Direction has two meanings: 1) the psycho-physical act of directing (the process referred to above), and 2) the instructions (preventive guiding orders such as ‘neck free, head forward and up’, etc.) – verbal or not – used for the process of directing. This could also be stated as:
direction (noun): the orders or instructions given for the use of the self.
directing (verb): the act or process of giving directions.
Directing is defined by Alexander as follows:
When I employ the words ‘direction’ and ‘directed’ with ‘use’ in such phrases as ‘direction of my use’ and ‘I directed the use,’ etc., I wish to indicate the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms.
As we ‘direct’ our use all the time – consciously or unconsciously – the Alexander Technique can be seen as a technique for becoming aware of our unconscious directions (manifested in habits), and through the process of conscious inhibition and direction replace unconscious directions with conscious directions.
Alexander emphasizes the preventative nature of directions, that is fundamentally a non-doing process, and direction, directing therefore also requires an understanding of the terms inhibition, doing, and non-doing.
The term ‘direction’ first appears in Alexander’s writings in 1906, but in the meaning of ‘directing’ it first appears in 1908. Phrasings include ‘an intelligent directive power on the part of the individual . .’; ‘. . . the directive agent of the sphere of consciousness.’. Directions can be subconscious but should be conscious.
Gradual Development of the Directions
‘Lengthening and widening the back’ appear for the first time in the 1911 Addenda to MSI. Ordering ‘the spine to lengthen and the neck to relax’ first appears in the 1912 Conscious Control. It is only in CCC that all the directions are put together in the chapter ‘Illustration’, for the procedure of hands on the back of the chair, where the pupil is asked ‘to order the neck to relax, to order the head forward and up to lengthen the spine.’
UoS and UCL do not mention these directions. Instead, Alexander talks in generalities, like ‘undue stiffening of the neck’ and ‘correct use of the neck.’ In his teaching he continued to use the directions given in CCC, albeit with some variation (see Binkley’s diaries). In his teaching he changed ‘relax’ to ‘free’ and later even told teachers to avoid giving the order ‘neck to relax’ or ‘to be free’, see Walter Carrington’s 1946 diary.
The direction ‘knees forward and away’ do not occur in Alexander’s writings, but he used the directions in his teaching, as shown in two of his lectures. In his Child Study Society lecture (1925) he talked of the pupil to ‘allow his knees to go forward’. In his Bedford lecture (1934) he talked of ‘allow your knees to go forward’ (several times) and ‘the knees forward and the hips back’.
The following phrasings occur in Alexander’s writings: ‘direction of use’, ‘consciously directing’, ‘correct direction and guidance’, ‘directive orders (the ‘means-whereby’)’, ‘imperfect sensory direction and control’; ‘satisfactory direction and control of the psycho-physical mechanisms’; ‘the mental direction’; ‘directive power’; ‘the directive agent of the sphere of consciousness.’
Direction vs. Order
The term ‘orders’ were used more in Alexander’s early writings to refer to the specific instructions for securing coordination, e.g. in CCC:
In the way of correct direction and guidance, he is asked to order the neck to relax, to order the head forward and up to lengthen the spine.
It has been suggested that there is a difference between ‘ordering’ and ‘directing’ but there is no consistency in Alexander’s writings to suggest this. At various points they appear to be used interchangeably, e.g. in CCC:
Another difficulty which pupils make for themselves is in connection with the giving of guiding orders or directions.
. . . [the teacher] giving him [the pupil] the necessary directions (series of orders) to this end . . . 
After CCC only ‘direction’ and ‘directing’ occur. ‘Order’, ‘orders’, etc. (in the meaning of ‘directing’ etc.) do not feature in UoS or UCL (with the exception a quotation from CCC).
The verbal expression of the directions
Various expressions of the directions exist. A typical phrasing is the one presented by Patrick Macdonald:
Let the neck be free, To let the head go forward and up, To let the back lengthen and widen.
Margaret Goldie, writing a piece for the children’s magazine of the Little School, is providing us with probably the longest set of directions we have from the early days of the Technique:
‘I order my neck to relax. I direct my head forward and upward, my shoulders back and down, my back back, to lengthen and widen my back; I direct the hips back, the knees forward and away from one another, the ankles to relax, and the feet to rest firmly on the floor.’
The concepts of inhibition and direction are discussed passim in Walter Carrington’s Explaining the Alexander Technique, and his Personally Speaking; in Marjory Barlow’s The Ground Rules and in a description of Marjory Barlow’s teaching, Think More, Do Less; and in Patrick Macdonald’s The Alexander Technique As I See It.
Walter Carrington also has discussed ‘directing’ in some of his published talks, e.g. ‘Wishing, willing, and fairy tales’, ‘Directing the neck and head’, ‘Teaching directions to beginners’, ‘Directing’, ‘Knees going forward and away’ in Thinking Aloud; and ‘Forward and up’, and ‘Knees forward and up’ in The Act of Living.
Many books on the Alexander Technique contain some description of the directions. Below are a few specific issues, presented here as examples of the variety of questions and opinions on the subject.
Lulie Westfeldt was critical of the lack of explanation of ‘directing’ at the first training course:
Alexander’s initial instructions of ‘direct the neck to relax, the head to go forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen’ badly needed some elucidation. What form of activity did the words ‘direct’ or ‘order’ indicate, for example? Did they mean ‘thinking’ or ‘doing’ or some unknown activity mid-way between the two which the unhappy pupil would try to discover by using the method of trial and error?
F. P. Jones addressed this issue of the choice of words and their meaning in Freedom to Change.
Direction as doing
Patrick Macdonald quotes A. R. Alexander: ‘Of course directions are doings, but they are very small. They are usually below the sense register.’
Direction as conditioning
Dr Wilfred Barlow suggests the association of a verbal stimulus ‘with an improved disposition of the body and its tensional balance’ may be seen as a conditioning process. F. P. Jones disagrees, ‘The technique is not a conditioned response’ and argues why in his Freedom to Change.
Direction as an unconscious process
Kitty Wielopolska suggested in her ‘the Discovery and Use of the Eye Order’ that one should think the ‘words without meaning’ and that ‘the body’s intelligence will pick up the directions and interpret it as it wishes, not as you wish it’. Walter Carrington criticises this approach in Explaining the Alexander Technique, saying it is meant to be rational and conscious.
John Dewey, in his How We Think (1910), describes reflective thinking in a way which is similar to the sequence in directing – where each direction is the logical consequence of the previous direction: ‘. . . a consecutive ordering in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome, while each in turn leans back on its predecessors. The successive portions of the reflective thought grow out of one another and support another; they do not come and go in a medley. Each phase is a step from something to something – technically speaking, it is a term of thought. Each term leaves a deposit which is utilzed in the next term The stream of flow becomes a train, chain, or thread.’
See also Inhibition, Primary control, Criticism of Alexander, Descriptions of lessons with Alexander