Welcome to the Glossary of Terms section
Like many other disciplines and processes, the Alexander Technique uses what has become referred to by many as jargon, thus the following glossary has been devised in order to help one understand important terms used. Definitions and descriptions of terms shown are based, in the most part, on the writing of FM Alexander though are by no means official definitions. Terms are also defined with direct relation to the Alexander Technique. Please click on the links below or contact a qualified teacher for a more detailed understanding of any particular term.
This is a term relating to how a person utilises their physical organism as influenced by their mental ability. A person’s use can be influenced by inhibition and direction., and in turn, how a person uses oneself, directly affects how that person’s organism functions.
This term was not used until the latter years of Alexander’s work; however, it refers to his original discovery which was the dynamic relationship between the neck, head and back. Alexander said that a ‘certain use’ of these parts ‘. constitute(s) a Primary Control of the mechanisms as a whole.
The directions which one should give to activate the Primary Control, are ‘let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen.*3
This is a direction which indicates the release from over-tension in the muscles of the neck. This is the first direction for the Primary Control.
Head Forward and Up
This indicates the release of the head at the occipital joint (the base of the skull where the head meets the spine). This release constitutes an often minuscule movement of the head, which is forward and up in space, thus preventing the head from being pulled back and down. ‘Head forward and up’ is the second direction for the Primary Control.
(Some teacher’s use the phrase ‘forward and up’ as a way to shorten saying the directions for the Primary Control).
Back Lengthen and Widen
This is a direction for the spine to release from the coccyx (base of the spine) to the occipital joint (top of the spine where it meets the head). This constitutes the prevention of a contracted spine resulting in any habitual and/or undue curvature. It also constitutes a release across the width of the back by drawing attention to any undue or excess tension in the muscles connected to the spine and scapulae (shoulder blades). This direction also inhibits the tendency to ‘hollow’ or ‘narrow’ the back.
Narrowing (or hollowing) the back
This is a term originally used by FM Alexander to describe the increase of the arching of the spine which is normally accompanied by a lifting of the chest and a subsequent ‘adverse effect on the shape and functioning of the torso itself’.*4
This describes how an individual perceives his or her reactions to stimuli and one’s location in space (i.e. in relation to oneself and the immediate environment). The Alexander Technique seeks to improve sensory awareness which can often be seen at its best in babies, toddlers and also in animals, though it seems to have been lost in so many adults during the growth process.
This is the suspense of any activity (as a response to a stimulus) until it can be governed consciously by the individual, with intelligent guidance rather than an unreasoned response. Improving one’s powers of inhibition can vastly help improve one’s use and functioning.
N.B. The concept of the term ‘inhibition’ in the Alexander Technique is a different concept to the same term used in Freudian psychology.
This is a tendency to have a particular response to a particular stimulus. These responses are often consistent with respect to any given stimulus, and have often been harnessed and ingrained by repetition. Sometimes habits are extremely subtle and unnoticeable reactions, though they can also be long drawn out activities. Application of the Alexander Technique helps to gain a level of conscious control over habits rather than leaving habitual responses to the realm of the unconscious.
Vocal and respiratory mechanisms
These are the systems of the body which are responsible for breathing and the production of vocal sound. FM Alexander refers to these mechanisms many times during his work. In the early days of his teaching in Australia, many people referred to him as ‘The Breathing Man’ as his work had a radical effect on these mechanisms. In his writing he says that ‘the standard of breathing depends upon the standard of general coordinated use of the psycho physical mechanisms.*5
This is the term used to describe the unity of the mind and the body and the interaction between the two. The human organism exists as a psycho physical unit, thus any activity which takes place in the body affects the mind, and vice versa.
This is the specific manner in which one carries out a particular activity, i.e. it describes the steps one takes to achieve a particular end result, rather than describing the end result itself.
This describes the process when one strives to gain a particular goal without attending to the means whereby one would attain that goal.
‘any form of behaviour which does not permit the feedback of information except that which relates to the one specific end desired.’*6
This describes the non interference (or ‘getting out of the way’) of the natural or instinctive processes (within the human organism) which are involved in carrying out activities. Patrick MacDonald describes ‘non doing’ as activities which ‘do themselves’ and any activity which interferes with this we refer to as ‘doing’.*7
This is the physical manifestation of the individuals’ reaction to a particular event, normally a sudden or startling event (e.g. a loud bang or crash), though the startle pattern can also manifest as a reaction to far more subtle stimuli. The startle pattern is typified by the shortening of the neck, the raising of the shoulders and a general over tightening throughout the whole body.
This is an orientation of the body which involves lying horizontally, i.e. on the back, with the knees bent and the feet flat on the surface on which you are lying, and usually some books (or something non yielding) under the head in order to encourage the natural curvature of the spine. This should be on a flat surface (i.e. not a mattress or any other surface which will confirm to the shape of the back), though it should not be a surface which is cold. You should ask a qualified Alexander Teacher for advice on the most appropriate conditions before lying semi supine on your own.