We were working in this class on something FM Alexander called “The Position of Mechanical Advantage.” It’s a good descriptor, but a terrible name. I understood it in my body in a particular way from years of playing tennis, where we just called it “Ready Position.” In this place, knees, hips and ankles are all free and flexed, allowing the body to fold gently at those large joints. From here, you can go anywhere – into athletic movement in any direction, down into a chair, or all the way to the floor in a squat. The first generation of Alexander Technique teachers nicknamed it “Monkey,” because in this place with joints flexed and arms relaxed and hanging, that’s kind of what we look like.
In the ensuing years, I’ve come to understand that the POMA is really involved in all human movement done well and with ease. I had a student once suggest that I paint the phrase “Monkey is everything” around the top of the walls of my studio. (I guess I say that a lot!) It’s unloading the dryer, loading the dishwasher, lifting anything up off the floor, how we sit and how we stand. And back then I didn’t get it at all.
Martha came over to us and put her hands on my hips. (There’s a theme emerging here – look at my day 4 post on Tai Chi.) She said” You’re gripping awfully hard in your glutes. Could you please let that go?” I stood up again, baffled. I had let go. A lot. At least that’s what it felt like to me. Martha assured me kindly that actually, no, I was still gripping quite tightly.
FM Alexander writes frequently in his books of something he labeled “faulty sensory appreciation.” I know you’re thinking, “What the heck is that?” Well, I was in the middle of it at this point in the story. In my bodily experience, on the inside, I was convinced I’d let go. But on the outside, to the teachers, it was clear that I had not. Not only did I need to stop gripping my muscles, I also needed to stop hanging on to my habitual thinking about what felt “right” to me. It was getting in the way of my actually being able to make a change in my body. This is one of the most common experiences people have in studying the Alexander Technique. Your internal “normal” may really not be balanced, comfortable, or easy at all. You’re just so used to being that way that it’s normal to you. Your own kinesthetic sense has become unreliable, and it takes a teacher to help you get past the confusion.
I really wanted to trust Martha and to learn how to squat again, despite my fears around it. So I listened. I thought. I metaphored a dam letting go in my mind. And under Martha’s gentle hands, suddenly my entire backside let go with what I can only describe as a “whoosh.” Fascia with cobwebs attached to it creakily let go, and suddenly, there I was, deep in a squat with exactly zero knee pain.
Our habits often arise to protect us from harm. This is a good thing. But often, they outlive their usefulness. We have to learn to let them go and trust ourselves again. That day, I was able to thank my gripping habit for showing up, and then let it go. It was a long process of vacillating between confusion and clarity until that habit finally disappeared for good. The taste of freedom I had that day made the process more than worth it.
Are you protecting some part of your body from injury?
Do you catch yourself gripping your backside when you’re tense or nervous?
When is the last time you went into a full squat comfortably?