COMPANION

Use of Mirrors

The use of mirrors as a teaching aid or for self-study; it is sometimes referred to as ‘mirror work’.

History

F. M. Alexander reported how he used a mirror – and later mirrors[1] – to study the cause of his vocal trouble and for the development of the solution. The use of mirrors was crucial to his self-observation and hence to the development of the Technique.

. . . I had derived invaluable help from the use of a mirror. Despite this past experience and the knowledge that I had gained from it, I now set out on an experiment which brought into play a new use of certain parts and involved sensory experiences that were totally unfamiliar, without it even occurring to me that for this purpose I should need the help of the mirror more than ever.[2]

The mirrors were used to point out the difference between what he thought he was doing with himself and what he actually was doing.

There are no reports that he later used mirrors, or that he used mirrors in his teaching.

Walter Carrington reports that there were mirrors in the ‘back room’ at Ashley Place which could be set up ‘to give a side view and all the rest of it’, but that Alexander never told the students to use them.[3] Walter Carrington continues:

Further, the students who trained before me [Walter Carrington trained 1936–39] all found that if you worked too much with the mirrors you’d either get very fixed – you’d stand in front of the mirrors giving the orders getting stiffer and stiffer – or else find that the mirror is a very powerful stimulus to do something.[4]

In other places he refers to the usefulness of mirrors, e.g. when discussing the whispered ‘ah’: ‘It’s relatively easy to see [in front of a mirror] whether you’re pulling down or not.’[5]

See also Walter Carrington’s Personally Speaking re the use of mirrors,[6] [7] [8] and his article ‘A visual impression’ in The Act of Living.[9]

The first reference to the use of the mirror in teaching is a by a pupil of Irene Tasker in South Africa in 1942.[10]

Writings

  • Louise Morgan’s posture-relaxation method based on the Alexander Technique, recommends the use of a mirror: ‘Sit down in front of a mirror, as Alexander did, for a session of observation and experiment.’[11]
  • Jack Fenton recommends the use of mirror when doing a whispered ‘ah’ in his Choice of Habit.[12]
  • ‘Reflections on the use of the mirror’ by Kim Jessor in NASTAT News.[13] [Unable to source this article.]
  • ‘On doing what Alexander did’ by Walton L. White is asking ‘Since no one has done what Alexander did, should we even try?’, but argues that it – observation of oneself with directing in front of mirrors – is still essential learning for teachers.[14]
  • ‘Unmisted by love or dislike’ by Claire Rechnitzer reviews the value of mirror work for learning and teaching the Technique and proposes a deliberate approach in order to promote an appreciation of mirror work.[15]
  • Shaike Hermelin emphasized the importance of using a mirror work when teaching, in a talk in 2011.[16] He also uses a mirror for working on himself: ‘I have to work on myself every day. I stand in front of the mirror, every day before a lesson.’[17]
  • Examples of using a mirror for self-observation in Alexander Technique introductory books are: The Alexander Technique Workbook by Richard Brennan,[18] and in The Actor's Secret by Betsy Polatin.[19]
  • Some of the difficulties in using a mirror in teaching is mentioned in Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara.[20]

Discussion

Typically, a teachers training course would have one or more mirrors, and sometimes teachers also use mirrors in their private practice. A mirror is predominantly used as an external feedback source for the purpose of reducing the reliance on feeling; as a contrast between what you are doing and what you are feeling. Generally a mirror is only used occasionally during teaching.

‘Mirror work’, as self-observation, can be seen as a category of observation work.

See also Observation work.

References

[1] The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), p. 15.
[2] The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1939), p. 16.
[3] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 133.
[4] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 133–34.
[5] Explaining the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 113
[6] Personally Speaking by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2001 [1986]), pp. 110-11.
[7] Personally Speaking by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2001 [1986]), pp. 123-24.
[8] Personally Speaking by Walter Carrington, Seán Carey, (Mouritz, 2001 [1986]), pp. 128-29.
[9] ‘A visual impression’ in The Act of Living by Walter Carrington (Mornum Time Press, 1999), pp. 61–66.
[10] ‘The F. M. Alexander Technique’ by Thos. D. Hall in The Star (Johannesburg) 31 July 1942.
[11] Inside Yourself by Louise Morgan (Mouritz, 2016 [1954]), p. 56.
[12] Choice of Habit by Jack Vinten Fenton (Mouritz, 2010 [1973]), pp. 113–14.
[13] ‘Reflections on the use of the mirror’ by Kim Jessor in NASTAT News, issue 24 (1994), p. 26.
[14] ‘On doing what Alexander did’ by Walton L. White in The Alexander Review (Centerline Press, 1990), vol. 4, no. 1., pp. 44–54.
[15] ‘Unmisted by love or dislike’ by Claire Rechnitzer in Conscious Control vol. 2 no. 2, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2008), pp. 5–20.
[16] ‘Alex through the looking glass’ by Shaike Hermlein in STATNews vol. 7, no. 6 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, September 2011), pp. 24–25.
[17] ‘A way of being’ – An interview with Shaike Hermelin in Living the Alexander Technique Volume II – Aging with Poise by Ruth Rootberg (Off the Common Book, 2018), p. 28.
[18] The Alexander Technique Workbook by Richard Brennan (1992, Element Books), pp. 39, 41.
[19] The Actor's Secret by Betsy Polatin (North Atlantic Books, 2013), pp. 23-24.
[20] Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara (Oxford UP, 1997), p. 164–65.