This is something I’ve been talking about for many years in workshops and in training courses, but I recently realised I hadn’t actually put it in writing anywhere except in my chapter for the book Ageing with Poise* ed. by Ruth Rootberg, so I wanted to make it available also here as a blog post. I’ve therefore extracted the discussion of it from that book.
Inhibition and Direction
Ruth: How has your conception of inhibition developed from the time you were first introduced to it until now?
John: I suppose I initially imbibed a certain amount about saying no, about stopping, and about not reacting. But I did notice during the training that there was more fluidity in inhibition in the way Walter spoke about it and acted himself. Slowly, partly from conversations and just being around him and partly, gradually, looking at my own experience, it became clearer and clearer to me that there are three ways in which people use the term inhibition. They have overlapping meanings in the Alexander world, and that causes a lot of confusion. Inhibition one is “Stop and say no,” and, of course, it’s very, very helpful in many life situations to say, “Whoa, wait a minute! Don’t do that; stop and think.” That’s not a specific Alexandrian thing. How many people’s parents have said, “Why don’t you just stop and think?!” In fact, I’m surprised sometimes at how many teachers don’t seem to realize that there’s a vast world of psychological and spiritual disciplines that all hold in high esteem the practice of trying to be less reactive—that’s nothing special to us.
Which brings us to Inhibition two. Where there’s something a bit special is linking inhibition with the process of direction. We have this wonderful process of asking the neck to release, to let the head go out, etc. Is that inhibition or direction? If I’m asking my head to go forward and up, that’s a direction. If I’m refraining from pulling it back and down, that’s inhibition. I think that as you go from stopping to moving into action, there is a level at which Inhibition two is the reverse side of direction. It’s simply a matter of whether you choose to express it as a negative or a positive. When FM, in some of his writing seems to say inhibition is the cornerstone, (11) I think it has to be taken in both meaning one and meaning two, where directions are a form of inhibition, otherwise Inhibition one, while super valuable, is not at all unique to us. But when it’s linked to Inhibition two, we have something special, a more precise tool, which leads us to Inhibition three.
Inhibition three might more accurately be called Inhibition zero, because it precedes one and two. This is what Margaret Goldie emphasized in private lessons. She would talk of choosing to be quiet, of allowing quiet, of stopping in order to be quiet. During one lesson, she quoted FM to me as having said “Choose to be quiet with particular attention to your neck and head.” I’ve heard Walter speak about not allowing the instructions to inhibit and direct to add to the habitual voices already going on in your head. He would say that inhibition and direction should be helping to quieten these voices, not add another one to the cacophony already going on in there. You don’t want your inhibiting and directing to be another voice adding to the voices that are already chattering inside your head, another voice saying Stop, stop, say no, say no, neck free, head forward and up, increasing the internal noise! At that level of brain quieting, it’s very akin to meditative processes. I went to some of Krishnamurti’s (12) talks at Brockwood Park when I lived in London, and I remember him saying something similar to what Walter said, that you don’t want meditation to be a process of one part of your mind telling the other parts Shut up because I’m trying to meditate. It gradually becomes apparent that for there to be any kind of successful inhibition in meanings one and two, you’re going have to quiet down.
Ruth: Many teachers would say that the unique aspect of the Alexander Technique is inhibition, Am I hearing you say, “Yes, but only if you consider Inhibition two, linking inhibition to direction.”?
John: I’m saying, only if you use the term inhibition in a broad sense that encompasses all the three aspects just described. And it gets more complex, because these things are reciprocal or circular. Stopping or taking time allows a chance to quieten down and direct, and getting a little bit of undoing in the neck, back, and ribs may well enable you to quieten down a bit more, which will in turn enable you to consider more calmly what might be the best course of action, etc. The subjective experience is usually that all these things can reinforce each other.
11 F. M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, (London: Mouritz, 2000), 83. “The reader will now see that the technique is based upon the inhibition of the habitual wrong use—i.e., the refusal to react to a stimulus in the usual way—and that the principle of prevention is strictly adhered to from the beginning.”
12 Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) was an Indian writer, philosopher, and speaker who addressed psychological revolution, the nature of mind, meditation, inquiry, human relationships, and bringing about radical change in society.
The Science of Inhibition and End-gaining by Dr. Patrick Johnson
*Living the Alexander Technique Vol. II, ed. Ruth Rootberg. See www.levellerspress.com/product/living-the-alexander-technique-volume-ii-aging-with-poise/