Please note that this is an unfinished project, that probably won't ever be finished.
I've posted it because it may be of interest to some people.
To include a statement about why this was produced, thank relevant people. talk about why I'm qualified to do this. Notes on the evaluation of books, how the books listed are ordered
So you want to read a book on the Alexander Technique? You go to your library or bookshop and discover that there are now quite a few books on the subject. How do you choose which is the right one for you? This reading guide is an attempt to comprehensively cover the books written on the Alexander Technique, and to provide a sample of the supporting or allied literature. It should serve equally well for the absolute beginner, and the initiate who is looking to deepen their knowledge. Hopefully the reader will be able to use this book as a guide to find the book or books appropriate to their level and needs.
WHAT TO READ
Though the purpose of this book is not to explain them, any book on the Alexander Technique should include a few key concepts. The unreliability of our untrained sensory appreciation, inhibition, primary control, use and misuse, use affecting function, the unity of mind and body, and finally the technique is not about doing (Alexander described it as "ado-less" ) exercises are definitely out.
WHY READ ABOUT THE TECHNIQUE?
It has been said that you can't learn about the technique from a book, that only a teacher can give you the new kinaesthetic experience associated with the technique. This was not true in Alexander's case, or in that of Louise Morgan (see below). The technique can be learned without a teacher, but it took Alexander 10 years of patient and painstaking observation to do it.
The difficulty in learning the technique from a book is that it involves unfamiliar experiences. Most people are relying on habitual control of their actions, and in new and unfamiliar situations habitual control leads us into inappropriate responses and patterns of misuse. Associated with this is a lowering of the reliability of our sensory appreciation. Our kinaesthetic sense adapts so that our habitual misuse becomes the norm - it begins to feel right. This means that to learn the technique an external standard is required, since our feelings are not trust worthy. Alexander had his mirrors, which showed him that when he felt he was putting his head forward and up he was actually pulling back and down. Until we restore the reliability of our senses we might use mirrors like Alexander, or perhaps video, but the most reliable external standard available is a good teacher.
From the books listed here you can learn about the principles behind the technique, and about the man who discovered the principles. Both of these aspects are fascinating!
There is no comprehensive biography of Alexander, much less of his brother who also played a significant, often forgotten role in the development of the technique. Readers interested in biographical information will have to read widely, but Frank Pierce Jones' and Edward Maisel's books are full of detail on the man. Lulie Westfeldt's book makes a vital contribution in this area. She provides great insight into Alexander's character.
Maisel says about Alexander in his book: "No 'back to nature': no 'going native'. He believed that man's future was civilisation. The cure for our present dilemma did not lie in any form of direct reversion to animal 'instincts'. It lay rather in the further extension of reason with the paradoxical recovery - through this extension - of our vanished creature health. This is the cardinal feature of Alexander's work which sharply differentiates it from the widespread sentimentality and anti-intellectualism of current body practice."
Rene Dubo in his book The Mirage of Health shows why utopian dreams and yearning for the good old days are futile. The good old days, the golden age have never existed and dreams of utopia are merely avoiding responsibility for the present, and are never practical. The Alexander Technique is about always being in the present moment and is supremely pragmatic. Alexander has showed us the way to our future. This was his genius, and in this he was a true radical.
Alexander's books have a reputation for being difficult to read. Part of the difficulty with the language that Alexander uses is that he is discussing a radically new hypothesis. Most people trust their own senses, but Alexander shows again and again that we are wrong to trust them. This is a very difficult thing to take in. Even today most of us arbitrarily separate mind and body. Alexander through his experience was forced to abandon this separation. He talked about the 'psycho-physical mechanism', the 'self', the 'organism'. He would not have used the words 'mental' or 'physical' at all but that ". . . there are no other words at present which adequately express manifestations of psycho-physical activity . . .". Because he was using everyday words to describe new ideas he often had to digress (footnotes were a favourite way) to explain the sense in which he was using this particular word.
Alexander was a man of his times. He read Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin, and Herbert Spencer, as well as Shakespeare and Byron, and his writing reflects this. Don't be distracted by claims that Alexander is difficult to read. He chose his words with care and reading his books is a very rewarding experience. Would anyone suggest that because Shakespeare's language is difficult and old-fashioned, his works should not be taught in schools?
Alexander uses 'man' when he means humans or people, and uses 'he' as a universal pronoun. The practice of using the masculine to mean both male and female is no longer considered acceptable, but were conventions in Alexander's time.
The final word on this subject should go to Professor John Dewey, from the introduction to Constructive Conscious Control :
"For although there is nothing esoteric in his teaching, and although his exposition is made in the simplest English, free from technical words, it is difficult for anyone to grasp its full force without having actual demonstration of the principle in action."
A1. F. Matthias Alexander.
Man's supreme inheritance : conscious guidance and control in relation to human evolution in civilization. (Long Beach, CA, USA : Centreline Press, 1988.) 95 p. (This edition incorporates two pamphlets published previously: 'The theory and practice of a new method of respiratory re-education', 1907; and 'Re-education of the kinaesthetic systems concerned with the development of robust physical well-being', 1908.)
This is Alexander's first attempt to set down his philosophy and method in written form. 'Man's supreme inheritance' is the ability to inhibit habitual control of our actions and substitute conscious reasoned control. "By and through consciousness and the application of a reasoning intelligence, man may rise above the powers of all disease and physical disability". Heady stuff! Alexander had been teaching his technique to others for about 17 years when he wrote this book, and six of those years were spent in London. He had even then an enormous number of examples of the success of his method of re-education. The difference is that Alexander, through his books and his teachings, showed us the practical steps we can take to make the dream come true.
The thesis goes something like this: in prehistoric times we were well served by instinctive or habitual control of our actions. Change was always at a slow pace and we had plenty of time to adapt to any new situations. In the modern world the pace of change is much faster (even around the turn of the century - how much more so now). Our habitual control is no longer adequate, and more often leads us astray into patterns of use that are harmful, causing disease and deformity. All forms of physical culture utilising our habitual guidance only serve to accentuate this effect. Alexander argues that the sub-conscious is merely the complete set of habits.
As we have progressed along the road of civilisation, we have learned to inhibit our habits of thought and our desires. This is an evolutionary step - we are no longer natural animals. Any separation of the mind and body is completely arbitrary and in practice the two cannot be separated. What we need to do now is bring our habitual control of our whole organism (mind and body together as one) under conscious control. Alexander contends, and has demonstrated, that any act using voluntary muscle can be controlled - any unconscious habit can be elevated to consciousness and controlled.
While consciousness is the gift that sets us apart from the other animals, it is also a burden to us - we must employ it in every sphere or else we go wrong.
A2. F. Matthias Alexander. Constructive conscious control of the individual. (London : Methuen, 1923.) With an introduction by Professor John Dewey.
"During the last 500 years in all spheres of remedial and curative activity, the standard of sensory appreciation, of general coordination and of reliable use of the mechanisms of the organism has been and still is being gradually lowered, with the associated serious conditions which are apparent today"
Constructive Conscious Control is the definitive exposition of Alexander's philosophy and the Alexander Technique; the principle and the procedure. Jones notes that Alexander always considered it his most important book. "It was more ambitiously planned than any of the others; the examples and language were carefully chosen; and it had the benefit of Deweys advice".
Alexander received much correspondence after Man's Supreme Inheritance was published and he acknowledges the questions of readers. "In this book I am most anxious to answer such oft-repeated questions as: "why are our instincts less reliable than those of our early ancestors?"; "at what stage of man's evolution did this deterioration begin?"; "what is the cause of our present-day individual and national unrest?"; "can you set down principles which will enable us to decide as to the best methods of educating our children."
Alexander's vision is clear in this book. For the human race to advance and be uplifted, it is necessary to function "as a psycho-physical unit" and by applying conscious guidance and control of our selves. To achieve our potential, to continue to move along the evolutionary scale, and to achieve health and happiness, it is necessary for us to restore our debauched sensory appreciation and to re-educate our use of our selves.
This book is a must for all serious students of the Alexander Technique. All the key concepts are introduced and discussed at length.
A3. F. Matthias Alexander The use of the self : its conscious direction in relation to diagnosis, functioning and the control of reaction. (London : Victor Gollancz, 1985.) 23 p. With an introduction by Wilfred Barlow, first published 1932.
"A classic of scientific observation." - British Medical Journal (from the book jacket).
In chapter one of this book Alexander leads us through the voyage of discovery, from the throat problems which threatened his career as an elocutionist, through to the formulation of the principles of what we know as the Alexander Technique. Major turning points and shifts of understanding are highlighted.
- discovery that the senses are untrustworthy
- the shift from separation to mind/body unity; no act is wholly mental or physical
- discovery of primary control
- importance of first inhibiting habitual reactions
- use of conscious direction in combination with inhibition
Through two case studies, the golfer and the stutterer, he shows how these principles work in practice.
From the beginning Alexander had mixed experiences with the medical profession. It was a doctor who first convinced him to take his technique to a larger audience in London, and afterwards some of his most notable defenders and followers were doctors. Alexander was however openly critical of the profession, which put many doctors off. Many thought he was merely another quack. Still, doctors often sent patients to him as last resort - and it seems that in all cases they experienced some relief after being re-educated by Alexander. He never claimed to cure though - he treated poor conditions of use. With better use most patients found physical relief since their body/mind was functioning better.
The Use of the Self dicusses the need of the medical profession to be aware of poor use. Alexander has shown that poor use is a constant influence for ill in a person, which lowers their level of functioning and leads to disease. Present medical training doesn't include any consideration of use, and the medical profession is limited in its ability to diagnose and treat illness.
Dr Wilfred Barlow commented "We can only marvel at the courage, clear-sightedness and perseverance which underlies this book". The book is quite readable and the first chapter gives a very valuable insight into the development of the principles of the technique. It would be worth reading this before Constructive Conscious Control as it will help you to see where Alexander is coming from.
A4. F. Matthias Alexander. The universal constant in living. (Manchester : Re-educational Publications, 1941.) With an appreciation by G. E. Coghill.
The universal constant in living is that:
USE AFFECTS FUNCTION
That is to say that your manner of use of your self is a constant influence for good or ill on the level of function of your self. Much of this book is devoted to demonstrating that constant influence, and its consequences and practical considerations.
Jones says that this book should be considered as a long appendix to the other books and it contains little organisation. However, he also points out that there is much in the book that makes it worth reading. When it covers the same ground as the previous books it adds new emphasis. The appreciation by G. E. Coghill is particularly significant. Coghill was a very eminent scientist who had worked in the areas of physiology and anatomy and had discovered something like Alexander's primary control in the lower vertebrates. Coghill ends his appreciation with: "I regard his methods as thoroughly scientific and educationally sound"
The Universal Constant in Living opens with a theme that was echoed by Rene Dubo in his book The Mirage of Health, although there is nothing to show that they were aware of each other's work. The book opens with:
"Few of us hitherto have given consideration to the question of the extent to which we are individually responsible for the ills that our flesh is heir to; this is because we have not come to a realisation of the faulty and often harmful manner in which we use ourselves in our daily activities and even during sleep, or of the misdirection strain and waste of energy due to this misuse."
To Alexander the individual is paramount. We cannot blame scientists, or the government, or any outside agency for our lack of health and happiness. It is our responsibility alone.
This book is in part a response to those followers of the technique who seemed to Alexander to be watering down the technique. He complains that they make no mention of any technique through which these concepts can be put into practice. This was all that Alexander had ever tried to do. He is emphasising the oneness of control of use and reaction, and stressing the importance of mind/body unity in practice.
There is a quality about this book that is not found in the others. It lacks the grandeur of Man's Supreme Inheritance the vision of Constructive Conscious Control, or the practicality of Use of the Self. One feels that at 72, Alexander is somewhat exasperated that people have not taken up his ideas to the extent he would have wished; the problems and solutions are so clear to him. This attitude is highlighted in the second to last chapter called 'Stupidity in Living'. Other writers tell us that to a great extent he brought this on himself, not trusting even his best and most faithful followers.
Sections of the book are highly critical of the people he obviously feels should know better, since he has explained it all to them. If only they could see that all their efforts are wasted since they continue to rely on habitual guidance and control etc. Alexander savagely criticises the Report on Physical Education by the British Medical Association - they fail to come up with anything which was different in principle from that which had come before. He dismisses physiologists, since the use of those he had met was as bad as any person. From this he concludes that the study of physiology cannot and does not help a person to change their use for the better.
The Universal constant in Living shows how Alexander's ideas have matured. It is perhaps best read after the other books, as Jones has suggested, as an appendix.
Books on the Technique
B1. The Alexander Technique : the essential writings of F. Matthias Alexander. (Great Britain : Thames and Hudson, 1989) Selected and introduced by Edward Maisel. 204 p. Also published under the title Resurrection of the Body, first published 1969 .
Intended as a text for teachers and students of the Alexander Technique. The preface of this edition addresses itself to those who want to learn the technique on their own.
The introduction of this book is as good an introduction to the man and his work as appears anywhere. The depth of biographical material is not found elsewhere. Maisel brings out aspects of FM's character that others have glossed over, for example his obsession with betting on horses and the fact that he married. Maisel never met or worked with Alexander and his writing has a different quality from those who did.
The notes of instruction (nine pages) are little gems uttered by FM during lessons, for example "If your neck feels stiff, that is not to say your neck 'is' stiff".
The bulk of the book is selections from FM's four books. Some of the selections presented are combinations of pieces extracted from the four books, however only minor editorial changes have been made, and FM's style remains intact.
It's a pity that Maisel has not indicated where he has taken his extracts from . This simple thing would have allowed the reader to go back to the original works and place the extracts in their original context.
B2. Wilfred Barlow. The Alexander Principle. (London : Gollancz, 1990.) First published 1973.
This book is not about the Alexander Technique as such, but the principle of 'use affects function' which is central to the technique, and the title was chosen deliberately to convey this. Barlow (died 1992) was one of the foremost practitioners of the technique and his studies provided evidence to support Alexander's claims for the technique. Barlow begins by explaining 'USE AFFECTS FUNCTION'. He goes on to show how this works in practice and sets out the evidence he has to support it. He details the effects of misuse. Much of his evidence is photographic, both ordinary and X-ray, and though Maisel suggests that Alexander disapproved of this practice, it does give an idea of what re-education in the technique can achieve. The objection to photographs is that they are static while the technique is about movement (compare Jones' photographs using stroboscopic lighting to capture movement).
"The evidence is now quite incontrovertible. We are witnessing a widespread deterioration in use which begins at an early age; and which present educational methods are doing little to prevent". This statement from Barlow's book echoes what Alexander was saying as far back as Man's Supreme Inheritance. Since use affects function we are also seeing a deterioration in the level of function - witness the inevitability which we ascribe to back pain.
The truth is that we suffer from disease and discomfort much more than we might if our use were improved. Barlow shows this clearly, in language that is very readable, and with diagrams and photographs that speak volumes.
B3. Sarah Barker The Alexander Technique : the revolutionary way to use your body for total energy. (New York : Bantam Books, 1978)
Barker is an experienced teacher of the technique, and has set out to write a "how to" book. The book is very light on the principles though. Barker gives detailed instructions on how to carry out the procedures and exercises included but the book fails in one important aspect. Nothing is included in this book to tell the reader how they will know if they are carrying out the given instructions correctly. What is to stop the pupil "doing" the instructions in the way they have always done things? Alexander has showed us that what feels right is most often wrong. Without the mirrors which he used he could not have changed, because his kinaesthetic sense was giving him false information.
Barker should have given more space to a discussion of the principles of 'end-gaining' and 'means whereby', and to inhibition and direction. The use of an external standard until our senses are restored to reliability is essential. Alexander had his mirrors, most of us rely on our teachers - we must have something. The average person will not be able to learn the Alexander Technique from this book alone.
B4. Marie Beuzeville Byles Stand straight without stress : including the actual exercises of the famous F.M. Alexander therapy. (Essex : L.N. Fowler, 1978)
There are two words in the title of this book which give it away: "exercise" and "therapy". Byles has misunderstood Alexander completely and what she writes is confused.
"Not only did Alexander give no written instructions, but he was a bad teacher". "When I read Alexander's books I put them down sadly because they contained no practical instructions ...". That anyone could read Alexander's books and conclude that they contain no practical instructions is a mystery. The four books contain a full explanation of the procedure for learning the technique.
Byles talks about "inhibiting the higher brain" and relying on the lower brain. Does she mean the subconscious?! According to Byles one should surrender to the "life force". She insists that inhibition is merely relaxation. She has taken the experience of Alexander lessons and moulded it into something more familiar to her, so that there are familiar sensations (relaxing) and exercises (like yoga). This is exactly the kind of end-gaining behaviour which the Alexander Technique seeks to overcome. Alexander could have written the second to last chapter of The Universal Constant in Living for her: "Stupidity in Living".
B5. Jonathan Drake Body know-how : a practical guide to the use of the Alexander Technique in everyday life. (London : Thorsons, 1991) Foreword by David Garlick.
"Designed primarily to be used as a workbook for people already taking Alexander lessons". The complete beginner would be well advised to start with one of the many good introductory books.
Drake is well versed in the literature of the technique, and points made in the book are always related back to what Alexander said or did. This is a very positive feature which gives the reader a good grounding in the technique. Part one takes the reader through the development of the technique, covering the basic principles. The examples are well chosen and the text is well written and easy to follow.
Part two contains instructions for applying the technique in everyday life. Drake stresses the need for a teacher to ensure you carry out the instructions correctly and with good use. The danger is that in trying to "do" the instructions we will invoke some habitual response pattern. The everyday situations include standing, walking, running, brushing your teeth, reading, and driving your car.
A list of addresses of Alexander societies and a further reading guide with comments are included at the end. The notes used in the chapters would also serve as a good further reading guide.
This is an excellent book for those already having lessons and wishing to take the experience further. Teachers of the technique may also find the book useful for lesson plan ideas.
B6. Michael Gelb. Body learning : an introduction to the Alexander Technique. (London : Aurum Press, 1981) Foreword by Walter Carrington.
The STAT bookshop catalogue calls this book a "classic" and it is easy to see why, as it's both thorough and accessible.
Part one provides an excellent biography of Alexander. Gelb's account of how Alexander made his discovery is very true to Alexander's own description in the Use of the Self. Part two expands on the basic principles. Here Gelb achieves something which many others have failed to do. He includes all the important elements of the technique, backed up with quotations from Alexander, Dewey and others, and draws from his own considerable experience. All this is done in a logical way, with an easy to follow narrative style, and none of the principles are lost or watered down. In part three Gelb discusses how the technique is applied in learning. It includes his experiences in learning to juggle, and the education of children.
The reading list offers comments on the books listed, and there is a list for those interested in broadening their study entitled "Education, anatomy, and related topics".
Not a "how to" book, but a readable account and a sound introduction to the technique.
B7. John Gray. Your guide to the Alexander Technique. (Great Britain : Victor Gollancz, 1990). Foreword by Alec McCowen.
This book is a very thoughtful and clear description of the basics of the technique. The introduction is subtitled "Where fools rush in ...". Gray acknowledges the difficulties of describing the technique in print, but is well qualified to do so, and felt there was a need to do it.
Most of the book is actually directed at the student who has had some lessons, up to experienced students mostly working on their own. Gray begins with an account of how the technique works in practice and what happens in lessons. The book concentrates on applying inhibition and direction rather than going into detail on the principles and philosophy of the technique (for example end-gaining/means whereby, use and effects of misuse). Alexander's own accounts of these aspects are still the best, but Gray doesn't direct his readers to them. There is no index or any further reading guide. The cover of the book indicates that it is a "how to", but this doesn't appear to be Gray's intention.
A good book for those wishing to extend what they have already learnt in lessons.
B8. Liz Hodgkinson. The Alexander Technique and how it can help you. (London : Piatkus, 1989)
Hodgkinson is a medical writer who has written books on addiction, spiritual healing, sex changes, and reincarnation. While she has had some Alexander lessons, her book demonstrates the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Hodgkinson appears to have only a dim conception of what the Alexander technique is, which is typified in the introduction where she states "The Alexander Technique is basically a series of physical movements designed to correct bad posture", which is good description of what the technique is not.
Elsewhere she states that the whole essence of the technique is to demonstrate new and better ways of moving so that new habits can 'drive out' the old. What Alexander says in relation to habits is that we can no longer rely on habits, old or new. Any reliance on habitual control of our actions eventually leads us into inappropriate responses and patterns of misuse. It is only by the application of conscious control that we can avoid inappropriate responses and misuse of our selves. Hodgkinson appears to have completely missed this vital point.
The reader would be well advised to choose one of the more accurate and better written introductory books. It is important to get the right information from the beginning.
B9. Frank Pierce Jones. Body learning in action : a study of the Alexander Technique. (New York : Schocken Books, 1976). Introduction by J. McVicker Hunt. Jones died before the book was published.
This book is remarkable for several reasons. It is a lively and readable account of the discovery and development of the technique; Jones packs his book with biographical material on Alexander, highlighting the often underplayed contribution his brother 'A.R.' to the technique. Jones was an academic, and although his speciality was the classics, he made the move to physiology, and presents the findings of his research. He is the first person to quantify the effects of having Alexander Technique lessons, and presents an operational definition of how it works.
Jones gives an account of his own case to show the effects of misuse, the way the technique is learned, and the benefits of having lessons. Jones's lessons were mainly with AR though he also had lessons with FM. A chapter is devoted to discussion of each of Alexander's books. Each is interwoven with the narrative so that one can see the context in which the books were produced.
Also covered in the book are Jones's training as a teacher of the technique with FM and AR, and the trial in which Alexander sued for defamation after articles were published disclaiming him and his methods as dangerous. There is a chapter on the relationship between Professor Dewey and Alexander. In his later years Dewey was heavily influenced by Alexander and the technique.
Finally there is a long section on the experimental studies which Jones and his colleagues carried out at Tufts University. Jones has collected data from a number of experiments which compare habitual movements to those movements which are guided by an experienced Alexander Technique teacher. Jones discusses the evidence and suggests a hypothesis for the mechanism by which the technique works.
Jones's book is arguably the best book on the subject, with something for everyone. A remarkable achievement.
B10. Patrick MacdonaldThe Alexander Technique as I see it. (Brighton, UK : Rahula Books, 1989) 113 p.
Macdonald (died 1992) was one of the very senior teachers of the Alexander Technique, having trained with Alexander himself. His book is a collection of bits and pieces rather than a unified account of the technique. Still, it is one of the best books on the subject. Macdonald had enormous experience of the technique in principle and practice, and was obviously passionate about it:
"F. Matthias Alexander's discovery and the evolution of his technique of teaching ranks higher than almost all other human achievement in any country at any time".
Macdonald's 'notebook jottings' a collection of thoughts and sayings on the technique, make up the first third of the book. These are very thought-provoking. The middle section is commentary on teaching and learning the technique. Macdonald takes a purist view of the technique, concentrating on the central concepts, and is suspicious of those teachers who he sees moving away from the teachings of Alexander.
The book concludes with a series of 'appreciations of the technique' by Alexander and some of his well known students including Professor Dewey, Professor Coghill, Aldous Huxley and numerous doctors (including the author's father).
A book to be studied rather than read. Serious students and teachers of the technique will find this book valuable.
B11. More talk of Alexander. (London : Victor Gollancz, 1978) Edited by Dr Wilfred Barlow.
This is a collection of short pieces written about Alexander and the technique. Authors include Wilfred Barlow, Aldous Huxley, Professor John Dewey, and Nobel Prize winning physiologist Nikolass Tinbergen.
The subjects covered are :
Descriptions of the technique
Applications - Educational
Tinbergens contribution is the lecture he gave when he received his Nobel Prize, half of which he devoted to the Alexander Technique.
The articles cover a range of levels and styles, but many are fairly heavy going or academic with lots of technical jargon, and require a good knowledge of the technique. The book is a gold mine, however, for any student of the technique wishing to delve more deeply.
B12. Louise Morgan. Inside yourself : the new way to health based on the Alexander Technique. (London : Hutchison, 1954). With a foreword by Aldous Huxley
This book appears to be unique. It is the account of someone who has taught themselves the Alexander Technique from reading the books. Alexander always said, "anyone can do what I do, if they will do what I did".
The book is not intended as a substitute for Alexanders books, on the contrary, the reader is directed to read them all, and in the order in which they were published. "All four need to be read if you wish to get the complete picture and to be in touch with the most progressive thought of the day. Alexander is still far ahead of his time in thought. His books, though difficult, read as if they were written yesterday".
The lighter style of Morgan's writing is a relief from the very serious style of most books on the subject, including Alexander's. Morgan shows a good understanding of Alexander's principles (she taught herself the technique, after all). As with any how to book on the Alexander Technique, merely reading the book can not give the reader a new kinaesthetic experience. However, Morgan acknowledges this fact, and her approach to appears to be a useful one.
Anyone who is contemplating learning the technique for themselves, or if you have had some lessons and wish to continue to learn on your own for what ever reason, should read this book. It may be difficult to find as it is out of print.
B13. Chris Stevens. Alexander Technique. (London : Optima, 1987). Illustrated by Shaun Williams, and foreword by Walter Carrington.
Stevens' book is an excellent introduction to the Alexander Technique. The great thing about this book is that information is presented in an easily readable style. It is simple, but all the key concepts (use/misuse, proprioception, primary control, inhibition, etc) are present.
He also addresses the kinds of questions that someone new to the technique might ask about the technique, having lessons, and finding the right teacher.
Some of the key scientific evidence supporting the technique is also presented, to which Stevens appears to have made a significant contribution. For those who appetites have been whetted he includes a list of contacts for the various societies, and a further reading list - including some scientific papers.
Recommended to the person who knows little or nothing about the technique as a basic introduction.
B14 Judith Stransky with Robert B. Stone The Alexander Technique : joy in the life of your body. (New York : Beaufort, 1981). 308 p.
Stransky's intention with this book is to tell the story of Alexander and give you the actual feeling of it so that you begin to "move in a more natural way".
Attempts to give the reader the 'actual feeling' of using the technique are very suspect. Stransky hasn't gone all the way and called the book a "how to" but her approach suffers from the same limitations. What is the 'feeling' of the Alexander Technique and what will this mean to the average person with unreliable sensory appreciation? The reader attempting to gain the feeling of the technique from a book is likely to cultivate more bad habits to have to deal with later on.
Stransky is obviously enthusiastic about the technique. She uses case histories to demonstrate how the technique works, but they are cases of 'miraculous cures', and are described in a series of superlatives. This is OK to a point, many people do experience drastic changes, but for many the changes are more subtle. Another reason for avoiding this approach is that the reader might be tempted to think of the Alexander Technique as a therapy which cures disease, rather than a method for raising the general level of functioning of the mind/body which may result in the alleviation of symptoms.
The principles of the technique are presented in a basically sound way, but the book has some distracting features, which detract from the message. It is also over long for what it achieves.
Books on Related Subjects
C1. Proprioception, posture and emotion.(New South Wales : Committee in Postgraduate Medical Education, 1982) Edited by David Garlick. 255 p.
A collection of articles based on papers presented at the Symposium of Proprioception, Posture and Emotion at the University of New South Wales in February 1981.
The articles are technical and academic and not really accessible to the general public. However, if you have some knowledge of anatomy and/or physiology you may well get a lot out of reading the articles. The Alexander Technique aims to re-educate the proprioceptive sense and it is interesting to read about some of the research going on in the area of proprioception. The research supports things which Alexander was saying 40-60 years earlier.
Of particular interest (and more readable than most of the other articles) is the contribution by J.P. Plummer, which analyses the Alexander Technique as well as other types of body work in terms of the latest knowledge in this field. Wilfred Barlow's contribution is a condensed version of his book, using the same photographs.
The article entitled 'Summing up' places the Alexander Technique where it should be - at the forefront, guiding research into the workings of the human organism.