Traps, Pitfalls and Culs-de-sac #2: Sensation Junkies

Each of the first-generation teachers gave to the Alexander work a particular emphasis, based perhaps on a particular need – or a strong interest – in themselves which was related to just such an aspect or aspects.

Many of the second generation teachers tended to particularly focus on those aspects mastered by their own teachers and then, by a kind of psycho-physical synecdoche, took that for the whole.

It is a consequence of our discipline’s somewhat tribal history and development that many teachers today find it difficult to exchange on more than a superficial level with someone from another lineage.

I will in another post (Systems, Schools and So-called Styles) attempt to explore some of the reasons why these difficulties exist, but here I want to look at some of the problems which I have observed which, though different in many ways, have a common source; an over-emphasis of the sensory side of Alexander work.

The huge amount of hands-on work which takes place in training courses can, of course, be transforming. There is, however, a flip-side to this, which is that a student’s nervous system becomes accustomed to certain sensory experiences, and sensory experiences are, like many other repeated activities of a pleasant – or even unpleasant – nature, addictive.

Alexander warned us about this in a little known passage in MSI (See Equilibrium: Mind, Body and the Thing about Feelings).

Here are some of the more common traps that one might fall into:

  • The “up-junkie”; i.e. someone who is end-gaining for direction, always seeking the experience of “going up” for its own sake – with a corresponding over-stimulation of the nervous system
  • The “release-junkie”; endlessly looking for excuses to lie down and do nothing in the hope that some muscular tension may be released
  • The Alexandroid Mark 1: who attempts to inhibit by blocking the flow of vitality in the body and suppressing natural impulses (see Spontaneity). This is usually brought about by trying to feel oneself being very still.
  • The Alexandroid Mark 2: who attempts to hold onto “good use” by feeling oneself in a certain posture or tonal state.

Most of the above can be recognised by a certain glazed look which appears in the eyes, together with one or another kind of fixity of body (see £10,000 chest).

Of course in time many people are able to let go of these imposed controlling mechanisms, but to what extent they might be avoided in the first place is certainly a question worthy of consideration.

“Control should be in process, not superimposed.”1  F M Alexander

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).

© 2015 John S Hunter

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2 responses to “Traps, Pitfalls and Culs-de-sac #2: Sensation Junkies”

  1. Bruce Marshall says :

    Dear John, I see that you are on a writing roll, it is nice to read your thoughtful articles on the Alexander Technique. Yes there are traps, pitfalls and culs-de-sacs and I am sure I have been in them all….I started to train backin the mid 1980’s….Marj Barstow and her coterie and Kitty Weilopolska, and samples of others along the way. In moments of cynicism I have said that there are many ways to fake the Alexander Technique! As your article notes, Alexander certainly wrote some very insightful observations that does set the work apart. I think this consideration of traps and different styles is where I found Jeroen Staring’s work very valuable,for I think that having a greater context of how the Technique evolved is very important. I think that he misses some things and perhaps jumps to some conclusions, but he does state an appreciation of the Technique to which the research is intended to help. In your article on that subject, you state to the effect that if only such researchers had had lessons with Goldie or MacDonald things would be different. Well Staring first lesson was with an obscure teacher who had a positive effect on him. Maybe Goldie or MacDonald would have been a turn off. I think the point though is that Goldie and MacDonald and others are dead. Would these researchers have problems not getting the essence of the Technique if they had studied with yourself or some other living teacher? Per your present article, I like your description of the various traps people can get into, and I agree, and I think some of this is because, we really do not know how Alexander worked himself. I mean why reference the dead such as Goldie and MacDonald when would it not be better to go right to source, FM himself, to which I suppose we could add AR. The question then becomes, does one want to take lessons with the FM of 1936 or 1922, or would 1914 provide better insights? Frankly I would like a sampling from a number of different times, not excluding his early work either. Of course was it not true that the early training left everyone on their own to learn the work, or to learn how to teach. The first generation teachers did go in different directions, Marj Barstow was a totally different teacher in approach than Kitty which was very interesting. Both very dedicated  to the work which yes is in process, a process of in many ways discovering its own essence, which you seem to be pointing to. Thanks, Bruce Marshall Rochester, Vermont (I do teach, but not too much)

    From: Upward Thought To: Sent: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 9:29 AM Subject: [New post] Traps, Pitfalls and Culs-de-sac #2: Sensation Junkies #yiv0749810089 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0749810089 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0749810089 a.yiv0749810089primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0749810089 a.yiv0749810089primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0749810089 a.yiv0749810089primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0749810089 a.yiv0749810089primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0749810089 | UpwardThought posted: “Each of the first-generation teachers gave to the Alexander work a particular emphasis, based perhaps on a particular need – or a strong interest – in themselves which was related to just such an aspect or aspects.Many of the second generation teacher” | |

    • UpwardThought says :

      Hello Bruce, many thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, I was hinting at something in referring to Goldie and Macdonald in the post to which you refer (I could have mentioned other teachers and the point would have been just as valid).


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