Part of a letter expressing the desire for more precision in explaining Alexander work

A snippet from my past. I can’t even remember who I was writing to.

I have a lot of trouble with the whole notion that although there isn’t supposed to be a "right" way of working, we’ve still got to be on our guard against getting it "wrong"; yet nobody really knows what "wrong" is. I went to a five day workshop on "zero-balancing", which is a hands-on approach based on acupuncture, osteopathy and Rolfing! It’s suprisingly vigorous, in fact rather heavy handed, but the effects are of a delicate nature, and the explanation – the rationale behind it all – is wonderfully clear.

They work structurally but actually address the energy body, which they believe lies within the skeletal system. This seems a bit cranky, I know. Anyway, they (or we, since within five minutes we were all working with a confidence it would have taken about ten years to achieve in an Alexander training school) put hands on and make "an essential connection" with the client. "Assessment" is then carried out on "foundation joints", which are basically joints with little or no independant movement: ie, the sacro ileac joint and most of the vertebra. "Fulcrums" are then applied, which is a traction like process that is held for several seconds and "allows the possibility of change". During those seconds the energy body is supposed to have a chance of reintegrating itself with the physical structure.

I realised when the bloke in charge described the Alexander Technique, in passing, as a "pure energy approach", and at that precise moment virtually everyone else in the room, hearing the word "Alexander", sat up on their haunches, visibly stiffening, how little we really know about what we are doing; and how out of synch our reputation for "posture" is with our concept of "direction". In fact, how much of what happens during Alexander work is undocumented, unexplained and, possibly, accidental.

Anyway, I came away convinced we need to be more precise in our explanations – especially to ourselves – of what we’re doing.

I’m planning to put an advert in STATnews asking teachers to describe how they "work on themselves" (anonymously) for an article or booklet I’ll write: this is the crux of Alexander work; "working on each other" is all very well, but someone, somewhere along the line, has got to be hoisting themselves up by their own bootstraps, and I can’t believe everyone does it Adam’s way.

I visited a sports therapist recently for an old tennis injury and after I had removed my shirt he suggested I had a serious postural problem with a pronounced dowager’s hump and obviously taut trapezius muscle. I tried not to be too shaken by this and was pleasantly suprised five minutes into the remedial massage to hear him say my trapezius was actually in better tone than any he had worked on. I only hoped he was similarly misguided about my dowager’s hump.

Then I visited an acupuncturist for another stab at my hay fever. As I lay on my front in order to have the needles stuck in he prodded my spine and said my lack of lordosis and upper back curvature suggested I had had a serious back accident and must be in great pain. I do get twinges in my back, but generally it’s never felt better, and so I talked him into believing – or pretending to believe – that what he was viewing was an "Alexandered" body; and what he must be comparing it with was a standard made up of "normal" bodies, most of them with excessively pronounced curves. I hope I’m right.

I’ve now been on a horse ten times: five lessons, where I trailed along behind an instructor who told me to keep my heels down and imagine I was a tree; and five wild hacks with a friend where I’ve had my work cut out simply staying on. It is with a hollow laugh that I try and "apply" Alexandrian principles to riding: I haven’t got any spare attention for anything, what with my hands clenching the reins, my feet trying to stay in the stirrups, my groin quivering in anticipation of another ball crushing canter… Finally, I’ve realised that riding isn’t the passive process of sitting on a horse as it moves around that I fondly imagined it might be but the much more active one of moving with another living creature. I’m enjoying it, though: the sensation when you are moving – both physically and mentally – with the horse is marvellous.

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