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Book Review: How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live, by Missy Vineyard

by Ellen on May 19th, 2015

For this month’s book review, I read “How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live” by Missy Vineyard. This book appears near the top of Amazon search results for “Alexander Technique,” so I felt it was important to read it since there’s a good chance a potential new student would have purchased it and read it in advance of meeting with me. How You Stand… is an introduction to the Alexander Technique from the perspective of a teacher who is well-versed in neurology and focuses on the scientific aspects of how we think and interact with the world. Despite an innovative and intriguing structure, How You Stand… does have some aspects that worry me.

The book focuses heavily on the connection between the brain and the body, presenting AT in a neurological context. The book could almost have been called “How You Think, How You Move…”, since so much emphasis is placed on the way that thinking affects a person’s physicality. The book achieves this through alternating chapters of detailed descriptions of individual lessons and textbook-like discussions of specific neurological processes. At the end of every large section in the book, a chapter of ‘self-experiments’ instructs the reader in ways to attempt to achieve the experiences discussed in the section on their own. Illustrations are used periodically to help communicate trickier use patterns or physical positions, though they appear to simply be illustrated versions of photographs and seemed like an odd visual choice to me. Why not simply include the source photographs?

How You Stand… finds its strengths mostly in the innovative mixture of science and AT. The balance struck me as not unlike AT itself, melding scientific observation and objective knowledge with experiential information to create an overall sense of understanding. My favorite parts were the descriptions of specific lessons, showing the development of a handful of her students over the course of their re-education. Vineyard has a captivating ability to describe her train of thought during a lesson, and to articulate exactly what she’s feeling, seeing, and deciding as she places her hands on a student. For the potential new student, these chapters give a clear picture of what a lesson would be like, and for the teacher, they give new insight into ways to explain the work while in lessons of our own.

The book does have some weaknesses that worry me, however. The self-experiments at the end of each section are the biggest one. I have a similar complaint with these chapters that I’ve had with many ‘self-exploration’ chapters in other books I’ve reviewed in the past – there’s just too much danger of misinterpretation. Giving a self-experiment to the reader necessitates describing things in a “doing” manner, and without a teacher present to ensure the student is still inhibiting and directing, the student is likely to start end-gaining and trying to be right and in the process lose whatever value the experiment may have provided in a lesson setting.

I’m also a bit concerned with her use of the word ‘no’ during inhibition. I was taught by the Murrays to always try to replace negative directions with positive ones, because the very word ‘no’ tends to create a tension response in the student. Saying “I am not tightening my neck” is not as useful as saying “I am letting my neck be free” because the first one is more likely to cause the student to tense up in an effort not to do something.

Finally, it bothered me a bit that Vineyard hardly ever made specific mention of Alexander’s concepts or his terminology. She introduced most of the concepts in her own words, which I appreciated, but she very rarely acknowledged that Alexander had a word for it or discussed his definition of it. She tended to present the work as if it was her own thesis, rather than citing Alexander. And when she did mention him, it was often too little, too late. In my opinion, it should not be 207 pages in before you bring up the phrase “primary control”!

Overall, How You Stand… is a decent introduction to the Technique, provided the reader is currently taking lessons. As with most other books I would recommend that my students skim over the self-experiments and ask me to help them if they find one they’d like to experience, but the neurological context is intriguing and adds a layer of richness to Alexander’s work. In particular, I could see recommending this book to students coming to the work for mental or emotional reasons, since the focus on neurology helps to assuage fears that the student is to blame for the way they react, especially with regard to fear reflexes.

The Nitty-Gritty
Title: How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live
Author: Missy Vineyard
© 2007 by Missy Vineyard, published by Da Capo Press
ISBN-10: 1-6009-4006-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-6009-4006-4
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.

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