The Alexander Technique Lie-Down
I just left my Alexander Technique class in the Balance Arts Center. In the last 15 minutes of class, Ann Rodiger, the director and lead teacher, asked us to lie-down. If you are not familiar with the Alexander Technique lie-down, here’s what it is: one is lying down, either on a massage table or on the ground, with knees bent, and both feet on the floor. The head is supported by a book or some other type of head platform, and the elbows are bent with both hands resting somewhere on the torso.
This practice can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. It’s a wonderful way to surrender to the support of the ground, and to find more ease and thoroughness. A lie-down doesn’t mean relaxation, instead it is a practice of retraining the nervous system to find more possibilities. We work on letting go of our daily habits of overdoing, which can cause stress and tension, in order to release interference from our minds and bodies.
Interferences can come in many ways. It can be related to an overthinking mind, living in the past or future, or worries and anxieties. Interferences can also become habits. Here is an example: A teenager doesn’t feel confident at school so he sits with a collapsed spine in class. It happens so many times, he doesn’t even realize it. For him, sitting with a round spine feels normal. This unconscious habit is interfering with the connection through his entire spine. Overtime, interferences often lead to tension, which eventually cause chronic tension and pain.
This is just a small example of how unconscious habits can feel normal in our daily lives. The lie-down is a getaway to find more awareness and therefore freedom to change one’s narrative. Let me briefly guide you through what happened when we were doing a lie-down earlier today:
While we were lying there with our knees bent, facing the ceiling, Ann asked us to notice the space surrounding us. She asked us to sense the eight corners of the room, and to be aware of the many things within our space; such as sounds, objects, light, shadows etc. Since I was lying on the massage table, I noticed the space below the table, and the space above it. I then included the space to my right, left, front, and back. I didn’t narrow my focus to one point above the ceiling, instead I softened my gaze and allowed every stimuli to enter my field of awareness without trying.
When I became aware of my surroundings and myself in relation to my surroundings, it became easier to notice my classmates and other details in the room, as well as the sounds and light coming through the walls and windows. Working on spatial awareness is a big part of this work since spatial awareness affects how people see the world. One aspect of this is what scientists term proprioception, which is a fancy word that refers to a person’s awareness (conscious and unconscious) of space, position, and movement.
A healthy proprioceptive system allows clearer coordination, less pain, increased flexibility, and ease in building strength. Disrupted proprioception interferes with these things. What’s more, spatial perception is also tied to one’s emotional state, ability to process information, and adaptability in the face of challenges. These parts of a person are often seen as being something other than physical, yet the connection with spatial awareness shows that emotions and cognition have a physical basis.
That’s why we spend part of our time honing our spatial awareness. Once our sense of outer space becomes more vivid and alive, our minds become quiet and at ease. The overthinking, trying, and achieving patterns go away and stillness kicks in. We then bring our awareness to the space within our bodies, and find more ways to release tension or interference. In our earlier practice, Ann talked about widening the shoulders and hips, as well as being easy on our major joints. What's interesting about this particular technique is that we are not doing muscular effort to release tension, like when you get a massage, or go to a yoga class.
Instead, we are tapping into our awareness in order to release tension. For example, as I was lying there I sensed my hips holding more tension than necessary, causing extra tension in the entire pelvic area. In turn, the interference in my pelvic area got in the way of the connection between my hips and my legs, as well as my knees, ankles, heels, and feet. This may not sound like a big deal since it’s subtle. Nevertheless, the interference in my hips was causing compensation in other parts of my body, compromising my entire structure.
The extra tension being held in my hips was also causing my ankles to hold more tension than necessary (and vice versa), which in turn cuts down circulation and overall connection in my legs, ankles, and feet. When I became aware of what was happening, and lessened any areas of tension just by tuning in to what was happening, and allowing for changes to take place, a more natural and freer alignment was available.
The idea is to become aware of the tension getting in the way of what we like to call, thoroughness. Thoroughness, in our terms, is related to connection, not just from joint/nerve/muscle “A”and “B”, but also the connection of mind and body as one unit in relation to space. Once we lessen interference from our minds and bodies, our nervous system can do its job of transmitting signals between different parts of the body. The body starts functioning better, which then leads to better coordination, flexibility, and efficiency.
To sum up a popular saying in the Alexander Technique is that when we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself.
One of the major things I’ve also been learning in this work is not to resist the gravity that comes back up from the ground. Once the body is through/free/at ease I’m able to sense the rebound, or the forces of gravity that help me to stay afloat in space. We often think of gravity as a force bringing us down, when in reality it’s an omnidirectional force - it runs in every direction. It’s there to help us stay neutral or balanced in relation to space but it’s subtle and not necessarily easy to notice, unless one is free in their body and mind.
The lie down is an opportunity to pause, check in, and bring yourself back to balance. The position itself helps in the process by giving the body a mechanical advantage. The ground and knees bent serve as support to the back, and the focused attention helps one find tension and deliberately release it. When I practice the Alexander Technique lie-down once a day for 10-15 minutes, it becomes much easier for me to tap into the field of presence with myself and the world around me.
Below are some lie-down recordings I love. Give them some time before deciding whether or not it works for you. What I’ve noticed is that most of us don’t practice awareness to this extent in our daily lives. In order to truly grasp the information in these recordings, repetition is needed. Your mind may wander during the first few times you try this practice, but with a little patience, you too can benefit from it.
Try one of these recordings for about fifteen minutes a day, then let me know if they work for you in any way.