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Master the Art of Working Out

Raising your performance with the Alexander Technique.

Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields, Publ. Collins & Brown, 8th January 2007, pbk with flaps, 176pp, 175x220mm, price £12.99, ISBN 978-1-8434-0350-0
Review by Christine Brown (first published in Statnews, May 2007).

My heart lifted when I was asked to review a book on Alexander Technique and working out as I had always carried a slight guilt that as an Alexander teacher I should not be teaching Pilates or working in a gym. I trained in an era when exercise - other than walking, running or, at a push, swimming - was frowned upon. I have always believed that the Technique enhances everything in one’s life and if exercise is part of your life, so be it. The authors already have a deserved reputation from their book Master the Art of Running, and I was not disappointed with their new publication.

On first opening the book I was impressed with the attractive presentation. The use of colour to theme the chapters and tie in the case histories, while at the same time distinguishing them from the main text, is delightful and effective. I approached the read with enthusiasm and expectation, in a receptive frame of mind. However, to nit-pick I personally found the strip showing a young woman doing a sit-up at the top of each case history page extremely irritating.

The book introduces the principles and thinking of the Alexander Technique and how it can be applied to enhance working out and is reinforced by a wide range of case histories.

The authors skilfully integrate the principles of the Technique with the approach and execution of working out in a whole range of disciplines. This text is particularly useful to the student who has some experience of the Technique and in particular is working closely with a teacher. To a complete novice, to absorb all the information and then apply it in a work-out might be a bridge too far. However, the case histories at the end of each chapter are an effective way of reaching readers who are new to the Technique and allowing them, through other people’s experiences, to realise the benefits without being weighed down by detail. Some of my new students felt that after reading a selection of case studies they would be stimulated to attend a workshop or have lessons.

The photographs are of a high quality and are essential to the text. If anything, more visual aids would have been beneficial, especially for those new to the Technique. Photographs are not very informative if you do not know what to look for. Anatomical sketches with arrows to give the directions and guide the user to the points of importance might have been more helpful.

Sometimes a procedure is described but there is no accompanying photograph - such as on page 132 where the wall squat is explained. Occasionally (p92) the photographs do not sit comfortably with the text and could be misinterpreted.

A New Direction was one of my favourite chapters (perhaps it was the pink colour theme and the fact that the case history was by a Pilates enthusiast). I have found this particularly useful for my Pilates students, as end-gaining is indeed a plague of our time: it is highlighted most clearly as soon as one becomes involved in the fitness environment. To focus one’s client on the means-whereby has an almost miraculous effect on the quality of the exercise, even for those who do not have the skill of the Technique.

I liked the ‘SMART Approach’ to exercise (p55) as it gives the reader something concrete to remember: S=Skilful, M=Mindful, A=Athletic, R=Recreational, T=Transferable. All these trigger thoughts which can help the student exercise with a focussed mind and pay attention to their use and the reasons why they exercise.

An essential item missing from the book is a glossary. I had no idea what the terms ‘ballistic’ or ‘telegraphing’ meant. Alexander jargon could also be included for those new to the Technique.

In conclusion I found it an invaluable book as both an Alexander teacher and a Pilates teacher. I have learnt much and am already integrating some of the ideas into my Pilates teaching.

For Alexander teachers not involved in working out, this is an invaluable introduction to the possibilities of taking the Technique into a society where working out is part of many people’s lives.

For physical fitness instructors without any Alexander experience, I think it will have limited impact but might well inspire them to take lessons or work closely with a teacher. There is no substitute for ‘hands-on’. As Denise McKeever points out in her case study for those embarking on working out, "If you can afford it take one-to-one Alexander lessons first, or at the very least do a single workshop".

For people with no experience of the Technique, this book could stimulate interest, and for people with some experience it could actually be used as a manual.
 

© Christine Brown 2007

 

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