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

Friday, 22 November 2013

Means Whereby - A Technical Blog

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Becoming aware of how we approach specific tasks is a major part of developing and exercising constructive conscious control. For Alexander we can either approach a task by end-gaining or by stopping to think of how we are going to use ourselves in the task. For Alexander the how is the means whereby. The awareness of our means whereby applies, whether we are engaged in a physical act such as running, swimming or sewing, or mental acts such as anticipating an activity through rehearsing the guiding orders themselves. It also applies interpersonally, of which more, perhaps another time.

To talk of the means whereby is to talk of how we use ourselves in order that we take account of two inter-dependent implications. The first implication concerns how our use, effects our functioning. We need to ensure that our use is constructive so that it will raise our standard of functioning and health over time. This includes in physical acts using ourselves well, in order that we minimise the risk of injury, from poor co-ordination and relying on an inadequate mechanical understanding of what is required. The second implication is to do with the implications of our use for the performance of the task we have set ourselves.

Included in our means whereby is the psycho-physical attitude that is adopted in approaching a task, which has its own use. So in being determined to do or complete a task, a pupil will often pull their head down and grit their teeth, interfering with their balance and breathing, and therefore their ability to do the task, safely and in the timely manner they are actually seeking. What often happens in this determination, is the shift that marks end-gaining, in the use of the eyes, which fix on a time, a feeling or something other, rather than focussing on the task in hand - or where we are going if we are running or swimming.

Changing what we are attending to, to what we need to focus on, without concentrating, requires both inhibition and direction in the use of the eyes, as well as the neck and head. When done properly there is the overall lengthening, that marks a poised preparation for action which needs to be maintained through the proper sequencing of the guiding orders in their inhibitory and directive aspects for the action concerned when we come to actually sew, run or swim.

In teaching pupils about the importance of their means whereby in each of these activities this week, we went through the same sequence in terms of approaching their chosen activity and task, in terms of means whereby. Rather than as they had been doing, in terms of being determined to do it speedily, where they end-gained by pulling their heads down, fixing on speed so that they rushed and dis-coordinated themselves into injury. This if continued would disable them from the very activities they enjoy. By learning to approach it from a means whereby perspective they have ability to lessen the risk of injury and be more efficient in their movement, thereby increasing the chance of attaining the speed they desire. This come with the means whereby of knowing to focus, where to focus and understanding and controlling the mechanics of their use. Which is what it all about!

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.