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Lack of facial and cranial development

edited July 2009 in Please read
I've never seen this mooted in any Alexander Technique books as a possible reason for poor use among settled, and particularly modern, populations, but the following rings some bells.

Could poor use be related to poor cranial development (evidenced in facial features) and to failure of the middle third of the face and the lower mandible to develop properly? This must surely change the whole balance of the head, and have knock-on effects throughout the body.

Why do so many people in "developed" countries need dental braces and have impacted wisdom teeth?

There's an American dentist, who was chairman of the research committee of the American Dental Association in the 1930s who had an interesting answer to this one. At the time it was thought that this must be due to "racial mixing" -- people thought almost everything was down to "race" in those days. They thought maybe a individual might have got his teeth from one "race" and his jaw from another, so that they didn't match. Price said not. He toured all around the globe looking at hunter-gatherer populations, even then disappearing, and found that living in the traditional state they had perfect, or near-perfect teeth, well-formed dental arches, and broad well-formed faces. As soon as they begun to get hold of modern foodstuffs, such as sugar and white flour, their children started to get rotten teeth -- and more than that dental arches that didn't form properly, thin narrow faces with constricted nostrils, and receding chins where the jaw hadn't developed. So it couldn't be "racial". Price said the problem had to be dietary. He found, in fact, that contrary to today's wisdom a diet high in fat-soluble vitamins (A & D) -- and hence in animal fats -- seemed to be a good thing nutritionally. All over the world wherever there were hunter-gatherer groups living on traditional diets, he found the levels of the fat soluble vitamins in the diets of *all* these groups were *ten* times as high as in the American diet of his day. (The levels of A & D are probably even lower in the average Western diet these days.)

So how about this as an explanation for some of the bad use around?

As a footnote to that, why is eyesight so much poorer with us than it is with primitives? (E.g., notice what Darwin says about the eyesight of the Tierra del Fuegians in _The Voyage of the Beagle_ -- but one could multiply references here)

Here is what one dentist says:

"Another sign of poor facial development can be detected in the eyes. When someone is looking straight at you and you can see the sclera or white of the eye, that is a tip off to a very, very under developed upper jaw and mid-facial area."

Here's an article specifically on cranial development (or the lack of it) and what the author says is its relation to general physical health and what Alexander people would call "use".

Here's Weston Price's original book:

Some startling sets of pictures in there -- such as the pictures of the little Swiss girls from the remote Loetschental Valley with perfect teeth, broad strong faces, and large open nostrils. (The people were, apparently very strong and well formed in the body -- and no wonder the Popes chose to have a Swiss guard!) Girls from a valley a little nearer to what we fondly think of as "civilization" show rotten teeth, narrow faces, and pinched nostrils.

So what thoughts have people got on this? It looks like there's something there to me.


  • Weston Price seems to have been a near contemporary of Alexander. I'm sure they would have had a lot to talk about. For me, it's a bit academic, as we can't do much about having been born and reared in a 'civilised' society, by which time it's too late to undo any change to our cranial structure. I don't discount use being influenced by these sorts of adaptation, brought about by diet and nutrition; it's just that there isn't much we can do about it, in our daily lives, so maybe it's less relevant than habit, which can be changed.
  • I cringe at the tendency to look for a single "key" to good or bad use. I also cringe at the tendency to place high value on various theories floating around in the 1920's and 30's, just because they happen to overlap with Alexander's time frame. Lets get a little more modern and not look for a single local smoking gun shall we?
  • Yes, that would have been an interesting discussion, dod.

    I was struck by how similar some of the ways of thinking about how we habitually use ourselves were in the piece by the modern dentist/osteopath/cranial-sacral therapist. It seems to me that outside Alexander circles, and except among people like osteopaths, people just don't get the concept of "use". It's completely off the radar for the average person. Nor do they quite understand that if there's a disturbance "here", then there's also likely to be a compensating one "there". The medical profession, except for a few exceptions, tragically doesn't seem to get it. The study just carried out by the British Medical Journal was encouraging, but I think most medical people who read that will conclude that Alexander Technique is some kind of effective backache therapy. They won't understand what it is. And I suppose part of the problem is that you can't get much of an idea until you have lessons and experience what it is kinesthetically.

    Some of the language used by the cranial-sacral man was different, of course. I noticed he talked of people's carrying their head forward, where an Alexander person might have used the term "neck poking" (since the head itself is back and down).

    But it's interesting that despite the similarities in the way a person's use, and his existence as a complex system, is thought about, this cranial-sacral man is coming from a totally different perspective, seeing the disturbance, as it were, in what someone "is" rather than in just what he's come habitually to do.

    I know Alexander himself always talked of "my practice and theory" and his theorizing was meant to be taken as tentative thoughts, but he did theorize, of course. He seems, so far as I understand him, generally seems to have sought an explanation in what people tend habitually to do in different sorts of society. Hence we get the descent into decadence with the cartoon that Richard Brennan (like a number of other teachers) has on his site:

    Hunter-gatherer > farmer > industrial man > post-industrial man

    Nevertheless, Alexander himself also said he sometimes observed far worse use among agricultural labourers than among city dwellers. A dietary explanation might have been interesting to consider there. If the parents of agricultural labourers had a worse diet than the parents of city dwellers (not usually true, as I understand it, but possible at times in some parts of the country) ... well, if as a result your head is off-balance, what impact will that have on your use?

    But, as you say, no one can do anything now about his nutrition when growing, when in the womb, or even before conception. What we can refine is our use.
  • Use as a concept is, as you say, 'off the radar'. I do find this odd, as it seems such an obvious matter to address; but I suppose much of the reason has to do with the difficulty of pinning down something inherently fluid. So many approaches to better health concentrate on still images, written reports, isolated parts, specialised diagnoses, any consideration of more general 'use' would seem to be deviating from the point. As a field of enquiry, though, it is not limited to Alexander, though he was certainly the pioneer. Here's a link to an interesting article, written from the perspective of someone who discovered a new way to approach the subject:
  • Surely if there is a "single 'key' to good or bad use", its physiological - fears, stresses. I would guess it would be fears/stresses that cause the poor cranial development in the first place, no matter how young it develops.
  • edited September 2009
    I would guess it would be fears/stresses that cause the poor cranial development in the first place, no matter how young it develops.
    You can guess all you like, but guesses get us nowhere. Guessing is not preferable to scientific investigation.

    The point is that Price found that in every case where failure of the dental arch to develop properly, accompanied by narrowing of the face and nose, were observable in a population it followed a change in the diet.

    Exhibit 1, the Swiss:

    Compare Figure 3 with Figure 4. And so on across numerous populations for 21 chapters:

    And that's not just a correlation. There's a plausible mechanism - since for optimum bone growth both a high level of minerals in the diet are needed and a high level of "fat soluble activators" (such as vitamin D) that enable those minerals to be utilized by the body.

    I mean you can't just disregard ten years of study and leave a 527 page book unread and make up reasons instead on the spur of the moment without carrying out any investigation.
  • You can guess all you like, but guesses get us nowhere. Guessing is not preferable to scientific investigation.

    Well, its not a guess, it's a fact FOR ME because it's from my own personal experience- the key to my bad use was because of physiological reasons (experiences), so that 'guess' got me EVERYwhere- life changing re-education.

    There's endless scientific investigations done all the time for the 'answer' to health problems.
    Like the ones, for example, done for the effectiveness of drugs. Scientific evidence shows drugs are the answer- right? Thats what you get from the GPs, giving people chemicals which are the 'answer'. What a joke!

    Also did you read the laughable scientific study which showed having fat thighs is better for you than 'normal' sized the other day on Yahoo! news?
  • Two years ago i found out about Price and Sally Fallon, author of the book Nourishing Traditions, when the health of my teeth was getting worse. I made a drastic change in my diet, with less processed foods and more healthy fats (i believe many modern experts on nutrition would not recommend this diet). My health has improved a lot and also the health of my teeth. So that's a fact for me, because it's from my own personal experience.
    The scientific investigation that Price did, is really important for a better understanding about healthy nutrition. The same goes for the investigations that Alexander did. For me the two go hand in hand.

  • Thanks for the reference to the book by Sally Fallon. I've ordered it from our local library.

    Anecdotal evidence is frowned on by most scientists, but at a personal level, it's all that counts.
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