LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Not to ‘Do’

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
178 x 134 mm.
ISBN 0953560104 / 978-0953560103
Mouritz Bibliography
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Short Description: 
A personal diary of 21 lessons with Margaret Goldie (1905-1997) between July 1995 and November 1996.


Alexander work being so much about “process”, the journal or diary form of writing is a particularly well-suited medium through which the very individual and personal experiences we have as we learn and change can be conveyed to the reader. It is surprising that it has not been used more often (at least in published writings), but in Not to ‘Do’ by Fiona Robb, it is used to good effect to describe a particular period of some eighteen months.

Perhaps more unusually, the journal is about only one aspect of her life – indeed, despite the fact that she was on a teacher-training course, only one aspect of her “Alexander” experience; namely, a series of twenty-one lessons which she had with Margaret Goldie (1905-1997) between July 1995 and November 1996.

Not so much a book about Fiona Robb, one may suspect, as a book about Margaret Goldie. But it is neither. This book is, on the one hand, about a particular experience, which those who were her pupils will recognise – an Alexander lesson with Miss Goldie; and on the other hand, about the impact of a pure idea meeting the resistance of stubborn habit as manifested, in this case, by one young woman. But make no mistake, it could equally have been any one of us!

Is it premature for one so inexperienced to attempt such a task? Are there not others better qualified? It may be so, but nevertheless, these experiences are the author’s own and they are conveyed with sincerity. They represent an important early and even life-changing period, sadly cut short by the death of Margaret Goldie. Thanks to the excision, for the most part, of comment and interpretation, the reader is left with material which has a certain immediacy; it is very alive.

What, then, was the particular and recognisable experience of a lesson with Miss Goldie? Something of that is certainly conveyed in these diary entries. To sit outside her teaching room and hear her giving a lesson, to walk in and become aware of a certain calm presence, to feel her quiet hand gently calling to some part of oneself which could understand, to hear her words “dropped” into one’s ear in such a way that they penetrated deep, one was (but not everyone) called to a self-examination which was quite ruthless. This woman, in her own very individualistic way, had pursued a line of work so uncompromisingly that she had about her an aura of truth; and Truth is a hard task-master.

And what was the impact on this young woman? Gradually something begins to emerge from the chaos; not with any great drama or catharsis, but, in a simple way, something more real.

Not to ‘Do’ is a small, attractive edition in three sections, presented with an eye for quality. Essentially not very long, it is somewhat extended with generous line-spacing. The heart of the book, “The Lessons”, is some one hundred and twenty pages in length; an ample “Introduction” gives interesting and helpful background information about the author and places her work with Miss Goldie within a context; and the “The Afterword”, written – it is explained – “for the benefit of those readers who are not familiar with the Technique”, is competent, but reads somewhat dry and theoretical after the alive and personal quality of “The Lessons”.

For those who did not know Margaret Goldie and have a serious interest in Alexander’s ideas, this book may indeed help them to find another perspective, not always apparent in today’s rather “body-orientated” approach (much criticised by Miss Goldie). And for those who knew her? They too will, I am sure, be assuaged by the accuracy of the account and acknowledge, “Yes, it is true. That is how it was.”

© John Hunter. Reproduced with permission. John Hunter (

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

Perhaps it was the still and pristine August afternoon in New England around me as I read, or Fiona Robb’s calm, considered prose, or the charm and detail of her design of the small volume encapsulating her 21 lessons with Miss Goldie between July 1995 and November 1996 . . .In any case, I found that reading Not To ‘Do’ transported me to a timeless encounter between a young trainee and a woman who had been living and teaching the Technique for nearly 70 years. With each entry in the diary of lessons, I found myself becoming stiller and more interested in “just ‘stopping,’” even as I gained insight into the personality and teaching of one of F. M. Alexander’s first trainees.

I’ve just returned from the Oxford Congress, where the gradual but inexorable passing of the first generation of teachers struck me with greater force than ever; such accounts as this of lessons with those who trained directly with F. M. seem more urgently needed as the mantle of teaching is passing increasingly to those who never met him, or even his earliest trainees. I never had the pleasure of meeting Miss Goldie myself, or several of the other “senior” teachers now gone, and while accounts of lessons can never replace direct experience, they are invaluable legacies and resources for the future of the work. We can only be grateful that Ms. Robb had the foresight and inclination to set down her impressions at the time, usually within hours of each lesson.

Accounts of Miss Goldie are particularly welcome, as she did not herself run a training course and her “heirs” are relatively few. Yet it has been reported (including by Walter Carrington) that F. M. remarked that of all his early trainees, Miss Goldie was the only one who really understood. While we can speculate on just what it was she understood that others didn’t (in fact, a workshop at the Congress offered by Penelope Easten, another pupil of Miss Goldie, explored just that – look for her article in The Congress Papers when they appear!), it should be sufficient to pique our interest in what she might have to say about the Technique.

The jacket blurb quite rightly points out that Miss Goldie “particularly emphasised the ‘non-doing’ aspect of the Technique, constantly reiterating the need to be able to become quiet; to ‘stop’; not to ‘do.’” This precise, unyielding attention to “stopping all that,” in other words, quieting all the mental and physical fidgeting and noise, comes through with great clarity. There is a bracing, Zen-like quality to the thought process (or “brainthought” as she termed it) that emerges: cool, clear, but not remote – and tremendously powerful in its simplicity. The presence of mind and being that such non-doing gave the apparently frail 90-year-old woman is strikingly captured in one entry:

“I asked MG why she had a heavy, wooden-handled metal gun on her desk. She said that it would be good for use to deter an intruder – to point it at him and then hit him over the head with it. Whilst she was saying this, she demonstrated the actions. What a fearsome sight! In a flash, the energy flew to the extremities of her limbs, her whole being alive as she wielded the gun in the air. It was the whole of her in the action – a total action – and it reminded me of pictures I’d seen of ancient Samurai warriors in the heat of combat.”

Similarly, the anecdote reminded me of reports of the aged Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, repelling a group of attackers seemingly without effort. It makes one ponder the potential of the Technique to remove any interference with a clear intent, so that it can be manifested with utter completeness in an instant, by someone who simply knows how to “stop.”

Many thanks therefore to Ms. Robb, Jean Fischer (for his flawless typesetting), and the F.M. Alexander Trust for their seed loan to the project. There is much more I could say about this volume, but the most important would be: Buy it. Read it. And then read it again. And then – stop.

© Andrea Matthews. Reproduced with permission.

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

This diary account of a sensitive and articulate trainee teacher’s experience of a course of lessons in the Alexander Technique is interesting because the teacher is Margaret Goldie (1905-97), an early pupil and trainee of Alexander and subsequently a long-serving and much revered teacher. The result is an intelligent and practical account of the Alexander Technique. The diary form is used to good effect to communicate the essential theoretical elements of the Alexander Technique in a lively and endearing way.

Originally I had been discouraged from reading this book by a rather lukewarm review but it was later recommended to me by a colleague who had been a pupil of Margaret Goldie’s. I read his copy straight through, bought my own, and have since lent it out to many of my pupils. In sharp contrast to the glossy pictures, exaggerated claims and soundbite-style commentary so characteristic of much of the “alternative therapy” literature, the writing style is lucid, concise and modest and the content is simple, clear and uncompromising. The presentation is in keeping with the book’s style and message. It is a quiet book, beautifully produced with good paper, generous line-spaving and a ribbon bookmark. Margaret Goldie’s instructions and explanations to her pupil resonate so clearly with my own understanding of the Alexander Technique, and with how I try to teach it, that I was left wishing that I too had taken lessons with Margaret Goldie and kept a diary. In many ways this is the book that I wish I had written. It is certainly the book that I return to in furtherance of my own practice and teaching. Margaret Goldie died in 1997, and I am grateful that Fiona Robb had the resolution to record and publish her experience of lessons with this renowned teacher.

In the Introduction we learn of the author’s difficulties and her motivation for seeking lessons with Margaret Goldie. To her credit she avoids a confessional style in favour of an informative and restrained account. In preparation for “The Lessons” section, we learn a little of the character and history of Margaret Goldie. She had worked closely with Alexander and this, together with a lifetime of devotion to the man and his work, was the foundation of her confidence and authority as a teacher. She is described as a private and selfcontained lady who, at 91, remained perceptive, tenacious and resilient. In her teaching she was assured, insistent and unwavering.

The main focus of the book, “The Lessons”, makes up the middle section, which is a transcript, often in note form, of the author’s thoughts and questions, and her teacher’s instructions and answers, which took place over a course of 21 lessons. The author simply observes the effect of Margaret Goldie’s hands, her instructions and her observations, without offering explanations. It is this style, the focus on observation rather than interpretation, which evokes the lesson so clearly for the reader, particularly one who is familiar with the Alexander Technique. The simple instructions of deciding to stop, wishing for quiet and maintaining an attitude of non-doing having given consent to a response, the core elements of the Alexander Technique, are repeated endlessly as we accompany the author through her lessons.

While Miss Goldie’s language might seem old-fashioned and even quaint, the meaning is always clear and precise. In relation to stopping, for example, “That is the key – to stop and be quiet. The practice is in the stopping” (p.53). She offers some further advice that stopping is to be asked for and not made to happen “just register the decision that you want to be quiet and then let it go” (p. 68). “You just think that you would like to be quiet” (p. 80). In relation to direction, “give the head a chance to grow out of the body” (p. 35) and “just go on stopping and growing” (p. 114). She reminds us that the Alexander Technique is all about “brainwork” (p. 36) and that “brain activity should not involve muscle activity” (p.40).

The Afterword provides supplementary explanation, intended for readers unfamiliar with the Technique. This is the theory section and, in keeping with the rest of the book, the author’s description and explanation of the Alexander Technique are alive, efficient and effective. This section really speaks to me and, judging from the feedback from my pupils, to them also. The terms which are peculiar to the Alexander Technique – primary control, endgaining, monkey – and which are so difficult for teachers to convey to pupils, are clearly and practically explained.

I am not sure this is a book that those without experience of the Alexander Technique will understand. The verbatim reporting of instructions, so familiar and inspiring to those with knowledge of the Alexander Technique, may appear meaningless to the uninitiated. Take the following interchange: the author complains that her knees are hurting. The teacher responds, “Well you just send a few messages telling them to be quiet and they’ll begin to learn” (p. 129). One solution would have been to place the Afterword as a Foreword. The disadvantage of course is that it is the personal touches in the diary account which are likely to inspire the desire for lessons. Furthermore, for the prospective pupil, I am not sure that a lesson with Margaret Goldie is representative of Alexander lessons generally, or indeed that a prospective pupil would be encouraged to take lessons on this basis. While many teachers would like to be as clear-thinking and committed as Margaret Goldic, very few I expect would be quite as stern, to the point, we are told, of “terrorising” her pupils (p. 70).

For me, this was a source of disquiet. We read numerous examples of Margaret Goldie’s abrupt and unsympathetic teaching style, “Had a lesson with MG today. It was awful – she tore me to shreds” (p. 57). What did she say that was so awful? “If you are going to do the opposite of what I ask you, may as well just go home and not come back” (p. 63). “What’s the point of my teaching you. . . It’s a waste of my time and your money” (p. 67). Predictably, the effect on her pupil was that she was “afraid of Miss Goldie a lot of the time – afraid to move a muscle almost, for fear of the reaction I might provoke” (p. 8). By modern standards in the teaching profession, such an approach would attract disapproval. The author herself describes it as bullying (p. 65). Yet, in her gratitude for the message, she advocates the rudeness with which it is delivered, “I’d like her to shout at me because it might make me see something I’ve not seen before” (p. 107). Clearly, Margaret Goldie’s gift as a teacher was in getting to the heart of her pupils’ misuse, both in terms of observation and communication. I wonder whether her bluntness was necessary to her success or whether a kinder more encouraging approach would have achieved the same result – or even better?

© Victoria Wass. Reproduced with permission.

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