Observation work

Observation here refers to visually observing one’s own use or other people’s use, for the purpose of learning and teaching.

‘Observation work’ is the training towards developing observation skill.

Observation work can be used for at least two purposes. 1. Learning about oneself; watching other people’s use can provide clues to general habits of use, which may be applicable to oneself. 2. Learning about an individual pupil’s use and function in order to adapt the teaching for that pupil.

F. M. Alexander

Alexander was a keen observer of people’s use and functioning, and he observed his pupils very carefully, as is revealed in an aside by Alexander in a 1925 lecture:

Consequently, as we must all of us sit down a number of times, it occurred to me long ago that it would be a very good idea if we could apply some technique to the act of standing and sitting during the day. The consequence is that my first attention is given, when the pupil comes into the room, to the different little things he or she happens to be doing, walking and so forth, and then when he comes into my room at first, I ask him to sit down in the chair – and we all do that, it is a matter of etiquette – and when he has sat down in the chair, I have the history of his life’s use of himself. It is all there.[1]

Walter Carrington testifies to this in Explaining the Alexander Technique:

Another important aspect of FM’s character was that he was extremely observant. He was very, very sharp-eyed indeed. From the moment anyone walked into his room or if he encountered them in the waiting room, he’d be watching very closely and noting everything he could.[2]

And Walter Carrington in Personally Speaking:

The other thing about him was his keen observation and the quickness and liveliness of his eyes, which took in everything that was going on around him and, in particular, what was of relevance to the person he was working on. You didn’t see FM drift off into non-seeing or day-dreaming, for example. He was very, very observant.[3]

Erika Whittaker remembers Alexander on the importance of observation:

FM insisted very early on we must observe. We must watch each other, watch other people, watch people in buses, in trains, in theatres. Just watch, don’t criticise necessarily, just watch and see how people use themselves.[4]

Later teachers

Marjorie Barstow was known for her observation skills and in her group teaching invited people to make observations, of themselves, of others. For a description of her style of teaching see Marjorie Barstow.


Inspired by Marjorie Barstow’s observation skills in her teaching Cathy Madden has created the portmanteau ‘Omniservation’; it includes more senses than the visual in observation, for the purpose of analysing an activity. It is described in her Teaching the Alexander Technique.[5]

Observation work is an essential part in online video teaching, see Distance learning.

See also Diagnosis, Use of mirrors, Group teaching.


[1] ‘An Unrecognized Principle in Human Behaviour Lecture’, 19 February 1925, in Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 145.
[2] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), pp. 35–36.
[3] Personally Speaking by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2001 [1986]), p. 70-71.
[4] ‘F. M. remembered – The annual memorial lecture’ by Erika Whittaker, booklet (STAT, 1985), p. 5.
[5] Teaching the Alexander Technique – Active Pathways to Integrative Practice by Cathy Madden (Singing Dragon, 2018).