For the second of my Alexander Technique myths, I want you to imagine a lesson where I am working with a student on letting go of the oh-so-tense muscles in the back of their head and neck. Imagine that this is not their first lesson, and that they are comfortable with the idea of unnecessary muscle tension, and the need to stop it in order to move freely. The lesson goes something like this:
Karen: What would happen if you let go of some of these muscles in the back of your neck?
Student: My head would fall off.
You can probably hear some giggling from the rest of the class, because of course everyone knows your head won’t fall off. And usually the student in question knows this too, in the logical part of their brain. It’s daft. But still something pretty powerful is telling them they must not let go – OR ELSE.
So we reason it out a little:-
Karen: It would really, actually fall off?
Student: Ok, It won’t fall off, but it will fall forward until my chin is on my chest.
Now comes the demonstration, where the student shows me their head falling onto their chest. And we have a courteous disagreement about it. You see, what they call ‘falling forward’, I call ‘pulling forward and downwards with great force’.
We chat about the fact that you don’t hold your head up like you would a sack of potatoes. Instead the skull is resting on a powerful tower of building blocks (ie. the vertebrae). These vertebrae are held in place by lots of muscles, so many that each one only needs to work a miniscule amount. I might even mention the strength of the ligaments holding the bones together. Meanwhile, I continue to do hands-on work.
Normally by now the student has let go of a large amount of that pesky tension in the back of their neck.
Karen: How is your neck now?
Student: Less tense.
Karen: Has your head fallen off?
Student (very reluctantly): No.
Myth demolished. Lesson over.
Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net