Regarding training procedures for hands on work, I was of course around the Carringtons as one of their everyday assistants for many years and so observed the development of their training procedures. When I began directing a training course myself I used many, though not all, of their practices. As many training directors from a Carrington background have done, I gradually modified things based on what seemed to work well and what didn’t seem to work so well. Later on, I also observed that when I spent any time back in London and had Carrington trained teachers in workshops with me, it often seemed they had misunderstood the nature of training procedures and had gone on using them without considering the possibility that they could evolve into more effective methods of using your hands. I’ve described this as analogous to starting with training wheels on a bicycle and never actually removing them.
I think it needs to be clear that the training procedures used in hands on practice in a training course are there to discipline you into maintaining a primary focus on your own use, but they should also give you a starting point for what you’re going to be doing with your hands when you begin real teaching. If we’re going to certify people as ready to teach, it’s not really responsible these days to send them out into the world with no tools in their toolbox! 🙂 So I gradually developed some hands on training procedures that I believed would help graduates move more easily to using their hands in the flexible, adaptable way that you would see if you watched, say, Walter or Dilys Carrington working. One of these is the way of beginning to put hands on the head on the table that I give here as an example.
I used to teach in training courses exactly what the Carringtons taught us as a training procedure during my time with them, but I also learned a great deal by being around them for a further eleven years of daily assisting, and then another ten years of further contact. They taught us to place the backs of the hands flat on either side of the books, to use the support of the books to help undo the arms, then rotate the hands inward to make contact with the sides of the head, but it was very difficult to position the hands like this without squeezing in the upper arms and shoulders, which you then had to undo after rotating the hands.
Watching over and over again what Walter and Dilys themselves were doing when taking a head on the table was very educational. Walter in particular had a seemingly quite natural way of slipping his hands in at either side of your head and neck and establishing an elastic contact that allowed him then to coax your entire body to open up. So eventually, after quite a few years of directing trainings, I figured out a different training procedure to the one I’d been taught, one that I believe combines the disciplined attention to the trainee’s own use that is essential with a more straightforward pathway to gradually developing the full potential of taking the head on the table as the trainee matures and grows into real practical teaching.
Here’s an attempt to describe how I would teach it now.
1. At the beginner’s stage have the trainee go into monkey and place backs of hands at a natural angle on table either side of the books. Move forward slightly on ankle joints to put a small amount of pressure on backs of hands to give four footed effect. Use this to direct head, neck and torso back and up from wrists and ankles which should tone and widen the back. Move back to have all weight on feet so hands are free to move while aiming to keep the back and up direction (opposed by knees forward and away from each other) which benefits the back. This preliminary practice can be left behind as the trainees get more experienced.
2. Bring hands to either side of head and neck and slip them in at a natural angle so that they form a hammock or sling under the neck but with the little fingers up against the base of the occiput while the other fingers may be partly overlapped under the neck. Depending on relative size and shape some of the little finger and/little finger edge of the hand will also be in some contact with the sides of the head behind the ears but do not cover the ears and do not bring wrists together.
3. Now while keeping the hands in this orientation allow them to drop slightly so that some part of the back of the hand/fingers rests on the books. Use the small amount of support of the books to help practice undoing throughout the shoulders and arms (and neck and back etc.) without letting the shoulders drop forward.
4. Practice very slowly moving the hands that small amount back up into contact with head and neck as they were before but with minimal or no tightening of arms, wrists and shoulders – self-powered hands as in hands on back of chair. This should result in a soft, elastic, open kind of contact with the subject’s neck and head but not attempting to lift the neck or head, just to make that helpful kind of contact. As the trainee gets more experienced he/she can play with being four footed, not by shifting weight but just being aware that the contact of the front “feet”, i.e. the hands, relates or resonates via the back to the feet on the ground. In this way the direction through the whole of the trainee’s body will influence the subject’s nervous system and therefore the subject’s direction. Keep constantly consciously releasing to “give” the trainee’s hands to the subject’s neck and head and the trainee’s feet to the floor, all the while trainee directs his/her head, neck and back back and up from ankles and wrists.Don’t try to maintain too long as this requires an ability for subtle, conscious self-monitoring that takes a long time to develop and initially will fade in and out.
5. Sometime during the third year of training trainees can experiment with a very slow and gentle “invitational” pull on the subject’s occipital base. This is a very subtle process but can be conveyed by having trainees build up to it by practising a similar “hint” or “invitation” kind of pull on a subject’s arm in the chair or on the table or a leg on the table. It is like checking if there’s any slack to take up in the fabric of the subject’s back, or gently whispering “Would you like to come this way a little more?” Trainee has to really stay back and up from ankles and wrists while doing this so there’s no sign of trainee’s body being pulled forward at all towards the subject. This combination of staying back and up without rigidifying the joints, while inviting the subject’s head, neck and back towards (into) the trainee’s upper back can have a lengthening, widening, opening and stimulating effect right through the subject’s torso, down to the hips/pelvic base, and even on into the legs and feet in some cases. You can often see it in the subject’s breathing changing but this should be manifest in the whole torso, including the back and sides, not a lifting and spreading of the ribs in the front, which is to be inhibited and avoided.
The increased contact of trainee’s hands on subject’s neck and head should not cause the hands to harden. If that happens the stiffness of the hands has the effect of them simply pulling the surface of the subject rather than connecting to the inner depth of the subject. The hands staying open and elastic can give rise to the curious sensation that the hands are not so much “doing” something, but being powered from the trainee’s back line from the floor via the back and via the underside and outside of the arms. Hands and feet always relating via the back.
It is essential in part 5 that the trainee be able to be aware both of himself/herself and of the subject’s responses. You must not go faster than the subject can release to go with you. Issue the invitation gently, politely, and wait for your subject to come with you. But with experience this becomes a dance in which the teacher can lead and coax the student to come along “wholeheartedly”