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The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Importance of Alexander's Work

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Every so often I find myself reflecting on what the Alexander Technique is a technique for – it is a subject I have blogged about before. Last time, I addressed the question with what I thought Alexander's answer might be in terms of Constructive Conscious Control.


Today I want to try a different tack based in part on observations made over the summer when I was taking a break from blogging. The summer with the Olympics and other things provided a rich source of observations with attendant questions as to the importance of both Alexander's observations and his technique.

Starting with the Olympics, in what I saw, what struck me most was how much better the athletes and other participants were trained in poise and balance, from twenty years ago. Reflecting on this change, which you can also see in football, I am aware of how scientists using video, such as Alain Berthoz, have come to understand the importance of the head, neck relationship in movement.

What Alexander saw in the mirror has been captured on film and has presumably filtered down into the training programmes that Olympic athletes are using. That does not mean that they are developing Constructive Conscious Control, it just means that they are working better in terms of poise and balance, which certainly makes a difference.

If my speculation is right about things filtering down, it has not filtered down further to a more general level, as a recent visit to my local swimming pool made clear. As I was leaving, a group of children was being instructed in the intricacies of the crawl. Their instructor was standing on the pool edge telling them to put their head down in order to crawl, which is dubious enough. What he was demonstrating though was not putting the head down, but pulling the neck forward while raising his shoulder and putting excess muscle tension into his arms.

He had no practical understanding and was demonstrating to his charges how to disco-ordinate themselves and to make unnecessary effort that would interfere with their poise and balance in the pool, as well as their breathing. (If you want to understand how Alexander Technique can be integrated with swimming, check out the Shaw Method.)

Continuing out of the pool, I passed the Gravity Studio where three young women were working with weights, allegedly in harmony with gravity except they were not. Each one was pulling their head back, narrowing their back, exercising indeed, but exercising habits that are harmful, which risk injury, interfere with breathing and lower the general standard of functioning.

So here at least there is a need for conscious control in being aware of both what one is doing and its implications. When it comes to teaching others, a basic understanding of use is necessary to see that others are not harming themselves, not practising disco-ordination whether in the pool, at games or in the classroom.

This week is International Alexander Awareness Week and it is focussing on children and the importance of good habits being inculcated rather than the teaching disco-ordination.  Alexander wrote about the need for this over sixty years ago, as well as the need for those instructing others to be au fait with the principles of poise and balance, and to be able to teach and supervise people in accordance with these.

The Olympics provides evidence that this is happening for elite athletes; where it is really needed is in schools not just in sports or even the arts but in everyday living – now that would be something.

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat.