Our thoughts here describes our attitude for the role of anatomy in the Alexander Technique.
Our anatomical attitude
They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face – you still have this to face: sticking to a decision against the habit of life.”
F. M. Alexander
A traditional study of anatomy and physiology can be very misleading for students of the Alexander Technique as it may encourage them to believe that the Technique is about mechanics and therefore only a matter of “right” positions. The focus of the Technique is on our way of reacting. However, anatomy and physiology do provide information about the functioning of the “self” (the self being our instrument of reaction and action.)
At the Alexander Technique Studio we are therefore concerned with functional anatomy and physiology as they relate to perception, interpretation, and movement – these being the prime agents involved in reaction and action.
Traditionally, the study of human anatomy and physiology are too preoccupied with specifics. The study of the function of individual parts and the compartmentalization of anatomy into several disciplines tend towards a fragmented understanding of the living, whole being.
The purpose of our teaching of anatomy and physiology is to show how the psycho-physical organism is connected, and how it works as an integrated whole: i.e. is an indivisible unity.
Our study of anatomy and physiology cover:
1. Functional and evolutionary anatomy: understanding how we are designed. Our potential for reacting is to some exent both shaped and limited by our structure and function.
Alexander’s first two books explain our present predicament from an evolutionary viewpoint, and we find that an evolutionary perspective helps to describe our anatomy and our behaviour.
2. Basic human anatomy as it relates to movement (kinesiology). Here we include the study of the skeleton (osteology), joints (arthrology), and skeletal muscle (musculoskeletal system).
The functions of all major muscles are described, not in order to learn specifics, but in order to learn the principles of movement, e.g. how the structure and form decide the function and capacity of the muscles throughout the body. This includes some biomechanics.
Students are encouraged to identify muscles, joints, and bones on themselves and each other by touch (palpation).
The names of muscles and bones are only introduced where necessary for easy identification. We believe with Gray’s Anatomy that the learning of names is often a hindrance to the the understanding of muscle function.
It must be emphasized that [the] more advanced considerations of the activities of living myonemes, muscles, and the interplay of groups of muscles, coordinated by a most complex hierarchy of central nervous control systems, render much of the customary myological nomenclaure as sometimes redundant, often inaccurate, and frequently frankly misleading.”
Gray’s Anatomy, 36th edition, p. 529.
3. Basic human muscular physiology: the physiology of striated muscles, and some neurology (perception, movement, and some of the vital organs).
Here we cover contraction (how muscles work), the nervous system, breathing, blood circulation, and the six senses (traditional five plus proprioception). The latter include the physiology of balance. The psychological effects of these are touched upon.
The study of the nervous system covers the workings of single neurons (excitation and inhibition) and the principle of neural networks.
We want to emphasize the continuity between different departments of anatomy, between different parts of the body, between anatomy, physiology and psychology, between parts and the whole. We want to show how the whole works to create homeostasis, a balance of body and mind in all activities of living.
Students do not sit any test in these subjects and are not required to memorise anything. The purpose is to
a) provide an introduction so that students can easily study on their own,
b) familiarise the student with present day scientific understanding of the human body and brain, and
c) help us to correct the misconceptions we have about how we function. (Frequent misconceptions involve size, shape, and movement of either parts or the whole of us).
Pathology is not covered; however, common neuro-muscular malfunctions which teachers of the Technique are likely to encounter and which affect a pupil’s ability to learn the Technique will be discussed.
All of the above is taught by teachers of the Technique who have been studying anatomy and physiology from since the course started and before.
Teaching aids used includes: full-size skeleton, two half skeletons, white board, a library of anatomy and physiology books and Alexander Technique books; and we use each other. We call it ‘feely anatomy’!