top of page

Home  -  Alexander Technique  -  Resources  -  Dynamic Emotional Integration®  -  Workshops & Courses  -  About Sue  Contact       







What is the Body Map? 


The body map is a picture of our body in our brains, but it is not fixed: the maps are changeable or “plastic.”  


When the body map accurately represents the true design of the body, the movement dictated by the map will look and feel free, easy and balanced. Conversely, when the body map has inaccuracies in it, movement is stiff, awkward, and injury-producing.


What is Body Mapping? 


Body Mapping is the term that William and Barbara Conable came to call the method of movement re-education they developed during the 1970‘s.The purpose of Body Mapping is to teach musicians to correct their own faulty body maps by examining the truth of the body’s design as seen in anatomical images, anatomical models and as felt by palpating one’s own bony structure.  




Common Mapping Errors

(This is a chapter in Barbara Conable’s book, How to Learn The Alexander Technique’. Here she lists some of the common mapping errors her students have discovered in themselves.)


You may find as you examine your own body map that you have been operating on some very strange kinaesthetic illusions, and you may learn how damaging those illusions have been to free movement. The point here is to remeove those illusions for ever so that you can regain your primary control. Recovering primary control is easy with an accurate body map, very difficult or impossible without.

This chapter lists some of the common mapping errors that our students have discovered in themselves and some of the consequences of those errors, also what conditions are alleviated when the map is corrected.As you read about other’s mapping errors see to what degree you share them. Change your map and note carefully the change in movement.’

Many students come with many of these errors in their map, not just a few. For those students correcting the map will result in stunning, fundamental change in body experience and the quality of movement. the improvement is proportional to the error."

The Head:

- that it includes the jaw and begins at the bottom of the jaw. People who believe this will try to move their heads as if from the middle of the neck, four or five vertebrae from the actual joint. These people almost never look up, as if at the moon, because the scrunching hurts too much and they can’t look down freely down from the head’s joint with the spine so they thrust their heads down and forward as a unit if they want to look at a desk. This puts terrible pressure on the area where the cervical curve gives way to the thoracic curve leading eventually to a painful hump in that area.


- that the base of the skull is a membrane or that the base of the brain is protected only by the top vertebra. One woman told me that every time she moved her head forward and up she imagined that her brain was dripping down her back. Other people tell me that they are afraid something will be able to puncture their brains if they leave the area just under the base of the skull unprotected. Needless to say, these people will pull back down again the minute they feel they can in order to protect the horror the map dictates if they keep going forward and up with their heads. Once they see for themselves that the base of the skull is a very secure, wonderfully protective bony plane they no longer feel the desperate need to pull back down and they begin to learn about freedom.


- that the head moves from the top. These are the people affected by the string-from-the- top-of-the-head fantasy. I devise ingenious little purgatories for teachers who propagate such nonsense. People who try to move their heads from the top always stiffen their necks. When people find out they can move their heads at its bottom at an actual joint they are greatly relieved and they freeze their necks rather than stiffen them.


- that the head rests on the spine near the back of the base of the skull. Whew! Think of the muscular effort it would take to hold it up! Actually the head was supported near its back in ancestral primates. It took nearly 10 times the muscle mass to hold the head erect and those creatures weren’t even trying to stand upright.


The Neck:

- that it is doughnut shaped, a sort of O-ring. In one version of this fantasy the muscles of the neck go round and round, a kind of collar. “I feel as though I’m being choked by my neck.”


- that the muscles are small and weak.


- that the neck is just at the back. No. The neck includes all the head moving muscles on the front and sides as well as the back. Thinking just of the back of the neck accounts for the weird tucking of the chin that some people do in the attempt to go forward and up with their heads, freeing the back of the neck (so they think) at the expense of the front. This is especially common in Europe where Alexander’s word neck is sometimes translated into a German word that does mean the back of the neck. Tricky.


- that the bottom of the neck is at the top of the collar, especially common in men. The poor men drop everything south of the top of the collar into the chest in their maps and suffer a caving-in of the top of the torso as a result. Usually the buttons on a button-down shirt fall right at the collarbone, so if you must map your body with regard to your clothes (not a good idea) then please map your neck at the bottom of your business collar, not at the top.


- that the muscles of the neck surround one or two or three vertebrae. No. They surround seven vertebrae. They do also on a giraffe. The giraffe just happens to have foot-deep vertebrae. When people get nicely lengthened out, they say they feel like a giraffe, they are getting closer to the truth. They are like a giraffe.


- that the neck muscles have some role in speaking and singing. Not here on earth. In heaven there are great choir of neck muscles finally getting to sing, but not here. The neck muscles only get to move the head around to look here and there as the singer sings, here at the lover, there at the moon, there at the surprising letter just brought by the footman, there at the floor, back at the lover, back at the moon, and so on and so on.



The Tongue:

- that it originates somewhere near the back of the mouth, usually just beneath the back of the hard pallet. Try it just try moving your tongue from there. Impossible. It makes me want to scream when I try it, yet singing students and acting students, coast to coast are earnestly trying to move and free their tongues from there. When they discover the truth that the tongue originates in the throat just above the hyoid bone, and then makes its way up and over into the jaw, and that it is therefore long, long, long, suddenly freeing it becomes possible.


- that the tongue is moved by muscles in the throat. Yipes! Actually the tongue is one of the few instances in the body where a muscle moving itself is the point, not a muscle’s moving bone. Actually, the tongue is a composite muscle – like a composite flower! – more than 40 muscles in one neat little package. That’s why it can go all over the place.



The Lips:

- that the lips that form consonants are the lips we put lipstick on. The moving, consonant – forming lips are much bigger, going all the way up to the base of the nose and all the way down, to the base of the gum. Have a look at the facial muscles again and play with moving the movement lips. The lipstick lips just ride along.



The Face:

- that the face is skin on bone, a ruinous fantasy for an actor or a singer, often deriving from the word mask as applied to the face. Imagine the little purgatory I have devised for the monster who developed the face as mask notion.


- that lifting the cheeks contributes to resonance. This fantasy accounts for the look of perpetual astonishment often seen in its aspiring opera singers. It’s a dramatically disastrous notion. It doesn’t work, of course, because it means that the facial muscles are not available for what they are intended for, dramatic expression. Facial expressions of joy, despair and cruelty are forever lost to the singer who feels compelled to keep the cheeks hiked.



The Throat:

- that the oesophagus ( the swallowing tube) is in front of the trachea (the breathing tube). It’s behind it. This common confusion makes swallowing much more laborious and tightens the voice as we try to act out our maps.



The Jaw:

- that it hinges behind the ear. Try out what this would be like


- that it hinges at the two ends of the horseshoe shape at the bottom. Try it.

- that it hinges just below the corners of the mouth. (Jaw=chin).Try it.

- that there is bone filling in the whole horseshoe at the bottom.Try it.


- that its joint is at the coronoid process, the roughly triangular projection which slides along the cheap bone as the jaw opens. Try it.


- that there are two jaws, and upper and lower. Try it.


The Lungs:

- that the lungs are in the abdominal cavity. Person who believe this put their hands on the lower ribs to try to monitor the amount and flow of air.


- that the lungs are in the pelvic cavity. These persons put their hands on their bellies to fill air. Of course, what they are feeling is the movement of the visera forward as the diaphragm descends.


- This might as well go here as anywhere; some people have an air column in their maps, sometimes of monstrous length.If you hear your student mention his column ask him to draw it. You’ll be astonished by what you see. Show the student just exactly what does occupied that space in his body and he’ll be grateful to you forever.


- that the lungs are hideously vulnerable to puncture and must therefore be protected by tightening muscles around them. Actually they are protected by the ribs and the two shoulder blades lying directly over them like medieval shields. Besides, tightened muscles are themselves quite puncturable.


The Diaphragm:

- that it is a vertical structure, perhaps the top of the abdominal muscles. People tighten abdominal muscles to conform to this fantasy and thereby destroy in the movement of breathing the tide of the gut forward as the diaphragm descends. The diaphragm is a dome- shaped muscle which separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity, horizontally.


– that it is in the abdominal cavity.


– that it is in the pelvic cavity. The muscles at the very bottom of the pelvis which support the abdominal contents are sometimes called the pelvic diaphragm. They are important, too, but they have non-metaphorical individual names and are not the same as the thoracic, or respiratory diaphragm.



The Ribs :

– that there are seven or eight of them and that they surround the abdominal cavity. This fantasy leaves people feeling terribly vulnerable in their upper bodies. People feel so much safer when they learn that their ribs come all the way up to the bottom of their necks, that they surround the whole thoracic cavity as well as some of the abdominal cavity, that they even underlie the shoulder blade, the shoulder joint, and the breasts, that they provide the first line of defence against lung puncture by entirely surrounding both lungs and heart (which nestles between the lungs).


– that there is a rib cage. Cage is a terrible metaphor for ribs. The bars of a cage are fixed so that what’s inside can’t get out. Imagine you visit the zoo, the zookeeper says to you, we are proud of the lion cage. It has a clever arrangement whereby the top of the bars are made of cartilage so that they’re nice and springy and the bottom of the bars are jointed with the floor so that plenty of movement is possible.


– that upper ribs shouldn’t move in breathing. This fantasy destroys singers.


- that ribs are only in front; the back is something (vague and) different.


– women often believe that they have breast tissue interior to the ribs, crowding the lungs. Some believe that there are no ribs under their breasts, and many fail to clearly perceive the rib area above their breasts. Consequently, they stop the natural movement of the upper ribs, and their breathing suffers.


– that ribs expand, maybe like rubber bands or a telescope, or by coming right out of their joints! Actually, the volume of the thoracic cavity expands when the ribs are lifted from the sides. They pivot at the front cartilage and at the spine, rather like the handle of a bucket. Check this on yourself; there is a good picture of it in the Anatomy colouring book.


– that the front of the ribs or the sternum lines up with the lumbar spine.



The Back

– that the back is the bodies main support, rather than the spine.


– that the spine is just the little bumps you can feel running down your back.


– that the back is some sort of solid bony plate.



The Spine:

– that it is small, as big as a dime, or a quarter, or a fifty-cent piece.


– that it is a rod, “like a broom handle”.


– that it bears weight near the surface of the back.


– that the weight-bearing part of it is exterior to the ribs.


– that it is straight. Some people do manage to make it nearly so.



The Pelvis:

– that the pelvis is a bowl. The pelvis is so little like a bowl it won’t even hold a 10 pound baby once nature has decided it’s time for the baby to leave it’s mother‘s womb. The pelvis of a full-size skeleton might hold a soccer ball if the pelvis were never tipped because the pubic bone does come up some in front, but it wouldn’t begin to hold a bunch of softball and it certainly won’t contain strawberries and cream.


– derived from the bowl image, perhaps, that the pelvis covers the abdomen in front.


- that there are spool-shaped sit bones or sit bones appended to the bottom of the pelvis on which we must precariously balance. Rather the pelvis itself is rocker-shaped at the bottom, providing a support that is reliable in any position.


– that’s the pelvis is one massive bone, therefore vulnerable. Rather the pelvis is two medium-sized bones jointed at the pubis to each other, at the top to the sacrum (the delta-shaped bone at the bottom of the spine) on either side, and near the bottom to the thigh bone on either side. There is considerable ability to bear impact because of the cushioning at the pubic synthesis, (not a bone, but the place where the two pubic bones meet) and some resilience at the sacroiliac joints, and then, of course it’s nicely padded all around.


– that the front of the pelvis lines up with the lumbar spine.


– that there is no movement in the pubic and sacroiliac joints. In fact there is some - a little - with every breath.



The Pelvic Cavity:

– that it goes straight down, like a plastic bag or a pillowcase. Actually it opens back at the bottom. People who unconsciously make the pillowcase assumption try to reshape themselves to match it.



The Pelvic Floor:

– that it is mostly bone with little holes.



The Sacrum:

– that it is part of the pelvis. Not really. It is five fused vertebrae, so its origin is spinal. It delivers weight at its very top, sideways into the thickened part of the pelvic bones on either side, where weight is delivered through the hip joints into the thigh bone.



The Tailbone:

– that it must bear the bodies weight in sitting or standing. People say “my tailbone gets so sore because it has to take all my weight. It’s so small”.


If the tailbone had to take our weight, it would soon disappear. Tiny bones disintegrate under lots of weight. Fortunately, in standing our weight is delivered out to the thighbones, and in sitting it is delivered down into the rockers well in front of the tailbone, which just floats there. I have explained elsewhere that the non-weight bearing part of the sacrum and the tailbone are in the body to shape Levi’s. (They also form the attachments for important muscles and ligaments.)



The Hip Joints:

– that they are near the top of the pelvis, often at the iliac crest. This illusion creates lower back pain and interferes with mobility at the hip joints. It’s one of the factors in the phenomenon which in the vernacular is called tight-assed.


– that they are quite close together. Epidemic among dances, who tend to think of the hip joints as being just on either side of the pubis inside the pelvis. That’s where 90% of them put the tips of their fingers when they work on turn out. I always imagine the heads of the femurs looking at each other across a little space, never quite able to touch. If this fantasy were true, of course, none of us would have a human birth.


– that they are a ball and socket, the socket being separate from the pelvis and massive. You should see the drawings. Ball and socket is a bad metaphor.


– that the sockets open toward the floor And the thighbone is stuck up into it deep in the pelvis. For these people movement of the leg more than a few inches in any direction is ill advised.


- that it is joint at which the legs can move in relation to the torso, but not the torso in relation to the legs. These mappers believe that they must bend forward from their waists because it is their only option. The torso just can’t move forward at the hip joints. Such a person may take five minutes to begin to figure out how to go into monkey, and movement of the torso forward at the hip joint will at first feel supremely strange and then supremely wonderful. People say, “That’s what my tennis coach has been trying to get me to do!” You don’t want to know what the tennis coach says.


- that it is a line at the very bottom of the torso, like a Raggedy-Ann doll.


- that the legs are attached to the sit bones (ischial tuberosities)at the very bottom of the pelvis.


– that the joint is at the top of the arch of the groin, and that the resilient tendon of the gracilis muscle is bone.


– that the legs are attached to each other and the genitals lie between the meeting of the two thigh bones.



The Knee:

- that the kneecap is the knee, that is, the place where weight is delivered. Drop into downward pull and notice that it feels that way.


- that there is a bone between the thigh bone and the bone(s)of the lower leg called the knee. Most people with their bodies mapped that way will draw the knee as about the size of a baseball, usually round


- that the joint of the thigh and the lower leg is just behind the kneecap or just above it. When these people learn that it is at the bottom of the kneecap that movement is possible, they suddenly feel that they have luxuriously long thighs.


- that the knee doesn’t go all the way round!


The Ankle:

- that it is the two bumps that are the bottom of the leg bones.


- people really try to swivel the foot from those two points. In my old map those bumps were the top of two bones that went all the way down into the ball of the foot. No wonder it took me many months to recover full range of motion at the ankle after I had correctly mapped it.


- that the ankle is at the top of the heel bone in back, in the depression just forward of the achilles tendon. This is consistent with the L-shaped foot.


- that the ankle is not a joint at all, but just where the leg ends and the foot begins. People who won’t release the ankle as they come out of downward pull often fall in this category. They are not moving forward onto the arch of the foot because they don’t believe they can.



The Foot:

- that the foot is L-shaped, that weight passes down through the back of the lower leg into the back of the heel and forward into the rest of the foot.


- that the toes are part of the arch, causing a gripping of the toes.



The Shoulder:

- that there is one upper arm joint instead of two. Suffice it to say this error often ends in injury and always limits technique. The one joint is fantasised as being somewhere between the two actual joints, which are the joint of the collarbone and the sternum and the joint of the upper arm with the shoulder blade.


- deriving from the above-stated error, that the upper torso is relatively or completely immobile. The person who does not know that there is a joint of the collarbone and sternum from which movement up and down and back and forward is available will never make those movements, even when, it makes perfect sense to, as in swimming. When they begin to move there because someone shows them that the joint exists, they are at first incredulous and then delighted because movement there feels so good.


- also from the same source, that the shoulder blades are attached to the spine and therefore not mobile.


- that the shoulder blades are attached to each other and therefore not mobile.


- that the shoulder blades are attached to the base of the skull and therefore not mobile. Actually, this one is rare, but I mentioned it anyway.


- that the upper arm attaches to the spine, or to a socket off the side of the spine. This usually derives from a teacher saying something like, “Well, the arms really come off the back,” a statement that is defensible on certain grounds but which will profoundly confuse some students if it is not made utterly clear, what is meant.

- that the upper arm attaches to the ribs.


- tht the upper arm attaches to a socket attached to the base of the skull.


- that there is a shoulder girdle which is a minor image of the pelvic girdle. In this fantasy most of the upper torso is bone and immobility is dictated by the map.



The Elbow:

- that the elbow is the bump at the bottom of the ulna, often mapped as separate from the ulna, usually regarded as capable of slipping and causing all sorts of difficulties.


- that the joint is of an upper arm bone and a lower arm bone, in which case the lower arm will not be mapped for rotation and the student is likely to do rotating at the joint of the upper arm and the shoulder blade that should be done at the elbow instead. (For instance, turning a door handle or a steering wheel.)


- that the lower arm rotates around the radius, that is, around an axis on the thumb side of the lower arm. This error is the cause of most tendinitis at the wrist or elbow in musicians, carpenters, and tennis players.


The Wrist:

- that the wrist is those two bumps at the bottom of the radius and ulna.


- that it is the place above those lumps where you wear your wristwatch.


- that the hand bones meet the arm bones directly, creating a hinge effect. People can actually give the wrist a hinge- ike character if they believe this.


- that the hand turns over at the wrist and the forearm isn’t part of the motion.


- that the wrist is a ball and socket

- that the rest position of the hand is the thumb lined up with the radius. This insures a chronic contraction of the outside of the wrist and destroys the inch or inch and a half of mobility at the wrist toward the thumb side of the hand. This is a serious handicap for pianists. They need that inch or so of movement.


The Hand:

- that the fingers begin at the edge of the palm where the lines are seen that seem to people to correspond to the lines at the first and second joints of the fingers, counting from the tips. In fact those lines fall between the second and third joints, as can be readily seen by looking not at the palm but at the back of the hand. People who try to place the joint at the lines on the palm always have stiff fingers and a curled back of the hand that ruins finger dexterity.


- that fingers have muscles. There are muscles that attach to the finger tendons near the proximal ends of the fingers, but there is no muscle that can be built on fingers the way a bicep is built on an upper arm, which is what some people imagine, especially when they do finger exercises.


- that the palm contains no muscles.


- that the bone (!) in the palm is a bony plate like a shoulder blade. Really there are four bones (not counting the thumb) and they move!


- that the thumb is the first two segments from the tip, putting its connection at the edge of the palm, not at the wrist. People who have the thumb miss-mapped have lost significant mobility of the thumb and always have a very prominent second joint and a sort of caved-in space between the second joint and the wrist.

bottom of page