THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE TO SOMATIC THERAPIES

by Barbara Conable

Over the last few decades a new field of inquiry has arisen called somatics. The field's development has taken a course opposite to many fields. Rather than branching into specializations from a common core of information as medicine and chemistry did, somatics began specialized and has gradually generalized as workers in one discipline have become curious about other disciplines. Most persons in the field look for an integration of somatic disciplines over the next few generations.

One might make an analogy to a jigsaw puzzle. Here and there unrelated persons discovered pieces of the body puzzle. Gradually the pieces have come together and are fitting together. Alexander discovered a corner piece of the body puzzle, one of the really important pieces that orients the others.

There is another model of somatics that is instructive. In her book Somatics: Perspectives on the Emerging Field of Psychophysical Integration, Wendy Morris draws a continuum with Somatic Therapy on one end and Somatic Education on the other. The Alexander Technique leads the column at the Education end of the continuum, Structural-Functional Educators, Body-oriented psychotherapists are at the Therapy end of the continuum, with dance therapists, energetic therapists, and body awareness educators in between. (Wendy Morris's excellent book can be ordered from her at 2416 34th Avenue South, #2, Minneapolis MN 55406.) Her model emphasizes the Technique as education, or, as many of us prefer, re-education.

I believe that it is accurate to say that most Alexander Teachers regard the Technique as one bright strand in the large braid of somatics, but some do not. Some want to claim a status for the Technique as unique, outside somatics, and rightly understood only in contrast to other disciplines. In this argument the teachers look not to the results (they acknowledge that many techniques result in greater freedom and ease of movement and the recovery of body awareness) but to the means. No other method features constructive conscious control, the cognitive process that Alexander used to recover his freedom.

Constructive conscious control exploits the brain's vast potential for consciousness of self and for choice. Some prominent neuroscientists believe that self-consciousness (in the good sense) and choice depend on the size and structure of the human brain. Both the size and structure make it possible for the brain to process its own functioning (creatures with smaller, differently structured brains cannot do this), resulting in consciousness. Alexander's Technique uses the brain consciously for self-observation of habitual use of the organism, for conscious inhibition of habitual use, for conscious observation of an emerging, more integrated use, for conscious cooperation with the more integrated use, and even for conscious observation of the more integrated use, all this depending surely on the conscious linking of conceptual and motor functions in the brain, by choice. Rather than creating a split, as some might expect, all this consciousness instead has a profoundly integrating effect, healing the split many people experience between thinking and being, of mind and body, or consciousness and functioning. It is this integration which is the great good the Technique offers, with freedom and ease as by-products, according to this argument.

Barbara Conable teaches the Alexander Technique in Columbus, Ohio and is the author of How to Learn the Alexander Technique - A Manual for Students published by Andover Press, 1996. Click here to learn how to order this and many other books about the Alexander Technique

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