‘Monkey’ is a position of mechanical advantage. It is normally described as a bending position, where the knees are forward and (often but not always) the torso is bending forward from the hips. A monkey can be everything in between standing and squatting. Alexander called this a position of mechanical advantage, but the students on the first training course nicknamed it ‘monkey’ and this is now the universally adopted term.
One early example of Alexander using a bending of the hips is found in his 1910 pamphlet ‘Supplement to Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’:
The pupil should stand from 6 to 12 inches from the door in accordance with the requirements of the particular individual. The teacher should then inform him that he wishes his (the pupil’s) hips to move towards the door until the body is supported by the door and the torso extends away from it at an angle of about 25 to 30 degrees.
Alexander describes positions of mechanical advantage in his writings. There are no descriptions by Alexander of ‘monkey’ in the sense of standing, knees and hips bending. There is a description of a ‘sitting monkey’ in his description of ‘hands on the back of chair’ in CCC. Alexander taught ‘monkey’ to his training course students, as Erika Whittaker reports:
F.M. showed us what is now known as ‘monkey’. We never told him that’s what we called it. I don’t think he would have been too pleased. It was not considered an exercise but a piece of coordination that he thought was very important for working at different levels. If you are washing-up or ironing, for instances, monkey is a preparation for that. Also, when you put your hands on the back of the chair, that is a preparation for using your hands at other levels. It was a very fine way of coordinating your head, hips, knees and hands: a totality.
Walter Carrington describes the origin and purpose of ‘monkey’ in Personally Speaking, and in Explaining the Alexander Technique. A description of how ‘monkey’ was taught at the Carrington’s training course is in Directed Activities.
There are many descriptions of ‘monkey’ in introductory books on the Alexander Technique. For example, a detailed description of ‘monkey’ can be found in John Gray’s Your Guide to the Alexander Technique.
The term ‘monkey’ has been criticised for being too informal and potentially offensive, and some teachers are using alternative terms.
There are video recordings of the first generation teachers Marjory Barlow, Elisabeth Walker and Walter Carrington demonstrating ‘monkey’.
There are pictures of Alexander in ‘monkey’, both sitting and standing.
Picture: Alexander with Deborah Caplan.