“They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do” 1
In contemporary times, particularly in the West, many people have a sense of entitlement; the words ‘human rights’ are heard all too often. But what about ‘human responsibilities’? Not on a global, national, regional or even local level, but on a deeply personal level. Am I or could I be responsible for myself?
Take some situation in your life about which you find yourself inwardly complaining. (Best to start with something small.)
Consider your options! Doing nothing at all, carrying on in the same way or what I call “The Monty Python Option”, i.e. doing something completely different.
You may think you have no options, but try and find some- even ones that you would in no circumstances do such as, perhaps, letting people down or being reckless (if you need some help with this you could always read The Diceman).
Then make a choice!
You may find that you choose to do the thing you are already doing, but now you are doing it because you chose to do it and, hopefully, in a more coordinated way. No one else to blame. Your choice, your responsibility!
This experiment can be a step towards taking responsibility.
It’s so interesting that in English we have this expression “take responsibility”. In all Romance Languages it is “assume responsibility”. The language reminds us that it calls for something active.
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).
© 2014 John S Hunter
A pause is not a stop; they are quite different. A pause implies that one is going to do the thing, but not yet. A stop has no such implication. We are free to do something else.
If you press the pause button on an old-fashioned cassette player, the motor is still engaged but with, so to speak, the brakes on; as soon as you release the button the machine can only continue in the same direction it was going. If you press the stop button, other options become available; you can rewind, fast-forward, record or even remove the tape.
Real stopping means giving oneself real choices.
But take care! With choice comes responsibility.
© 2013 John S Hunter
To come into Miss Goldie’s teaching room was to enter a space of quiet presence – another world, in a way; one in which there could be some insight into the hidden laws which control human reactivity – and the possibility, if just for a moment, of becoming more free from them.
The form of the lesson did not seem so different from any classic ‘Alexander turn’; you stood in front of a chair; you might sit down and stand up; you could be taken into “monkey” or work through “hands on the back of a chair”. But there was no mistaking the fact that the medium (of the procedures) was not the message; the work was about what was happening in one’s brain (a place where, it is worth remembering, there is no sensation); moreover parts of the brain which seemed to be stubbornly resistant to being accessed and activated.
In the early lessons there was little outer movement – perhaps a centimetre backwards or forwards in the chair – but there was movement; the movement of thoughts, of nerve-impulses, of energies normally well below the radar. It was a revelation to see just how much of the unnecessary was taking place.
She showed us young teachers that sensations, be they ones of muscular release or of directed energy (depending on the school where one had trained), did not on their own address the great problem which – to Alexander – was at the heart of his work; human reactivity. It became clear that FM’s concept of ‘Man’s Supreme Inheritance’ did not only mean going through life with a more upright posture, a lengthened spine, a feeling of gravity in the pelvis or of contact with the ground, or any other kind of sensation – however subtle; it was the developed capacity to make choices and decisions; “the transcendent inheritance of a conscious mind” 1
And the key? Stopping!
“Stop doing your thing”, she would say again and again. “Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back! Not you, doing your thing!”
She held out the promise of a kind of ideal: one in which ‘stopping’ meant the absence of interference with the workings of the organism at a very deep and fundamental level; not just muscular tensions but habits of thought, uncontrolled emotionality, attitudes, the functioning of the internal organs – everything.
She said once, rather enigmatically, “If we could stop – really stop, all our difficulties would simply disappear!”
© 2013 John S Hunter
I first heard talk of Marj (Marjorie Barstow) when I was attending the STAT ‘think-tank’ in 1986, a sub-committee set up to look into the workings of the Society and suggest policy to STAT Council. One of the teachers present commented that having attended a Marj workshop she was impressed that everyone there was given the experience of their head going forward and up as they went into movement. At the time I found this comment somewhat strange, as I would have expected nothing less from an Alexander teacher, especially one trained by Alexander.
Many senior teachers in London were very negative and critical about her. Some referred to the work she did with large groups of people as the ‘Alexander Technique by remote control’, meaning that she did not use her hands much but tried to guide people by speaking to them as they were moving around the room.
At the time all this seemed rather distant and unrelated to what I was learning and beginning to teach.
However, in 1988 I had the opportunity to see for myself. I had decided to attend the 2nd International Congress in Brighton and Marj was going to be there giving some master classes.
She was small, slight and stooped, obviously suffering already from the loss of bone density which was soon to worsen, but with bright, mischievous eyes and an eagle-like attention.
She started her master-class in a very unusual but captivating way. Instead of standing on the stage she came down into the auditorium and stood in an obvious slump.
“What am I doing?” she asked in the long, drawn out vowels typical of her Nebraska accent, eliciting comments about her slumping or pulling down. People were already interested and enlivened; her presentation was obviously going to be interactive.
“I am waiting for a friend and she is late and I am fed up. I am really fed up” drawled Marj. She mimicked looking at the time and being seriously fed up in tone of voice and posture.
“Now how am I going to get out of this mess I am in?” she challenged.
“Go home and leave her there!”
“Inhibit and direct!”
“Release the tension!”
None of the suggestions offered were quite what she was looking for.
“If I want to get out of this mess then I am going to have to move” she said. “It is only a question of what leads the movement, in what direction and what is the quality of the movement. Watch me!”
She then simply put her head forward and up and moved off across the auditorium, her body releasing into length as she did so.
“If you are in a mess, you don’t have to stay there. You can move.”
For those who had eyes to see, the whole of the Alexander Technique was there in that simple, practical demonstration. Inhibition, choice, decision, intention, direction, movement, means-whereby. It was all there.
For the rest of the morning she worked with a group of volunteers on the stage and responded to various questions. But for me, that first ten minutes had said it all. I decided to sign up for a five-day workshop with her in London later that Summer.
© 2013 John S Hunter