Proprioception is the body’s ability to perceive the relationships between its parts. Proprioception is what enables one to move a finger to a point on the body without looking at it.
Mechanoreceptors located within muscles, tendons and joints respond to movement, which creates proprioception. These receptors in and around joints gather dynamic information about limb position and joint movement. Without movement, there is no proprioception.
Healthy posture is movement – all muscles subtly changing length (myotatic reflexes). This is perhaps best exemplified by balance, which relies on continual muscular adaptation to keep the liquid in inner ear canals in movement. The more the head is positioned, the worse balance becomes.
What is direction in the Alexander Technique? As Alexander taught, it is not doing, but allowing: allow your neck to be free, to allow your head to go forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, and so on. It is not actively lengthening, it is attempting to let go of contractive habits that interfere with good posture (“unduly stimulated fear responses,” F.M. Alexander). If you sit or lie down and tell yourself not to “do” anything and you bring your awareness to your hands, again, without moving them, and simply ask yourself where your hands are and where your fingers are, you will begin to find your fingers and have a sense of the joints of your fingers – your hands will open because you wished to activate your proprioception, and your brain has allowed movement in small muscles necessary for mechanoreceptors to gather information.
If you sense your fingers and movement in their joints, then your arms are subtlety releasing out of habitual retraction, moving away from the neck and permitting it to free and lengthen, albeit very slightly. We call those protective, retractive reflexes “grasping” reflexes – their purpose is to hold on with the hands and arms, and they can be worked on from the extremities, from “ungrasping.”
If we go more deeply into our bodies and ask ourselves where our skulls are and to have a sense of where our atlanto-occipital joints are, we may not have immediate success in getting the movement mechanoreceptors need for proprioception. It may take great persistence to allow proprioceptors to find our necks and hip joints, and determination to spend time in non-doing.
This requires great persistence in “non-doing” as any attempt to create movement will prevent the body from letting go of the muscular holding preventing subtle movement. The same will be true for hip joints and sacroiliac joints – they will be hidden from us, until we repeatedly search for them and allow the subtle movement that will reveal them. While sacroiliac joints are maintained by ligaments and have no muscles or tendons that directly move them, they have mechanoreceptors that are simulated by the action of nearby muscles. Thus, allowing movement in these joints may require freeing of the many surrounding muscles: