This book by Gerda Alexander will attract attention if only by the coincidence of the author's name; and although she has called her work 'Eutony', many people will be intrigued to note similarities between her ideas and his. Popular confusion can easily arise, and indeed in parts of Europe and Scandinavia where 'Eutony' and Gerda Alexander are more widely known, it has often occurred. The present book, in English, is based on previous versions published in German and French, with new material added, and it will no doubt tend to spread the confusion into the United States.
Alexander was undoubtedly right to emphasize the unique character of his work because it is so easy for people to lose sight of the fundamental principle on which it is based. That principle, which Professor John Dewey called 'a new scientific principle with respect to the control of human behavior' was first recognized and demonstrated by Alexander as an outcome of his practical experience. It owed nothing to other people's theories and ideas or to prevalent schools of thought. Indeed it may be seen as in direct contradiction to certain popular attitudes and beliefs. His Technique involves 'not doing', rather than 'doing something': as he put it, it is 'not to do something, but to think'. Most people are always trying to find ways of doing what is right; Alexander sought ways of avoiding and preventing what is wrong. He said 'the use of the inhibitory processes is the first step in the reconditioning of human behavior'.
Gerda Alexander's work, however, as she says herself, is part of the great flow of ideas and research that has distinguished the 20th Century. Born in Germany in 1908, she came at an early age under the influence of Jacques-Dalcroze and took up the study of Dalcroze Eurhythmics very seriously. She moved to Denmark; and from teaching children, went on to teach dancers, musicians, kindergarten teachers, and then, movement for actors. Her ideas and methods grew with her experience until her work, in the words of one of her distinguished supporters, D. Alfred Bartussek, 'which originally was a method of relaxation, became, after long experience and deeper development, a method which involves the whole organism, going far beyond a simple effect of relaxation'. Writing in the Appendix to this book, Dr Bartussek says; 'In Freiburg in 1957 I suggested to Gerda Alexander that we should no longer speak of relaxation in describing her work but of tonus regulation. The word Eutony gave a good indication of the effect of her work'. It might be defined as Tonus Regulation and Tonus Equalization by voluntary means.
Gerda Alexander is a very remarkable woman. I met her at the First International Congress On Release of Tension and Re-Education of Functional Movement held in Copenhagen in 1959. She herself initiated and organized this great event with the sponsorship of the Danish Ministry of Education. It attracted delegates from more than forty countries and nearly all of the great movement schools in Europe were represented: there were groups and individuals concerned with movement education from all over the world. The program consisted of a week of Lectures and Discussions, followed by a week of Practical Work in a Group format.
The aim was to bring together experts in various methods and disciplines 'interested in helping modern man towards optimal posture and functioning in daily life', and to enable 'teachers and those who have independently studied these questions in different countries to understand and discuss each others methods'. It attracted teachers and experts, educationalists, gymnasts, therapists, and performing artists, and it was an outstanding success.
The F. Matthias Alexander Technique was represented by Professor Frank Pierce Jones, from Tufts University, Boston, Mass. U.S.A. (who was trained by F. M. Alexander and who subsequently wrote Body Awareness in Action.). He gave an illustrated lecture entitled 'The Matthias Alexander Method: Specialized Scientific Research into Effective Movement'. This was reproduced in full, in German translation, under the title 'Die kinaesthetische Wahrnehmung von Haltung und Bewegung' in the book of the Congress, entitled, Eutonie and published in 1964 by Karl F. Haug Verlag, Ulm/Donau.
There was also a Group, in the week of Practical Work, conducted by Miss Jean Gibson, of the Re-education Centre, London, entitled, 'The study of posture and movement based on the Matthias (sic) Alexander and Charles Neil's Principles'.
The question that many people will want to ask is, what connection was there between the work of Gerda Alexander and F. Matthias Alexander? To my knowledge they never met; but she did know Charles Neal who was originally trained by Alexander and later left him to teach his own idiosyncratic version of the Technique and to set up the Re-Education Centre (later known as the Isabel Cripps Centre), London. They worked together and found much in common in their ideas. The outcome of their contact was probably, for her, quite a confused impression of the nature of Alexander's teaching and I am quite sure that the fundamental principle, to which he attached so much importance, was not fully understood. The Technique was seen as just another method of 'helping modern man towards optimal posture and functioning in his daily life'.
I think that the original intention was that Neal should play a major part in the Congress. His sudden death prevented this and so Professor Frank Pierce Jones was asked to give the lecture. Jones, however, was unwilling to do the Group work, and so Miss Jean Gibson, Neal's former assistant, was persuaded to undertake that.
Participants in the Congress had the opportunity to study each others methods and to explore them intellectually. To some extent they were able to experience these methods in a practical way: but if the underlying intention was for them to 'co-operate in further work' so that eventually common ground could be established and new methods perfected, it was clearly not appreciated that different techniques and ways of working, based on different principles, cannot be reconciled together. A positive step is required, a new understanding, to move from the physics of Newton to the physics of Einstein.
To assert, however, that different methods are based on different principles is not necessarily to disparage them, still less to disparage the work of their originators. It is not intended in this review to disparage the work of Gerda Alexander or her book which many people will find fascinating. In fact it should be read by all teachers of the F. Matthias Alexander Technique if only to enable them to distinguish authoritatively the differences between them and to dispel the confusion that may arise in people's minds. When people learn and study a method or technique they must be faithful to the principle involved: even games are spoilt when they are not played according to the rules.
Felix Morrow, the American publisher of this book, deserves a special mention. He is both a publisher and a Humanistic Psychologist and he has contributed an additional chapter. He also attended the First International Congress of Teachers of the F.M Alexander Technique held at Stony Brook, New York, in August 1986 and gave a lecture on the '[F. M.] Alexander Technique in relation to other Psycho-physical Disciplines'. Also, he was influential in the publication of both Edward Maisel's and Frank Pierce Jones's books on the F. M. Alexander Technique.
1987 © Walter H. M. Carrington. Reproduced with permission.
This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.