Pete’s Blog -15th January 2019 – Faulty or Unreliable Sensory Appreciation?

It was at the International Congress of the Alexander Technique in Freiburg, Germany that I rather abruptly stopped using the term “faulty sensory appreciation”.  I had walked out of a rather tedious workshop and found myself sitting on a bench outside with Kevan Martin who describes himself as an Alexander Groupy.  I was soon to discover that he was much more than that.  A quick check on the internet reveals him to be a Professor of Systems Neurophysiology at the Institute of Neuroinformatics in the University of Zurich.  More than just an Alexander Groupy.  I don’t recall what made me use the expression  “faulty sensory appreciation”.  But he rapidly brought me to order, saying it was not faulty.  In fact it  was designed to work that way.  Intrigued, I listened further.  The point is that we have a limited capacity for processing information.  A child learning to stand upright (or to walk or to acquire any other sort of skill for that matter) is subject to a whole mass of stimuli which will occupy all of his attention until he or she is able to stay upright, ambulate etc.  At that point attention to all these stimuli is not needed and once the skill had been mastered the responses to these can become unconscious and the child can go on to kick a football, etc without worrying about staying upright.  That’s how that particular sort of sensory appreciation is supposed to work.

Unfortunately the same applies to bad habits as well as good.  They become engrained in the organism and inaccessible to consciousness.  Thus I can learn to read while throwing my neck forward and my head back and for as long as this works ok my use can remain unconscious and I am free to acquire another habit or skill.  The point is that the throwing of the neck forward and the head back become the default starting point for the next activity.  They become habitual, even comfortable, and any deviation from this may well feel uncomfortable and strange.  Just like the little girl who says of Alexander’s work, “Mummie, he’s pulled me out of shape!”

The system is designed to recalibrate back to zero once the learning, good or bad, has become established.  Nothing faulty about it, just capable of generating illusions.  Kevan also provided me with a list of references taken from the field of visual perception which I will append later.

Meanwhile I’ve stopped using the expression “faulty sensory appreciation”.  I’ve also searched Alexander’s writings for it and failed to find it! However, the expression remains in current usage and is to be found in the writings of eminent first generation teachers such as Patrick Macdonald.

Pete’s Blog – 30th December 2018 – Doing and Non-doing

Oh dear!  It’s been over a year…….

Here goes with another of my musings on the subject of how one should teach the Alexander Technique. It’s on the general theme of doing and non-doing. Firstly, let me say that I’m defining the undesirable thing that one needs to not do as any distortion of good use in oneself. Thus it’s not necessarily about what one does but about how one does it – with better use. It is about not doing bad use. And the aim is to enable the pupil to do the same.

The options are as follows:

Option a. For the teacher to stay back and up (neck back is the same as head forward – think about it), place the hands on the pupil and wait for something to happen. Try it….. If the pupil is sensitive enough to be able to receive it, it can be brilliant.

However if the pupil feels nothing one has the option to continue doing the same thing, make some suggestions as to appropriate ways of thinking on the part of the pupil and carry on as before.


Option b. To attempt to give the pupil an experience intentionally which will require maintenance of everything in option a. plus a manipulation of some kind with the hands. This, of course, is a much more skilled operation. Mostly we are taught initially to put the hands on by organising ourselves in the appropriate manner and then putting the hands on the pupil. In some places that is as far as it goes. But in others the student either continues to do nothing or very little with the hands (Option a) or something more manipulative whilst maintaining this directed organisation (Option b).

There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Option a. This has the advantage of enabling the pupil the space and freedom to experience whatever is happening in themselves without any imposition from the teacher. The risk here is that the pupil experiences nothing .

Option b. This has the advantage that the pupil experiences something which the teacher wishes consciously to impart. The disadvantage is that the teacher’s overall use or manipulative skills are not sufficient to impart the right thing.

As usual this dimension is a continuum and the teacher should aim flexibly to develop the skills to deliver both ends of the continuum and the various positions in the middle.

Some people are sensitive to intrusiveness no matter how skilfully applied. Some people are in their current state just not sensitive enough and consequently need a bit more (skilled) intervention.

Alexander refers to both approaches in his writings. Without checking extensively he refers to the non-doing of the misuse in relation mainly to the pupil’s work on themselves and the more manipulative approach to the teacher’s work on a pupil. Certainly he appears to be seeking actively to give the pupil an experience in the short video clip we have of him working and he refers extensively in his writings to giving the pupil an experience.

Pete’s Blog – 5th December 2017- Alexander and the Internet

I suppose the time has come to comment on the use of the internet for teaching and propagating the Alexander Technique.  There are many versions of this, videos, Skype sessions, online courses.  Let me say one thing.  Good teaching is good teaching whether you agree with the content or not.  Thus, finding the right words with which to give feedback or to point the student in a particular direction is a skill which cuts across all other dimensions and if done well can assist the student’s learning.   Anything which might help to navigate the Alexander maze is welcome addition to the Alexander Community and probably even to the at least some individuals’ personal development.  The use of images and online interaction with  a teacher is a far cry from the “postal courses” which we of the “precise hands-on” fraternity of the 1960s used to mock.