LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Understanding Balance

The Mechanics of Posture and Locomotion
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AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
234 x 156 mm.
ISBN 1565934164 / 978-1565934160
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Also published by Nelson Thornes (UK). ISBN 0412601605 / 978-0412601606. US editions by Singular Publishing Group, Nelson Thornes (USA).
Mouritz Bibliography
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Mouritz description: 
Everything about human or animal balance (apart from the Technique) written for the layman. Newtonian mechanics and relevant physiology is explained as it is introduced. Some mathematics is involved but it is not necessary for a general understanding of the argument. Principles of structures and muscles are described and explained before their interaction is examined by reference to many different experiments on balance and locomotion (gait patterns). The rôle of proprioception and brain processing is examined in detail with practical examples, and an overall synthesis is suggested. Keywords include anticipatory pre-emptive actions, stretch reflexes, motion sickness, motor patterns, head righting reflexes, neural networks and the behavioural vertical.


This important book should be carefully read and studied by all students of the Alexander Technique. Although our work is primarily concerned with the general manner of our use of ourselves, with consciousness and volition; with “constructive conscious control” as Alexander called it, the mechanism whereby we maintain our “upright posture” needs to be well understood. The influence of the force of gravity is clearly all-pervasive in our lives and the way in which all living organisms respond to it is critical to their safety and well-being. Insecurity of physical balance evidently contributes to emotional anxiety and yet, in spite of all the advances of scientific medicine, relatively little research has been carried out in this field. Orthodox neurophysiological teaching scarcely addresses the problem since it has been largely based on what Roberts refers to as, “the treacherous oversimplification of conventional schoolroom physics”.

As he states in his preface, this book is the outcome of a lifetime’s research. Formerly he was Reader in Physiology in the University of Glasgow, and his previous book, The Neurophysiology of Postural Mechanisms (London, Butterworths, 2nd ed., 1978) is regarded as a classic text on the subject. Now, many previous findings are freshly interpreted in the light of new data, including experiments of his own, and he has welded them all together into a remarkable and coherent story.

He explains the working of muscles and the so-called stretch-reflexes, and goes on to state that: “The stretch reflex makes it possible for a muscle to act as a variable spring” and he also explains that “most of the muscle activity involved in converting the loosely jointed assembly of the bones of the human skeleton into a springy framework capable of supporting the weight of the body is derived from stretch-reflex mechanisms.”

He asserts that: “Everything to do with balance [comes] down to a problem of recognition. For example, if one is to make corrective movements to avoid over-balancing, one must be able, on some level, to recognise that the moment has arrived at which such corrective movements are called for.” He argues that although animals and men evidently do regulate their posture, we must reject the idea commonly entertained that upright posture is maintained by some automatic regulating mechanism. He concludes by discussing the nature of habits and skills and states that: “If an attempt is to be made to change a persons habit, two things appear to be essential. The first is an adequate desire, on the part of the subject, to make the change. To achieve this, the helper needs to use his ingenuity to build up a suitable degree of motivation in the subject. The second requirement, and one which is much more difficult to meet, is that the person with the habit has to be brought to a condition in which he is aware of the “feel” of the changing condition which will, if allowed to proceed, eventually lead to the production of the habitual movement, It is only after he has learned to recognise this crucial moment that he can take action to interpose an effective alternative pattern of behaviour.”

I have not attempted in this brief review to give a coherent account of the story as Roberts tells it. I have merely pointed to some of his most significant arguments. The quotations given should be read very carefully. Most students of the Alexander Technique will then appreciate why I think that this book is so highly recommended.

© Walter Carrington. Reproduced with permission.

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