COMPANION

Walking

Alexander provides a description of some of the factors involved in walking in MSI:

The whole physiology of walking is, indeed, perfectly simple when once these fundamental principles are understood. It is really resolved into the primary movements of allowing the body to incline forward from the ankle on which the weight is supported and then preventing oneself from falling by allowing the weight to be taken in turn by the foot which has been advanced. This method, simple as it may appear, is not, however, the one usually adopted. The mechanical disadvantage displayed in what is known as a “rolling gait,” for instance, a gait which is common enough, is absolutely impossible when the instructions given are carefully followed. And the effect upon the whole mechanical mechanism of the person concerned is shown by the fact that when the co-ordinating principles brought about by this method are established, there is a constant tendency for the torso to lengthen, whereas the usual tendency – due to faulty standing position and the incorrect co-ordinations which follow – is for the torso to shorten.

Nearly every one I examine or observe in the act of walking employs unnecessary physical tension in the process in such a way that there is a tendency to shorten the spine and legs, by pressing – if I may so put it familiarly – down through the floor instead of, as it were, lightening that pressure by lengthening the body and throwing the weight forward and moving lightly and freely.[1]

The chapter ‘Psycho-Physical Equilibrium’ in CCC describes in greater detail Alexander’s approach to walking. He writes, for example: ‘In the first place, we should not allow the subject to try to “walk properly” until he had been given, by expert manipulation, correct experiences in the general use of the psycho-physical mechanisms, and had become well acquainted with the correct guiding and controlling orders which would assist in the securing of the means whereby he should use the mechanisms in any attempt to walk properly.’ And: ‘The technique we advocate would demand in practice that the subject should cease to try to improve his walking.’[2] This sentiment is also repeated in the 1925 Child-Study Society lecture:

I frequently have people coming to me and saying, “Mr Alexander, I want you to teach me to walk.” A lady came to me one day and said, “My daughter walks badly, will you help me?” I said, “I can’t do it. It can’t be done. I can no more teach you to walk than I can teach you to breathe. . . .” Ladies and gentlemen, I could not teach you to walk. I could not do it.[3]

As with other exercises, Alexander is adamant that walking might be harmful if done with misuse: ‘Patients are constantly advised to take walking exercise, although in many cases that exercise undoubtedly does more harm than good.’[4]

Lulie Westfeldt reports on her first lesson with Alexander:

During his examination of me he had said, ‘Will you please take a step backwards?’ This was the one thing that was almost a physical impossibility for me, and I thought it was almost uncanny that he could discern so immediately this difficulty of mine. He then said, ‘I find great fault with your back. With a back like that it is surprising that you walk as well as you do.’ The idea that one’s walk was bound up with and dependent upon the condition of one’s back was quite new to me and I mentioned this to Alexander. ‘You will find’, he said, ‘that as the functioning of your back improves with lessons, your walk too will greatly - improve without your feet and legs having been touched.’[5]

Walking backwards

Walking backwards is used as way of teaching walking in the Technique. As there are fewer habits associated with walking backwards than walking forwards, it may be a useful method of illustrating a non-habitual way of walking. Walter Carrington used it as one of his directed activities.[6]

Other writings

  • F. P. Jones has published some colour-coded multiple-image photography of himself walking in his Freedom to Change.[7]
  • Walter Carrington talks about walking in both Thinking Aloud,[8] and The Act of Living.[9] Dilys Carrington describes her procedure for walking in ‘Thoughts on teaching walking’ (1991).[10] A report of how the Carringtons applied the Technique to walking is also found in Grennell’s diary, Directed Activities.[11]
  • Many introductory books to the Technique contain descriptions of using the Technique for walking. The most detailed account is given in Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity.[12]
  • Inspiration Alexander Technique inspired poems for walking are in The Art of Walking.[13]
  • ‘Together we walk’ by Walton L. White recounts his experiences of how the Alexander Technique improved his walking.[14]
  • ‘Playful procedures’ by Ken Thompson contains some procedures (‘games’) for observing walking.[15]
  • Daniel Harbach considers the various aspects of walking (shifting weight, balance, rotating the spine, finding the rhythm) in ‘Teaching walking’ in the 2011 congress papers.[16]
  • Michaela Hauser-Wagner describes her walking the El Camino, a pilgrimage route ending in Santiago, Spain, over 14 days in 2016, using the Alexander Technique.[17]
  • ‘The lost procedure’ by Bruce Fertman describes the procedure of going from standing into walking.[18]
  • ‘Our feet are made for walking’ by Malcolm Williamson considers some science of walking and how the Alexander Technique makes us walk better.[19]
  • ‘Walking with mechanical advantage’ by Lawrence Jones considers the biomechanics and physics of walking; it reviews existing scientific literature on walking and how it may inform the application of the Alexander Technique to walking.[20]
  • ‘Walking: Its dependence on how we stand’ by Ian Lyon discusses the centre of mass and base of support in standing and walking.[21]

See also Position of mechanical advantage.

References

[1] Man's Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), p. 171.
[2] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 152.
[3] Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 152.
[4] Man's Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), p. 173.
[5] F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work by Lulie Westfeldt (Mouritz, 1998 [1964]), p. 22.
[6] Directed Activities by Gerard Grennell (Mouritz, 2002), p. 25.
[7] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), plates 1-4.
[8] Thinking Aloud by Walter Carrington (Mornum Time Press, 1994), pp. 151-54.
[9] The Act of Living by Walter Carrington (Mornum Time Press, 1999), pp. 97-100.
[10] ‘Thoughts on teaching walking’ by Dilys Carrington in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), pp. 283-86.
[11] Directed Activities by Gerard Grennell (Mouritz, 2002), pp. 23-26, 56, 79-80, 100, 107, 112.
[12] Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity by Seán Carey (HITE, 2015), pp. 87-105.
[13] The Art of Walking by Marguerite Osler (Graysonian Press, 2009).
[14] ‘Together we walk’ by Walton L. White in Curiosity Recaptured edited by Jerry Sontag (Mornum Time Press, 1996), pp. 195–213.
[15] ‘Playful procedures’ by Ken Thompson  in The Congress Papers 2004, Exploring the Principles edited by Anne Oppenheimer (STATBooks, 2005), pp. 364–67.
[16] ‘Teaching walking’ by Daniel Harbach in in The Congress Papers 2011, Learning from Each Other edited by Siriol Jones, (STAT Books, 2012), pp. 205-14.
[17] ‘On my way’ by Michaela Hauser-Wagner in AmSAT Journal issue 13, Spring 2018, pp. 40-43.
[18] ‘The lost procedure’ by Bruce Fertman in The Congress Papers 2018, Advancing Global Perspectives edited by Paul Marsh (STAT Books, 2019), pp. 247–51.
[19] ‘Our feet are made for walking’ by Malcolm Williamson in STATNews vol. 10, no. 5 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2020), pp. 9–10, 24.
[20] ‘Walking with mechanical advantage’ by Lawrence Jones in The Alexander Journal no. 28 edited by Paul Marsh and Jamie McDowell (STAT, 2021), pp. 25–39.
[21] ‘Walking: Its dependence on how we stand’ by Ian Lyon in STATNews vol. 11, no. 2 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2021), pp. 14–17.