Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday (my final day of teaching before summer vacation) brought me an astonishing gift. I was witness to a perfect reflexive in-breath.
Let me set the stage for this remarkable event. Yesterday morning, I’d gone to the home of my colleague Karen Krueger for an Alexander exchange. She and I have an exploratory, fun-to-the-point-of-giddy approach to working together that inevitably leads to new insights—both for our teaching and for our own personal development. Yesterday’s big insight had to do with getting a bit more stretch in the joints—not in the muscles themselves, but in the ligaments and other soft tissues of the joint capsule. (We actually weren’t completely sure what structures we were working with, not that it seemed to matter. At one point, it felt more like energy than substance.) We found that a bit of extra tonicity at pretty much any joint would “spring” our whole bodies into a state in which we were simultaneously strong, flexible, and at ease. We believe that we were tapping into what F.M. Alexander called the primary control.
To elicit this state in each other, Karen and I had to think through the layers of skin and outer muscles, deep into the tissues right around the joints. We got the profoundest results at that special joint where the head meets the spine—the atlanto-occipital (A-O) joint. How we did this is hard to describe; it’s mostly a mental process of “sinking down” through the structural layers of the body to make indirect contact with deep-lying tissues. I’m more familiar with this kind of process in the realm of bodywork, but it apparently works great in an Alexander context too.
Marcus was my first student after this exchange, so he got bombarded with my excitement over our new discoveries. In the course of his lesson, I had Marcus breathing in and out on a whispered ah sound—a common activity in Alexander lessons, but brought to a pinnacle of perfection this day.
While Marcus breathed his ahs in and out, I was activating the stretch of the tissues around his A-O joint. After a minute or two, Marcus performed an exhaled ah, which, to my (and his) great surprise, was followed by the perfect in-breath. There was no sense of a pause or even a discernible change of breath direction. We just suddenly observed the air coming in, effortlessly and fully, with a gorgeously resonant sound.
Now that I’m on vacation, I will have to cultivate the patience to wait until September, when I can continue this exploration with my other students. Thank you, Marcus—your openness and ability to be in the moment led to a highlight of my teaching career.
And thank you, Karen, for your continual inspiring nature. I love this work, and it’s exponentially more fun exploring it with a friend.