We already have within us what
to solve our problems and transform our lives...
We just have to learn to use it !
This is where LearningMethods comes in...
On Belief Systems and Learning
A debate from the Alextech e-mail discussion group on the validity
of the premises of the Alexander Technique
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— and continues...
1. David Gorman — replies to replies to "On Belief..."
— June 28/98
2. Peter Ruhrberg — David Gorman, belief systems, questions and
— June 29/98
3. John Coffin — re: More on Gorman essay — June 29/98
4. David Gorman — Reply to John Coffin — July 1/98
Date: June 28, 1998, 10:41pm
From David Gorman firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: replies to replies to "On Belief..."
I’ve been away from my computer since I posted my long article and have now come back to see all
these responses. Thank you for taking the time to read it in spite of any inward groans (as David
Langstroth put it) at its length.
All this started by David Langstroth’s posting about the scientific validity of the Alexander
Technique stating that the A.T. has taken into account all the current knowledge. Not quite, I
responded, there is a huge area of assumption in the Alexander Technique that, when looked at closely
from another point of view, is misconceived or at the very least misses another much simpler
explanation for what is going on. This simpler explanation implies a much simpler process for bringing
about change and learning. And what ends up being learned is, in fact, very different once this
misconception is seen through.
Interestingly, I have received a number of posts privately (not sent to the group) as well as the
ones sent to the list. Also interestingly, I received predominantly enthusiastic ones privately and
predominately critical ones publicly. I wonder what this signifies?
In ONLY ONE posting, one of the private ones, one person took the point clearly enough to realize
that they need to make the same experiments I did to see if my claims are true:
I would like to think out your descriptions and comments and try to apply them to my own learning
process and see what emerges. From my immediate sense of it, I expect to have some questions and also
to see important things that I have learned through hands-on, as concepts, and through
I find it ironic, given his initial posting, that David Langstroth writes in his post of June 27th,
"In effect then, LearningMethods appears to have taken some of the principles of the technique
and it will likely have some of the success, if only in the short term. Without a demonstration I
cannot believe that good use will just "do itself" so long as you have the
right "belief system". I think it likely that David has misinterpreted the
results of his experiments and is under-emphasising the misuse that remains in his students."
I wish to remind everyone that I didn’t write the piece to promote LearningMethods, but to point
out a misconception, or better still, a missed conception, in the Alexander work. I was merely using
that example of a very different way of working with someone (the violinist) to show the contrast
between the Alexander assumptions and hugely different implications of what happens when we find out
what the person is really up to.
The example lesson I described is only one aspect of the LearningMethods work. Other aspects are very
different, particularly those dealing with people’s emotional or relationship problems. However, I
am not interested in debating the virtues or limitations of LearningMethods here. For the simple
reason that David L. is absolutely right. Without a demonstration, he cannot believe. I certainly am
not expecting anyone to believe anything about my work. Belief does not come into it. If he was to
believe simply on the basis of my writing, it would be belief without experience, which would be empty
belief, not knowledge. Only through actual experiments and actual experience will anyone see what is
actually going on.
However, the sole point of my long posting is my claim that The Alexander Technique has misconceived
how people function, and what the problem actually is and therefore what it makes sense to do to help
them. That you don’t need a demonstration of. All you need is an open mind to go into your life (or
your lessons with a pupil) and make the same experiments that I did. Then you will see for yourself
what IS actually going on, whatever that may be. There is simply no way around the fact that until you
do this, you won’t even know what I am talking about, but will be interpreting my words in terms of
the experience you already have.
I’m sorry, but there it is...
I am not about to try to persuade anyone of the truth of anything I say. I have already done the
work, made the experiments hundreds of times, over many years now and I know what I am talking about.
I can see the repeatability of these experiments day after day. Many others have also joined me and
done their own experiments and consistently are finding the same thing. Maybe we are all wrong and are
all misunderstanding what we are perceiving, but I doubt it. Still, if we are, then I’d like to know
about it from anyone who’s done the work to follow me far enough to see where we went wrong.
It remains for any of you to either want to look into this or not. It’s entirely up to you.
I shall be happy to answer any questions and debate the subject AFTER the experiments have been made.
This is the way that good science works.
Having said that, there a number of misconceptions in the various postings to date that I should like
to correct so that others following this discussion are not lead astray. I shall go through them one
by one below:
On June 27th, 1998, John Coffin wrote:
"I am reading your 3 part post with a sort of horrified fascination. I cannot imagine how you
spent so many years in and around the technique without thinking these things through before,
discussing them with other teachers, or reading about them in FM’s books."
How interesting, John. It sounds as if you took all that I wrote as being a description of what FM
has already said and an affirmation of what the Alexander Technique already is! Am I understanding
this the way you meant it? That what I wrote about as my discoveries is how you have always thought of
If so, it is the first time that I have heard that from anyone. I have been a teacher for over 20
years and for most of that time I certainly HAVE BEEN thinking these things through. For instance,
even back in 1984 I devoted my STAT FM Alexander Memorial Lecture to what I was just starting to find
out about how our belief systems ‘organize’ our functioning (it’s called "Thinking About
Thinking About Ourselves" and you can read it on my web site at
On the web site is also another, more recent, article "The Rounder We Go, The Samer We
Get", from a 1993 lecture at my training school on how to escape circular habits
For most of the last decade I have been giving workshops helping people explore in practice all these
issues, many of whom were teachers and trainees. These workshops took place in many cities in Europe,
America and Australia (including in a dozen or more Alexander training schools).
In my training school for the last 9 years, where we’ve had lots of visiting senior teachers and
others, I have also been openly exploring all these questions as well as the implications for how we
need to change our ways of working to take account of what we find.
In all of these, almost without fail (and especially in recent years) the people with experience of
the Alexander Technique, including teachers and trainees, have expressed their excitement or their
difficulties with how different my approach is from their understanding of the Alexander Technique.
Now, something must be going on here...
I suspect that John’s ‘horrified fascination’ is more the result of his reading my words and
interpreting them in the only way he can, which is from his own background and experiences. This is
not a putdown. This is the only thing any of us can do.
But I rather doubt that he would be saying the same things if he had actually seen a week-long
workshop of this new work in action. And, of course, there is only one way to find this out. This is
important-words just can’t do it..
It seems to me that John’s point of view that I am simply restating the Alexander Technique as if I
had just discovered it about 20 years later than everyone else, is also, in a different way, echoed by
Peter Ruhrberg in his post of June 27th, where, after various quotes from FM, he then goes on to say:
"Now, what if the phrase "and other mechanisms" in the above
definition, which, together with the sensory mechanisms, are responsible for the "feeling"
which we experience, was FM’s way to describe what we now would call "belief
system"? And could it be that the term "conception" contains more
of what we could call a general idea (and sometimes belief, but not a whole belief system) which
underlies our specific ideas? In this way "belief system" would go into and be
part of "sensory appreciation".
I can understand the temptation to keep looking back into Alexander’s writings in order to find in
them intimations that FM had already seen it all, said it all and done it all. But, in order to do
this, you can see that they need to ‘interpret’ what he wrote. Notice the "WHAT IF...such and
such...was FM’s way to describe..." and "COULD IT BE that the term...". Well, we’ll
just never know, because it is just speculation.
But perhaps we can get a better glimpse at what Alexander did mean and what he did understand if we
take the entire system he created and view it as a whole. This means looking at everything he wrote
and asking ourselves, did Alexander feel that what he MEANT in his writings and what he DID in
practice were consistent? In other words, from the way he saw things, did what he do make sense to
him? Presumably, we must answer yes to these questions otherwise the work is in big trouble.
Therefore, we only have to look at the practical means he developed to see what he was considering as
the problem and how he considered it made sense to solve it.
Notice what he says in his "Evolution of a Technique" chapter, page 39 in my edition of Use
of the Self [my capitals]:
"if, when the stimulus came to me to use my voice, I could INHIBIT THE MISDIRECTION associated
with the WRONG habitual use of the my head and neck ["the pulling of my head back and down"
which he mentions three paragraphs before"], I should BE STOPPING OFF AT ITS SOURCE my
unsatisfactory reaction to the IDEA of reciting..."
This, and every other part of his writings, seems to be unmistakably saying that his idea of the
misdirection was "the pulling of my head back and down". This is what he is calling
"wrong". This is what he is "inhibiting". And this is what he regards as the
"source of his unsatisfactory reaction".
Hence the necessity of teaching pupils to inhibit immediate action and/or inhibit any pullings down.
Hence the directing of heads and necks, and also hence the teacher guiding the pupil into the ‘new
experiences of good use associated with the directions’, etc.
Whatever Alexander may or may not have meant, I would venture to say that what is more important when
we are looking at what IS the Alexander Technique today, is what most teachers think he meant! And how
they are acting accordingly because of their conception of the work...
I’ll also say that if FM had meant what I mean in my piece and if FM had understood what I have
come to understand through my own and others’ experiences and practice, then I cannot see how he
could have remained advocating such an approach. To remain unchanged would imply that he, or anyone
else, would have entirely missed the significance of what I writing about.
Take my example of the violinist. Every Alexander teacher she had gone to had worked with ‘giving
her better experiences’, had worked with her to release the tension in her arm and had got her to
direct to free her neck. None had even thought to find out what was different about those times when
she had the symptoms and when she didn’t, nor to invite her see that her whole belief system (trying
to play better WILL help me play better) was at direct odds with her own experience (I actually play
worse), nor in her moments of playing to make an experiment whereby she does not react, where she
tries nothing and changes nothing (neither the tension, nor her head-neck), but simply to not react to
the situation in her normal belief-inspired actions of trying to play better.
John Coffin also wrote:
"Please read Use of the Self. Searching for the differences between his reaction to the
stimulus to speak in ordinary situations versus his reaction to the stimulus to ‘recite’
was one of the earliest experiments Alexander performed!"
In Alexander’s "Evolution of a Technique" chapter, he got as far as seeing that his ‘misdirection’
was a "reaction to the idea of reciting". But he didn’t go the next step to really see
specifically WHAT THAT IDEA WAS. He didn’t, of course, because he thought he already had found the
"source of the reaction"--namely, the "pulling of my head back and down."
If he had thought, "Ah, it’s a reaction to my idea of reciting! I wonder just what is it about
MY IDEA of reciting that I am reacting to?", he might have made the kind of connection I posited
in my hypothetical new "Evolution of a Technique" chapter.
Almost exactly the same physical pattern of functioning as Alexander’s shows up in many performers
who feel that they have to do something to perform (often these ‘somethings’ are ‘good
techniques’ that they have been taught for years by teachers who share the same belief system). It
is very easy to get them to experience what they do when they start performing by simply getting them
to stop just after they begin and be a ‘normal citizen’ again, then go back to performing. What
they are doing when they start again will usually stick out like a sore thumb and they can see,
"Oh that, but I HAVE TO DO THAT!".
Interestingly, it is essential to realize that, while Alexander people on the outside of the student
might see them pull their heads back or lift their chests (unconstructive misuses), that IS NOT what
they on the inside think or feel that THEY ARE DOING. They think (and feel) that they are ‘gaining
support’, getting air reserve’, etc. (all quite positive and necessary ‘techniques’). All I
need to do then is to invite them to make the experiment to not ‘get support’, or ‘get air’
and see what happens when they DON’T DO what their reinforced belief system tells them they ‘HAVE’
No hands on needed, no inhibiting heads back or chests lifting and no directing. In fact, as I said,
it would make NO SENSE to do any of that, but would only obscure what they WERE ACTUALLY DOING and get
them heading off down a long and tortuous path to gain control over their functioning (what John C.
calls: "the enormous task" [of] "learning and teaching how to direct ourselves
consciously, IN ACTION"). I would put forward that he’s right. It is an enormous task. But it’s
enormous because we don’t work that way and it gets incredibly complicated and tortuous when we try
to do something that we do not need to do when we see through this misconception.
David Langstroth wrote on June 27th, 1998:
"Let us start with the violinist example. David describes how "trying to play
really well" was associated with the arm problems that she complained of. And, when she
was finally able to change this "belief system", and to play without caring,
her performance was musically better and pain free. This is a great description of how "trying"
is usually associated with an increase in muscular effort and a deterioration of the quality of the
psycho-physical performance. As such it is a valuable illustration of a principle that Alexander goes
on about at great length. I would disagree with David however that it represents a new discovery."
Alexander may write on at great length about this general territory, but as far as I can see he
never, ever, worked with anyone the way that I described working with the violinist. He seems to have
regarded the problem at hand to be the person’s ‘use’ which to him appears to have meant their
state of physical/functional coordination and as such he would have (and did) worked with them
hands-on to change that ‘malcoordination’ to a better ‘use’.
If he ever worked with someone only on directly revealing their ‘concepts’ (since you prefer that
term to belief systems or constructs) AND then on revealing what actions people took based on those
concepts (and here I do not mean their unconscious use of pulling down, etc.), AND then with helping
them make experiments based directly from that knowledge, he does not seem to have left a record of it
as a process we could profitably follow.
David Langstroth also writes:
"Secondly, although she has been helped to some extent by learning to stop trying to be right,
I am concerned that our violinist has missed out on the opportunity to really deal with her problems.
I would suggest that she is still left with the same patterns of misuse as before, but as she is not
trying so hard, they are just less exaggerated. Such was the case with Alexander who, as David points
out, "noticed that the same pattern was happening in his normal speaking in daily life but
much less exaggerated".
Who gets to decide when she has ‘solved’ her problem? The teacher or the student? As far as I am
concerned if people come to me with a ‘problem’, (and THEY get to decide what THEIR problem is,
not me), and I can help them to see what was the misconception causing the problem, and what was their
reaction or action they took because of that misconception, and as they change their action/reaction
then the ‘problem’ disappears FOR THEM, then THE PROBLEM HAS DISAPPEARED (THEY being the only
judge for THEMSELVES).
The fallacy you are caught in is still to see things from your Alexander background. You are
assuming, or are concerned, that this ‘pattern of misuse’ thing must exist, however subtle or
exaggerated, like some kind of original sin. NEVER HAVING SEEN this person, you ASSUME that she has a
pattern of misuse even when she is not playing. Only someone with a ‘habit’ of Alexander
conception could make such an arrogant assumption. Whatever adaptive or mal-adaptive functioning
patterns this person may or may not have, if SHE has no ‘problem’ with them, who are YOU, ME or
ANYONE to say otherwise?
As the Americans say, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!" And, "When the call gets
through, hang up!"
Next, David L. writes:
"But, if all our violinist has received is a new "belief system", that
is, the idea that she ought not to care, or to try to be right, I would be very concerned for her long
term future. I cannot imagine that the long term effects of that particular "belief system"
as it becomes fixed will be positive."
This makes me wonder how carefully you read my piece. Let me quote from it:
"For our violinist, the tension was happening to her. She didn’t say to herself, "now
I’ll tense my arm and make it hurt." It just happened--she didn’t even
want it. It was important for her to realize that the ‘starting to care’ was also
happening to her. She didn’t say, "hmm, now I’ll start to care here.
Yes, there it is, now I’ve got it. I’m starting to care." She just found
herself caring more at some times than at others. This is clear if we look at it the other way around.
If she mistook her caring for the problem and tried to change it, just how would she do that? Can you
decide not to care? If you try it, does it really work?"
You’ll note that I was quite explicit that we WERE NOT GOING TO ASK HER TO NOT CARE. This is
impossible, let alone being helpful. What I did was to find out what she started TO DO BECAUSE she
cared. Then to suggest that she make an experiment to see what would happen if she didn’t REACT to
her caring the way she normally did (by trying to play well).
David Langstroth continues:
"Are we really to believe that her psycho-physical health and her career as a violinist will
be enhanced over the long term because she is developing the habit of "not caring",
without attending to the (now more subtly expressed) misuse from which her problems stem?"
She is the only one to judge that and the only way we’d know is to ask her. But here David L. is
again falling into the assumption that her problems stem from the Alexander sense of what I am calling
the physical/functional co-ordination patterns of pulling down, shortening, etc. What if her ‘problems’
stem instead from what she REALLY IS DOING (trying to play well, because she is afraid she won’t)?
Remember this ‘doing’ only makes sense to do from the basis of her belief system (trying will help
me play better), a belief that is easily seen to be untrue.
Again, you don’t HAVE to believe anything. In order to assess the truth in what I am saying though,
you DO HAVE TO do the experiments of trying it for yourself like my lonely correspondent is willing to
do! Can you really think of any other way to know?
To address the last part of the sentence (the "...without attending to the (now more subtly
expressed misuse from which her problems stem..." part)... What happens for people is that once
they begin to see how their ‘conceptions’ are channelling them into certain actions which don’t,
in fact, work for them and as they begin to see their ‘reality’ differently, first in the
situation in which their symptoms initially arose (the playing, for our violinist), they soon begin to
see how they have that same viewpoint and ‘conception’ in other areas of their life. They then can
(and do) make similar experiments on these areas. It is remarkable how much change does take place in
a very short a time when people REALLY GET AT THE SOURCE of their problem (their faulty ‘reality
appreciation or mis-conception), instead of keeping on trying to change the physical or functional
coordination of that misconception.
When David says: "I cannot believe that good use will just "do itself" so long as you
have the right ‘belief system’", he has also failed to understand what I wrote:
"Fortunately for us, just like in the train, we don’t need to come up with a new and
more accurate construct. Your system has millions of years of experience at that and will happily
manufacture another one in short order. And it will be intrinsically MORE ACCURATE than the last
because it has to take all these new facts and contradictions into account."
That he says that he cannot believe that good use will just happen when the belief system changes,
shows me that he has not seen the events I am describing taking place.
It is inevitable that your life will work better if your ‘reality’ construct more accurately
matches how the universe actually works. The very fact that so many people have so many problems is
symptomatic of the degree that their belief systems are way out of line with how things work.
The idea that there are ‘unconscious habit patterns of misuse’ like pulling down, etc. is an
example of such an idea. To say that they are unconscious habits doesn’t explain anything. The ‘unconscious’
part is like a black box where we stick the events which we can see happening but don’t why they are
happening. Because our assumptions are that these ‘unconscious habits’ ARE the problem, of course
we are dutybound to become conscious of them and control them.
On the other hand when we change our point of view and see WHY they are happening--they are simply
the natural coordination of what the human being is actually consciously up to, then we can see that
these coordinations are not the problem. This is easy to see, because when we get the person to stop
doing what they were doing, that coordination is immediately changed too. The real ‘misuse’ was in
what the person was doing, not how their wonderful ‘system’ was organizing what they were doing.
And ‘misuse’ isn’t even the word here--it is a delusion as to the way the universe (oneself
included) actually works.
By the way, anyone is more than welcome to come along and see what does go on in a class. But I can
say it again, you will learn a great deal more from carrying out these experiments for yourself. But
if anyone insists on trying to interpret what I or anyone else is saying from within their existing
creed without these experiments, they will only see what they already see.
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998
From: Peter Ruhrberg email@example.com
Subject: David Gorman, belief systems, questions and consistency
Hello David, and all,
First of all, I wish to thank David for his article (and his response to responses) and for sharing
with us his process of questioning, experimenting and learning which leads him -- and maybe us -- to a
changed and evolving understanding and teaching.
I think David describes very well the kind of process in thinking that every one of us is invited to
go through in order to change and grow, even if each and every one of us comes to different
conclusions and therefore different practices and different results.
In response to his response, I’d like to share some of my thoughts with regard to the question of
belief systems, my way of asking questions, and the consistency of FM’s principles and his teaching
David Gorman wrote (28/06/98):
"I can understand the temptation to keep looking back into Alexander’s writings in
order to find in them intimations that FM had already seen it all, said it all and done it all. But,
in order to do this, you can see that they need to ‘interpret’ what he wrote. Notice
the "WHAT IF...such and such...was FM’s way to describe..." and "COULD
IT BE that the term...". Well, we’ll just never know, because it is just
Let me explain to you why I ask those questions in this way. It may take a while, but I’ll come
back to it.
It is my experience that every one whom I have come to know has a belief system which is different
from practically everyone else’s, and well endowed with these belief systems everyone of us is
likely to read into Mr Alexander’s words meanings that make sense to US, according to our concepts
and conceptions based on our belief system.
"We all think and act (except when forced to do otherwise) in accordance with the
peculiarities of our particular psycho-physical make-up." (CCC 1946, p.93)
In this connection, the violinist lesson that David Gorman shared with us in his article is a really
good example of the power that we have and with which we make come true almost every belief that we
have about WHAT WE HAVE TO DO in order to carry out a particular activity.
Now, some of our beliefs about what we have to do to carry out a particular task might actually be
true, or as FM called it, "best suited to the purpose". This means that, when we go into
activity, our organism is working in the way that is most efficient for the task at hand.
Some of our beliefs of what to do in order to carry out an activity might not be true, in which case
our organism tries whatever he can to carry out what we think we need to do for our particular
activity, but at the same time he is very busy in trying to stay in balance in order to keep us alive.
And, as David Gorman realized in his experients, a perfectly coordinated pattern of the organism
presents itself IN BOTH CASES, perfectly suited to our intentions, and totally consistent with our
beliefs and conceptions. There is nothing "wrong" with our organisms.
Now, I’m perfectly aware that all of these ideas above, as well as all of David’s ideas, are just
interpretations of our experiences, and they also might be right or wrong.
The point I’m trying to make here it that no matter what we believe, our perfectly made organism
(or "mechanism", if you prefer FM’s word) seems to work in a way that he will try to make
our beliefs come true each and every time, even at the cost of unnecessary muscular tension, pain, or
even creating damage in the organism. So "be careful what you decide to believe, in the end it
might come true".
BUT, as everyone knows, we have the ability to choose. And if we can choose to believe almost
anything, and if our organism is able of putting our beliefs and conceptions into action so
successfully that what we believe seems REAL to us, and if it is true that there are many beliefs that
we can choose from, then wouldn’t it make sense to choose beliefs which might help us, and put them
into action, experiment with them and see what happens? I think this is just the way that David showed
us in his article. (This is one of the reasons why I’m so grateful to him for sharing his findings
Now, back to the question above, "why do I ask questions in this way."
I do it this way because when we are reading Alexander and try to understand and deal with his ideas,
I’d like to make clear that there is the same perfect organism (mechanism) at work -- which can make
our beliefs come true -- when we are thinking about what FM could have meant. And maybe there never
will be any final judgment or agreement about what FM meant.
But, wouldn’t it make sense to question again and again our beliefs and concepts about what FM
meant and, in the same way described above, to choose those beliefs which might help us, put them into
action and see what happens?
You see, I think that questioning constantly and consistently his beliefs and concepts is one of the
things that Alexander did in order to learn his work.
One of the questions which everyone has to decide for himself is whether FM’s teaching practices
were entirely consistent with his principles. David Gorman wrote about this:
"Perhaps we can get a better glimpse at what Alexander did mean and what he did understand if
we take the entire system he created and view it as a whole. This means looking at everything he wrote
and asking ourselves, did Alexander feel that what he MEANT in his writings and what he DID in
practice were consistent? In other words, from the way he saw things, did what he do make sense to
him? Presumably, we must answer yes to these questions otherwise the work is in big trouble."
There are some examples in the literature which suggest to me that FM was perhaps not too happy with
his approach to teaching his pupils.
"This is not easy. If you can tell me how I can get this across to my pupils in a better way,
you will be doing a great service to mankind." (G. Binkley, The Expanding Self, p.100)
".. he said that he had to write down what he knew, in case "none of us was any
good", and that "the work might die out". If the books were there,
somebody might be able to work out the practical procedures from what he had written."
(Marjory Barlow, Reminiscences of FM, Congress Sydney 1994)
Again, all we have is speculation. But however FM’s attitude towards his own teaching practices
might have been, if we are going to teach, we have to evaluate our own practices in learning and
teaching according to our understanding of the PRINCIPLES of the work (be it the AT or anything else,
for that matter), and come to our own decisions of how to teach it, based on our reasoning,
experiments, and experience.
And this very process is also an example of what I would call "Mr Alexander’s Technique".
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 1998
Subject: Re: More on Gorman essay
Well here’s a how-d’ye-do. If we question Mr. Gorman’s claims of originality for his new work,
we are "interpreting them in the only way (w)e can, which is from (our) own background and
experiences." and must attend a week-long workshop. What does this say about those who ACCEPT his
claims? I catch a whiff of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ in this thread.
I have learned in my 15 years in and around the Technique that one is unlikely to overestimate the
rigidity of mind and unteachability of Alexander Teachers. This would be tragic in any field, but is
unbearably poigniant in our case.
On the positive side, the last decade or so has brought about a ‘shaking out’ of attitudes and
hidebound traditions that may yet ensure that the Technique has a future. In the midst of a tirade
against Marj Barstow, David Alexander remarked something to the effect that: "whatever else she
does, no one can burst the bubble of a hotshot STAT robot the way she can." I recall how, during
a teacher’s workshop, Marj’s asking "why do you do that?" could bring someone to a dead
stop in mid demonstration; they had no idea that their approach was riddled with unreasoned ritual and
During the Sturm und Drang of the founding of NASTAT, I heard many ‘Marjites’ make airy claims
about how they were ‘beyond’ the teaching practices of the rest of us. Many of those same people
went on to discover that Marj’s immense skill included techniques like the table and the ‘whispered
ah’ which she had not used much, if at all, in group settings. In both these cases, the result (at
least some of the time) was constructive self-questioning and growth.
This said, I want to say that David has made a strong pendulum swing away from ‘directing the
Primary Control,’ and ‘inhibiting misuses’ and back towards ‘inhibiting a too quick reaction
to stimuli,’ and ‘staying with the means-whereby.’ This is a Good Thing. The clear statement of
the idea that the particular manifestations of misuse (e.g. pulling back the head) are expressions of
Primary Control, operating under the constraints of end-gaining and incorrect conception is a
tremendous coup. With this in mind, we could shed a lot of ritualized ‘ordering’ and give more
attention to the importance of inhibition on the broadest basis, rather than trying to inhibit an ever
growing laundry list of specific tensions.
Lulie Westfeldt, Frank Jones and Goddard Binkley all hint at the idea that Alexander may have put too
much reliance on his spectacular manual skill in his later years. It is likely that generations of
teachers have worried far too much about giving the ‘right kind’ of chair turn and not nearly
enough about questioning the pupil’s thinking.
Still and all, Mr. Gorman has not presented any principle that justifies the formation of a new ‘system.’
The efficacy of his current teaching does not demonstrate that any new discovery is involved.
End-gaining and incorrect conception are worthy bases for a new focus and a rethinking of our teaching
methods. We have all probably overemphasized Primary Control as a tool for reconditioning instead of a
phenomenon which operates at all times whether we ‘direct’ it or not.
I also find it a little precious of David to express reluctance to put forth his revelations and
disclaim any promotion of his new system when he has already set up an elaborate web site with a new
logo, training offers and pitches for workshops.
Date: Wed, 1 Jul 1998 06:10:07 -0400
From: David Gorman firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Reply to John Coffin
I am glad to see a number of people addressing the original issue I raised, namely, that when we
include ‘what people ARE actually up to’ at the moments when ‘Alexander misuse’ is happening,
does this afford us a different interpretation of what is going on?
There has been some interesting debate on this subject, particularly about whether, in fact, the
Alexander Technique already covers this territory.
This, of course, would depend a great deal on what you mean by the Alexander Technique. Remember,
there is no ‘thing’ out there called ‘the Alexander Technique’. Alexander is dead and cannot
tell us what he considered it to be, though there are his books. There are also the Alexander
Technique of the various ‘very senior’ teachers who trained with FM, but they differ so much
between themselves that they cannot agree. The only other ‘Alexander Technique’ is the personal
understanding that each student or teacher has for themselves. This obviously varies a great deal
Therefore, let me be plain as to what I am referring to when I say ‘the premises of the Alexander
Technique’. I AM NOT referring to what Alexander wrote, since we can only interpret those and the
huge diversity of ‘styles’ you see around us shows us how diverse these interpretations are.
I AM referring to what is most commonly done by teachers all over the world in the name of the
Alexander Technique. The Technique, ‘collectively’, as it is actually lived, taught, and described
Necessarily, how I see this is ONLY MY VIEW, albeit one from a great deal of travel, personal contact
and experience. This ‘collective’ Alexander will probably change over time. But this
present-moment Alexander Technique is the one that the public usually gets when they go to a teacher.
The is the one that is described in teacher’s brochures, books and web pages as being about the
hands-on experience, about movement re-education and about freeing of heads/necks/backs, etc.
If any of you think that you are already seeing how people function and the way things work in a
different way than this Alexander ‘collective’, perhaps in a way more similar way to what I am
describing, then that is just a fact of how you do see it. I would suggest, though, this is NOT the
way that many or most teachers do think of the work.
Many of the people who have written in to me privately have expressed that what I have written has
been "enlightening" and "stimulating" for them. They have also expressed thanks to
me for being so "bold" and "courageous" as to post this. I can see why I am
getting some of these posts privately rather than publicly when I experience the tone of John Coffin’s
recent reply to me.
His responses are coming quite close to the ‘ad hominum’ attacks that David Langstroth and others
have decried. I certainly get the feeling that John is unhappy that I have had the temerity to claim
that I have discovered anything and especially to strike off on my own and start my own work, rather
than stay in the fold--almost as if I am taking something away from the Alexander Technique by
leaving, then daring to challenge its principles.
"Well here’s a how-d’ye-do. If we question Mr. Gorman’s claims of
originality for his new work, we are "interpreting them in the only way (w)e can, which is
from (our) own background and experiences." and must attend a week-long workshop. What
does this say about those who ACCEPT his claims? I catch a whiff of ‘heads I win, tails you
lose’ in this thread."
and further down,
"I also find it a little precious of David to express reluctance to put forth his revelations
and disclaim any promotion of his new system when he has already set up an elaborate web site with a
new logo, training offers and pitches for workshops."
Remember what Nina A. wrote recently to John:
"I have to say that this type of language ... is uncalled for, and shows a lack of respect for
others. It may not be to your use, or liking, but casting aspersions on belief systems or philosophies
of others certainly makes me wary of engaging you in dialogue, lest I be cast aside with such
So, whether or not my interpretation of John’s response is correct, I should like to request that
everyone makes an attempt (even if you don’t feel it) to respect any person who writes in and debate
the issues only. The purpose of this list is to have as many people as possible in the discussion, not
to have the thing dominated by the strongest voices, which will happen unless great care is taken. It
is obvious that many others have things to say, but in the current climate it seems that they feel
they can only do it privately... This is by no means ‘their’ problem.
I think feelings may be rising because two separate issues are being mingled here--one being my
challenges to the Alexander beliefs, which John deals with very clearly and articulately in the middle
section of his message, and the other being whatever new work I am now doing.
Hence John writes:
"Still and all, Mr. Gorman has not presented any principle that justifies the formation of a
new ‘system.’ The efficacy of his current teaching does not demonstrate that any new
discovery is involved."
So, I shall repeat what I said in my last posting:
I am interested in debating the issue of whether there is something missing or misconceived in the
Alexander Technique (this collective one, remember), that limits the Alexander work. I have proposed
my ideas of what this is, along with another way to see what happens for people.
This I AM interested in debating with you. I AM NOT interested in debating (and will not debate)
whether my work is or is not valid or original. None of these respondents have ANY direct experience
of the nature or range of my work. All you have is a small written snippet of a lesson which I used as
an example and which is only one aspect of my work among many, in any case. Furthermore, there is NO
POSSIBILITY of a real debate on the validity or originality of my work until anyone HAS WITNESSED what
I do. This is a fact.
My work is not called the Alexander Technique any longer, so why on earth would anyone care what it
does or does not do? If you’re happy where you are, why change? (And of course, like anyone, I am
definitely promoting my work on my web pages and elsewhere (thanks for the free publicity,
John)--however, I am not trying to promote it here in this discussion.)
But the real point for this discussion is that there is also NO POSSIBILITY of a real debate even on
the issue of the validity of the premises of the Alexander Technique in the light of my challenge,
until whoever wants to debate has done the experiments for themselves of correlating people’s actual
thoughts/feelings/actions, AS EXPERIENCED BY THOSE PEOPLE, with the physical/functional coordinations
AS SEEN BY ANY OUTSIDER.
If any of you feel that you have already done that, then please bring forward what you have found and
how it relates to what makes sense to do to help someone. AND how you feel this relates to the ‘Alexander
Technique’ as it usually practiced. Some of you are doing that and as David Langstroth says in his
recent post, then we can debate the interpretations. I shall be replying to him in a separate posting.
John also writes:
"I have learned in my 15 years in and around the Technique that one is unlikely to
overestimate the rigidity of mind and unteachability of Alexander Teachers."
If what John says is true, this is a sad commentary on the state of this work which talks of
flexibility, openness, change and learning. If anyone should be embodying these qualities, one would
think it would be the teachers? If not, what on earth are they teaching? Perhaps it would be
profitable for Alexander organizations, trainers, and teachers to look at WHY this may be so...
There may be some clues when John writes in the middle section so clearly about what could be the
over-emphasis on the hands-on experience and the discounting of thinking and conception, and:
"On the positive side, the last decade or so has brought about a ‘shaking out’
of attitudes and hidebound traditions that may yet ensure that the Technique has a future... ...they
had no idea that their approach was riddled with unreasoned ritual and blind imitation."
What could possibly have happened to the Technique to inculcate such "hidebound tradition",
"unreasoned ritual" and "blind imitation"? If we aren’t going to take the easy
road and assume it is the pupil’s fault for misunderstanding our wonderful teaching ("I’d be
a wonderful teacher if it wasn’t for my pupils"), then we must look straight at the whole way
that the Technique has been taught in training and in lessons.
As Mortimer Adler says in his wonderful book "Reforming Education" (Adler worked for years
with Dewey at the University of Chicago):
"The doctrinal is an attempt to read as much truth as possible (and no errors) in the work of
an author, usually devising a special interpretation, or by discovering the special secret of an
author’s intentions... It is the opposite of the dialectical method, where the aim is
learning to think and the pursuit of truth.
The word ‘disciple’ stresses the difference between the doctrinal and the
dialectic teaching... The doctrinal teaching of disciples enables them to learn what the master
thinks. The dialectic teaching of students enables them to think for themselves. I would go further
and say that the doctrinal method indoctrinates, and only the dialectic method teaches."
One of the best ways out of "hidebound traditions" and "unreasoned ritual" and
"imitation" is to go right back to the events in front of us, and look at them anew--without
our current filters (as much as that can be done). This is only possible, of course, when one knows
what one’s belief systems/constructs/conceptions are, otherwise we will inevitably mistake them for
‘reality’ and never think to question them. These ‘pre-conceived ideas’ aren’t just ‘ideas’.
Anyone going into a lesson (indeed, into life) with them intact will think they already ‘know’
what is happening and therefore act accordingly.
But, if we can begin to know our own thoughts and perceptions, and if we can take them as our current
construct, NOT AS REALITY, then we have a chance to see what really happens as it happens without the
‘preconceived ideas’ spawned by tradition and ritual.
In teaching (or training) this translates as not trying to get the pupil to see things the way the
teacher does (so that if they can successfully see things the way the teacher does, they have ‘learned’),
but rather to find out what the pupil does see, to help them make experiments, many of which will lead
them nowhere or up blind alleys, to help them recognize when they have lead nowhere, and to help them
recognize in their own perception what they have discovered, and encourage them to act on their
discoveries, and to recognize when the results of these actions throw up new learning or new data that
needs new experiments, and so on.
A change like this also means teachers need to stop answering questions from their pupils in favour
of saying back to them, "that’s a good question of yours. How are YOU going to answer
it?". To a student a teacher’s answer is ALWAYS the ‘right’ answer (usually to the teacher
too). The student’s answer for themselves can only come from their perception of what is happening.
It doesn’t matter how ‘right’ it is because as they develop the ‘habit’ of seeing for
themselves, they will always be updating their answers as they see more clearly what is happening.
This produces a teacher who has learned for themselves, who cannot possibly have hidebound tradition,
since there wasn’t any tradition; who can’t possibly have unreasoned ritual since they weren’t
taught any rituals, and who can’t possibly imitate (at least successfully), since the whole process
only goes somewhere when they use their own unique thoughts and experiments and perceptions.
I know about this one because this is a change I made in my own training course after the first few
years of running it. It was a major challenge for me to let go of making sure that the trainees got
the experience they should have and understood what they need to understand. Instead to allow them to
get their own answer and understand what they did, no matter if I could see it was full of holes. It
took a great deal of trust in the process to keep up with it until I could actually see a year or two
later that they were growing and discarding previous understandings in favour of more accurate ones.
A little quote from Dewey (or at least attributed to Dewey, though I don’t know where it came
"You may as well say you have sold.
When no one has bought,
As to say you have taught,
When no one has learned..."
Continued in PART 6...
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