The AEQ method is an activity expanding the range of volitional consciousness. This is not to be confused with conditioning, which is a bodily procedure imposed upon a subject by external manipulations. Conditioning deals with the human as an object in a field of objective forces, and thus it is a form of learning reflecting the typical viewpoint of third-person science, notably of psychology.
Conditioning neither requires focusing of awareness nor does it result in the learning of conscious somatic actions. Rather, the aim is to create an automatic response that is outside the range of volition and consciousness.
But we should be aware of the fact that this same form of conditioning can also take place in uncontrived ways by the fortunes of environmental forces that impinge upon our lives. Environmental situations that impose a constant stimulus on deep survival reflexes will, with sufficient repetitions, make them habitual – the reflex becomes learned and ‘’potentiated’’. Awareness is a somatic activity that is exclusionary.
Reflexes, like all other organic events, are both sensory and motor; and, thus, when they become habituated and involuntary, there is a dual loss of both conscious control of the area of motor action and conscious sensing of that both motor action.
We should refer to this as a state of sensory-motor amnesia. It is a state that occurs universally in the human species as the predictably conditioned result of long-term stress conditions. Constant repetition of stressful stimuli will cause loss of conscious voluntary control of significant areas of the body’s musculature, usually predominating at the center of gravity, i.e., the musculature at the juncture of pelvis and rib cage.
Once sensory-motor amnesia occurs, these areas of musculature can be neither voluntarily sensed nor controlled. The victim can attempt to relax his amnesic lumbar muscles voluntarily, for example, but he no longer has the ability of doing so; both the sensing and movement of these muscles are beyond the reach of his conscious voluntary control. The muscles remain rigid and immobile, as if they belonged to someone else.
Because such reactions to constant stress can build up over sustained periods of time, the resultant chronic muscular contractions are associated with aging. But age is not a causative factor. Time, in itself, is neutral. It is what happens during our lifetime that causes muscular reflexes to habituate. Accumulated stress and trauma are the causes of sensory-motor amnesia, and what we mistakenly ascribe to the effects of ‘’old age’’ are the direct effects of sensory-motor amnesia.
There is no bodily ‘’cure’’ for sensory-motor amnesia. The chronic muscular rigidities habituated during aging are impervious to medical remedies. Third-person manipulations are of no avail.
There is however, a way of releasing the involuntary restrictions of sensory-motor amnesia: it is somatic learning. If one focuses one’s awareness on an unconscious, forgotten area of the soma, one can begin to perceive a minimal sensation that is just sufficient to direct a minimal movement, and this, in turn, gives new sensory feedback of the area which, again, gives a new clarity of movement, etc. Somatic learning begins by focusing awareness on the unknown.
This sensory feedback associates with adjacent sensory neurons, further clarifying the synergy that is possible with the associated motor neurons. This makes the next motor effort inclusive of a wider range of associated voluntary neurons, thus broadening and enhancing the motor action and, thereby, further enhancing the sensory feedback. This back-and-forth motor procedure gradually ‘’wedges’’ the amnesic area back into the range of volitional control: the unknown becomes known and forgotten becomes relearned.
Somatic learning is evoked by the teaching methods of Moshe Feldenkrais, but it is of central concern in the method of Elsa Gindler, F. Mathias Alexander, Gerda Alexander, Thomas Hanna and a host of contemporary practitioners. The techniques of somatic education are applicable to any form of sensory-motor amnesia, including motor paralysis.
Somatic learning could be a response to amnesia, or it could just as well be an activity that is practiced all one’s life, so as to avoid the habituating effects of stress. In whichever case, it is a learning that expands the human soma’s range of action as well as perception. As a consequence, the more that is learned in this manner, the greater will be the range of voluntary consciousness for the constant task of adaption with the environment.
A soma that is maximally free is a soma that has achieved a maximal degree of voluntary control and a minimal degree of involuntary conditioning. This state of autonomy is an optimal state of individuation, i.e., one having a highly differentiated repertoire of response possibilities to environmental stimuli.
The state of somatic freedom is, in many senses, the optimal human state. Looked at from a third-person, bodily viewpoint, somatic freedom is a state of maximal efficiency and minimal entropy. Looked at from a first-person, somatic viewpoint, somatic freedom is what I would term, a ‘’fair’’ state – the ancient English word fair, meaning a temporal progress that is unblemished and without distortions or the befoulment or inhibition.
The Fair State of the human soma is a state of optimal synergy, wherein any international action evokes the spontaneous coordination of the entire somatic process, without any unconscious, involuntary inhibition. This can also be expressed from the third-person viewpoint which would view the Fair State of the soma as a condition of optimal mental and physical health.
In summary, AEQ method is study of the soma, which is not only first-person perception of the living body but is its first-person regulation. The soma is a unity of sensory-motor functions, some of which are conscious, volitional functions that have been learned and others which are unlearned.
Aleš Ernst, author of the AEQ method and AEQ breathing