Body Know-how by Jonathan Drake

BODY KNOW-HOW by Jonathan Drake.

Jonathan Drake has written Body Know-How for use as an adjunct to Alexander lessons; or, in the absence of a teacher, as a partial substitute for them. It is presented as the practical self-help manual he believes he would have benefited from during his own re-education, when appropriate guidance, in written form, might have shown him, in a way that his teachers apparently did not, how to apply the principles of the Technique to everyday life.

For those who want it, the author provides all the necessary information: the formal work areas – the chair, the wall, the floor; and the standard applications – semi-supine, monkey, the lunge, the squat, the whispered ah, hands on the back of a chair, etc. The logical way of applying these procedures to the various activities of ordinary life is shown; and the need to inhibit and direct, at each and every juncture, in order to inform the subsequent movement with appropriate thought, is emphasised throughout.

Whether a thorough reading of this book, or even a course of lessons, is enough to enable a person, in any real sense, to "work on themselves" in the way Jonathan Drake suggests, is debatable. Certainly, I was well into my training course as a teacher before I had any notion of what such work implied. Had I had the chance to look through Body Know-How earlier than that, I might have grasped sooner than I otherwise did the importance of certain concepts; but I doubt if this knowledge would have increased my awareness of what I was doing that was wrong, or enabled me to do it any less often.

Despite all advice to the contrary, as a pupil there appeared to me a right way of doing things, and that that was what must be learnt. The more variety my teachers introduced, the more that seemed to be the case. The average reader will hardly respond any differently, however dedicated he or she may be to putting the ideas of inhibition and direction into practice. Any subsequent lack of progress would not be the fault of the written instructions in Body Know-How, which are admirably clear, but of the near impossibility of executing them without adequate objective feedback.

However, the accompanying illustrations are a different matter. The model cannot be blamed, since she has been given the unenviable task of trying to convey quality of movement in what look like – and I suspect, at the time of exposure, were – still poses. If she had been photographed carrying out ordinary daily tasks, with the best and worst of these being employed to highlight the two extremes of good and bad use, there might have been more of a chance of portraying the hoped for "directed activity"; rather than what look like a series of "Alexander positions".

To contrast these illustrations with those in Michael Gelb’s book Body Learning, which also attempt to convey the essence of the primary control working without undue interference, but in this case in people who are not knowingly applying the principles of the Technique, is almost to wonder what those principles are.

The unfortunate implication from the photographs in Body Know-How is that we should seek to avoid bending the back or twisting it or moving the neck about or in fact doing anything that would appear to compromise a "NHB" relationship which, however well defined it may be in the text, is difficult to perceive visually other than as a general immobility. The clear danger to readers is that instead of allowing the spine to lengthen, in itself, during a given activity, they will try to hold it, throughout that activity, in whatever position they have learned to associate with a lengthened state; leading inexorably to the stiffened appearance that can be the bane of our work.

The key to successfully applying the Technique to ordinary life must be not to look as though you are. This should lead, in time, to not looking as though you need to. There is a photograph of F.M.Alexander, sitting reading a newspaper, with his legs crossed, of which it has been said, "He doesn’t look, as you might say, sitting doing the Alexander work. He’s just reading a newspaper". It can hardly be the case that by uncrossing his legs, as many teachers recommend, including Jonathan Drake, and by getting down on the floor and using a supportive reading device, as suggested in Body Know-How, F.M.Alexander would have become more able to apply the principles of his Technique than if he had remained seated as he was.

There is a clear distinction here between good use, resulting from a particular mental attitude, and sound body mechanics, which is the attempted emulation of that use, but without regard to the attitude that brought it about. Although it is easy to confuse the two, the challenge for teachers must surely be to avoid giving pupils the impression that it is what they do that matters most, so much as the way they habitually do it. Jonathan Drake does, in fact, touch on this in his text. Unfortunately, his book has an overwhelmingly visual impact; and since most of the nearly two hundred photographs are of the way things ought to be rather than of the way they actually are, the average reader is likely to end up trying to imitate good use, instead of discovering and avoiding the habits that prevent it from occurring naturally.

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