AT Quote Group posts
(This group began in March 2020 when teaching stopped due to COVID19. If you would like to be on the mailing list, please email me. These are also posted on Facebook at .)
41. The Essence of the Technique
(Tues, 10th November)
I think that a major difficulty is that the problem lies much further back than most people including a lot of Alexander teachers imagine. Everyone nowadays thinks that what they are doing is inhibiting getting in or out of chairs, but that's not what it's about at all. Instead, what has to take place is inhibiting the response to the first reaction to get out of the chair. That is the essence of the Technique.”
Marjory Barlow (Taken from "Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules" - part 1 p32)
40. Up to Overcome Down
(Mon, 19th October)
It is absolutely necessary to remember that all living things, trees and shrubs, and you and me included, have to have a means of generating the energy that will overcome all the forces and influences that seek to get us down. Now, life is full of influences to get us down. Emotional, psychological and, of course, physical. Though we think immediately of gravity, psychological forms are just as powerful in many cases in forcing us to sink down.
Walter Carrington (Taken from "Thinking Aloud" – Generating the Energy to Go Up p29)
39. Politics in 1923
(Thurs, 8th October)
Again, in the sphere of politics, what can be more stupid than the ordinary party attitude, leading, as it does, to undesirable individual manifestations of deception, prejudice, egotism, and "emotional gusts"? It is an unreasonable and dishonest course to withhold support from or denounce measures which one believes to be right and of value to humanity, simply because they chance to be advocated by the political party to which one does not belong. Under the present plan politics and deception are interdependent. The individual seeking re-election will resort to forms of deception to which he would not stoop in other walks of life, particularly in the matter of making promises which he has not the least hope of fulfilling, and which his electors, if they used their reasoning powers, would often know he cannot fulfil.
FM Alexander (Taken from “Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual” p179)
(Monday, 21st September)
Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. 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. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face – you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.
FM Alexander (Taken from “Articles and Lectures” – Teaching Aphorisms p203)
37. Emotional Reactions
(Monday, 21st September)
You've got to have the intention in the work and the attention to the details. Begin with the simple things, the things within your control, and gradually you'll be able to extend that control even to very strong emotional reactions. That's where people don't apply it. That to me was such a lifesaver because I was so emotional.
Marjory Barlow (1915-2006) (Taken from Direction Magazine Vol2 No2 "The Barlows" p19)
36. Be Persistent in your Wanting
(Wed, 9th September)
If you're not clear about what you want, you're very unlikely to get it. You also have to remember you want it, because we want all sorts of different things and our wants and wishes change from moment to moment. If you're going to make a change in habit from pulling down to going up, you have to be very persistent in your wanting. You can't afford to forget, because every time you forget you'll revert to your habit.
Walter Carrington (Taken from “Direction” - a talk on July 5, 1985)
35. Nothing too Serious
(Thurs, 3rd September)
It was all great fun and was never allowed to be serious in the studious sense, F.M. saw to that. If we were looking solemn in class F.M. sent us out for a walk, ‘come back when you are smiling again!’ We hastened to obey and took ourselves once round St. Vincent’s Square, naturally putting our heads forward and up to walk.
Erika Whittaker (Taken from "Alexander's Way" - The Alexander Journal No. 13 Autumn 1993 p5)
(Mon, 24th August 2020)
Everyone is always teaching one what to do, leaving us still doing the things we shouldn’t do.
FM Alexander (Taken from “Articles and Lectures” – Teaching Aphorisms p196)
(Mon, 17th August 2020)
You are not here to do exercises or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.
FM Alexander (Taken from “Articles and Lectures” – Teaching Aphorisms p203)
32. What You Are Not Doing
(Thurs, 5th August 2020)
The Alexander Technique might be defined as a method for knowing simultaneously what you are not doing as well as what you are doing - knowing, for example, that you are not interfering with the “primary control” while you are talking, listening or thinking…
Frank Pierce Jones (Taken from “Freedom to Change” - chapter 14 p158)
31. Learning from the Wrong
(Wed, 29th July 2020)
After all, the only thing we've got to help us is to do it wrong, and then learn from it. I realise, of course, that this is not the attitude of most people who think that they've got to be right all the time. Which reminds me of something FM used to say to us: "You are right - there's nothing wrong with any of you. You're all quite perfect, except for what you're doing." That's rather wonderful, isn't it?
Marjory Barlow (Taken from "Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules" - part 3 p128)
30. On Learning the Technique
(Fri, 24th July 2020)
I don't see how it can be hurried. FM always used to compare the Technique to gardening, which is a good analogy. There are no satisfactory shortcuts in gardening and it's the same with the Technique. I would say though that a good dose of manure can work wonders.
Walter Carrington (Taken from "Personally Speaking" - Part 3 p134)
29. On Trying
(Fri, 17th July 2020)
When at first you don't succeed, never try again, at least, not in the same way. Trying almost always involves extra and excessive tension.
Patrick MacDonald (Taken from "The Alexander Technique As I See It" - Notebook Jottings p1)
28. Primary Control
(Tues, 14th July 2020)
He used these words to describe a relationship of the head, neck and back in which the neck became progressively freer, the head tended to go forward in relation to the neck and up, and the back tended to lengthen and widen. When this relationship or pattern is working, all parts of the body involved in use and movement work cooperatively together and to the best advantage. Such right use in the ordinary activities of everyday life had a dramatically powerful effect on functioning, posture, bodily contours, and alignment.
Lulie Westfeldt (“F. Matthias Alexander, The Man and His Work” - Chapter 1 p10)
27. Sensory Awareness
(Thurs, 9th July 2020)
When the pupil perceives directly through the kinaesthetic sense and can compare a habitual with a non-habitual way of doing something, he doesn’t need words in order to grasp the significance of the experience. Alexander put it succinctly in a remark reported by Lulie Westfeldt (p. 71): “If we become sensorily aware of doing a harmful thing to ourselves, we can cease doing it.” The key word here is “sensorily.”
Frank Pierce Jones (“Freedom to Change” - Chapter 6 p51)
(Sat, 4th July 2020)
The basic thing is up, and up is built in.
Walter Carrington (“Thinking Aloud” - Lengthening in Stature p36)
(Tues, 30th June 2020)
Alexander used to say that when Sir Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravitation, people began to think that in order to move one foot off the ground you had to shift your weight over and down on to the other. "But", said Alexander, "I was a very ill educated man. I never heard of Sir Isaac Newton. It didn't affect me!"
Patrick MacDonald ("The Alexander Technique As I See It" - Notebook Jottings p10)
(Thurs, 25th June 2020)
“Neck free (or free your neck), head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen" and, very importantly, "knees to go forward and away." He [Alexander] said to me, "If I stand beside you and say those words, you can't go wrong. But I can't be with you all the time so you've got to learn to do that for yourself."
Marjory Barlow (“Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules” - Part 1 p29)
23. Movement, Not Posture
(Fri, 19th June 2020)
As I understand it, the Alexander Technique is not concerned with three-dimensional but with four-dimensional posture, in other words with movement.
Frank Pierce Jones (“Freedom to Change” - Appendix D p190)
22. Freeing, Not Trying
(Tues, 16th June 2020)
So when we say think about your neck being free, it isn’t a matter of trying to feel whether it’s free and then trying from there to free it. You don’t have to try to free it. Trying to free it implies making some sort of effort to free it, and freedom is not going to be brought about by effort; stiffening is brought about by effort. If your neck is stiff, it’s because you’re stiffening it. If you stop stiffening it, then it will be free. So it isn’t a matter of trying.
Walter Carrington (“Thinking Aloud” - Directing the Neck and Head p60)
21. On Stopping Doing
(Thurs, 11th June 2020)
In Alexander's sense "stopping doing" means stopping that which leads to over-activity. It does not mean collapse (relaxation), for this is a doing of a different and even more harmful kind. To gain improvement it is necessary to stop thinking in certain ways and to think differently.
Patrick MacDonald ("The Alexander Technique As I See It" - Notebook Jottings p13)
20. A Still Point
(Sat, 6th June 2020)
There's a "still point" as Elliot would say, where, I don't say it's unaffected, but it's not pushed off its perch - you're able to keep something going whatever happens to you outwardly. And that's the secret of life really. You don't have any say in what happens to you, but you do have a say in how you react and that's what this work is all about - never mind good use and all that. That's what this work is about. That's why I'm still doing it. If it were just therapeutic in the ordinary sense, I don't think I would be.
Marjory Barlow (Direction Magazine Vol 2, No 2 - The Barlows p22)
(Wed, 3rd June 2020)
Having injured my back in a car accident, I had never been able to sit at a desk for any length of time without discomfort. Now I began to notice that whenever I leaned forward to read or write I displaced my head downward and allowed my chest to collapse so that my torso was a dead weight on my lower back. Since I had always done this, I assumed that there was no alternative except to make an effort to sit up straight. After experimenting with the Technique I discovered that if I inhibited the preliminary displacement of my head I could move forward without becoming heavy and could work at my desk without discomfort.
Frank Pierce Jones (“Freedom to Change” – Chapter 2 p11)
(Sat, 30th May 2020)
I always say to people, "Think about time. Realize how much time is a personal thing, how much time is an individual possession." Often we say, "Oh, I haven't got time to do this or that," but you're the only person who can give yourself time. Nobody else can give you time. You've got to take the time. You've got to be prepared to take the time it takes. Time is something that is extraordinarily elastic. In some desperate moments time can stretch out and seem to go on forever, and at other moments, it passes in a flash. And so when you think about saying no and non-doing, remember about time. That will clarify the thought for you and help you to think much more effectively.
Walter Carrington ("Thinking Aloud" - Taking Time p130)
17. One Reason for Chair Work
(Tues, 26th May 2020)
I always take it from lesson to lesson and hope that, as a pupil becomes more aware of what the problem is - how every time they go to get out of the chair they stiffen the neck and pull the head back - it will gradually dawn on them that they do the same thing when they do all the other things in their life... The best a teacher can do is to give them the opportunity to learn that lesson and hope that the penny will drop.
Walter Carrington ("Personally Speaking" - Part 3 p106)
16. To Work Efficiently
(Sat, 23rd May 2020)
It seems appropriate to say here that it is natural for our bodies to work efficiently. It is not, however, our habit, owing to the fact that consciously or unconsciously we have learnt a lot of bad habits, over many generations.
Patrick MacDonald ("The Alexander Technique As I See It" - Notebook Jottings p7)
15. Off to a Good Start
(Thurs, 21st May 2020)
Then first thing in the morning when you wake up, don't leap out of bed otherwise it will be 11 o'clock before you even think about freeing your neck. Stay there for a while with the knees drawn up and give your orders. Then get out of bed slowly - don't rush it. It's not good for you to go from lying on your back for hours and then to spring out of bed. Then you can work out the times in the day when it's easy for you to think about inhibiting and directing. I don't expect you to think about it all day long - nobody can. But if you link up thinking about inhibiting and directing, say, when you stop for a meal and you're not under any time pressure then you're on your way - you're off to a good start. Gradually you can expand your repertoire to other times during the day. [Marjory Barlow quoting Alexander.]
Marjory Barlow ("Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules" - Part 1 p64)
(Sat, 16th May 2020)
"Anyone," said F. M.," can do what I do if he does what I did." In practice, few seem to have succeeded in accomplishing this. The reason, I am sure, is that in spite of warnings they “turn it into a doing.” People have frequently introduced themselves to me with the statement: “I have read Mr. Alexander’s books and I always try to hold my head in the right position, which he advocates.” This, of course, is just what he did not advocate.
Frank Pierce Jones ("Freedom to Change" - Chapter 14 p160)
13. Knees Forward and Away
(Thurs, 14th May 2020)
When people stand, and when they try to stand tall and straight, they have an inevitable tendency to brace the legs, which involves the hyper-extension of the hip joint, the knee joint, and the fixing of the ankle. This tendency is there all the time, stimulated at the drop of a hat, and that is why we need the constant reminder of the opposite.
Walter Carrington ("Thinking Aloud" - Knees Going Forward and Away p160)
12. Back to Lenghten and Widen
(Mon, 11th May 2020)
One thing that it is important for us to realize in considering the thoughts given to the back is that the back includes the pelvis; it does not stop at the waistline. And what Alexander meant by "lengthening the back' is that one must think the whole back, including the pelvis, upwards.
Lulie Westfeldt ("F. Matthias Alexander, The Man and His Work" - Chapter 13 p140)
11. Head to Go Forward and Up
(Thurs, 7th May 2020)
"Head forward" might have several meanings. Most people think of it as head forward in space. Alexander in using the words meant head forward in relation to the neck. It took a long time and hard work to find this out. One realized in time that his hands, which he used in demonstrating and teaching, were always tending to take the neck back and the head forward in relation to it. Once one had discovered this, one could ask him a direct question and get his confirmation that "head forward" meant "head forward in relation to the neck". The head’s tending to go forward in relation to the neck causes the alignment of the head and neck to improve, in that the head is balanced on top of the neck instead of being retracted back upon it. Once this retraction or locking is done away with, the head will tend to go up whether any other thought is given or not, just as the plant will come up out of the ground if it is not prevented or interfered with. If in addition the head is thought up, however, it will go up more strongly.
Lulie Westfeldt ("F. Matthias Alexander, The Man and His Work" - Chapter 13 p137)
10. Let the Neck Be Free
(Mon, 4th May 2020)
Let the neck be free. You will notice that the phrase starts with “let”. This is important. It means that the pupil should avoid stiffening the neck – not that he should do something to free it. I frequently find pupils going through all sorts of contortions in the belief that they are “freeing the neck”. They are usually, in fact, producing an extra stiffening by so doing.
Patrick MacDonald ("On Giving Directions, Doing and Non-Doing" - STAT Memorial Lecture 1963)
9. Conscious Choice
(Thur, 30th April 2020)
Use is the exercise of conscious choice. It is conscious awareness, the essence of our individual living, because when we are talking about use in that sense, we are talking about choices and decisions. You choose to do, you choose not to do, in the light of all that you know and understand and feel and think.
Walter Carrington ("Thinking Aloud" - The Demand of the Constant p93)
(Mon, 27th April 2020)
One day when I was having trouble understanding the relation between my thinking and the kinaesthetic experiences A.R. was giving me, he said, "Be patient; stick to principle; and it will all open up like a great cauliflower." I did not understand what this meant but it was somehow reassuring.
[A.R. is Albert Redden Alexander, brother of F.M. Alexander.]
Frank Pierce Jones ("Freedom to Change" - Chapter 8 p68)
7. The Right Thing Will Do Itself
(Wed, 22nd April 2020)
Really, it's all quite simple: as soon as you stop pulling your head back, what else can it do apart from go forward? But you certainly won't get it by making any sort of movement of the head, although I know that's what a lot of people, including Alexander teachers, try and do. Let me put it another way: you're already making the movement by pulling the head back and down, or over to the side or any of the other variations that are possible. So, you've just got to stop doing that, and the right thing will do itself.
Marjory Barlow ("Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules" p81)
6. The Essentials
(Sat, 18th April 2020)
I remember what was probably Alexander's last lesson, although presumably he didn't know that it was at the time. In this particular case, he was taking an old lady who had been a pupil of his for some years... So here was this old lady and when F.M. finished the lesson, he patted her on the shoulder and said, 'Now, my dear, see that you don't stiffen your neck, and see that you've always got something to look forward to.' And that was the summary of the whole thing. As advice for the last lesson, I think it really does cover the essentials very well indeed.
Walter Carrington ("Thinking Aloud" - The Last Lesson p156)
5. To Sum Up
(Tues 14th April 2020)
In trying to sum up what I have said this evening, I would like to say that I consider 'non-doing' and 'direction sending' the lifeblood of the Alexander Technique, though they are not, of course, the whole of it. I think it might be useful, before I stop, to list the items that, taken together I believe make the Alexander Technique into one unlike any other:
- recognition of the force of habit.
- inhibition and non-doing.
- recognition of faulty sensory awareness.
- sending directions.
- the primary control.
If one meets a technique that has some similarity to the Alexander Technique, run these five simple rules over it and see what is missing.
Patrick MacDonald ("On Giving Directions, Doing and Non-Doing" - STAT Memorial Lecture, 1963)
(Tues, 7th April 2020)
Irene Tasker had some nice advice about walking. When I was working with her at Ashley Place before I went on the training course she told me that as you walk forward, you should think that your whole back is going in the direction from which you have come. It's a preventative, and it stops you throwing the body forward. It's wonderful - I think everyone should try it!
Marjory Barlow ("Alexander Technique: the Ground Rules" p103)
3. Direction (Fri, 3rd April 2020)
It is the persistence, the keeping on, on, on. If you realize that your body is shrinking, that you are contracting, that you can see that instead of your shoulders going out as they should, they're hunching in, keep hunching in, and go on hunching in, then you've got to direct the energy for them to go out. You’ve got to keep directing the energy to go out, and you’ve got to keep right on at it persistently and continuously. It’s no good thinking about it for half an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It has got to be a thing that you think about, as far as possible, all the time.
Walter Carrington ("Thinking Aloud" - At Our Mother's Knee p26)
2. Inhibition (Mon, 30th March 2020)
Alexander's technique of inhibition must also be described. When Alexander first discovered the new head, neck and back pattern and tried to maintain it in speaking, he found he could not do so. After much reasoning and experimentation, he finally reached the conclusion that there was an inseparable fusion between the idea of speaking and the body pattern always used in speaking. If he was to get rid of the old body pattern that had caused his voice trouble and substitute the new head, neck and back pattern when he spoke, he would have to get rid of the idea of speaking! He cut through this seemingly impossible impasse by some brilliant thinking. He 'inhibited' or said 'no' to the idea of speaking, and then focused his mind on each of the component parts of speaking, such as opening his mouth, saying a sound, saying a word, etc. In this way he was able to keep the thought of speaking out of his mind and yet do the things that resulted in speech. In this way, and with severe mental discipline, he was able to maintain the new head, neck and back pattern when he spoke or recited. This, indeed, is the bare bones of Alexander's technique of 'inhibition'.
Lulie Westfeldt ("F. Matthias Alexander - His Life and Work" - Chapter 2)
1. Introducing the Alexander Technique (Wed, 25th March 2020)
The Alexander Technique might be defined as a method for knowing simultaneously what you are not doing, as well as what you are doing - knowing, for example, that you are not interfering with the “primary control” while you are talking, listening or thinking…
The Technique is not a treatment; it is a discipline that, to be effective, has to be applied in the activities of daily life. The reward is an increase in competence and self-esteem and in the sensory satisfaction that accompanies self-knowledge and self-control.
Frank Pierce Jones ("Freedom to Change" - Chapter 14 p158)