The Bates Method and the Alexander Technique
Kevin Wooding
Sunday 26th October 2008
To Do or not To Do, that is the question...

The Bates Method and Alexander Technique have been frequent companions, particularly in the United Kingdom; students of the Method often find the principles and practice of the Technique to be highly supportive and complementary of the insights that come from exploring vision.

This presentation explores a little of the history of the two modalities: both began life at about the same time, at the beginning of the 20th century, and have crossed paths often. However, although they work well together it has not always been perceived that way, with Mr Alexander even once referring to the Bates Method as 'beastly exercises' - falling under that very common and unfortunate misperception of what the Bates Method really is.

Curiously, it is often through the Alexander Technique that the idea of 'exercises' is effectively eradicated for the student of Bates - both Alexander and Bates obviously disliked the conceptual approach behind exercises - and Alexander's whole system of psychophysical re-education is based on the innate knowledge that what comes naturally to us is, well... natural. In echo, when Bates was once asked what technique he was using he responded, "I do not use any technique, but if it was a technique, it would be nature's technique."

The similarities are inevitable, we are dealing with the human canvas on which a complicated world splashes its distortions: the difference between the two approaches lies in the type of feedback utilised to discover one's own strains and habitual inclination to make inappropriate, unnatural, effort.

Alexander's approach actively pursues non-specific paths - the commonly used term is 'indirect'.

In 1988 I was told I would be in a wheelchair within six years. I had all the signs of developing arthritis in my right knee - the x-rays showed calcification forming on a tendon and no hope of recovery was offered.

In the midst of a fearful search I went to my first Alexander Technique lesson in July of that year. Lying on the teaching table I informed my new teacher: "I have calcification of the patello tendon with no erosive changes seen." She looked at me for just a moment; I don't know if my fear was palpable but I know, looking back, I was very scared. And she just said: "Well, there you go." - and proceeded to work on getting my NECK to release.

For those of you who have undertaken a course of Alexander lessons this will make perfect sense, but it was my first experience of a new way of thinking:

Indirect. 'Why was she working on my neck?' I asked myself.

It's all about the Wholeness of our being. Any afflicted 'part' of our perceptions will be echoed and reflected through every cell, system, part, limb and more, but can be most usefully viewed through the integrated whole that makes up the 'Self'. A knee problem affects the whole self. Alexander developed his Technique to resolve a problem with losing his voice and by doing so discovered how to help his whole self. Thus, his solution that allowed him to keep his voice when acting also allowed me to ride my bike again!

My glasses were always off in lessons but the last thing on my mind was improvement in my sight; so it was a genuine shock when being brought up from the table and finding I was able to trace around the edges of bricks on a building 80 metres away. From -7 dioptres this was 'impossible' but it effectively and instantly crashed all my preconceptions about sight; I knew without reservation that refractive error was something I was doing, not my heredity, or anything else. Through the indirect procedure of waking up to my whole self, my vision also naturally started to move.

It's an odd juxtaposition that I became a Bates teacher because of a knee problem, but this is the case. I now use the conceptual approach to 'change' of both Alexander Technique and Bates when teaching either discipline. In practice the gentle, round-about way the Alexander work encourages is a useful balance to the Bates Method, which by inclination is very much 'in yer face'.

Both systems inspire change of the whole and in my presentation we will explore the similarities and differences in more depth.

Glossary: Some terms used in the Alexander Technique are confusing at first, but here is a rough 'like for like' for three common terms from the Bates Method.

Bates MethodAlexander Technique
StrainEnd-gaining
RelaxationDirection, Inhibition
Central fixationNOT Concentration!

Alexander disliked his term 'psycho-physical' as it implied separate existences of mental and physical processes. His quest for wholeness led to his most favoured phrase: The Self.

Bates: the eyes are the window to the soul.

Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Wooding.

Kevin Wooding works as a Musician, Composer, Bates Method and Alexander Technique Teacher and Company Director of 15 Second Art Ltd which provides multimedia products for the Telecommunications Industry. With an additional emerging business in photography, his most recent projects have taken the form of amalgamation: the principles of The Bates Method and Alexander Technique enabling a natural approach to life that can be expressed through sound and visual art. It is a process of allowing the creative impact of our world to be received without effort or strain as a path to becoming more in tune with our natural and spontaneous selves. More information on Kevin's recent projects can be found on his company website.