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
Let us now examine in detail the series of new orders or messages he was employing. The first and most important break in the old patterns came, as we have seen, when he said “NO” to the habitual reaction. He then ordered the muscles of his neck to release. The neck muscles are the only part of the body which can exert direct traction on the head, and it will be pulled back or down or sideways according to which group or groups of these muscles are being over-tensed.
No change in the poise of the head can happen while it is held in the grip of neck misuse. Moreover, the small sub-occipital muscles between the base of the skull and the top vertebrae of the spine, the axis and the atlas, cannot perform their function of delicately balancing the head. The next order was for the head to be directed forward and up – not put but directed.
The next order was to the back to lengthen and widen.
Alexander explained to us that this was the nearest he could get in words to the actuality he wished to bring about. These simple verbal formulations are designed to bring about the reconciliation of two opposing tendencies in each case, and to ensure the balance of forces in the antagonistic muscle pulls in the body. A harmony results, where everything is doing its own work of maintaining stability, and there is a stillness without fixity, or if you like, a lack of disturbance, in the working of the parts of the body in their relationship to each other.
Too much forward of the head and you lose the upward tendency – too much up and the head goes back – “leave it alone, in fact.”
Too much effort to lengthen the back and it narrows – too much widening and you lose length and slump down.
The whole process is self-checking. I hope this makes clear why one cannot do the orders. Their first function is preventative. The wrong inner patterns are the doing which has to be stopped.
I’m afraid I have rather labored this story – so familiar to many of the audience. The full account of it is in Alexander’s book, The Use of the Self, but I warned you that I was going to re-examine our origins. It was necessary to do this if what follows is to make any sense, especially to our guests who may not know Alexander’s teaching.
After he had worked out the technique by putting it into practice to restore his own normal coordination, he was very surprised to find that the misuses he had overcome in himself were present, in varying degrees, in everyone else.
It is a curious fact that until the scales fall from our eyes in this matter of misuse, we do not notice the misuse of others. It is as if the words about the beam in our eyes and the mote in other people’s went into reverse.
Alexander then had to find a way of teaching others what he knew. This was a considerable task, involving not only explanation, but learning the special and subtle skill in the use of his hands needed for working on other people.
Later still he took on a further burden in the shape of students wanting to learn how to teach the work. This is a different task again, group work instead of work with one individual.
It is important to remember that we are all in the same situation as Alexander. He has found the way and the technique for following the way. We have the enormous advantage of the skilled help of a trained teacher. But the real importance and value of the technique is that we learn to work on ourselves.
Alexander used to say, “Everyone must do the real work for themselves. The teacher can show the way, but cannot get inside the pupil’s brain and control his reactions for him. Each person must apply it for himself.”
Learning this work is like learning anything else. We must make use of the same faculties and need the same patience and perseverance as in any form of learning.
continue part V