The Well-Tuned Body
Pain With Gentle Exercises Based on the Alexander
Ingham & Colin Shelbourn, Summersdale, pbk, 192pp,
129x198 mm, ISBN 978-184024578-3, £6.99.
(First published in STATNews, January 2010)
or not to do
A brave book
indeed. The ultimate attempt to do what Alexander did, in
words? The book sets out 30 exercises "based on
Alexanderís principles", described as habit-breakers.
It is a new edition of an
attractive paperback, with cartoon illustrations, which has
been translated into other languages. The writer offers
"easy and effective solutions" for people with back or neck
pain, tiredness, stiffness etc. but the book does not teach
the Alexander Technique. Can it succeed? I asked a
non-initiate to read some chapters and comment.
following several chapters of instructions -not easy when wearing bifocal specs -he reported feeling somewhat confused, stiff and getting a
tight chest. Even doing semi-supine according to the book
only left him feeling "faintly relaxed", but he had
largely misunderstood some important details. He thought
that section should have been broken up into smaller parts
for greater clarity and benefit. I then went through
the same procedures with him, helping him to understand what
was required. He barely recognised any similarities between
the two experiences. With guidance he began to detect some
benefit. Does this prove anything? Not necessarily. He found
the introduction helpful and inspiring, but did not feel
rewarded by doing the exercises on his own, nor inclined to
read to the end. To do so, I feel, one would need to be very
motivated and patient indeed, not to experience
set of exercises the author explains the principle behind
them. I feel these sections are probably more accessible.
And there are some refreshing concepts such as a friendly
puppeteer helping the thinking up; visualising the sitting
bones as little feet in your bottom; breathing out being
long, in being wide; a raindrop-scattering game, and the
Ďpost-ití thoughts for the day. There is a very good chapter
on breathing, but it should be at the beginning not at the
end. Once our novice stopped holding his breath his chest
stopped feeling tight.
that inevitably arises with guidance of this kind is the
challenge of catering for a huge variety of readers. Perhaps
itís more helpful to quote a range of book heights,
as Iíve found these can vary by a factor of 3 or 4, and
usually change within one session. And
how, in one book, do you help people who wear bifocals, have
different leg lengths and are advised to distribute the
weight equally between both feet, have a concave thoracic
curve or a pronounced kyphosis? Those on the edges
will always be at a distinct disadvantage without a teacher.
this work is "not the Alexander Technique"
(isnít it??), I missed any mention of freeing the neck or
non-doing. Admittedly the whole book attempts to put those
concepts into words, but in the end I felt it did not square
that circle. The exercises would probably work best for
someone with lots of Alexander re-education and kinaesthetic
awareness, whereas the person most likely to buy it (or give
it to an impecunious friend who canít afford lessons) is a
very different animal.
To quote M C
Escher, "Only those who attempt the absurd Ö will
achieve the impossible." If you were
attempting to describe the Alexander principles,
The Well-Tuned Body
is the book you would write. But will
its readers experience the holy grail of
Ms Inghamís easy
and effective solutions or a
On a sample of one, I would say neither.
Anna Cooper 2010