I’ve recently been reading the extraordinary book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. A passage caught my eye due to its relevance to the Alexander Technique. For around 95% of our 200,000 year existence we lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles. In Harari’s words, during this period, homo sapiens:
mastered not only the surrounding world of animals, plants and objects, but also the internal world of their own bodies and senses. They listened to the slightest movement in the grass to learn whether a snake might be lurking there. They carefully observed the foliage of trees in order to discover fruits, beehives and birds’ nests. They moved with a minimum of effort and noise, and knew how to sit, walk and run in the most agile and efficient manner. Varied and constant use of their bodies made them as fit as marathon runners. They had physical dexterity that people today are unable to achieve even after years of practising yoga or t’ai chi.
What is clear from the above is that one of the key characteristics of early humans was hence the ability to be flexible in how they paid attention. Darting between a keen watchfulness for predators, a focused precision for sharpening flint stones, and a heightened body-sense while hunting prey – the mind as well as the body of homo sapiens was clearly extremely agile.
What is also clear is that modern humans have lost that flexibility of attention. Have you perhaps had the experience of perching for hours in a chair absorbed in a task, such that your sense of your physical self ‘disappears’ – perhaps until your back or neck started aching? If you have, then your experience ties in with what neuroscience now tells us: that a narrowed attention is linked to poor body awareness (a ‘disappearing body’), and that a wide open attention that includes peripheral vision is linked to your fullest body sense. And only when you allow your attention to widen out can you:
- allow your kinaesthetic or proprioceptive (‘body’) sense to function best;
- perceive spatial relationships accurately;
- learn new movement skills;
- understand body orientation with respect to gravity.
As you deepen your understanding of attention, you’ll begin to realise it is the fundamental ‘lens’ through which you experience the world. This means that if you change your attention habits you’ll change not only what you experience, but how you move around in and relate to the world around you. In short, you’ll rediscover your homo sapiens birthright of an agile mind and body working in harmony.
For more detail on the science behind the link between attention and movement, have a look at my article, ‘The Alexander Technique and Neuroscience: Three Areas of Interest’ on my Research page.
And for information on how to learn the Alexander Technique with me in Bristol, visit my Services page.