Tag Archive | directions

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 recall a very early experience in my second or third lesson.

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

Being with Erika: #04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony

I arrived at Fulton Street, Armadale for my appointment with Erika. After my lesson with her six years earlier I was curious to discover how I would experience this one. But a lesson with Erika was nothing like what we are conditioned to expect. A lesson almost invariably began with a cup of tea.

Erika confessed that she had heard on the Alexander grape-vine that the ‘Chair of STAT’ was coming to Melbourne and she had been looking forward to meeting me. She did not remember the young teacher she had met in London after her Memorial Lecture in 1985. She left me sitting in her living room and went off to get the tea.

As I looked around I noticed several editions of STATNews were lying about on the coffee table and on chairs, all open at pages on which were articles I had written over the past two years in relation to various bits of ‘STAT business’.

“Oh dear,” I thought. “She certainly does her homework. She wants to find out what makes me tick.”

She asked me, with regard to the Alexander Technique, what I was concerned about. I was not aware that I was concerned about anything, but I said, “That it is all still a mystery”. We talked on a little more and then she suggested we go into the next room to “do some work”.

I fell straight into the first ‘trap’. As soon as I saw her hands moving towards me I immediately started to ‘give my directions’.

“Whoa!” she said. “You’re getting ready aren’t you! Wait and see what it is I am going to do.”

She commented on some of my misuses, saying she was trying to see my “trick”. The whole time she was directing my attention to the outside; using her hands just a little – to initiate a change – and then immediately taking them away again. A gradually increasing sense of length and width in my back was beginning to appear, and it was something that was ‘doing itself’.

She asked if I would like to work on her and I was struck by the quality of relaxation and liveliness in her body. ‘Work’ was never allowed to become something that we were doing for its own sake though. As soon as anything became fixed (a thought, an idea) she redirected my attention.  The conversation continued throughout.

“It’s really something practical”, she said. “When I look around and I see that the sink has filled up again with dishes, instead of grumbling I put my head forward and up and I get on with it. That’s the Alexander Technique. That’s Zen too.”

I was still calmly expanding as I left, with a sense of something really new. It was as though a light had been shone through the diamond of Alexander’s discoveries from a completely different angle; I was given a glimpse of hitherto unseen aspects.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#10,  A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994