Category Archives: Pete’s Blog

Pete’s Blog – Monday 30th January 2017


Photograph of Peter Ribeaux, Centre for the Alexander Technique

I’ve been reflecting on a couple of ideas recently.  The reflections are brought about partly by working with students and pupils with particular difficulties, partly from reading the latest STATnews (January 2017) on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, in particular the articles by Laura Tuthall and Melissa Kelly and partly by memories of the ATI Conference last October.  These reflections have a degree of continuity in that they harp back to my blog of 11th May 2016.

Firstly, I’ve been surprised by my change in attitude to the study of anatomy over the years and, secondly, I’ve always been intrigued by the question of when to use my hands in order to loosen the muscles around joints and when to compress the joints in order to provoke an expanding resistance (in the manner of the way FM places his hand  on the top of the head of the pupil he is working on in the video clip we have of him).

When I trained the study of anatomy was always a kind of optional extra, only something to be encouraged in order to communicate with the medical profession and related disciplines.  The  result was that I finished up with a pretty scanty knowledge of musical-skeletal anatomy and I don’t think I was the least well informed AT teacher at the time.  Clearly, one can do good work and teach people a lot by teaching the principles of inhibition and direction in a predominantly  “thinking” manner without making exact anatomical reference.  However, questions such as, “What precisely is this neck which one has to allow to be free?” did arise.  Over the years a more precise knowledge came to be needed in relation to fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders, particularly when working with musicians and others with particular requirements.  Now I believe that the more accurately one can locate bones and muscles mentally the more effective one’s thought directions become.

This is where the “thinking in” versus “thinking out” issue raised by Laura Tuthall comes in.  As an example, the shoulder joint (the glenohumeral joint) where the upper arm meets the shoulder girdle is surrounded at the deepest level by a set of muscles ( the rotator cuff) whose name partly belies their function.  They do in fact individually serve to rotate the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa or cavity.  However, acting in concert, they serve along with various ligaments to keep the head of the upper arm (humerus) snugly seated in the cavity.  When this function becomes distorted or slackens the heavy duty movement muscles e.g. the deltoids and teres major, not to mention a number of muscles connecting to the thorax take over this work.  The resultant unnecessary tension needs to be “undone” in order to restore proper functioning of the shoulder joint.  This is where “thinking in” comes in.  “Thinking in” and connecting bone to bone snugly in an articulation is a better fit than “thinking out” which in the worst case can lead to dislocation as described in Melissa Kelly’s STATnews article.

This relates tangentially to some impressions I had when attending the ATI Conference in October 2016.  There seemed to be a view  that, in the interest of marketing the Alexander Technique it was best not to over emphasise the physical (posture, use etc) but rather market  it as a vehicle for gaining freedom to make choices, promoting change and bringing about effortless movement, thought and happiness. Nothing wrong with this, but to confuse what may be appropriate for the marketing of the Technique with what the Technique actually is does not serve it well.  Why not both the psycho- and physical? Whatever happened to the psychophysical nature of the human organism?  Please, let’s not throw the body out with the bathwater and let’s recognise that psychophysical change is unlikely to be achieved without attending to each.  It is  a question of which lens one chooses to use (or both) for both teacher and student. Not to use both does a disservice to the Technique.

Pete’s Blog – Sunday 18th Sept – “Purity and Simplicity” in the Alexander Technique

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.

Pete’s Blog – Wed 11 May 2016

Photograph of Peter Ribeaux, Centre for the Alexander Technique
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?

Pete’s Blog – Tue 10 May 2016

Photograph of Peter Ribeaux, Centre for the Alexander Technique
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.

Pete’s Blog – Sat 23 Apr 2016

Photograph of Peter Ribeaux, Centre for the Alexander Technique
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…………..