INHIBITING[1]:
"ONE'S MOMENT OF COMPLETE FREEDOM"[2]

 

Joe Armstrong
May 1999
Revised March 2015[3]
 
My technique is based on inhibition, the inhibition of
undesirable, unwanted responses to stimuli, and hence it
is primarily a technique for the development of the control
of human reaction.
 
F. Matthias Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living [4]
 
 
Inhibiting is really the cornerstone of the Alexander Technique, but it is also extremely challenging to bring it fully into daily living. And even though the word has a fairly negative meaning in everyday language, inhibiting actually becomes something very liberating as we use it in the Technique because it essentially means leaving out or reducing to a minimum whatever we might be doing or thinking that could keep us from our fullest psychophysical integrating at any given moment. Alexander, himself, liked to say that inhibiting gives us not only "freedom of thought and action," but also "freedom IN thought and action."[5]
 
 
ILLUSTRATION
 
After you read this paragraph, set these pages down and give yourself a few minutes to notice what happens when you come to your next impulse to do something—even if it is only raising your hand and arm to scratch your head or shifting your weight because your feet or sitting bones are tired. Once you feel you have made this observation, pick the pages back up again to go on reading the next paragraph.
 
 
                                                                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
Did you respond immediately to the impulse to move, or did you take some time to consider doing it in a way that helped you to stay with your overall going up and lengthening and widening? (I am assuming here that you already have some experience of going up from having lessons in the Technique.) Inhibiting is what you have done if you took that extra time before responding—especially if it helped you to make your response in a more balanced and integrated way.
 
In its fullest form, inhibiting gives you the option of keeping at bay all immediate ways of responding that are automatic or habitual—whether they happen only in your thinking or in actually doing something. (Usually the two activities are much more closely bound together than we realize.)
 
When you can refrain from responding automatically and habitually—in the face of any kind of demand—by staying fully free instead of tightening and clamping down, then you have a much better chance of responding in a way that is most balanced, most true to the moment, and most humane, even if you choose to go ahead and make the same response you were about to make automatically. So inhibiting can also provide you with more of a chance to have a greater wisdom and integrity as your basis for whatever you do or however you respond—especially when you see that you don't really need to respond at all, or that it would not be best for the situation if you do. Or you might realize that you don't yet have all the facts or information you need for thinking or acting in the most constructive and productive way and that you need to be able to wait openly until you have the fuller perspective. Creating this space between stimulus and response can unmask all sorts of "incorrect conceptions,[6] unduly excited fear reflexes, and fixed prejudices"[7]—to mention only a few of the negative attributes that Alexander saw as getting in the way of intelligent living.
 
To clarify inhibiting in his writings, Alexander quoted the Nobel prize physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington who wrote in The Brain and its Mechanisms,[8] "often, to refrain from an act is no less an act than to commit one, because inhibition is co-equally with excitation a nervous activity."[9] Therefore, we see that inhibiting is even considered by scientists to be a very basic function in living. Some processes and actions need to be suspended so that others may be carried out most efficiently and effectively.
 
Of course, inhibiting alone is not enough to create the full freedom in responding that we are looking for with the Technique, but it is the beginning, the starting point. It needs to come first. When you can delay your automatic responding, this then gives you the best chance to direct yourself to go up, lengthen, widen and integrate according to Alexander's discovery for using yourself as a whole. Then that integrating itself actually becomes your gauge and basis for choosing more wisely and responding more humanely.
 
 
LEARNING TO INHIBIT
 
In Alexander lessons when we use the action of getting up from and sitting down on a chair, inhibiting is actually the most basic ability we are trying to help pupils to learn and develop. These two seemingly simple everyday actions also reveal a lot about how the character of all your responses serves you to your best or worst advantage in every other life situation—especially at those times when you might be trying hard to get some result or trying too hard to make it right or excellent. Of course, Alexander called this excessive striving "end-gaining" and often attributed it to undue self-determination and "trying too hard to be right."[10] Here is one of Alexander's most comprehensive statements on the matter:
 
. . . a change in the nature of human reaction is essential if mankind is not to remain saddled with frustrating static and obsolete beliefs, ideas, conceptions, and relative values which have long since outlived their usefulness . . . This should not surprise anyone who remembers that in most fields of activity man's craze is for speed and for the short view, because he has become possessed by the non-stop attitude and outlook: he is a confirmed end-gainer, without respect to the nature of the means whereby he attempts to gain his desired end even when he wishes to employ new means whereby he could change his habits of thought and action.[11]
 
Through chair work you can also find out a lot about how you behave under stress, frustration, or too much stimulation, or about how other feelings might influence your thinking and your ways of doing things—because reacting to the prospect of getting up and sitting down also sets off the same basic kind of thinking and responding in relation to gravity as does your reacting to the prospect of anything else happening to you—whether it is something in the immediate or the more distant future.
 
So it doesn't really matter whether it is the action of getting up from a chair, planning out how you will get to know someone, or addressing the United Nations General Assembly—the same fundamental use of yourself in relation to gravity needs to be involved in everything you do so that you can remain whole while you do it. This is why Alexander called what he was attempting to help people achieve through the Technique "improving their reaction to the stimulus of living."[12] "Chair work," then, is the format that he devised for helping us understand how to foster that improvement from moment to moment.
 
One of the things traditionally trained Alexander teachers want most to help you understand through the process of inhibiting is that most of the time your automatic or habitual ways of doing and responding usually start out as automatic or habitual ways of thinking. But the whole chain reaction that links thinking to doing usually happens so quickly and so subconsciously that it is very hard to see it or catch it in yourself until you have had a chance to experience the integrated way of being and moving that a skilled teacher's hands can give you while taking you into and out of a chair as you "leave yourself alone" or "do nothing" but attend to directing your lengthening and widening and going up. In my teaching of the Technique, I will often begin to move a pupil out of the chair toward standing and then stop the motion just before I actually get to the point where the pupil's weight would ordinarily begin to be transferred primarily to his or her feet. Much of the time, in early lessons just at this point, pupils have already begun to make preparations in their legs as if they are going to complete the standing movement by themselves—even though they have agreed not to do anything to "help." It shows that they really have not been inhibiting at the critical moment—when they start to think that standing up may be going to happen. They have actually decided subconsciously that they need to help execute the movement. Many will even say, at this point, "How can I possibly get up if I don’t help with my leg muscles?" Then I explain that getting into standing is not their problem. It's mine. If rising to standing doesn't happen, then it's my failure, not theirs. And I also sometimes add that if I happen to break my arm in the process of moving them from sitting to standing, I have a good insurance policy that should cover my medical bills. But often this appeal still doesn't really succeed in convincing them to set aside their pre-conceived idea of what it should take for them to go from sitting to standing—either by themselves or guided by me.
 
Once you have experienced the integrating and going up that come with sustaining your lengthening and widening both before, during, and after standing and sitting, then you can begin to use it more and more as a basis for finding the freest way of thinking and responding in all other situations. You can also begin to see more easily that it is really your way of thinking that you need to change or suspend (inhibit) and redirect so that you have the best chance of changing your responding into something more integrated and whole.
 
 
REACTING AND RESPONDING
 
As you begin to work more on inhibiting, I have found that it can be helpful to make a distinction between "reacting" and "responding." Reacting happens first but may not be visible to an onlooker, whereas responding is the carrying through of that reacting into ways of moving—behaving—that are often, but not always, fairly obvious to others, especially if they are watching you closely or carefully. Reacting tends to involve processes within you that happen more "beneath the surface," like changes in your breathing, blood flow, skin texture, and other internal changes that can vary according to what affects you (either consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously) both from your outside surroundings and from within you in your dreaming, imagining, thinking, and feeling. Responding, on the other hand, involves muscular actions that usually lead into movement—even if it is only your eyes blinking or your head moving ever so slightly when something suddenly comes to your attention. Often skilled Alexander teachers, with their hands, can sense you responding before you can sense it yourself—particularly when you get an idea that the teacher is going to move you into standing or sitting, as I described above.
 
This may seem like a false division to make because, most of the time, reacting and responding can feel like they are one in the same. Or, at the very least, they can seem to happen in such a direct flow from one into the other that you might find it impossible to detect where any changeover actually takes place until you have had quite a number of lessons. Even so, what we are learning with the Technique is how to free ourselves from the strong chain between whatever is stimulating us and our responding to it. So distinguishing between reacting and responding can help, I think, in giving us a way to extend the time we need for working on choosing the best way of responding. Usually, as soon as a stimulus comes into our "realm of living" a reaction takes place somewhere within us, but deciding whether or not to respond to it, and how we should respond to it, often comes somewhat later.
 
It takes a lot of practice to develop enough skill at inhibiting to be very successful with it in everyday living, and this skill also grows hand in hand with the growth of your skill in directing your neck-head-torso-limb relationship that allows the best working of your primary control of your "postural mechanisms."[13] The better you are at inhibiting your automatic ways of responding, the more it is possible for you to maintain your overall integrating direction. And vice versa: the better you are at maintaining your integrating direction, the easier it is for you to deal with more and more powerful sources of reacting and responding through inhibiting.
 
 
PRACTICE I
 
Since Alexander had no-one who could help him improve his feeling ("sensory appreciation") of how he used himself, devised a way of practicing in front of a set of three mirrors to make this improvement on his own and to most accurately develop his powers of inhibiting and directing. I think everyone studying the Technique can benefit by working along the same lines—particularly if you have a skilled teacher’s hands to verify that you are on the "right track."[14] In fact, I would even go so far as to say that, until you have this procedure fully "under your belt" you probably do not yet have a fundamental grasp of the Technique. Following are some suggestions for using Alexander's procedure that he describes in detail in The Use of the Self.[15]
 
 
 
To begin, choose an action that you would like to see if you can do in a better way than you regularly do it when you need to do it quickly or automatically. Select something fairly short and simple that doesn't always have to be done suddenly—like singing a note or phrase from a song, speaking a line of a poem, picking up a pen to sign your name, raising your arm to wave hello, taking a single step, etc. Then deliberately set aside a lot more time for building up to doing the action than you would usually give yourself—maybe as much as five or ten minutes—even though you might actually need only a few seconds when the moment to act finally comes. In other words, give yourself time to wait, even though you have definitely decided on what it is that you are going to do.
 
Do not go right ahead and do the action. Wait.
 
While you are waiting, use that extra time to make sure that you have your integrating of your neck-head-torso-limb relationship going as well as possible in the amount of time you have allowed. (I am assuming here again that, to a certain extent, you already understand how to give your primary directions so that they have the best influence on your primary control.)  Once you feel you are fairly well in command of your integrating and you are able to go on sustaining it while you are continuing to wait and continuing to delay any responding, decide, but only decide, that you will do the action you initially chose that you would do—not immediately, but in a few more minutes. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!
 
Try to notice if just making that decision itself causes you to start to change anything at all in your overall integrating. Often it will. And if it does—especially if it does—just go on postponing the action so that you can return to reinforcing your integrating and going up as your main activity.
 
When you finally come to the stage that your deciding to act does not distract you from your integrating and going up, then you might be ready to go on to the moment of finally doing the action. So continue with your directing in order to lead into doing the action.
 
But then—just a second or so before you are going to do the action—wait again. Don't do the action after all!
 
Instead, decide again what you will do, just as if you were choosing all over again from the start. But this time give yourself several other possible choices in addition to your original one. (Alexander called this activity "making a fresh decision"—this redeciding at what he realized is your most "critical moment"[16] just before you turn thinking or conceiving into doing.)
 
Then, as before, in this new, "fresh" decision making, keep your overall integrating and going up as your main priority while you make your new choice of action from these next four options. Choose either to:
 
1. go on, after all, and do your original choice of action, or

2. do another fairly different action, or

3. do yet another action than either of the first two, or

4. just continue going on with your basic integrating, directing and going up.
 
This way, whichever choice you make can have the best chance to be filled with your fullest integrating and going up. So, no matter what you finally do, your integrating still remains your main activity; and the choice of any specific action remains more secondary right on through finally doing one of them. And if one of your choices is something that stirs up a lot of enthusiasm or excitement in you—for instance, like music making or poetry recitation often can—this temporary setting aside of your goal is rather like placing it high up on an imaginary shelf off to the side, still "shimmering"with its fullest inspiration and intensity until you are fully ready to approach accomplishing it with your best integrating.
 
This delaying also helps more and more to deflect any power that your inspiration or excitement might have over you that could actually stand in the way of your doing the action most completely and wonderfully, especially if it is a deeply ingrained action that you have learned to do subconsciously—like speaking, singing or walking.
 
In a way, you could say that this fresh decision making procedure actually equalizes your choices so that you can bring the same power of integrating to all of them. Even your fourth option—just waiting and directing—can contain the same energy as the excitement of singing a note from a beautiful song. So when you work this way for a while, it obviously can empower your directing energy as much as it can improve your inhibiting ability.
 
You may benefit very much from going through this entire procedure several times before you finally let yourself go ahead to accomplish the action that you ultimately choose to do—especially if it is one that you usually tend to rush through in a way that gets you stiff or tired or that gets you frustrated because it often turns out less successful or rewarding than you hope it will be.
 
It should be clear by now that the time just before you act is the most crucial—the critical moment—even though it may ultimately mean leaving only a split second more time between your deciding and your acting than you usually take. And when you have fully left out all the unnecessary extra preparing, meddling, and contriving that you might be engaging in out of habit to be sure you will be right, it can often seem like the action just "does itself," without much, if any, sense of effort at all. The Alexander jargon for this approach is "non-doing," as distinguished from "doing," which usually carries with it some quality of an "end-gaining," excessive, and unnecessary effort. This approach, of course, is diametrically opposite to what most people do when they follow the old adage "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again!"
 
 
PRACTICE II
 
Another way of developing your skill at inhibiting in daily life is to choose some fairly simple action that you usually do many times a day—like  reaching to open a door, lifting a foot to go up a stair, moving to answer a phone—and see if you can remember throughout the day, each time it comes up, to pause a moment for giving some attention to your freeing and your going up and integrating before you go ahead and do the action. Sometimes you might want, and need, to take longer than just a moment, especially if the action is very demanding "physically" or "emotionally"  (for instance, if you have to lift something very heavy or if you have to talk with somebody you usually find difficult) so that you can give your going up and integrating their fullest chance to enhance the activity. Then, at the end of the day, reflect back and try to remember how successful you were at remembering to pause and direct at these critical moments. If you like, even keep track of the number of times that you remembered—and forgot.
 
 
THE BROADER VIEW
 
Another aspect of ourselves that inhibiting can reveal to us is the fact that we are actually doing a lot of our preparatory thinking, choosing, and deciding "subconsciously" in a way that we have never really been aware of before very much, if at all. Much of our responding usually starts so immediately after our thinking and deciding because we are also guessing ("preconceiving") so much ahead about what we might need to be prepared for (again, "end-gaining") that we get taken away from our awareness of what's happening now in our going up and integrating. We are often trying so hard to be sure that we will be prepared in just the right way when the moment comes to act that we actually set ourselves up to be "wrong" when that moment actually arrives. Then, if something different from what we were expecting happens, we often have to take extra time to dismantle the "wrong" before we can find our way through to the "right" or more appropriate response—for now.
 
It is astonishing that so many people seem to think they know for sure what is going to happen in the future, especially the future in the next few moments. During my years of teaching the Alexander Technique, I have especially noticed that many people believe they know what you are going say next, and they will actually begin responding before you have actually made a complete enough statement from which they can be certain of the point that you may be attempting to make. This end-gaining habit can often set the stage for all kinds of misunderstanding and ill feeling, and it is often quite difficult to persuade the person to wait until you are completely finished before responding. But if they can learn to apply inhibiting in these situations, the change in the "texture" of your communication with them is often dramatic—and quite a relief.
 
Even if people do not think they know the future for sure, they still often feel they can at least do something to make it go their way if they try to control things in some definite, pre-determined, getting-set way so that they will be sure to get just the results they think they want or need (again: end-gaining). Inhibiting can throw all kinds of light on these and many other habitual tendencies, and it offers a possibility for freeing ourselves from them that is unique.
 
Alexander wrote of the Technique as a way of bridging "the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious . . . by means of a knowledge gained through practical experience, which will enable man to inhibit his impulsive 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of himself that was previously unfamiliar."[17]  Impulsive, subconscious reactions also contain a whole realm of hidden material about our personality, character, attitude toward life, etc.
 
It is important to remember here that "subconscious" in Alexander’s terminology is different from the adjective "unconscious" and the term "the unconscious" as it is used in psychoanalysis, for example, to refer to the source of material that occurs in our dreaming. In the Alexander Technique, "subconscious activity" refers to anything that we are doing or thinking while we are awake that we could be conscious of but often aren't—until, for instance, it is pointed out to us in an Alexander lesson or until we notice it for ourselves when the teacher is helping us to stay aware of our lengthening and widening and we catch our thinking about preparing for an action beginning to interfere with our overall integrating. Much of the time in the early stages of lessons we do not realize that we have been affected by this subconscious interference until the action is completed and we see, upon reflection, that it didn't happen in the most integrated way it could have. We are then experiencing the difference between what Alexander called "conscious guidance and control" and "subconscious guidance and control."[18]
 
Eventually, inhibiting can also expose the true nature of our motives for doing whatever we do or for thinking whatever we think ("fixed prejudices," "beliefs," and "preconceived ideas," which, according to Alexander, are some of our main subconscious guiding influences.[19]) Sometimes we may think we are going to do something for a certain reason, or we may believe that we are responding in a certain way that we have deliberately decided upon or chosen; but often, when we inhibit and take this extra bit of time between deciding and doing, we may discover that there are actually other, more subconscious reasons behind our thinking or responding in that particular way that can make the quality of the outcome seem to betray whatever we believed our best, conscious intentions were. For instance, when a person seems to be doing something very kind and is trying to be very gentle or positive about doing it, yet there still seems to be a forceful or controlling quality underlying it that produces the opposite effect. The outcome does not really ring true as the gentle, caring thing the person seemed at first to consciously intend, even if they felt their heart was in the right place when they decided to do act. It very likely involved a degree of undue self-determination that so often results in end-gaining.
 
So you can see that inhibiting in the Technique can even provide us with the chance for a unique kind of "self-psychoanalysis" if we choose to allow it to do so and if we make the fullest use of this chance it gives us to look into our innermost motives for acting and responding. Regular psychoanalysis and psychotherapy often help us understand the reasons from the past that lay behind our behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs. But these approaches do not seem to offer such a practical way of working on unraveling and changing how those motives actually operate in this real-life moment-to-moment region between deciding and doing that usually stays hidden and unaddressed in the "gap between the subconscious and the conscious" that Alexander claims has been created by categorizing human beings as having a separate "mind," "body," and "spirit."20]
 
For instance, I have known people who have undergone many years of intensive psychoanalysis and have developed a deep and refined understanding of how people and events in their past have affected and influenced the way they think and behave. And I can see how this understanding has given them great help in many ways, but I have also seen that, to a certain extent, they often still tend to respond in the very same ways they always have at the critical moment when their most troublesome characteristics tend to get in the way of successful and compassionate communicating and relating.
 
The most unfortunate thing about this fact, though, is that these people often consider that they are already dealing with their habitual tendencies and attitudes as well as possible through their psychoanalytical work and therefore do not allow for the chance that the Alexander Technique—specifically, inhibiting—could offer them any help in this regard. Therefore, they keep the Technique compartmentalized in their thinking as only being something that can help them on a "physical" level, while the analysis or therapy helps them on a "mental" and "emotional" level.
 
The extra time that inhibiting provides gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves and our lives from a much broader perspective than I think most of us usually do. Alexander called upon on us to try to "cease our muddled examination of the details just in front of us, and try to see our problems in the broad terms of one who can stand back and see life moving through the centuries."[21]  This larger view can also reveal how aspects of tradition, convention, archetype, and myth may be subconsciously guiding our thinking, imagining, and doing in ways that prevent us from progressing toward a more humane and civilized way of being in the world.
 
As Thomas Moore says in Care of the Soul, "although life seems to be a matter of literal causes and effects, in fact we are living out deep stories, often unconsciously" . . . and . . . "We are condemned to live out what we cannot imagine. We can be caught in myth, not knowing that we are acting as a character in a drama. [If] we become familiar with the characters and themes that that are central to our myths, we can be free from their compulsions and the blindness that comes upon us when we are caught up in them."[22] Inhibiting allows us the possibility of finding that split-second where those characters and themes might actually start to play themselves out in everyday life so that we can see past our "blindness" to them and take a more active role in managing our own destinies.
 
Usually—at least in the early stages of learning the Technique—if we respond quickly, we can be pretty sure that almost all our responding will be habitual (our "habitual manner of use of the self," as Alexander called it throughout his writings). And, if we are responding habitually, we usually do not have the best chance of being truly free and spontaneous or fully constructive and caring. Inhibiting, then, not only gives us more freedom from habit, but it also gives us more freedom to choose new ways of thinking and responding. Consequently, I think the sensing of this possibility may, in certain instances, be what causes some people to shy away from or resist the Technique when they first encounter it. The thought of finding ways of thinking or behaving that are different from their habitual, automatic ones seems either just too big a demand or just too threatening to their character and the way they are used to behaving in most social situations.
 

The "herd instinct,"[23] as Alexander pointed out, is another force that can be behind automatic behavior: when we get swept away by the emotions, actions, and attitudes of others around us and we find ourselves thinking and doing things the same way as everybody else without making any real choice about whether we want to think or do those things that way, or whether we even want to do them at all. "Subconscious imitation,"[24] can be another big influence on us too, as Alexander wrote—especially as we acquire our habits of carriage and speech from those closest to us when we are very young.

Ultimately, inhibiting can become a constantly ongoing activity while nearly every moment presents us with a whole range of things to respond to that can very easily provoke automatic and habitual ways of thinking or responding. So if you can identify what things are actually going on in each moment—both outside you and within you—then inhibiting and going up in relation to all of them from moment to moment can become your basic way of responding to life—your whole attitude to life—your "reaction to the stimulus of living.” Then you are inhibiting at the deepest level. (Again, this is the experience that "chair work" is attempting to instill.)
 
Perhaps the most challenging place to bring in inhibiting is in speaking and conversation—especially when you are talking about something that is exciting or difficult or talking with people who are competitive, controlling, or argumentative in the way they converse. However, even remembering for a split second, before each phrase you speak, to free yourself from the temptation to take a quick breath and rush on into your words can make a remarkable difference, not only in your own quality of communication, but also in your listeners' willingness to respect what you have to say.[25]
 

 
"STOPPING" vs. "PAUSING" OR "DELAYING"
 
In the original approaches to teaching the Technique you would usually be asked to think of inhibiting as "stopping," rather than as "pausing" or "delaying." Also, along with "stopping," you would be asked to say "No" [26] with regard to any habitual tension you may be about to make or any habitual thinking you are starting to do—whether this is because of any preconceived ideas you might tend to have from what happened in this kind of situation in the past or because of what you are guessing (consciously or subconsciously) might be about to happen that would take some special preparing to address. In other words, you would stop and say "No" (in your imagination, rather than out loud) right when you would start thinking that you know what the future holds—whether it is during a lesson in the moment before an Alexander teacher seems to be going to stand you up from sitting or when you are predicting and planning for the more distant future. But I find that the word "stop" can sometimes tempt pupils to stiffen and hold, and I think that the words "pause" or “delay” can often work better. However, this description of inhibiting by John Hunter gives a good reason for using the word "stop":
 
What Erika [Whittaker, first-generation Alexander teacher] would emphasize about inhibition is that a stop is not a pause: they are quite different. A pause implies that one is going to do the thing, but not yet. A stop has no such implication. We are free to do something else. If you press the pause button on a cassette player, the motor is still engaged; as soon as you release the button the machine can only continue in the same direction it was going. If you press the stop button, other options become available. That moment of really becoming aware of options, which I call discovering the moment of choice, is one that Alexander went to some length to try and explain. . . .[27]
 
On the other hand, if your "stopping" involves completely giving up the motivation or inspiration for doing something that you want with all your heart to do superbly (like music making), I don't think that you should shut off that motivation and inspiration completely, which is what Mrs. Whittaker's example of  "stop" rather implies. Certainly, there must have been an element of this performance excitement in Alexander's own exercise (described above) for developing his powers of inhibiting and directing his primary control, particularly if the "certain sentence"[28] he had chosen to speak in the inhibiting exercise was from a Shakespeare play or dramatic reading. It is interesting, in this regard, that quite early on in the chapter about his discovery in The Use of the Self he makes a clear distinction quite early on, in the chapter about his discovery, between "reciting" and "ordinary speaking."[29] I had always assumed that the "certain sentence" he chose was from a Shakespeare play since his main reason for working out a solution to his vocal problems was so that he could resume his promising career as a recitalist, but more recently I realized that this may not have been the case. On one hand, it is easy to think that he chose a line from Shakespeare (e.g., "This above all: to thine own self be true . . .") for this exercise in order to work on reducing the power that the excitement of reciting instilled in him. But on the other "hand, I could see that he may have chosen instead a "certain sentence" from "ordinary speaking" (e.g., "What a rainy day it is!") just so that he would not have to contend with the extra energy of aesthetic excitement that would occur as he thought of reciting lines from a play or dramatic reading. In the case of choosing a sentence from ordinary speech, it would be much easier for it to remain pretty much on an equal level of stimulus with the other two options he gave himself—inhibiting and continuing to project his orders or raising his hand—that is, as far as their tendency not to stimulate so much end-gaining energy goes. However, in the case of reciting, I could see that the aesthetic excitement in merely thinking of reciting a "certain sentence" of a play could affect his entire primary control in a very vibrant way if it were contained and not allowed to burst forth instantly into sound at the critical moment. In this case, merely "continuing to project the directions for maintaining the new use" or going on to "lift [his] hand instead"[30] could possibly have been informed with a much-heightened direction of his primary control as well. I wish we knew what his certain sentence was!
 
 
NATURE OR NURTURE?
 
I have sometimes heard it said, "The Alexander Technique won't change who you are. If you're a burglar, you'll only become a better burglar." These words were often attributed to Alexander himself, but I have never been able to accept that he actually said such a thing, or even implied it. In fact, much to the contrary, in Man's Supreme Inheritance he devotes several pages to discussing the "thief" and what might be possible in terms of the thief being able to change his ways if "the psychophysical conditions which influence him in the direction of crime" are dealt with more fully than most programs of reform have the skills to employ with regard to a fuller "psycho-physical re-education." [31] So I tend to think that those who believe that the Technique does not have the capacity to "change who you are"—essentially your habits in living—are those who have no interest in applying it to becoming better people. These thoughts also remind me that Walter Carrington once quoted to me, "A man convinced against his will is of the same conviction still!" and I suppose that attitude could be seen behind much of the tendency for people to cling to their habits of thinking and behaving—what they would consider to be their "personality." For it seems that unless some people can be presented with a desirable—and necessary—alternative to "who they are," they probably see no need to consider other possibilities of thinking and behaving that would make the world a better place. Of course, there is nothing in the teaching of the Technique itself that would guarantee that a person would always use inhibiting and directing in order to choose to pursue a "good" end for both self and society. One could just as readily choose a self-centered or destructive course of action and perhaps use some of the skills learned through lessons to carry it out more effectively (pick the lock on a door, crawl through a window, etc.). But "constructive conscious control of the individual"—to use Alexander’s own term for his work from the title of his second book—surely carries with it positive social implications as well. It seems to follow that if one experiences a greater well-being and effectiveness in living as a consequence of having Alexander lessons, one usually becomes increasingly loath to have that well-being and effectiveness diminished by life's circumstances or by other people's negative actions. And it seems to follow further that one could more easily imagine and allow for others having that same need for an improved well-being and effectiveness. In the final analysis, one's broad perspective in living is surely based either on a concern that the world and life in it continue in as constructive a way as possible or it is based on an attitude that cares not if the world and people in it live abominable lives or perish. At the very least, it seems the world could be a much better place if we would simply do not unto others as we would have them not do unto us.Certainly, Alexander's writings contain a strong exhortation for us to move beyond the instinctive, animal plane of existence, to a more and more civilized one. Early in Man's Supreme Inheritance he claimed:
 
It is my earnest belief that the intelligent recognition of the principles essential to guidance by conscious control is essential to the full mental and physical development of the human race. Due consideration will convince even the skeptical that if mankind is to evolve to the higher stages of physical and mental perfection, he must be guided by these principles. They alone will bring men and women of today to the highest state of well-being, enabling them to grapple effectively with the problems of the day in the world of thought and action, gradually widening the dividing line which separates civilized mankind from the animal kingdom. [32]
 
 

But what does it really mean, for that matter, when we classify someone as a "thief," "burglar,"or any other of the many labels we so readily attach to others? The way many people use the word "burglar" it seems as if they regard all people who steal repeatedly or habitually to be genetically programmed to do so and that it would be impossible for them to change this programming even if they wanted to and even if they were given the psychophysical means-whereby to work on making the change. Alexander did appear to allow for several possibilities, though, when he wrote that "a man may, as we say, [be] born a thief" and may be "cursed with the subconscious abnormal craving or habit which makes a man a thief by nature," or "[on] the other hand, he may be quite normal at birth, but in early life he may drift into simple and apparently harmless little ways which through carelessness and lack of sound training, develop very slowly and remain unobserved" either by himself or others.[33] I suppose, too, that there can be a substantial difference between the thief who steals regularly and habitually and someone who chooses only once, out of desperation, to break into a wealthy person's house to take some valuables in order to buy food for her starving family because she cannot find a job that will allow her to provide for them as she had been able to up to that point. Surely, there could be many other variations on the burglary theme that would allow it to be viewed and addressed differently depending upon all sorts of other factors.

 
In this regard, recent research done by Claire Nee, at the International Center for Forensic Psychology at the University of Portsmouth in England, seems to indicate that burglars can become "ex-burglars." In order to study the psychological nature of criminals, Nee was able to locate "ex-offenders" who she was convinced had "truly ended their criminal careers and would not be tempted back into it" when she involved them in her simulated burglary experiment to explore what happens in burglars leading up to and during a theft. Ultimately, she writes that by "better understanding the decision-making sequence of a crime (which often starts days before and at a distance from it), we can address this in rehabilitation by helping the offender to become more conscious of these decisions at an early stage (when it is easier to abandon the idea)." [34]
I would say that this is not all that far from what we're seeking to help people  do in Alexander lessons by teaching them to become more aware of their subconscious decision-making while we are working with them from sitting to standing so that they can also learn to inhibit that decision-making and re-direct their energy for an improved use of their primary control before any overt action is engaged in. In light of Nee's research, then, it seems that we might want to extend that supposed quote of Alexander—"The Technique won't change who you are. If you're a burglar, it will only make you a better burglar”—to: "If you're an ex-burglar, it will only make you a better ex-burglar."
 
 
CONCLUSION
 
If we consider inhibiting as a potentially positive force in the world, we might do well to remember the virtue of sóphrosynè as praised by the ancient Greeks. Here is Gilbert Murray's description of it:
 
There is a way of thinking which destroys and a way which saves. The man or woman who is sóphrón walks among the beauties and Perils of the world, feeling the love, joy, anger, and the rest; and through all he has that in his mind which saves.—Whom does it save? Not him only, but as we should say, the whole situation. It saves the imminent evil from coming to be. [35]
 
Murray's words also bring to mind two other instances of Walter Carrington's teaching. In one private lesson he said:
 
You see, there are some things that we just must not let happen.
 
He seemed to be intentionally not saying what those things were, but it also seemed pretty clear to me that he meant "anything negative or destructive"  beyond the mere stiffening of your neck, pulling back of your head, and shortening and narrowing in stature.
 
In another lesson he said:
 
You know, Joe, I don't give too much thought to religion and spiritual things, but I do think there is such a thing as "the human spirit." And I also believe that there is such a thing as "the evolution of the human spirit," and, to me, that's what the Alexander Work is really about: the evolution of the human spirit.
 
Ultimately, the Alexander Technique can help you to be freer from both the past and the future so that you can be more fully present and original in the moment. This is mainly what inhibiting allows us to do so that we can draw as wisely as possible on our past experience, our creative imagination, and our reasoning in choosing the best course of responding in the present or in planning for the future. And in the case of the future, inhibiting also allows us to be flexible so that if what we have planned for or hoped for does not happen, we can then be even freer to accept the unforeseen outcome and adapt to it more quickly and fully. I think this is really what true spontaneity requires, rather than simply being impulsive from moment to moment in response to the slightest stimulus or whim. John Dewey illustrates this well in his "Introductory Word" to Alexander's The Use of the Self;
 
To come into possession of intelligence is the sole human title to freedom. The spontaneity of childhood is a delightful and precious thing, but in its original naïve form it is bound to disappear. Emotions become sophisticated unless they become enlightened, and the manifestation of sophisticated emotion is in no sense genuine self-expression. True spontaneity is henceforth not a birthright, but the last term, the consummated conquest, of an art—the art of conscious control to the mastery of which Mr. Alexander's book so convincingly invites us.[36]
 
The freedom and challenge that come with inhibiting are also the basis for it frequently being said that the Alexander Technique is "a technique for the unknown." But I think it is fitting to end this discussion with Alexander's own powerful exhortation:
 
. . . surely it behoves every individual to stop—and I mean this in its fullest sense—and reconsider every particle of supposed knowledge, particularly "psychological" knowledge, derived from his general education, from his religious, political, moral, ethical, social, legal, and economic training, and ask himself the plain, straightforward question, "Why do I believe these things?" "By what process of reasoning did I arrive at these conclusions?"
 
If we are even and direct with ourselves in regard to our cherished ideas and ideals, the answer may at first prove a shock to us, to some of us, indeed, almost a knockdown blow. For the truth will be borne in upon us that most of our supposed knowledge has not been real knowledge, and too often the boasted truth a delusion. Many us may awaken to the fact that the majority of our cherished ideas and ideals are the product not of any process of reasoning, but of that unreasoning process called impulse, of unbalanced emotion and prejudice—that is, of ideas and ideals associated with a psycho-physical condition in the development of which unreliable sensory appreciation has played the leading part.[37]
 
 


[1] I chose in this piece to use, as often as possible, the gerund "inhibiting" instead of the noun "inhibition" that is most often used in writings and discussions about the Alexander Technique. I was influenced in my choice by Peter Davison, a poet, author, and experienced professional editor who was having Alexander lessons with me at the time I originally wrote it. After reading Alexander's books and various other writings about the Technique, Davison came to the conclusion that there was much too great a focus on using nouns instead of verbs to describe or define aspects of the Technique's subject matter. He felt that the predominant use of nouns served to make the Technique seem to have much more of a static character than it actually should have, and I found that "inhibiting" could quite easily replace "inhibition" in most instances.
[2] The phrase that inhibiting is "one's moment of complete freedom" is taken from the book-length interview I did with senior Alexander teacher Kitty Wielopolska. Never Ask Why: The Life-Adventure of Kitty Wielopolska, which recounts her experience with the Alexander Work and schizophrenia (Aarhus: Novis, 2001), 4:141.
[3] I originally wrote this piece to give to my own Alexander pupils, but, in revising it, I have tried to make it more useful to a wider audience of Alexander pupils and teachers.
[4] F. Matthias Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, ([1941] London: Mouritz, 2000), p. 88.
[5] "My teaching experience has shown me that a person who has accepted the idea of freedom of thought and action, and has consistently advocated it in daily life, is not on this account any more capable of commanding freedom in thought and action when trying to keep to a well-considered decision to employ procedures which demand, for their successful carrying-out, a use of the self which  is not his habitual reaction in thought and action." Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. 188.
[6] F. M.Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (Kent:Integral Press, 1923), II:2:79–94.
[7] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, II:6:129–143.
[8] Charles Sherrington, The Brain and its Mechanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933).
[9] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. 85.
[10] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, II:2:86–87.
[11] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. 180–181.
[12] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. xxvii.
[13] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. 107–109.
[14] "It is therefore of primary importance that the teacher should recognize and endeavor to awaken his pupil to the of his (the pupil’s) unreliable sensory appreciation, and that during the processes involved in the performance of the pupil’s practical work he should cultivate and develop in him the new and reliable sensory appreciation upon which a satisfactory standard of co-ordination depends." Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, II:3:96.
[15] F. Matthias Alexander, The Use of the Self ([1932] London, Victor Gollancz, 1985), pp. 45–48.
[16] Alexander, The Use of the Self, pp. 40–45
[17] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. xxvii.
[18] F. M. Alexander, Man’' Supreme Inheritance ([1910] London: Mouritz, 1996), pp. 147–153.
[19] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, II:6:129–143.
[20] Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, p. xxviii.
[21] Alexander, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, p.101.
[22] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (HarperCollins: New York, 1994), p. 244.
[13] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, II:2:94.
[24] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, III:2:158–160.
[25] I have often used psychologist Carl Rogers's illustration of successful communication to encourage pupils and trainees to listen more carefully to others and to take more time before responding to another person's statement. In a workshop enquiring into the nature of  "congruence" in interpersonal relationships, Rogers and the participants found that if X makes a statement that Y would like to respond to, Y must first re-state X's statement to X's satisfaction that Y has actually understood it. Then Y is in the best position to respond with accuracy, etc. Usually, though, it often became clear that Y had not fully understood X's statement, and when Y finally re-stated it to X's satisfaction, Y actually had no need or wish to respond after all. Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), pp. 342–345.
[26] Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance, p. 220.
[27] John Hunter, "The 2002 Annual Memorial Lecture of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique," The Alexander Journal (London: STAT, Spring 2003), XIX:7.
[28] Alexander, The Use of the Self, 1:41.
[29] Alexander, The Use of the Self, 1:26–27.
[30] Alexander, The Use of the Self, 1:45–46.
[31] Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance, p.39.
[32] Man's Supreme Inheritance, p. 113.
[33] Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance, pp. 40–41.
[34] Claire Nee, "Inside the Mind of a Criminal." The New York Times, May 31, 2015, "Sunday Review," p. 10.
[35] Gilbert Murray, The Rise of the Greek Epic, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), pp. 48–49.
[36] Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance, xxi.
[37] Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, I:1:50.