Gravity: Friend or Foe
by Jean McClelland
The human body was designed with gravity in mind. We are built to use gravity to go up and away from it, utilizing the same force that made Isaac Newton’s famous apple fall and that keeps the moon and planets in their orbits.
Our physiology is quite miraculous. In the muscles between the long bones of our feet are specialized sensory nerve endings called muscle spindles. These respond to gravity by sending a postural reflex through the muscles that keep us upright. This reflex is always working in us, but when we bring awareness to how we use ourselves in relation to gravity, our entire body functions in a much more efficient way. We find a renewed vitality in ourselves in addition to less musculoskeletal pain.
In Alexander Technique lessons, we learn how not to let gravity pull us down. Actor Kevin Kline says, “The many benefits that the Alexander Technique afforded us as actors included about an inch-and-a-half of additional height. By balancing and neutralizing tensions, I’ve learned to relieve, as well as to avoid, the aches and pain caused by the thousands of natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
For a great practice to stimulate the “up” in our body, take a moment and sense the earth elevating from under one’s feet. Notice that when we let the earth support us in this way, our body and our joints move much more freely, and our breathing becomes easier and fuller. When we push down into our legs to feel the earth in a false idea of grounding, our body stiffens, and we become immobile. Our ribs fix, and we find it hard to breathe. Our legs get heavy.
For further practice, we can imagine the earth moving us as we walk, as if we are on a moving sidewalk in an airport terminal. We will feel as if we are gliding, and we might notice that our eyesight sharpens, and scenery becomes more vivid and alive around us. When a burst of energy is needed during the day, imagine an earth elevator underneath, and say, “Going up!”
Jean McClelland, MAmSAT, is a senior teacher of the Alexander Technique and teaches voice and Alexander Technique in the MFA acting program at Columbia University. For more information, visit JeanMcClellandVoice.com.