The ‘self’ is the whole psycho-physical organism. In UCL Alexander writes:
. . . I prefer to call the psycho-physical organism simply ‘the self,’ and to write of it as something ‘in use,’ which ‘functions’ and which ‘reacts.’ My conception of the human organism or of the self is thus very simple, but can be made difficult by needless complication resulting from the preconceived ideas which readers bring to it.
And in his 1925 lecture:
You will have gathered from what I have said that I can’t conceive of the use of the self – that is my chief interest in life – I can’t conceive of the use of that self except as psycho-physical unit. I can’t conceive of one part working satisfactorily without the other.
In Alexander’s writings the term ‘self’ – in the connection with use – replaced such terms as ‘psycho-physical mechanism’, ‘psycho-physical organism’ and even ‘the psycho-physical mechanisms of his organism’. It first appears in CCC, e.g.
For immediately the child or adult attempts to perform any psycho-physical act, that use of himself which is the manifestation of his inherited and cultivated instincts (i.e., of his habits) becomes the dominating factor. It then follows that if a pupil is more or less badly co-ordinated, the use of his psycho-physical self will be imperfect and therefore more or less harmful.
The term ‘self’ is used frequently in UoS and UCL, as in ‘the use of the self’ or ‘the use of himself’.
Alexander also makes a distinction between ‘within the self’ and ‘without the self’ in UCL. For example:
The knowledge of the integrated working of the organism in use and functioning which alone establishes and maintains well-being within the self has not been an integral part of the educative process.
Alexander also sometimes uses the phrase ‘internal activities’, presumably again meaning within the self.
A criticism of the concept of ‘the use of the self’ is how can the self use itself? How can the ‘controller’ and ‘the thing being controlled’ be the one and same thing? For Alexander there is no separation:
This conception does not necessarily imply any distinction between the thing controlled and the control itself.
Alexander’s unity of the self ran somewhat counter to popular views of the time: For William James the self was consisted of the Empirical Me (subdivided into the material self, the social self and the spiritual self) and the Pure Ego (personal identity). Sigmund Freud division of the human psyche into three parts (Id, ego and super-ego) was popular.
F. P. Jones writes the practice of the Alexander Technique breaks down the division between the environment and the self, creating ‘an expanded field of attention in which the interaction of the self and the environment is perceived as an ongoing process’.
The ‘self’ is rarely featured in later writings except in phrases such as ‘the use of the self’, and in writings on the psychological and spiritual aspects of the Technique.
‘The false self’ by Mark Arnold uses two psychological case histories to illustrate the psychologies of R. D. Laing and D. W. Winicott.
‘The concept of self’ by Colin Egan compares Alexander’s concept of the self with that of early Buddhist thinkers.
‘The man who mistook his brain for his self’ by Glenna Batson examines with reference to recent neuroscience how the brain creates a ‘self’.
‘Myth and metaphor’ by Lawrence Bruce looks at the ‘self’ as a construct, a metaphor.
‘What is my self map as a teacher?’ is a report of a workshop presented by Doris Dietschy at the 2011 congress.
‘Alexander Technique and the fundamentals of self-knowledge’ by Theodore Dimon, Jr. argues that the Technique provides concrete elements for acquiring self knowledge.