of acting in the world
- and Education, with tried and tested practical ways of helping people to understand their bodies and how they think through hands-on guidance so that people become self-reliant and "know it in their bones."
The Alexander Technique forms the center of the Whole Bodied approach. We specialize in applying it to your unique context and needs, and when appropriate we include information from the latest mind-body research, other disciplines such as behavioral neuroscience, psychology and anthropology, and tools borrowed from applied improvisational theater. When working with organizations, we combine the Alexander Technique with applied anthropology and business ethnography, an approach that excels at analyzing complex social situations and how people behave within them.
Through the Alexander Technique, you can return to a natural, whole bodied coordination. Find out what it means to be Whole Bodied with a free consultation and first lesson.