20 years, Richard Brennan has updated and expanded his
original Alexander Technique Workbook. And it is
without doubt a beautifully designed publication. The
colour-coded sections are easy on the eye, and the
photographs and diagrams are clear and communicative. The
workbook has a relaxed, friendly style.
befits an introductory book, Brennan takes us through a
detailed description of the Alexander Technique and its
evolution. We are then offered a number of sections on the
classical Alexander principles including primary control,
the force of habit, faulty sensory appreciation, inhibition,
and directions. There are some informative sections on
muscle function, the different muscle fibres, and the
nervous system. I particularly enjoyed the pages describing
the different reflexes, namely the superficial, deep and
visceral, as well as the discussions on the stretch and fear
has clearly set out to educate his reader in the theory and
principles of the Alexander Technique. But crucially, this
is a workbook. And so we are also presented with numerous
exercises intended to give the reader some practical
experience of these same principles.
aspect of the book does raise some interesting questions,
especially for Alexander teachers. We are acutely aware of
the dangers of trying to learn the Technique from the
written word alone. And of course, as teachers, we would
have an interest in refuting any potential for learning
without direct experience, although Alexander did develop
his capacities for inhibition and direction without the
benefit of a personal guide.
the exercises are simply ways of describing ideas like the
kinaesthetic sense, becoming aware of our habitual postural
functioning, and how to experience evidence of our faulty
sensory register. This type of self-learning can be valid.
Other exercises, like the chapter on improving our
breathing, are less so. Here Brennan asks us to become aware
of our breathing habits and then to do the whispered
Brennan includes exercises on ‘giving directions’ which
involve a request to ‘think about’ the various parts
of the body. This is also problematic. Alexander did caution
us against the use of visualisation as a tool for directing.
He explained that the visual sense is closely allied to the
sensory register. And to the extent that we are subject to
faulty sensory appreciation, our attempts at visualisation
would be equally inaccurate. Similarly, Brennan introduces
the reader to an understanding of inhibition with an
exercise to pause for a few seconds after, for instance, a
the question that beckons is: How do we indeed learn to
inhibit and direct?
first answer has to be that we experience inhibition and
direction from the quality of use of the teacher, primarily
via the hands. The words and explanations accompany this new
experience, and not the other way round. Pausing after the
receipt of a stimulus is not the same as the stillness and
alertness we can experience under the influence of an
the diagrams pose a similar problem where, for example, the
reader is shown the correct postures for standing, sitting,
and squatting. Whilst these are ergonomically accurate
guides, I believe they have little in common with the
essence of the Alexander Technique. They do, however, relate
to what Alexander termed ‘mechanical advantage’.
credit, Brennan does make a strong case for taking
individual Alexander lessons, and his book is likely to
arouse curiosity and interest in the reader. In the final
chapter, he describes in detail the physical, emotional,
mental, and spiritual benefits that can accrue from
one-to-one lessons. But herein lie the limitations of this
kind of workbook. We are shown or asked to do
something better. However, this is not simply a problem
inherent in writings and images of the Alexander Technique.
As Alexander teachers and trainers, we too have to grapple
with how to teach an Alexander Technique which encourages a
real change in thinking and not simply a change in posture.
my reservations about offering an Alexander Workbook,
Brennan has once again given the general public a valuable
introductory guide to the Alexander Technique, which will
undoubtedly educate and contribute to raising its profile.
Anthony Kingsley 2011