Do you know where your lungs are?
Seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? So take a moment. Put your hands on where you think your lungs are. I’ll wait for you.
I asked my acting students in Cardiff recently to show me where their lungs are. I have a class of fourteen teenagers. Thirteen of them put their hands halfway down their torso, just below their ribs. I asked them if they were sure, and they all agreed that they were.
Then I showed them a picture of where the lungs really are. It caused some consternation.
You see, they’d been trying to breathe down into their abdominal cavity. They’d been told by various drama and voice teachers that breathing down there was good, so they assumed that was where their lungs were located. They also assumed that any movement that happened in the chest must be bad, and some even admitted trying to stop it happening. Sadly, all they were doing was stopping the free movement of their body to allow their lungs to fill!
FM Alexander said that we all think and act according to the peculiarities of our psycho-physical make-up.* In other words, what we believe about our bodies and the world at large determines how we move and interact. If we don’t know the basics of what we’ve got bodywise and how it works, then we’re a bit like a runner starting a race off a handicap. We’ll be struggling from the very start.
So if you’re involved in a specialised activity like singing or playing tennis or skiing (or anything else), or if you’re finding a particular activity difficult, please do spend a bit of research time. Find out what muscles and joints you’ve got. Find out where your lungs are. Get some knowledge. Because once you know what you’ve got, you can begin to plan effectively how you’re going to use it.
* FM Alexander Consctructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Irdeat edition, p.293.
Image of the lungs taken from Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, 10th ed., Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins, p.30.