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

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Alexander Technique: Inhibition and Direction

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A Technical Blog

Formally, the Alexander Technique has two parts to it: inhibition and direction. Understanding the two and how they are different can be difficult; what follows is meant to make it easier. First up are what Alexander originally called 'guiding orders' and then 'directions.' Anyone who has had lessons will be familiar with them and the words that go with them, which have a definite sequence in terms of the neck being free, the head going forward and up, the spine to lengthen, the back to widen, the knees to go forward and away, with other directions added in for the feet, arms and hands.

The sequence is vital and I will do a technical blog later in the year on sequencing, when I return to blogging in September, after my summer break. For now, it is simply important to understand that without sequencing the directions in the correct order, everything will break down and not work. To sequence in the correct order is also a matter of keeping all the directions going though the sequence, one after the other and all together at the same time. We sequentially and parallel process them. 

Each direction has two aspects to it, one inhibitory, stopping what you don't want, the other directory and concerned with what you do want. If you have not mastered the inhibitory aspect of a direction first, you will not be able to get the direction right. So, for example, when it comes to the neck being free, you have to stop tightening it and pulling the neck forward before you can release it, at which point the column of the neck will move backwards, necessitating the need to prevent the head being pulled back, which is what the inhibitory aspect of the head going forward is there to prevent.

All the guiding orders/directions should be understood this way, firstly in what they are they to prevent and then in terms of what you want. This means that each guiding order/direction is based on a distinction. The distinction itself is ultimately based on either the shortening or lengthening, or the narrowing or widening of the parts concerned within the overall sequence. If you understand the distinction within the sequence, you have a concept of what you want both in terms of what you want to inhibit and then in what you want to happen. Successful application of the concept within the sequence and within one's awareness, rather than attention, establishes the desired conscious habit. As a conscious habit it allows for increasing levels of control to be established through different areas of one's life - one can then achieve constructive conscious control.

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.