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
But to return to Alexander in front of his mirrors; he had now reached a deadlock. He knew what was wrong; he knew he couldn’t DO anything to put it right. He had exhausted all ways of trying to alter what was going on FROM THE OUTSIDE.
The next step was to begin the journey inwards to the central place in himself where the trouble really lay. Along the route came the recognition that he could not trust his sense of feeling – that is, the kinesthetic sense of how much muscular tension he was using. He found that what he could see happening in the mirror did not correspond at all with what he felt was happening. Up to this time no one had questioned the reliability of this faulty guide which we all use in judging what is going on in the body – how much tension we are making – and also where any part of the body is in relation to other parts, and to the whole. The kinesthetic sense works partly through the muscle-spindles in the muscles, as well as from receptors in the joints. Muscle-spindles are tiny mechanisms whose function is to convey information from muscles to the higher centers of the brain about the state of muscles and to receive information back from the brain as to what the muscles should do about it. However, if too much tension is being made in the muscle, there comes a certain point when this “feed-back” between brain and muscle is put out of action, and we can no longer feel what we are doing. This is the scientific explanation of what Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation” and this is the real “sticking point” and key difficulty of our ignorance of what we are doing with ourselves when we are wrong. It makes clear why ordinary methods of putting things right without taking wrong feeling into account are likely to fail.
Alexander could not change anything by doing. He could not trust his feeling. He then saw that he had underestimated the strength of habit. What he observed in the mirror was the end-result of disordered inner patterns lying deep in the nervous system. And that these inner patterns of impulses, conveyed through the nervous system to the muscles acting on the bony structure and joints of the body, were operative perpetually, whether he was moving, speaking or sitting still.
In fact these inner patterns were him – insofar as his body was the outer manifestation of them.
The next step in the journey was taken when Alexander realized that the only place where he could begin to control the wrong habitual patterns was at the moment when the idea came to him to speak or move; the moment when, whatever state of misuse he was in, it would be made worse as he went into action.
He had reached the only place, and the only moment in time, where change could begin, or where he could have any control over the habitual patterns of misuse, which were dominating everything he attempted to do.
This place, or this moment in time, was the instant that a stimulus to activity reached his consciousness. In the ordinary way, when a stimulus comes, we react to it in the only manner possible. The response is made without thought – without any knowledge on our part of what we are putting into motion. The reaction is the immediate response of the whole self, according to the habitual patterns of movement which we have developed from our earliest years. We have no choice in this; we can behave in no other way. We are bound in slavery to these unrecognized patterns just as surely as if we were automatons.
When Alexander reached understanding of this part of the problem he had found the key to all change. He understood at last in what way he must work.
We have now followed him in his journey from the outermost manifestation of misuse, that is, the interference with the normal working of his whole body, resulting in the vocal failure, to the innermost point where he could stop this interference.
Let us now reverse the process and follow him on his way out again.
He had to make possible a pause or space between the stimulus and the response.
He decided to do this by saying “NO” to, or inhibiting, the immediate response. This proved to be the cornerstone on which all his later discoveries were made, and through which later changes were made possible. The word “inhibition” in this sense means the opposite of volition: withholding consent to automatic reaction. It does not mean suppressing something in the sense in which it is used in psychoanalysis.
Having effectively prevented the old unconscious patterns from repeating themselves, and having made a break in the “perpetual motion” machine that he had become, Alexander then brought his brain into action by sending conscious, verbal instructions to the parts of the body which he had been unable to control before.
The first result of this way of working was to prevent the misuse of the head, neck and trunk. He had to be content for a time to give himself a stimulus, refuse to respond to it, and give the conscious messages or directions without actually carrying out a movement. This is the preparatory stage of what one might call “road building” or the “laying down of railway lines along which the train will eventually travel.”
In time he as able to continue the new messages during movement.
Eventually the old wrong inner patterns were replaced by the new ones resulting in the coordinated, trouble-free working of his body.
In this way he put to a new use a faculty we all have and use in ordinary life. This faculty is intelligence, or the power of the brain to determine and direct what we wish to do. This power he now turned to the management and control of the use of his body, so that the whole of it became “informed with thought.”