From the category archives:


This is a transcript of a speech given by Dorothea Wallis to STAT in the 1950s.  Wallis argues that, “However important the part of conscious thought and control in the Alexander Technique, they are only aspects of a whole personality and not independent entities … for education is a matter of the whole personality.”


Note:  For posting convenience, “Habit and Choice” has divided the speech into three parts, and created sub-titles for each part. 


By Dorothea Wallis

 part I, part II

III.  End-Gaining

Unfortunately, one’s excessive tensions are not produced by one single emotional force which once discovered can be put out of action.  One probably can point to one source of all undue tension, a basic insecurity of the personality, but this rather than being one feeling is a condition, more or less unchanging, from which grow the many different emotional attitudes which produce tension.  To apply the Alexander Technique seems to be an endless task of meeting and disarming these many different attitudes rather than drastically discovering one “dragon” and staging a valiant fight to free oneself from it.  The one emotional cause – which has been called ontological or existential insecurity – is a fundamental state like being very tall or small.  One cannot alter one’s tallness, but if it makes one stoop one cannot stop stooping and admit one’s size.  Similarly, one probably cannot help being insecure but if it makes one afraid and hesitant, or aggressive at every turn and correspondingly “knotted-up” and tense, one can perhaps, by resolving the physical tension, stop taking the fears at their face value and recognize their underlying cause.  The insecurity, like the tallness, remains, but one can come to live with it rather than for it.

The ultimate source of tension may be recognized implicitly in Alexander’s concept of “end-gaining,” as the evil his technique is intended to counteract.  He urges that in whatever we do, whether getting out of a chair or hitting a gold ball, we must concentrate on the “means-whereby” rather than the end.  What do we do when we are “end-gaining” – which undoubtedly we do a lot of the time, from working for the “eleven plus” to making the right conversation at a party?  We are not so much concerned with what we are doing as with how we show up.  When Alexander’s player is intent only on his ball rather than the way he deals with it, his anxiety is to prove himself to be the good player that he needs to be to satisfy himself.  When the housewife strenuously scrubs her kitchen floor the strain comes from trying to live up to her own high standards rather than the difficulty of the job.

The “end” in “end-gaining” is always to reinforce a weak self.  “End-gaining” is characteristic of the insecure person – which perhaps most of us are to a greater or lesser degree – who finds it necessary to look for confirmation of himself in whatever he does.  To be “end-gaining” means to use oneself with excessive tension.  The tension arises from the effort of justifying or proving oneself in the world instead of simply being part of it.  If one can be in oneself and not forever reaching out to make up for what one is not, then one can do things for their own sake and does not “end-gain.”  In the end, Alexander’s standard for the balanced regulation of the body, to be and work at its best, is the standard of a whole, sound person.


This is a transcript of a speech given by Dorothea Wallis to STAT in the 1950s.  Wallis argues that, “However important the part of conscious thought and control in the Alexander Technique, they are only aspects of a whole personality and not independent entities … for education is a matter of the whole personality.”

Note:  For posting convenience, “Habit and Choice” has divided the speech into three parts, and created sub-titles for each part.



By Dorothea Wallis

part I

II.  Emotion

To learn the Alexander Technique is a formidable task because the change in the use of one’s body demands such drastic mental reorientation.  I don’t think the physical change can be made, except temporarily, without the mental reorientation.  What does this reorientation amount to?  The Alexander Technique gives me an objective standard for a sound way of using my body.  If I adopt this impersonal standard instead of a habitual personal one, I stand and move in a way I consider suitable rather than the way I happen to feel like.  If I feel like being crumpled up because I am miserable but refuse to let my feeling determine the way I actually sit or stand, and in fact stand freely, can it be said that I am disguising or suppressing my real feelings by an insincere pose?  On the contrary, to refuse to let an emotion govern the behavior of one’s body is not to suppress it but to refuse it an effective disguise, and this in turn means that one has to face it.

What light does this throw on the particular case, in which I try to apply the Alexander Technique, of answering the door bell?  The sound of the door bell puts me into a state of anxious apprehension and tension.  I normally go to open the door in this tense, “tight” state.  Applying the technique, I stop for a moment and consciously direct my head, neck, etc., into a freer state before I walk to the door.  In trying to free myself from excessive tension, I am trying to free my body and behavior from being dominated by an objectively irrelevant feeling.

In doing this I am perhaps no nearer to knowing just what I fear at the sound of the door bell, but I become more clearly aware of the existence of this feeling of fear which has nothing to do with the present situation but has a persistent influence on me.  It not only is irrelevant to the present situation, but is an encumbrance which prevents me from being alert and adaptable to the present.  I believe that some such recognition, even though it may be inarticulate, of the feeling that is the motive force of the tension I try to undo, is an essential part of the release of that tension.

The importance of this step is a kind of separation of one’s self – an independent, conscious part – from deeply grounded emotional attitudes.  To find out the feeling that is behind the tension does not mean getting rid of it.  In the example of the door bell, I take my fear with me when I go to the door, but don’t let it go for me.  In this way one may be able to separate the emotional patterns which dominate one through resolving the tensions they make; they are not put away, but put into their proper place and no longer allowed freely to take possession of one.  Is this process comparable to the cure of a neurosis in which a part of oneself that has become autonomous is deprived of its excessive power?

This sort of reorganization is not made by regulating one’s body once or a few times according to a new conscious pattern.  Probably only by persistent, laborious working at this does one reach the emotional background of the tensions one tries to change.  But perhaps only in arriving and tackling the situation at this level does the Alexander Technique become a process of re-education.  It seems to me that without this it would produce only momentary changes which could not be maintained.

part III


This is a transcript of a speech given by Dorothea Wallis to STAT in the 1950s.  Wallis argues that, “However important the part of conscious thought and control in the Alexander Technique, they are only aspects of a whole personality and not independent entities … for education is a matter of the whole personality.”

Note:  For posting convenience, “Habit and Choice” has divided the speech into three parts, and created sub-titles for each part.



By Dorothea Wallis

Part One: I Hear the Bell

The ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE is designed to teach one to use one’s body rationally and economically instead of unconsciously and inappropriately.  It teaches the basic principle that there is a particular state or “body-scheme” in which the parts of the body are so related and muscular tension is so distributed that each part and the whole is enabled to be and to function at its best.

Alexander came to define this scheme by patient, concentrated self-observation, by finding out where the misuse of himself led to inefficiency and then freeing himself of his “bad old ways” by deliberately directing himself according to the rational scheme that made for the most effective manner of use.  His personal achievement in doing this led him to assume that to apply his technique was specifically a matter of conscious thought and control.

However important the part of conscious thought and control in the Alexander Technique, they are only aspects of a whole personality and not independent entities.  To treat them as such, and ignore the whole of which they are a limited aspect, would be to impair any process of re-education; for education is a matter of the whole personality.  Alexander’s emphasis on the unity of body and mind recognizes this, but his claim needs to be substantiated by a fuller understanding of the kind of changes his process of re-education involves in terms other than the strictly physical in which he himself gives a detailed account.

In “physical terms” it may be said that a central theme of the Alexander Technique is to learn to inhibit one’s usual reactions to any stimulus, and by ordering oneself into a relatively balanced position to react deliberately with only a suitable kind and amount of tension.  When I hear the bell ring, I may habitually be shocked into an apprehensive state of overall tension.  According to Alexander’s teaching I try to inhibit this reaction of my neck and head as the centre of control, direct it into a freer state and, having reduced my state of irrelevant tension, walk to the door.  These physical changes may be an observable fact, but such an amount of what happens seems to be so inadequate as not to be a description of a real person or real event at all.  It is a kind of theoretical construction which bears little resemblance to reality.  It is as informative a description of myself and my reaction to the door bell as a purely statistical description of a group of people is of their character as individuals and their relationships to each other.

The apparently simple incident of a bell ringing and my going to answer it, far from being a single incident – with a simple “stimulus-response” pattern – is one thread in a closely knit complex of time and place, myself, my past and expectations.  A single stimulus may be a useful idea, but does not exist in normal life (if ever even in experimental conditions) just as “a bell” can never ring.  If one is to understand what the Alexander Technique tries to do, it seems essential to recognize this.  The idea of a single stimulus and response seems to me as much an obstacle in the way of understanding the technique as in other ways it may be a help.  It is an obstacle because it makes incomprehensible the state of general tension in which I normally go to the door when the bell rings.  This can be understood when, instead of the bell being thought of as “a stimulus” and my reaction as “a response,” they are seen in their particular context as details of a total personal world.  Superfluous tension in one’s behavior is obviously not due only to poor judgment of what is demanded of one by the physical environment.  The way in which one uses one’s body is as much a response to one’s mental as to one’s physical situation.  To change one’s response to the inner situation may be far more difficult than changing one’s reaction to the external world.  It is much harder to admit feeling very small and vulnerable inside, but to decide not to stand huddled up and speak in an evasive way as one is accustomed to do, than it is to make the adjustment which is necessary when going from a steep to a shallow flight of steps.

part II, part III

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In November 1965, Marjory Alexander Barlow, first generation teacher and niece to F.M., delivered the Annual Memorial Lecture for STAT*.  This 6 part series is the transcript of that address.

*“In 1958, the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) was founded in the UK by teachers who were trained personally by FM Alexander. STAT’s first aim is to ensure the highest standards of teacher training and professional practice.” (STAT website)


The Teaching of F. Matthias Alexander

By Marjory Alexander Barlow

(part I ,part II, part III, part IV)



So far we have explored Alexander’s work in its application to our faulty muscular habits and general misuse of the body, and seen how we may build up a stable good use which is under our control.

Let us now examine some applications of his principles to other spheres of our experience, and see if we can catch some part of the vision of its importance which inspired him throughout his life.

He understood, as perhaps no one else has done, that here was the possibility of a different quality of living, which could help resolve many of the difficulties of life which we bring on ourselves through lack of awareness and control.  He was very modest about his part in the discoveries, and often used to say, “If I had not discovered the work some other poor chap would have had to go through all that, because the need for it is so great.”  This attitude is probably common among creative people.  Once the poem is written, the music composed, the painting finished or the scientific discovery made, the creation assumes its own life, and its originator feels a certain detachment towards it.

The Alexander Technique will work wherever it is applied.  It is not magic, but does its job at the point of application.  How deeply it is applied depends on the aims and wishes of the person concerned.  If the aim is to get rid of a pain in the back it will do so effectively by bringing into consciousness the “wrong doing” which is producing the pain.  If the aim is greater awareness of habitual reactions in other departments of the self, it will work there too, and by the same process.  We are all bound in the prison of habit.  We have habits of thought – unexamined fixed opinions and prejudices which determine our behavior without our realizing it.

We are also the victims of emotional reaction.  These are very powerful driving forces.

A young pupil of my husband’s, when she first realized the importance of these things, burst out, “Oh, I see, Dr. Barlow, this is a life-sentence.”

Alexander’s favorite way of describing his work was “as a means of controlling human reaction.”  Under this basic umbrella can be included every form of blind, unconscious reaction, and here we come to the whole question of self-knowledge.

The muscular bad habits of misuse harm only oneself – unconscious habits of thought and emotion harm oneself and other people, because they determine our reactions to everyone else.  It could be said that we use other people to practice our unconscious bad habits on.

The greatest misery and misunderstanding we experience is often in this field of personal relationships.  Of course, these inner emotional states are mirrored in the way we use ourselves – states of rage, anxiety and fear – to take only the most obvious examples – are there for the world to see by the unmistakable bodily attitudes.  This is also true of more subtle inner conditions such as depression, worry and hopelessness.  In some ways the constant and deep reaction-patterns are more obvious to other people than to ourselves.

I sometimes think that there is a wry sense of humour lurking somewhere in the background of the Universe permitting this tragicomic state of affairs, where certain characteristics of a person are known and clearly seen by everyone, except the person himself.

There is a thing known as “the state of the world.”  In whatever part of time a man’s life-span is set down there must always be large, terrifying problems, known as “the state of the world.”

In primitive times wild animals and marauding tribes were probably the main worries – apart from the weather; later, perhaps the plague, persecutions, lawlessness and lack of respect for human life.  In this things haven’t changed much – and always there is war.

An individual can do little about these large issues.  On a small scale, but nearer home, there is the problem of other people; most of the time they just don’t behave as we think they should.  Again there is little that we can do about it, although we waste an enormous amount of energy trying to make them alter.

Where then can we affect anything?  We have been told many times in the course of history, by wise men, that the chaos in the world is only a reflection of the chaos within us – writ large.

Alexander taught that there is one main field of work for each of us – work on ourselves to gain more light on our unconscious habits – work to use more constantly the one place of freedom we have, the moment of the impact on us of a stimulus, so that we increase the number of moments when we choose our reaction, instead of being driven by habit to react as we have always done in the past.  For this we must be there – present and aware, at the crucial moment, to inhibit before we react.

We have no freedom in dictating the state of the world, we have only limited control over the events that happen to us, but can develop control over the way we react to these events.

The freedom in our environment and in regard to other people’s reactions is also limited, but we can have some control over the nearest bit of our environment – ourselves.

Alexander used to chide us for always trying to change and control the big things instead of changing the small things that were in our control.  The inscription at Delphi, “Know thyself,” sums it up.

Down the ages we can see that all the real teachers of mankind have tried to make people understand this point; that change can only happen in the individual.  We know that fundamental new ideas have always started with one person and spread slowly and gradually as more and more individuals receive and understand the new knowledge.

The vision Alexander had of the possibility of individual evolution in the development of consciousness and awareness was the mainspring of his life’s work.  It is this aspect of his teaching that places him in the direct tradition of the great teachers of humanity.  It is this side of his teaching which could so easily get lost.  It is a not unreasonable supposition that many whose reported teachings have come down to us, also gave to people of their time practical techniques for carrying out the teaching.  If so, most of this has been lost and forgotten, and we are left with reports and writings which today often have little meaning for us.  It is interesting – apropos of all this – that a pupil of mine, a doctor, once remarked that Alexander had rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time.


The Use of Time, Part II

June 21, 2013

In the last post, we looked at typical person in his work-a-day life, and got a sense of his dominant attitude toward time: the sense that he “didn’t have enough of it.”  I said that there was an answer: mindfulness.  Here we will explore what mindfulness might look like and how we might learn to practice it in our daily life.

Mindfulness is the pratice of including yourself in all the activities and moments of the day.

You can start to do this right now.  Notice how you are sitting (or how you are standing).  Are you collapsed or braced or have you stiffened your neck?  Can you include yourself in this activity of being, balancing, and reading?

When you can include yourself for even a few minutes out of every hour, time will shift; you will experience much more of it and you will use it to much better effect.

Are you still including yourself?  Did you tune out?  Did you go into TIME LAPSE mode?

When we go into time lapse mode we lose time, it rushes past and we don’t know where it went.  We get home tired, though unwilling to get to bed because during the day we did nothing for ourselves.  All we did was work and run and deal with others.  Therefore we have an empty, not very satisfied sense, that we have dragged ourselves along throughout the day.  We may over-eat or have a resistance to getting to bed because “now this is MY time, at last.”

Well, it was YOUR time all day!

You will be much happier, more fulfilled, and do better work if you can learn to include yourself in every minute.  Sounds preposterous?  It is exactly what F.M. did for himself, and then taught all his pupils to do too.

Start with including yourself 5 minutes out of every hour you are up and about.  Try this every day for, say, 21 days, and you will be astonished how transformational it is.  When you take up the tasks of life with your entire self even silly, mundane things like laundry, or watering plants, or drudge office work can become a means whereby you can come into the ease, grace and happiness that is only possible when you are not dividing yourself into bits; “work self,” “homemaker self,” “friend self,” “son or daughter self.”

You may have a feeling that this is stupid, that there is no way you can do this, and other sorts of negative ideas about trying out this idea (even though what you are doing now is not leading to satisfaction in the daily round).  If this is your reaction then you really will be happily surprised, because a day spent including yourself will get your energy up and efficiency up.  You will also find yourself happily getting to bed at a good hour for getting the sleep you need in order to wake up happy, ready to start the next day.

Please send me a comment and let me know what you think about these ideas.

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