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Derek Smith: notes from lessons at Ashley Place, 1947

(First published in STATNews, January 2012)

When I was filling-up The STAT pupil survey 2009 I came across some pencilled notes I had made many years ago during a course of lessons in The Alexander Technique at Ashley Place in 1947-48.

In what follows, the remarks in italics were added in 2009.

There is something which I am not clear about in the application of the Alexander Technique.

When I am having a lesson I must not make any muscular movement, by myself, to put the messages into practice. The teacher does that for me. The confusion starts when I am not having a lesson but I am trying to apply the technique in my everyday tasks.

During the course of the lessons I have had, I seem to have been given two main sets of advice which seem to me to conflict. Either I have made a mistake about the advice, or there is some link you will explain to me.

I asked Mr Richard Walker when I would be able to feel if I was using my body in the correct or in an improved way. He told me it was wrong to think of it that way. He asked me what I could rely on in order to feel if I was using myself in an improved way. I should have to rely, of course, on my sensory appreciation which was imperfect. Then I remembered Mr Carrington and Mr Max Alexander saying that many people say something like this when they are giving messages: "I wonder if my back is in the correct position?" Or: "Perhaps it ought to be more like this. No, perhaps I ought to alter it, like this." Or: "Is my neck really free? I’ll move it to make sure."

Mr Carrington said, if you project the messages by the very nature of things the neck will be free, the head will go forwards and upwards and the back will lengthen and widen,

Now here comes the advice which seems to me to conflict with that. I was told it is no good simply saying the messages, you must see that they are carried out. Mr Carrington said that his mother did this: she gave the messages but did not put them into practice. But what could she rely upon to put them into practice? Presumably, her sensory appreciation which was imperfect. So, how exactly should she put them into practice?

For example, supposing I am resting my chin on my hand, which is supported by my elbow resting on my knee, and I am hunching my shoulders. After some time I realise I am  pulling myself down. I decide to straighten up, that is, I move my muscles (i.e. to put my intention into practice) in order to get to a more upright position. Why should I not carry it further and get down to details, such as trying to feel if the neck is free? (put more intention into practice).

The answer a teacher might give is this: when you say "neck to be free" it does not mean the neck should be loose or limp like a rag-doll, but that it should not be tense. When you say "head to go forwards and upwards " it does not mean you should stick the nose forward, or strain into a giraffe-like neck position, but simply that the head should not be pressed back or dropped down. "Back to lengthen and widen" is to be considered in a similar manner. But this still does not say exactly what you are supposed to do. Okay, your neck shouldn’t be limp like a rag doll but what does " not tense" really feel like? Or "not pressed back" or "dropped down"?

Answer -you will gradually build up correct use by coming to lessons.

Miss Irene Stewart said: "After you have had thirty lessons you are only at the bottom rung of the ladder."

Question. After the first thirty lessons how many more are you supposed to have?


I have had over 100 lessons since my course at Ashley Place. I am now 83 years of age, still having lessons and still asking questions. My current teacher is Brita Forsstrom.

 © Derek Smith 2012


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