-bringing ideas to life







The Alexander Technique: Freedom in Thought and Action

Tasha Miller and David Langstroth. A hyperlinked, searchable digital book. 129pp with illustrations & colour photos, ISBN 0-9739786-0-0. CD ROM in PDF format, CAD $20+p&p from Nous Publishing, 219 Sambro Creek Road, Halifax, NS, Canada B3V 1L8. Tel. +1 902-346-2065, enquiries@alexandertechniqueatlantic.ca
Review by Jonathan Drake
(first published in Statnews, February 2007)

Any attempt to bring the Alexander Technique to a wider audience is broadly to be welcomed. This electronic book, available in CD-ROM format, cannot be downloaded, but is distributed by snail mail. It is not the first Alexander e-book. Machover published a whole collection of Alexander-influenced birth stories in the nineties: posting on the internet can be a laudable, non-profit way of sharing material that might never find a paper book publisher. Ingham’s little book, Busy Bodies, on how to cope with the stresses of office life, can now be purchased as an e-book. Roy Palmer has made indefatigable efforts to promote his Alexander-inspired fitness and sports performance programmes via the web.

An e-book has a potential advantage over a printed book -done and sometimes dusted -which can age disgracefully: it can be kept bang up-to-date. Unfortunately this book omits recent developments in the application of Alexander principles to many different activities. The opportunity to include multi-media content is not grasped, the illustrations being quite sparse.

Reading on-screen cannot match the ease of comprehending paper copy. In the e-world, surfing the worldwide web encourages the habit of snacking on bits of information. The chance of assimilating real knowledge -never mind acquiring some wisdom -probably diminishes in inverse proportion to the amount of data available. F.M. Alexander, underwhelmed with information about his condition, but blessed with a singularly enquiring and persistent mind, was eventually able to see the wood for the trees and, through the printed word and manual instruction, communicate to us the legacy of his work.

According to the GP who supplied the introduction to Miller and Langstroth’s book, "[They] perceived a need to communicate Alexander’s work in a more modern and digestible style." There have been a number of attempts over the years, Alexander’s books not being easy reading, to popularise his Technique. Notable examples were Dr Barlow’s The Alexander Principle in the seventies and Michael Gelb’s Body Learning, a decade later. Both are still in print: a testament to their success. Amongst recent literature, de Alcantara’s The Alexander Technique -a Skill for Life (published in 1999) was a thoughtful attempt to present a fresh account for the lay reader.

Miller and Langstroth’s book is aimed at all who might have an interest in the Alexander Technique. It is divided into conventional chapters which read like essays and do not have the benefit of sufficient sub-headings to make the text easy to absorb. No acknowledgements are given, either of particular influences or of colleagues who might have reviewed the manuscript and offered helpful suggestions. This self-published text needed the guiding hand of an editor and the benefit of peer criticism.

To give you a flavour of the questionable assertions, claims and flaws throughout the book, I’ll start with the first sentence and pen a few more. "One of the most important principles in the Alexander Technique is that the individual always acts as a whole." "Changing habits of use revers[es the] long term process of degeneration." "We could all do what [musical prodigies] do if we didn’t interfere in so many ways with our primary control." "Those in the habit of running, or weight lifting … in the idea that it is doing them good, should think again." "The Technique is not compatible with massage, osteopathy, chiropractic or other forms of bodywork." "In spite of all the words we have written, the Technique is simple in practice." "As the Technique is a general skill it is not necessary to have lessons in applying it to particular activities such as running, horse-riding or playing the violin."

In the middle of it all sits a long chapter on "So, Who Was F. M. Alexander?" replete with details of Alexander’s early life, which might have been better as a shortened appendix. Michael Bloch’s excellent biography does not get a mention, nor does the constructive role played by Alexander-informed exercising -pioneered by Shaw, Balk, Pearson, Palmer and others -in the expression of people’s desire to improve their health and wellbeing.

In the crowded marketplace of ideas and remedies for our present malaise, the Alexander Technique needs advocates who can make our case clearly and constructively, and differentiate us from Pilates and all the rest. That book has yet to be written.

© Jonathan Drake 2007



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