LIBRARY - Reference(s)

An Examined Life

Marjory Barlow and the Alexander Technique
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
218 x 140 mm.
ISBN 0964435241 / 978-0964435247
Mouritz Bibliography
Cover image: 
Biblio ID: 
Base ID: 
Short Description: 
In this interview Marjory Barlow is reminiscing about Alexander, the Technique, and her life.
Mouritz description: 
Marjory Barlow is reminiscing about Alexander, the Technique, and her life in no particular order (tellingly, there is no contents page). The lack of structure means there is some repetition. The editor has taken Barlow’s statements prima facie; that some historical information, which is in conflict with other sources, has not been verified leaves the reader unenlightened. (The misspelling of names does not help.) Possibly the strongest aspect is the parts which discusses teaching, chair work and lying-down work. Throughout, Barlow’s enthusiasm, her interests, her difficulties, and her hopes for the future of the Technique are revealed, making this is in many ways a very personal recollection. Appendices contain her two memorial lectures and some recollections of her teaching by teachers who trained with her.


“The ideas. Simple as that. That’s what attracted me in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. That’s what really excited me at the age of sixteen. I just went over the edge, because I was so excited about the ideas.” (page 1)

And so begins An Examined Life, a series of interviews with Alexander’s niece, Marjory Barlow (born 1915), conducted by fellow Alexander teacher Trevor Davies between 1996-2000. Marjory’s years of experience with the Alexander Technique and her early years with FM Alexander and AR Alexander are shared with us in the pages that follow. Trained by FM Alexander from 1932-36, Marjory spent a total of eight years working with her uncle on a daily basis and her memories are invaluable to us in the Alexander community.

In his introduction, Mr. Davies says that he has tried to maintain some of the spontaneity and flow of the conversations and in this he has succeeded. The book reads very easily, almost as if one were eavesdropping on the two of them talking in her living room. True to the nature of conversation, one topic invariably leads to another and many things that are discussed early on in the book are revisited in later chapters. The book is dotted with wonderful and often humorous anecdotes of FM Alexander and the family, life on the first training course, as well as stories from Marjory’s own teaching and training experience and her thoughts on the future of the Technique. At the end of the book are transcripts of two Memorial Lectures given by Marjory that are worth a read as well as recollections of her training course by former teacher trainees.

“’This is an exercise in what thinking is.’ If that doesn’t put it in a nutshell, I don’t know!” (page 130)

After 70 plus years of experience as a student, trainee, teacher, and trainer, Marjory is able to talk about the Technique in a refreshingly simple and uncomplicated way. What we are teaching is “stimulus, inhibition, direction, and movement” and that is plenty she says. By recording her recollections of her uncle’s words and practices she encourages us to follow the principles of the Technique and to continue to look to his books for guidance.

“You can learn a lot from what your teacher says, if they’re talking sense, but most of what you learn, what you really learn, is from your own experience of working on yourself. That’s where the confidence comes from.” (page 29)

If there is a common thread that ties the book together it is without a doubt Marjory’s constant emphasis on the importance of working on oneself. This is touched upon in some form or another in almost every chapter and is discussed as it relates to herself, her students, and her trainees. Marjorie describes the “tradition” of inhibiting, ordering, and working on oneself that was instilled in her while on her uncle’s training course. It is this “tradition” or discipline of working on oneself that she refers to as “pure Alexander” and she believes it is our main job as teachers and trainers to pass this on to our students. If we do not do this we have failed at our job.

“But once I had the work, I had a thread, a golden thread that ran through everything.” (page 175)

The joy, meaning, and direction the Technique has brought to Marjory’s life spills forth from the pages of this book. As a young teacher I find her words truly inspiring and I think experienced teachers will find inspiration in her words as well.

© Lauren Hill. Reproduced with permission.

Lauren Hill (

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
As always, Jerry Sontag at Mornum Time Press has turned out an attractive volume, with a readable design and important content. Trevor Allan Davies has distilled his extensive interviews with Marjory Barlow into a manageable 300 pages, with interesting appendices as a bonus, including her 1965 and 1995 FM Alexander Memorial Lectures, and training course notes from several of her trainees.

While touching on the original squabbles of the Alexander world, Mrs. Barlow shares insights that I certainly never was aware of, and I doubt many others are. Distressing as some of this material is, it both illuminates how we got here, and serves as a warning about still-simmering rivalries, as well as about what might be called “traditional” and what is merely idiosyncratic in various teaching styles. Also, by presenting her unique “warts and all” view of Alexander – that of a loving, grateful, and appreciative niece as well as of a teacher of many decades – An Examined Life deepens our understanding of FM as a real person, and not just The Revered Founder of the Work.

The book also, as Mr. Davies hopes in his foreword, brings to a wider audience an awareness of Mrs. Barlow’s many contributions to the work, perhaps a bit overshadowed until now by the more widely published and perpetuated approaches of Carrington, Dr. Wilfred Barlow (her late husband), and Pat McDonald. As someone intimately involved with the Technique since starting lessons with her uncle around her 17th birthday (she was born in 1915), joining the training course the following year, and teaching ever since, she brings a perspective on FM and his work that can hardly be rivaled.

The dialogue form of the book has both advantages and disadvantages, of course: there is a warm, conversational feel to the exchanges, and an interesting “layering” effect as we revisit some topics over time. This same quality however can make events a tad difficult to follow, which is where a timeline or an index would be helpful for tracking various themes.

In a book of such breadth, every reader is bound to find something to excite their personal interest. Among just a few of the subjects that particularly intrigued me: The ambivalence (and eventually antipathy) that FM showed toward the founding of STAT (which Mrs. Barlow both shares and explains). Her association with Julian Bream, the famous classical guitarist. Her take on the early teacher trainees. What she feels is the core of the work (“stimulus, inhibition, direction and movement”), and other insights on teaching and studying the Technique. The future of the work (including her preference for apprenticeship over the “standard” training course). And perhaps most of all, the tone of no-nonsense, non-conformist commitment to the work that pervades the book. In her appreciation of the tension between being true to the principles of the Technique and FM’s own statement that he had merely “scratched the surface of the egg” in his lifetime of work, she comes across as undogmatic and yet powerfully clear about what she feels are the Technique’s key aspects.

Some tiny quibbles: there are rather a few typos/misspellings for a Mornum Time book (e.g., Marjory Barstow, rather than Marjorie), and there is no index, which (since, understandably for a book of interviews, there is no table of contents) would have been tremendously helpful. The acknowledgments mention the use of some Alexander family photos, but alas, these do not appear in the book. The jacket blurb says Mrs. Barlow started lessons in 1931 and training in 1932, but the text says May 1932 and 1933 respectively (p. 33). I hope there will be many reprintings of the book, and that such minor flaws will be rectified along the way. In the meantime, we can be very pleased that those involved took the time and effort to preserve and share Mrs. Barlow’s Examined Life with us all.

© Andrea Matthews. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.