When I had an electronic image taken of the tensions in my back and saw a picture covered in splashes of red and green to show all that was wrong with me, I came away feeling alarmed, and not a little disappointed that all my work on myself had left me so asymmetrical.

But then I started thinking: the activities of life make unequal demands on our bodies which we do not use in a uniform and equilateral fashion, so why would we expect to have symmetrical tone or even structure? We are loosely symmetrical – we have two arms and two legs, two eyes and two ears, but we also have one heart and one liver, and our two lungs are different sizes, and in fact often one of our two organs or limbs is slightly differently positioned or is a bit bigger than the other. We are not machines, we are living organisms, and we interact with our environment in plastic and adaptive and complex ways. Perhaps this picture I had received was not either important of helpful after all.

Then, when I started looking seriously at swimming, I realised how uneven my movement and balance were in the water – the water tends to amplify the inequality of movement which can result in not swimming straight, or not having a very even stroke. I found that some of this imbalance could be lessened with attention and thought. So I realised, not for the first time, that how we use ourselves impacts on how we function.  But the fact still remains that we are not absolutely symmetrical in either use or structure.

I started to think about trees, and about Gaudi’s columns in the Sagrada Familia. There he constructed very tall columns that were not absolutely uniform like the pillars of classical and neo-classical buildings. Instead, the form of the nave treats the piers like tree trunks– a spiral along their length – making them lean inwards in such a way that they counteract the vaults and dispense with the need for flying buttresses.  Gaudi used the laws of nature to inform his work. In the Sagrada Familia each inclined pier, together with its vault had to respond to its own position within the whole, twisting and bending to express the loads placed on it. Trees, like bones (another form which Gaudi used in his architectural columns) twist along their length… there are no straight lines in nature.

Perhaps we too grow into the upright with a twist along the spine. Many people have a more or less pronounced scoliosis, and sometimes this is debilitating and painful, but perhaps the twist which can be very great and sometimes damaging, is present in all of us to some extent. Perhaps it is meant to be. Trees sometimes bend too far, often because of being battered by the wind or some other element in their environment.  Perhaps this happens to people too. This is no scientific proposition, just an observation.

Use affects function; this is what we understand and experience from the Alexander Technique. So we are able to either exacerbate or ameliorate the underlying conditions, whatever they are. But in the end perhaps it is unhelpful to think in terms of the mechanical perfection of our human form which is a living and intelligent structure in a complex environment, to which we respond either efficiently or not.