Two Great Puzzles (2)

Motor nerves

My first blog on this topic looked at the first puzzle people face when attempting to improve posture and coordination – often the cause of difficulties are hidden from awareness.

This is simply due to the power of habit… things we do constantly are not likely to come to awareness unless they change, or there is a direct intention to observe, see post.

The second puzzle to face in changing such habits is the relationship between direct change and indirect change.

Attempts to make things improve directly may interfere with the natural coordination of your actions

ironically making it less likely you will get a constructive result. This is a puzzle because it may not feel like this is the case…

How does this work?

There are two essential pathways to muscle contraction, one involves a direct link between the brain and the muscle… the ordinary idea that when you decide to do something, you can do it by exerting direct muscle effort. This occurs via a very fast direct neurone connection; only two nerve cells from the motor-cortex in the brain and the muscle. Most of the muscle contraction in activity comes via this direct link.

The second, less well known pathway to muscle action is indirect. Muscle activity that is stimulated by various reflexes of coordination that all influence that final neurone pathway to the muscle (known as the “final common pathway”). The muscle tone generated this way requires no deliberate effort, and generates no ‘sense of effort’. Research suggests this pathway may be responsible for around 30% of the overall muscle activity in any action (1).

Learning the Alexander technique teaches you how to influence this indirect reflex mechanism via the conscious intention for action, a process that requires an accurate spatial sense and clear thinking, but no effort. It can be easily demonstrated that this kind of ‘directional thinking’ generates changes in muscle tone, and this can be used to reorganise body support and action via conscious cooperation with the design of the body.

The experience of this can be both surprising and enlightening.



1. The Firing Rates Of Human Motoneurones Voluntarily Activated In The Absence Of Muscle Afferent Feedback. V.G.Macefield, S.C.Gandevia, B.Bigland-Ritchie, R.B.Gorman And David Burke. Journal Of Physiology (1993), 471

One Response to “Two Great Puzzles (2)”

  1. dave s

    ” a process that requires an accurate spatial sense and clear thinking”. By this are you referring to the Alexander principles. ie by knowing where we are in space and directing ourselves up and by this ‘thinking or awareness’ we can influence our movement in a non-doing easier more efficient way?


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