by Catherine Kettrick
Many people who think of “coordination” think of “physical” coordination–a great athlete making a brilliant play, or a ballet dancer leaping into the air. For us, coordination is not simply “physical.” It is the sum total of how you are being in any given moment. It is the ability to decide to do something and decide how you want to do it, and to be able to do what you decided in the way you decided to do it. It is as much, if not more, about “thinking” than it is about “doing.”
Many people who think of coordination as a “physical” activity, think of “thinking” as a “mental” activity. Thinking, however, is an embodied activity. Although you may not be making any large movements when you are sitting in a chair, reading, or working at a desk preparing a report, you are still moving–you breathe, you swallow, you blink your eyes, you make small adjustments as you sit. How does this moving happen? Who decides to shift weight, blink or breathe? You do. That deciding–whether you are aware of it or not–is part of what we call thinking.
Some actions, such as breathing, blinking and swallowing, are almost entirely automatic. Although you can consciously decide when and how you breathe or blink, these actions do not need any conscious attention to happen.
Many other actions–shifting your weight in a chair, reaching to pick up your cup, walking–also seem to happen without much conscious attention. If you are like most people, you may be aware of deciding to pick up a book that is across the room, but after deciding you want the book, and beginning the action that will take you to it, you probably don’t consciously pay attention to how you are getting there. You walk, as you do most activities, habitually, without being consciously aware of how you are walking.
“How” is a Quality
When we talk about “how” a person moves, we mean the quality with which they move. When the quality of a person’s moving is free and easy, if what they are doing looks graceful and effortless, we say they are “well coordinated.” If they look tense or awkward as they move, we say they are “mal-coordinated” or “poorly coordinated.”
How do you usually move? Is your walking easy and free? Do you feel easy and graceful as you reach for your cup? Can you sit comfortably on a bench that doesn’t have a back for more than a few minutes?
“Good” and “Bad” Coordination
Why do some people seem to be naturally well coordinated, while others seem awkward and clumsy? Why do some people stand and move easily, and have “good posture,” while others have “poor posture?”
Sometimes people have physiological conditions that affect how they move. They may have cerebral palsy, arthritis, or other neurological or structural conditions which make it difficult for them to move freely.
Most often, however, we interfere with our natural coordination. We usually don’t know we are interfering. A person does not wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll interfere with my coordination today, so my moving will be awkward and clumsy.” Instead, as we grew from an infant to a toddler to a child to an adolescent, we began to interfere with our coordination, without knowing that we did.
Why Would We Start Interfering?
There are many reasons. Perhaps we got good grades in school by studying hard, but “studying hard” meant hunching over our books and gripping our pen tightly as we wrote. Perhaps we learned to play the piano, or some other musical instrument, and made sounds our teacher liked by using extra effort when we played. Or perhaps we had a teacher of music, dance or sports who told us to move in a certain way, and as we tried to do what our teacher wanted, we mis-coordinated ourselves to do it.
Whatever the reason, most of us developed habitual ways of doing all our activities, habitual ways that include interfering with our natural coordination as we do them.
If We’re Mal-Coordinated Because We Interfere, Why Don’t We Just Stop Interfering?
Remember that most people don’t pay attention to how they move. Their moving is habitual. It is the way they always move. Because their way of moving is habitual, it feels normal. What feels normal also feels right. Here’s an experiment to try to demonstrate how right something can feel:
Without thinking about it, clasp your hands together. One or the other thumb should be on top. How does that feel? If it is the way you usually clasp your hands, it will feel “normal,” “usual,” something you are accustomed to.
Now unclasp your hands, and re-clasp them, with the other thumb and fingers on top. How does that feel? For most people it feels “not normal,” “awkward” or “uncomfortable,” and “wrong.”
Clasping your hands in the usual way is like walking, sitting, standing, or doing any activity in your usual way–it feels normal, and feels right. So, even if you know that your usual way of doing activities is “mal-coordinated,” it still feels right–or at least it feels like what you are accustomed to. A new way, even one which is “well coordinated” will feel “not normal” and may feel wrong. So why don’t people stop interfering? Because they don’t know they are interfering in the first place, and because to stop interfering and move in a new way would probably feel wrong. And why would anyone choose to do something that feels wrong?
So How Do I Stop Interfering?
Fortunately, the Alexander Technique provides a way to learn how to stop interfering with your coordination any time you choose. It is a simple technique, but requires patience and clear practice. You will have to learn how to keenly observe how you move, and to change how you are directing yourself to move–in other words to change your thinking.