How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery by Missy Vineyard
Book Review by Robert Rickover
What qualities make for a good written introduction to the Alexander Technique?
My own answer is that it should engage readers and entice them to find out more from a teacher. When I first heard about the Technique in the mid 1970s, Wilfred Barlow's The Alexander Principle served that function for me, despite the fact that I had trouble understanding large parts of it. I can vividly remember reading and re-reading chapters with great interest and then realizing I did not really understand what he was talking about. What I did get was that there was something important for me there, and I somehow knew it was important for me to learn more about it.
In recent years, Michael Gelb's Body Learning and Jeremy Chance's The Alexander Technique (sadly now out of print, although used copies are readily available from Amazon) are the two books I've been recommending to my students who want a book they can give to a friend or family member who they think might benefit from lessons in the Technique. Now, I'll be adding Missy Vineyard's How You Stand to the top of my list.
How You Stand is really three books in one, accompanied with helpful charcoal drawings, aimed at three overlapping audiences. The first portion of the book is is written primarily for readers who know little or nothing about the Technique and it does this better than any other book I know. In addition to a clearly-written and very appealing introduction to the Technique, Vineyard's book does something I've not see elsewhere: it uses detailed descriptions of portions of lessons from her teaching practice to illustrate key Alexander concepts like use and misuse, faulty sensory awareness, ends and means-whereby. This makes for an extremely effective method of getting these ideas across, particularly for those many readers who - like myself 30 plus years ago - would have a hard time understanding an abstract, factual descrliption.
The second part of the book is aimed at a much wider audience - readers new to the Technique, students of the Technique and even Alexander teachers. Vineyard has very interesting and well thought out ideas about inhibition and direction that differ in some ways from traditional Alexander teaching. In this section she uses these as the basis for several simple "exercises" designed to teach the reader how to inhibit and direct.
I can picture the reaction of many Alexander Technique teachers to this last sentence. Certainly my initial reaction was to be a bit skeptical. However, after experimenting with them on myself, and with some of my students, I can say they are remarkably effective. Throughout the book, Vineyard emphasizes the importance of seeking the help of a trained teacher. Nonetheless, I believe some readers will be able to learn useful directing and inhibiting skills by following her suggestions.
A particularly interesting chapter is titled "Believing Is Not Seeing". In it Vineyard gives a detailed account of a lesson with her son, a Little league baseball player who often struck out when he was at bat. The process she used to help him is easy to understand and was highly effective in improving his batting. I believe anybody with the same issue could, with a bit of experimenting, achieve similar results. More importantly, it suggests an approach to inhibition that can be transfered to all sorts of sports and performance activities.
The final part, directed mainly at readers new to the Technique, covers the role of consciousness and touch in our society. There are also some Alexander-influenced exercises designed to help people strengthen their back muscles. I found this to be the least interesting part of the book, although I am sure others will find it very helpful.
Although I do have a few quibbles (see footnote below), I believe How You Stand is the best written introduction to the Alexander Technique available today. I also think Alexander teachers, and students who are already taking lessons, will find much of value in this book.
Footnote: In a couple of places, Vineyard talks about our body's centers of gravity and I believe she has some of them incorrectly located. She locates the center of gravity of the leg at the knee when, in fact, it is above the knee and places the center of gravity of the trunk further back and lower than its actual location.
In her descriptions of Alexander's directions, she describes "forward and up" as a vector, combining aspects of “up” and “forward”. From what I've seen and experienced elsewhere, this is the Walter Carrington take on directions. It differs significantly from many other teachers, including Patrick MacDonald and Marjorie Barstow for example, who thought of "forward" as a tendency of the head to tilt forward around the AO joint - because of the location of its center of gravity above and forward of that joint. Because this version of “forward” is not a linear direction, it cannot be part of a vector.
Robert Rickover is a teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada. Robert is the author of Fitness Without Stress - A Guide to the Alexander Technique and is the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique
How you Stand, How you Move, How you Live: Learning the Aleander Technique to explore your mind-body connection and achieve self-mastery by Missy Vineyard is available at the Alexander Technique Bookstore and at the Alexander Technique Bookshop (listed under "introductory books").
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