In one of his lectures at the 2004 Alexander International Congress, Walter Carrington suggested we could all benefit from frequently asking ourselves these two questions:
1. Where am I?
2. Where am I going?
The first question helps to ground us in present reality, while the second is an invitation to assess the overall pattern of neuromuscular pulls we are imposing upon ourselves.
In recent years I’ve been finding two other questions extremely helpful:
1. Where is my head?
2. Where is my breathing?
You could very roughly say the first question relates to lengthening, or going up, while the second question relates to widening, although of course this is an oversimplification as those two directions always need to cooperate, harmonise, and facilitate each other.
For example, if I’m out walking and getting somewhat lost internally in ruminating thoughts, “where is my head?” wakes me up to noticing my head in relation to my spine and in relation to my feet. Am I dragging my head forward and down, or back and down, or variations and combinations of both? When I’m lost in thoughts that’s usually what’s happening with my head, and then there’s no chance of my spine optimising its potential for lightening up and and giving me a sense of buoyancy (which is an appropriately psychophysical word to describe an experience which is both physical and psychological). Checking where my head is in relation to my feet brings me back to that vital sense of grounding. Am I letting my contact with the ground (or floor) stimulate an automatic upward response rather than me subconsciously creating muscular “false floors” at different levels of my body (maybe knees, hips, lower back, base of neck) to artificially support myself in separate sections.
The same considerations apply in almost any situation. For example when sitting at a computer desk I can ask “where is my head?” in order to notice if perhaps my head is way forward through being drawn into the screen, or way down as I’ve been slowly collapsing because I’ve lost touch with any sense of “up” direction through my spine. Of course when sitting, while the question of my head in relation to my spine remains the same, the question of my head in relation to my feet becomes one of where is my head is in relation to my sitting bones or pelvic base, and it’s the contact with the seat of the chair rather than the contact of the feet on the floor that stimulates the upward response.
I find this works even when lying in bed at night prior to going to sleep. Whatever position I’m in I can ask “where is my head?” Is my head allowing my spine to lighten and lengthen in relation to the support of the mattress under me so I’m not compressing my torso? Which in turn leads easily into the second question.
The question “where is my breathing?” is one I find wonderfully helpful in finding my back. If I notice the movements that take place in my body for inbreath and outbreath are happening mostly in the front, abdomen and/or front of chest, I can be pretty sure I don’t have a widening back! Along with lightening up through my head and spine from the contact of my feet on the ground (or sitting bones on the seat of the chair or whatever part of me is in contact with external support) I need to let the movements of breathing spread right through my back: through the back and sides of my ribs, including the small 11th and 12th pair of floating ribs, and right on through the lower back musculature that connects those lower ribs to the pelvis, through to the pelvic floor, and via the gluteal muscles into the backs and sides of the legs.
Two simple questions that can unlock profound effects in everyday life situations.