ALEXANDER HYPOTHESES:

A STRUCTURED LOOK AT THE COMPONENTS

OF

F. MATTHIAS ALEXANDER'S METHOD

OF PSYCHO-PHYSICAL RE-EDUCATION

Joe Armstrong
Boston, 1998
Revised November, 2019

 

I have composed these hypotheses to represent the main claims that F. M. Alexander (1869–1955) made in the four books he wrote to support his method of achieving psychophysical unity in daily living: Man’s Supreme Inheritance, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, The Use of the Self, and The Universal Constant in Living. By re-wording these claims into a language that does not contain any of the jargon that Alexander and others in the profession have regularly used in teaching his technique, I hope that it might make it easier for educators and researchers to comprehend the main factors involved in how the Alexander Technique is taught and experienced and thereby make it more accessible to all those interested in self-improvement and compassionate living.
 
These ten points are arranged in the logical sequence in which they would need to be investigated by scientific researchers, since they are not random aspects but factors that follow naturally from one to the next. And I have, of course, drawn primarily on Alexander’s statements found in the chapter “Physiology and Physiologists” of his last book, The Universal Constant in Living.

THE TEN HYPOTHESES

1. That, in humans, there can be either an integrated (normal) or an unintegrated (abnormal) working of our postural mechanisms [1] with regard to their supportive function in response to gravity at any given moment both in motion and at rest.

2. That the supportive function of our postural mechanisms in response to gravity is governed primarily by the way we co-ordinate it (consciously or subconsciously) in our neck, head, torso, and limb regions in that particular sequential relation to each other, no matter what postion, spatial orientation we may be functioning in, and no matter what movement or amount of effort we may be making at any given moment.

3. That in the majority of adults their postural mechanisms are working in an unintegrated (abnormal) way as a result of each individual's habitual—and generally subconscious—tensional patterns of carriage and reaction in combination with the accumulated and often chronic muscular, ligamental, and tendinous tightnesses resulting from those habitual patterns of carriage and reaction being repeated over time. (Tensional patterns demanded by certain occupations also figure into this negative influence. Likewise, a person's general attitude toward living also plays its part as joy, depression, arrogance, timidity, aggressiveness, fear, compassion, tolerance, etc. each have their characteristic neuro-muscular components.)

4. That the degree of integration of our postural mechanisms has a fundamental influence, for good or ill, on many other aspects of our functioning (whether classified as primarily "physical" or primarily "mental") and that this factor must be taken into account if any attempts at improving health or well-being, correcting defects, changing habits of behavior, and performing activities or acquiring skills which are dependent upon superlative psychophysical coordination are to be complete.

5. That restoration and re-education of an integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms is nearly impossible for people to achieve unaided, due to one's faulty (and largely subconscious) proprioceptive and kinesthetic judgment associated with the habituation to the unintegrated (abnormal) working of their postural mechanisms often acquired in one's earliest years.

6. That the integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms can be restored and re-educated by a teacher who has acquired the appropriate manual skills of (a) assessing the conditions of a person's postural and movement mechanisms, of (b) redistributing chronic patterns of tightness into a balanced state of tonus, and of (c) facilitating the neck-head-torso-limb dynamic required to elicit and sustain the supportive function of the postural mechanisms in relation to gravity from moment to moment whether a person is in motion or at rest.

7. That with this skilled manual assistance and the appropriate verbal instruction from a teacher, people can gain the ability to recognize and inhibit any tensional responses that interfere with the integrated (normal) working of their postural mechanisms, and they can also learn to reliably facilitate and maintain the integration for themselves through specific ideo-kinetic directives projected sequentially to their neck, head, torso, and limbs in response to any stimuli which tend to evoke automatic or habitual patterns of reaction. These same ideo-kinetic directives can also serve to transform built-up, chronic patterns of tightness into a balanced condition of tonus which can best integrate with the supportive function of our  postural mechanisms in relation to gravity's downward pull from moment to moment, whether we are in motion or at rest.

8. That the manual skill of assessing the conditions of and assisting in the restoration and re-education of the integration of another's postural mechanisms involves a type of tactile contact that is dependent entirely upon a high degree of integration of the facilitator's own postural mechanisms during the time of actual manual contact and guidance, rather than upon any sort of contact involving direct, local muscular efforts of the facilitator's hands and arms (which generally tend to produce only local and non-integrating alterations in the student).

9. That training to become a competent facilitator of the integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms in others usually requires a number of years of daily restorative and re-educative work at the hands of other very experienced facilitators. In some cases, this training may require even more time, depending upon the degree of unintegrated (abnormal) conditions present in the trainee, both in terms of chronic muscular tightnesses and in terms of habitual patterns of carriage and reaction in motion and at rest.

10. That the ideo-kinetic and neuro-cognitive activity involved in developing and maintaining a constructive conscious control of an integra ofed (normal) working of one's postural mechanisms provides a basis for achieving a constant "psychophysical unity" in living which serves to counteract the effects upon us of most current approaches to improving human behavior and functioning that perpetuate the conception of a "mind and body" dichotomy that is created by separating human activity into so-called "physical" and "mental" categories—as opposed to considering a person as a unified being (a “self”), within whom the various processes of thinking, imagining, dreaming, feeling, lifting, pulling, pushing, walking, jumping, speaking, resting, talking, singing, etc. may be occurring at any given moment, with one mode of neuro-muscular co-ordination sometimes being more predominant than it is in the othe activities.

 

[1] The assumption that there are specific postural mechanisms—or at least a “postural function” of our musculature that is distinct from its locomotory function—is based here primarily on the writings of the late Tristan Roberts, formerly of the Institute of Physiology at the University of Glasgow: The Neurophysiology of the Postural Mechanisms (London: Butterworths, 1967) and Understanding Balance (London: Chapman & Hall, 1995). It is also significant that, in his later years, Professor Roberts had been having lessons in the Alexander Technique with senior Alexander teacher Walter Carrington. However, to my knowledge, no record or report exists of what may have transpired in their interaction. It is easy for me to think, though, that they may have reached some important conclusions or insights together—particularly because of the extensive experience I had of Walter Carrington's great ability to examine all knowledge and understandings in an objective and superbly intelligent way and to derive from them whatever value they contain for a deeper understanding of Alexander's principles in relation to living our lives most positively moment by moment.