Alexander Technique Concepts and Principles

Alexander developed his Technique when trying to solve persistent vocal problems that threatened his career as an actor. He observed himself in the context of his own life and discovered the following important concepts, which he used when developing his Technique:

Concepts

Primary Control: Alexander discovered that moving his head in a way he described as “pulling back of the head,” resulted in a shortening of his stature, and a worsening of the quality of his voice and his overall functioning. He also discovered that allowing his head to move freely in a direction he described as “forward and up” from the top of his spine resulted in a lengthening of his stature and an improvement in the quality of his functioning. He labeled this discovery “primary control,” because this relationship of neck, head and torso was of primary importance in determining the quality of his functioning, and in organizing his reactions into a well-coordinated whole. Primary control is active in all vertebrates. 

Psycho-Physical Unity: Alexander discovered that if he made a change in one part of his body, that change affected the rest of his body as well. He also discovered that there is no division between “mind” and “body” but that we are indivisible wholes.

The Universal Constant: Alexander discovered that how he used himself affected how he functioned. He misused himself badly, and as a result had health problems, including trouble with his voice. When he stopped using himself badly, the functioning of his voice improved, as did his overall health. He realized that there was a fundamental relationship between the manner in which he used himself and the general functioning of his whole self that influenced all his activity for either good or ill. He further realized that this relationship between use and functioning is a constant, that is, a person’s functioning will continually improve or worsen depending on how they use themselves.

Faulty Sensory Appreciation: While Alexander was experimenting, trying to discover a better way to use his voice, he would decide to move in a certain way. He would use his feelings (what he called sensory appreciation) to know if he had actually moved in the way he had decided to move. However, when he checked in a mirror, he found out that what he felt he was doing in his body was not what he actually was doing. He realized that he could not rely on feelings alone for accurate information about change.

Alexander believed that this faulty sensory appreciation develops because we learn to move habitually, and this habitual way of moving comes to feel right to us. If our habitual way of moving is harmful in some way, it will still “feel right,” and we will have trouble changing it. (Who would do something that feels wrong?)

End-Gaining: During his experimentation, Alexander discovered that he had a very strong desire to go immediately for whatever end he had in mind, using his habitual, unconscious responses, instead of considering a better way (means-whereby) he could achieve his end. For Alexander, his end was to immediately use his voice, rather than waiting until he had organized his thinking. He called this desire “end-gaining,” and contrasted it with using the best means whereby to gain his end. 

Principles

From the above concepts, Alexander derived two principles, the Principle of Prevention on a General Basis (Inhibition and Conscious Direction) and the Principle of Indirect Action (Conscious Direction/Means Whereby Principle). 

Principle of Prevention on a General Basis (Inhibition and Conscious Direction).  

During his experimenting, Alexander discovered that the first step to improving his use(and therefore his functioning) when using his voice, was to prevent himself from making his habitual response to the idea of speaking.  Alexander used the word “inhibition” to describe this principle of stopping himself from reacting in an unconscious, habitual way.  He further discovered that he could prevent himself from reacting unconsciously if he consciously projected directions that did not allow him to react in his habitual way.  Preventing himself from reacting in a habitual (and in his case harmful) way allowed any activity he performed to have a beneficial effect on his overall functioning.

Principle of Indirect Action (Conscious Direction/Means Whereby Principle) 

Alexander also found that he end-gained, that is, he went directly for his end (in his case, speaking). He responded in an unreasoned, habitual way, and relied on the feelings associated with this habitual response to decide if he had done what he wanted to do. As he experimented, however, he developed a new procedure to use.  It first involved observing himself to see what he was actually doing; then reasoning out the best means he could use to improve what he was doing; and finally it involved consciously putting the new means into effect.

This new procedure was an indirect way to gain his end.  It involved conscious, reasoned analysis, and a conscious directing of himself.

( These concepts and principles are derived from the work of The Professional Development Committee of Alexander Technique International).

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