Book Review: The Manner of Action
Author: Graeme Lynn
Publisher: St. Cajetan Press
Book Publication: 2015
With The Manner of Action, Graeme Lynn, one of Canada’s most widely trained and gifted somatic educators, provides clarification of the complex and often misunderstood theories and methods of somatic learning (conscious learning through attention and sensitive exploration) as embodied in the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, and Hatha yoga.
Much of the book is devoted to discussion of the Alexander Technique, beginning with biographical information on its creator, Frederick Matthias Alexander. His story is a fascinating one. Recurring, and ultimately acute loss of his voice, with only temporary relief from traditional medicine, seemed to indicate an end to his chosen career as an actor. Alexander began to suspect that perhaps the source of his trouble lay in how he was using his vocal organs. These suspicions led to an in-depth investigation into what he came to refer to as ‘use’ of self.
In fact, use, or misuse of, self is one of the main principles of the Technique. According to Lynn, Alexander chose the term ‘use’ to “describe … how a person senses and organizes movement; and the ‘how’ of the organization itself.”
Another key concept is the primary control, which Lynn describes as the senior organizing function of movement, “perceivable inwardly and outwardly, its parts to be organized all at once, one after another.” A train analogy is used to further illustrate. “When a train engine moves, the passenger cars, the flat cars, the cargo cars and the caboose all move at exactly the same time. Without the engine moving first, nothing else can follow.”
Habits in individual movement are also central to the work done in the Alexander Technique. “Every time you stand up, you might unknowingly tighten your neck. After 20 years of doing so, you develop pain in your shoulders, neck or upper back. Your doctor tells you, ‘It’s a slipped disk. It’s arthritis. You’re getting old’. But, in fact, it’s in how you do what you do.” The ultimate goal of the Technique’s lessons is to bring attention to such obstructive habits and to ‘undo’ them.
Lynn follows this with a ‘First Possible Lesson’, which provides further clarity as to what the Technique is all about. However, speaking from personal experience (I had several Alexander lessons from Graeme several years ago), no text on this subject would be as enlightening, or as rewarding, as actually and physically working with an experienced teacher.
Lynn next focuses on the Feldenkrais Method®, and here he gives an excellent introduction to its practice. The Method was designed (by Moshe Feldenkrais) to establish a heightened awareness of movements.
Lynn explains that, as with the Technique, the Feldenkrais Method uses the mental faculties of attention, intelligence, and intention. And, similar to Alexander lessons, Feldenkrais lessons are practised as exercises of self-exploration and attention, and not as exercises of the body’s muscles.
However, he points out that, “Where the context of the Alexander Technique is the exploration of the response to gravity that supports all movement, the Feldenkrais Method is the exploration of movement itself, and the associated improvement of self-awareness.”
To fully appreciate and absorb the concepts discussed in The Manner of Action, you will want to read the book with focused attention, or you may even want to read it more than once. The writing is astute, even if not always a simple task to follow. Most significantly, The Manner of Action offers powerful insights and helpful instruction on how to become more sensitive to poor movement patterns, and then how to move beyond them to relaxed, flexible efficiency and resilience in everyday activities.
The Manner of Action is available at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/zwtb2vz