The Alexander Technique Forums
The Alexander Technique Forums
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What to expect from a lesson
edited May 2006
I found Nicholas' analysis very thoughtful and was particularly interested in his reasons for working with the student on sitting-standing due to this movement's more obvious connection with 'right employment of the Primary Control'.
I am not yet comfortable with Alexander's description of Primary Control in Use of the Self:
"This primary control...depends upon
a certain use
of the head and neck in relation to the use of the rest of the bodyâ€¦ the teacher must begin the process of building up the new use...
towards the establishment of
this primary control" [my italics]
This seems to suggest FM believes at this stage that primary control is not a 'universal constant' that is acting for good or ill in all activity but rather that its influence occurs only upon the employment of satisfactory use?
My fascination with what people understand by this whole concept of the primary control continues. Right near the beginning of Wilfred Barlow's
he talks about children sitting "with the head in the position of Alexander's 'primary control'".
This seems even more confusing - the primary control is now being talked about as a position, not as something "to be established"...
You've probably gathered that I find some of Barlow's analysis difficult to accept. Previously I would have probably given up reading the rest of the book. But what if I instead persevere and develop, or even encourage, my reaction to his thesis anyway? If he seems confusing and contradictory, well so does Alexander. If I think Barlow is wrong, I owe it to myself to think out why, which means I'm going to have to be a lot more sure of my own ideas than he was. That's quite a tall order! But if I instead conclude he was after all right, I may have to re-examine my own beliefs!
I agree that what Alexander and Dr Barlow say can appear at times contradictory. I think the important thing is to read as widely as you can and come to your own conclusions, which seems to be what you're doing. There are a lot of insubstantial books on the Technique; but I do recommend Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones. My own understanding is that what Alexander called the Primary Control is fully operational throughout the animal world from birth; but that as humans, we interfere with this. Our job as teachers and students is to learn in what way we interfere and to employ a measure of control over our actions.
Talking about Alexander Technique is a recent development - essentially, the mid-eighties was the beginning of many books on the subject. Until then, speaking about AT in a way that didn't conflict with its principles was rare. Alexander was pointed to as the authority, and even then, as he wrote more books, he also kept trying to improve the way he wrote about and described AT. I once stood up in a workshop and asked for someone in a diverse group to articulate the principles of AT that everyone had in common and was met with a dodgy answer. Essentially, the ability to demonstrate and practice AT and the ability to talk about doing that is a separate skill - talking about it in a coherent way is much more rare specialization.
The person who really helped me think differently to make the way I spoke about Alexander Technique be in coherence with my demonstration of it was Marj Barstow. She regarded a person's manner of speaking to be just as much an expression of the way their mind worked as the way they moved to respond. Even then, I had to do much of the work myself to change the way I spoke and train myself to undo years of cultural inconsistencies concerning the way I used language to describe experience. Part of this has been learning to write about subjective experience.
Marj Barstow taught in her classes how to see very subtle indicators of the way movement was going to turn out; to see primary control as it was happening in other people. This ability to recognize when "good use" was happening and when it was not was an off-shoot of Alexander training, not really a necessary one. It was so handy because an AT teacher can note the cumulative effects of habit and where movement is being interferred with in their students - and see the improvement lessons and experimentation is having. So this is why AT teachers would talk about "use" as generally being an indicator of the success in a person's ability to translate their intention into execution as an ideal state because this "use" is something able to be seen once your eyes are trained to notice the many subtle indicators.
However, talking about "use" in this way sort of "thing-a-fy" the ideal of good use and encourages people to regard "good use" as something they should hold up as an ideal to strive for. So, our language paints us into a corner and it's not very constructive to write about it using particular words such as "strive" and "ideal." It's more in line with Alexander principles to say, about the same phenomena, that some people have "natural easy coordination" without having to think about it because they haven't given up their natural sensitivity as they have taught themselves to do new things by going too far off center.