Tips4Pupils – Stopping and Inhibition; similar but different

I see ‘stopping’ as an umbrella term, which includes several different inner processes, one of which is

“… inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.”1

If I am in an agitated state, rushing, trying to do several things at once, end-gaining, unaware of my physical body – I can stop. Stopping means ceasing unnecessary activity, be it physical (muscular), emotional, nervous or mental. Miss Goldie called this ‘coming to quiet’: “Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back“.

Stopping can be tried at any time one becomes aware of unnecessary “doing”. Sometimes, depending on the degree of agitation, we may not be able to ‘stop’ unless we withdraw for a time – even lie down. At other times it needs only a few seconds, just to remember to organise oneself. It is a psycho-physical calming down. Erika described it as “Clearing the clutter out of your mind so that you can make a decision”

As ever with Erika, “a means to an end and not an end in itself”.

Inhibition is on another level and is much more difficult – practically impossible without some experience of a quieter, more integrated (directed) state. It demands presence, awareness and a free attention at the point in time and space the stimulus is received. It is the key not to inaction but to new experiences – even true spontaneity.

Inhibition can only take place at one very specific moment; the one in which a stimulus is received. Yes, we are all receiving stimuli all the time, but I am referring to “inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.” This process takes place at “brain-thought level”, as Miss Goldie would express it, and not in the body. If the messages get into the nervous system, it is too late to ‘inhibit’. You can, of course, send countermanding messages, but that creates conflict; having energised nerve pathways, you are then trying to prevent muscles from responding. That is not inhibition, it is freezing – and is one of the causes of what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Alexandroid syndrome’. If you are too late to inhibit, then you can, of course, try and stop, i.e. come to quiet, clear away the clutter from your mind and make a fresh decision.

Neuroscientists inform us that when a stimulus is received, many reactions take place before we have become aware at a conscious level of the stimulus. That may be so; consciousness need not concern itself with everything. Nevertheless, there are certain key patterns of neural activation which take place by dint of being the paths of least resistance, and there is a micro-window of opportunity to ‘stay mentally fluid’ as stimuli begin to impact, and allow options to appear. This happens very quickly – almost in a different time-scale. It is a high-energy state in which the wonderful possibility of ‘the new’ appears, with all its freshness and at times, in the face of the unknown, a degree of trepidation.

One pupil expressed the dilemma very well:

“It is as though I step out of a prison. look around me and see that I am free. I could do anything I want. Then I turn around and step back into my prison.”

How much safer is the known!

Alexander did though see his work as evolutionary in scale. It takes time to get used to living in a new medium, as the first land creatures must also have experienced.

1. Teaching Aphorisms: The Alexander Journal No 7, 1972, published by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Also published in Articles and Lectures by Mouritz (1995). “Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.”

© 2013 John S Hunter

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6 responses to “Tips4Pupils – Stopping and Inhibition; similar but different”

  1. Gina Kelley says :

    John, I love reading your blog and this was a great post in particular. I was wondering if you could say more about “That is not inhibition, it is freezing – and is one of the causes of what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Alexandroid syndrome’.” Thanks so much!

    • UpwardThought says :

      Hello Gina,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for your comment. I will be posting something further in the next few weeks on the theme of common misunderstandings about inhibition and the consequences thereof, which will hopefully address your point. I hope all is well with you!

      Best wishes,


      • Gina Kelley says :

        Sounds great John. I look forward to seeing the next post. I enjoyed working with you at Sweet Briar. If you weren’t so far away, I’d love to come for a lesson – the blog bridges the miles!

        Take care and thanks,

  2. Victoria Stanham says :

    Beautiful explanation John. I really enjoyed it.
    I sometimes wonder, when we are able to truly inhibit our habitual reaction to a stimulus, isn’t it because we were able to perceive the stimulus differently to begin with? F.M. says in one of his books (can’t remember which now, but I think it’s CCC, but could be MSI, or both) that stimulus and response are so connected together by habit that they are part of one single pattern. It made me think that in order to get a different response then one had to receive the stimulus differently (that is, perceive it differently).
    Would you agree?

    • UpwardThought says :

      Yes indeed, Victoria! A very good point!

      Out state is critical when it comes to our reactivity. If we are tired, stressed, anxious, tense or psychophysically out of balance in any other way we are going to be more reactive – and of course there are subtle degrees of being out of balance.

      A good analogy is a stringed instrument; only when the degree of tension in the string is appropriate will the required sound be intoned (one thinks of the expression ‘highly-strung’ applied to people). Without enough tension we, like the violin, will be dull and unresponsive (beware too much lying-down work!).

      Compared to other organisms, it is the complexity of our human instrument which is both the cause of many of our difficulties and, due to its capacity to become relatively self-tuning, the source of our extraordinary possibilities.

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