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Book Review: Principles of the Alexander Technique

by Ellen on July 21st, 2014

Principles of the Alexander Technique, by Jeremy Chance, is a slim volume in the Singing Dragon’s “Principles Of” series, much like Secrets of Alexander Technique was a volume in the “Secrets of” series. Other books in the series deal with topics such as herbal medicine, reflexology, Reiki and hypnotherapy. Principles of AT serves as a basic overview of AT, with a particular focus on the experience of having lessons. Overall it’s a decent showing, with clear, concise language and well-turned phrases, though the heavy focus on what the work “feels like” does raise a few red flags for me. The book seems to be targeted towards the average person seeking help, with a particular emphasis on helping those who cannot find a teacher nearby.

The book begins with a narrative description of Alexander’s process of development, introducing each major principle at the moment in Alexander’s journey when he discovered it in himself. In this way Chance manages to cover both the history and development of the technique and the major principles behind it all at once, creating a narrative that is concise and understandable. From there the book spends quite a bit of time discussing the practical side of the technique – what happens in a lesson, the differences between teachers and teaching styles, and how to find a teacher whose personality meshes with yours. The last chapter discusses various experiments and explorations that can be attempted alone, as a way of trying to get a little bit of the experience of a lesson without a teacher. The book communicates its information through clear explanations augmented with photographs, diagrams, and quotes from Alexander himself. The quotes in particular are used very skillfully, generally introducing a quote as a way of summing up a concept that the author has just finished explaining in his own words. Emphasis is placed on using the snappier quotes – the ones that Alexander teachers frequently quote in lessons, such as “the right thing does itself” – rather than longer or more involved descriptive language from Alexander’s books.

Chance’s writing ability shines as the book’s major strength, with concepts articulated very concisely with a clear and frank tone. He makes use of helpful analogies and examples to compare the principles to understandable situations, such as New Year’s resolutions or doing the dishes. This allows him to skillfully cover the basic principles behind the work without it sounding too new-age-y or ivory-tower philosophical. Chance also incorporates a welcome discussion of various practical aspects of studying the technique, such as teacher lineages and the differences between them, the distinctions between ATI and STAT/AmSAT certification programs, and examples of the different ways different teachers might approach the material. This leaves the reader with a more concrete sense of what they’d actually be doing in a lesson – a question that most introductory discussions of the technique never really answer. (To be fair, though, most introductions never answer that question because the most appropriate answer is ‘you won’t be doing anything’ followed by a lengthy explanation of the principles of inhibition).

Despite the skillful writing, Principles of AT has some worrisome weaknesses at its core. Chapter 6: “Working with your Self Alone” worries me quite a lot; it places a great deal of emphasis on feeling, without enough mention of the concept of Faulty Sensory Appreciation and the idea that what you feel is happening isn’t necessarily what is actually happening. Without a teacher present it becomes even more important to observe in a mirror and not trust your own feeling, and yet the entire chapter is full of experiments designed to rely on feeling. To make matters worse, the book also frequently offers suggestions of what experience the reader may be having (“By now it will become clearer that you are twisting your body a little to the left or the right” – P. 141). These suggestions are things that the author has no way of actually knowing about the reader, and the simple act of mentioning it is placing thoughts into the reader’s head – something we try to avoid in an actual lesson! I appreciate that the author is attempting to offer up some way of working with the principles to interested readers who cannot find a teacher in their area, but when working alone it is imperative that the student remembers not to trust their sensory appreciation. Principles of AT needs to place much more importance on this fact.

Principles of AT also has some typographical problems. There are a disconcerting number of typos (in my edition, at least), and they are all mistakes that indicate that the manuscript was not proofread by a pair of human eyes. All of these typos are things that a computerized spell-checker would have missed, since they are typos that convert one word into another word (i.e. “rib” is misprinted as “rig”). While not a horrendous mistake, they do make the book more difficult to read and seem a bit unprofessional.

Principles of AT does have some strong points – the principles are explained well and the writing is good – but for me the over-emphasis on feeling and lack of discussion of unreliable sensory appreciation in the last few chapters are a deal-breaker. I could see myself loaning this book to a student for them to read some specific part – perhaps something from the earlier chapters containing a well-written explanation of a principle they were confused about – but I would not be comfortable simply handing it over in its entirety as a first introduction; there is just too much potential for misinterpretation. The discussion of the principles is well-articulated and pragmatic, and the discussion of teacher lineages and certification systems is welcome and thorough, but I would want anyone reading it to stop at the beginning of chapter 6, “Working with your Self Alone,” and read no further lest they be confused and misled by the experiments within. I suppose the experiments could be interesting for a student who was currently taking lessons, if they tried them under the careful supervision of their teacher, but there are better books for that. Rather than these experiments, I would recommend the ones contained in The Alexander Technique by Judith Leibowitz and Bill Connington or Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link by Becky Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier.

The Nitty-Gritty
Title: Principles of the Alexander Technique
Author: Jeremy Chance
© 2013 by Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers
ISBN-10: 1848191286
ISBN-13: 978-1848191280
Status: Available on Amazon

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

From → Literature, Reviews

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