Spirals, twists and gravity

Model of double spiral staircase in Graz, Austria

Model of double spiral staircase in Graz, Austria

I found myself folded within a double spiral, as if inside the human body, heading upwards. In the spring sunshine I caught a glimpse of the secret of light and dynamic movement. 

The team of stonemasons who crafted the remarkable double spiral staircase I was climbing knew something important about gravity and the spiral nature of human movement.

My internal twist

When I came to the Alexander Technique I had got myself into a twist - an internal distortion pulling me down and round to one side. It was no surprise I had back pain and poor posture. But as the powerful torsion has decreased, I’ve been able to come to my full height and allow my body’s more evenly balanced double spiral movement to emerge.

“Simply put, in someone with good coordination the double spiral musculature pulls and releases in equal and balanced directions throughout the whole body.”

From Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity by Sean Carey (p91)

At first I didn’t know how these internal spirals worked, they were so different from the one-sided tensions I had known. But now I can feel the natural double spiral pattern as I walk, taking me up and allowing me to move in three dimensions in an easier way. I feel lighter, working with gravity now, not against it.

Gravity as a friend

This was the sense I had on the spiral staircase.  There were gentle curves, a solid spinal handrail and a sense of lightness and flexibility.  The staircase was made over 500 years ago out of heavy stone.  But each carved step was light and nimble, inviting me upwards round another curve, here dancing towards the second spiral, there moving away.  Gravity was present as a friend providing support from the ground, not as an enemy to be fought or held at bay.

Don’t stifle your spirals

As I climbed I felt I was inside my own invisible spirals. I understood in a different way the damage we do when we allow muscle tension or injury to stifle our capacity for spiral movement. Any muscular movement has ripple effects throughout the body, it’s not confined just to one muscle or muscle group.  

So if one part is overly tense, twisted or unbalanced, there’s a negative impact on the whole structure, particularly on the spine. Joints end up taking strain they’re not designed for, making us susceptible to injury or pain. The spine shortens and we become more fixed and rigid in our breathing and movement.

No effort to stay upright

Unlike a stone staircase human beings don’t usually fall to the ground if something moves out of place. However if our natural postural support system is weakened by muscular distortions, then there’s an internal collapse, even though we may not be aware of it.

The Alexander Technique teaches that when the dynamic relationship between our head, neck and back is working well, we don’t need to use great effort to stay upright. Instead our head and spine and postural muscles have a natural capacity to work with the force of gravity.

They can take us up with poise and balance so that we move through the world in a three-dimensional spiralic way. It’s this that I’m working with as an Alexander teacher. I know from my own experience that we can move lightly upwards on the steps of our own internal double spiral staircase.