Date of Publishing:
October 19, 2021

Images and Videos, Laura Brechmann

Main Image, Andreas Sandri

How I want to know

Laura Brechmann

The main question raised by Aaron Antonovsky's Salutogenic Model which he developed mainly in the 70s and 80s asks, was "How about life?". It is this question that calls to me, smiling. However, while responding to it, life happened and I found myself on uncertain ground, unable to hold on to an objective, analytic attitude. The attempt was effortful and, triggered stress, private injuries and political urgencies intermingled. The complexity of the context makes me overhelmed, but it also makes me stagger, drunken with excitement. A forward momentum urged me on. I think of the direction, ready myself, but can I be accurate in it? Can I take risks and throw myself into it? Take responsibility and not let fear numb me? I take a look at the parts which may belong together and with them, I ask you, reader, to dance with me on uncertain ground.


I wonder, does repressed pain lodge itself in the body? - Hidden in the intestine, or in between, the oesophagus and the stomach? Pain in the body - I imagine it like a nuclear waste repository, the toxins hidden somewhere, invisible. Out of sight, out of mind. At some point the pain will make itself felt. I know that a painful experience should not be bottled up. I must learn to deal with what I have experienced - Watching the use[1] of my body. There is no threat that it will collapse from pain and despair, but it is too tense - like the wire of a bicycle brake pulled too tight. Tension reduces possibilities. But how to learn to relearn? How do we transport one's own nuclear waste out of the body? Squeeze it all out of the rectum with effort, sweating, risking haemorrhoids? Or can we dump the waste on a friend or colleague? Talk to get it all out? That helps, no question . . . but invisible gases remain. Exhaling and inhaling are part of the same breath. I want to find a way to deal with them both, in a symbiotic way.


Something loosened: a slight pain that I am already aware of, on my left hip bone. I have a certain number of narrow books under the head. My arm is lifted, shaken tentatively, my gaze fixes on the quiet vibrations of the mobile on the ceiling. The direction of my gaze makes a difference, it is palpable. The trainee's hands tremble. She is nervous, initially unsure, and keeps asking for advice.[2] She is still learning. That is also why I am here, because like her, I am at the training centre to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique (AT), taugth by Andreas Sandri and Norma Espejel on Lustgasse in Vienna ( Four times a week, I visitt the school as a student of the AT. I stand, sit, get up, lie down, walk. My teacher accompanies these everyday movements, but she does not correct me. Her hands listen, feel what is needed and are there to guide me.

How do I hold myself in life? How do I use my body? How do I think about my movements, how do I live? Where is the direction? I do not know. She does not know. But her hands know.

The AT teaches to understand the body as a unit and to develop a senesitive sense of the "Use of the self"[3]. It strives to dissolve chronic movements in the musculoskeletal system that have developed through recurring stressors, and bring the inner self into balance. Through intensive processes of self-observation and using Alexander directives that have been tested over years of practice, the sensitive balance mechanisms are refined and body awareness is heightened. (Re)discovering the appropriate tone and becoming balanced through training the sensory system is elementary to the somatic practice of the Alexander Technique.


It is about looking for the right way in our 'Use of the Self'. Not by compelling ourselves to move in the right way, but by letting our bodies find the way without expectation. No correction, no pulling, no frantic "straightening". What am I looking for if it can't be categorised as right and wrong? - Why this impatience? Just to feel less sick? There is a bond between the teacher and the student. No dependence, no promise of salvation, no abdication of responsibility, but communication, energy and observation.

For me, the visits to the school opened up a practical view on the Salutogenic Model of Aaron Antonovsky. As a medical sociologist in the 1980s he strongly criticised the health system of his time, pathogenetically oriented medicine. Instead of "curing defects'' Antonovsky focused on questions about the degree of human health ("Why do people stay healthy? How do they manage to recover from illness? How does a person become more healthy and less sick?") and presented a model that dissolves the generally accepted dichotomy of illness and health.

"Whereas the two states were previously understood as mutually exclusive, Antonovsky placed them on a continuum, at the extremes of which are the terms 'sick' and 'healthy'. Most people are 'located' somewhere between the poles."[4]

The AT works to sensitize the student to the use of the physical self in order to enable the person to solve dysfunctions and to prevent them in the future. Antonovsky also states that each person's body primarily strives to strengthen the "healthy parts" and ward off stressors. According to salutogenesis, how well each individual succeeds in doing this depends in particular, on three building blocks - "sense of coherence", "generalised resistance resources" and "stressors" - which are interconnected in "dynamic interaction".[5]

"AT works with the body on the soul. Through gentle movements, the body is reminded to maintain adequate tone in every situation [...] The gradual process is a counterbalance to our fast-moving times, leading to an improvement in one's own inner perception."[6]


I feel connected to both the salutogenesis and AT approach: the question of "What keeps us healthy?". But then sometimes, life is falling apart around me and to stay upright, to keep balanced, to go on becomes more and more difficult. How can I manage to maintain good posture when I feel dizzy? Everywhere, I meet the same word: Resilience. Be resilient, be a good swimmer, take care of yourself, be strong, be healthy. Be, be, be - not to be, it seems, is not an option.

"The best symbol of resilience is the bamboo plant. The bamboo is the most resilient plant in the world. No matter what the conditions, flood or extreme drought, the bamboo will grow in any weather condition and has very strong roots. The good thing is that what the bamboo can do, any human can do."[7]

Am I a Bamboo plant?

"People swim in a river full of dangers, whirlpools, bends and rapids. The physician [...] could try to pull the drowning person out of the stream with his pathogenetically oriented medicine. But salutogenesis is about more. It is about making the person a good swimmer."[8]

Am I a good swimmer?

I sense there is something wrong within these questions.

Just focusing on our performance within troubled waters alone, is an expression of human hubris. There is a demand to increase one's own resilience, which flexible crisis capitalism (also known as neoliberalism) has long since discovered to its benefit. For me, it is nothing more than an inflationary plastic word.

"Resilient" should not only be subjects, but also families, cities, companies, ecosystems, governments, financial markets and technologies. Via resilience, therefore, we can learn something not only about how we deal with exhaustion or the transformation of subject ideals, but also about changing notions of society, at least that is my assumption."[9]

Why does talk of the resilient bamboo infuriate me? Why this image of a dandelion plant pushing its way through the concrete paving stones? Why does this stand-up guy who gets kicked, hit, falls over, pauses for a moment. but then gets up again and dusts himself off, then continues to wear the mask showing that everything is ok? - Why, when we are in an emergency, only togetherness can save us? Helping hands that shovel mud, pass the stones. The questions of what to do. They don't know how they get on. But their hands, their hands know.

Climate Crisis.

AT, Salutogenesis and the climate crisis - what will change when I combine these things? I am allowing my thougths to flow in this direction. I do not care if it will disturb the logic of this text. It is not just about us. It is not about our swimming skills for handling white water, as if the river is not an entity of its own.

The climate crisis is a stressor that cannot be calculated. Individual resilience will not carry me far. I have to think outside my own box to arm myself against the crisis. The concept of health must extend to every living being. It is not just about asking how I stay healthy or how my immediate family stays healthy or how the country I was born in or live in stays healthy (so that I stay healthy). Rather, we should be asking how the world can stay healthy, how it can endure and cope when homo sapiens are the stressor. Any concept of health must be expanded to include the stressors "man". Those who exploit the world and deprive other living beings of their habitat for the sake of their own resilience. What keeps humans relatively healthy?. It is one's balance in their interaction with the world that keeps humans, this omnivorous animal, healthy. Is that taken into account?

Because we too often forget, water is not passive. Life-giving - yes, powerful - yes, destructive - yes -- like man. We only remember in the case of an emergency.

“We all like to be in the sea, swimming in the sea, and then we are making the experience that the sea is very strong, that the sea is very unpredictable. And once I went to Iceland and the friend of a friend brought us to the sea, and yeah, the tourists they think that the sea might be their friend and that they like to swim because we all like to swim and we are all so fucking romantic and we all like to be on the border of the sea and I don’t know where, [...] but the sea is not necessarily your friend. And the friend told me that the tourists just ignore what Icelandic people were telling them: ‘Take care. The sea is not your friend. You are able to swim, yes, you are able to swim you learned it as a child but this is not a swimming pool, it is the fucking sea. And when you don’t [take] care at specific times’ - and this I remember well - ‘the ocean takes you’.  ‘The ocean takes you’ - this was just a beautiful - cruel and beautiful - and sublime expression.”[10]

being in the future

He died of cancer, or of water in the lungs or of respiratory distress. He died -- at the same time as a storm turned the smallest stream into a raging river. "Mastering rapids", "circumnavigating whirlpools", "training buoyancy as resistance" - for him, in his world, as for me in mine, these are obsolete demands.

I no longer ask: Am I a good swimmer? - but I dare to try to ask the question differently: How to become like water that flows in water and learn to swim in the exchange of energies?

Will it make a difference?


1 The philosophy of ‘good use’ is a core principal of the ‘Alexander Technique’, and it means using and moving the body lightly, with a minimum of interference in the interrelationship of neck, head and back.

2 This is a description of lying in semi-supine position, a core tenet of the Alexander Technique. Semi-supine consists of a person lying on their back with their knees bent and their head on a stack of books appropriate to their size. During an Alexander Technique session, the practitioner manipulates the body while the client lies in this position.

3 F.M. Alexander, Der Gebrauch des Selbst (München: Kösel-Verlag 1993).

4 Jürgen Bengel; Regine Strittmatter, “Aaron Antonovskys Modell der Salutogenese”, in: Was erhält den Menschen gesund? Antonovskys Modell der Salutogenese - Diskussionsstand und Stellenwert, ed. Jürgen Bengel, Regine Strittmatter, Hildegard Willmann, Bd.6 (Köln: BzgA 2001), 140-150. 

5 “Widerstandsfähig sein - was machen resiliente Menschen anders?”, Laura Stoiber, accessed Sept 16, 2021.

6 comp. Bengel, 142f.

7 Stefanie Graefe, Resilienz im Krisenkapitalismus. Wider des Lobs der Anpassungsfähigkeit (Bielefeld: transcript 2019), 11. 

8 comp. Bengel, 141. Translation Laura Brechmann.

9 comp. Graefe, 12.

10 Marcus Steinweg, Balancing Togetherness: Recordings (Warsaw 2017), accessed Sept 16, 2021.