Let's Get Psychophysical - Newsletter #13
The Necessary Tension of Opposites
Hello, it’s Kevin.
Here is your weekly list of 5+ things I’ve found that promote wholeness, integration and “waking up” - rather than fragmentation, dis-integration and falling asleep.
This week’s newsletter is on the necessary tension of opposites.
Getting into alignment as a whole doesn’t mean that all of your parts are literally going in the same direction.
Sometimes you need two opposing movements which create a third force in between.
Opposites in the Brain
Here is Iain McGilchrist on the antagonistic brain.
“The great physiologist, Sir Charles Sherrington, observed a hundred years ago that one of the basic principles of sensorimotor control is what he called ‘opponent processors’. What this means can be thought of in terms of a simple everyday experience. If you want to carry out a delicate procedure with your right hand that involves a very finely calibrated movement to the left, it is made possible by using the counterbalancing, steadying force of the left hand holding it at the same time and pushing slightly to the right.
I agree with Marcel Kinsbourne that the brain is, in one sense, a system of opponent processors. In other words, it contains mutually opposed elements whose contrary influence make possible finely calibrated responses to complex situations. Kinsbourne points to three such oppositional pairings within “the brain that are likely to be of significance. These could be loosely described as ‘up/down’ (the inhibiting effects of the cortex on the more basic automatic responses of the subcortical regions), ‘front/back’ (the inhibiting effects of the frontal lobes on the posterior cortex) and ‘right/left’ (the influence of the two hemispheres on one another).”
“….following the physiological principle of opponent processors, duality refines control.”
Iain McGilchrist; “The Master and His Emissary”
Opposites in the Body
Here is F. Matthias Alexander on the importance of “antagonistic actions” and “antagonistic pulls” for the postural system. The ancient Greek work agon means a struggle, a contest.
His earlier method (but, confusingly, not what became know later as “the Alexander Technique”) was based entirely on this principle of tension of opposites. It wasn’t about feeling free or releasing all tension.
There is good tension and bad tension.
The goal is to consciously direct multiple movements all at the same time - various pairs of bony parts moving in opposite directions from one another - in such a way that you expand the torso as a whole, and bring into play the elastic connective tissues.
“The speciﬁc control of a ﬁnger, of the neck, or of the legs should primarily be the result of the conscious guidance and control of the mechanism of the torso, particularly of the antagonistic muscular actions which bring about those correct and greater co-ordinations intended to control the movements of the limbs, neck, respiratory mechanism, and the general activity of the internal organs.”
“… and that is the only way you can get your antagonistic pulls. By physical culture methods you do not get antagonistic pulls, and that is what is the matter.
What interests me is to give her something to do by means of which she will… get the antagonistic pulls working.”
F. Matthias Alexander
It’s important to note that you can’t engage the elastic connective tissue directly in the same way you can with muscles. You can’t feel fascia. I am not saying that you actively, directly stretch the fascia.
But it can be engaged indirectly through the use of opposing movements, which are powered by the muscles. When you move bony parts away from one another in space, in opposite directions, they will pull on both ends of the “elastic band” in between.
The two opposing movements create a third force in between. Antagonistic actions create antagonistic pulls. And you can learn to create and use these pulls to guide and control your postural system.
It’s a bit like getting an elastic band ready to ping at someone… the energy is now in there waiting to be released… but it was the opposing movements of your hands that put it there…
“This could be your back but you playin’.”
These are the principles I use in the posture lessons. If you want to learn how to do this, then book a 1-to-1 lesson with me. Reply to this email, or message me on Twitter.
Opposites in Art:
As usual, the mystics and artists got there first.
Blake’s painting seems like a dynamic & visionary version of the more philosophical & abstract Yin-Yang symbol.
Opposites in Poetry:
“Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Opposites in Philosophy:
“They do not comprehend how a thing agrees at variance with itself; it is an attunement turning back on itself, like that of the bow and the lyre.”
Opposites in Life:
On Living Within the Opposites
by Jake Veigel
I read Jake’s article while writing this newsletter, and it perfectly describes this same principle in the context of spiritual reflections.
“It has been said that when it comes to personal and spiritual growth our most productive time is spent in the place in which we are tugged and pulled at from opposing directions. Trying to make sense of two seemingly incompatible truths makes our minds feel stretched and compressed simultaneously. I am not speaking of the middle ground or moderation or fence sitting.”
Antagonistic action, in action.
The purpose of this experiment is to play with opposing movements.
The mechanism of the torso is complex and requires many different movements, so let’s work with something simpler: the knee-pelvis relationship while sitting.
Record yourself sitting side on to the camera. Sit on the edge of the chair.
Locate the highest point of your pelvis bone on the left side. Now follow it forward and down until you find a sharp “knobbly bit” of bone (just under your belt line.)
Move this bone away from your knee, inclining backward, as far as you can.
Watch the video. Did your knee also move backward when you moved the bone backward? There is no mechanical reason your knee should do this - it’s just a subconscious habit.
Start recording and do the same experiment again. But this time tell yourself “i refuse to let my knee come back.” Say this out loud so you can hear on video.
Finally, do the experiment one last time. This time tell yourself “i will pull my knee forward at the same time as i pull the bone back… just enough so that on the video it will appear to stay in the same position…”
Watch the video. What effect did your conscious intentions have on your movements? Did you still move the knee or not?
Do you think this might help you stop fidgeting and crossing your legs all day?
With training you can do several of these antagonist actions - all at the same time - and transform your entire posture. With the right combination of movements the elastic connective tissue will “hold you up” so you don’t need to lean on the back of a chair.
The torso is obviously more complex than the simple experiment above, but the principle os using “opposing movements” is the same.
We obsess over muscles too much. Why not learn to use the giant elastic bands you have in your back which will give you “free energy?”
This is a metaphor. Obviously you still need to use your muscles to make the antagonistic movements - but once you are in a “position of mechanical advantage” the elastic can, more or less, hold you in place for a long time.
In practical terms this means: your back won’t get tired, you won’t fidget as much, and so you can focus more easily on a task. You might even live longer. Who knows?
Have fun antagonising yourself!
Thanks for reading,
If you want to transform your posture using Antagonistic Actions then book a 1-to-1 Posture Consultation and “Body Audit.”
I will analyse your posture over Zoom and then show you which opposing movements are best for your situation.
For more info:
1. Reply to this email, or
2. Message me on Twitter.