Présence d’EspritCorps

These days we tend to be overstimulated and to spread ourselves thin. Many of us find it challenging to keep our balance in the face of the many daily demands and to remain focused on what we are doing at any one time; and this often brings about excessive mental and physical tension, and stress.

At the junction between Eastern and Western practices, the psychophysical method devised by the Australian FM Alexander (1869-1955) teaches us to change unhelpful modes of reaction by consciously coordinating mind and body at all times.

In order to reconnect with yourself you could start by taking a short break and ask yourself how you are tackling this particular gesture, movement, or activity: in a bit of rush, and by tightening or pulling yourself down unnecessarily? Or in an effortless, light, and expanding way?

And rather than trying to put any of it right, is there anything superfluous you could simply stop doing, here and now? It is, in fact, from this non-doing state that a field of possibilities can open up, beyond the constraining limits of our mental and physical habits, and that we can redirect mind and body towards more freedom and expansion.

Our presence of mind and body depends upon finding our centre, both mentally and physically. For our physical structure is also organized around the central relationship between the head, the spine, and the rest of the organism. When this central axis is weak or otherwise disturbed, the rest of the body must compensate in a number of ways. When it is solid we are able to reconnect with a flexible and dynamic verticality and act from a point of stability and balance, with the right amount of tension. Coming back to ourselves and learning how not to allow external and internal stimuli to unhinge us helps us to step back and respond more appropriately.

The Lessons

In the beginning, changing our habits without guidance is difficult, for our sensations give us feedback that is more or less reliable, and what we think we are doing (or not doing) does not always correspond to what we are really doing. That is why this new way of redirecting mind and body needs to be acquired in the course of individual lessons.

In a lesson, our field of exploration is that of everyday activities such as walking, sitting, standing, speaking, etc. By encouraging you to approach these activities as if for the first time, my role, through words and touch, is to teach you to identify your habits and explore other possibilities. This skill which you will gradually make your own applies in the same way to the more complex activities which we can then also explore together (playing a musical instrument, singing, reading or presenting material out loud, writing at the computer or by hand, drawing, refining yoga or meditative postures, etc.).

A series of 10 lessons will enable us to review how you apply the principles in  your personal and/or professional life. The Alexander work being educational, one usually recommends thirty or so lessons to acquire a basic autonomy.

For more information about and around FM Alexander:

What Alexander Says...

  • 1910: Man’s Supreme Inheritance (MSI)
  • 1923: Conscious Constructive Control of the Individual (CCCI)
  • 1932: The Use of the Self (US)
  • 1941: The Universal Constant in Living (UCL)
  • 1995: Articles and Lectures (A&L)

“I should like in passing to point out that the theory and practice of my system are influenced by no particular religion nor school of philosophy, but in one sense may be said to embrace them all” (MSI 3).

On Changing Through Prevention and Non-Doing
“It is what man does that brings the wrong thing about, first within himself and then in his activities in the outside world, and it is only by preventing this doing that he can ever begin to make a real change” (MSI xi)
“The technique is based upon the inhibition of the habitual wrong use – i.e. the refusal to react to a stimulus in the usual way” (UCL 83)
“All those who wish to change something in themselves must learn to make it a principle of life to inhibit their immediate reaction to any stimulus to gain a desired end” (US 105)
“In my work we are concerned primarily with non-doing in the fundamental sense of what we should not do in the use of ourselves in our daily activities; in other words, with preventing that habitual misuse of the psycho-physical mechanisms which renders these activities a constant source of harm to the organism” (UCL 99)
“… a form of non-doing which must not be confused with passivity, and which is fundamental because it prevents the self from doing itself harm by misdirection of energy and uncontrolled reaction” (UCL 101)

On Awareness vs Habits of Mind and Body
“The majority of people fall into a mechanical habit of thought quite as easily as they fall into the mechanical habit of body which is the immediate consequence” (MSI 47)
"In re-educating the individual, therefore, the first effort must be directed to the education of the conscious mind” (MSI 124)
"The centre and backbone of my theory and practice, upon which I feel that I cannot insist too strongly, is that THE CONSCIOUS MIND MUST BE QUICKENED” (MSI 33)
"The brain becomes used to thinking in a certain way, it works in a groove, and when set in action, slides along the familiar, well-worn path; but when once it is lifted out of the groove, it is astonishing how easily it may be directed”. (MSI 65)

On Thinking, Feeling, and Sensing
“All so-called mental activity is a process governed by our psycho-physical condition at the time when the particular stimulus is received” (CCCI 77)
“We get into the habit of performing a certain act in a certain way, and we experience a certain feeling in connection with it which we recognize as ‘right’. The act and the particular feeling associated with it become one in our recognition” (CCCI 99)
“In our conception of how to employ the different parts [of our organism] in the acts of everyday life we are influenced chiefly by sensory processes (feeling). Thus we may receive a stimulus through something we hear, something we touch, or through some other outside agency; in every case, the nature of our response, whether it be an actual movement, an emotion or an opinion, will depend upon the associated activity, in action and reaction, of the processes concerned with conception and with the sensory and other mechanisms responsible for the “feeling” which we experience. This associated activity is referred to throughout my work as sensory appreciation” (CCCI 42-43)
“Sensory appreciation includes all sensory experiences which are conveyed through the channels of sight, hearing, touch, feeling, equilibrium, movement, etc., and which are responsible for psycho-physical action and reaction throughout the organism” (CCCI 43)
“We have to recognize that our sensory peculiarities are the foundation of what we think of as our opinions, and that, in fact, nine out of ten of the opinions we form are rather the result of what we feel than what we think” (CCCI 107)
“The fundamental shortcoming underlying all human psycho-physical defects, imperfections, and peculiarities is an imperfect and often delusive sensory appreciation, and until those conditions are restored in which the sensory appreciation (sense register) becomes again a more or less reliable guide, all exercises are a positive danger” (CCCI 82)
"The establishment of a reliable sensory appreciation must be the foundation of education of children and of adults in what we call the act of learning and learning to do, or in the performance of all the activities which make up the daily round of occupations and recreations” (CCCI 82)

 Against Posture, and For A Dynamic Central Control of Head-Neck-Back
“This led me to discover a particular relativity of the head to the neck and the head and neck to the other parts of the organism as a whole, and that the motivation for this use was from the head downwards (…)” (UCL 114)
“… a recognition of the existence of a central (primary) control which influences indirectly the manner of the working of the postural mechanisms (…). Unfortunately, the influence of misdirection of the central (primary) control upon the working of the psycho-physical mechanisms has not been recognized” (UCL 108)
“’Correct positions’ or ‘postures’ find no place in the practical teaching technique employed in the work of re-education advocated in this book. A correct position or posture indicates a fixed position, and a person held to a fixed position cannot grow, as we understand growth. The correct position today cannot be the correct position a week later (...)” (CCCI 124)
“There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a thing as a right direction” (A&L 194)

On Intelligence, and On Happiness
“I should like to urge here that we must beware of placing an exaggerated value upon intelligence which manifests itself only in some specific sphere. Judgement must always be made upon the human creature’s intelligent activities on a general basis in the process of living and all-round usefulness” (CCCI 181, footnote)
“In a civilization such as ours, where unrest, unhappiness and lack of interest in the real things of life are strikingly manifested by mankind, all our efforts should be to enable the human creature to retain the interest and satisfaction exhibited by the healthy child when employing his organism successfully” (CCCI196).
“Unfortunately, we have been taught that all the ordinary, most necessary, and therefore most oft-repeated acts of life should be automatic and unconscious; for this reason they have become indifferent. The psycho-physical condition here indicated is one that induces stagnation in the organism, and, as it is a condition which becomes more and more pronounced with advancing age, we gradually lose the capacity to take conscious interest in and derive pleasure from the normal and useful activities of life in the sphere of doing, hearing, seeing, etc. Small wonder, then, that sooner or later, we seek satisfaction in less normal and less useful activities, and create undue and harmful demand for specific excitements and stimulations or for some other specific pleasure!” (CCCI198)
"Someone has said, in referring to the monotony of the environment in which the human creature lives and moves, that monotony is the deathbed of existence. But what of the monotony within the human creature’s psycho-physical self, a monotony caused by the gradual cessation of those sensations concerned with new experiences which have accompanied growth and mobility within the organism since birth? This is, indeed, monotony in its most harmful form, for it goes hand in hand with an increasing degree of stagnation throughout the whole psycho-physical organism” (CCCI199)