UNDERSTANDING ALEXANDERS TERMINOLOGY

The Alexander technique is designed to inhibit our stressful reactions to life, reducing muscular tension and anxiety levels so that we can relax and achieve more by doing less. Students of the Technique learn how to re-establish a sense of conscious balance in the body, to develop a calm sense of inner poise and to support a healthy posture. Movements become freer and more flowing, the body feels integrated and you live more in the moment with a heightened sense of awareness and enjoyment of life. Many Alexander Technique Teachers seem to think that it is almost impossible to describe the Alexander Technique in words without the experience. Certainly the concept without the experience is useless, but part of the problem also lies in Alexander's terminology, which is now over 100 years old, victorian and rather dated. This is one reason why I wrote this web page and why I am proposing some changes to Alexander's terminology (see below).


Who is it for ?

People have Alexander Technique sessions for a wide variety of reasons, including stress-related problems, general fatigue, breathing disorders, neck and shoulder tension or back pain.

Sports players and the health conscious use the Alexander Technique to improve co-ordination, performance and well-being. Singers, dancers, actors, musicians and public speakers increasingly view the Technique as indispensable to their professional skills.

Others find it a wonderful tool for achieving balance and harmony not just on the physical but also on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels.

 

Some proposed changes to Alexanders terminology

The Alexander Technique is certainly one of the oldest and most beautiful methods of working with the whole pycho-physical organism of the human being. Alexander brought his technique to this country in 1904, and as many other holistic therapies have developed since then ( many of them undoubtedly influenced by Alexander's work ) the Alexander world has tended to withdraw into insularity,emphasising its uniqueness rather than attempting to build bridges and explore areas of common understanding.

I for one am not happy with this state of affairs and I feel that this is one of the major obstacles to increased understanding of the Technique, as is Alexander's rather obscure and dated use of language; so in this article I am just going to propose new alternatives for some of the more common terms used in the Alexander Technique.

"Giving Directions":I would prefer to call these "Thought Projections", directions are lines of thought that are maintained steadily in awareness for a period of time. Thought is energy because where the thoughts go the energy follows, so the life energy within the body is effectively being guided by thoughts to different areas of the body to relax muscles, improve the posture and restore general ease of functioning .A typical Direction would be from the base of the spine to the crown of the head to lengthen the back, and from the sternum across the chest into the shoulder joints to widen the front of the chest.

"Inhibition":This is not to be confused with the Freudian term and all its connotations of sexual and emotional repression. Inhibition basically means to stay perfectly relaxed physically and not to react in your habitual mode. But actually it means a lot more than this and I would prefer the term "Creating an I dont care space". Alexander always emphasised that Directions should be combined with Inhibition or in my proposed new terminology that "Thought Projections" should always be combined with an "I dont care mental state". The meaning immediately becomes clearer does it not ? If we are to mentally project energy the thoughts must be held steady and clear. There must be no tension and no negativity. To take a specific example if my thigh muscles are tensed or damaged and I wish to release and lengthen my leg I would project the thought "my leg is this long (mental visualization) from the hip joint down to the knee and on, right down to the ankle and heel". For this thought to work effectively I would need all the muscles to remain perfectly relaxed , and to remain mentally and emotionally relaxed, refraining from blaming my thigh muscle for being tense and painful. Therefore I would combine it with the thought "my leg is this long and it is fine the way it is. I do not have to change anything because it is perfect already". With this thought process there is no blame, no conflict and no added tension. I am remaining in awareness, in a state of creative indifference ,without striving. As I do so , suddenly when I least expect it, as if from nowhere there is a release ( that is felt simultaneously by both the pupil and the Alexander Teacher) and the leg releases and lengthens. This is termed "non-doing", why ?, because there has been no physical doing or manipulation by anyone, the energy flow, stimulated by thought projection has done the work. One word of warning, any impatience or desire to check and see if the thought projections really are working or not is counter-productive because it leads to doubt and tension. You really do have to remain 100 per cent in a state of inner creative indifference.

"End Gaining":This is a perfectly reasonable term which is equivalent to "Goal Orientated". Alexanders observations of his pupils led him to the conclusion that most of the mental and muscular holding that was occuring was due to the habit of being so intent on reaching some particular goal in the future that the present could no be adequately enjoyed at all. This led him to formulate the next concept.

Paying attention to "The Means Whereby" which I would call enjoying the journey or paying attention to "The Creative Process".As I sit here typing this little update on my word processor I can either think "I can't wait until this article is finished, I'll be so happy and then I can rest or go for a walk in the sunshine" thus deferring my happiness until some future point. Or, I can sit here staying relaxed and balanced and enjoying the creative process as it occurs, that inner bonyant feeling, feeling connections being made, watching the odd creative thought bubbling up and bursting onto the surface of my consciousness, feeling "in tune", as if my thoughts are being directed almost without my conscious effort. I am feeling alive and happy RIGHT NOW and I`m enjoying what I'm doing. As an Alexander Technique Teacher I know that I am a psycho-physical being and that I cannot actually get into this state unless I have both the correct mental attitude and am physically poised and relaxed.

"Primary Control": This refers to the perfect balance of the head on top of the spinal column, and more specifically to the medulla oblongata, which is the bottom part of the brain where it tapers off into the spinal column. When all the prerequisites have been met: deep, calm abdominal breathing, perfect balance throughout the whole line of the body, calmness, awareness, feeling incredibly centred and grounded in the pelvis and legs - then the Alexander Teacher is able to use Thought Projections to open up the Primary Control, this leads to an "Inflow of Life Energy" through the medulla oblongata. This energy flows down into the spinal column and into the whole of the body. This is a cleansing, rejuvenating flow of Life Energy which can be directed by Thought Projections into any part of the body that needs strengthening or opening up. The Medulla incidentally is the only part of the body that cannot be operated on, if a surgeon accidentally cuts it with a scalpel the patient would die immediately. This is such an important pre-requisite to the whole technique that Alexander termed it primary because it leads to the perfect control and co-ordination of the whole psycho-physical organism.

I hope that this proposed change in terminology might stimulate some thought and debate in the Alexander world and might help to make the Alexanders Terminology more accessible and understandible to a wider range of people.

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