Key Alexander Technique Concepts
Use (rhymes with “loose”) and Mis-Use:
Use and mis-use refer to a person’s overall state of coordination – the quality with which they carry out any activity. One of F. Matthias Alexander’s most important discoveries was that patterns of mis-use tend to affect everything one does. For example, people who tighten their neck unnecessarily when standing up from a chair are also very likely to repeat that pattern when they begin speaking, when they walk, and when they use a computer.
Alexander Technique teachers help their students identify their patterns of mis-use and learn how to stop creating them. When a teacher works with a student doing a particular activity, such as walking, they are indirectly showing the student how he or she can perform all their daily activities with a better quality of use.
Sometimes a student may have mis-use patterns associated with a particular activity. For example, a musician may have developed habits of tension that are unique to playing – indeed even to thinking about playing. A more common example can be seen when people pick up a pen and begin to write; they often produce a specific set of tensions – hunching their shoulder, extreme tightening of their hands and wrists etc. – that originated when they first learned to write in school.
“Ends” and “Means-Whereby”:
These are terms Alexander used to emphasize the importance of process in his teaching. Typically, when a person has a goal to achieve, little if any attention is given to the way in which the goal is pursued. For example, if a student decides to stand up from a chair (if that is their goal, or “end”), the teacher will show the student how to do that while at the same time paying attention to, and improving, the way (the “means-whereby”) they stand up.
This process can be thought of as a sort of “waking up” of the student’s self awareness. As long as someone is acting on “auto-pilot”, without being awarene of what they are actually doing, it is not possible for them to improve the quality of their actions.
Faulty Sensory Awareness:
Alexander was originally concerned about a serious vocal problem and he used mirrors to give him accurate feedback about what he was doing when he spoke. To his amazement, he discovered that it was not at all what he felt he was doing. Sometimes it was the opposite of what his kinesthetic sense told him. He came to realize that if he blindly trusted the physical sensations his body was sending to his brain to guide him, he would never make any progress. One of the main goals of Alexander Technique teaching is to help students learn to accurately sense what it is they are actually doing.
Whatever patterns of posture and movement a person has – no matter how bizarre they may seem to others – generally feel “right” to them. We all know people who, for example, habitually stand in very peculiar ways – perhaps leaning to one side, or forward or backward. Yet because the accuracy of their kinesthetic sense has been compromised by years of mis-use, they generally feel they are standing up straight.
Body Mapping is the systematic learning of a few key anatomical relationships, using your own body as the field of study. It is one of the more recent developments in Alexander Technique teaching, although the seeds of it can clearly be seen in Alexander’s own work. Body Mapping is in no way complex or difficult – indeed it is often used in teaching small children.
It’s fundamental purpose is to help students correct “mis-maps” they have about their body such as the location and functioning of key joints like the head/neck joint and the hip joints. Many people, for example, think their hip joints are at waist level when, in fact, they are considerably lower. This faulty belief causes them to unconsciously try to move as though the movement was taking place where there is, in fact, no joint. This creates extra strain and limits their range of movement and flexibility. Developing an accurate body map of oneself can lead to major improvements in use and functioning.
Information about additional Alexander Technique concepts can be found at Alexander Technique Terminology.