‘Use’ is one of the most fundamental concepts in the Alexander Technique, and one of the most occurring concepts in Alexander’s writings.
Use refers to that use of ourselves over which we have some degree of control in terms of the choices we make: how we breathe, move, think. This is distinct from functioning (which refer to those processes of the body over which we have no direct control, e.g. digestion), and from structure (e.g. the structure of a skeleton over which we have no direct control).
Alexander refers in his writings to: faulty use, habitual use, habits of use, manner of use, general use, imperfect use, specific use, conditions of use, instinctive use, defective use, directed use, misdirected use, use of the mechanisms, use of the self, new use, new and improved use, improving use, degree of use, misuse, satisfactory use, the primary control of use, and an unaccustomed use of the self.
There is a gradual progression in Alexander’s writings from use of specific parts to the general ‘use of the self’. The first appearance is in 1895 when he discusses ‘the proper use of the speaking voice’.
In 1907 he then considers the ‘adequate and correct use of the muscular mechanisms concerned with respiration’, and later ‘perfect use of the component parts of the mechanisms concerned in respiration and vocalization’.
In 1909 he writes about securing ‘the co-ordinated use of the mechanisms involved’.
In CCC (1923) he talks about ‘use of the psycho-physical organism as a whole’.
And it is in CCC that ‘use of the self’ makes its first appearance:
. . .the use of the creature’s self and the use of that self in the activities of life . . . .
This concept, ‘use of the self’ then appears throughout in his two next books, The Use of the Self and The Universal Constant in Living.
In UoS he emphasizes the wholeness involved, while stressing that
. . . it is possible during a course of lessons to demonstrate to the pupil how the “mental” and “physical” work together in the use of the self1 in all activity.
The footnote states:
I wish to make it clear that when I employ the word “use,” it is not in that limited sense of the use of any specific part, as, for instance, when we speak of the use of an arm or the use of a leg but in a much wider and more comprehensive sense applying to the working of the organism in general. For I recognize that the use of any specific part such as the arm or leg involves of necessity bringing into action the different psycho-physical mechanisms of the organism, this concerted activity bringing about the use of the specific part.
In UCL ‘wrong use’ is the ‘known’, and ‘new right use’ the ‘unknown’:
The new way of use will have come to feel right while the old way will feel wrong. As we have seen, one of the serious obstacles to be overcome in helping pupils to change their manner of use is that any change from the old wrong use (the known) to the new right use (the unknown) feels wrong to them, and at each stage of change the new improving manner of use has to be experienced for some time before the pupil can feel that it is right and comfortable, and so develop faith and conﬁdence in the employment of it.
It is a hallmark of the Technique that the use of the whole conditions the use of the specific: ‘This satisfactory general use is essential to satisfactory speciﬁc use.’
The concept of use cannot be separated from other fundamental concepts such as wholeness and means-whereby, the known (wrong use) and the unknown (right use).
Discussions and Descriptions
Use affects functioning affects structure
In his The Alexander Principle Dr Barlow states that the Alexander principle is ‘use affects functioning’. It should be added that it also affects structure, as Alexander was the first to point out:
. . . this [change] is the beginning of a process of reconditioning leading in time to permanent change in use, functioning, and structural conditions.
Some time in the 1970s the some teachers started to emphasize the inclusion of the concept of ‘structure’ (possibly first by Don Burton), as in ‘use affects functionings which in turn affects structure’. This is presented as a triangle of interconnected influences in an article by Jeremy Chance (1988).
The article, ‘Use: Simplicity and complexity’ by Shula Sendowski, considers the meaning of use, in Alexander’s writings, and in some teachers’s descriptions and explanations of the term ‘use’.
Joe Armstrong emphasizes the difference between ‘manner’ and ‘conditions’ of use in the article, ‘A crucial distinction’.
Robert Rickover pursues the same point and its relevance for teaching in ‘What’s the use?’.
In ‘Defining the Alexander Technique’ Ron Dennis defines use thus: ‘Use is that waking activity that is assessable in terms of kinematics and kinetics.’ Elsewhere he suggests the neologism ‘posturality’ instead of ‘use’.
Criticism of ‘use of the self’
It has been argued that there is an implicit dualism in the idea of a self which uses itself, as if there is a separate entity within the self which is using the self, and that this might considered a brain-body dualism in disguise (the brain ‘using’ the body). Alexander however insisted on the unity of the organism:
This conception does not necessarily imply any distinction between the thing controlled and the control itself.