The 5 Alexander Principles

Article added June 12, 2012

By Avi Granit

Concentrating on the lunge, toes, heels, and walking.

Within this workshop I would like to demonstrate the way that I work with my pupils, students, and teacher colleagues according to F.M.Alexander’s five principles:

1. Recognition of habit
2. Inhibition and non-doing
3. Recognition of the faulty sensory awareness
4. Giving directions
5. Primary control

My aim is that these priniciples will be the basis of the dialogue with the pupil throughout the lesson. I believe that when the principles are within the foreground of the conversation between teacher and pupil, the lesson is much clearer.

Initially, it is important to clarify the roles of the teacher and the pupil. The pupil must try to be responsible for his own inhibition, i.e. to tell himself to stop and not to react; he must then give direction to his primary control. However, it is not his responsibility to initiate any movement. This is the teacher’s role. It is the teacher’s job to move the pupil while helping him to maintain his direction. In the pupil’s mind there should be a clear separation between “direction” and “movement” and of course, it is the teacher’s responsibility to make this clear to him. The “directions” are the orders that we have to send from the brain to the body to encourage the body to flow; these orders help the body to expand instead of contract. “Movement” refers to the movements of the body in space.

Of course, it takes time to make this clear to the pupil, and it is an on-going process. As we all know, it is the process of learning the “means whereby” which is important, and not the end result i.e. not being “end-gainers”.

So how do I implement all of this in my teaching? During a first lesson, I start with a short explanation, then I make an agreement with my pupil that whenever I ask him to do something, he should initially refuse. By doing this I try to make it clear to him that we are aiming to stop his immediate habitual reaction to the stimulus. This leaves the pupil open and receptive to the new directions that I give him using my experienced hands and my voice. While the pupil and I are working on inhibiting and on giving new, better directions, I will ask him to move. At this critical point I will help him to inhibit his immediate reaction and give the new directions to the primary control. I will continue to help him give directions throughout the movement and even after the movement ends.

Let us take the movement “toes, heels” (moving up onto the toes) as an example. There are many ways to begin working with this movement. However, in my opinion the easiest way is to initially ask the pupil to do it by himself. Most pupils will swing their pelvis forward and will hollow and narrow their lower backs in order to carry this out. Now the teacher’s job is to make the pupil become aware of this habitual “wrong” reaction. I usually do this by using the mirror and also by asking the pupil to place his hands on my lower back while I mimic to the pupil his “wrong” use. I try to let him feel how the back hollows and narrows. This helps the pupil to begin to understand the first principle (wrong sensory appreciation) i.e. although he wanted to go straight up he couldn’t stop himself and couldn’t even feel himself swinging forward. At this point I invite the pupil to try the movement again now that he is more aware of his “wrong” use. Of course, as teachers of the Alexander Technique, we know that there is very little chance of the pupil being able to improve his use in this way, but it is important for the pupil to come to this realization on his own. In this way I make it clear to my pupil that without inhibition he will just go on repeating his mistake. I tell my pupil that I will be taking the responsibility for his movement; using my hands I will help him to aim up and stay back, giving directions to his primary control at the critical moment of him moving up onto his toes. This flow is continued as I use my hands to direct him back to his heels.

I feel that by working this way and using the five principles throughout the teaching-learning process, the teaching process always remains clear to both the teacher and the pupil.

Presented at the 6th International Congress of the Alexander Technique 1999, Freiburg, Germany.

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