14. Consent

I really enjoy the immediacy and informality of the few transcripts or notes of lectures given by F M Alexander which have survived. One, in 1934, when he was in his sixties, was given to women training to become teachers of physical education and gymnastics. A brief note in the College records implies a certain incomprehension: Alexander’s talk is compared with another speaker who had “presented the subject of posture in a more ready-to-use manner in an interesting lecture later in the week”. The Alexander Technique is not “ready-to -use” as a set of exercises and it is not concerned with ‘posture’ as something external. It is bringing together practice in thinking with the physical experience of ourselves. In the talk to the physical education students, during which Alexander demonstrated by working with individual students, there are very revealing insights about consent – consent to make a movement, perform an action. Alexander is interested in what he calls the “mental hiatus” which leads to an exercise, or an everyday action, becoming “a mechanical exercise, (not) something real that matters”. At the end of the talk he answers questions and one reply that was taken down returns to the questions of giving “consent” when one gets out of a chair. Alexander tries to emphasise that, for him, this act of giving or withholding consent is very important – “it matters a great deal” – it is a thought which disappears into the deed. “We are trying to superimpose a ‘doing’, when all we need is to give consent”. This letting go is made possible by the teacher who gives the student the chance of a new experience of movement which she can then gradually think her way into so that it becomes her own. ‘Consent’ is just the right word to capture the feel of the Alexander Technique. It means “feeling together” and the heart of the meaning is much more to do with harmony, consensus; agreement, which then moves into enacting that common purpose. In the lecture Alexander uses the picture of that time of the day when most are least conscious – getting out of bed – to illustrate the point that “we do not have to try to do anything, we just get up”. The conscious control has gone into the movement, disappeared into it, illuminated it, overcome the “mental hiatus”, and has kept the deed “something real that matters” even it is only sitting down. We are to practice creating the oneness; then go. Often in an Alexander Technique lesson, the teacher asks the student to allow him to move her arm or leg as the student is lying or sitting or standing (not, usually, a leg while standing!). The aim here is not massage or manipulation, but, strange to say, giving the student an opportunity to explore consent.

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