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This website is very much a work in progress and any questions or observations are welcome. I am still wondering about the best means of feedback. Various comments systems allow it to be provided and shared with other visitors to the website but also involve the trouble of passwords and other security measures. These are intended to prevent the site being flooded with spam but many people find them annoying.

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COMMENTS

 

Comment on from Uri Bar Zeev (27 August 2012)

"I believe that 'placebo' is just another expression used by those people who think that there is a real dichotomy between body and soul (or mind or what ever).
It belongs to the same group as 'psychosomatic' used to coin complains that are not a "real sickness" or 'auto-suggestion' used to coin a treatment that is not really "medical".
I spent a great deal of my life trying to study this psycho-physical connection, and still am surprised again every time I encounter it!"

GF reply

I too have thought about the placebo effect for a long time. As an AT teacher I found it a bit of a threat. I was afraid of people saying "It's only the placebo effect" and dismissing it. The two talks I gave at the CTC were were my attempt to think my way through this. Our problem with the placebo effect arises because we tend to think that the only thing that cures us is what "healers" do to us. In fact, healing happens - or not - and we, with the aid of "healers", can create the conditions which help or hinder the process. The paper I subsequently wrote is here.

Mark Jones posted on Facebook (23 June 2012)

You may have found things on Esther Gokhale, I admire her scientific approach, all so interesting, this work would be good for comparative research to contrast with AT

The Esther Gokhale Method and anthropologically informed posture work

She started out doing biochemistry at Harvard and Princeton, after miserable L5 S1 disc hernia problems and surgery Esther Gokhale (pronounced Go-clay) has been doing posture work for the last 20 years. She did a five-year course with certification in Aplomb, a French movement re-education approach which is based on anthropological research of the movement and carriage of functional people in countries which have a low incidence of back problems, with Noëlle Perez Christiaens (at the end of the day Christiaens has a more yoga inspired approach than Gokhale)

5% of people in Chad and 7% of people in the highlands of Thailand complain at some point of back pain compared to 90% of people in the US, she takes into account under and over reporting and believes the difference in carriage and movement is worth looking at in several countries

With Gokhale there is no other stuff, nothing indirect or inhibitory, just do it right, or enjoy trying and the practice will lead to noticeable improvement. The reported outcomes are similar to AT, amazing improvements in health etc. People get long lasting postural improvement after a short course of six sessions, sometimes followed up with more sessions and a dance class

As well as more freedom of movement and the reducing or getting rid of aches and pains caused by poor habits, people notice positive personality changes, improved confidence, happiness, less depression etc., she talks about a relationship between emotional health and physical structure

She has a book out. She likes and respects AT and has incorporated some of the ideas, such as the head, neck and (upper) torso relationship, also the position of mechanical advantage, but finds the AT process very long and thinks it doesn't address the beneficial pelvis positioning which she says is the base/foundation to our structure, pointing out that the shapes of the vertebrae imply a better position of the pelvis than is common in westerners, which is - 'the butt should be out there behind you'

See what she says about bending down by 'hip hinging', can be with bending the knees but not necessarily, often done with straight legs, but always with a more or less straight back. She shows a slide of women picking water chestnuts who work 7 to 9 hours every day not squatting but doing this 'hip hinging'. Also, the effects of the way parents carry their kids and the use of push chairs and baby buggies. Some comments about breathing too

I think she is interesting, here is a link to a lunch time lecture delivered to staff at Google :

Esther Gokhale lecture to google staff one of an author series
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yYJ4hEYudE

GF reply

I agree that this looks interesting. I have ordered her book and will comment on it when I have read it. Because things scroll away so quickly on Facebook, I am putting your post on my website where I, at least, will be able to find it and comment on it when I know what she is saying.

 

Mark Jones commented (9 June 2011)

A question that interests me is what about the study of linguistics in all this? Is our use of language part of the problem and part of the solution?

A cat’s paw is completely of the whole cat, because of language, it’s a challenge for us to say that about our human arm. For me the awareness gained by practicing the Alexander Technique seems to counter and resolve some of the problems we have with language and consciousness, which so easily separates things up into compartments or disparate threads, taking us away from the whole of ourselves

Also, in our approach to life, again it’s language that, amongst other things, gives us the difficulty of orientating us to ‘ends’ and fixed points, rather than to the ‘means whereby’ we can develop and progress

Alexandrian ‘Direction’, 'inhibition’ and ‘mind wandering’ are all language aspects of our consciousness

What are your views in this area? Is there anything I can read about this?

GF reply

The question of how we think and talk about what we do as AT people is crucial but I wonder about trying to approach it through linguistics which is a huge area – Chomsky to Derrida with many stations in between.  So I think we need to narrow our range of enquiry and ask ourselves questions we can answer in a fairly structured way. 

Let’s wonder what you mean by A cat’s paw is completely of the whole cat, because of language, it’s a challenge for us to say that about our human arm. I’m not sure I know.

Equally, when someone talks about “the primary control” I do not know what exactly they mean but I do know that different people have different ideas when they use the term - as did Alexander himself as you can see here.  John Brown used to wonder what people meant by “directing” – to some it seems to mean getting into a state close to a trance whereas others envisage it as rapidly giving an “order” and moving on to the next thing.  So even about our most fundamental AT concepts we do not have a common language. 

This does not answer the questions you are asking but I think it suggests a way to proceed.  The awfulness of Alexander’s prose is in large part a result of his determination to be clear, as he himself admitted.   His aim was to make the AT an essential element in education and everyday medical practice both of which require a reasonably clear and common language among AT practitioners.  If we are to get anywhere in that task, we not only need to be clear in the way we talk to ourselves but we also need to use, or develop,  a language which communicates our thinking clearly to others. 

Rex Alexander commented (21 March 2011)

Uri is on to something when he says "the grandeur of the AT, even when you apply it wrongly - it still helps."   This statement reminds me of something that Harry Lorrayne, mentalist, magician and memory expert says regarding his memory systems  "Even if they didn't work, they would work!" 
I am not comparing the AT to memory systems, and not comparing FMA to Harry Lorrayne.  But the fact is that the various memory systems as taught by Harry and  others since the ancient Romans do indeed work, and they work quite handily and elegantly.  However, Harry's point is that even if they were pure bunk, just by paying attention generally and specifically, "splashing around" in the memory systems, and intending to remember things, your memory is  bound to improve.  
He is right, of course.  Similarly with AT, just by virtue of the self-observation, by becoming aware of habits of misuse, chronic states of tensions, kinesthesia, proprioception, et al, and by trying to "get out of the way"  (as weasely as that sounds) to allow better use to unfold naturally, use must improve. 

GF reply  Thanks Rex.  I think this is an important point.  It is why teachers are able to obtain similarly beneficial results in their pupils despite the very different “teaching styles” of the various schools.   But the fact that we do not know exactly how or why we achieve our results, or indeed precisely what they are, is a weakness that allows us to argue dogmatically and unproductively with each other.  It also means that we are not as effective as we might be in carrying out our work and explaining ourselves to the world.  A large part of the problem in my view is that there tends to be more anecdote than analysis in discussions about the AT. 

Frank Pierce Jones tried to tackle this by looking for correlations between the subjective feelings of release and lightness when having AT lessons and objectively measureable physiological changes.  My own feeling is that there is something deeper going on.  Coghill grapples with it in his thinking about conflicts between the “individuation” of body parts and the “total pattern”  as I try to describe in my Talk No 20 on him (here).I also get a feeling that Sherrington gets close to what is going on especially in his thinking about the role of the eyes.  It is all a long way beyond me at the moment, so there is a lot to think about.

 

From Uri bar Zeev (24 August 2010)

Your article on the primary control reminds me what my old and much revered teacher used to say:  “That's the grandeur of the AT, even when you apply it wrongly - it still helps.”  It could equally be applied to the primary control.  Even if Alexander himself understood it wrongly, or at least failed to explain it adequately - it has its own truth and it still works. 
But it bothers me that this debate took place the best part of a centurry ago.  How do we in the AT now stand in relation to modern understanding of the  neuromuscular system?  Has there been any serious recent work in this area? 

As far as I know, there has been very little research work on the neurophysiology of the AT.  The Society of Alexander Teachers (STAT) maintains a register of research studies into the AT.  It is available on the STAT website  http://www.stat.org.uk/pages/research.htm/  A further list was compiled by the late Dr Chris Stevens and is also  on the STAT website at http://www.stat.org.uk/pages/research3.htm/
The majority of  these studies have been on the therapeutic effects of the AT and have followed the normal testing protocols for treatments of various pathological conditions.  In such studies the AT is usually compared with conventional treatments, with a further control group of subjects receiving no treatment.  In the back pain study published last year, for example, the AT was compared with massage therapy, exercise prescription, and behavioural counselling.  Generally, the trials listed by STAT have shown the AT to be significantly superior to other treatments but the number of trials is small.
To my knowledge there has been little work on elucidating what happens at a neurophysiological level during AT lessons.   In my paper Towards a neurophysiology of the AT elsewhere on this website I discuss what a number of scientists have said about the AT but the amount of material is small and the totality remains well short of a comprehensive description or theory of what is happening.
Frank Pierce Jones working in the late 1950s and 1960s, attempted to identify the immediate physiological effects of the AT.  His collected writings, published in 1998, provide details of this work.   His summary of the working of the AT from the last chapter (p148) of his uncompleted book  Freedom to change, published in 1976, is worth repeating:

In malposture, muscles in various combinations and degrees of tension have shortened, displacing the head or holding it in a fixed position. Head displacement would have an adverse effect on the rest of the body partly because of the added weight and strain put on muscles and ligaments, but largely, I believe, because of interference in the righting reflexes by abnormal pressure on the joints of the neck. What is basically an incomplete response to gravity would in time come to feel natural, and the muscles contributing to it would be strengthened by exercise. The procedures used in the Alexander Technique establish a new dynamic balance among the forces acting on the head so as to allow more of the postural work to be done by disks and ligaments and by muscles acting at their optimal length.

To my knowledge this is about the best detailed neurophysiological description of the AT that we have to date and it comes from nearly fifty years ago.  I would really love to to discover other studies I have missed. 

From Malcolm Williamson (23 August 2010)

I am very pleased to have received an e-mail from Malcolm Williamson relating to the Lund University head-neck research work (here).  Malcolm was a professional violist for many years and now runs the Manchester Alexander Technique Training School (http://www.alextechteaching.org.uk/index.htm).  He also  teaches the AT at the Royal Northern College of Music.  This is what he says:

I wonder what effect holding a violin under your chin in a static position has on one's ability to scan a musical score or to sit/stand comfortably. As you say there is a high degree of redundancy in the system and, all things being equal, we are able to make compensatory adjustments to cope adequately. However, many musicians do experience difficulties which hold them back in their studies (not just violinists). "Tension" is a recognised problem which the AT can help to address. You've got me wondering about the position of the head - turned towards the left shoulder - and how that can challenge someone's postural organisation beyond their ability to compensate successfully. I suspect many violinists go about life permanently holding themselves in "violin mode" so limiting their neck flexibility and ability to adapt to other daily activities.

My main interest in looking at the Lund University work was to see how far it is possible express our understanding of the AT in a  conventional neurophysiological framework.  This is an opportunity to do so. In neurological terms, the problem illustrated by Malcolm is a result of the versatility and plasticity of the human neuromuscular system.   Humans are able to learn how to play the violin because unlike other vertebrates we have a very high ability to override our innate neuromuscular endowment – we can use ourselves in very odd ways.  Looking at the totality of a violinist’s neuromuscular organisation or “posture”, it is clear there is nothing “natural” about it; being a skilled performer requires a complex and dynamic deployment of learned skills.   
With time and experience the performance of many of these learned skills becomes habitual and drops below the level of the consciousness.  These habits then tend to override the postural reflexes on which the body relies for the  restoration of its natural harmonious neuromuscular balance.  It is not so much that we have learned how to use ourselves badly; it is that we have isolated ourselves from the restorative effect of our postural reflex system. Alexander said we have acquired a ‘faulty sensory awareness”; Rudolph Magnus thought of it as a “physiological a priori’  that imprisons us in our way of thinking and determines the nature of our experiences and observations. 
The question is how do we escape from the trap of our distorted sense of awareness.  Alexander seemed to believe it was possible to extend constructive conscious control into the very workings of the reflex system.   Walter Carrington more credibly suggested it was a question of creating the conditions in which the autonomic system can function as it should.  Our skills as AT teachers lie in the extent to which we have learned the practicalities of freeing ourselves and our pupils from the trap of habit.
I would not attempt to second-guess the Carringtons or other skilled teachers on the practice of the AT.  But I think the effort to express what we do in more scientifically communicable language is ultimately worthwhile for us as teachers and, one hopes, for our pupils.  Looking at where we are now, there is still a lot of flesh to be put on the existing rather bare theoretical bones.

Daniel Trumbull wrote (19 April 2010)

My university term has started again and I had my first yoga lesson today. I couldn't resist asking my teacher about stretching. This is roughly  what she said:
What most people, including sports-people, do when they stretch is passive stretching which is quite useless.  The majority of people tend to tighten or contract their  muscles far too much most of the time; they then do some exercises to stretch them, in the hope that this will loosen them up after they have been treated so badly.
The result is that nothing happens.  The mucles are stretched and afterwards go back into their contracted positions.  She gave the example of a pianist’s shoulders being habitually pulled down in the front while playing and said that they go back there again after stretching as if nothing had happened.
Yoga doesn't do that, she says (There are one or two exercises where I'm not sure but for the majority she's right), instead the muscles are actively stretched. That means that we stretch them (little side question: do we actually stretch the muscles when we stretch or do we only stretch the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones?) and use them at the same time. This she says has the effect of breaking up the habitual pattern on muscular use, as we would call it. The muscles learn that there are also other positions in which they can work and that in turn makes them flexible and freer.  I think that may be a very clever thought...
The undeniable fact is that many people who do yoga profit from it a lot; my teacher, for example, has wonderful use as far as I can tell. What do you think about it?

I have no practical experience of yoga but what your teacher says makes sense to me in purely physiological terms.  If we tighten our muscles and then try to stretch them, they resist by tightening even further.  As your teacher says, nothing is changed and the old pattern of excessive tension remains. If the stretching is forceful, there is a risk of damage to the muscles. 
On the technical point you raise, muscle stretching occurs in the muscle rather than the tendons.  There is obviously some stretching in tendons but the main change is in the muscle fibres where tiny structures called sarcomeres are able to slide over each other causing the muscle to lengthen or contract. 
In my view, the most important thing before launching into exercise is to quieten oneself physically and mentally.  This allows the muscles to lengthen which increases their efficiency as you begin to exercise them.  The quietening also allows the postural reflexes to bring the whole muscular system into a greater degree of harmony with itself before you begin to use it. I am sure this is quite compatible with traditional forms of yoga.

A reader wrote (20 April 2010)

I would like to raise the question of “end-gaining”. 

I totally agree about the need to build up and use the proper “means-whereby”  when carrying out an action but what does avoiding “end-gaining” actually involve?  Does it mean giving up one’s motivation, giving up ambition,  waiting for things to happen more patiently?  What about taking active steps to improve results,  to remove obstacles, to fight against difficulties?

Maybe it is just a philosophical question about order of priorities that I am taking it to extremes.  Is it a subject worth discussing?

End-gaining is certainly worth discussing.   Alexander obviously saw it as a central idea in the Technique and refers to it in each of his books. I think about it all the time and always feel I have more to learn. 

Alexander describes what he means by it in some detail in Section III in Man’s Supreme Inheritance where he is discussing golf.  He makes the point that it is no use telling the  golfer what to do “without consideration of the means whereby.”  It is no use having the “end” of hitting the golf ball  “without making certain that the pupil has the power to maintain a proper position of his spine and back and to use the limbs correctly during the performance of such acts.”

This makes obvious sense.  The question of end-gaining cannot be separated from that of the means-whereby. There is no point in trying to hit the ball without knowing how to use the golf-club properly.  Alexander’s own experience was that striving towards the end of  being a reciter without knowing clearly to use his voice and, indeed, his whole psycho-physical mechanism, did not work.  In the broader philosophical context, it is always necessary to examine whether the means  being used to reach any particular end are appropriate.  But this is different from not having ends, ambitions or intentions.  Unless we have objectives and try to achieve them  nothing happens.

Our problem is that our way of going about achieving our objectives tends to be subject to habits which are so deeply rooted we do not notice them.  We have psychophysical preconceptions about virtually everything we do.  The result is that in our daily life, we try to achieve our ends in the ways that feel right even though they may be all wrong. We certainly bring subtly faulty means-whereby to our end of not end-gaining.

Our task as practitioners of the AT and teachers is to find the means to uncover and inhibit these wrong approaches. Nobody should think this is a simple process or one that is easily accomplished.  I am always uncovering new evidence of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which I continue to pursue my ends using inappropriate means-whereby. 

Daniel Trumbull wrote (5 April 2010)

I am a harpsichordist and I read your article on stretching with considerable interest.  The evidence you give that pre-exercise stretching is futile and can even be damaging is convincincing.  Does this mean that stretching in general is to be avoided?  I am thinking especially of yoga, which I practise quite frequently as a counter-balance to all the sitting I do as a harpsichordist.  As you well know, yoga involves what one could call “vigorous stretching”.  What do you think about that?

I find the question of stretching very interesting indeed.  I was amazed when I found how little physiological justification there is for the kind of stretching that footballers and other athletes do.
Gentle stretching, on the other hand, seems to a very natural and presumably beneficial thing that all kinds of animals do.  The slow and seemingly deliberate way cats do it is particularly noticeable.   
I do not have any personal experience of yoga but lots of my pupils are quite devoted to it.   Looking at it from the outside, it is obvious that there are many ways of going about it.  I have even read of "power yoga" which sounds quite alarming.  Some people also get a lot from the "spiritual"  side on which I can make no comment. I am assuming, however, that ordinary physiological principles can be applied to when thinking of the effects it has on muscles. 
Elsewhere on the site I have a discussion on the role of red and white fibres in muscles.  I think the way these are mobilised by the neurological system is relevant to the question.  In broad terms, the red fibres are mobilised for posture and slow, gentle, repetitive activities; the white fibres are for quick and more strength-demanding actions.  You can read more here, or there is a longer and more technical discussion of the whole question of muscles and exercise here.
Before beginning any kind of stretching, I think it is important to stop and allow oneself to quieten and lengthen.  The stretching should then begin slowly and gently.  In physiological terms, this means one is mobilising the red muscle fibres which are required for posture and endurance.   The exercise can then build up gradually so that the white fibres which are required for strenth and speed  are brought into action.   The key is to begin gently and then build up.  This brings about a balanced development of the red and white fibres in the muscles.   If one is very tense to begin or gets too quickly into vigorous action, there is a danger that the development of the white fibres is over-emphasised – though if you were a boxer that might be exactly what you want.
This kind of balanced muscle development also requires an an engagement with the external world.   If your yoga requires a sense of withdrawal from the external world, pick a separate time for it.  The eyes, the sense of contact with the floor or the chair, the awareness of one's orientation in space, are all  essential inputs to the body's sense of itself and its development of the appropriate muscular responses to the internal and external challenges it faces.   So one has to stay in the world.
This whole question is interesting and complicated.  It would be nice to hear from others.

Simon Brant wrote (8 January 2010)

I had a look at your website and found it very interesting. I went straight to the muscles and stretching article (here) and I have to admit that I was shocked by what it said about stretching. I definitely shared the widespread belief  that any exercise must be carried out only after a thorough stretching routine.
My question is this: if what the article says about stretching is true, why are athletes  encouraged to do it before competition? My thoughts are taken back to when I was playing for Loughborough University football team.  Training and matchdays were always preceded by a stretching warm up.
Are we now being advised to not stretch at all or should we take a minimalistic attitude to it? I have on occasions gone into exercise without much stretching and have felt tight during and afterwards and then came away thinking if only I had stretched more beforehand. Also, what is the opinion on stretching after exercise?  Should this be more thorough?
The article has really got me thinking Gerry so thank you for pointing me towards it. I'm having a little trouble with the lateral collateral ligament or it could be the lateral meniscus in my right knee at the moment so if you have any thoughts on how I might be able to ease that area of the knee it would be most welcome.

I'm glad you found the article useful, or at least thought-provoking.  I was equally surprised when I came upon the first BMJ article back in 2002.  The BMJ is not the Daily Mail and deserves to be taken seriously.  I have carefully checked all the other sources I could find to see if any later research comes up with anything different but found nothing. 
As to why the problems with stretching have not been more widely recognised, I can only suppose it is because deeply engrained habits of thought take a while to eliminate. Most gyms are not exactly hotbeds of intellectual discussion on the latest findings in neuroscience. - and, of course, normal stretching is not necessarily harmful even if it does no good.  The real danger lies with those  who think "more is better" and that "pushing through the pain barrier" is a good thing.  The number of sports injuries certainly suggests that not everything is perfect in training and conditioning.
You mention feeling tight when you did not do any stretching.  This could have been because in omitting the stretching, you cut short the warm-up. There is also the fact that following the established routine has its own psychological comforts
In my view, the best thing before exercise is do some "stopping" and allowing everything to lengthen.  This puts the muscles into the optimum starting condition.  Then one can move into a gradual warm-up.  I am not sure that stretching as such, beyond the kind that cats and other animals do, serves any great purpose.  But as part of the warm-up I can see how how some stretching could be useful.  Tennis players, for example, go through their whole repertoire of strokes in the knock-up.  I see no problems with some gentle stretching as part of the warm-down
It would be interesting to get some other views on this.  If you have any Loughborough contacts perhaps you could check with them and let us know.
As an AT teacher, I have no detailed knowledge of clinical anatomy so I cannot comment on what precisely is wrong with your knee.  But I think the Alexander view that if a joint or area of muscle is hurting you, you are using it wrongly is broadly valid.  It also suggests that you should try to stop the misuse.  Dare I suggest a session with an AT teacher?

uri bar zeev wrote (31 January 2010)

In my training course we were recently discussing how to deal with pupils with difficult problems where the normal gentle “forward and up” procedure appear inadequate and something more seems to be required.  Our teacher talked of the need to “break the pattern” in such cases where the pupil appears to be “stuck” in a particular pattern of postural misuse.
In such cases he said his own teacher, Patrick McDonald, one of the “first generation” teachers trained by Alexander himself, used to move the pupil’s head into a deliberately different position.  This might be with the chin inclined deeply downward towards the chest or up and backwards. The idea was to allow the student to experience the neck being free in an unusual position – out of its usual configuration – as a means of breaking the habitual pattern and moving towards the neck being free in a normal position.
He emphasised that it was not the position of head that was important but the dynamic of the movement’s direction.  He said it was essential that the wrists remained absolutely free throughout the procedure.  He also said that this should only be done by an experienced teacher and as a last resort in difficult cases.
Have you used this as a teacher yourself  or do you know of where I can find some written material on it?

Good to hear from again Uri.  This is a highly interesting point you raise.  It touches on the variations in teaching style between the various “lineages” of teachers and reinforces the point that pupils should be prepared to try several teachers, or shift between teachers, to find one they are comfortable with. 
My own training has been entirely in the Carrington mould and I tend to feel more comfortable with the gentle "forward and up" you describe as opposed to the what is usually thought of as the more vigorous McDonald style.  But no one who had a lesson with Walter or Dilys Carrington was ever in doubt about the strength of their hands or the fact that during a lesson your body was going where they wanted it go. 
The differences between the lineages tend to be of degree rather than anything fundamental.    Your teacher emphasises the need to focus on the dynamic of the movement – and the all-important point of keeping the wrists free.  This is not a question of crudely forcing the head into an unusual position.
The neurophysiological "model" of how the AT works that I suggesting in my paper (here) is rooted in Walter's observation that the AT creates the conditions in the pupil in which the autonomic system, the postural reflexes, can function properly.  The key to this is to get the head-neck relationship, the “primary control” working properly.
The problem is that most people are such a mess of deeply engrained habit that getting the head-neck area free and working properly can be difficult.  And even when the neck is free we tend to hang on strongly to habits in all sorts of other parts of our bodies.  It is in addressing these kinds of problems that experienced teachers develop particular “pattern-breaking” approaches like you describe.
I fully agree with the warning that an unskilled AT teacher may be tempted to try to short-cut the proper AT work on the head-neck relationship in favour of what they believe is some such  “pattern-breaking” approach.   The result can be that the pupil receives a kind of manipulative treatment rather than a consciously controlled correction of their faulty pattern of use.  This may provide some help but it is not the AT and it is likely to miss deeper-lying habits of misuse in the pupil.

uri bar zeev wrote (29 December 2009)

I read and enjoyed your paper “Towards a neurophysiology of the AT”.  I think it is a useful contribution.  Can I ask you at what stage of development in your thinking it stands and what is your purpose in writing it?
I would also like to raise a  question which comes from my reading of Niko Tinbergen and my preparation of a paper on him as part of my qualification as an AT teacher.  In his Alexander Memorial Lecture in 1976, he talks of evolutionary developments representing a compromise solution to the environmental pressures on the animal and gives the example of a duck’s feet which are fairly good at swimming and fairly good at walking.  What do you think of the “imperfect” position in which evolution has left the human head?  And does this have implications for the AT work we do on ourselves and our pupils?

Thank you very much for reading my paper and taking the trouble to send your comments.  I am very pleased you liked it. 
As to its status, it is about as far as I can take it at the moment.   I wrote it because, having a technical  background,  I tend to take a fairly scientific and analytic approach to the AT.  A lot of writing about the AT is what I call “anecdotal” and I am trying to do something to redress the balance between it and the analytic.  I think this is important if we want the AT to become part of a mainstream approach to health and well-being rather than being seen as yet another  “alternative” approach. 
Your question about evolution is an extremely good one because of the number of issues it raises.  I doubt if I can do it justice but here are a few thoughts.  If you wish to come back on any of them feel free to do so.
Evolution works only on species.  But it can only do so through individuals making the best of what they are and where they find themselves.  Moreover, the preferential survival of certain mutations can only happen where the the environment particularly favours them. Ducks may gradually develop webbed feet in response to an environmen where swimming is useful but if desertification occurs they are likely to become extinct in the face of competition from better fliers and walkers. 
In our case, the position of our head has obviously been suitable for the emergence of our big brains. As a result, we have virtually eliminated the process of natural selection in our own case and rely for our survival on our ability to manipulate ourselves and our environment as circumstances change. 
As I understand Tinbergen, one of his main points was dismiss the validity of any appeal to evolution – such as we have not fully evolved into our bipedalism – as a reason for our misuse of ourselves.  Instead, we can and should use our brains to work out how we are misusing ourselves in the evolutionary state and environmental circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Understanding the influence and importance of the postural reflexes can help in this.  It is then up to us to exercise conscious control to stop our misuse and replace it with a better manner of use.  This is where the AT comes in.  It is one of our options for identifying, preventing and undoing the effects of the damaging use of ourselves in which we engage.

Bryan Niblett wrote (20 Dec 2009)

There is one comment I should make that raises a fundamental point. On page 62 you use the expression 'faulty sensory perception'. This is wrong. There is no fault in sensory perception and cannot be. If there were then man could have no certainty in any f his conclusions and the AT could not have been discovered. The faultiness enters not at the perceptual level but with the conceptual faculty.

Here we are fallible. It is with conscious awareness that we may be at fault. Alexander understood this point and did not use the expression 'faulty sensory perception'but 'faulty sensory appreciation'. There is a fundamental distinction between these two expressions and it lies at the root of the AT.

Thank you for that. You are, of course, absolutely correct about my mis-attribution of the term "faulty sensory perception" to Alexander. It was careless of me and I have now put it right in the paper.

I actually prefer Alexander's "debauched kinaesthesia" as a more precise rendering of the idea. I am also quite struck by how tantalisingly closely Magnus came to the same idea with his "physiological a priori".