Leland, my Alexander teacher, keeps reminding me that it’s important to come back to the ground – which may seem an odd statement as we never leave it. In what sense “come back to,” then? We “come back to” the ground in the sense of embracing it, of letting it do its job of supporting us, as well as in the sense of allowing the body to be balanced on it.
Why is balance important? Why not just go through the day letting the body do what it will and never giving balance or spacing a moment’s thought? Well, aside from that we would have some social problems if we smacked straight into every person we encountered, rather than stopping and choosing a direction to engage them or get around then, balance is important because the Earth is not flat; it is round, and so we are obliged to find ways of achieving balance on top of it from moment to moment.
In some martial arts, preference is given to pigeon-toed stances, the reasoning being that standing pigeon-toed is the best way to balance on the ball of the Earth. There are no specific stances like this in Alexander (and Leland keeps telling me there is no Alexander “position”) but through giving attention to specific parts of the body, similar effects can be produced. One thing we have been doing involves finding the hip joint: while standing, to balance on one leg, then the other, while locating the hip joint, and while doing so, allowing the foot to dangle just where gravity puts it under the knee.
In this activity, I have a tendency to pull the dangling foot in, to “find” better balance. I do this even while knowing that if I let the foot go, it will help me find a balance that takes less effort to maintain than does pulling the foot in. I’m wondering if I do this because, for that moment, I’ve forgotten that the body has a natural arch, that the feet and head are like poles that allow balance to happen if I aim up and instead I think I have to “do” more in order to balance “correctly.”
Likewise, we tend to go through our lives thinking that we have to “do” a great deal all the time, every day, or things will not go well: bills won’t get paid, careers won’t move forward, no one will find us interesting, the Earth will fly off its axis and crash into the sun, and so on. But the Earth and Sun are held in position by mutual gravitational orbits, and likewise, our body is held in place on the Earth by gravity, and we’re reminded of this by the ground we walk on. If we allow ourselves to “come back to” the ground, we may find that balance was always there and that we never do lose it – except when we try to do it all ourselves.