Bradley Newman
Alexander Technique

I Know You’re Debauched, And I’ll Tell You Why

What shape are you in at the moment? But how do you know?

Do you know how many senses you have? The usual answer is five, but in fact we have many more than that. It could be as many as twenty-one, as discussed on QI. As well as the five we are all familiar with, we can also sense temperature, pain, and balance. And then there’s our kinaesthetic sense, which is our sense of body awareness. It tells you where in space your body is positioned. If I ask you to close your eyes and then touch your elbow with your other hand, you’ll be able to do it thanks to your kinaesthetic sense.

Our kinaesthetic sense is not always reliable - it doesn’t always give us objective feedback regarding our body. Rather, we get used to the position we’re usually in, and this comes to register as normal. If you spend a lot of time slumping, for instance, it will come to feel normal. So if you look in the mirror you will see what is actually going on, thanks to your vision, but your kinaesthetic sense may be telling you something different.

A frog in hot water

It’s a little like the story about a frog in hot water. As Dr Karl puts it: “This little parable claims that if you plunge a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. But if you put the frog into room temperature water, and then slowly heat the water to boiling, the frog doesn't realise what's happening and gets cooked to death.” The frog is not aware of the small changes, and they gradually build up to a harmful point. Kinaesthetically, this is what happens to us – we slowly grow into a poor posture, and our kinaesthetic sense doesn’t register the gradual shift. The small changes gradually build up to a harmful point, and the first time we sense trouble may be when we sense pain – a sore back, or an aching neck perhaps. Our water has reached boiling point and we hadn’t noticed its gradual approach.

FM Alexander wrote a lot about this - not frogs, but how we lose awareness of the shape we’re in. He termed it ‘debauched kinaesthetic awareness’, and we are all debauched to some extent. We all gradually grow into a posture that reflects the shapes we put ourselves in each and every day. Because this happens slowly, we don’t notice the change kinaesthetically. And this is how we can look into a mirror and see a slumped or twisted posture and yet not feel it. We have become debauched, and I’m confident you are debauched - perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. A good, hard look in the mirror may tell you how much.

Why does this matter?

Alexander’s technique deals with this. Studying the Alexander Technique helps the kinaesthetic sense become reliable again, so the shape you feel you are in comes to correspond to the shape you actually are in. This is important. It’s harder to injure (or re-injure) yourself when your body is actually doing what you think it’s doing. Conversely, it’s very likely that you will eventually injure yourself if your feelings don’t correspond to what’s really going on. And while a look in the mirror may give you an idea of what’s going on, a lesson with an Alexander Technique teacher will make it more obvious, and help you start to deal with the problem.

As for frogs, the story about the boiling water is a myth. As Dr Karl says, “frogs can sense when the water gets dangerously hot”. So frogs are not debauched, at least in regard to their sense of temperature. They may be debauched in other ways, but I don’t know about that.

Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see or email Bradley on .