Another letter concerning LearningMethods

This formed part of my correspondance with David Gorman, after he left – under a certain amount of pressure – the AlexTech forum.

Hello David,

Thanks for your response to what I wrote. I don’t think our points of view are that far apart; it’s more how we describe things. Certainly, I would agree I tend to theorise while you look at an issue from a more practical angle. Given that, I see no reason to argue, except possibly over whether we can or can’t ‘know’ something unconsciously. Oh, and the relative ease of being in the present. Thrashing these questions out would be interesting, but they’re a bit of a side issue.

What really interests me in what you’re doing is how far it seems even from the ‘purest’ Alexander Technique. The more I consider it, the less I understand those people mailing into the debate who felt you were somehow repackaging and calling something else what they considered they were already teaching.

The use or non-use of the hands is a key issue; but if that was the only difference between what you do and what they do (and you used to do) it might only mean you had discovered a new method for achieving what Alexander originally did for himself in front of mirrors. That in itself would be formidable. Unfortunately (you might think, fortunately) that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The crux of the matter is the thorny question of the Primary Control. (I only give it capital letters because Alexander did). I remember from your Alexander Review articles (particularly the last one, I think) you had ambivalent feelings about what this meant; but I don’t believe there can be very much doubt that an Alexander teacher who doesn’t subscribe to a belief in the ‘directions’, in the order in which they are traditionally given (whether preventative, as in inhibition, or otherwise), is not teaching the Technique so much as ‘use’.

Teaching use is great. It’s what I’ve always assumed Alexander teachers who don’t go along with the Primary Control get satisfaction from doing; but what you’re up to is even further away from this sort of teaching – light years, really – than the real Alexander Technique.

One of the contributors to the debate made a lot of the space Alexander devoted in his books to the nature of the thought processes ("conception") preceding an action.

However, although Alexander may have maintained that thought was primary, and only through changing it would general use change, he advocated such a precise form of ‘preferred thought’ along with such a specific idea of ‘improved use’, his approach really stands alone. Either it is followed to the letter or it isn’t being followed at all.

What you appear to be doing is initially similar in that you encourage a student, at the moment of their habitual response to a stimulus, to recognise not only the nature of their thoughts but more importantly that by changing – or stopping – them, other, usually physical change occurs.

Obviously, from your viewpoint as an experienced (if no longer practising) Alexander teacher you would be able to recognise any similarities between the changes in use that may happen as a result of LearningMethods and those that result from the application of the Technique; but you have emphasised that you are not looking for anything particular but rely instead on people changing in ways that are appropriate for them and that you can’t possibly know in advance.

I assume therefore that you don’t think the underlying wisdom that ‘puts us right’ is the same as Alexander’s Primary Control. This is the major difference (besides hands on or off) between what you do and what Alexander teachers do. They (at least as I understand how most people teach the ‘pure’ Technique) are looking for specific physical changes in a specific order (neck free, etc.) brought about through a specific change in the student’s thought process. Your approach is more open ended in that you appear to be accepting whatever physical change might come about through a student’s self examination of, and self-experimentation with, their habitual patterns of thinking.

Last night, musing over the way you have explained what it is you are teaching, I had a sense of, not exactly deja vu, but…I don’t know if you are familiar with Cognitive Therapy? I bought a book on it years ago by David Burns – I think I was training at the time – and was impressed by what I saw as similarities between his approach and what I was struggling to make sense of in my Alexander work.

His main – only, really – contention is that the way a person is feeling (emotionally) at any one moment is entirely dependant on the way they are thinking. He has a variety of examples of habitual ways in which we tend to think, almost all of which lead to our feeling bad. (His book is called "Feeling Good".) So long as a particular stream of thought (including variations on the same theme) continues, so the feelings persists. He emphasis that the thoughts are not so much unconscious as simply failing to be recognised, similar in nature to our habitual surroundings: always present but barely noticed.

I had a personal example of this recently when my neighbour cut into our side of the hedge in a way I didn’t like. I felt sick to the stomach out of all proportion to what had happened. My thoughts were actually very apparent, although I was unwilling to recognise them, centring as they did not on the hedge so much as my unwillingness to confront him on the issue.

So, the question I would like to ask you is, do you believe our emotional feelings are inextricably linked (and may even be physiologically identical) to our physical sense of ourselves and therefore our use? If so, assuming I had followed the procedures outlined in Burns’ book for changing my thought processes to something more objectively appropriate, and had felt emotionally better as a result – I used to do this and it did work although it demanded constant vigilance – could I reasonably expect similar sorts of changes in use to those you are recognising in the people you work with to come about at the same time?

Admittedly, the nature of both our emotional feelings and our physical sense of ourselves will depend – they obviously already depend – so critically on the precise formation of our thoughts that the way in which we are encouraged to change them will have a huge bearing on results. Just as Alexander teachers specify an almost religious (sometimes even military) adherence to a specific form of thought, so David Burns tends to emphasise a sensible, realistic, objective outlook on life for turning the tables on what he sees as excessive ‘negative’ thinking.

I don’t know in what directions if any you may or may not guide your students’ thoughts, but I guess this – or any other LearningMethod teacher’s influence – will be reflected in their use, if not their emotional state, too.

All the best,


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