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How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live

Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery

Missy Vineyard, Publ. Marlowe & Company, 3 July 2007, price US$18.95, 336pp, 60 B&W illustrations, ISBN-10: 1-60094-006-4, ISBN-13: 978-1-60094-006-4. Available from STAT office.

Review by Anthony P Kingsley (first published in Statnews, September 2007).

Can we learn the Alexander Technique without a teacher? How essential is the hands-on guidance from a skilled Alexander teacher? How do we individually perceive the written or spoken word? How do we interpret visual imagery? Is it all or nothing?

After reading How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live by Missy Vineyard, I am left with mixed feelings.

The book is a useful contribution to the library of Alexander books. It is written in a clear, friendly and conversational style. The tone is educational but undogmatic, informative but not overly academic, and instructive without appearing patronising.

I enjoyed the case-stories, which describe a number of very personal and moving one-to-one Alexander sessions. They reveal an intelligent and empathic teacher with a highly evolved observational skill, as well as a capacity for interpreting a variety of visual and sensory cues.

Each chapter introduces the reader to a particular aspect of the Alexander Technique. This is done through a mix of anecdotes, self-experimentations and discussion. Headings include, Feelings gone Wrong, A Malfunctioning Locomotor System, and Anxiety and Performance. I enjoyed the chapter, Fears Body-Mind which explores the psychophysical nature of fear. Here, Vineyard details the neurochemical nature of reactions, and the stereotypical habit patterns that can develop over time. She wisely remarks, "As a culture we largely neglect to teach our young that it is possible to tolerate reasonable levels of discomfort without reacting in defence."

However, I experienced reservations in relation to the recommended Self-experiments. There is a real danger of it straying into a How To manual. Alexander himself discovered the Technique over a period of many dedicated years of self-observation and experimentation. Vineyard claims that by following her specific procedures, the reader is following in Alexander’s footsteps, and will be able to learn, amongst other things, how to inhibit and direct. I believe this to be idealistic and slightly naïve.

Even with guidance from a skilled Alexander teacher, the pupil generally suffers from fixed ideas and misunderstandings. I am reminded of Patrick Macdonald’s caveat, "Alexander used to tell us that ‘if you do what I did, you will be able to do what I do.’ The trouble is that we will not and I have never met anyone who would. Perhaps could is the better word."1

And the section that offers exercises to strengthen the deep muscles of the neck and back do not belong in an Alexander book. Equally, the 50 well-drawn illustrations scattered throughout, may not illuminate in the way intended.

To mitigate some of my concerns, I do think that for an Alexander teacher, or for an experienced pupil, the experiments and discussions offer an exploration into the link between our thinking and our muscular reactions. This can provide a tool for ongoing self-enquiry.

And I hope that the intimate stories, useful insights and engaging style will encourage the novice to seek out a teacher in order to gain the experiences described so evocatively in the book.

1. Macdonald, The Alexander Technique As I See It, 1989, pbk, UK, The Alpha Press, 125pp, ISBN 0951507206, £14.95, www.sussex-academic.co.uk.

© Anthony P Kingsley 2007

 

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