‘Antagonistic pulls’ in Alexander’s writings probably refer to a toning up of the musculature under conditions of stretch (and therefore may be identical to what is known in physiology as eccentric contraction).
Antagonistic pulls may also be synonymous with ‘antagonistic action’ which Alexander calls ‘the great principle’ in his technique.
Before UoS, ‘pull’ is used by Alexander in either the positive or the negative sense. The ‘right pull’ refers to a stretch, an appropriate toning of the muscles involved, i.e. a non-doing lengthening.
He refers, for example, to the pull as the opposite of the pressure on the spine, i.e. lengthening instead of shortening. And it is the ‘right pull’ which ‘brings into play those co–ordinations which bring about the enlargement of the thoracic cavity’.
In ‘Supplement to Re-Education’ he instructs the pupil – when putting hands on the back of the chair – to ‘pull the top of the chair as if endeavouring to lift it.’ This ‘pulling movement’ is employed to elicit ‘the proper muscular co-ordinations’.
In CCC the same procedure – known as hands on the back of the chair – is described, but now it is the teacher who provides ‘the sensory experiences required’ for a ‘gentle, forearm pull from the fingers’ in the pupil.
‘Pull’ – on its own – is, however, also used in the negative, to indicate the undue shortening of muscles. For example, ‘the muscular mechanisms have worked to pull the body down’. In UoS and UCL Alexander uses ‘pull’ only in the negative sense.
In the following quote from Sir George Trevelyan’s diary of working with F. M. Alexander in 1937, ‘balanced pull’ seems identical with ‘antagonistic pulls’:
We are, F. M. says, too imbued with the idea of flexing, an act involving too much of collapse and shortening through bringing into play only the contractors or flexors. In fact both extensors and flexors must first come into play together, the balanced pull extending the joint, and this pull be maintained during the movement.
Note that Sir George also refers to a ‘lengthening pull’ and adds: ‘Exactly how this pull is explained I do not know but it is a fact and must be worked for.’
Walter Carrington was of the opinion that both of these phrasings referred to the principle of counter-weight used in positions of mechanical advantage, where ‘muscles are brought to their full and natural length throughout the organism’.
Seán Carey describes it as:
The result [of giving directions] will be that your body releases in multiple directions creating a toned elastic stretch in the musculature. This is what Alexander called ‘antagonistic actions’ or ‘antagonistic pulls’.
The phrase ‘pulling to the elbows’ is used as part of the procedure hands on the back of a chair.
The phrases ‘antagonistic action’ or ‘antagonistic pull’ are rarely used in the Technique. One exception is:
Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity by Seán Carey.
See also Antagonistic action, Hands on the back of the chair.