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The Alexander Technique

Joy in the Life of Your Body
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Alexander Technique
228 x 157 mm.
ISBN 0825300002 / 978-0825300004
Mouritz Bibliography
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This is an attractively designed and well-presented book that is sure to be popular. It suggests things to do, and feelings to explore, and altogether promises insights into an intriguing subject that has always seemed tantalizingly difficult to grasp, and of which so much that has been written has seemed pradoxical and confused. I wish that I could recommend it; but I cannot assert that it gives a reliable description of the Alexander Technique.

Admittedly, the Technique is not easy to write about, nor is it easy to explain without recourse to practical demonstration. It demands the acceptance of a principle (the principle of prevention) that strikes many people as unattractively negative, and contradicts many of our fixed beliefs and preconceptions. It also proposes the adoption of practical procedures that are not only startlingly unfamiliar, but quite unappealing as well. Simply, it invites us to find out what we do wrong that causes our troubles, and then to stop, or ensure that we refrain from doing these things. It enjoins that we should be aware and observant of what we do wrong, but at the same time, it urges us to act in accordance with reason, and to disregard our feelings, so that we adventure into the unfamiliar and the unknown without seeking the comfort and reassurance of feeling “natural” and “right.” These are simple things but they are not easy; most people find them unattractive, and would much rather be given things to do and things to feel.

Judith Stransky responds to this difficulty by introducing the work of Dr Moshe Feldenkrais whose approach, she says, goes hand-in-hand with the Alexander philosophy. She gives some “exercise-movements” to cultivate “Awareness Through Movement” as Dr Feldenkrais recommends. This would not have been Alexander’s recommendation: he did, indeed, know Feldenkrais (but who said that Feldenkrais had lessons from him? (p. 72)). In fact, he had lessons from me until the day that Alexander saw his newly published book, Body and Mature Behaviour, and told me to desist. Alexander was emphatic about the danger of confusing two incompatible principles and considered Feldenkrais’s approach to be gravely misleading. The principle of prevention does not accord well with the principle of doing and feeling.

Judith Stransky says that the essence of his work is non-doing and this would be true, if you understand by “non-doing” refraining from doing the wrong thing. (Alexander did not advocate or practise “quietism”, but very much the reverse.) She also says, quite correctly, that “the feelings we have when we are misusing ourselves are not reliable”; yet, the next section of the book is headed, “Simple Ways to Get the Alexander Technique Feeling.” If our feelings are not reliable, what is the point of giving people something to do, and then asking them how they feel?

Judith Stransky is an experienced and successful teacher, as this book makes clear. She evidently wants the Alexander Technique to be more widely known and appreciated, as we all do; and as a vehicle of publicity her book may serve its purpose quite effectively. But as a statement of Alexander’s teaching and technique it falls far short of what he would have approved. She remarks that she never knew him, which is perfectly true. I worked as his assistant for a good number of years and gain some knowledge of what he thought about his own work: that is why I cannot recommend this book.

© Walter Carrington. Reproduced with permission.

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