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Body, Breath and Being

A New Guide to the Alexander Technique

Carolyn Nicholls, D&B Publishing, UK. US Oct 2008, Europe Sept 2008. ISBN 190446842X, pbk, 192pp.

Review by Anne Battye (First published in StatNews, January 2009)


Carolyn Nicholls is the author of this new book on the Alexander Technique. She has subtitled it A New Guide to the Alexander Technique and in her twelve chapters she takes the reader through F.M. Alexander’s concepts while providing some new definitions and explanations of them. She describes direction as an "intention" and an "asking" and inhibition as a conscious means of stopping the habitual responses to stimuli. She writes about the perils of end-gaining, the unreliability of our sensory perception, reliance on habit and the use of the primary control. All of which makes perfect sense.


The book is extremely well-structured and copiously illustrated, with some stunning colour pictures and photographs. The text is somewhat repetitive, but clear and illustrated with some interesting and moving case histories told in her pupils’ own words. These stories illustrate the varied conditions ameliorated by the Technique and give a taste of its many wide-ranging aspects.

The book falls into three sections. Body, which considers the musculo-skeletal system, introduces the concepts of Use and Misuse and the pitfalls that occur through inaccurate sensory appreciation. At the end of each chapter the author gives various exercises in self-observation and recommends lying down in a semi-supine position.

The second section concerns Breathing. Breathing mechanisms are described in simple terms and readers are encouraged to try out the use of breath in acting and singing, hissing, whispering and playing musical instruments. In further chapters the author considers various techniques of singing, speaking and making music while maintaining a lengthening back. Fascinating stuff!

The section on Being describes most Alexandrian activities in detail, such as standing, sitting, going into ‘monkey’ and putting hands on the back rail of a chair. There are some excellent examples of how we can apply the Technique to swimming, riding and climbing, and the author emphasises that it is "not what you are doing, but the way you set about doing it". She then describes in great detail how to go about these activities. Finally, she posits that valuing the "here and now" can lead to greater mindfulness and creativity. Although throughout the book the tenure of the workshops and practice seems to be "what you can do to help yourself" she does emphasise time after time that actions grow out of an inner stillness.

For whom is this book intended? Perhaps not for a new pupil, or someone who is only vaguely "interested in the Alexander Technique", as it is specific to Carolyn Nicholls’ way of teaching. Its great value would be for discussion in a teacher training class, especially if read in conjunction with F.M. Alexander’s The Use of the Self.

I do question the statement in Chapter One that "the Alexander Technique is about balance." Certainly its practice includes balance, but balance is not the Alexander Technique. And F.M. hardly ever uses the word …

There are some irritating mis-spellings and small grammatical errors (split infinitives abound!) that should have been corrected in the editing. Mostly the text is easy to read, though the experiments with different font colours make some of it hard to decipher. The book comes with a CD (unfortunately broken in transit) and a half-price lesson voucher. 

© Anne Battye 2009




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