Some Principles of the Alexander Technique: a cheat sheet
The Alexander Technique is a path of learning by direct experience: observation, experiment, and guidance from the hands of a teacher. If the list below is helpful, it might be as a way to make sense of your experiences in lessons, and as a starting point for solving problems.
- Our most precious resource: we can’t change what we’re not aware of.
- Awareness has many dimensions. Compare with concentration, which has a single dimension.
- As we become aware of our patterns, we can ask questions and explore what is necessary and what is not. Compare with judgment, which makes assumptions in advance and tends to depend on erroneous preconceived ideas.
Recognition of the force of habit
- Direct attempts to change an unwanted habit tend to result only in superficial change or a compensation that causes problems of its own.
- Rather than layering new habit on top of old, the Alexander Technique offers an indirect approach based on the principles below.
Unity of the self
- Patterns of movement in one part of the body are inseparable from patterns of movement in the whole body.
- Patterns of movement are inseparable from patterns of thought.
- Patterns of thought—including such things as performance anxiety—are inseparable from patterns of movement.
Use affects functioning
- When a part of the body is misused, it becomes prone to injury.
- The relationship between head, neck, and back is primary. When these are working together in an expansive way, all other parts of the body move more freely.
Faulty sensory appreciation
- Whatever we have become used to feels normal. For example, a habitual twist to the left will feel balanced: if we undo the twist, we may feel twisted to the right until the new pattern becomes familiar.
- More seriously, whatever we have become used to may feel like the only possibility: the pathways to alternative ways of moving become sealed off from our awareness.
- Faulty sensory appreciation is the biggest obstacle to learning the Alexander Technique on one’s own, and the principal reason why teachers work with their hands as well as with words.
Erroneous preconceived ideas
- Because the way we move and the way we think are two sides of the same coin, incorrect notions are embodied in habitual and unconscious patterns of tension and collapse.
- These notions might be about our design—for example, I might have an incorrect idea of where my head articulates with the top of my spine—or they might seem unrelated to anything physical at all.
- This is one of the reasons that the Alexander Technique is more about subtraction than addition. During the learning process, we can choose what to throw away—and when.
- Habitual patterns of movement that cause discomfort or pain must be interrupted before they can be changed. The most effective moment to do this is not during the movement, but before—before we have reacted to the prompt that sets it in motion.
- The very thought of doing a movement is enough to invoke the automatic patterns associated with it. I can set a new pattern in play, but I need to take a moment to let go of my first reaction and keep my options open. When I am able to stay open in this way, my body can receive the new pattern.
- Means condition ends.
- By deploying the principle of inhibition, new options and ideas for how to achieve our goals open up.
- When I rely entirely on habit to get the job done, the end overwhelms the means.
- If my habitual way is not the best, I pay a price. Sometimes what suffers is the quality of the task; at other times the task may done perfectly, but it is I who suffer.
- Over time, our bodies respond naturally to gentle, repeated directions from the mind, if those directions accord with its design.
- Expansive patterns of movement follow pathways and relationships that are easily described. For example, I will not stiffen my neck, my head will tend to lead my body into its full height, my back will tend to lengthen and widen, and so on. These might sound like positions or specific movements, but in the Alexander Technique we discover that they are impulses and tendencies that can constructively inform movement in any direction.
- Direct, muscular efforts to be “correct,” or even to relax, are counterproductive. Mental direction is enough.
- When we try to do the right thing, the wrong thing does itself. This is the force of habit.
- When we choose not to do the wrong thing, the right thing does itself. This is the principle of inhibition.
This is wonderfully clear and helpful.
Thank you. May I have your permission to share this with my students?
(And with acknowledgment to you of course)
Wishing you all at the convention…. It’ll knock the socks off them!
If you have a moment, you might take a peek at singe of my cartoons of musicians on my website blog posts..
I’d love to know what you think.
Thank you so much, Jenny. Well, I’ve been looking at your pictures and reading your blog a little bit at a time for the past few weeks. Your writing imparts a wonderful sense of calm and connection with your students as people. And the cartoons are lessons in themselves! I’ll add a link to your site from mine at mindfulnessinmovement.com.
This is wonderfully clear – thank you, Jonathan.
Thank you for reading, Annie. I appreciate the encouraging words.
I really like what you have written. It’s a very clear and informative way of describibg the principles of the Alexander Technique. Well done! I’m Happy to share your page! Greetings from Barbro, a collegue in Sweden
A blessing to find such a clear succinct exposition of the principles of the Alexander Technique.
I studied with Patrick Macdonald in London in the late 70s.