‘Embryological Stories & Living Anatomy’

‘He who sees things from the very beginning has the greatest view of them all’ Aristotle



All of us have developed from a single cell, and as that cell divided, grew and developed into the person that you or I are now, a magical and invisible ‘cellular intelligence’ influenced and shaped the patterns and directions of  growth  in a highly organised way, creating a fully functioning and highly capable human being.

During the period of embryonic growth (the first 8 weeks of life in the womb), all the major structures of the body are formed. If we look at the patterns and directions in which these grew, we see that the directions of growth mirror FM Alexander’s ‘Directions’, intended to bring about a better organisation and freedom of movement within the body. Or more correctly, I could suggest that Alexander’s conscious Directions enable us to reconnect with our original patterns of growth. And so one way of understanding Alexander’s Directions is to look at how we grew embryologically.

For example: The spine is formed from an embryonic ‘prototype’ of the spine, called the Noto-cord. The Noto-cord is formed by notocordal cells which grow energetically and vibrantly from the tail end of the embryo to the head end, and only when this vital journey from tail to head is fully complete, does further development and organisation take place. The Noto-cord lays the foundations around which the head and spine – the core axis of the body – can form.

Alexander  talked about the importance of  the head, neck and spine, and how this core axis supports the whole of the rest of the body….and about how only when this core is releasing and working as a whole, can the rest of the body function optimally. To release this core axis into a state of length, rather than contraction, Alexander encouraged a ‘forward and upward release of the head’ to in turn bring about a lengthening of the spine. This pattern of release exactly mirrors the pattern of embryonic growth (forwards and up from tail to head) and so may give a fresh understanding to why in the Alexander Technique, we focus on encouraging an upward flow of energy through the core of ourselves, and how this is a fundamental precursor to enabling an enhanced organisation and functioning elsewhere in the body.

There are many wonderful, insightful and magical stories that can underpin why Alexander work is so effective, based on embryological development. For example:

The story of how our musculature develops spiralically (as written about by Professor Raymond Dart, and illustrated through the Dart Procedures).

The story of how Alexander’s ‘Whispered Ah’, keeps alive the flow of ‘up energy’ within the spine that began by the growth of the Noto-cord.

The story of the limbs and how their growth gives rise to the concept of ‘connecting into the core,  in order to release out from this’.

The story of the development of the diaphragm and lungs, and how this journey is continued with each breath that we take.

The story of how the actual spine is created, bringing with it an oppositional dimension: the ‘downward flow of energy’ within the spine.

The story of how our breathing and vocalising apparatus is created out of the gills of our fishy ancestors.

And so many other stories……

When looking at how we have developed from both an evolutionary and embryological view point, I feel that it is easier to gain an understanding of how the body can function, that is particularly relevant to people working with the Alexander Technique. It can then also be highly enlightening to also look at how these structures tend to work and function in the fully mature state eg in the adult body, under the influence of the habits of a lifetime.

So often anatomy can be taught or learned in a rather ‘dry’ way, with a focus on where muscles originate from and insert and how muscles ideally work. This can seem like an awful lot of complicated Latin names and complicated diagrams!

It can however be exciting and insightful to learn anatomy in an ‘alive’ way, addressing how crucial muscle groups interact together and how these can work in a variety of helpful or limiting ways, depending on our patterns of Use and muscular tension. Additionally, to highlight the anatomical meanings of Alexander’s four directions (‘Let the neck be free in such a way that the head can go forwards and up’, ‘Let the back lengthen and widen’, ‘Let the top of the arms be wide’, ‘Let the knees go forwards and away’), can be extremely helpful in bringing about a clearer understanding of what can otherwise sometimes be an abstract set of suggestions.

Embryo image

When teaching anatomy or embryology to Alexander teachers and students, my aim is to creatively underpin and explain our understanding of the Technique and it’s principles. Additionally, for teachers I use anatomy to explain the effect we have with our hands, when working with a pupil, and to illustrate which muscles are releasing when directing or working with a particular hands-on procedure.

I aim to make the way I teach anatomy fun, clear and practical, using a variety of methods to share and explore the information. These include lectures and diagrams; palpating on self / partner; visualisation; drawing; ‘seeing hidden anatomical structures with x-ray eyes’; re-teaching material to a partner; working with hands-on procedures or Dart procedures; movement; using skeleton / bones / other props as visual teaching aids; applying the information practically to oneself within a talk-through……..

I run workshops for Alexander teachers and trainees (click on the ‘Workshops for Alexander teachers & trainees’ tab), with a variety of anatomical / embryological themes, such as ‘The Anatomy of the Directions’ and am also available to run classes / lectures for Alexander training schools. Additionally if you would like a workshop in your area and are able to help to organise this, please feel free to contact me to discuss this.


For information about training to be an Alexander Teacher

please visit the South East Alexander School’s website.

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