F. M. Alexander emphasized the unity of the organism, using such terms as ‘the self’, the ‘organism’, the ‘human organism’, or the ‘whole man’, or ‘psycho-physical’ as in ‘psycho-physical activity’, to indicate the impossibility of separating the human organism. The phrase first appears in the 1910 MSI. (See the quote in the entry for Antagonistic action.) He repeatedly emphasized psycho-physical unity in his writings, for example:
. . . in my opinion the two [the mental and the physical] must be considered entirely interdependent, and even more closely knit than is implied by such a phrase.
. . . for the mental and physical are so inextricably combined that we cannot consider the one without the other, . . .
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 must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties and shortcomings could be classified as either ‘mental’ or ‘physical’ and dealt with on specifically ‘mental’ or specifically ‘physical’ lines. My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ processes in any form of human activity. This change in my conception of the human organism has not come about as the outcome of mere theorizing on my part. It has been forced upon me by the experiences which I have gained through my investigations in a new field of practical experimentation upon the living human being. . . . This difficulty is always coming up in my teaching, but 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 self in all activity.
Alexander criticizes mind–body separation in several places, e.g. the chapter ‘The theory of the “The Whole Man”’ in UCL contains a long criticism.
Fundamental change, as I have shown in Chapter V [of UCL], involves the re-education and the readjustment of the individual as a whole. A mere change of ‘mind’ or of belief does not change the habitual manner of psycho-physical use and the associated conditions of general functioning.
Alexander indirectly addressed what philosophers call the ‘mind-body problem’. The separation of mind and body has also been called the mind–body split, mind–body dualism, and the mind–body dichotomy. John Dewey paid tribute to Alexander regarding the practicality of mind-body coordination:
My theories of mind-body, of the co-ordination of the active elements of the self and of the place of ideas in inhibitions and control of overt action required contact with the work of F. M. Alexander and in later years his brother, A. R., to transform them into realities.
Wilfred Barlow addressed the mind–body relationship in several of his articles, notably in ‘The mind–body relationship’ – an introduction to the Technique from the viewpoint of mind-body integration, and of adhering to mind–body unity in dealing with ‘psychosomatic disorders’.
Wilfred Barlow also discusses mind–body dualism in his ‘The meaning of misuse’:
What I can see is that we must try to get away from any form of mind–body dualism – a dualism which states that there are two fundamental stuffs, quite different, which go to make up the human organism, and which must be approached and studied in an entirely different manner. Mind–body dualism permeates our present educational and medical institutions through and through, in spite of protestations to the contrary. In the educational world, the pupil is divided up and dealt with in at least two parts – a mind which is to be taught in the classroom and a body which is to be taught on the playing ﬁeld and in the gymnasium. In the medical world the departments of psychological medicine and general medicine tend to be very distinct entities.
The problem of mind–body dualism, however, goes far deeper than the medical and educational sides of it. Our entire social system demonstrates in its active working life this split between mind and body. The manual worker and the so-called brain worker fall into two definite class divisions and the body tends to get the worst of the bargain and to be placed lower down in the social hierarchy. Even more important than this social split is the actual effect which the two modes of life have on the worker, accentuating on the one hand the physical at the expense of the mental, and on the other hand the mental at the expense of the physical.
- ‘The mind/body paradox’ by Don Mixon argues that mind and body are divided by practice, by the view that mind commands the body, and inherent in this view is that the mind is making the body ‘do’ something, and hence causes doing as opposed to non-doing.
- ‘Body and mind in the thought of F. M. Alexander and John Anderson’ by Graham Pont compares Alexander’s view of mind and body with that of the philosopher John Anderson who in 1934 published ‘Mind as feeling’, arguing that mental events are species of bodily or physical events, and tries to integrate the two approaches.
- ‘Ruminations on the mind-body continuum’ by Razia Ross talks about the relationship of the emotions in the mind and body continuum, the relationship between thoughts and bodily sensations.
- ‘Movement in context’ by Patrick D. Wall argues that there is a Cartesian dualism of mind and body in the Alexander Technique.
- ‘Various ways of reading “The evolution of a technique”’ by Terry Fitzgerald contains a section (‘The metaphor problem’) which points to a dualistic mind-body metaphor in Alexander’s writings.
- ‘Putting the psyche into the psychophysical’ by Malcolm Williamson considers the work of the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer (1866–1950), and his influence on John Dewey and, through Dewey, on Alexander.
- ‘On psychophysical unity’ by Jonathan Whitaker is a consideration of Alexander’s psycho–physical philosophy, i.e. the mind–body problem, the relationship between mind (or the mental) and the body (or the physical).
For a selection of F. M. Alexander quotations on ‘psycho-physical’ see the Mouritz Key Concepts Library.