COMPANION

The science of the Alexander Technique

The science of the Alexander Technique is divided into the following entries

Overview: The search for scientific evidence

A distinction needs to be made between a scientific explanation of the Alexander Technique (why, how it works), and scientific evidence of the benefits of the Alexander Technique (the effects of learning and practising it). Such distinction is often missing in the early literature which sometimes can confuse.

See Scientific explanations of the Alexander Technique, Research into the benefits of the Alexander Technique.

It is fair to say that Alexander and teachers of the Alexander Technique have had, or have, an ambivalent relationship with science. Alexander avoided references to science (preferring instead to state that his technique was in accordance with ‘Nature’) until John Dewey started to make claims for the scientific nature of the Technique, first in CCC, and later in UoS, where he wrote that Alexander’s ‘procedure and conclusions meet all the requirements of the strictest scientific method.’[1] See Alexander’s scientific method.

As a number of doctors wrote favourably about Alexander’s technique in medical journals, starting in the 1920s, the need for evidence instead of testimonials (Alexander occasionally included case histories in his writings) became gradually more apparent. Attempts by John Dewey at involving Alexander in some scientific study of the Technique through the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1920s, early 1930s failed.[2]

In 1937, in a letter to the BMJ, 19 doctors wrote to ask the medical profession to make an investigation of Alexander’s work.[3]

Starting in 1924, some people, Alexander included, saw Magnus’ discovery of a central control as proof of Alexander’s contention of the existence of a primary control. Confounding the central control with the primary control has caused confusion over the years. See Magnus’ research.

Coghill’s work on the motor development of the Amblystoma was brought to Alexander’s attention in 1939, and was seen as proof of the influence of the whole (organism) on parts of the organism. See Coghill’s research.

The South African Libel Case (1943–48) originated in an editorial in Manpower, which repeatedly stated that there was no scientific proof for Alexander’s claims in his books. (See South African Libel Case.) Although Alexander won the case, the need for scientific investigation of the Technique itself, rather than referring to other science which might be seen to corroborate it, became more urgent.

Wilfred Barlow

Wilfred Barlow wrote a number of papers, starting in 1946 with a study which showed that people, when sitting down, pulled their heads back and down relative to the spine. He went to do a number of ‘before’ and ‘after’ Alexander Technique lessons studies until 1959. See Barlow’s research.

Frank P. Jones

Jones made observations of movement with the use of multiple-image photography so as to avoid static postures. He mainly used sitting-to-standing, with certain markers on various places on the body so that differences in movement patterns could easily be discerned. Sometimes the subject’s own reporting of the movement was also noted and correlated with the photography. Jones also used electromyography (EMG), x-ray and a force platform and investigated the startle-pattern. See Jones’ research.

Christopher Stevens

Stevens used similar techniques as Jones, analysing habitual and guided movement patterns (guided by an Alexander teacher) using a force platform and EMG. He also studied the different postural effects of neck splinting and postural stability while having eyes closed between AT trained subjects and a control group, the influence of a number of Alexander lessons on static posture, the the influence of a number of Alexander lessons on stress in musicians. See Stevens’s research.

David Garlick

Garlick studied the use of respiratory muscles in standing, and also made a postural analysis of subjects standing; both studies involved AT trained subjects. See Garlick’s research.

Tim Cacciatore

Cacciatore studies are mainly investigating the postural tone of Alexander teachers compared with a control group (using a slow, controlled twist in a machine), and investigating the movement pattern of sit-to-stand of Alexander teachers compared with a control group. See Tim Cacciatore’s research.

Other

A number of people, notably the scientists David Garlick and Kathleen Ballard, have written on the some of the physiological mechanisms judged to be involved in the Alexander Technique.

See Scientific explanations of the Alexander Technique, Science inspired.

  • ‘AT research 101: You can be a researcher!’ by Monika Gross, Rajal Cohen is encouraging more research into the Technique, and covers the fundamentals of doing research, from considering designing and funding to recruiting participants and presenting the results.[4]

Discussion

For some teachers science is not a priority, being satisfied that the Technique works in practice. Nikolaas Tinbergen sums up this view when he, in reply to a correspondence in Science on the lack of scientific evidence for the Technique, wrote:

. . . having continued my ‘watching and wondering’ and having seen quite a number of people benefit, I can only repeat: ‘Alexandering may be good for you – why not give it a try?’[5]

Raymond Dart apparently did not consider additional proof necessary. He is quoted as having said:

The validity of Alexander’s work has been proved. In fact one might almost say that it is self-evident. Therefore do not waste any more time trying to prove it. Get on and teach it.[6]

Walter Carrington was not a scientist and did no research, but he was always encouraging a scientific understanding of the Technique. He wrote:

This scientific aspect seems to many people very remote from their immediate practical concerns. Dewey recognized this; he was worried about the problem of recognition. So was George Bernard Shaw. Dewey understood the practical nature of the work, but he also understood science. He knew that science is not a private affair but a public affair; and the first requirement of scientific procedure is full publicity for materials and processes. This was how Dewey came to encourage Dr Frank Pierce Jones to do his research, in the hope that such scientific work would serve to close the gap of acceptance and understanding.[7]

Tim Cacciatore argues that science could not only help demonstrate the benefits of and define the Technique, but could help identify the Alexander Technique by the phenomenon of use itself, not by the set of procedures that are used for studying and teaching it.[8]

For the use of anatomy and physiology (including biotensegrity models) both for understanding the workings of the Alexander Technique and for the purpose of teaching the Technique, see The use of anatomy and physiology.

References

[1] ‘Introduction’ by Professor John Dewey in UoS, p. xiii.
[2] Freedom to Change [Body Awareness in Action] by Frank Pierce Jones (Mouritz, 1997 [1976]), pp. 44–45.
[3] ‘Constructive conscious control’ in the British Medical Journal 29 May 1937, vol. 1, p. 1137, quoted in The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pp. 13–14.
[4] ‘AT research 101: You can be a researcher!’ by Monika Gross, Rajal Cohen in The Congress Papers 2018, Advancing Global Perspectives edited by Paul Marsh (STAT Books, 2019), pp. 34–38.
[5] Nikolaas Tinbergen, letter in Science,vol. 188, no. 4187, pp. 405–06, 2 May 1975. Quoted in Nobel Episode Revisited by Dr. G. S. Hehr (Nyoom-Annesh Publications, 1998), p. 63.
[6] ‘Man’s future as an individual’ by Walter Carrington in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), p. 49.
[7] ‘Man’s future as an individual’ by Walter Carrington in An Evolution of the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Dilys Carrington (Sheildrake Press, 2017), pp. 48–49.
[8] ‘Science and Alexander’ by Tim Cacciatore in Direction vol. 2, no. 10 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 2002), pp. 24–33.
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