The Head Doesn't Lead. Erections.

The head, and the dead weight beneath it. How lots of us sit at a computer.

I'll keep coming back to ideas about how our bodies work, because they're fascinating (for me) and, let's face it, should be for anybody who has a body. Whether the ideas I write about are the ones that should be fascinating for people is up to them, but from the risk management perspective the danger is low, given that only a handful of people on the planet ever venture here.

A while back I did a blog entry about flab. Because it occurred to me one day that the reason people develop flab is that they're just not using their muscles, for whatever reason. And that the people who are trim and taut and toned often do use their muscles, but in all sorts of perverse ways usually captured under the equally perverse idea of 'exercise'.

In the Alexander Technique and in the LearningMethods work, there is the use of a basic fact about verterbrate functioning, namely that our bodies work as a single, integrated system, with an endedness led from the head. So wherever your head goes in your attention, your body then auotmatically and immediately follows. Which isn't a very widely understood principle, and as in the picture above, we don't tend to go about things in ways that recognise this is how we work, slumping, slouching, straining - all sorts of different ways of not letting the body follow our head, but rather in trying to force the body in certain ways, or having it like a dead weight beneath us. We don't need effort to do things, nor do we then need to collapse and 'relax' all of that effort.

But I think there's a problem in this way of looking at things too. Which derives from another post on the nature of movement. The idea of leading and following assumes that movement exists. That your head or attention moves from point A to point B, with the rest of you following it. That earlier blog entry wasn't about denying the obvious fact that we 'move' all the time, but instead that what is meant by that isn't necessarily what we think is meant. If you move from A to B, then you also exist everywhere and at every moment between A and B as well. So you're not really 'moving' from A to B, those are just the end points of all of the things that happen in your life in every part of space and time between A and B. (The normal idea of movement strips out all of those in-between bits, as if there were some completely empty, abstract sort of space through which we then 'move'.)

So your head doesn't actually lead you, because there is no leading, there is always just being. You are always just somewhere, at every moment. When you want to be some place else, you always start from where you are now, and there's no need to 'lead' you off somewhere else, because that somewhere else is part of where you are already, right now. To make that a bit clearer with an example, if I'm at home and I want to go and buy some milk at the shops, I don't need my head to lead me from one place to another - my first step will be to find the car keys, and then to put some shoes, on, hop in the car, start it, drive towards the shops...etc. At no point am I trying to get from one point to another point, at each moment I'm just where I am, doing what needs to be done. All of those things like finding the car keys and putting the shoes on that are normally considered means to an end are actually ends, in themselves. There's no sense of me being here and wanting or needing to be there, if I pay due respect to each of these activities for themselves. Yes there's a sort of background intention to be at the shops, but an intention is not something that physically leads you in the sense that is normally meant.

This may a bit of an esoteric point for people who have no experience with bodywork, but it is critical. For a while I could directly experience my body following my attention (i.e. my head), but you end up with that split me-and-my-body thing happening, where you're paying attention up in your head and your body is following you. I now think it all revolves around how we understand space and time (like the earlier entry about Zeno and movement). People who slump and slouch or strain themselves, for example, are simply not inhabiting the spaces that are usually called their 'body'. They are not fully embodied.

Sitting where you are right now, are 'you' a tiny dimensionless point in your head, or does you extend out into the room around you, in your shoulders, arms, torso, legs etc.? Can you directly experience yourself as extended in that way, off into the space around you? Can you be aware of the space between your head and your hips, for example, as well as feeling the head and the hips? And all of the various other spaces between the various extended parts of you, like between your foot and your knee? It's because we normally strip out in our awareness and sense of self all of those spac-ing elements, the spaces which our bodies carve out in the world, that we slump or slouch, as the bits and pieces suddenly have nothing to space them out into a fully and effortlessly erect being. Or we strain to 'sit up straight' because the space that's already spac-ing out all of your various bits and pieces has been stripped away and we assume that we can't possibly be erect and upright unless we (the tiny point up in our heads) reach out into this vacuum and drag the bones up to where we are. But the rest of us is already occupying that space, we just need to become aware of that again.

Your head doesn't need to lead the rest of you like some orchestra conductor, you are already extended in space. You are fully scaffolded and supported without you having to do a thing, because that spacing and scaffolding IS part of 'you'. And the world around you is also a whole collection of different spaces, that you experience directly via your senses. The almost inevitable flab people develop around their torsos (or elsewhere) as they age isn't the result of a lack of exercise, it's because they are not there. They've stopped inhabiting the space where those bits of them are, so the muscles have nothing to do.

At which point this is all probably highly confusing to all, so The End.


  1. Nick, I agree. I wonder if the idea of someone not fully inhabiting their body all the time had something to do with the notion of someone not "being all there"?


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