Living as a whole person instead of an idea of a person
February 14, 2020 6:01 AM   Subscribe

The Alexander Technique has nothing to do with standing up straight. There is not one straight line in the body, or in the universe for that matter. This is an extended look letting ourselves be ourselves rather than applying artificial standards of correctness-- straight, upright, symmetrical, etc. It's about not letting a small part of our minds take charge of the rest of us.

Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott has a lot about how trying to make things look very orderly and tidy is actually a tool of tyranny and not even efficient.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz (48 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Questions: Why is the Alexander Technique so secretive? And so expensive?
posted by bookbook at 6:40 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Eight.

The Alexander Technique is about learning how to stand, how to stand on our own two feet. That’s a myth.

Reality. We do not stand on our own two feet. We stand on the ground.


Nice to see the folks at The Onion still forging ahead with their little side project.
posted by Marco Polo's Lost Codpiece at 6:46 AM on February 14 [23 favorites]


I studied the Alexander Technique as part of my Dalcroze Eurythmics training in music school, and maybe it has changed a lot since then, or my teacher was teaching in incorrectly, but it was totally about posture, balance, breathing, a line through your body, etc. Everything that article is attempting to refute. And maybe when you get to the advanced classes it is revealed that those concepts are there as a transitional tool because they, like Newtonian physics, are easy-to-grasp approximations of the truth, and the reality is far more complex? But there is no point in saying that Alexander being about posture is a myth when, in your first few classes, they absolutely will focus on posture.

And, on preview, what Marco Polo said. That is some Grade A bullshit right there. Don't take Alexander lessons from that person!
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:50 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Philosophy or back pain relief? Why not both? Hunh?
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 6:51 AM on February 14


Eleven.

The Alexander Technique will make you a Zen ninja. This is a myth.

Reality. Psych! That is actually the truth. You will totally become a ninja. There is also a high chance, if you take enough classes, that you will transform into a being of pure light.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:55 AM on February 14 [13 favorites]


Why is the Alexander Technique.....so expensive?

People think that studying the Alexander Technique costs money. That's a myth. Money is an abstraction, with no real existence. So spending it "costs" you nothing.
posted by thelonius at 6:56 AM on February 14 [36 favorites]


Man. People really can turn anything into a cult.

It’s like how CrossFit started as this basic alternative to boring gyms: some Olympic lifts, some wrestling/gymnastic conditioning exercises and a little casual community. Cool. And before you know it it’s chalk handed bro’s and broettes running around every city forming a swole proselytizing militia.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 7:00 AM on February 14 [24 favorites]


bookbook, I'm not sure what you mean by secretive.

It's expensive because it pretty much needs to be taught by a highly skilled person. It's cheaper if you go to group classes, but it still isn't cheap.

If you want something that I consider to be of high quality which is much cheaper, sometimes free, I recommend Feldenkrais Awareness through Movement, which can be learned from books, audio, podcasts, etc.

grumpybear69, I'd say your teacher was getting it wrong.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:01 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


My uneducated view of Alexander Technique also is basically all the "myths" in that article - I first encountered it in the context of swimming which is all about body positioning and efficiency of movement - so if it's not that, what is it? His "myth rebuttals" read as just hand-wavy muddying of the waters. I get what he thinks AT is not but nothing more about what it truly is.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:12 AM on February 14


This FPP itself is kinda secretive and coy. Are you posting about some form of gnosis or what? I’m genuinely unsure.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 7:12 AM on February 14 [10 favorites]


:shrug: I may or may not have even heard of the Alexander Technique before this -- I don't honestly remember -- and still kind of enjoyed the article.

I mean... this guy is really into his field and finds meaning and depth in it beyond the surface level. Good for him! This is like how I feel about music -- it's not about making the air wiggle, even though it is making the air wiggle.

Or that photo of the zen archer... the point of kyudo isn't particularly to poke holes in things from a distance, that's just how you know you're doing all the rest of it properly.
posted by Foosnark at 7:12 AM on February 14 [8 favorites]


Seeing aside what kind of woo the Alexander Technique is or is not, it does make for some excellent ASMR videos.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:12 AM on February 14


bookbook, I'm not sure what you mean by secretive.

I've just read an entire article about what the Alexander Technique isn't, and am no closer to knowing what it is. That seems at least a little cryptic and secretive.
posted by zamboni at 7:17 AM on February 14 [22 favorites]


I've just read an entire article about what the Alexander Technique isn't, and am no closer to knowing what it is.

Here's a video of Marjorie Barstow, the first graduate of F. M. Alexander's first training course, explaining the technique.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:20 AM on February 14 [9 favorites]


Flannery Culp, I'd say it's about learning how to not do the micro-habits which are making your life harder.

The thing which makes it hard to talk about is that there's an innate ability to move well, but it gets obscured by aftereffects of injury, trauma, bad advice, lack of movement, etc. The innate ability involves a lot of subtle complex adjustments which you can't get at by applying rules to yourself.

I think that still having access to easy movement is what makes children and animals fascinating to watch.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:23 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


grumpybear69, thanks for the link to the video.

I think it's clear, but I'm not sure how easy it is to see the difference when Marjorie Barstow demonstrates two different ways of picking up a book.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:28 AM on February 14


The "bad" way of picking up the book is curling the back forward and the torso down, and the "good" way is to use the core muscles to extend the torso so that the arm can reach the book without any curvature. Posture, mechanics, etc. are definitely and without question part of the technique, though maybe not the end goal.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:35 AM on February 14


The Alexander Technique is a thing you just read about on the internet. That's a myth.

Reality. Your computer screen only appears to be still, but is actually redrawing itself over and over at imperceptible speeds. Your pupils project images upside-down on the back of your eyes. The Earth is hurtling through space. The Alexander Technique is an arrangement of neurons that fired in someone's brain about a hundred years ago. Its pale shadows still haunt books and screens throughout our world.
posted by oulipian at 7:39 AM on February 14 [29 favorites]


grumpybear69, the thing about the Alexander Technique is that it can be a way giving up habits of movement without analyzing them consciously. It's not that mechanics are completely wrong, it's that your attitude about yourself affects your life.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:46 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


How did the human species survive this far when everything we do is apparently wrong?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:06 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Pyrogenesis, a lot of what we do is somewhat wrong, not completely wrong.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:11 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Lest I come off as needlessly argumentative, I will say that I found the version of the AT that I was taught extremely effective, and I apply it to my life as best I can. It is everywhere in the performing arts since people have to stand or sit for extended periods of time, and doing that incorrectly or with tension can have disastrous results. So I don't think the technique is a scam or woo or anything else.

There does seem to be some tension, though, between the theory of AT and its practical applications, which is kind of unsurprising. And I imagine the theoretical underpinnings get watered down to "there is a string with a pendulum at the bottom, running from your head to the base of your feet" when attempting to get young musicians to make the basic progression from slouching to not slouching.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:11 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


It is everywhere in the performing arts since people have to stand or sit for extended periods of time

As opposed to all the other industries, which involve lying down for extended periods of time. Mattress Testers Local 31 represent!
posted by zamboni at 8:23 AM on February 14 [16 favorites]


I think we do develop bad posture habits over the years and having someone coaching us to correct some of those habits in how we walk and stand can be really beneficial. For me it has been finding a really great Pilates instructor who understands body dynamics. I expect I could have had the same results from AT, or Feldenkrais, yoga, etc. as long as the instructor was well-trained. I kid with my instructor that it is also excellent brain work for me--the postures, techniques, etc. require my brain to engage and for me to really connect with what is going on in my body. It is always amazing to me how a tiny adjustment can make a huge difference. The biggest lesson I learned is that it shouldn't hurt--if I am doing an exercise and something is painful, we make some adjustments to how wide my stance is or if my shoulder blades are properly placed or my lower back has a gentle curve, my core is engaged, etc. But I don't find it a spiritual experience--but I am sure it could be for some.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:37 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


So what I'm getting from this thread is that the Alexander Technique is basically Burroughs's D.E. method.
posted by solotoro at 8:37 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]


The innate ability involves a lot of subtle complex adjustments which you can't get at by applying rules to yourself.

This would seem to be a self-negating statement, as something that is innate would not require anything you can't get at on your own. By definition.
posted by hippybear at 8:44 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


solotoro, there's at least some overlap between DE and the Alexander Technique.

agatha_magatha, the point that it shouldn't hurt is extremely important.

Perhaps it's worth looking at a culture which has a wide streak of assuming we *should* be accepting or ignoring a lot of pain.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:51 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


Is this an ad for the Alexander Technique
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:01 AM on February 14 [17 favorites]



How did the human species survive this far when everything we do is apparently wrong?


For humans to have survived this far we didn't really need need our lifespans to expand much past our 40s. When she was the age I am now, my mother was an old sick woman. I have had so many more opportunities than she did, not to get as sick as she was, simply by being born a generation later. Apart from illness and accident her generation got killed off early by bad habits including bad posture, bad food and bad attitudes to exercise, and they didn't even think it was early.
posted by glasseyes at 9:25 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


Here's a video of Marjorie Barstow, the first graduate of F. M. Alexander's first training course, explaining the technique.

This seems super reasonable actually, why obscure it?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:35 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who doesn't understand what the anarchy book has to do with it?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:40 AM on February 14 [6 favorites]


I know musicians who swear by Alexander Technique or the Feldenkrais Method . Seems real to me.
posted by the_blizz at 10:17 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I came across Alexander Technique via a constant stream of this guy's videos recommended to me by YouTube's algo, presumably because I watch some ASMR videos. Soothing videos, and it looks like woo, but I did see some videos where singers were trained to reposition their heads and necks to project better. That seems fairly legit, though the actual teaching method is still pretty odd with a lot of barely touching and repetition of movement.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:20 AM on February 14


It was developed in the 19th century. Shouldn't much of this be in the public domain now?
posted by ShakeyJake at 10:24 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


[Folks, please engage with the content to the extent that you want to. OP, maybe give this thread some breathing room?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:30 AM on February 14


Speaking of ASMR...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 11:58 AM on February 14


I studied the Alexander Technique at drama school and it failed to turn me into Judi Dench. :(

I have been thinking about trying it again because somehow I've turned into a little smartphone-clutching crab and it might be nice to stand up straight.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:54 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I only had a ten minute training session with the Alexandrian technique ( at a science fiction convention, hi Nancy!) but it was amazing. The part about holding one's head as if it was balancing stop the spine worked especially well.
I made efforts over the years to find an actual class, but my basic laziness prevented me from persevering long enough to actually find one.
posted by Nyrath at 2:45 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


..... also known as tai chi
posted by onesidys at 6:22 PM on February 14


Folks, I really thought Alexander Technique isn't better known because it's somewhat hidden away in the performing arts. It never occurred to me that there are a fair number of people who would dislike it on sight, so that's educational for me.

grumpybear69, thank you again for the Marjory Barstow link. OverlappingElvis, coming up with good explanations is hard creative work and takes knowledge of how people are likely to react. Good explanations don't just happen.

Serene Empress Dork, I brought in the anarchy book because it seems to me that posture as commonly understood is an effort to impose a static image on a living system, so there are political parallels.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:14 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


What on earth is the Alexander Technique supposed to do
posted by egypturnash at 6:36 AM on February 15


It never occurred to me that there are a fair number of people who would dislike it on sight

It's the cryptic and pretentious style of the piece you posted that people disliked, I think. People distrust that.
posted by thelonius at 6:53 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]


What on earth is the Alexander Technique supposed to do

A compendium of helpful links and explanations.

Some of the links may be dead, and others are RealAudio streams, which should give you an idea of how old that site is. But it is fairly straightforward. The TL;DR is that AT endeavors to help you move more efficiently and without tension, with an emphasis on holistic applications of that approach to every aspect of your life.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:35 AM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the link, Nancy Lebovitz! I liked it, but I'm also familiar with the concepts from performing arts. It reminded me of what I wanted to work on myself - especially regarding unposturing.
posted by javanlight at 11:10 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Nice link. I've been an AT student for almost 20 years. The outcomes for me include: ease with my instrument, an awareness of when I'm over-controlling my posture/movements, and healing from traumas large and small that leave an imprint on the body and spirit.

Standing up straight is not the aim.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:11 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned Jordan Peterson. Cleaning up your room is probably safe.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:17 AM on February 17


dislike it on sight

I think your familiarity with the subject makes you think that the original article is more substantive than it actually is. For folks who hadn’t encountered Alexander Technique before, it wasn’t dislike on sight, rather that there wasn’t anything there to see.

I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned Jordan Peterson

I have no idea what Peterson has to do with this. If he’s associated with AT, that’s not exactly a recommendation.
posted by zamboni at 6:28 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


zamboni, Peterson's standard advice is "tidy your room and stand up straight".
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:26 AM on February 17


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