Ever since I joined ATSuccess, I have been mithering about inhibition and direction, and how I can resolve a conflict in my own thinking. Just recently, Jeremy posted two blogs, that, were I to subscribe to his view, would blew apart some of my fundamental belief in the Alexander Technique.
In reply to my query on Jeremy’s blog, as to “what happened to inhibition and direction” Jeremy replied on FaceBook:
Inhibition and direction are everywhere – they don’t belong to Alexander Technique. Do you believe that no-one really understands these concepts? I’m sure you don’t, and it’s worth asking the question. What these qualities are applied to is the relevancy of Alexander, and they are applied to noticing the relationship of head and spine in relation to what you are doing. That’s me saying what I said in the blog in another way – is this still asking you to throw the baby out (with the bathwater)? You can do this while getting in and out of a chair, or while lying on a table. And yet – there are just two of a potentially infinite number of actives you could be exploring with an individual. My blog was saying – think about the proclivities of the person you are teaching, and choose the activity to which you apply this universal process to observe head/spine relationship based on an empathetic understanding of what would be more effective for them. Bit convoluted, and I have been saying this in my own way since day one of ATSuccess.
That’s all very well, Jeremy. I go along with the concept that inhibition and direction do not belong to Alexander, but I do contend that they are at the very core of what I teach. And in all the books I have read about the Alexander Technique, the same message keeps being repeated.
Take Frank Pierce Jones for example:
“I was able to follow AR’s instruction and inhibit my immediate response to the stimulus to stand up and could maintain the inhibition long enough, either to let him initiate and guide the movement for me, or (with somewhat more difficulty) to initiate and carry it out myself. In either case, the movement induced the same kinaesthetic effect of lightness – not as sharp as the first time because the element of surprise was missing, but more enduring.
Once I had experienced the kinaesthetic effect, the reward was so great that I tried to recapture it directly and hang onto it when I had it. This proved self-defeating, however. It was the indirect effect of a psycho-physical process and could only be obtained by not trying for it. Its chief function in the learning process was to indicate by its presence that I was on the right track and to provide a background of feeling tone, against which maladaptive response patterns could be recognised for what they were. I had been aware of neck muscle tension before, but had not been aware that the tension increased in response to stimuli. Now the response pattern – the increment in tension – began to stand out against the newly-induced background of postural tone, so that there was a clear-cut figure ground relation between them. What the procedures I had learned from AR had done, was to remove a great deal of the “noise” from the tonic “ground” so that the tensional “figure” was easier to perceive. Once the figure was perceived for what it was – an increment of tension in response to a particular stimulus – it could be controlled: “inhibited” was the word AR used.”
FP Jones – Freedom to Change
I note particularly that FPJ acknowledges the subconscious nature of his reaction to a stimulus, and that without consciously inhibiting his response, he is unable to achieve the end he desires. FM said much the same in Use of the Self.
Jon Nicholls’ comments in his forward to Walter Carrington’s Thinking Aloud in the 1980’s:
Twenty one years after starting my training …I find myself more than ever convinced that the understanding of the technique conveyed in these pages is more fundamentally radical, modern and up to date in its implications than anything else currently available. The message repeated again and again is that we are responsible for how our energies are directed, whether we are conscious of it or not; that we can learn how to redirect those energies into more useful pathways; and that inhibition, direction and primary control give us both the means to do that and the criteria for reviewing whether we are actually succeeding in doing so.
I often refer my own pupils to Walter Carrington’s thoughts, particularly an extract from the Chapter “Allowing Time to Say No” taken from a talk to his trainee teachers on 16th March 1983:
As a teacher, you’ve got to be careful what you ask, how much you ask, and what you insist on. You’ve got to accept the fact that you’ve asked them to say “no” and they haven’t said “no”. And you’ve asked them to give consent to the head going forward and up; and ahead of giving consent to the release, they’ve in fact gone and done it. You’ve got to put up with a lot of that, because until you can get them into a point of calmness, where saying “no” is a practical possibility, it just won’t work.
Nevertheless, it’s important that you as the teacher should be clear about what’s going on, what’s supposed to be going on, and what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re trying to get the pupil to say “no” in order to stop their instinctive response to the stimulus, and then to give consent to the new messages.
Without saying “no” the pupil’s habits come into play. It is more than that: it’s a mixture of their reflex responses, their conscious efforts and thoughts and feelings and ideas and beliefs and everything that motivates that sort of voluntary activity. It’s a mixture of the voluntary and the involuntary. It’s a thoroughly neurotic mixture because it’s a mixture in which they’re saying “I don’t want to do it at all” and some part is saying “come and do it” and the other is saying “I don’t want to” and the other’s then saying “you must!” and there’s all that tangle of confusion going on. As teachers, we’re trying to sort out the tangle.
The only way you can possibly sort out the tangle is by learning to stop, by learning to say “no”. When you’ve stopped the doing, then it’s possible to proceed by the process of giving consent to the new messages”
Walter Carrington – Thinking Aloud
In Man’s Supreme Inheritance, at P.124 in my copy, FM Alexander sets out the process of conscious guidance and control thus:
In performance of any muscular activity by conscious guidance and control there are four essential stages:
- The conception of the movement required;
- The inhibition of erroneous preconceived ideas which subconsciously suggest the manner in which the movement or series of movements should be performed;
- The new and conscious mental orders which will set in motion the muscular mechanism essential to the to the correct performance of the action; and
- The movements (contraction and expansion) of the muscles which carry out the mental orders.
FM Alexander – Man’s Supreme Inheritance
I suppose I am encouraged to think that what Jeremy is teaching is not the Alexander Technique as i know it; and that is what he says in his blog “How FM Changed Everything and Nothing”:
These days people around me know I have a distaste for using the term “Alexander Technique.” I think the term misleads people’s thinking. It is implicitly asserting that this process is at the heart of FM’s contribution to human evolution.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say the reverse is true: FM’s original process has held back development!
At the core of the spread of FM’s work is the simple, self-evident insight that head movements govern vertebral co-ordination, which in turn influences limb co-ordination. Primary Control.
As we all know, Coghill came to a similar conclusion in observing the behaviour of Amblystoma.
The process FM evolved was not an original creation. It was a version of scientific process. It was what every inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, teacher or change agent – in their own unique way – will do in pursuit of implementing an insight.
FM is special because of what he purposed the process to implement: restoration and development of the natural co-ordinating principle of all vertebrates.
This is not splitting hairs, this is fundamental.
This is why I am personally determined to destroy the concept of the “Alexander Technique”. Instead, my wish is to replace it with a narrative that more accurately describes the extraordinary contribution FM made to the evolution of human behaviour.
I am interested in Jeremy’s views, but see no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water, or in other words to discard the concepts of the Alexander Technique as I have learned them. I would need to see a lot more evidence before I accept that. I do have a lot of time for Jeremy’s views on group teaching, which evidently works, and I see no reason why the principles as I have learned them cannot be applied to Jeremy’s teaching methods.
I accept that these are very different views and are probably mutually exclusive. This gives scope for useful further debate. Perhaps there is room for both: one we can call “the Alexander Technique” and the other “Alexander’s Discovery”. Let them be different,