Conscious guidance and control may be described as the aim of the Alexander Technique. It is necessary for man’s adaptation to the rapid changing circumstances of modern life.
The Technique involves the process of substituting conscious control for unconscious, habitual control of human reaction, and eventually building up a conscious direction of our use of our self.
Definition and importance
The term features in some of the titles to Alexander’s books: Conscious Control (1912), Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923), and the subtitle to the 1918 MSI is ‘Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization’.
Alexander defines conscious control in MSI:
The term ‘conscious control’ is one which is employed by different people to convey different conceptions. The usual conception is one which indicates specific control, such as the moving of a muscle consciously, and is practised by athletes who give performances of physical feats in public. Again, there is the conscious movement of a finger, toe, ear, or some other specific muscle or limb. The phrase ‘conscious control’ when used in this work is intended to indicate the value and use of conscious guidance and control, primarily as a universal, and secondly as a specific, the latter always being dependent on the former in practical procedure.
Also significant is his statement:
I wish it to be understood that throughout my writings I use the term ‘conscious guidance and control’ to indicate primarily a plane to be reached rather than a method of reaching it.
History and use
‘Conscious control’ is first featured in 1906 and features in all of his books.
‘Conscious’ has been applied to the following words in Alexander’s writings. Some were only used a few times, others were used repeatedly in several books. The listing is in chronological order of when a combination first appears:
conscious selection [as opposed to natural selection],
self-conscious, directive powers,
conscious reasoned control,
conscious direction of use, and
conscious recognition and understanding.
The term was mainly used in Alexander’s lifetime.
The following statement by Alexander in MSI has caused some confusion.
In other words, I maintain that man may in time obtain complete conscious control of every function of the body without, as is implied by the word “conscious,” going into any trance induced by hypnotic means, and without any paraphernalia of making reiterated assertions or statements of belief.
For example, the Manpower editorial of March 1944 interpreted this as meaning:
He [Alexander] believes that by devoting attention to the position of the head in relation to the cervical spine he can enable his pupils not only ‘to control consciously’ all their voluntary movements, but also the activities of their internal organs.
However, Alexander clarifies later in MSI that it does not mean direct control of internal organs and similar automatic functions:
So many people . . . appear to think that we may obtain conscious control of, say, the secretive glands, that we may be able to give an order to secrete more or less bile or gastric juice by a command of the objective mind. If such a thing were possible, and if I could endow any person with such power tomorrow, I should know perfectly well that I should, by so doing, be signing that person’s death warrant; I might equally well give him a dose of poison.
See also MSI, p. 56-57, p. 178
Walter Carrington said, in passing, that ‘conscious control’ is a much maligned and misunderstood phrase.
There is some debate in the Alexander Technique literature as to what we are conscious of, how much conscious choice we have, how much conscious control we have, and hence what does ‘conscious control’ mean or imply.
The term was used as a title for a short-lived journal of the Alexander Technique, Conscious Control.
See also Consciousness.