Mechanical advantage, position of mechanical advantage

At the outset, let me point out that respiratory education or respiratory re-education will not prove successful unless the mind of the pupil is thoroughly imbued with the true principles which apply to atmospheric pressure, the equilibrium of the body, the centre of gravity, and to positions of mechanical advantage where the alternate expansions and contractions of the thorax are concerned. In other words, it is essential to have a proper mental attitude towards respiratory education or re-education, and the specific acts which constitute the exercises embodied in it, together with a proper knowledge and practical employment of the true primary movement in each and every act.

“The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education” (1907) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pages 56–57.

Moreover, the mechanical advantages in the body-pose and chest-poise assumed in these exercises causes them to be performed with the minimum of effort, and leads to an even and controlled expansion of the whole thorax.

“The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education” (1907) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 60.

Careful observation will show that those who take breath by the “sniffing” or “gasping” mode of breathing always experience great difficulty with breath-control in speech and song or during the performance of breathing exercises. This applies equally whether the air is expelled through the mouth or nasal passages, and is due to the imperfect use of the thoracic mechanism, and the consequent loss of mechanical advantage already referred to at the end of the inspiration.

“The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education” (1907) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pags 61.

It is not a matter for surprise, for, if a mechanical advantage is essential to the proper expansion of the thorax for the intake of air, it is equally essential to the controlling power during the expiration; and if during the expiration the upper chest is falling, it clearly proves that the advantage indicated is not present.

“The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education” (1907) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 61.

There is such immediate improvement in the pose of the body and poise of the chest (whatever the conditions, excepting, of course, organized structural defects) that a valuable mechanical advantage is secured in the respiratory movements, and this is gradually improved by the practice until the habit becomes established, and the law of gravity appertaining to the human body is duly obeyed. The mechanical advantage referred to is of particular value, for it means prevention of undue and harmful falling of the upper chest at the end of the expiration, which is always present in those who practise the customary breathing exercises, the pupil being then deprived of the mechanical advantage so essential to the proper performance of the next inspiratory act.

“The Theory and Practice of a New Method of Respiratory Re-Education” (1907) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pages 63–64.

It is a significant fact that the lungs are usually attacked in the upper part, which shows that the lobes in the apex are the most inadequately and incorrectly used. Perfect body pose, chest poise, and co-ordinated use of the muscular mechanisms means proper mechanical advantage.

“The Dangers of Deep Breathing” (1908) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 70.

As a matter of fact, if one wishes to correct a pupil’s errors in breathing, the first thing to do is to tell him not to breathe, simply because his mental conception of breathing is sucking in air—it is his habit of life! Tell him, therefore, not to breathe, but enable him to obtain those mechanical advantages which give atmospheric pressure its opportunity—i.e. such relaxation of certain parts, tensing the muscles of others, and ordering the head upwards as will cause the spine to assume a more normal position. He will then breathe as perfectly as his condition permits, and as that condition improves, his breathing will improve correspondingly.

“Why ‘Deep Breathing’ and Physical Culture Exercises do more Harm than Good” (1908) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 75.

Provided that position of the spine which is present at the end of the correct inspiration is maintained, the elasticity of the parts concerned will cause the exhalation just as the inspiration results from such elasticity being overcome by mechanical advantage.

“Why ‘Deep Breathing’ and Physical Culture Exercises do more Harm than Good” (1908) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), page 76.

6. that in order to obviate the evils enunciated in the last two postulates the teacher must himself place the pupils in a position of mechanical advantage, from which the pupil, by the mere mental rehearsal of orders which the teacher will dictate, can ensure the posture specifically correct for himself, although he is not, as yet, conscious of what that posture is. I append a simple example of what is meant by mechanical advantage. Let the pupil sit as far back in a chair as possible. The teacher, having decided upon the orders necessary for securing the elongation of the spine, the freedom of the neck (i.e. requisite natural laxness) and other conditions desirable to the particular case in hand, will then ask the pupil to rehearse them mentally, at the same time that he himself renders assistance by the skilful use of his hands. Then, holding with one hand one or two books, as the case may be, against the inner back of the chair, he will rely upon the pupil inwardly rehearsing the orders necessary to maintain and improve the conditions present, while he, with the other hand placed upon the pupil’s shoulder, causes the body gradually to incline backwards until its weight is taken by the back of the chair. The shoulder-blades will, of course, be resting against the books.

“Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems” (1908) in Articles and Lectures by F. M. Alexander (Mouritz, 1995, London), pages 82–83.

The usual procedure is to instruct the pupil, who is either sitting or lying on the floor, to relax, or to do what he or she understands by relaxing. The result is invariably collapse. For relaxation really means a due tension of the parts of the muscular system intended by nature to be constantly more or less tensed, together with a relaxation of those parts intended by nature to be more or less relaxed, a condition which is readily secured in practice by adopting what I have called in my other writings the position of mechanical advantage.*

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 17.

Therefore before he attempts any form of physical development he must discover, or find some one who can discover for him, what his defects are in the uses indicated. When this has been done he must proceed to inhibit the guiding sensations which cause him to use the mechanism imperfectly; he must apprehend the position of mechanical advantage, and then by using the new correct guiding sensations or orders, he will be able to bring about the proper use of his muscular mechanism with perfect ease. If the mechanical principle employed is a correct one, every movement will be made with a minimum of effort, and he will not be conscious of the slightest tension.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 58.

The desire to stiffen the neck muscles should be inhibited as a preliminary (which is not the same thing at all as a direct order to relax the muscles themselves), and then the true uses of the muscular mechanism, i.e., the means of placing the body in a position of mechanical advantage, must be studied, when the work will naturally devolve on those muscles intended to carry it out, and the neck will be relaxed unconsciously.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 59.

The result may be unsatisfactory today and tomorrow, or during the next week, but if the position of mechanical advantage is employed and orders and controls in the right direction are held in mind and projected again and again, a new and correct complex sooner or later supersedes the old vicious one, and becomes permanently established.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 86.

By my system of obtaining the position of “mechanical advantage,”* a perfect system of natural internal massage is rendered possible, such as never before has been attained by orthodox methods, a system which is extraordinarily beneficial in breaking up toxic accumulation; thus avoiding evils which arise from auto-intoxication. The position of mechanical advantage, which may or may not be a normal position, is the position which gives the teacher the opportunity to bring about quickly with his own hands a co-ordinated condition in the subject. Such co-ordination gives to the pupil an experience of the proper use of a part or parts, in the imperfect use of which may be found the primary cause of the defects present. It is by the repetition of such experiences of the proper use of his organism that the pupil is enabled to reproduce the sensation and to employ the same guiding principles in everyday life. The placing of the pupil in what would ordinarily be considered an abnormal position (of mechanical advantage) affords the teacher an opportunity to establish the mental and physical guiding principles which enable the pupil after a short time to repeat the co-ordination with the same perfection in a normal position.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), pages 116–117.

* A simple, practical example of what is meant by obtaining the position of mechanical advantage may be given. Let the subject sit as far back in a chair as possible. The teacher, having decided upon the orders necessary for the elongation of the spine, the freedom of the neck (i.e. requisite natural laxness), and other conditions desirable for the particular case in hand, will then ask the pupil to rehearse those orders mentally, at the same time that he himself renders assistance by the skilful use of his hands. Then, holding with one hand one or two books against the inner back of the chair, he will rely upon the pupil mentally rehearsing the orders necessary to maintain and improve the conditions present, while he, with the other hand placed upon the pupil’s shoulder, causes the body gradually to incline backwards until its weight is taken by the back of the chair. The shoulder-blades will, of course, be resting against the books. The position thus secured is one of a number which I employ and which for want of a better name I refer to as a position of “mechanical advantage.”

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 118 footnote.

I do not therefore, in teaching him, actually order him to lengthen his spine by performing any explicit action, but I cause him to rehearse the correct guiding orders, and after placing him in a position of mechanical advantage I am able by my manipulation to bring about, directly or indirectly as the case may be, the desired flexibility and extension.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 131.

In order to obviate the evils enunciated in the last two postulates, the teacher must himself place the pupil in a position of mechanical advantage,* from which the pupil, by the mere mental rehearsal of orders which the teacher will dictate, can ensure the posture specifically correct for himself, although he is not, as yet, conscious of what that posture is.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 169.

Plainly, attention must first be given to straightening and lengthening the curved and shortened spine. This can be done by an expert manipulator who is able to diagnose the erroneous preconceived ideas of the person concerned, and cause the pupil to inhibit them while employing the position of mechanical advantage.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 183.

The truth of the matter is that in the old morbid conditions which have brought about the curvature, the muscles intended by Nature for the correct working of the parts concerned had been put out of action, and the whole purpose of the re-educatory method I advocate is to bring back these muscles into play, not by physical exercises, but by the employment of a position of mechanical advantage and the repetition of the correct inhibiting and guiding mental orders by the pupil, and the correct manipulation and direction by the teacher, until the two psycho-physical factors become an established psycho-physical habit.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), pages 183–184.

When a patient or pupil is placed in the position of mechanical advantage I have so often had occasion to refer to, the manipulator can secure the maximum movement of the abdominal viscera in strict accordance with the laws of nature, and will obtain at the same time a maximum functioning of all the internal organs.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), page 186.

My reader may justly ask, then, why I use them. Readers of Man’s Supreme Inheritance will remember that when I used the phrase “position of mechanical advantage,” I pointed out that I did so because a better one was not forthcoming, and I mentioned then that I had called to my aid a number of scientific and literary friends.

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), page 110.


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