Understanding The Technique
Dr Theodore Dimon
28 & 29 September 2013,
London (organised by HITE)
Reviewer: Tanya Shoop, AT teacher, Brixton, London
This review was first published in STATNews in January 2014
rationale behind Dr Theodore (Ted) Dimonís talk is that the
Alexander Technique is not understood enough both in general and in
the fields which it relates to, which include neuroscience,
medicine, physiology and psychology. To be taken seriously, we need
to articulate the underlying theory and basis of the Technique,
otherwise it will never be fully accepted. Furthermore, other
disciplines with similarities can say they incorporate the AT and
our work gets confused with other methods. The talk was
arranged into 3 main sections:
1. The Primary Control and how it works;
2. Muscle length and
problems of misuse -Direction and Re-education;
Proprioception, awareness and conscious control
Primary Control & Tensegrity System
control is the central organising principle in human movement. It is
a natural system that ensures effortless action without any meddling
or interference from us. Whole groups of muscles act synergistically
to support the body, even in the production of simple movement.
Our body parts are organised in a dynamic way. We have an
elastic stretch/support that can be described as a tensegrity
system. An architecturural example of a tensegrity structure is a
suspension bridge. The wires (muscles) keep the poles (bones) from
falling over but, at the same time, the poles exert a stretch on the
Rather than seeing a muscle as a purely contracting
motor unit acting on bones to produce movement -the traditional
physiological understanding -we can see that muscles act within the
context of a structure that lengthens them. And what keeps them
lengthening is the design of the skeleton itself. Our
musculo-skeletal tensegrity structure maintains the upright
stability of the trunk efficiently and over time.
difficulty as humans as opposed to four-footed animals is due to our
upright, two-footed posture. Our spines have to lengthen and point
upward whilst gravity pulls us downward. Natureís ingenious
evolution has been to have the head poised unevenly on top of the
One of the primary functions of the muscles on the
back of the neck is to keep this offset head from falling too far
forward. If there is too much forward pull, then the neck muscles
will contract to support the head. Provided there is no
interference, this constant toning keeps the neck muscles in a
lengthened state .
The curves of the spine donít buckle but
lengthen in response to gravity with the counterbalance of the
offset head and the dropping of the tail.
If the spine
lengthens, the front of the body, instead of pulling down, tends to
lengthen. And when the spine lengthens, the oblique muscles of the
back and ribs release and the shoulder girdle tends to widen apart,
enabling the back to maintain width as well as length. Finally, the
legs act as struts that maintain length in the lower limbs. So
instead of tightening, the long muscles of the legs are elastically
maintained by the scaffolding of the skeleton.
If only it
would always work like this. Slumping when sitting leads to a
collapse in the whole system. Muscles needing to provide support
become slack and, because we still have to support ourselves against
gravity, other muscles begin to work far too much. This puts a
strain on bones and ligaments.
Primary Control &
have dual roles: supporting the skeleton and actively contracting to
produce movement. When moving one part, say lifting an arm, our
support system is also constantly adjusting itself in relation to
the activity. This overall support, known as posture, is the work of
The stretch reflex is the nerve loop for
responding to stretch. For muscles to contract, they need a signal
from the spinal cord via the motor nerves. The muscle itself doesnít
know when and how much to contract. That information comes from
sensors (muscle spindles) in the muscle registering strength. The
spinal cord receives an impulse from the spindle telling it when
contraction is required and it then sends the motor signal to the
The stretch reflexes sense changes in length and
keep all our joints from buckling, helping maintain our stability.
Even our freely hanging arms and hands have background tone
maintained by stretch reflexes.
Coupled with the elastic
energy storing the potential of the muscle tissue, the stretch
reflex system converts the musculo-skeletal system into a
spring-like framework capable of automatically supporting the body
against gravity and stabilising all parts of the body in movement.
However, if our tensegrity system is interfered with (eg
tightening the neck and shortening the back muscles) the muscles
cannot lengthen and so these stretch sensors donít register stretch.
To restore length we need to place the skeleton in supportive
positions and remind the musculature how to maintain the length.
Semi-supine is one such supportive position. As well as restoring
the stretch reflex system, this helps the muscle to be better able
to sensitively register changes in length, reawakening the
musculature to function properly.
No amount of
strengthening, exercising, relaxing or balancing muscles can restore
this condition when the system is so maladjusted and sensory input
so distorted. The system needs to be readjusted in relation to
gravity as an interrelated whole. It is our head neck reflexes that
exert a central control over the muscular system, orgainising the
stretch reflex system to support the body against gravity.
A number of factors comprise to form the primary control:
Muscle contracts in the context of the stretches being exerted on
b. Stretch reflexes convert the musculo-skeletal system into
a spring-like framework;
c. The relation of the head to the trunk
organises the movement of the body as a whole in space;
all the parts are working, the conditions are established that allow
the neck reflexes to work and these play a central role in
organising muscle tone throughout the body.
Length, misuse, Direction and Re-education
started by looking in technical detail about what cells and fibres
make up a muscle and how they contract -the Sliding Filament
Theory. If we take one "belly" of the gastrocnemius and break it
down into its consituent parts, there are 2.4 trillion strands of
actin and myosin molecules and all of these are organised to produce
With chronic contraction, the only way to change
is to let muscles go into length so they can function properly. A
a. releases into the contractile part of the
b. lengthens antagonistically;
c. lengthens to
stimulate the attached stretch reflexes;
d. innervates the bodyís
tonic response because of the stretch reflexes.
We lengthen muscles by being
kinaesthetically aware and by sending messages via motor units in
the context of length.
This is directing. It
is an intentional use of consciousness to let the muscles go into
The different parts of the
body must be supported in order for the system to go into length and
coordination as a whole, which elicits the reflex response of the
The most technical part of
the talk was about the Gamma System.
In simple terms, we are "bossed" by the old part of the brain
in the brain stem and need to reprogramme this through stopping and
thinking. This can be
very hard to do for some actions which are deeply hard-wired, not
only for our pupils but for us as well.
Awareness and Conscious Control
Ted initially discussed
ideomotor action where voluntary action is part of a pathway of
activity that begins with an idea and ends up in a motor act.
He argued that this unified psychophysical pathway must be
addressed in order to restore the proper working of the primary
control. In other
words, getting inhibition and direction to ensure that motors action
are considered with thought rather than happening habitually.
One of the problems we face
is that the subconscious kicks in at a very early stage.
Brain activity can happen one second before conscious
decisions are made (Libet et al 1983).
And thus anticipatory behaviour is very hard to inhibit.
This is one of our great challenges which the Alexander
Technique can offer a practical approach.
Inhibition is more than
stopping or pausing. It
is about putting aside the end and has to occur throughout the whole
process. This is pretty
hard as we can convince ourselves that we are inhibiting, such as
when going to sit, but in reality we are still thinking about going
What we need to do is to
keep to the means whereby.
Ted classifies the means whereby as:
b. directing the primary control;
c. having a clear conception of the
movement (eg knowing that the hip is a hingeing joint rather than
the trunk which should move as one piece for bending or sitting);
d. performing the movement/series of
When we quieten we can begin
to see the subconscious processes.
If we can see where our habits begin, we can try to get
action to come from a different place.
Primary control, inhibition and direction are all working in
Ted Dimon is very passionate about our work.
Indeed, he feels that the aim and purpose of the Alexander
Technique is a new stage of evolution.
Descriptive neuroscience looks at normal psychology.
We have something to contribute to this field and we donít
need to look for legitimacy from others.
Suffice it to say that it is a seminar that is worth repeated
attendance in order to understand what we are working with at deeper
and deeper levels.
There was an excellent turnout of teachers, many of whom had
travelled from overseas, and getting together to hear these insights
and to debate them widens our knowledge-base and ideas and will
hopefully lead to future collaborations.
day and a half course was packed full of information.
Reflecting back, I wonder if it would be worth lengthening
the course. One option
would be to have a couple of hours extra on the Sunday afternoon for
a full question and answer session and open discussion.
Alternatively, a 3 day course (or longer) would be a
possibility as this is an immense topic that Ted has, amazingly,
managed to condense for us.
Tanya Shoop 2014