Alexander Technique, Words and Meaning — 16 Comments

  1. Hi imogen,
    great blog!

    Alexander written some original words
    in his books.

    Let the neck be free
    to let the head go forward and up
    to let the back lengthen and widen.

    These are the ORIGINAL master directions created by FM.

    I think we have no right to spoil this originality.

    If we wish, we can create thousands of directions by using the FM original directional sequence.

    I respect FM.

    We can develop the directions by using alex original classical directions,but
    its just a waste of time trying to develop alex classical original direction.

    We never become like FM.

    Why we need to change the original?
    Let it be.

    Why we need to dilute the classical alexander directions by using other non sense words?

    • “After working for a lifetime in this new field I am conscious that the knowledge gained is but a beginning…my experience may one day be recognized as a signpost directing the explorer to a country hitherto ‘undiscovered,’ and one which offers unlimited opportunity for fruitful research to the patient and observant pioneer.” – F. Matthias Alexander

      I think that says it all about “changes to the original.”

      Nice post, Imogen!


    • The field of A.T. needs preservationists like yourself who pursue refinement and educate the students to appreciate the historic ways and means. Because there are others like myself who are after the innovation. Intentionally, I allow the ways that people misunderstand me to influence and change how I can establish rapport with them and demonstrate what I know.

  2. Hi Imogen,

    Indeed. Words are just symbols – signposts along the way. They are subject to great variance in personal interpretation. At this point in my teaching career I am aware of the relative non-importance of words as opposed to, say, ‘body language’, in the communication of the technique. Even the term ‘body language’ can paint a limited caricature in the mind.

    What I mean to say is that voice inflection, muscle tone, facial expression, awareness in movement, and of course the quality of the hands-on work are far more relevant to giving the student the necessary experience of the ‘technique’.

    There is wisdom, I think, in F.M.’s use of artfully vague expressions to convey his directions. Such non-precise phrasing seem to trigger a search for meaning in the mind of the student, and thus create room for the teacher to take the student out of his or her habit.

    Nice article!

    • Thanks so much. And you’re right – the words, whatever they are, are so much easier “explained” when the teacher is right there with you. So often a teachers’ hands can impart the meaning in a way the words never can. I’ve found it’s important though to discuss the words with my students as well, so they are better able to direct themselves outside of lessons.

  3. Imogen,
    I LOVE this blogpost – it reflects very much my own experience teaching with words. It’s a bit uncanny, actually, that just this morning one of my students was telling me about how for years she has been told to “narrow” during her Gyrotonics exercise classes, and finally today she asked the teacher what was meant by that, because it didn’t make any sense to her (besides, it seemed to be in direct contradiction to what I’ve often told her about widening).
    By asking the teacher, my student discovered that her idea of narrowing (which included a marked ‘doing’ and tightening) was quite different from her Gyro teacher’s idea. When they discussed it, she started to understand that it was possible to find tone and direction using the word narrowing, in a way that was quite compatible with what I teach her. She was delighted when she told me about it, we had a lovely discussion about the possible merits of narrowing, and both learned from it. Words mean different things to different people.
    …and therefore, phrases do, too…
    Regarding Alexander’s four classic directions…. I sometimes use them, but usually find my own slightly different phrasing/ideas to work better for me and my students. But which words and phrases I choose really depends on the moment and the person. Apparently, towards the end of his life, F.M. himself remarked that it would be better not to use the classic directions he came up with, and to instead only use inhibitory/negative directions. (But I prefer not to get into further discussion of that here.)
    Thanks again, Imogen. I really enjoyed this post!
    All best,

    • I’m so pleased you like the post – and what a coincidence that the word “narrow” came up for you today! I certainly use the “classic” directions too – but agree that the particular student, the circumstances, the moment all play a part in what seems the most appropriate way of directing for me or them at any given moment. I’m also a big fan of inhibitory/negative directions – more on that coming soon!!

  4. I’m reminded how Marj Barstow used to agree with a student’s metaphor of improvements if they were moving easily as they said that particular word. She would disagree if another student said the exact same word – if they were limiting qualities of movement in themselves while they said it. It was quite confusing to students who sought out remembering what was “right.”

    This seems to be almost a theater game. So many words become useful for experimentation, it can get delightfully creative! Choosing different pairings of words that redefine what is “opposite” is also interesting.

    For instance: feeling/scientific; feeling/numbness; sensing/thinking/
    preferred/repulsed; doubting/open-minded;
    searchlight/floodlight; opened-wide/opened-specific…
    ….and other interesting pairings that you can invent..

    As a means to become aware of ones’ own routines and based on the idea that it’s easier to see what other people are doing than yourself… having students imitate each other by exaggerating the mannerisms they see in how other people are walking. It’s fun to have the “target” walk across the room, with multiple people behind them imitating them. Then have the person who is the target turn around to see multiple versions of their habit walking along…

    • I love these ideas, Franis – so creative! Reminds me of some of the “games” we occasionally did in my training school (my training director was an actor, so had a whole host of acting activities she use with us too). And what you said about Marj Barstow is exactly my point – that it’s what the word means to a particular person – how it affects their quality of movement – that matters, not the word itself.

      I really appreciate your comments – thank you!

  5. Pingback:Positive Thinking – Just Say No?! | Body Intelligence

  6. vary article and comments which inspiring me. thanks!
    for me, it seemed like learning how to think.
    thinking in our own way, but there are lots of common between us. ^^

  7. For some reason when I give direction, I tend to tense my body especially my neck. I believe it must be due to a few a reasons. First, I think I try to carry out what I think rather just being a mental thought. Second when I try to carry out what I think, I start bringing my awareness down and start to feel part of my body. How can I overcome this Imogen?

    • Hi Dibben,My suggestion would be to cultivate thinking a direction in a very light way. Do not try and “do it” – rather you’re just thinking it in the same way you might think “It’s a nice day” or “That flower is purple.” And certainly don’t try and concentrate on it and keep it going. Just think the direction and let it go. Don’t try and carry it out!!
      You might also like to experiment with putting your directions to yourself in the present tense, e.g. “My neck is free” – i.e. you are open to the possibility of that – or “I am free to move” This way of phrasing directions to yourself helps calm down our tendencies to use effort to bring something about. Also – I think the use of the word free in association with a direction is helpful too.
      I hope this helps.

  8. I really liked your blog post and I’ve been thinking about words and reactions recently. I have been thii thinking about a goal — to be able to have good use independent of words. I realize they do have an incredibly powerful ( positive and negative) effect on us. It makes sense since uttering a word is a complicated physical- mental act. I almost feel recently like I want to get rid of some words, or at least go over them and discard them if I don’t need them. It’s also kind of interesting to find out the history or original use of the word ( I haven’t done this much ), and words are really things that evolve, but maybe we use some words way more than we should? Maybe my vocabulary is limited – in a way -, ,like my good use is limited ( I’m a beginner in AT).
    Thank you for your blog post and it is a really interesting topic!
    Thank you! Ben

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