I went to the launch of Sue Laurie’s new book, “Touching Lives” last Wednesday and was impressed by the simplicity and economy of her presentation. I know the science of the Technique is complex but the human mind seems to prefer simplicity over complication for everyday purposes. That includes the Alexander teaching situation. Sue’s presentation was both simple and economical and left me refreshed and uplifted after a busy day. I hope the experience will continue to influence my own teaching. Stopping, directing oneself and being imaginative in the way one applies the work goes a long way.
Another topic – when to lengthen and when to compress (see FM film footage for the latter)? Are there guidelines? The only one I know is the case of rotator cuff problems where it’s important the at the upper arm is snugly seated in the socket of the shoulder joint before attempting to move it. This seems to enable movement which would otherwise be impossible. It’s important that everything is nicely lined up though….. Rather like FM makes sure of with his hand on top of the head in the brief footage we have of him.
And yet another topic, which came up in our Training Course this morning. What is the relationship between a well functioning primary control (pc) and good use of the self? First of all, if as FM says in UCL the primary control is a mechanism consisting of the relationship of head, neck and back and their interrelations, then a well-functioning pc is part and parcel of good use of the self. Is it really as simple as that? However it’s not clear to me after very careful scrutiny whether (the) primary control is as Dennis says a noun or a gerund. Does it refer to a physiological mechanism or a means of controlling that mechanism? If the pc mechanism is disturbed in some way is that the same as saying that the use of the self is disturbed? Etc.
Then a student asked whether the pc was limited to the head, neck and back. “What about the hips?”, he asked. I have a particular take on this which is not completely orthodox, namely, that the pc is a substrate of deep musculature, importantly in the head, neck and back but not limited to these, supporting the entire body including the limbs. The hips would then not be excluded from the pc and the role of the pc in relation to the use of the self becomes much clearer. It would be nice to hear if this version of the pc is comprehensible to others, indeed if they agree with it.
Finally, where does consciousness come in?
It’s been a while….
The subject was getting psychophysical ideas across verbally as well as examining the thought processes necessary for improving one’s own use. Alexander recognised the difficulties with words notably in the preface to CCCI. Many people have attempted by means of alternative wordings to overcome these difficulties and in everyday teaching most teachers strive to find forms of words to achieve the right effect. The phrase “secondary directions” comes to mind. There are at least three versions of what this means. The first simply means the same as the primary directions but in different words – “neck back and up” instead of “head forward and up”. The second refers to subsidiary directions subsequent to the primary directions – “to allow the elbows to go away from the shoulders and the wrists away from the elbows”. The third refers to the giving of consent to a movement subsequent to the establishment of the primary directions. I am referring now to meanings in common usage in the Alexander world rather than anything precise stated by Alexander.
Why the interest in these directions? Simply because they describe the explorations possible for the individual. Which directions work? We cannot know in advance, just as Alexander did not know in advance that he needed to “let the neck be free to let the head go forward and up to let the back lengthen and widen etc” until he had verified this. Likewise each of us needs to check out which horse to back on our own behalf and to give the best instruction to our pupils.
As you can see my preoccupations are all around the psychophysical activities involved in touch and I’m using various presentations to explore these. Of course this is all a bit of a red herring. What I’m really interested in is my own use. I always employed a pretty physical approach to this. I suppose for me the Technique was initially a way of getting rid of pain but became an antidote to the life of an academic, which role was never really my thing. So I’ve always been intrigued by the sheer question of knack in teaching others and in using oneself. Alexander’s insistence on reason always worried me. It was obviously not reason in the sense of logical reasoning. To a degree it was deductive reasoning, i.e., the work consisted in a process of elimination. As Sherlock Holmes said, ““How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”.
This goes a bit with Alexander’s aphorism, “the right thing does itself”. Unfortunately, I question this. In my experience you have to give the right thing a pretty good helping hand, particularly if you have a body which likes to subside. The aphorism works for the case where release of tension is sufficient to free up the use. But where lack of tone is the problem, quite a lot of activity, possibly together with accompanying discomfort, is needed to restore it. I really feel this issue needs opening up. I am not being dogmatic about it because, after all, we are talking about subjective experience and I cannot tell you how something should feel. Just how it feels to me.
How does one convey this stuff verbally? I sympathise with Alexander in his attempt to get his ideas across. Also with his exasperation and pessimism about his successors really taking his work on board. And as for a professional society…………..
The issue of the modalities of touch resolves itself into a number of interacting variables. Who is touching and being touched? What is the purpose of the touching? How experienced is the teacher, how experienced AT-wise is the pupil? Are they colleagues exchanging work? What is the purpose of the lesson? What is the Alexander ideology of each? What are the preferences of each? And a pile of other ones.
These interact with each other to produce a mix which may or may not turn out to be productive, which may or may not lead to dissension. They are just a few of the issues which need to be resolved in the process of an exchange of work. It’s therefore important to negotiate them as one goes along by regularly obtaining consent and feedback. Above all the process should not be rushed as it will often determine whether the ‘good use‘ of the teacher gets transmitted to the pupil.
If you want to explore this process in a practical situation, then come along to the workshop (frivolously entitled “Mindlessness”) at HITE, 10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF on Saturday 7th May at 1.30. You don’t have to be an Alexander Teacher to attend.