These descriptions of two teaching procedures may well have been written (and copyrighted) in order to establish Alexander's prerogative in regard to his technique, and to counter Dr Spicer's attempts to usurp him. They appear to have been written with a certain urgency as, unlike Alexander's other writings, they do not contain the usual preliminary introductions or qualifying clauses.
… Like the original, the supplement is concerned with giving examples of procedures for obtaining a position of mechanical advantage to “bring into use the proper muscular coordinations.”
… The first procedure, “Chair Exercise” is the earliest description of what is more commonly known as “hands on the back of the chair,” i.e. The procedure of being in a position of mechanical advantage, whilst taking hold of the back of a chair (Alexander 1995, s.102).
He got the idea at an early stage in his teaching when he was working with a group of students in Australia. One of the group had picked up the idea that a good way to expand the chest – the thorax – was to take hold of the back rail of a chair with the hands and then pull on the rail. Alexander observed this and I'm sure tried it out for himself. However, he came to the conclusion that the way most people did it had exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. People didn't widen the thorax but rather narrowed it, raised the chest and hollowed the back. But he also recognised there was a possibility carrying out the procedure in quite a different manner and one which would, indeed, be useful (Carrington/Carey s.91).
The precise origins of hands over the back of a chair remain somewhat mysterious. The most likely explanation is that while living in Australia someone showed Alexander a 'strongman' exercise that aimed to increase chest size, breathing capacity and upper body strength. That person might have been one of his students, a friend or even his brother AR, who one time developed a keen interest in the physical culture system propagated by the legendary Prussian-born bodybuilder Eugen Sandow.
… The basis of this particular strongman particular strongman exercise involved taking hold of the top rail of a conventional, straight-backed chair with both hands with what is now known as a 'power grip', in which the palm, fingers and thumb are flexed, and then trying to pull the chair apart. … Apparently Alexander observed others performing the chair-pulling exercise and tried it for himself before concluding that although the size of someone's chest could be significantly increased because of the bulking up of the chest musculature, the overall effect was often to reduce their respiratory capacity because the increase in muscle mass of the torso (and arms) caused significant rigidity and interference in the movement of the rib cage (Carey 2017, s.118-9).
Chair Exercise (Standing)
… Ask the pupil to stand at the back of the chair in such a position that he (the pupil) will be able easily to reach the top of the back of the chair with his hands. … The orders referred to being given, the teacher will cause the pupil's body to incline forward and upward in the direction of the chair and then cause the pupil to place his hands, some distance apart, upon the back of the chair. The hands are to be so placed that the four fingers are kept quite straight on one side of the back of the chair and the thumb on the other side of the back of the chair. Then the pupil should be told to order or desire relaxation of the muscles of the arm and to grip the back of the chair gently but firmly. Then the pupil must be asked to pull the top of the chair as if endeavouring to lift it and at the same time allowing the right elbow to point directly towards the right and the left elbow towards the left. This pulling movement is employed in the support of the body in such a manner as to bring into use the proper muscular coordinations and to prevent the defective use previously employed (Alexander 1995, s.103).
Hands over the back of a chair is something that gradually evolved. I know from talking to FM when he started teaching full-time he found that by the evening he wasn't able to straighten his arms because of all the work and the tension he had produced in himself. So he had to stop doing whatever it was that he was doing (Barlow 2011, s.121).
Now he didn't teach it to pupils when they first started lessons, but he did when they had got somewhere with the work (ibid).
Incensed at this travesty of his technique, Alexander threatened the publishers (ironically they were the same as his) with legal action unless they withdrew Lee's book. Without waiting for this to happen, he decided that he must prove to the public there was something more to his technique than “invisible exercises.” Accordingly, he wrote out a long description of what he did with a pupil in a lesson. He chose the hand-behind-the-chair procedure (which he had been using, he said, since 1910) and went through it step by step, explaining fully what part the teacher played and what the pupil, what the “orders” meant and how they were related to the manipulation of the teacher. Where Lee had been content with half a page of description, Alexander used sixteen. Satisfied that the account was accurate and complete, he looked for a way to have it patented. Since this was not practicable, he incorporated it into his new book, where it was protected by copyright. (Jones 1996, s. 38-39). (Carrington/Carey 1992, s.60).
When he is seated, his body being supported by the back of the chair on which he is sitting, another chair is placed before him with its back towards him. THE PUPIL IS THEN ASKED TO GIVE THE FOLLOWING PREVENTIVE ORDERS. In the way of correct direction and guidance, HE IS ASKED TO ORDER THE NECK TO RELAX, TO ORDER THE HEAD FORWARD AND UP TO LENGTHEN THE SPINE. … In the present instance, it is explained to him that the order given is to be merely preventive -- a projected wish without any attempt on the pupil's part to carry it out successfully.
THE TEACHER REPEATS THE ORDERS AND WITH HIS HANDS HE PROCEEDS TO BRING THE PUPIL'S BODY GENTLY FORWARD FROM THE HIPS.
… At every step in the work it is essential that the pupil should rehearse his orders from the beginning, because these earlier orders constitute the means whereby a further step may be successfully taken. In giving himself orders, the pupil must on every occasion begin with the primary orders before going on to the secondary orders, and so on.
THE PUPIL MUST NOW AGAIN ORDER THE NECK TO RELAX, THE HEAD FORWARD AND UP, WHILST THE TEACHER WITH HIS HANDS SECURES THAT POSITION OF THE TORSO IN WHICH THE BACK MAY BE SAID TO BE WIDENED. These orders should be repeated several times and be continued WHILST THE TEACHER TAKES THE PUPIL'S RIGHT ARM WITH HIS HANDS, AND MOVES IT FORWARD UNTIL THE PUPIL'S HAND IS ABOVE THE TOP RAIL OF THE BACK OF THE CHAIR. THE PUPIL SHOULD THEN BE REQUESTED TO REPEAT THE ORDERS SET DOWN AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS PARAGRAPH, AND THEN TO TAKE THE WEIGHT OF THE ARM ENTIRELY, AS THE TEACHER DISENGAGES HIS HANDS FROM THE SUPPORTED ARM. Great care must be taken to see that the pupil has not interfered with the mechanism of the torso in the effort to take the weight of the arm.
… If the pupil has not interfered with the mechanism of the torso in the effort to take the weight of the arm, HE SHOULD NEXT BE REQUESTED TO GRASP THE TOP RAIL OF THE BACK OF THE CHAIR GENTLY AND FIRMLY, KEEPING THE FINGERS AS straight AS POSSIBLE AND QUITE FLAT AGAINST THE WOOD OF THE FRONT PORTION OF THE TOP RAIL OF THE CHAIR, THE THUMB ALSO TO BE KEPT AS STRAIGHT AS POSSIBLE, BEING CALLED UPON TO DO DUTY ON THE BACK PORTION OF THE TOP RAIL OF THE CHAIR, WITH THE WRIST CURVED SLIGHTLY INWARDS TOWARDS THE LEFT. The teacher will, of course, as far as possible, assist the pupil with these hand movements.
… THE PUPIL MUST THEN BE ASKED AGAIN TO ORDER THE NECK TO RELAX, THE HEAD FORWARD AND UP, AND THE TEACHER WILL REPEAT HIS PREVIOUS EFFORT TO ESTABLISH THAT CONDITION OF THE TORSO AND BACK ESSENTIAL TO SATISFACTORY ARM WORK, WHILST HE REPEATS WITH THE PUPIL'S LEFT ARM THE EVOLUTION JUST PERFORMED WITH THE RIGHT, SO THAT THE PUPIL WILL BE GRASPING THE BACK OF THE CHAIR WITH THE LEFT HAND IN THE SAME WAY AS HE HAS BEEN HOLDING IT WITH THE RIGHT,
… When the teacher is satisfied that his pupil has succeeded up to this point, he may go on to give him the additional guiding orders, and proceed to help him to put them into practical effect during the completion of the evolution. The following are the new directive orders. The pupil is asked: --
(1) TO CONTINUE TO HOLD THE TOP OF THE CHAIR BY KEEPING THE FINGERS QUITE STRAIGHT FROM THE FIRST JOINTS OF THE FINGERS TO THEIR TIPS, WITH THE THUMBS AND FINGERS KEPT FLAT AGAINST THE TOP RAIL OF THE CHAIR AS PREVIOUSLY INDICATED.
(2) TO ALLOW THE WRIST OF THE LEFT ARM TO BE CURVED INWARDS TOWARDS THE RIGHT, AND THE WRIST OF THE RIGHT ARM TO BE CURVED INWARDS TOWARDS THE LEFT.
(3) TO ALLOW THE ELBOW OF THE LEFT ARM TO BE CURVED OUTWARDS TOWARDS THE LEFT, AND THE ELBOW OF THE RIGHT ARM TO BE CURVED OUTWARDS TOWARDS THE RIGHT.
… The teacher's aim is now to give the pupil the experiences necessary to a gentle, forearm pull from the fingers, and to this end HE WILL TAKE HOLD OF THE PUPIL'S ELBOWS AND DIRECT THEM OUTWARDS AND SLIGHTLY DOWNWARDS, and, following this, will give the sensory experiences required in DIRECTING THE UPPER PARTS OF THE ARMS (ABOVE THE ELBOW) AWAY FROM ONE ANOTHER (THE RIGHT ARM TOWARDS THE RIGHT AND THE LEFT ARM TOWARDS THE LEFT), IN SUCH A WAY THAT THE PUPIL WILL BE SUPPORTING THE TORSO WITH HIS ARMS. THE PUPIL WILL NOW BE ASKED TO CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE TORSO IN THIS WAY, CONTINUING TO REHEARSE HIS ORDERS, whilst the teacher so adjusts the torso that the large "lifting" muscles of the back will be employed co-ordinately with the other parts of the organism in bringing about such use of the respiratory mechanisms that they will function to the maximum at the particular stage of development reached from day to day. Success in this part of the evolution will bring about a change in the condition of the back which would be described by the ordinary observer as a "widening of the back." (Alexander 2004, s.114-120).
Men den har selvfølgelig også å gjøre med bruken av hendene. Du oppnår en dynamisk kropp og et følsomt grep. Øvelsen inntar en sentral rolle i prosessen med å utdanne Alexanderteknikk-lærere i det å bruke hendene i undervisningen.
Ser vi nærmere på denne snodige øvelsen viser den seg å stimulere visse iboende dynamiske egenskaper. Dette skal jeg fortelle mer om i de neste artiklene i denne serien.
Langford, Elisabeth. 2004. Only Connect: Reflections on Teaching the Alexander Technique. Alexandertechniek Centrum vzw.