freedom for life

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

Friday, 29 January 2016

Would it Help?

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Teaching this year, I have found myself telling pupils about the scene from Bridge of Spies, where Mark Rylance’s character when asked if he is worried, answers ‘would it help?’ It is a good line and delivered deadpan it is a good gag used again in the film. I find myself repeating the story in part, because when Rylance became the first artistic director of The Globe, he made sure that the Alexander Technique was there at the start in the heart of their work as a theatre. It also gives me a chance to express my admiration for Rylance’s work as an actor in both Bridge of Spies and Wolf Hall. In both he was given the space and the time to show a stillness in which a spontaneous emotion might appear or be stifled, to allow for something else to emerge appropriate to the situation. It’s terrific acting, with terrific presence. And in the process, as in the question would it help?’, something is revealed about our choices in being human, and if we become sufficiently aware, to know ourselves in relationship to others. 

When considering Alexander’s work it is important to remember that he started in the theatre as an actor and that he saw his technique as a means for developing conscious control of behaviour as much as anything. Which in turn means we have choices with regard to the attitudes and approaches that we adopt towards people and situations. Here there is a bridge to my work as a therapist where I am working with roles people have adopted, almost without fail for good reason in early life, which are no longer working for them now and need to be revised in ways that are comfortable for them. 


The idea in both practices is to invite people to experiment with putting to one side, the familiar, the habitual, in favour of an emergent change congenial to their overall aim. In Alexander work, there is the constraint that goes always with integrating responses so that we put our breathing, poise and balance first. In doing this, as in therapy we often have to learn how to be with ourselves when anxious, worried, panicked etc. At the beginning this often involves gentling ourselves, understanding ourselves without being critical, before beginning to question whether our worry or anxiety helps us or not. Over time we can learn both how not to be habitually worried or anxious, as well as to deal with the vicissitudes of life, when they come crashing in, disturbing even the ‘best-laid schemes’ which throw us off balance and off course. 


When this happens, the pause that gives us space, to stop and consider our response, where our breathing slows, where we settle ourselves to know ourselves, is the right way forward wherever we learn it, whether in therapy or Alexander. There are differences to the area of each learning: in therapy it is in the quality of intimate relationships that emerge; in Alexander it is the freedom and poise of movement that arises. Put them together and then you have 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.