Getting out of splendid isolation: Thoughts on why the Alexander Technique is not more widely known.
by Nicola Hanefeld, member of ATVD e.V. the German affiliated society.
Here are my thoughts as to why Alexander’s discoveries are not mainstream:
- We are a community of expert practitioners able to impart the “Alexander-experience” but without a coherent theory which can be empirically tested.
- Our way of presenting the work amalgamates Alexander’s discoveries with the practical method (AT) leading to an inaccessible vocabulary.
- Linking back to Alexander hinders passage into mankind’s general body of knowledge.
- Our community does not have a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and naming benefits.
- Insufficient exchange with the scientific community, lack of recognition/public awareness.
I have a long standing dissatisfaction with our cumbersome AT jargon which I think is one of the reasons for the lack of wider recognition of our work. After the sessions with Ted Dimon at the 10th International Alexander Technique Congress in Limerick, the following startling realisations came to me: our fundamental mistake, an inherent fault in our communication with the outside world, is that in our presentation we mix Alexander’s practical method (ie. the lessons we offer) with what he found out. In the same instant, I felt certain that if our main theory received high-level scientific recognition and become better known, it would create a greater demand by the public for our practice which we call the Technique.
I see Alexander’s discoveries (our theory) as:
• The central importance of a freely functioning primary control for well-being
• That sensory appreciation often becomes faulty the older we get
• That we are subject to the force of habit, which is detrimental to the optimal use of the self.
I see our practice, his “Technique,” as the application of inhibition and direction in an activity in order to improve the quality of the primary control/use.
I realised that this mingling of theory and practice comes from our training tradition which has historical roots in Alexander’s practical nature.
He was a hands-on-man who was well able to demonstrate what he had worked out. That was also how he most effectively passed on his knowledge; through his hands. Musing on these insights, the question arose whether it might be our responsibility to re-start, to break with tradition in order to spread Alexander’s discoveries and the practical benefits of psycho-physical re-education more effectively. I suddenly saw how our habit of continually referring to our founder hinders the AT from becoming more widely known and acknowledged and from entering the general body of knowledge of mankind. I contacted Ted Dimon during the Congress with my ideas and he responded, agreeing, saying he had been working on these points for many years.
My impression from talking with colleagues is that we share a common feeling that our work has not yet received the recognition it deserves.
We are not as well known as yoga, mindfulness or even Pilates. I will not have to convince anyone reading this article that what we (AT teachers) have to offer for enhancing awareness, well-being and improving the process of education is anything short of sensational. However, we are a rather self-contained, insular community of adept practitioners competent at passing on the “Alexander experience” without scientific validation backing up our work. The input from Michael Gelb’s sessions during the Congress was also in my mind: the puzzle fitted and I realised that we can only poorly sell what someone else discovered, but we can market a method that practically applies the benefits of a discovery.
We put everything in one pot when communicating with the public and often put FM and his discoveries first. Who is interested in FM’s long road to discovery at the end of the 19th century when they are looking for a solution to their problems at the beginning of the 21st?
Here is an analogy to make my point clear: a humanoid alien visits the earth:
It learns how to ride a bike and asks, impressed, “Oh, how does that work? We don’t have bikes, it would be a great thing to export to Planet X but having learnt how to do it, I would also like to understand how it works.” We explain about bicycle mechanics and dynamics, about self-stability, angular acceleration and rotary inertia. The alien gets an explanation about the ground contact line, about gyroscopic effects which are proportional to speed, about balanced and unbalanced weight of the rider, the upwards force of the ground on the front wheel arising from weight distribution. We tell the alien about gravity, the metal and plastic bikes are made of, explain how gears work and the physiology of movement which makes bike-riding possible.
This humanoid alien also gets to know the Alexander work. After several lessons it stands there, also impressed, with better alignment and poise, freer breathing, a happier expression, better mood and heightened awareness.
The alien says, “I feel really good – how does that work?”
We answer, hesitantly, “well, we are not quite sure. We haven’t actually got it scientifically verified, yet... ummm…”
The alien is surprised: “But this is great stuff! Why aren’t your scientists working on it?!” We say, looking bashfully to the ground, “well, they are not really interested and we don’t know how to get them interested…”
You get my point.
Dimon calls the work neuro-dynamics or simply psychophysical education, emphasising what we do, and not our founder.
To quote Dimon:“The subconscious working of the human organism and the possibility of raising its control to a conscious level is the most compelling discovery about education and human development ever made. We must do more than simply preserve the experience of “going up” that Alexander gifted to us. We must endeavour to understand the deeper knowledge behind that experience and build on it for future generations.”
Understanding that deeper knowledge behind the experience would also remove the mystery around hands-on work. Of course teachers can become highly proficient at initiating release of over-tense muscles, aiding re-alignment in the earth’s gravity field with all the additional benefits. But an inability to communicate what the working mechanism is leaves us floundering and in danger of landing in the esoteric and/or “inexplicable” corner, or simply expounding unsubstantiated assumptions.
Ted puts the discovery of the primary control at the core of our work, calling it the “primary organizing principle of how people adjust in gravity.” His explanation of the working of the primary control was lucid. It made sense for the first time in 26 years of teaching why Homo sapiens habitually tends to shorten his neck, especially in “civilized” countries and why it is “vulnerable to disruption” (Dimon). Of course I knew about this organising principle as a practical fact, having learned to sense when it is working efficiently or less so. But I had only been trained to give the Alexander experience and show how someone can learn to do it for themselves via inhibiting and directing; my understanding of what I actually do and how I do this was thin, not to say non-existent.
Ted propagates Alexander’s discoveries as being “an advanced model of conscious awareness”, saying that FM put “science and mindfulness together and theory and practise too”.
Yes! I have a vision: we become more professional, we do a collective re-start, an effective re-think regarding how we present ourselves and research interest will be generated as demand for lessons rises.
We use the impulses from the Limerick Congress to flourish and evolve. This work should become a well known, widely available, highly effective aid to Homo sapiens taking an evolutionary step forward − empowerment through constructive conscious awareness in living.
Michael Gelb spoke in his plenary session about the principles and practices of entrepreneurial success for Alexander teachers. He quoted Peter Drucker in his talk: “The best way to manage the future is to create it.” Let’s go out and do it.
More information on Ted Dimon's work can be found at: www.dimoninstitute.org
Nicola Hanefeld trained in the eighties with Yehuda Kupermann. She has had an Alexander company, SPEEK, since 2000, working specifically with clients with stress-related issues. Her only claim to fame in the Alexander world is that she was Congress Photographer at the 6th International Congress in 1999 in Freiburg, her home town. Photos from the 6th Congress are at http://img4web.com/g/3ZWAP
“Splendid isolation” was the foreign policy pursued by Great Britain during the late 19th century, a phrase coined by a Canadian politician regarding Britain's minimal involvement in European affairs.