Last time I talked about legs, how they move backwards, as well as forwards, and what this has to do with the Alexander Technique.
If you look at these pictures of a man walking, you can see what I mean. The blue line shows roughly the centre of the body. At the start of each stride, the back leg is ‘back’, ie. behind the centre of the body, indeed behind the whole torso, by quite a long way.
I also promised, last time, that I would talk about the surprising muscle that makes this backwards movement happen. It’s surprising because not many people realise that this area of the body is, primarily, a muscle.
It’s your bottom.
Most people think of this area in terms of appearance, size, fitting into jeans, etc. Obviously, the amount of fat that rushes to the area if you even look at a bar of chocolate confuses the issue. People think ‘fat’. They don’t realise that underneath is a huge, chunky muscle.
Don’t believe me? Ok, clench your buttocks. That’s muscle. Fat cannot clench.
The technical name for this muscle is the gluteus(*), and the reason it needs to be so chunky is because it does such a big job. Think of walking upstairs. You bend your leg, put your foot on the step, and then what happens? You straighten your leg. And in the process of straightening your leg, you lift your entire bodyweight the height of the step. Big job. Needs a big muscle(**).
The gluteus also does the job of pulling your leg behind you when you are walking or running. It’s really the same task, taken slightly further.
From an Alexander point of view this is important because once the gluteus has turned on (or contracted) and done its job, it then needs to TURN OFF AGAIN. Problems happen when people go round with their gluteus muscle over-tensed ALL THE TIME.
Remember the pendulum from last time? My lovely teaching colleagues joined in a great discussion with loads of ideas of how they describe the process. You can think of a child’s swing, and how it drops from the high point at each end of the arc (Ariel); or you can think of cycling and returning your foot from the bottom of the pedal turn to the top again (Franis). You can even try these things out for yourself.
It’s all about a free, easy, continual motion, forward and backwards, forwards and backwards. Which means you need to let the individual muscles – all of them – do their job in turn. They will manage it quite happily, if you allow them to. Bruce Fertman talks about the ‘rapport’ between the different parts of the legs. (***)
Are you letting your legs work with rapport?
(*) actually, there are 3 of them, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. I’m mainly talking here about the gluteus maximus.
(**) the hamstrings also help with this action, but to a lesser extent.
(***) It’s a wonderful article covering the whole body walking, I recommend it. http://peacefulbodyschool.com/writings/essays/sauntering/