Miss Goldie - Teacher of the Alexander Technique

Ellen Avery Margaret Goldie, 1905-1997

by Robert Rickover

If I ask you not to do something, there is no way you can do it right. - Miss Goldie

Margaret Goldie - "Miss Goldie" as she was called by many - was a first-generation teacher who was not part of any of the standard "schools" of Alexander Technique teaching (Carrington, McDonald, Barlow etc). She was often quite critical of these strands of Alexander teaching.

In the past few years, two wonderful publications by Goldie students have come out. I've read them both and I cannot recommend them enough for AT teachers, and serious students of the AT. They provide a refreshingly different perspective on Alexander's work.

To the extent that her teaching seems to have matched any other teacher I know, there certainly appear to be some strong resonances with Marjorie Barstow - although their "procedures" were very, very different. Both placed a great deal of emphasis on learning how to work on yourself, and not fall back on lessons with other teachers to get you out of a mess.

The 2 publications are Lessons with Miss Goldie by Penelope Easten and Not to 'Do' by Fiona Robb - f.robb@ram.ac.uk.

Some very interesting material about Margaret Goldie can be found at http://placelore.typepad.com/recollection/2008/03/miss-margaret-g.html . One of her more provocative quotes found on this site: "It would be best if all the Alexander schools in the world closed down and all the Alexander Teachers stopped teaching so that at least one may return to the source and discover what this work is about."

On a personal level, I now very much regret not having had lessons with Miss Goldie when I was training in London in the late 1970s and early 80s. I checked out just about all the first generation teachers around, and even had a few lessons with Miss Goldie's office mate at the time, John Skinner, but none with her. Her name rarely came up in conversations with other trainees at the time.

I did catch a glimpse of her once, peering out of her office - both she and her waiting room, near Soho, seemed right out of the early 1900s. But as both these publications make clear, her ideas about directing, looking after yourself, and many other Alexander topics, make a lot of sense for us today.

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If any other teachers or students have accounts of their lessons with Miss Goldie, I would be happy to include them on this page. I would also love to have some photos of her. Here's what I've received so far:

This from David Mills, a Seattle teacher: I had the opportunity to have some lessons with Miss Goldie in the early 90's while I was working on my PhD. One of the ways she was similar to Marj Barstow was that she saw her role as systematically providing stimuli for me to not react to. She did this more formally (explicitly) than Marj usually did.

Here are a couple of the more quotable things she said during the lessons:

"You're not here to get better at what you already know."

"If I ask you not to do something, there is no way you can do it right."

She also seemed to enjoy relating the story of a student of FM's who, after struggling for some time with the idea of "adventuring in the unknown," came to a lesson and said to FM, "Oh I see, you can't have a pre-view of the unknown."

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Joe Boland has compiled the following quotes by Miss Goldie from Not to 'Do' - his review was published in the Fall 2000 issue of the AmSAT Newsletter:

P29...”I told her that my problem was with `thinking'. She volunteered that it was everybody's problem.”

P30...”The idea is not to reduce the amount of energy in the system, but rather to re-channel it.”

P31...”When she was speaking about getting out of the chair, she said that I was not to think about it - I was not to think about what the teacher was asking me to do.”

P33...”She kept emphasizing the need for me to quieten down: to allow all that noise in my head to stop, especially in my head and neck.”

P36...”Some people think that by `stopping' you have to freeze, but you don't. There is a subtle difference between freezing and what we want by being alive.”

P37...”Everybody needs to learn to think in this new way- it is new to everybody.”

P40...”Don't just wait for the panic to happen, rather ask for something else before it gets to that stage. It is a brain thought, a decision, a choice. You can choose for something else to happen- no, you can't make it happen.”

P40...”Regarding decisions and choice: `Brain activity should not involve muscle activity. Often it does, but it need not.'"

P41...”It is no good at all to have Alexander work unless you `stop'. Unless you `stop' the work is of no value.”

P42...”No, you don't know. You might be right now- but even if you are, it won't be right next moment. The right of a few minutes ago is not right now.”

P46...”You're a discoverer- you don't know.”

P47...”If you worry; you use up all your energy to do the worrying and you have none left in reserve to think clearly and deal with the problem quietly- and there to realize that the perceived problem was not actually a problem at all.”

P47...”I think that at LR (Carrington training centre) they `do' too much...Because teachers qualified from there come to me for lessons and they're all doing to much.”

P48...”No- you don't know (whether you are quiet or not). You cannot go for the end of quietness directly-rather you can only intend it and reflect over time(with hindsight) as to whether it's come about. This is what FM meant by `not going for the end directly'- by `not seeking a result directly.' “

P49...”You don't have to `do' anything about it.”

P53...”Look at animals- they move beautifully, but they don't know they're doing it.”

P53...”Well you see, if you're quiet and really `stop'- as none of us ever do- then you are doing nothing. In particular, you're not doing the wrong thing, so that the right thing does itself. So the head-neck back is secondary- it comes out of the `stopping'. You don't need to know it, but it's useful to understand it. The practice is in the `stopping'- the theory flows from your understanding and gleaning of truths which emerge out of the practice. You see animals move beautifully, but they don't know what they're doing or how they're doing it. So once you `stop', then you may begin to do less with your neck muscles and then the head may proceed forward and up of itself- it is so.”

P55...”Now your head grows out of your body and your knees go forward, away from the body- don't pull them into your body.”

P60...”Don't cover yourself in glory because you think you've got it right.”

P61...”You come to this lesson to learn how to `stop'. The lesson doesn't end when we finish- rather, it begins as you walk out the door.”

P64...”I just want to open your eyes a bit to what you're entering into- the responsibilities.”

P64...”The Technique is about `non-doing'- learning not to `do'.”

P65...”Don't even think of being taken out of the chair.”

P68...”I do not want you to `do' anything to think. You do not have to `do' anything. Do not make muscle tension to think. It's about consent and choice. Just register the decision that you want to be quiet and then let it go. That (the mere act of registering) is all that is necessary- nothing more.”

P69...”Brain thought does not require `doing'.”

P73...”Allow your brain to stop and keep stopping- keep that, even while we go into movement.”

P75...”And still while you're standing, don't even think that you're standing.”

P75...”You don't know- you're a discoverer.”

P82...”Don't worry about those little set-backs. It doesn't matter if you think you've gone wrong. Just stop. Allow yourself to get it wrong. There's always a next time in which you needn't go wrong. It's when you try to hold onto those setbacks and make a meal Out of them that they do you harm. Just let them go, and carry on being quiet.”

P92...”Don't look for results.”

P97...”If you fix on anything , you've lost it. It's a continual process- a process of continual growing and change.”

P114...”It's no good you thinking of `doing' anything- you don't know.”

P117...”The work is about `not-doing', and people don't seem to understand this- they are always asking what can they do.”

P119...”`Stopping' is everything: Then nature can do its thing in the way only it knows how- which you don't know.”

P129...”Now if something happens which you do not intend, don't fuss about it- don't let it bother you or put you off. Don't react to it-you just carry on with your `stopping'.”

P133...”Any doing is an overdoing.”

P133...”None of us know what `stopping' really is, but we can explore the possibility of it.”

P134...”You don't know what `right' is. Don't try to be right.

P145...”...each time it is a discovery- you're not trying to `do' anything or reproduce an experience you've had. You don't know what it is for your knees to go forward- you're discovering it anew each time.”

P147...”The problem is that we think we have to `do' so much to `stop'. It is not a `doing' stopping- rather a decision at brain- thought level.”

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Sue Harvey sent this account of her lessons with Miss Goldie:

I had lessons with her when I was 14 back in 1969 (in Soho) and again much later in Oxford (around 1980) I also visited her at her home when she lived in Richmond, Surrey. Being so young I don't remember many particular phrases she used - but we used to talk about all sorts of things - day to day stuff - not necessarily anything about the technique - but her hands were doing the talking.

My mum used to notice the difference between when I went in for the lesson and came out. I was a withdrawn and unhappy young teenager - riddled with anxiety problems and low self esteem - one problem she had was getting me to 'look the world in the eye' and stop looking down. One thing I remember was how I felt about life in general when I was with her - her gently voice - her dry sense of humour, and the wonderful trees outside her window in soho swaying in the breeze. For a while I was calm and able to enjoy the simple things of life. We spoke a lot about Cranks - a then trendy vegetarian eatery not far away - but she never pushed anything on me - but left me wanting to find out more.

I remember on one occasion my mum was really worried as we had left home in a hurry to get the train to London and she thought she may have left the iron on. She tried phoning a neighbour next door but there was no answer. ' They must be out', mum said - obviously getting pretty worried. ' Yes, said Miss Goldie - they're probably all out watching the fire'. Miss Goldie had her very own sense of humour! (She hadn't left the iron on by the way - the house was still standing when we got home!)

I remember lying on several telephone directories when she did the lying down stuff - which was always at the end of the lesson - and right at the end she would raise me up and I would honestly feel as if I was floating! I also remember it was in a less commercial time and Miss Goldie didn't have a set fee -everyone paid what they could afford . Sadly this isn't the case now and Alexander Technique lessons are only available to those who can afford them.

I think I had around 20 lessons by which time I was such a different person. My panic attacks had stopped - I had discovered the joys of the opposite sex and did a bit of travelling. A lot of water had passed under the bridge and sadly I have let all my teaching slip. I have recently been diagnosed with Osteoporosis in the spine and am trawling through the vast amount of confusing and conflicting advice on what I should and shouldn't be eating. I have tracked down an A.T. teacher in Leamington and am waiting to speak to her - but apprehensive I may compare - Miss Goldie was truly unique.

Miss Goldie with F. Matthias Alexander

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