Margaret Goldie told me that FM sometimes said to people “Choose to be quiet throughout your whole body, with particular attention to your neck and head.”
Sitting quietly in balance with that kind of inhibitory attention while maintaining overall length and width allows you to become aware of the inner flow of thoughts and feelings with meditative detachment – being the field of consciousness within which the thoughts and feelings rise and fall rather than being identified with the thoughts and feelings. This is a key aspect of many forms of meditation and the AT is a great aid to the process.
It’s recognised by meditation instructors that sitting rather than lying down tends to keep your consciousness more alert, and advice is often given about keeping the spine and head erect yet also being relaxed and allowing the breath to flow freely. But of course many people without the benefit of the AT find it hard to follow such advice – how to stay fully upright yet relaxed? AT inhibition and direction gives you a much more precise way to achieve that. Allow the breath to flow freely? I recall my first, pre-AT, attendance at meditation classes simply taught me that I had no idea what that injunction could possibly mean when faced with the ragged irregularity of my own breathing!
Choosing to be quiet throughout the whole body with particular attention to the neck and head let’s you observe the relationship between the inner flow of thoughts and feelings – the mental chatter – and subtle muscular tension patterns particularly in the neck, head, face and breathing. Often mental chatter is associated with slight tightening of the neck, throat, jaw and tongue as if you were talking to yourself (which of course you are!) Sometimes asking the subtle muscular tension patterns here to undo helps quieten the mental processes, and at other times you may find it works the other way round – mentally stepping back (coming back into your back) from being absorbed in the inner turmoil of thoughts and emotions helps the muscular tensions decrease.
AT releasing up from your base of support while letting the back widen to breathe, allowing the ribs to move through your back and sides for outbreath and inbreath, is an integral part of allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without holding on to them. We might say being pulled forward into our thoughts and feelings, or pulled down into them, is a metaphorical way of describing what often happens in meditation, and therefore even more often in daily life. However you will find when practising this AT meditation that the internal, “mental” sense of being pulled forward and down into the turbulent stream of the contents of your consciousness is the inside of a simultaneous physical pulling (or collapsing) forward and down in AT terms. They are the inside and outside of the same phenomenon.
Also part of that phenomenon is often that your breathing is disturbed – probably pushed down into the abdomen, losing lateral thoracic mobility and mirroring being sucked down into the whirlpool of thoughts/emotions. (Does this parallel sinking into the churning personal emotions of the solar plexus chakra and losing connection with the heart chakra?) When you come to consciousness of this having happened, releasing and directing back and up to come to your natural length and width and allow ribs to move for free breathing is, when practised deeply, the postural gesture or attitude that manifests the inner stepping back and re-connecting to the space of consciousness rather than its contents. The seemingly “physical” AT process can only be superficial if it isn’t an “attitude”, inner and outer, in the full sense of that word. And practice of only the superficial version often leads eventually to conflict as outer and inner attitudes diverge.
This “AT meditation” is a very valuable practice to become more and more familiar with your own mental/emotional/muscular patterns as one unified field. Of course this can also be practised in semi-supine, but there is good reason why most meditation disciplines prefer upright sitting. It brings greater challenges for being self- supporting (again a term with resonance at more than simply physical levels), and greater opportunities for self-awareness.