The Alexander Technique
The Practical Context of Bloch Healing
The hands-on method of Bloch Healing is based on the traditional way of communicating the principles of the Alexander Technique (AT). In this section the AT is introduced, and the similarities and differences between the two approaches are explored.
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique (AT) was originally developed in order to bring about the best conditions for skilled performance and is not a therapy. Rather, it is a sophisticated method of re-education with therapeutic consequences. Working to its principles enables the student to become aware of disadvantageous responses to stimuli, particularly with regard to physical movements and the intentions that precede them, and then to learn to complete an action without those aspects that are inefficient. These include any unnecessary stiffening or shortening in stature.
Lessons in the Alexander Technique are usually given on a one-to-one basis, the teacher using their hands together with verbal explanation in order to guide the student through everyday movements. Early in his teaching career F.M. Alexander, the originator of the AT, discovered that assisting a student to experience moving in a more refined way, relatively free from habitual interferences was, rather as “a picture is worth a thousand words”, a faster and clearer way of learning a skill than almost any amount of verbal explanation and instruction. The method of ‘hands-on’ teaching that he developed is remarkable in that the teacher does not actually do something the student. Rather the teacher’s clarity about how the student approaches activity is gently communicated to them during gentle guidance through movement. This allows the student an immediate experience of a new and more refined way of approaching movement. Almost anyone who has experienced the hands-on method of the AT is struck by the power and effectiveness of this way of learning.
The AT is predicated upon the remarkable theory, borne out in practice, that “the right thing does itself”. Because of this, it is not necessary to determine the “correct” way to sit, to stand or to move, but only to embark upon the process of removing from these activities that which is unnecessary. Many of the most talented athletes, performing artists and intellectuals have long understood the importance of this approach to solving technical problems in thought and action, and this is one of the reasons so many such people have been attracted to the AT.
After more than a century of compelling anecdotal evidence, the health benefits of the Alexander Technique have only recently been the subject of large-scale scientific studies. The AT does not aim to treat a particular symptom, but rather addresses a person’s entire philosophy in action. It is therefore all the more remarkable that the results of a large, randomised, well-designed clinical trial, recently published in the British Medical Journal (Paul Little et al, BMJ, 19 August 2008), evaluating the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique compared with other health interventions for chronic low back pain, found that one year after lessons, individuals with back pain who had undertaken 24 Alexander lessons had only 3 days of pain per month compared with 21 days for similar patients who were receiving the usual standard-of-care from their GP, as well as reporting a striking number of other ‘quality of life’ benefits. Another large study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, examining the effectiveness of lessons in the AT for people with neck pain, also showed impressive benefits. Smaller studies have shown the AT to be of benefit in Parkinson’s disease, breathing disorders, knee osteoarthritis and a number of other conditions in which the way that a person uses themselves in activity has an effect of how well they function.
The Alexander Technique and Bloch Healing
Many of the principles of the AT are central to the principles and practice of Bloch Healing (BH). These include:
the concept of the unity of body and mind;
that it is more helpful to learn about a person by considering the whole in action, rather than by dividing the whole into its smallest parts;
that how we use ourselves affects how well we function;
that our perception of ourselves and of our relationship with the world around us are profoundly influenced by our subjective state;
that we ourselves are the primary tool that we bring to the tasks that we undertake;
that the means whereby an end is achieved determines the quality of that end;
that what matters most cannot and should not be grasped or fixed and that good ‘use of the self’ is characterised by mobility;
that the right thing will almost always happen spontaneously when the obstructions to its expression are removed;
that the communication of the teacher’s observation of the physical expression of the student's way of thinking is by itself sufficient to bring about change;
that in the learning of a personal skill, a practical experience is generally more meaningful to a student than a theoretical understanding, and ought generally to precede it;
that the real business of the teaching of a personal skill can best be achieved in a one-to-one relationship that addresses the ideas and ways of thinking and perceiving of the individual;
that brief moments of clearer perception lead to lasting changes; and
that a teacher of a practical philosophy is helpful to another only to the extent that they are to embody the philosophy in their own life and work.
Reference is made to every one of these principles at some point in the sections above, although it should be said that each is worthy of a chapter of its own. Perhaps most importantly of all, the ’hands-on’ practise of BH is directly based upon Alexander’s remarkable discovery that it is possible to teach somebody a practical philosophy through physical contact by touch without needing actually to do something to them.
However, the fundamental purpose of sessions and approach to working with Clients in the AT and BH are quite different. The principle goal of the lessons in the AT is learning to co-ordinate movement more skilfully through a process of becoming aware of disadvantageous responses to stimuli, and by then consciously and systematically inhibiting those aspects of thought and action that have been determined to be inefficient, so that they may be replaced with more adaptive patterns. This is a cognitive-behavioural approach to the changing of habits (which Alexander described as “constructive conscious control”) that is not included in BH. Rather, with BH, the goal of sessions is an advancement in our sense of who we most deeply are, and of our fundamental connection with others, through the experience of a series of genuine encounters, "Meetings", with another person; and to trust that the insights gained through these encounters will lead spontaneously to the abandonment of those thoughts and actions not in the best interests of ourselves and others.*
*For more information about the Alexander Technique and Bloch Healing, see 'The Evolution of Bloch Healing'.