Patrick Macdonald: #2, “Yes! That’s it! That’s right!”, London 1983
Patrick J Macdonald was the son of Dr Peter Macdonald, one of a number of medical doctors who strongly supported Alexander.
The young Patrick was sent to Alexander by his father when he was about twelve years old because he was, as he said himself in later years, “rather poorly co-ordinated”.
Soon after graduating from Cambridge he joined the first training course, which was already up and running at Ashley Place.
My work with him was intermittent over a period of eight or nine years.
He was certainly extraordinary. The awe and respect he commanded in his students – some of whom who had been with him since the late fifties – forewarned one of what one might expect, but the experience of a lesson with him could not really be imagined. His touch transformed you; you became a field of energy which, only incidentally, caused the physical body to move. This approach, the flow of energy – particularly along the spine – seems to me to have been uniquely Mr. Macdonald’s.
His 1963 Annual Memorial Lecture repays careful study, as does his book “The Alexander Technique as I See It”.
Key passages are:
“He (Alexander) found that the body was a fluid thing, its various parts held in their proper relationship by a continuous flow of impulses”
“These impulses, which are analogous to electrical currents, are small, but their effect over years is very large”
“It is possible to demonstrate two forces, or sets of forces, acting in the human body, and, in particular, along the spine”
“Force “A” has a tendency to contract and distort”
“Force” B” has an expansionary or elongatory tendency. It is often referred to, in a general way, as “life”. It produces a “lightness” in the body, which I take to be the natural, though not any longer the normal, condition. This lightness is …. not that of avoirdupois. It has an anti-gravitational direction. I presume that the natural interplay of these two forces brings about the integrity of the body, which sets the stage for proper health.”1
I asked Mr Macdonald if I could work on him. His back, though deformed from some condition he had, struck me as having an unusual quality of ‘aliveness’ – like an animal.
At first I was only aware of the force of gravity acting through him, very strongly, but when I stopped trying to ‘do’ he moved lightly in and out of the chair.
I carried on, rather like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – not quite knowing how to stop, until he got fed up and said, rather sharply, “Do something else now!”
I put him in a monkey and did one or two other ‘procedures’, which I cannot recall. He did not have a negative word to say. This surprised me as I had heard such stories about him and how tough he was. He just muttered, “Yes! That’s it! That’s right!”
I learnt a day or two later, from colleagues who were training with him, that when he went back into his class he was full of praise for this “student from another course who knows something about the Alexander Technique”, almost using me as a stick to beat his students for their ‘general indifference and uselessness’.
I do not recount this story out of pride. I had little idea at the time of what was really going on in my lesson. Mr Macdonald had, in working on me, brought something to life in my body; he had transmitted a certain energy. I was, for a few moments, able to let that energy flow in me without getting in the way. However, I was not at that time able on my own to ’embody’ that energy; it soon wore off. But the experience did confirm what we were working on daily with Misha Magidov, with whom I was then training; that it is possible to be animated by, and to animate in another, a different quality of energy.
1. The Alexander Technique As I See It, Patrick MacDonald. Chapter 3: Why We Learn the Technique. Published by Rahula Books, 1989. (back to text).
© 2013 John S Hunter