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The Expanding Self

How the Alexander Technique changed my life
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Alexander Technique
ISBN 0951930435 / 978-0951930434
Mouritz Bibliography
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Short Description: 
The Binkley diaries from the early 1950s is the most extensive and vivid record of how Alexander taught.
Mouritz description: 
After having lessons in the Technique in New York, Binkley moved to London in 1950 to have lessons with F. M. Alexander and subsequently trained as a teacher (1953-57). Often referred to as the Binkley diaries this is the most extensive and vivid record of how Alexander taught. Binkley re-edited his manuscript a few times over the next 30 years and included relevant paragraphs from Alexander’s books and autobiographical material, making the book a detailed and personal case history. It shows indirectly – by the attitude expressed in the diary entries – how profoundly and subtly the Technique works.


As one of the “fellow students” to whom (among others) this book is dedicated, I was delighted to be asked to write a review. The late Goddard Binkley was an American from Chicago who had his first lessons from Philomene Barr, an American teacher trained by A. R. Alexander. These lessons fired him with the desire to be a teacher of the Technique and he arranged to go to England in early 1951 (at the age of 31) hoping to join Alexander’s training course as soon as possible. Events turned out rather differently however. After meeting Alexander the latter recommended that he should have some private lessons before joining the training course, as in view of the international situation (the Korean War) it was possible he could be recalled to the States. These private lessons continued over a period of two years and he had about seventy in all. Although Goddard was disappointed not to start training he later realised what a wonderful grounding these lessons were when he eventually joined the training course.

His book is divided into three parts with a foreword by Walter Carrington. Part 1 contains a description of his life prior to his contact with the Technique and reveals him to be someone of wide interests, but with personal problems, both “mental” and “physical”, that restricted his personal growth and development. Part 2 is an account, in diary form, of his lessons with Alexander (1951-53). Part 3 continues with an account (also in diary form) of his experiences on the training course (1953-57).

The latter parts of the book were particularly fascinating for me as they brought back many memories of Alexander and my experiences as a student on his last training course. Goddard’s contact with Alexander ran parallel to mine (he was one year younger than I). I joined the training course in February 1951 and had two years of daily turns from “FM” while, unknown to me, Goddard was having his two years of private lessons over almost the same period. I first met him when he eventually joined the training course in 1953. Alexander had by then handed over the running of the course to Walter Carrington although he still kept an eye on us.

The most important and interesting part of the book is the diary of the lessons he had with FM. As Walter Carrington says in his foreword “Goddard had a true Boswellian gift; just as he brought Dr. Johnson to life . . . Goddard has performed a similar miracle here. Those of us who knew Alexander, and who were taught and trained by him can vouch for the portrait that Goddard paints. We can hear the familiar inflections of his voice and his whole manner of expression in the words that are reported.” Although my time with Alexander was comparatively short, I can entirely echo these comments.

Throughout the diary Goddard has thoughtfully inserted quotations from Alexander’s four books to underline and explain the many difficulties he had during his lessons. He was not a “silent” pupil. Alexander encouraged him to ask questions. Goddard had a very wide back and Alexander soon mentions his envy of it.

“You have such a beautiful back, I wish I had it and it’s a great shame if you don’t use it . . . When you do misuse yourself you do it twice as badly as the next fellow!”

What comes across so strongly in the diary is Alexander’s liveliness and energy (he was 82 when Goddard started his lessons). In one lesson Goddard asks Alexander, “When you tell me to let my head go forward and up and out of your hands, should my response be not to do anything?” Alexander replies, “That’s right. You only allow your head to go forward and up and it will go up, I’ll give you a written guarantee of that . . .” Alexander answers this question affirmatively and emphatically. However, it often happens that the pupil in complying with the order not to do anything (inhibitory act) forgets to attend to the all-important matter of directing his use. In a footnote on page 13 of Chapter 1 of The Use of The Self Alexander says:

“When I employ the words ‘direction’ and ‘directed’ with’use’in such phrases as ‘direction of my use’ and ‘I directed the use’ etc., I wish to indicate the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of these mechanisms.”

Alexander in this particular lesson goes on to say to Goddard: “I will give you a right experience; it’s impossible for me to give you a wrong experience. Think of what that means.” – comparing this approach with that of the usual trial and error method of learning with a teacher.

There are so many of Alexander’s comments to Goddard that are quotable but there is one that is of particular importance to me: “Six or seven places in my books I have made a remark which no one ever seems to remember, and that is that ends come of themselves, they cannot help but come of themselves.” I suppose this is another way of saying, as he increasingly did towards the end of his life, that “the right thing does itself”, always provided that the old habitual response is inhibited and the new means whereby are truly understood, wished for and energised.

When Goddard finally joined the training course in 1953 with Alexander’s blessing he still had many problems with the misdirection of his great strength and further struggles with himself before finally qualifying as a teacher in 1957. He went back to the States to teach and eventually set up his own training course.

In reading the diary we can recognise the problems that we as teachers, students and pupils have had with ourselves in coming to an understanding of the Technique and in attempting to put it into practice. I hope readers will enjoy the book as much as I did.

© The Estate of Anthony Spawforth. Reproduced with permission.

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