LIBRARY - Reference(s)

The Act of Living

Talks on the Alexander Technique
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Alexander Technique
223 x 148 mm.
ISBN 0964435233 / 978-0964435230
Mouritz Bibliography
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Short Description: 
This ‘second volume’ of Thinking Aloud contains 29 talks given to trainees on the many aspects of teaching and living the Technique.
Mouritz description: 
This may regarded as the second volume of ‘Thinking Aloud.’ It contains talks given to trainees on many aspects of teaching and living the Technique. Some of the 29 talks are titled:Thinking to do, General functioning, The primary wish, Forward and up, Knees forward and away, The length and the width, Walking, Yin and yang, Establishing a total pattern, Responsibility, Gravitation, and Saying and meaning no. It also contains a foreword by the ‘postural’ physiologist Tristan Roberts, an introduction by Glynn Macdonald, and biographies.
This may regarded as the second volume of Thinking Aloud. It contains talks given to trainees on the many aspects of teaching and living the Technique. Some of the 29 talks are titled: Thinking to do, General functioning, The primary wish, Forward and up, Knees forward and away, The length and the width, Walking, Yin and yang, Establishing a total pattern, Responsibility, Gravitation, and Saying and meaning no. Foreword by the "postural" physiologist Tristan Roberts and an introduction by Glynn Macdonald, and biographies.


Mornum Time Press has once again brought us a new selection of Walter Carrington's talks to teachers and trainees. As in the earlier book (Thinking Aloud, 1994), we are given a look at the Alexander Technique as a process of growth and development, with a past, a present, and, hopefully, a future. Mr Carrington, of course, has participated and witnessed a good deal of the first two time periods, and gives us all a fine example of the attitude and effort necessary to take us most fruitfully into the third.

I have had only one direct personal encounter with Walter Carrington. It occurred nearly twenty-five years ago, when I was first having lessons in the Technique in Boston. The teacher with whom I was working arranged for Walter, who was visiting, to give a lecture/demonstration. There were probably less than twelve people present. Walter gave one of his judiciously rambling talks on the Technique at the same time as he gave short individual turns to each of those present. While he was working with me, I realized partway through that while continuing to talk to the group in general, he was also speaking to me about the very specific hands on work we were doing. The integration of skill and understanding involved impressed me deeply. I wondered how one could develop this.

These continuing talks give us clues. It is clear in them that Mr Carrington, after six decades as a teacher of F. M. Alexander's work, gets up every day ready to explore and reflect on whatever life presents to him that day. In his teaching, reading, speaking, and other "acts of living," he patiently and good naturedly observes what goes on with himself and with those with whom he works and considers what it means in light of his previous experience and knowledge. Any new connections he makes are then applied to his next experiments in teaching and living. The primary beneficiary of all this work is Walter himself, as it should be, since, as he points out, each person's primary responsibility is to their own self. But each of the rest of us, in reading and pondering Walter's musings, can find not only example but good, solid practical fuel to inform our own ongoing process of exploration of the inextricably fused principles and procedures of the Alexander Technique.

"My work is in the wide sense educational, but it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be labeled a 'system,' for that implies something limited, complete, calling for the employment of direct means in the gaining of ends; whereas in my technique the procedures are carried out by indirect means which lead the pupil (or teacher) (my parenthesis/KJA) from the known (wrong) to the unknown (right) in experience . . ." (F. M. Alexander in The Universal Constant in Living).

© Kevin Ahern. Reproduced with permission.

© 1999. Kevin Ahern. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
It is absolutely right as Voltaire observed that it is more difficult to write something short than long, and in this respect, these two short books are exemplary. No lengthy, wandering sentences and thickets of subclauses here, but simplicity and clarity in every essay, each in itself the result of a long distillation of teaching experience.
Like many other Alexander teachers, I had my own ‘rogue’ version of these talks, taken down and endlessly photocopied by pupils over the years, from Walter Carrington’s classes at the Constructive Teaching Centre at Lansdowne Road. I was overjoyed to find them here in book form, beautifully edited and presented, each essay, taking an idea or exploration as the subject of investigation.

These essays are more profound than their construction suggests; they assume an easy familiarity with the reader, with difficult concepts conveyed with the simplicity and directness of fairy tales, and like them, they encompass the deepest truths. They also have a subtle beauty of language and rhythm of speech that makes rereading a pleasure.

Consider ‘lengthening in stature’ a phrase that Alexander used, Carrington points out, not because he considered it unimportant to lengthen the spine, or the whole back, or to lengthen up the front (he was well aware how subject to stress the larynx was). It was, he observes, a deliberate inexactitiude, so that when we ask ourselves and our pupils to lengthen in stature “we’re being deliberately vague and imprecise, if you like, for the very, very good reason that we want to cover everything and not leave anything out.”

He is wise on using the Technique in activity and the way that riding for example creates “a condition in which more response is needed, more effort, more coordination, more sensitivity, more direction... The difference between this and the Technique is that when it comes to preventing misuse we have to say so much of the time ‘less, less, less, stop doing, do nothing’ because misuse has got to be eliminated before it makes any sense to try and build something up. But the point does come when less, less, less will not really get you anywhere at all. Progress in athletic performance comes through increasing the demand on yourself while ensuring the full, intelligent, conscious response to the demand – that the direction, coordination and balance are meanwhile correctly maintained.’.

These are not books written in any way as a substitute for Alexander’s own books; they are intentionally and resolutely not. They are thoughtful reflections to be considered in conjunction with FM’s works. I have already read both these Walter Carrington books many times over and found something else of interest in them each time. They have also helped me to understand better Alexander’s

© Francesca Greenoak. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
When my brother was laid up and considering a course of Alexander Technique lessons, I borrowed a copy of another excellent book from Mornum Time Press, Curiosity Recaptured: Exploring Ways We Think and Move, for him to read by way of introduction to the Technique. I’m equally impressed with this new volume by Walter Carrington, from the same publisher.

As presented here, Walter Carrington gives wonderfully crisp definition to a very wide range of Alexander Technique topics. The book contains 29 transcriptions of talks given by Carrington to Alexander Technique teachers-in-training over a period of several years. These are amplifications of passages from one of F. M. Alexander’s four books.

Although perhaps not best suited for beginners in the work, for teachers and student with some experience this can be a very valuable resource of insights and fresh approaches to the many subjects on which a student of the Technique is likely to ponder.

Starting with “Thinking to do”, through talks on “Sciatica”, “The feet” (my pet topic), “The length and the width”, “Walking”, and, finally, “The Act of Living”, these talks provide an illuminating view on these and other subjects that perhaps only Walter Carrington can provide. But I gush . . .

I’ almost embarrassed to pick two nits with this otherwise excellent volume, however . . .

As described above, all Walter Carrington’s talks presented in The Act of Living were developed from passages from F. M. Alexander’s works. It would have been helpful to have those passages as well as the follow-on. There may well be a good reason why this wasn’t done. More’s the pity.

If it weren’t for the page of back matter describing the electronic design of the book, I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but the leading (the space between the lines) is uncomfortably large. Truly a nit? Well, yes.

Highly recommended.

© Dan Arsenault. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
As well as the 29 edited talks, (recorded from Walter Carrington’s extempore thoughts on a passage from a book of Alexander’s he was currently reading to trainee teachers) The Act of Living contains a substantial Foreword by Dr Tristan Roberts, a neurophysiologist and Alexander enthusiast and author of Neurophysiology of Postural Mechanisms and Understanding Balance. There is also a short Author’s preface, an Editor’s note, an Introduction by Glynn Macdonald, and short biographies of the contributors.

In his Foreword, Roberts points out that “there is, in fact, a huge gap between the world of personal experience and the world of scientific explanation.” He considers (for example) that in Alexander’s writings the word ‘inhibition’ was being used incorrectly and, (giving scientific reasons), he felt that “in the Alexander context, the expression ‘refraining from action’ might be more appropriate”.

In the context of “gravity” I felt that Roberts’ complicated scientific ruminations on Newton’s use of the Latin word gravitas were perhaps somewhat prolix in the overall context of the essay. (Some paragraphs lasted well over a page.) Although I didn’t find the scientific detail easy to grasp, it’s worth trying to get a grip on it. Having discussed the nature of “muscle” Roberts makes points worth bearing in mind: “There is a good deal of complicated machinery involved between the decision to make a particular voluntary movement and the actual development of the necessary forces to pull appropriately on the bones of the skeleton”, and that “None of the stages in the linking machinery is accessible to conscious experience.” In the context of habits and the “trigger for habitual behaviour” I was intrigued by the statement that some “triggers” might contain “an element of chemical addiction”!

This hard-back book is attractively produced: there is generous line-spacing, wide margins and a largish (though attractive) type face. Of its 188 pages some 16 are blank – so it’s somewhat in the nature of an “art” book, with high quality production.

In a recent e-mail to colleagues the editor Jerry Sontag says that the publishers have “reached out to theatre, music and dance departments in an attempt to get the book included as part of the supplemental reading for certain performance classes.” Fine. It seems to me that this book should have the widest possible circulation. For the sake of an even wider readership I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to have produced a smaller format paperback at a price that the larger UK bookshops might have been prepared to stock? A text such as this would have been a useful counter-balance to the current “This-is-not-a-how-to-do-it” (but with pictures of how to do it!) Alexander Technique books currently in the shops. A cheaper format might also have made it more possible for students on various performing arts courses to buy a copy.

It would be hard to overestimate the value of Walter Carrington’s lucid explanations and succinct turns of phrase in these talks. For me, reading the transcriptions has been both a delight and a timely reminder of things one tends not to insist on clearly and firmly enough in the face of pupils’ understandable desire to “try harder” and make progress.

In a talk entitled “Saying and Meaning No” Walter is addressing the problem of the fact that pupils are “subconsciously or otherwise entertaining the idea of sitting down” and how difficult it is for them to “finally abandon trying to follow the old pathway. This isn’t a short journey . . . they may reach that point after one hundred and fifty lessons.” This underlines the scale of our problem – seen as we are nowadays by the general public largely as part of the “alternative/complementary therapy” scene. In this climate of “treatment” we have to work very hard to get people to understand the nature of the commitment necessary for them to get real and continuing benefit from Alexander work. Walter Carrington realises this at every twist and turn of the way, and these talks are an invaluable encouragement to persevere in spite of the odds.

© John Naylor. Reproduced with permission.

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