Back and Front Lines and outer and inner circles
The idea of the back line can also be extended in ways that are very relevant to Alexander teaching. Many of us AT teachers have sensed both from personal experience and from working on students that there are common lines of connection between different parts of the body, and outside of the AT world these have been charted in some detail in the book Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers and the associated videos. I’m not a fan of the bodywork techniques he recommends in the book, but he’s done a great job of taking much further the exploration of myofascial connections begun by Prof. Raymond Dart.
I have felt that the back line as described in the previous blog post continues not only down the backs of the legs, but also down the outsides of the legs. In parallel fashion it also continues down the outsides of the arms and along the backs of the hands, and down the undersides of the arms through the little finger sides of the hands. Indeed this is also how it’s described by Thomas Myers, who also calls it the back line.
Myers describes two front lines, deep and superficial. The superficial front line spreads from the sternum and continues out along the insides and thumb sides of the arms and along the front and inside of the legs. I find this interesting as, for example, when putting hands on a student a helpful way to direct is to think of the power or energy that lifts the hands towards the student as coming from below, from my contact with the ground stimulating a flow up through the legs, on up the sides of the torso, and on out along the undersides of the arms to the little fingers. And to think of the energy that then brings the hands together to make contact with the student as coming from the widening of the back spreading along the outsides of the arms into the backs of the hands.
Of course in objective, anatomical reality musculature that raises the hands and arms must operate from above them rather than below them, and musculature that brings the hands together must be on the inner side of the arms and front of the chest rather than coming from the back and outer arms. But this is an interesting example of distinguishing objective, subjective, and pedagogical statements. Objective description rightly and proveably tells us the work must be done by muscles above and on the inner aspect of the arms; subjective sensation tells us that when we’re using ourselves well it often “feels as if” the work is coming from the contact with the ground below and from the back and outside of the arms; and as a pedagogic instruction it often works well to ask a student to think, for example, of the widening of the back continuing out along the outsides of the arms to the backs of the hands to bring the hands together (from the back line), while releasing back to the inner elbows from the palms and releasing out and down to the inner elbows from the sternum via the line of pectoral and biceps muscles, thus keeping the superficial front line open.
I was explaining some of this in a teachers workshop one day when one of the teachers who was also a very experienced practitioner of Aikido told me her Japanese Aikido master taught his students that the energy to move an arm should come from the ground up the side of the body and out along the little finger side of the hand. I would guess that in a tradition like Aikido such a pedagogic instruction is probably based on generations of Aikido instructors experiencing that subjective sensation in themselves.
Another way of interpreting “traditional” Alexander directions via back and front lines can also be explained in relation to putting hands on someone. Like many AT teachers trained with first generation teachers I was taught to practice what was called “pulling to the elbows and widening the upper parts of the arms.” I heard a number of different explanations of these terms from different first generation teachers in London, but a common theme was the undoing of chronic overuse of the flexor muscles of the chest (pectorals), the upper arms (particularly biceps), and forearms (muscles activating the fingers and thumb). The Carringtons certainly emphasised this and Marjory Barlow referred to inhibiting tension in the “inner muscles” of the arms. FM of course referenced inhibiting tension in the pectorals and biceps in the chapter “Illustration” in CCCI So as described earlier in this post, a line of directed energy from the widening back round the outsides of the arms and backs of the hands bringing the hands together (which we could call the “outer circle”) counterbalanced by a more complex “inner circle” of directed release out and down from sternum to inner elbows and from palm side of hand back to inner elbows, can be a very good way to set up the antagonistic pulls demonstrated by FM’s Hands on Back of Chair (HoBoC). In turn it helps to explain something Patrick Macdonald said in his Alexander Memorial Lecture in 1960. There he described a continuous line of direction from the widening back out to the elbows and on from the elbows along the forearms to the hands, which could be construed as missing the “pull” back from the hands to the elbows. But if we consider a need for both inner circle and outer circle directions, then we could say he was simply describing the outer circle element.
A further bonus to this way of explicating HoBoC directions is an interesting parallel with Tai Ji and Qi Gong. Both these traditional Chinese practices often employ an exercise commonly referred to as “embracing the tree”. It looks like a shallow vertical monkey stance with the arms up, palms facing towards the costal arch or a bit lower, elbows out and down. I remember from instruction with a Chinese teacher many years ago in London that we were taught to imagine a ball of energy “embraced” by our arms and hands. From the back our arms were extending around this ball to hold it gently but firmly, while the ball exerted a slight outwards pressure against the inner aspects of our arms keeping them apart. I think this fits very well with employing the inner circle and outer circle as described above.
Finally, you can easily discover for yourself how all this relates to the use of your legs and hips, particularly in monkey. Releasing from the widening back on down the backs and outsides of the legs; widening through the pelvic base and on out along the inner thighs; releasing back up to the knees from the ground via the shins and inner calves. In fact, almost as if “embracing the tree” with the legs!