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

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Introducing Inhibition

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Withholding consent, refraining from doing what one has always done, stopping yourself from relying on old habits, inhibiting, to use Alexander’s word, is the first step in his technique. The second is directing, but that can only come when one has first inhibited what one does not want.

Knowing what one does not want is actually the hard part, for it involves a ‘knowing what,’ that encompasses sufficient awareness of movement, for ‘know how’ to develop. So someone who reads in a book that they want to ‘keep their neck free, and allow their head to go forward up’ may be able to tell you that this is what is wanted without any awareness of what this actually means in their own case.

Understanding what it means in your own case can be gained in many ways but is most easily done with a teacher.  Teachers, being different, use different approaches to helping pupils develop their own individual understanding. My own preferred ways of working start most often with looking at how pupils move from sitting to standing and how they move from standing into a walk. I use the two activities to help pupils develop a basic understanding of what they do not want, so that they can learn to refrain from starting off the movement, in their old familiar way, by relying on their habit.

What happens in both cases is that people unfamiliar with Alexander work pull forward by tightening their neck muscles, shifting their weight on to the balls of their feet as they shorten in stature. To not pull forward, to not tighten, is to keep the neck free in relation to the desired action of which the movement of coming forward is a constituent part. This is inhibition and the inhibitory part of what were called ‘guiding orders’ or ‘direction’ by Alexander.

There are a sequence of guiding order or directions, from head to toe, that flow in a particular order and taken together form a really good description of what we want and what we do not want in order to let everything flow. It is important to remember that within this positively stated description of keeping your neck free, allowing your head to go forward and up, there is first and foremost an injunction not to tighten, not to pull the head back, not to pull the head down, enfolded within it.

The practicalities of enacting this start with remembering you want to change things and stopping yourself from rushing into action by relying on habit. In stopping, at the beginning you are learning to rehearse for something new, to prevent the familiar from happening, so the unfamiliar can be brought about by wishing and willing. So, in relation to going from sitting to standing or moving from standing into a walk, you must allow yourself to lightly focus on where you want to go. By focussing your attention this way you begin to create the awareness within which you can inhibit what you do not want, the pull forward, the tightening, the shortening.

From there directions as to what you do want can be rehearsed and at the ‘still point’ which is reached by following these stages, the ‘still point’ where one’s breathing is released, there is a sense for those beginning lessons of it being impossible to move without tightening. Reaching that place allows a new question to be posed of ‘how do I move without tightening, how can I move freely?’ Both are good questions that need to be answered, how you do that requires another blog. In the meantime, getting to the place where the questions have relevance is the task of all Alexander pupils.

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.