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Book Review: Secrets of Alexander Technique

by Ellen on March 28th, 2014

Secrets of Alexander Technique, by Robert MacDonald and Caro Ness, is one in a series of illustrated pocket-guides to alternative therapies. Clocking in at barely three-inches square and less than an inch thick, I expected this book to leave something to be desired, probably glossing over the more complex points in favor of a feel-good self-help guide. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was completely mistaken. Secrets serves as a shockingly detailed and thorough introduction to the Technique, centering around the theme of self-awareness and choice. The book argues that posture is an expression of self, and by using the tools of increased self-awareness and choice that the Alexander Technique provides, we can achieve our fullest potential.

The book itself is remarkably broad in scope, covering a whole host of topics I didn’t expect a book of that size to get around to. Simple, concise explanations give meaning to Alexander’s often-confusing words, and terminology is introduced so naturally that the reader doesn’t even realize how strange the terms themselves are. Illustrations are plentiful and smartly used, never becoming too distracting but instead assisting in communicating the book’s message. Each turn of a pocket-sized page introduces a new topic, providing bite-sized bits of info on a wide range of subjects. During the second half of the book various applications for the technique are discussed, and the book maintains the same organizational structure for each application: discussion, energy diagram, turn the page, photos of students exploring the application. This regular structure allows the reader to see the similarities between the various applications, as well as the things that make each one unique.

Despite a thesis statement that sounds a bit like new-age mumbo-jumbo, Secrets is a surprisingly strong and thorough introduction to the Technique. The book constantly returns to the idea that lessons are what help with various topics, emphasizing the need for a teacher to help the student fully understand and internalize the concepts. The descriptions are amazingly concise, and yet amazingly thorough. As I read, I found myself continually impressed, often writing in my notes “nice to see that discussed” or “still managed to address that”. Frequently I would marvel at the skill with which the author is able to communicate a tricky-to-define physical experience, such as describing means-whereby as an “art” or the frequent use of the phrase “alert stillness.” The one-topic-per-page structure is innovative, unique, and very effective. It makes the book easy to pick up and put down and helps to keep things simple, preventing the reader from getting bogged down in semantics. Each turn of a page brings a new thought or idea, which is introduced simply, illustrated helpfully, and tied neatly back in to the main principles – just in time to turn the next page.

While a very strong showing overall, Secrets is not without its flaws. Occasionally the book uses phrasing that makes me a bit wary, such as beginning a direction with “Don’t…” or suggesting what the reader might be feeling. These moments are few, though, and they are always described thoroughly enough for me to be satisfied. Surprisingly for such a small book, there are no significant omissions. Even aspects of the technique such as breathing and gravity-resistance, which are often ignored in an introduction, are acknowledged and given their own two-page tidbit. A variety of applications from running to typing to swimming to Tai Chi are covered in the second half, with comparisons and illustrations that make it easy to extrapolate to the reader’s particular favored activity.

Overall, Secrets of the Alexander Technique is an excellent introduction to the principles and practice of the Technique. I would recommend it to most new students, particularly those coming to the technique from a wellness or betterment-of-the-self mentality. I might not recommend it as much for a skeptical student, since it does not spend as much time discussing the practical results of lessons (reduction of pain/tension etc.) as some other books, and the moments of new-age-y feel might turn off a skeptic. However, for anyone not staunchly skeptical I’d highly recommend it as a first read.

The Nitty-Gritty
Title: Secrets of Alexander Technique
Author: Robert MacDonald, Caro Ness
© 2001 by Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd
ISBN-10: 0789467720
ISBN-13: 978-0789467720
Status: Used copies on Amazon

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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