Alexander Technique Terminology
There is very little jargon or specialized terminology in the Alexander Technique. However, there are a few terms that have a very specific Alexander-related meaning. Four of these – “use”, “ends”, “means-whereby” and “body-mapping” – are explained in Key Alexander Technique Concepts. Four other terms that students are likely to encounter when taking lessons are:
Direction is a mentally telling yourself what you want your body to do. In order for directions to be effective, they must accurately reflect the way your body is designed to function and they must be made in a light and easy manner. In practice, it can take awhile for a new student to learn to use directions effectively. Typically a student tries too hard at first, which only leads to a stiff, mannered physical use pattern. Another common obstacle is the danger of repeating directions in a mechanical, almost mindless, way without being conscious in the moment of what they mean.
Alexander developed a series of directions which he asked his students to use and many teaches today use these same directions in their own teaching. The best know of his directions relates to Primary Control (see explanation below) and goes: “Let your neck be free to let your head go forward and up.” Significantly, the word “let” is emphasized in these instructions. The word “forward” here refers to a release of neck tension that tends to pull the head back and down on the spine. It does not mean pushing of the head forward of the neck.
Some teachers today use variations on Alexander’s terminology and some have developed entirely new sets of directions.
Primary Control refers to the relationship between the head, neck and torso. One of Alexander’s major discoveries was that the quality of this relationship has huge implications for overall physical functioning (see How the Alexander Technique is Taught). One of the main purposes of Directions is to improve the quality of this relationship.
This is a slightly more general term and refers to fact that it is ultimately a student’s own conscious thinking that can produce meaningful changes in the way they use their body. Alexander believed that most of us go through life primarily on a sort of “auto-pilot” – that is we perform our activities with little or no attention to the way in which we do them. His teaching, and that of Alexander teachers today, emphasizes learning how to self-direct in a useful manner and, most importantly, with conscious, in the moment, awareness.
This is probably the most misunderstood term used in Alexander Technique teaching. Alexander started using it before Freud developed his own theories and gave it the meaning most people think of today. Inhibition in an Alexander sense has nothing to do with repression. It relates to the basic Alexander idea that truly useful changes in physical functioning take place only when people learn to simply stop (that is, inhibit) doing things that get in the way. (see Key Alexander Technique Concepts)