Thursday, April 12, 2012

Heaven and Hell: Practical Concepts with Alexander Technique Directions

Every traditional religious or spiritual practice that I am aware of (including Buddhism) makes use of the general concepts of Heaven and Hell, or something similar.  This includes a sense that a better place is up above us and a worse place is down below us.

In a more superficial, exoteric sense, Heaven and Hell are considered to be physical places "up above" and "down below" us in space.  In a deeper and more esoteric sense, these concepts are considered states relative to and part of the human experience, as in "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you", or "If there is a Heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here".  No matter the perspective or context, these words convey a sense of spatial life direction.

My intention here is not at all to argue for or against a particular belief (or non-belief) in Heaven or Hell.  My intention is simply to point out that these concepts have the potential to be very useful to our everyday lives when understood and applied in a way that (1) includes a physical/spatial conception of the words; and (2) expands to include a psychophysical awareness of the Alexander Technique directions of "up" and "down", in relation to gravity and the physical body on earth.  Thinking of Heaven-Up/Hell-Down in this way can actually be an immensely practical and helpful tool, if a person wants to and realizes how to make the most of the ideas.

Keeping it simple:

To begin with, the AT ideas of "Up" and "Down" could be considered synonyms for "Heaven" and "Hell" in a physical sense.  Then, if we add in the emotional connotations of the words "Up" and "Down" ("I'm feeling really up/happy today..." or "Boy, she's really down/unhappy today"...), we may come a bit closer to a fuller understanding of the words "Heaven" and "Hell".

- We all want to go "up", because we know this is a happy, light, positive direction, tending towards a "heavenly", "enlightened", lively place or state
- We don't want to fall "down", because we know that will make us less happy and we might get hurt (we might even literally hit the ground if we fall too fast in an uncoordinated way!); when we're down, we're heavy and unhappy; when we're very depressed, we feel like we're "in a living hell"; we lack energy, and we are tending towards death and lack of movement
- To go in an upwards direction, we first need to want/wish/desire to go up, and therefore we must make "lighten up" while making the effort to keep Up/Heaven in our mind-body awareness at all times
- We need to resist/oppose the downward pull of gravity, the habit of mindless forgetting of our Goal/Up/Heaven which pulls us down

Two practical choices:

1. NO: We can say "no" to whatever tends to pull us downwards/"hellwards"; we can refuse to fall into the temptation of living habitually/mindlessly; we can stop forgetting Up/Heaven; with our thinking, we can strongly resist and oppose the ground beneath our feet

2. YES: We can continually aim/orient our body-mind in a positive direction, saying "yes" to an Upwards/Heavenwards direction, by remembering that this is our ultimate goal and deepest desire, leading to steady and sustainable happiness

The Hindu God Shiva conquers the demon that lies underfoot, 
dancing ecstatically while aiming up and out, hair flying!

*print by JWT Shanghai, "Samsonite Heaven and Hell"


  1. I love it! I've never thought of this.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Luke. Glad to know I've sparked a new thought... :)

  3. Great post! A lot of religious concepts have practical relevance if we don't take them literally.

    1. Thanks, Padmini, I'm glad you enjoyed reading this! I agree with you: so many religious concepts can have practical relevance when we don't take them literally. However, part of my point with this blogpost is that EVEN when people take them literally (and there are so many people who take religious dogma extremely literally), adding in an Alexander Technique perspective can make those ideas particularly useful. So, if a person sincerely believes that there is a place in the sky called Heaven, that idea combined with the AT ideas around "Up" can be a very practical help in everyday life. I think as teachers we need to be able to start teaching our students from "within" their habitual way of thinking, and then expand out from there, as they are willing and ready to do that. So, if a person thinks of Heaven/Hell as literal physical places, we can go with that and turn that kind of thinking to practical use. In the same way, we can go with abstract thinking and make that practical, too.

  4. interesting to read! Thank you for writing it!

    1. Glad you like it, Yimo. Thanks for reading it! :)


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