Alexander’s technique for a coordinated use of the human body and an awareness of the muscular system is, when expressed in words, shockingly simple. First, one has to prevent stiffening one’s neck; second, to direct the head forward and up; third, to lengthen and widen the back. The difficulty is that these directions have to be maintained constantly: standing or sitting, lying down or walking, till they replace a faulty pattern of habits. Moreover, the orders constitute one primary control operating from the brain to specific coordinated crossroads in the body.
Years of constant work is required. there can be on sudden catharsis, no hope of salvation out of sheer faith and passive identification. The instructor cannot replace strong determination and lucid consciousness on the part of the pupil.
F. Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor whose career was threatened by sever malfunctioning of his vocal organs. Physicians and specialists did not succeed in helping him. He himself reached the confusion that the source of the disturbance was not in the larynx or in the lungs, but in the defective use of the entire muscular system. After nine years of experimentation he succeeded in curing himself, and in the process discovered a new technique for the correction of the whole psycho-physical system.
He went to London in 1904 where he taught his technique to such prominent people as Henry Irving, John Dewey, Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Lord Lytton, Archbishop William Temple, the biologist G. E. Coghill, Sir Stafford Cripps and many others.
It was not until 1931 that he began his first course for instructors in his technique. Despite request from his pupils to start such a course earlier, he hesitated for many reasons. He found it difficult to express himself in writing and orally. He lacked pedagogical talents. And he did not really believe that his technique could be transferred to others without being distorted.
Mr Alexander wrote four books. Reading them is no pleasure. People with no personal experience of his work are not likely to be convinced by them. His technique needed a new vocabulary, original formulas and surprising syllogisms.
Curiously enough, the first serious book on the Alexander Technique was published in 1964 by Lulie Westfeldt, an American teacher of the technique and one of the students of the first training course for teachers in 1931.
Miss Westfeldt speaks of the achievements of the technique, and her own improvement. Of the influence of the first training course on its participants she testifies in addition to the great physical improvements most of them thought in a more organized way, with less confusion and greater consciousness. Some handled their lives with more mastery and ease; they lived more successfully and happily. She quotes Sir Stafford Cripps: Instead of feeling one’s body to be an aggregation of ill-fitting parts . . . the body becomes a coordinated and living whole; and Aldous Huxley: Physical self-awareness and self-control leads to, and to some extent is actually a form of, mental and moral self-awareness and self-control (p. 119).
Some of the difficulties of the technique are well described in the book. One of the basic principles of the Alexander Technique is inhibition. Unlike the psycho-analysts’ definition of this term, Alexander used it to mean a conscious psycho-physical act which brings the person in contact with certain activities and feelings in his body, leads him to stop some habitual reactions in order to free the way for more efficient and proper activities. The pupil has to become aware that his habitual concept of the use of his body and quality of his movements is basically wrong. Alexander found difficulty in transferring the meaning of this concept to his pupils. He told me each time, Miss Westfeldt writes, . . . to inhibit or say ‘no’ so that I could get rid of my old pattern of getting up or sitting down. There were several other phrases about ‘inhibition’ which he used as well, but not a thing he said had any meaning for me. . . . Even if I had understood this, I would never have been able to apply this difficult technique so quickly. I was to say, no, I am not going to get up, knowing that I’d be taken up in about five seconds. . . What did the man mean? I was completely at sea.
Difficulty still remains in making clear other basics concepts, no less important. The pupil is asked, for example, constantly to give certain orders to his muscular system, keeping it in a wholesome inter-related adjustment. The mere giving of such an order is not easy, as it must constantly be repeated while performing a certain activity (standing up, walking, thinking). The main difficulty is the explanation in words of the quality of the order: is it to do some thing or to think the right pattern of behaviour? It lies somewhere close to thinking, but nevertheless is not identical with what we call thinking. A new system of words is required to express what is wanted. No wonder, then, that Alexander always passed over his ineptness with words by saying that his work was a sensory experience and as such could not be described or communicated in words (p. 60). This is evading the issue to a certain degree, but I think no serious teacher of the Alexander Technique can claim to have solved the problem.
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