The inseparability of body and mind is at the essence of the technique as it recognises that the way we think influences our coordination. The teacher guides pupils through movements that establish new neurological pathways and affect fundamental change in the whole system.
Use of self
Alexander used the term “self” to the describe the individual as a psycho-physical entity. The “use of the self” then, is the “how” of thought and action. Not just of a limb, but of the whole.
How I use myself sitting at a desk might include: my posture, whether I move, or not, the quality of muscular tension in me, my patterns of thinking about my work or my sitting, if I poke my tongue out and so on.
The way we think about what we do influences how we do it. If I perceive my work as a chore, the negative attitude of mind manifests in a negative attitude of body. I’m likely to slump as I do my work.
If I enjoy my work, this is less likely. The technique teaches particular ways of thinking that support a more positive attitude, which in turn creates a more positive output.
If I am dealing with a pain or discomfort in one area, there will be compensation in other areas of the body. The use of the whole self is affected. It is often through changing the use of the whole that specific problems are alleviated.
Alexander would assess his students in terms of how they used what they had. It is very empowering to understand that the way you use what you have will ultimately shape your condition.
There exists an innate, naturally positive co-ordination of the head, neck and back. The quality of this dynamic relationship is fundamental in any movement or posture. Alexander named the co-ordinating influence of the head neck and back “Primary Control”.
Primary Control affects the whole person’s bearing. If Primary Control is working well, there appears a quality of lightness and ease in the person. The more positive we make this connection, the more support the limbs, organs and rest of the body has. This indirect approach has often proved to be more useful than working directly with a problem area.
The way I conceive any activity determines the way I execute it. If I think lifting a bucket will be hard work, I will make “hard work” for myself.
Alexander Technique recalibrates the body’s mechanisms for gauging appropriate effort. It also educates to ensure the most practical response to novel situations.
The technique often uncovers misconceptions about where the mechanical structures actually are and what demands they are most suited to. Body mapping and basic biomechanics are part of Alexander Technique education.
To effectively develop positive habits, it is necessary to remove the influence of the old habits. If I wish to change the way I strike a key at the piano, I must first stop my habitual way of playing.
To “inhibit” in Alexander Technique, is to refuse to respond in the habitual way – to send nerve impulses that say “don’t do” instead of “do”.
This is different from being passive: inhibition is active. In other words, it’s just as much work to send the direction “don’t do”, as it is to say “do”.
End-gaining and the means whereby
End-gaining is a term Alexander coined to describe the popular human predisposition to “get it right at all costs”.
The cost that he saw in many cases was the interference with natural co-ordination. The very act of “trying hard” hindered reaching the goal and often-created painful side effects.
The opposite of “end-gaining”, is using what Alexander called “means-whereby”. By this method, the student considers what he wants, and how he can get it.
He can then focus his attention on what he is doing “in the moment”, knowing this will eventually lead him where he wants to be.
This is vital to studying the technique and is very much in the spirit of enjoying the journey as much as the destination!
Faulty Sensory Appreciation
Alexander developed his technique to overcoming his own voice problems, inhibiting his habitual pattern of use, and following his “means whereby” for the new improved use.
However, when he tried to speak, he subconsciously reverted to his habitual pattern.
The reason, he discovered, was an underlying presumption that his new way of speaking would feel right.
He realised he needed to accept that the new way would initially feel wrong. Once he knew his sensory appreciation to be unreliable, Alexander relied instead upon the visual feedback of a mirror.
These days an Alexander teacher can use their hands to help you embrace the new feelings that accompany the new experience.
Normally, the way we use ourselves is something we don’t think about.
The technique however develops a use of the self that is consciously acquired.
Teachers give their students particular thoughts or “directions” to use to alter their co-ordination. Once the existing arrangement is “inhibited”, the new thinking process can engage a new co-ordination.
The teacher’s hands help the student to become aware of their existing patterns, refrain from repeating them, and use the new co-ordination.
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