The position, or attitude, of mechanical advantage is the one which makes for greatest efficiency, i.e. maximum effect (output) for minimum expenditure.
The term may have its origins in physics where mechanical advantage denotes the force-amplifying effectiveness of a simple machine, such as a lever, an inclined plane, a wedge, a pulley system. There are numerous references to mechanical advantage in Alexander’s writings, most of them in MSI. It first appears in Alexander’s writings in 1907 and last in CCC.
Alexander explains in MSI that adopting the position of mechanical advantage co-ordinates the organism in such a way that it provides ‘a due tension of the parts of the muscular system intended by Nature to be constantly more or less tensed, together with a relaxation of those parts intended by Nature to be more or less relaxed.’ And that it ‘… is the position which gives the teacher the opportunity to bring about quickly with his own hands a co-ordinated condition in the subject’.
The notion of ‘position of mechanical advantage’ therefore goes beyond ‘correct’ standing or sitting ‘positions’, and can be said to be a position which facilitates coordination and appropriate muscle tonus.
Examples given by Alexander
Alexander gives examples of what he calls ‘a position of mechanical advantage’ in his writings. Many positions can constitute a position of mechanical advantage, standing, sitting (bending forwards or backwards from the hips), monkey (see below), lunge. As an example of mechanical advantage Alexander describes the procedure of leaning back and resting against a book in MSI:
A simple, practical example of what is meant by obtaining the position of mechanical advantage may be given. . . . The position thus secured is one of a number which I employ and which for want of a better name I refer to as a position of ‘mechanical advantage’.
A description of ‘mechanical disadvantage’ when lifting ‘a chair or any other object of such weight’ is given in MSI. And a description of a position of ‘mechanical disadvantage’ when walking is found in MSI (part II, chapter 7).
It is also used for the procedure hands on the back of the chair, ‘Illustration’ in CCC.
As quoted above Alexander stressed that the term is not satisfactory: ‘The position thus secured is one of a number which I employ and which for want of a better name I refer to as a position of ‘mechanical advantage.’ ’ (This sentiment is repeated in CCC).
Alexander attached great important to the use of mechanical advantage for learning and practising the Technique in his writings:
Fortunately for us there is not a single one of these habits of mind, with their resultant habits of body, which may not be altered by the inculcation of those principles concerning the true poise of the body which I have called the principles of mechanical advantage, used in co-operation with an understanding of the inhibitory and volitional powers of the objective mind, by which means these deterrent habits can be raised to conscious control.
F. P. Jones defines the position of mechanical advantage as ‘a position in which breathing and other psycho-physical activities are facilitated’. Jones describes learning the Technique as involving the ‘position of mechanical advantage’:
The teacher would then bring the pupil into a ‘position of mechanical advantage’ in which the back was widened and the spine more extended. In such a position breathing would be facilitated and stiffening of the neck and arms and other postural faults would be reduced.
Jones also describes Alexander using ‘monkey’ with pupils.
Standing, with the knees bent and (often but not always) bending forward from the hips, was nicknamed ‘monkey’ by the students on the first teacher training course. Alexander never used the term ‘monkey’.
In some later introductory books ‘monkey’ is synonymous with position of mechanical advantage but, to be specific, ‘monkey’ is only one example of a position of mechanical advantage.
Sitting, bending forward from the hips, is often referred to as a ‘sitting monkey’. More recently there has been a dislike of the the term ‘monkey’ and substitutions suggested include ‘bending position’, ‘baby bending’, but none of these have been widely adopted.
‘Monkey’ is often referred to as one of Alexander’s procedures.
For a selection of F. M. Alexander quotations on mechanical advantage, see the Mouritz Key Concepts Library.