"Think Up" or "Think Out"?

The Alexander Technique is a fascinating approach that invites you to explore the intricate relationship between your mind, body, and environment. Developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander, the technique encourages you to unlearn unhelpful habits and rediscover a more balanced, naturally supported way of being. In this blog, we'll look at a specific aspect of the Alexander Technique: "Thinking Up."

What Is the Alexander Technique?

Before we discuss "Thinking Up," let's briefly understand the essence of the Alexander Technique. Think of it as a gentle guide that helps you navigate your daily activities with greater awareness, rather than something to get right. Here are some key principles: 

  1. Awareness Matters: How you behave significantly effects your overall well-being.
  2. Head, Neck, and Spine: The relationship, balance and support of these crucial elements influences your ability to function optimally.
  3. Unity of Mind and Body: your mind and body constantly interact, shaping your experiences. They are not simply connected but operate as a singular functional whole.

"Thinking Up": A Core Practice

"Thinking Up" is a fundamental idea within the Alexander Technique. It involves directing your thoughts to create positive changes in your physical coordination.


I have a personal interest in how our environment provides all the support we need to function well, especially with regards to gravity. Despite the common belief that gravity pulls you down, it is in fact pushing you up via the ground reaction force. You can read more about that in my blogs The Gravity Myth, and The Science of Effortless Posture. Although the environment provides the support required for an upright posture, your thinking needs to be in coordination with that reality to maximise functionality. Hence the common suggestion to "Think up" in the Alexander Technique. It's not the linguistic phrase you need to think, but the the direction of your coordination. It's an intention and way of being. Not thinking in the direction of physical reality doesn't just lead to dis-coordination, I'd argue that it is the dis-coordination. Despite common perceptions that the Alexander Technique is a form of "body work", Alexander wrote more about thinking than any other topic.


"Thinking up"  refers to the intentional direction of the mind upwards, promoting lengthening and expansion throughout the body. This is due to the unity of body and mind as a singular functional entity. Rather than succumbing to habitual patterns of contraction to dictate your movements, which commonly pull you down, "thinking up" encourages a sense of lightness and poise.


When you "Think Up," you are not merely engaging in wishful thinking or positive affirmations. Instead, you are harnessing the power of the mind to affect tangible changes in your physical experience. By directing your awareness upwards, you create space within the body, allowing for greater freedom of movement and enhanced coordination.


In some ways "Think Up" is a short hand for the classic Alexander Technique direction to "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen". 


While I do find it useful to "Think Up", I more commonly "Think Out". Your environment doesn't only provide upwards thrust through gravity. It also gives you space to move in. You don't move because you have arms and legs etc, the intention to move comes from there being an external environment to interact with. You'll never consistently hit a tennis ball by focusing on your internal anatomy. It's achieved through spacial awareness. By "Thinking Out" I can include all three dimensions, which obviously includes up. I'm a firm believer that the external environment provides all the support and context we need for good coordination and functioning. This is how other species function optimally. Your inner experience gives you feedback on how successful you've been with that engagement.

Practical Applications

Incorporating "thinking up" into daily life can yield a myriad of benefits. Whether sitting at a desk, walking down the street, or engaging in physical activity, the principles of the Alexander Technique offer valuable insights into how you can move with greater ease and efficiency.


For example, when sitting at a desk, instead of collapsing into the chair and slumping forward, you can "think up" to lengthen the spine and create space between the vertebrae. This simple adjustment in thinking can alleviate strain on your back and neck, promoting better posture and reducing the risk of discomfort or injury.


Similarly, when walking, "thinking up" or "thinking out" can help you maintain an upright posture and a sense of buoyancy. By directing your attention skyward, you prevent the tendency to collapse downwards, allowing for smoother, more effortless movement. Also, by considering the space you've walked out of you can discourage hurried behaviour that encourages you to needlessly lean forward.


Incorporating "thinking up", or "thinking out" into activities such as yoga, dance, or sports can also enhance performance and prevent injury by reducing contracting tension.


"Thinking Up" invites you to elevate your awareness, find more support for your body, and move with grace. Whether you're a seasoned Alexander Technique student or a curious beginner, this idea offers you a reminder for mindful movement. So, next time you stand up, think up—and let your body respond with newfound ease.

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