Tradition and Authority in the Yoga Traditions and the Alexander Technique


Alexander came into adulthood prior to the First World War, in an age when optimism about humankind's evolution towards higher and more rational states of being was paramount. Educated people such as Alexander, were free of the oppressive shackles that religion had cast over the European mind for almost 2,000 years, and the power of rationality and consciousness as the driving force behind people's lives seemed to offer a way forward. Despite the times he lived through Alexander was never to lose that optimism.

The unbelievable horrors of the First World War, when the citizens of the so called civilised world massacred each other in battles of unprecedented ferocity, was followed by the rise of Nazism, Communism and Fascism and then by the Second World War and the descent of Germany into the barbarism of the holocaust. From the start of the First World War to the death of Stalin in the Soviet Union saw the death by war, massacre of deliberate policies of starvation of something like 50,000,000 people. In World War Two Britain let 4,000,000 of its subjects starve to death in the Bengal famine. And Alexander lived to see the development of the atomic bomb and its use on civilian populations in Japan.

Alexander was horrified by the developments he saw in Europe during his lifetime, especially the descent of Germany into barbarism. Like many other thinkers of his time he saw the problem as the phenomenon of irrational herd or mass behaviour and reaction, which demagogues such as Hitler and Mussolini were able to manipulate. The fact that millions of people could be taken in by these skilful manipulators was to him a result of them living in a completely subconscious manner, completely at the mercy of their unconscious prejudices and reactions. The answer for him lay in the individual being of human beings. In his writings he is constantly coming back to the fundamental importance of the individuals coming into conscious awareness of their own conditioning and working with themselves to reach a stage which he described as constructive conscious control. At this stage they would overcome their faulty sensory perception, and be able to respond to things as they actually are. It is said that friends advised him to shorten the title of his book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, by leaving out the last three words, but he refused, due to the importance he placed on the individual in contradistinction to the mass man.

"...from any real history of human endeavour we must eliminate the record of man's activities in wars and other spheres in which he is swayed chiefly by herd instinct, where the example, good of bad, or the command of one person, is immediately followed by the rest as an unthinking, unintelligent, automatic mass. I am quite prepared to admit that the history of human being in wars and other spheres of massed activity is of great interest to a great many people, but it is of infinitesimal interest of value, particularly when man's future is concerned, as compared with that of the individual effort of the human creature struggling daily to find a solution to the flesh and blood difficulties which directly concern his wellbeing." CCCI p.152

The whole process which Alexander had been through to restore the functioning of his voice was only possible because Alexander possessed the personality to be able to question the most basic and apparently common sense assumptions. This work on himself and his subsequent experiences of working with thousands of pupils in the work of restoring coordination and reliable sensory appreciation, convinced him that the "commonsense" assumptions upon which medicine, education, physical exercises, psychology, sport and virtually every area of human endeavour, were based on "end gaining" principles, and were quite simply erroneous. ...a dangerous stage of perversion and delusion has already been reached, when the attempts at a solution to all the problems of life seem to call for complexity ra