We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains, said F. M. Alexander. But many of us have inherited one of the habits that F. M. never threw away – the resistance to actively selling his work. Judith Leibowitz’s and Bill Connington’s book – beautifully published by Harper & Row – is a major step toward changing this pattern by helping to make the incredibly useful tool of the Alexander Technique known to a wider audience. A broad-based introduction, it is a much-needed 168-page advertisement and a good addition to writings on the Technique.
The book begins with stories about people changing. The authors tell how they and their students were affected by the Technique in fifteen case studies that span a variety of ages, professions and problems. An editor, an accountant, a performer who unsuccessfully sought relief through other modalities were ultimately freed from nagging chronic conditions or were able to expand their expressiveness. Showing how a change in the body can render a change of mind, this section gives a wide range of readers the opportunity to find themselves in the book, and gives personal meaning to the subsequent instructional sections. In descriptions of the Technique’s concepts and tools for change, the authors’ most impressive accomplishment is putting subtle, elusive concepts in clear, accessible language. But in both the anecdote and theory segments, I found myself wishing that such dramatic stories could have been expressed more lyrically, with more of the warmth and humor that can come through a lesson with Judy or Bill.
Part II conveys and illustrates the Leibowitz Procedures, directions for a series of Alexander-informed simple movements such as sitting, bending or lunging. This section reaches for a high level of motivation and self-awareness in readers. Though a preceding chapter defining anatomical terms is well illustrated, the section establishing a mode for self-observation uses easily misinterpreted spatial terms like back, down and forward for the head without the benefit of pictures. This points to an inherent contradiction in the book’s premise – the admonition to study the Technique with a certified teacher, accompanied by written instructions. A careful disclaimer doesn’t quite solve this problem. As someone working with the Technique, I can’t say how these instructions would be used by a novice, but I find it hard to imagine learning inhibition without a teacher’s immediate feedback. The final two chapters applying the Procedures and Alexander principles to daily activities, sports and exercise seem to me more likely to produce real insight in someone new to these concepts. Particularly helpful is the section on bringing self-awareness to an evaluation of one’s workspace and to the actions so many do unconsciously – washing the car, eating, or gardening.
The authors have taken on the daunting task of describing a hands-on movement technique without the complex feedback of demonstration and individual guidance. Of course there is leeway to get it wrong, but they have, in a clear, cogent way, put forth an extremely useful introduction, one that can pique the interest of a greater public. This has been a good year for the press and the Alexander Technique, and the production of this book makes it a better one. Though reading and self-experimentation will never replace a pair of hands, some people really have been helped by books. Hopefully, this one will reach the many places in the world without Alexander teachers.
© Joan Arnold 2006(www.alexandertech.net)
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