To today’s readers, Alexander’s books are not an easy read.
The writing is very dense, and both the importance and subtlety of Alexander’s discovery are apt to become lost in his convoluted Edwardian style.
It’s also not as easy to make sense of his examples and references as would be the case if he were alive today and posting material to Tumblr and YouTube.
The first of Alexander’s books came out in 1910.
Back then, there were no computers, precious few cars or planes, and Stan Laurel had yet to meet Oliver Hardy.
To our internet-bedazzled eyes, the world Alexander inhabited and wrote about is history.
Comparing Alexander’s writing to contemporary material is therefore a little like placing a Dickens novel alongside anything by J.K. Rowling.
Rowling is very NOW, very uncomplicated, whereas Dickens is much harder work until you have got used to his style.
Taken together it would be all too easy to pass Alexander’s books over as intriguing historical documents — good in their day but of little use to Generation X or Millennials.
But his Technique for taking personal responsibility and developing conscious control is needed more now than ever before.
We are bombarded by more stimuli than at any time in the past.
Alerts of all kinds arrive unbidden and the demands of our immediate surroundings are now second and third guessed by virtual worlds carried in our pockets.
Yet few of us possess the skill to remain poised in the eye of the ‘information overload’ storm.
Our ability to process all this information constructively — to choose how and when to respond — all too often remains stuck at the level of hapless reactivity.
If we are to believe the oft-quoted social media meme that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react”, then it is maybe time to take more control over our habitual reactivity.
Alexander’s books offer good news to anyone interested in mastering their response to life’s stimuli, be they the product of the world around us or the outcome of our own thoughts.
They are books both for, and about, people.
The world may have evolved considerably in the decades since 1910 but the people who inhabit it now are still basically like the homo sapiens who rode in steam trains and had no concept of a ‘celebrity chef makeover’. Like our forbears, we sometimes run our life on habits of thought and action which are very hard to tease apart, and which don’t always do us any favours. In Alexander’s language, we function according to how we direct ourselves in activity.
Knowing HOW we may best direct ourselves is a real advantage. None of us can change the world at a stroke but all of us have the ability to change the way we are in the world, whatever that world may currently be.
For anyone prepared to weather Alexander’s curious turns of phrase, along with the occasional opinion of the day that really should have fallen under the wheels of a steam train, the four books show how anyone may apply his principles of conscious control of reaction to themselves. The books are still in print and obtainable through Amazon.
As an alternative, every PAAT teacher has studied Alexander’s books in depth and would be more than glad to field questions during a lesson or on a course.
Alexander’s contribution to the world was to discover a sound method for helping people to overcome their “habits of thought and body” and to choose more consciously their responses to life’s stimuli.
Our actions and reactions are what make the world turn, and philosophers and scientists of all persuasions have long argued that our control over these processes (or lack of it) will determine our future — just as it has generated our history.
If an uncrossed bridge still exists between Alexander’s discoveries and the worlds of contemporary philosophy and science it is perhaps because his practical Technique for the conscious control of human reaction has so often been made to look like a form of physiotherapy, an exercise regime, or an aid to deportment.
All students and teachers of the Alexander Technique should be aware of departures from Alexander’s original writings and their potential impact on how the Technique is perceived and applied.
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