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Zone Self, Another View: Reflex Supports the Voluntary and the Voluntary Doesn't Impede the Reflex

Posts: 1584
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
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I can take a look at two seconds of a video of any permaculturist and see how altered coordination could help them get more bang for their buck in how they move, stand, talk, sit, scythe, etc.  

I say this not to incline anyone to be self-conscious, although I acknowledge I probably just did that, but I will say also that there is a perfectly good reason for why everyone moves the way they move--AND at the same time there is a lazier way or ways available.  I want to focus on the wonder of how amazing these easier possibilities are rather than any idea of wrongness.

If we call permaculture "lazy agriculture" (a definition I love), the use of the self in light of the discoveries of F.M. Alexander and others is lazy use of one's zones -1 to -8.  (I made that second number up, I don't know how many zones exist within the self, it's an existential question.)  Alexander was an actor who lost his voice and then discovered a different way of moving that allowed it to be fully restored; his method of research was years of careful observation, he discovered how to work with nature's design instead of against it, he noticed how indigenous people did what they did, and--maybe not coincidentally--was also from Tasmania.  

The laziness is the point.  If permacutlure's aim is in essence to increase hammock time, the next question is, How do we have the essence of more good hammockiness integrated into every moment of our moving, of our gardening, designing, negotiating relationships with other humans, chewing our food, meeting obstacles, etc.?  I just reached out to a wonderful permaculture teacher in my area and he was on vacation--busy though returning correspondence.  If that's vacation, what's it like when he's back at work?  I'd like to have him and all of us be less hurried and more re-energized, and I believe the Alexander Technique can help facilitate that possibility.

The idea of "ergonomics" as it is usually understood in our society is mostly external--use a different chair, stand instead of sitting, take a certain posture (as if it were something separate from your self) or do a set of exercises, outside of your work itself.  This tool vs. that.  But the whole range of questions of _how_ we use the given chair, posture, exercise, tool, or how we use our self in a task, is the real ergonomics.  The question of how we walk, how we sit, how we scythe (as another poster mentioned).  Allowing the support of our self-organizing, "presprung, tensegritive, feed-forward system" (David Gorman) to move us up in gravity while we're doing whatever we're doing.  

(By the way, there's nothing mystical about this, and no need for it to be viewed as a Japanese or an Australian or an indigenous thing, it is simply a human being thing.  We're all indigenous people ancestrally anyway.)

Let me use the analogy of a straw man organic farmer here.  

The organic farmer believes it's necessary to work hard to wrest a living out of the earth.  She/he does a lot of actions to get those straight, plowed, rows of vegetables to thrive, combats the bugs who inevitably show up with clever, clean substances, waters as frequently as possible.  At some point a new insect-killer comes available, neem oil, say, and although its carbon footprint in travel is substantial, the farmer really needs the extra ease it offers and so relies on that.  The system chugs along, and there is a lot of honorable intent here, but you can see, as permaculturists, easier ways of going about this.  There are some flawed premises at work, the paradigm of thinking and seeing is limited.

The permaculturist farmer on the other hand has things mulched up, on contour, capturing rainwater and infiltrating, building soil, sheet-mulching on top instead of tilling, perennials replacing annuals in many places as appropriate, pigs doing the pigs work, ducks doing the slug-eating patrol, etc.

In regards to the use of the self, as it looks to me with my training, most of us in the permaculture world are more like the organic farmer rather than the permaculturist.  We resist taking medications, we rightly suspect many of them as being more poison than they are benefit, we want to work on our own health rather than depending on something that masks symptoms at a later cost.  But we still move in ways that drain energy, we're pulling down at the same time that we're trying to hold ourselves up in gravity, we find that more "ergonomic" implement at some point or learn a body pose that brings temporary relief and try to apply it as frequently as possible.  The body signals that are telling us there's a bigger picture here still keep coming.  There's a paradigm shift that's asking to occur and we haven't been seeing the new paradigm yet.  And yes, we may not be living up to our own values sometimes when we're dependent on some outside source, the "neem oil" of bodyworkers or some such resource, for relief, instead of finding the answer in our own back yard--in our own self.

If you don't attempt to hold yourself up in gravity, your reflex system holds you up in gravity.  

Better said, to the extent that you do less of what holds you up in gravity, your reflex system holds you up in gravity.  

Do-nothing movement, do-nothing farming.

I will include some links you can work with on your own, but with a lot of acknowledgement that they may not be very effective and doesn't really give a clear sense of the fullness of what's possible in shifting our thinking from the old paradigm to the more open one.   I'd rather the result of this post be that people ask more _questions_ rather than have more answers.  This new paradigm, as I'm calling it, is a wide open space.  (Alexander himself at the end of his long life said, "We're still only on the fringe of this thing.")  It's more unlearning than learning, it's more about curiosity and exploring and observing.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that ergonomic design of implements is important too--but it's not a separate subject.  It starts with the self also.  To the extent that we are sensitized to what we are doing, we notice the balance of weight in a tool, we choose better tools and stop using them before injury, we appreciate the fact that a wheelbarrow has its handles at arm's length rather than higher up, that it has one wheel in front for easy turning, and we don't have the weird idea of redesigning the wheelbarrow without any of these things (like one plastic wheelbarrow that really hurt me to use and tipped).  Previous generations were generally more in touch with their gardening tasks and their senses--and if something was off they knew it. If we're narrowed in our focus only onto the tool itself and the task, we won't notice or ask questions about what we're sensing within the self in response to the tool; if we are letting our focus include some of the self along with the tool and task, then we will notice more.

I'm posting this here, on Permies, because I want my work to serve permaculture and sustainability, people who I enjoy working, people whose values inspire me or feel sane to me.


Open Source/Free Resources

visual learners:

Marjorie Barstow at age 91 (note--she has osteoperosis. she was a rancher as well as a teacher of working with Alexander's discoveries)

auditory learners:
direction journal interviews (free membership required)

kinesthetic learners:
try the experiments on page 160.
Frank Pierce Jones' _Freedom to Change_, also published as _Body Awareness in Action_: http://www.fetchbook.info/search.do;jsessionid=FA3465B38E17BDDA0313F3323552D52F?search=frank+pierce+jones&searchBy=Author&Submit=Search.

I'd love to give you also a long list of things not to do, watch, or engage in, but to do so without criticizing anyone. The thing is, there's a great variation in the quality of presentation of things, the experience level of the person presenting it, etc., and then there's a subjective element—some teachers are a better match for you than others.

Ultimately, try it, and keep what works for you and leave what doesn't.

As a rule of thumb, the quality of the work presented is often in inverse proportion to the number of “views” it has received.

What serves your needs may change over time.
Joshua Myrvaagnes
Posts: 1584
Location: Massachusetts, 6b, suburban, nearish coast, 50x50, full sun, 40" year-round even distribution
kids purity trees urban writing
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Would love feedback on this article.  Also, if anyone can tell me how to post something and preserve italics and bolds, maybe even a footnote, that would be awesome.  I can try googling how to do that too but am taking a break now.

Thanks much!
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