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Playing with Posture: Positive Child Development Using the Alexander Technique.

By Sue Holladay,

London: HITE,

Review by Judy Vigurs

(First published in STATNews, January 2013) 

 

This short book is described in the Foreword as ‘broad enough in scope to be a manual for parenting’ and I can see why the writer of the Foreword says this. The book contains a wealth of ideas and insights that Sue Holladay has drawn from family life with her children and grandchildren and her experience of teaching children. It contains a readable introduction to the Alexander Technique, with many suggestions for putting the principles into everyday practice. There is a chapter on stages in child development, an overview of scientific research into the Technique and a 20-page section describing games to play with children at home and in class, all in just over 150 pages.

Sue Holladay writes with conviction from her personal and professional experience and the book demonstrates the creativity she brings to her work. Her subject is using the Alexander Technique to manage the stress and challenges of everyday life and in particular to help children learn and develop in a harmonious way. Her enthusiasm for the subject shines through and so does her liking for children and for working with them.

The author’s style is fresh and informal which makes the book appealing to dip into. In fact I find it easier to dip into than to read in a sustained way. Some sentences I find difficult to ‘get’ first time. Sometimes a passage doesn’t entirely make sense:

"Are you being heavy, congested, stiff, floppy and unco-ordinated, or light and free and balanced? Only then can you derive the benefit of your good intentions." (p95)

Only when? For me this reads as if something has been missed out.

"True freedom to respond appropriately as needed comes through good physical and emotional skills, recognising that they are totally interlinked, and which ideally need to be taught in childhood." (p16)

Two sentences contracted together?

"Which part of your spine would you include as your backbone?" (p56)

Erm…

It can be hard to find things in the book, even when you know they’re there. Although the chapters are divided into sections, the titles of these don’t always entirely cover the content and there’s no index, so if you want to refer to what the author says about the Suzuki method or Educational Kinesiology there’s nothing for it but to leaf through.

More seriously, although I know there’s a subsection with the heading Mechanical Advantage somewhere, when I’m urged (in Chapter 8) to "remember your mechanically advantageous position" and I try to find this section it’s not listed in the Contents list, so it’s back to leafing through.

I think another round of rigorous editing could iron out this sort of thing and make the book much easier to use. And that would be good, because my feeling is that readers will want to refer to specific things in the book.

As a source of good ideas this book works well. I love the idea (p89) of dancing with the vacuum cleaner!

I really like the ‘magic words‘ the author uses to work with children: "Wait. Grow tall. Smile with your body… Shazzan!"

I was moved to read the account of inhibition in action, where the author describes standing back and allowing her 8-year-old and 10-year-old sons to come to blows in their process of establishing a workable pecking order -and the slightly unexpected outcome of this: increased respect for one another. And I think the games are really useful.

The author states specifically that to get the best from the book you need Alexander lessons. I’m very glad she does, because it would be only too easy for a book like this to look like a ‘how-to’ guide and some of the practical suggestions she gives would be difficult to make sense of without the experience of hands-on Alexander work. The passage on how (not) to push a supermarket trolley (p27) is a reminder of just how hard it is to describe movement in words alone. It’s a clear description, but I wonder how many people would recognise their own habit in that passage without help!

The Foreword recommends the book for people who are either taking Alexander lessons or considering it, as well as for parents and others working with children. I think this is right. These readers will find plenty to interest them in Sue Holladay’s book.


© Judy Vigurs 2013

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