Unified Field of Attention- A peek into How we Learn

I hope you enjoy this next post by Carolyn Johnston. It is essentially a key component into understanding how we learn. I particularly find the conversation on expanding our focus or the opposite “narrowing our focus” to be helpful. Anyone who has the experience of crunching their brain or excessive mental strain will be able to find some clarity and wisdom in this read. Or you may simply want to learn new skills. Carolyn operates her practice in Pittsburgh and is a regular guest teacher in our studio each month.Enjoy, Lesley D.

Unified Field of Attention

by Carolyn Johnston

The Alexander Technique inherently teaches the fundamental principles of learning
how to learn. Developing the skill of learning how to learn requires the ability to
expand ones unified field of attention. Our habitual way of learning anything is to use
the Cerebral cortex to concentrate. It is the largest site of neural integration in the
central nervous system. It plays a key role in attention, perception, awareness, thought,
memory, language and consciousness. That is all wonderful, but, we often narrow our
focus so much in our attempt to think and concentrate that we unknowingly get
ourselves into an excessive state of tension, compressing our joints and our way of
being into a state of living akin to “frozen concentrate.”
Frank Pierce Jones, a student of both F.M. Alexander and his brother A.R. once said,
“The stumbling block for me lay in my concept of thinking. Thinking meant
concentrating, narrowing the attention to a small area and making an effort to keep it

Since the Alexander Technique elicits ease and flow from one moment into the next,
physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, we need to expand our
awareness to include a larger attentive field of life. This requires learning from the
limbic system which is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional
response, especially when it comes to behaviors we need for survival: feeding,
reproduction and caring for our young, and fight responses. Any emotional disturbance
affects the level of muscle tone before a reaction in the autonomic system has begun.
The only way to change our habitual response to the stimuli of life is to consciously set
up two fields of awareness simultaneously—one for the self (introspection) and another
for the environment (extrospection.)

If we are 100% aware of ourselves kinesthetically,
and in other ways as well, then we are capable of being open to give 100% of ourself to
the world and if we are100% aware of our environment then we can receive 100% from
the world simultaneously in the present now!

Missy Vineyard, the author of “How You
Stand, How You Move, How You Live, wrote: “Awareness is a mental skill that can be
practiced and improved.” To that I would add, it is an enjoyable ongoing process and
an adventure.
There is another problem opposite from the kind of concentrating that is associated with
a state of over-tension. It is mind wandering and day dreaming. Have you ever been
driving to a certain destination and then find yourself heading someplace else because
your mind wandered into imagining some experience you had in the past or an
imagining of something in the future? The awareness of yourself and your
surroundings in the present is sacrificed for trying to live in the past or the future. The
truth of the matter is that in reality your matter can only truly live in the present NOW.

Here is an etude to play with to wake up and expand your KINESTHETIC SENSE:
It is good to experience this standing first and some other time sitting. Take your time
to soak in the sensations. You can explore these a few at a time whenever your ready
if it seems overwhelming to do all of them at first.

—sense your head and your feet at the same time
—put your hands on the top of your head and sense your hands touching your head
and your feet touching the floor simultaneously, then walk sensing your height
—sense how wide you are in different areas from head to toe
— put one hand on the right side and the other on the left side of your body in different
places from head to toe and sense your hands touching your body and your width
simultaneously, then walk sensing your width
—sense how deep you are from front to back in different areas from head to toe
—place one hand on the front and the other on the back of your body in different
areas from head to toes and sense your hands contacting your body and your depth
simultaneously, then walk sensing your depth
—sense your height and your width simultaneously
continue this 2 dimensional simultaneous sensing while walking or engaging in a
simple activity
—sense your height and your depth simultaneously
continue this 2 dimensional simultaneous sensing while walking or doing a different
simple activity
—sense your width and your depth simultaneously
continue this 2 dimensional simultaneous sensing while walking or doing a more
difficult activity
—sense all three dimensions simultaneously
continue this 3 dimensional simultaneous sensing while walking and applying it to
a few simple and complex activities
—set up reminders (an alarm or sticky notes) so that throughout your day you will be
training yourself to become mindful of your full volume to live your daily life more fully

Besides your kinesthetic sense giving you information about your size, which is what
you just experienced having played with the above suggestions, it also informs you
through proprioception about the different shapes that you make with the bending of
your joints. The third category is information about movement. We can experience
direction, speed, and quality of movement.

Ask yourself, how often am I aware of all
this delightful information in my daily life?

Hear are some etudes to play with to enhance your conscious awareness of your
Do all these seated in a comfortable couch or chair.

Enhancing your TACTILE SENSE:
—put your hand on your chest and feel the shape of your chest, the difference between
the tone of your muscles and the tone of your sternum bone, the temperature, the
slight movement that occurs with the breath
—change hands and this time notice the information that your chest senses about your
hand, then sense your hand and your chest gathering information simultaneously
about each other, then rest your hand on your lap
—sense the air on your skin, your clothes on your body, the pressure of your back
against the chair, your legs on the chair, feet touching the floor
—slowly slide one hand down your legs to your foot and back up
—notice what information you tactilely glean as you do this again with your other hand
also be aware of how you are moving, unifying your kinesthetic and tactile senses
—slowly, being aware of your whole body movement, repeat the tactile slide using both
hands simultaneously
—notice: texture, weight, temperature, size and shape (3 dimensions)

Enhancing your AUDITORY SENSE:
—close your eyes
—notice all the sounds you are hearing: pitch or tone, rhythm and volume

Enhancing your OLFACTORY SENSE:
__keep your eyes closed
—notice everything that you smell: pleasant or unpleasant, faint or strong, pungent,
sweet, fruity, herby, earthy, smoky, etc.

Enhancing your GUSTATORY SENSE:
It is helpful to have a few little things to eat near by like a grape, strawberry, chocolate
—keep your eyes closed
—notice what you taste: sweet, sour, bitter, salty or savory (unami)
—while your at it, you might as well notice the movements of your tongue, jaw, soft
palate and esophagus as you chew different textures and swallow while you are
simultaneously tasting

Enhancing your VISUAL SENSE:
—slowly open your eyes
—notice: colors, light, size (3 dimensions) and shapes

Putting ALL this together with your KINESTHETIC SENSE:
— begin to move different parts of you in various ways and unite all your
observations from the kinesthetic etude at the beginning along with
noticing the shapes that you are creating and the direction, speed and quality of how
your are moving all the while perceiving the wonder of your other senses.


SENTIENCE: is the immediate, accurate and inclusive perception of reality as gleaned
directly through our senses, without the labored intervention of language
or analysis.

This skill of developing and refining your UNIFIED FIELD OF ATTENTION is essential
to living a mindful life as a sentient being. Conscious awareness is the first step to
being able to inhibit our habitual flee, fight, freeze or fidget responses to stimuli, thereby
setting up a way of being in which we have the ability to choose to be fully present with
comfort and ease.

“Movement within an expanded field of attention is the means by which change is
effected in the AlexanderTechnique.” Frank Pierce Jones

Moving beyond Perfectionism

Moving beyond Perfectionism

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman...

read more


This work is invaluable. As someone who does the work and shares the work through teaching and stewarding for our studio and its community, I...

read more