The 3 ‘Ups”

Article added March 30, 2011

By Avi Granit

During a meeting of Alexander teachers in Tel Aviv, I worked with another teacher. I took the role of the teacher and used my hands to direct him. At one point I said to him “forward, up, and up”. His reaction was; “Why are you telling me ‘up’ twice? Is it in order to emphasis the importance of the upward direction?”

From this, an interesting conversation developed which helped me formulate my ideas about “upwards” and I would like to share them with you.

From the beginning when I studied in London the term “up” was never completely clear to me. It became evident when I realized that I couldn’t explain it to myself or others. When Mr. Patrick Macdonald worked with me, giving me the physical sensation of “upwards” – I experienced it very clearly, and it left me with a strong sensation of what was “up”. However, on working with other teachers and fellow students the “up” direction became less clear, I understood that the difference between working with Macdonald and with other teachers was connected to his conception of “upwards” rather than direction alone.

During workshops with teachers and pupils I would ask the question “Where exactly do you direct when you say “up”? The most common answer was “along the spine towards the head”. For example, if the person sitting on a chair was leaning at an approximate angle of 60 degrees he would point out the direction “up” towards the point in the room where the wall meets the ceiling. This way of thinking left me feeling that something was missing.

I thought back to a workshop I participated in during the late 1980’s when I traveled with a group of experienced teachers to work with Patrick Macdonald at his house in Lewes. Each of us, in turn, worked with Macdonald as he played the role of the pupil. Again and again he demanded; “Take me up, take me up” and again and again he wasn’t satisfied with our work.

Today it is clear to me that the most important thing in a teacher’s work is the use of himself, although in itself it is not enough it is essential. The importance of the teacher’s hands is vital here. The teacher must know both where he intends to direct his hands, and where he wants to move them.

While working as a teacher today, I direct myself and my guiding hands to three “ups”.
1. The “up” of the head
2. The “up” of the back
3. The third “up” of anti-gravity

I direct to these three “ups” at the same time as in Alexander’s famous phrase “all at once, one after the other.”

Let me explain further:

1. The “up” of the head.

This is the “up” that we use when we say “let the head go forward and up” With this instruction we mean that the head will go forward and up in relation to the back. This happens when instead of the head locking at the atlanto-occipital joint towards the back which happens to most people; the opposite occurs and the head is freed. It can then be directed to the appropriate direction – forward and up. The direction can also be seen as “out from the back” (spinal column) that is – distancing the head from the back instead of the head sinking into the back. In short, the first “up” is the up of the head in relation to the back.

2. The “up” of the back.

This is the “up” that we mean when we say “let the back lengthen and widen.” This is the “up” along the spine. With this “up” we expect the back to lengthen from the hip joint along the spinal column up till the top of the spine – the atlanto-occipital joint. This “up” we also call elongation, or flow along the spinal column.

Many times I meet Alexander teachers and pupils who explain “up” by pointing above their heads towards the ceiling. In my opinion this instruction is misleading. The “up” happens inside our bodies and should therefore, be explained this way. For example, when giving a pupil the instruction “let the back lengthen and widen” we should add “up along the spine, from below it up to the head.” In this way the pupil is encouraged to develop his own awareness inside himself in a more realistic and natural way. Because this “up” really happens inside ourselves -internally and not externally.
3. The third “up” – anti-gravity.

This “up” is an effect. It happens when the primary control works in harmony and co-ordination. That means when the neck is free to let the head go forward and up to let the back lengthen and widen. When this process functions correctly ; the third “up” is created. We can call it the “up” of anti-gravity or the flow this is created in the body. This “up” doesn’t occur in a particular part of the body – it exists in the whole body, we can even say in every cell of the body. This is a specific and natural energy that we create when we direct ourselves correctly.

Unfortunately, this energy does not exist in ourselves most of the time because, as human beings, we have lost our natural and correct use. Upon learning the Alexander Technique or through other techniques we can regain the body’s correct and natural organization that causes and reinforces this third “up”.

This “up” is felt mainly in the back which becomes light and flows, but it can also be felt in the hands that become light and flow, and in the legs when walking or running – they tend to move more lightly.

Here it is important to add that all of the three “ups” cannot happen without a relationship of opposition between the head and the back, and continuing between the back and limbs. Without this relationship of opposition – we cannot talk about the Alexander Technique. However, it is impossible to talk about everything in one article, and because “opposition” is an important and complex issue on its own; I will relate to this subject at a different opportunity

I will try to further explain the three “ups” with two examples:

Example One

A person (an Alexander teacher or pupil) directs himself while sitting and tilting forwards at a 45 degree angle.

This person will start by directing to the primary control and giving the appropriate instruction;
– Let the head be free, to let the head go forward and “up”- this “up” is the “up” of the head.

With this instruction, our intention is that the head will be free at the atlanto-occipital joint in relation to the back which is tilting forward at 45 degrees; and that the head will be orientated out of the spinal column directed to the point where the wall meets the ceiling.

All this deals with the direction of the head. This direction will prevent the head from fixing and sinking down into the back. At once, the back will be required to lengthen and widen. To lengthen from the hip joint towards the head up until the atlanto-occipital joint. This lengthening of the spinal column towards the head is the “up” of the back.

When these directions are dynamic and active within the person – the third “up” is created which is the “up” of antigravity – existing in every cell of the body. The head gets an orientation of direction to the ceiling and thus the pupil can be made aware of every vertebra in the spinal column which will be directed from the ground to the ceiling. The legs also join this effect of lightness from the ground upwards.

Example Two

A teacher directs a pupil – the teacher stands in the monkey position with his hands guiding a pupil.

Of course, in order to guide the pupil with his hands he must first direct himself. He’ll direct himself to let his neck be free so his head goes forward and “up”. This is the “up” of the head. All at once the back has to lengthen and widen This lengthening of the back from the hip joint towards the head is the “up” of the back.

Again, when these directions of the primary control work properly the effect that is created is one of “anti-gravity” where the body, the head and the limbs function against gravity. This effect is the third “up” – anti –gravity.

This effect is also created in the hands of the guiding teacher who is directing himself – the hands that flow from the back to the tips of the fingers will tend to flow and be lighter. They will get support from the sides of the body from the hip joint up to the armpit. This will cause the “anti-gravity” effect. The thighs in this instance are between the back which is taut above them thus lightening them and the legs below them which are grounded well and support them. Thus the legs all along their length will work with this sense of “anti-gravity”.


When this conception of the three “ups” is clear in the way we work with ourselves and with our pupils it is much easier to actually imagine the direction: we can carry out the directions as the image exists in our imagination. And, in this way, communication between the teacher and the pupil is clearer.

I believe that a teacher who works with this conception of the three “ups” which I have described, will be required to direct his hands in a way that in every action and position they will be in an orientation of “upwards against gravity”. All this while moving up and down, forwards and backwards. In other words the physical touch of the teacher’s hands with the head or the body of the pupil should give the constant direction of “up”. The developing ability of the teacher (and due to it, of the pupil) allows a separation between direction and movement. The direction which happens inside ourselves won’t weaken because of movement in space but will stay clear and flow.

These ideas have become clearer to me after many years of work with Rica Cohen in the Haifa school of Alexander Technique, work with pupils, self-reflection, many years of traveling to meet with Macdonald and discussions which even sometimes resulted in arguments with Rica.

With the years, I have realized that only with continual work and by constantly trying to put theory into practice can I make progress in my work. Of course, for this, one needs a lot of experience working with pupils and with other teachers of the technique. This process of wanting to understand and self-develop together with enough opportunity for practical work – accompanied by self-critism creates in time clarity. In my opinion this process never ends as long as the teacher works and this is what causes the work to be so endlessly fascinating. I have no intention of changing or discovering a new technique but only to understand the Alexander Technique as it is, but in a deeper and more accurate way.

When I was at Patrick Macdonald’s school in London. I would often hear the sentence: “It’s a never ending process.” With time I have begun to understand just how true this is, even more so – the more that we develop as teachers of the technique, the more that new understanding opens itself to us which encourages us to keep developing and progressing.

Presented at the 7th International Congress of the Alexander Technique August 2004, Oxford, England. Avi studied AT at Patrick Macdonald’s school between the years 1980-1983. From 1984 Avi has been teaching full-time in Israel, in both Haifa and Tel Aviv. He taught for 15 years as a senior teacher at the Haifa School for AT run by Rica Cohen until its closing in 1999. For 11 years, as part of his military service, Avi also instructed Israeli air force pilots in the technique.

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