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Thinking in Activity -How Space Shapes Attention

Report on Glenna Batson's AT Friends event

by Dorothea Magonet


A large group of Friends gathered at 8 Hop Gardens to attend Glenna Batson’s workshop on 20 April 2010


Glenna’s extended title was the following:

‘In the Alexander Technique "Thinking in Activity" is a process whereby we link our inner focus of self to the larger sphere of action outside of ourselves. Drawing from recent research on the effects of focus of attention on skill learning, we’ll explore the bridge between self-focus and immersion with the environmental context for a deeper sense of engagement with body, space, and action.’

We began by thinking of focus and attention and spatial awareness. We explored the idea that furniture is already part of the schema of ourselves.  The chair we sit on, which inhabits its own space yet grounds us, or the mobile phone -how we incorporating the thing in which we are immersed. Attention is the process by which we bring a stimulus into our consciousness -attention leads to tension, to muscle tone. Through our spatial awareness we merge attention with perception, and through perception we take in key relationships, so that they makes sense as a whole


Experimenting with movement helped to clarify the concepts.  Simply walking: paying attention to different things, for example just the colour red in the room, or to our feet, or head, or the space above us, or a particular object in the room, as we are walking through the space. All these determined and altered our figure (the shape and space we inhabited), our ground (the experience of our weight) and our speed.  


Walking side by side with a partner, then stopping and changing to other side highlighted our use and movement pattern, where our comfort zones are and what happens when we change? We experienced a range of different sensations: closeness or distance, being free or bound, feeling warm or cold. These kinaesthetic experiences are emotional experiences, and they are a strong spatial experience, that is: person -space -me; person -chair -me, and activity has a generative motion in it. 


Focus and Attention


We examined different styles of attention and how they interact with our spatial awareness and movement.

Glenna introduced us to the model used by Fehmi in his book The Open Focused Brain. See model below: 


He describes essential four characteristics of focus or attention, from the narrow focus to diffused attention and from the totally immersed absorption (again the mobile phone comes to mind) to the objective view. Within these two diagonals many dynamic qualities of attention are possible. It seems that nowadays in our world the combination of a narrow and immersed focus is rewarded, at the cost of developing a bigger picture, or wider perspective and maybe a more objective view.  We can train our attention -how we use our eyes -to what degree am I immersed or objective? Exploring ourselves and others and how focus can be hooked up.



mind on object 

mobile phone     (rewarded!)


 total  absorption 

Reading a map -pin-point focus to understand

Toddler's interest in object;

AT lessons



 less investment 




In games we played with these different types of attention. Partners walk towards each other with different foci. For example: narrow -"I have only eyes for you"; or with a more objective and diffuse attention. What do we learn from this? Just notice what happens to our sense of space surrounding us; where do we start ourselves; in what way can we incorporate external and internal sense of space; what are the emotional undercurrents of the different ways of attentiveness? What is our investment?


How do these explorations relate to our Alexander work?  In this last part of the evening Glenna invited us to use what we had discovered in our Alexander work. Here are some comments of our discoveries:


Pinpoint narrows focus, what is the difference to this moment when we inhibit in order to notice? We struggle with proprioception -with sensing, and the power of touch can cause problems, too. Attention to body based queues makes us function worse[1]. Proximity with someone or something is of importance and needs to be considered in a lesson. It is a living space between people or people and objects.


The primary control is a strong magnetic attraction to spatial awareness

Space is part of the lesson -can we explore the Self within our space and the relationship in space and dynamic? The space within myself and the space surrounding me in relation to the pupil’s space are important. It is the interrelationship or relational space, which enables mutual dynamic movement. The space around the pupil’s chair can help when it is incorporated -the relationship with chair is figure and ground. We can think of negative space and move in dynamic connection to space -it is action itself -it relieves effort.


The space becomes rich; it becomes like the space between notes, which points to intervals.  Space and time is a key relationship in relation to the whole.


A person is integral with space, movement and action. The sphere of everyday action is not a static fixture. It’s not all me.


People are engaged, they are an integral part of the space, which is supporting them. We can take in more than the person inhabits -we become more objective and this becomes a mind-expanding experience.


I would like to close with thoughts by Merleau-Ponty, who writes in Phenomenology of Perception: ‘We inhabit space and time.’ ‘We belong to space and time, my body combines with them and includes them.’(162) ‘[The] body is essentially an expressive space.’ (169). We certainly had a wonderful and rich experience of ourselves in space and time.


What a thoroughly enjoyable evening! Thank you Glenna.


[1] Attention and Motor Learning by Gabriele Wulf


 © Dorothea Magonet 2010



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