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The Alexander Technique – A Longer Look


The mechanisms of well-being

The body, like anything else, is subject to gravity. All the physical and mechanical principles governing the support, balance, organisation and movement of an object that physicists and engineers work by, apply equally to it. Living ‘objects' like animals and humans are not just passively subject to this force. Over millions of years they have evolved ways of harnessing and exploiting it for their own purposes: for standing up without strain, for coordinating the parts, balancing and moving with ease. The result is a natural optimum functioning: a dynamic equilibrium, a constant interaction between the body and the planet. The body doesn't live in a vacuum; there is a necessary interplay between ourselves and the ‘outside' world. All our basic mechanisms and sensory equipment are intended not just to ensure we, as objects, move satisfactorily and don't fall down, but to optimise our being in the world, first for survival but also for sheer delight in being alive (think of your dog's capacity for this kind of elation). So when we talk about the body's natural functioning we are really talking about the whole of ourselves, our way of being in the world.

Generally, very young children exhibit this natural functioning and show us its advantages very clearly. We see their curiosity about the world around them and their sensory liveliness, their grace (coordination) and spontaneous energy – in a word, their well-being. In this state our organism is integrated, lives in the here and now, and works as a whole.

The Problem

If for any reason we lose this state, our sense of wholeness and the constant interplay with our surroundings starts to disappear. Without this simple harmony the organism is forced to do something to compensate. In Alexander's words “we go wrong”. This happens to just about all of us, for many reasons that would take too long to go into here, but we can all see how most children lose their natural coordination at a very early age, and how inadequate their postural habits are by the time they are adolescent. So our inborn mechanisms get lost, and other ways of supporting our weight, balancing and moving begin to develop. We are unlikely to be aware of these adaptations since they form unconsciously and then become habits, so much a part of us that they feel natural, normal, right.

The fact is, gravity has inexorably got the better of us. Life gets more difficult and literally starts getting us down. We slump or we stiffen, we get tired quickly. Our efforts to remedy the problem, being unnatural, don't actually help us at all. If we keep this up for a few years (and remember it's mostly happening at an unconscious level) our ‘way of being in the world' can get quite distorted and we may find symptoms appearing, as if out of the blue. They will be the result of our whole approach to life. (I'm not talking here about symptoms from accidents or disease, although of course disease can have a psycho-emotional background).

The Solution

Gordon Fox, in an article that appears on the French Alexander teachers’ Association website, says (my translation from the French, my italics): "The Alexander Technique works on our postural behaviour, that is, posture taken in a wide, dynamic sense, including our attitudes, preconceptions, our automatic mental responses and reaction patterns, which are inseparable from our physical posture and our way of being and moving." It’s easy to see that, since our organism always works as a whole, everything that happens in one sphere will be reflected in all other spheres. And in Alexander technique we discover in fact that in working to free the body from its restrictions, to give it back its true nature, we are inevitably working on our whole being. Alexander pointed out that, far from being simply physical, "it's the most mental technique in the world".